Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Aren't we doing New Year's all wrong?

Despite Fred and Ginger gracing this post, I'm not lamenting the decline of white tie and tails as evening wear and the very elegant and sophisticated nightclub scene that exists now only in Fred and Ginger's old movies.

I've probably groused about that before.

Today, however, it occurs to me that we're doing this New Year's thing all wrong: For a country allegedly founded upon (and infatuated with) the Protestant work ethic (even American Catholics, Muslims, Jews and atheists are expected to have a good PWE) why is it that we have tomorrow off?

I mean... shouldn't we start the new year hitting the ground running at full speed ahead? Isn't taking New Year's Day off sort of setting a bad example for the rest of the year?

I'll be thinking about this tomorrow. But I still won't come into the office.

Then again, I probably have a bad attitude....

Friday, December 20, 2013

Duck Dynasty: Why is anyone surprised that a weird character on a "reality" TV show has politically incorrect opinions?

I've never watched Duck Dynasty and nothing I've seen or heard or read in the last day or two suggests that I would ever want to.

But let me ask this: Why is anyone surprised? Why is anyone outraged? A&E (which used to provide actually watchable TV programming, several years ago) found a weird-looking family that makes duck calls in the swampy backwoods of Louisiana and created a "reality" TV show about their weird lives, hunting, fishing and making duck calls. Phil Robertson, the gentleman pictured here, is the 67-year old "patriarch" of the clan. Have I gotten anything wrong so far?

Now take just one more glance at Mr. Robertson. Why would anyone think that Mr. Robertson's views would be compatible with those of the persons employed by the New York ad agencies who buy time on reality TV shows?

Each can hardly believe the other is a citizen of the same country.

Now another question: What would GQ, a magazine that purports to cater to men interested in style and fashion, want from an interview with the Duck Dynasty clan?

Isn't that one an easy one to answer? Drew Magery's article for the January issue of GQ, titled (at least online), "What the Duck?," may not have been intended as a hatchet job, but it was at least intended to give the smart, well-dressed metrosexual readers of GQ something to laugh at and people to make fun of. Men who buy a magazine that features articles like "Women are Judging Your Nails" are not interested in duck hunting or backwoods philosophy per se.

Mr. Magery addressed the controversy in a Wednesday post on Deadspin. He wrote, in part, "[W]henever I go deep into the heart of 'MERICA * * * I'm always careful not to be the sneering LIBRUL who ventures into red-state territory just to rip on all the people there. That would be unfair, predictable, and dickish." No, sir. Mr. Magery just writes what he sees -- and his audience does the ripping for him.

Mind you, I'm not defending Mr. Robertson. Granted, he has a right to his views, even though I may disagree with some or all of them. However, I completely understand and agree that the folks who run A&E have a right to "suspend" Mr. Robertson for offending the New Yorkers who buy ad time -- it's their network and they are privileged to do with it as they wish. Even if they daily make TV a far worse, far more vast wasteland than Newton Minow's worst nightmare prediction. I'm not even criticizing GQ. They came up with a scheme to get some free publicity and sell some magazines. That's the American way, right? And Mr. Magery got paid to write a story. Good for him.

No.

The only one I think is open to criticism here is the the PR genius who told the Robertson family that doing this GQ story would be a good idea. He or she would best be advised to get out of town quickly: Don't those Robertsons all have guns and crossbows and such?

Curmudgeon a Grinch, Scrooge, or just a grouch? I report -- you decide

"It's that time of year," the song goes, "when the world falls in love. Every song you hear seems to say, 'Merry Christmas,' may your New Year's dreams come true."

But I'm not waltzing through the Christmas season.

Oh, I like the lights and the carols well enough.

But my Long Suffering Spouse and I are going to have to go shopping tomorrow.

I am not looking forward to spending money we don't have, on people we don't particularly like, to buy things they won't need and don't want.

"What can we do about it?" my wife tries to reason with me. "They're family."

I have suggested that we buy everyone -- including our own kids, for that matter -- an orange and a pair of socks. That's traditional, isn't it? And we won't significantly increase our credit card debt in the process.

I have, in fact, suggested this once too often, at least, for my own good. Recently, as my wife brought up the subject of Christmas shopping, I had just opened my mouth when she told me to knock it off.

Do not get me wrong.

My wife is the exact opposite of a spendthrift.

We live frugally, as we must, and Long Suffering Spouse gamely muddles along with practical restrictions I don't think either of our daughters would possibly accept.

It's just that, at Christmas, my wife feels the need to buy stuff for her sister Josephine and her sister's kids and even her sister's still fairly-new husband, Ferdinand. "We didn't buy any birthday presents," she reminds me, "or graduation gifts" (two of Josephine's kids graduated this yea, one from college, the other from grammar school). "And they'll buy us stuff," she says, playing her best card last.

"We could agree not to buy each other anything, you know," I pointed out -- but Long Suffering Spouse would actually have to speak with her sister to negotiate such an arrangement. She doesn't want to do that. "Besides," she said, "Abuela wouldn't like it."

Game, set, and match to Long Suffering Spouse.

Still I find myself agreeing with Sir Michael Caine, who portrayed Ebeneezer Scrooge in The Muppet Christmas Carol (one of my wife's favorite holiday movies). Caine snarls at Bob Cratchit (Kermit), "Christmas is a very busy time for us, Mr. Cratchit. People preparing feasts, giving parties, spending the mortgage money on frivolities. One might say that December is the foreclosure season. Harvest time for the money-lenders."

Just because ol' Ebeneezer is a bad guy doesn't mean he's wrong, does it?

And what's wrong with an orange and a pair of socks anyway? Our TV died last month. We had to replace it. The DVD/VCR died two nights ago. That's something we'll presumably come home with tomorrow. We'll have buckets out in the den to catch the leaks from the roof tonight (we're having a bit of a thaw at the moment here in Chicago -- good news, mostly, except for the leaky roof). I'd love to replace the computer in the den -- it's eight years old now and the CD drive stopped working six months ago (there's still one viable URL port). Our kitchen is falling apart -- in fact, we've deferred so much maintenance for so long (it was suggested that we replace the furnace when we moved in -- 17 years ago -- and we never have), that it's hard to say where we should start to fix things. If we could start.

My law practice stinks -- it takes a lot of time and returns little. I will make more than my Catholic school teacher wife this year -- I think -- but not much more. Things are actually better now than they've been for awhile. I just moved a huge balance from one credit card to another, taking advantage of an interest free offer -- saving myself $250 a month just in interest payments on that one account.

I have reason to hope things will continue to get better.

But why do I have to have this annual reminder of just how far I've fallen -- and how far I must climb to get back up?

I don't think that makes me the Grinch. I don't think it even makes me Scrooge -- the three demons that torture my dreams aren't the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future but rather MasterCard, Visa and American Express.

But, you know, it's hard not to say "Bah Humbug."

I will adjust my attitude, I hope, before heading out on the morrow with Long Suffering Spouse.

But, seriously, what is wrong with an orange and a pair of socks?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

On the passing of Larry Lujack


The passing of a radio DJ is seldom national news, and I was thinking that Larry Lujack's death yesterday from cancer at 73 probably wouldn't be.

But it is. No less than überblogger Ken Levine mourns the passage of the one, the only Superjock this morning.

I picked up my youngest son from college yesterday -- before the news of Lujack's death -- and somehow we got to talking about the passage of time. I think it was a sign advertising places in the high school class of 2018 (next fall's freshmen, believe it or not) that got Youngest Son going. "Can you believe it?" he asked. "2018 already?"

This coming year, I told him, 2014, marks 40 years since I graduated high school. "How do you think I feel?" I asked.

As bad as I felt at that moment, I felt much worse when Robert Feder broke the news about ol' Uncle Lar.

Uncle Lar was still Suprejock -- WCFL, the Voice of Labor, recast itself as "SuperCFL" in honor of their most valuable property -- when I was in high school. Superjock on WCFL and Bob Sirott on WLS were, if I recall correctly, the voices of afternoon drive 40 years ago and every new driver knew how to push the buttons on the AM radio to switch between 890 and 1000 without taking their eyes off the road. Button pushing might be prompted by a bad song -- there were some truly awful songs in heavy rotation on both stations 40 years ago -- or by "zit cream" commercials. But the "bits" between the songs were the really good stuff.

Sirott was the enfant terrible, the challenger. Lujack was the grizzled, bitter, burned-out veteran. His deep, deliberate, laconic delivery was unique, and seemingly entirely inappropriate to rock 'n' roll (Levine explains it better in his piece than I can but, then, he's a former DJ as well as a better writer). But whatever Lujack was doing, it worked for him.

A couple of years after I graduated high school, WCFL changed formats, going from Top 40 to elevator music. The station didn't fire Lujack, however, and he wouldn't quit. Here is how he announced the format switch.



Lujack would go back to WLS later -- his "Animal Stories" with "Little Snot-Nosed Tommy" Edwards are being remembered a lot this morning. I tuned in for them, too, even after I'd otherwise grown out of the Top 40 format.

All too soon, however, in 1987, Lujack retired, moving out west eventually. Except for a six month stint on FM and a reunion with Edwards that lasted a few years on what wasn't much more than a 10-watt AM station in the early 2000s, Lujack stayed retired. But he stayed with us, too.

Nine or 10 years ago, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of our parish, I was asked to do the voiceover for the commemorative video. The parish hired a real filmmaker and everything -- her brother has directed several popular Disney features -- and she booked some studio time for me to come in and read the script.

Well.

This was the first time I'd been in a real studio, with a professional microphone and headphones and all the knobs and dials I was told not to touch on pain of death. But when we were doing sound checks, I did my best Larry Lujack imitation. It was, presumably, an awful imitation. But imitation, even awful imitation, is the most sincere form of flattery.

R.I.P. Mr. Lujack. I hope today you have a whole lot more of Jesus... and all the rock 'n' roll you may want.

(Chicagoans will catch the reference; the rest of you... well....)

Friday, December 13, 2013

I seem to have forgotten my Blogiversary....

This blog first appeared on December 7, 2005... so this would be (would have been) my 8th Blogiversary.

I've never been a big one for anniversaries.

Money seems to know how to make itself scarce when Big Days loom on the calendar -- birthdays, anniversaries... Christmas. But I can't say I forgot my Blogiversary because I didn't want to buy myself a present, can I?

One doesn't give presents for blogiversaries anyway. Not as far as I know.

Still, 8 years. A milestone, surely. A lot of words from my keyboard. Many of them -- most of them, really -- mine (OK, can't say quite the same thing about the illustrations... I've stolen most of those).

I just updated the blog Sidebar to reflect past Christmas posts. The list is by no means exhaustive. Exhausting, perhaps. I'd prefer to think that you might find at least some of them entertaining however.

My real-world blog takes up most of my blogging time these days. I get more traffic there. But I'm not nearly as funny there.

At least, not intentionally.

I think I'd better stop now....

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Just in time for holiday daydreaming: Kim Jong-Un executes his uncle

The AP is reporting that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has executed his once-powerful uncle Jang Song-thaek.

The linked AP article quotes liberally from the North Korean press announcement, which is written in that breathless, inimitable North Korean style:
"Against the backdrop of these shouts rocking the country [demanding that stern judgment be "meted out to the anti-party, counter-revolutionary factional elements"], a special military tribunal of the DPRK Ministry of State Security was held on December 12 against traitor for all ages Jang Song Thaek."

Jang was accused of possessing "...a wild ambition to grab the supreme power of our party and state." He was found to be "...despicable human scum .... [who] worse than a dog, perpetrated thrice-cursed acts of treachery in betrayal of such profound trust and warmest paternal love shown by the party and the leader for him.
Kim and his family presumably don't celebrate Christmas. It's probably just as well. In the present circumstances, this could be pretty awkward. Can you imagine the rather forced small talk during dinner? Unless, of course, Kim's aunt really disliked her husband.

I'm pretty sure that I've never wanted to execute any of my relatives. I only had two uncles; I liked both of them. I suppose if we broaden the net out to include in-laws and their spouses, there are a few of whom I'm not terribly fond. Take Josephine's current husband Ferdinand, for instance. I prefer to drink heavily before having any interaction with him whatsoever, but (as Long Suffering Spouse warns me every Christmas Eve) it's a fine line between comfortably numb and in vino veritas. The stress of Nochebuena dinner can be enormous.

Still, I don't suppose I'd want Ferdinand executed. Banished, maybe.

I suppose I might get more bloody-minded were I suddenly given absolute power. Lord Acton's old saw about absolute power corrupting absolutely seems to have been proved over and over again. Thus, if I ever became Dear Leader, one of my ex-law partners would be best advised to leave town in a hurry. But that's only one out of a great many.

I wonder what ol' Uncle Jang did to so offend his nephew.

Then again, I wonder whether any of my extended family would want me to suffer the same fate as ol' Uncle Jang were any of them to become Dear Leader. It's a sobering thought....

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Big Red "A" is for Atheist


Perhaps this story has made the national news. At the east end of the Daley Center Plaza, wedged in between the skyscraping Hanukkah Menorah and the giant Nativity Scene is a festive Big Red "A," with a sign in front wishing passersby a Happy Winter Solstice.

A group of atheists thought they would be clever and obtain the permits necessary to put up this display and thereby thumb their snooty noses at all of us superstitious inferiors who still profess belief in a power greater than man.

Far be it from me to complain that the atheists don't have a right to believe in Nothing. But it seems to me that, with their Big Red "A," the atheists are doubly represented at the Daley Center.

I mean, at the Daley Center these days, the Jews have only the Menorah. Christians have only the Stable. (The giant Christmas tree on the south end of the plaza is not a religious symbol.) But all the empty space in between -- all the Nothing -- is that not the sign and symbol of the true atheist? Now the atheists also also have a Big Red "A." Seems to me that's two representations for the anti-religionists, but only one each for each religious group.

I said as much to Long Suffering Spouse when the story aired on the news here a week or so ago. Some smug professional atheist was interviewed, overjoyed that this rather pathetic ploy for attention was being taken seriously, at least by the TV reporter. You might not think that being an atheist would be incompatible with missionary zeal. But this guy sure acted like a True Believer, even if he believes only in Nothing.

"Is that what the 'A' stands for?" she asked. "Atheist?"

I assured her that this was the case.

"Hmmm," she said. "I would have guessed it stood for something else."

Friday, November 15, 2013

Frivolous Friday, biker bar edition

Bizarro Comic by Dan Piraro, obtained from Chicago Tribune Comics Kingdom.

Obtained from the Chicago Tribune, even though the comic itself runs in the Chicago Sun-Times. Ah, well.

You should be getting a full-fledged rant this morning about the latest outbreak of chaos in the Curmudgeon home, and how the unplanned activities of yesterday evening prevented me from getting to any of the things I was supposed to do last night. I also have a good post in mind about Long Suffering Spouse grading papers until 2:30 Thursday morning and identifying a number of really, really feeble attempts at plagiarism. That ought to be amusing.

And that's what you should be getting here.

Except that I didn't do any of the things I was supposed to do last night. So I have to do them now. And there are other things that must be done this morning as well because I won't be here this afternoon either. That might (or might not) turn into a post on this blog.

Have I whetted your appetite yet?

No?

I was afraid of that.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Lost barbecue tools, a dangerous drawer, and an untimely phone call -- business as usual at the Curmudgeon home

People who think writing is easy -- as I do, sometimes -- find out differently when they try and tell a story that isn't exactly linear. Real stories aren't that linear. But writers, unlike audio engineers, can't work with multitrack tapes: The words on the page, or the screen, are a single track only and every clashing action must be integrated into the single stream of words. And if one thus brings order to chaos, has one actually described it -- or has it only been watered down?

The thing you have to understand here is that the kitchen in the Curmudgeon Manse was probably updated shortly before we bought the place in 1996. Updated on the cheap. The sellers were preparing the house for sale and every effort was made to maximize appearance and minimize expense.

Thus the cabinets in the kitchen had a nice label but were the cheapest model offered by that manufacturer.

For the most part they have served us well.

But there is a large drawer, in the cabinet left of the stove, that came off the tracks once a few years back. After considerable lifting and straining and pushing and bending and cussing and swearing (the cussing and swearing mostly from me) Long Suffering Spouse and I got the drawer back on the track and closed. She removed everything she was likely to need from that drawer before we closed it up, like a Pharaoh's Tomb, with solemn vows never to open it -- and certainly never to try and fully open it -- ever again. The children were likewise instructed. We moved on.

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

We jump now to last Saturday afternoon. It was not exactly warm, but it was nicer than it's been, and Long Suffering Spouse decided to barbecue.

Ever since my insides were removed, I don't much care for barbecue, but there was leftover pizza for me to eat. And we needed to free up some freezer space. We are heading into cookie season, you know.

Just the other day Abuela generously sent us two boxes of large QVC hamburgers -- chock full of onions -- and I went down to the basement to wrestle the box from the bottom corner of the freezer.

The electric company is always after homeowners to get rid of their obsolete basement refrigerators. And you should realize that an old aging hippie like me would not have an energy-hogging frig eating up energy in the basement: Oh, no, the ancient refrigerator died a natural death many years ago and we promptly replaced it with a newer, more efficient model. With five kids -- and all of them went through adolescence in that house -- we needed the second frig. And in cookie season we need the freezer section even more.

You would think that removing a box from a freezer would free up space therein. That's how the laws of physics are written.

But the laws of physics do not take into account bags of frozen Costco chicken wings and chicken breasts which expand to fill any space made available. Younger Daughter and her husband are responsible for the wings. I'm not sure they sealed up the wings bag properly because it promptly discharged contents all over the freezer when I removed the box of burgers. In trying to close that I somehow spilled chicken breasts. And my wife keeps foil packages of frozen meat for tacos or sloppy joes or Chinese food in that freezer, too. In theory these should be stackable; in practice, however....

It took awhile, but I eventually got everything back in it's proper bag and everything stuffed back in the freezer. It looked more crowded than ever, but at least I had my box of burgers. Chock full of onions. I couldn't eat onions when I had insides.

Long Suffering Spouse set up the grill and I headed off to the Jewel for hamburger buns and, as long as I was there, for some liquid refreshment for my own personal use.

When I got back, Long Suffering Spouse asked me where the barbecue tools had gone.

The barbecue tools are kept in the front hall, in season. I think in the winter they are supposed to be consigned to the garage, but I can't say for sure.

I could say for sure that they weren't in the front hall because the bench there had been cleared off in favor of candy for Trick or Treaters.  And Long Suffering Spouse had already determined they weren't in the garage.  I might have said that I didn't have the foggiest notion where the barbecue tools might be, because I didn't, but I would have been instructed to look for them anyway.  I gamely accepted my charge.

I went in the house and hollered for Younger Daughter. You may think that cheating. But I knew I could have wandered around the house as long as Moses wandered in the desert and never have gotten so much as a clue about the whereabouts of those barbecue tools: They are too big to hide in plain sight, which meant they must be truly hidden, and I didn't hide them. Younger Daughter might have.

And, as it turns out, she had.

She came into the kitchen with her daughter on her shoulder -- she'd just finished changing the baby -- explaining en route that she'd hid the tools in (cue scary music) The Forbidden Drawer.

I had barely begun reminding her that the drawer was never to be opened -- ever -- when Younger Daughter pulled at it with her one free hand.

There was a crashing noise. The drawer stopped moving after about only four inches, tilting ominously upward.

I hollered. Younger Daughter started to explain that she'd used The Forbidden Drawer lots of times in the last few years without incident -- and the baby -- who was sure that they'd come into the kitchen because it was time to feed her -- began crying. Younger Daughter removed the baby to her high chair, leaving me to work with the wreckage.

I opened the cabinet beneath The Forbidden Drawer and pushed upwards. I still couldn't slide it along the track of course; the drawer had completely jumped that. But holding up the bottom of the drawer with one hand, trying to make it as level as possible, I could feel inside The Forbidden Drawer with the other. The giant barbecue tongs had gotten wedged in; I had to work them free. With that I was able to open The Forbidden Drawer just enough more to extract the tools.

Then I tried to close the drawer. Of course it would only go so far and no further. I picked up the tools and headed for the front door. (Long Suffering Spouse sets the grill up on the driveway.)

"I've got good news and bad news," I told her, cautiously, as I handed her the tools. "The good news is that we found the barbecue tools."

"What's the bad news?"

I told her.

She started hollering at me.

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

As soon as she got the hamburgers inside, we went to work on drawer repair. Task one was to get the drawer out. Long Suffering Spouse got underneath and pushed; I stayed upright and pulled. And tugged. Eventually we got the drawer about halfway out, to the point where it was pretty much blocking the whole kitchen (it's a narrow room). The baby was still carrying on because she wasn't getting fed; Younger Daughter was trying to explain to her mother why she thought it a good idea to use The Forbidden Drawer and Long Suffering Spouse was telling me that, whatever I was doing up there, I was doing it wrong.

At that moment, the phone rang.

Still gripping the partially open drawer and trying to wiggle it free I yelled out, "Hello, Older Daughter."

"It can't be her; she's at a football game with Hank this afternoon," protested Younger Daughter. (Older Daughter and her husband are both proud alums of the University of Illinois. Their Illini were playing at the University of Indiana Saturday; the game was still early in the second half at this point.)

"You know it's her," said Long Suffering Spouse, head buried in the pots and pans stored below The Forbidden Drawer, pushing up on it all the while trying to set it free.

"Call from Wireless Caller," said the telephone. Younger Daughter and Olaf had gotten us these talking telephones last Christmas. A computerized female voice announces each new call, with sometimes hilariously unintelligible pronunciations. Still holding the drawer I turned around to look at the phone's caller ID.

Sure enough.

"Well, pick it up," my wife told me, and I did as I was told. "Are you OK?" I asked, brusquely perhaps. "Why are you calling? Aren't you at a football game?"

Well, yes, she said, but without seat backs on the stadium's bleacher seats, her back had begun to hurt and she went back to the car to sit for awhile and, as long as she was sitting, she said, she thought she might call and chat --

I cut her off.

"You're OK, then?"

"Yes...."

"Fine. We'll talk to you later. We've got a situation here. Go watch your game."

I learned later that she soon thereafter texted her sister, apparently in tears, because I hung up on her. Younger Daughter had to explain why I was so curt.

"Oh," said Older Daughter, according to her sister's later account. "I guess my timing was bad."

But her timing wasn't bad. It was amazing. She has a talent -- a true gift, really -- for calling at the exact wrong moment.

At the moment, however, I had to return my attention to The Forbidden Drawer. I resumed grabbing and pulling and wiggling. Long Suffering Spouse kept pushing and jiggling. Eventually, we got the thing out.

I cleared off a spot for it on the kitchen table and set it down.

"We are not leaving this here forever," Long Suffering Spouse warned me.

"Well, maybe you can eat first," I suggested. The hamburgers weren't getting any warmer.

"No," she said, "I know you. I eat now and you disappear and the next thing I know we're trying to work around this drawer on Thanksgiving Day."

It was at this point that Olaf showed up. He'd worked another full day on Saturday (putting him on salary turned out to be a great cost-saving move for his employer). He innocently inquired what was going on.

"You're in manufacturing," I said, "you can figure out how to get this fixed."

To my pleasant surprise, he started looking at the problem, marching back and forth between the cabinet and the table where I'd set the drawer down, interrogating my wife about the availability of various tools.

The phone rang again. "It can't be Older Daughter," I said, "not so soon."

It wasn't. It was Middle Son.

"Talk to your son," Long Suffering Spouse commanded.

I took the phone and walked into the den, turning on the Illinois-Indiana game as I settled into my chair. Long Suffering Spouse stayed behind to supervise her son-in-law.

I explained all this to Middle Son.

"I've called at a bad time, then," he said.

"Nonsense," I said. "Your sister called at a bad time. Olaf has taken over my spot in the kitchen; we can't all be in there at once.  There's not enough room."

Middle Son was actually calling about his big sister. Hank is turning 30 this week and Older Daughter has been talking about having a party, or maybe two parties, on either Friday or Saturday, or Friday and Saturday this coming weekend. Older Daughter wanted everyone to come down to Indianapolis for the occasion.  Oldest Son and Abby had an iron-clad excuse; they were going to a wedding at which Abby was to be a bridesmaid. That eliminated Friday and Saturday for them. Youngest Son has no car and couldn't get away from South Janesville College anyway. Olaf and Younger Daughter didn't want to go because it would be too hard to bring the baby -- and then Younger Daughter committed to sitting for her brother's dog, Rodent, 'forgetting' that this was the same weekend of the proposed party or parties in Indianapolis. Middle Son didn't want to be the only one to go, but he'd heard that Long Suffering Spouse and I were going to go, and he was hoping we had more information than he did.

"You saw the Facebook invite, didn't you Dad?" Middle Son asked.

I had. We knew that a party was proposed for next Saturday. Although no location was specified, we were given to understand that the party would be at Hank and Older Daughter's home. But the invite did not specify any time for the party.

"Well, do you know what time they're thinking about?" asked Middle Son.

"Who knows?"

"Maybe I should call her. Since she's just sitting in her car instead of watching the football game."

I advised against that. "She's got to talk to her husband about this -- and right now they're fighting over which one of them has to clean the house for the party. There may not even be a party."

"Well, when are we going to find out?" Middle Son asked.

"Hopefully before next Saturday, that's all I can say."

We agreed that we'd let each other know if we got any information at all.

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

Olaf did get the drawer in  (he apparently really does know this manufacturing stuff).  Nevertheless, I will break the arm of anybody that tries to open it again.  Also, as of today, in case you're wondering, the party appears to be set for Saturday afternoon. But Older Daughter is still thinking of cancelling because Hank won't take a day off work to clean....  Meanwhile, Long Suffering Spouse and I are arguing over whether -- because the party is in the afternoon -- we can make the trip there and back in a single day.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Do Illinois Republicans have anyone to take on Sen. Durbin?

Sen. Richard J. Durbin
Illinois' Senior Senator Richard J. Durbin is up for reelection this cycle and his reelection appears, at this point, to be a lock-cinch certainty.

State Sen. Jim Oberweis (25th Dist.) seems to be the only announced Republican challenger.

Really? Really?

Durbin surely is vulnerable. As Senate Majority Whip, Durbin has had to align himself with all sorts of national priorities and programs -- the kind of thing that opens one up to charges that a senator has stopped paying attention to the feelings of the folks back home. And Illinoisans have terminated the Senate careers of prior aspirants to the Democratic leadership. Sen. J. Hamilton Lewis was Democratic Whip from 1913 to 1919 when he also lost a reelection bid. (Lewis, however, actually did come back to the Senate, and into the Senate leadership, in the 1930s, eventually dying in office). Sen. Scott W. Lucas was Democratic Whip from 1947-1949, when he became Majority Leader -- only to lose reelection in 1950 to Everett McKinley Dirksen.

So there is precedent.

And just this week Durbin was caught in a whopper of a fib: Although he was not in attendance, Durbin regaled his Facebook audience with the tale of a meeting between Republican House leaders and the President and White House staff during the recent (stupid) government shutdown. Durbin quoted an unnamed GOP leader as saying to the President, "I cannot even stand to look at you."

Well of course the story went viral.

The True Blue Left thought that was just the sort of disrespectful thing that one of those crazy Tea Party bomb-throwers would say to the duly elected President of these United States. And, sadly, I'm sure that too many on the Red Meat Right thought so too (perhaps adding "right on!" if they retold the tale).

In this morning's Chicago Sun-Times, Lynn Sweet quotes White House Press Secretary Jay Carney as flatly contradicting Durbin's story: It "did not happen," Carney said.

Getting caught in a silly, needless lie like that would be fatal to many politicians. And it still may be harmful to Senator Durbin.

But only if there is a credible Republican opponent. Perennial candidate Oberweis will not fit the bill.

Durbin is a careerist who embraces whatever position seems to propel him forward. When he was a Downstate Member of Congress, then-Rep. Durbin, a professed Catholic, was moderately pro-life. To reach the Senate, however, Durbin embraced radical pro-abortion views. And there he remains. He is out front, loud and proud, in favor of gay marriage -- but, as noted yesterday, completely ineffective in influencing his fellow Democrats in the Illinois General Assembly to follow his lead. (Best of both worlds for him that way.)

Almost anyone -- besides Jim Oberweis -- that the Republicans put up would be a strong candidate against Durbin. Heck, I'd be a stronger Republican candidate against Durbin than Oberweis and I'm not only anonymous, I've never voted in a Republican primary in my life. (No lawyer from Chicago should ever vote in a Republican primary -- it's tantamount giving up your right to vote for the judges who decide your cases, since the Republicans don't even bother to field judicial candidates in Cook County races except in a far northwest suburban enclave called the 13th Judicial Subcircuit.)

But the Republicans are the Stupid Party. And Senator Durbin's nearly certain reelection will provide further proof.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Repeating my modest proposal about what we used to call marriage

The Illinois Legislature is in its Fall Veto Session this week and -- our overwhelming budget and pension problems be damned -- gay marriage is the only issue that commands the attention of TV news editors.

Yesterday all the pro-gay marriage folks trooped down to Springfield, demanding marriage equality. Gov. Pat Quinn, Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, Attorney General Lisa Madigan (daughter of House Speaker Michael Madigan), and Sen. Richard Durbin all spoke at the rally, in the rain. There was even a Republican present, State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, and she was all in favor, too.

Today, a lot of anti-gay marriage folks will make the same trip but demand that gay marriage be blocked. Today's rally will attract more Republicans than yesterday's, but the numbers will come from church groups.

The Illinois State Senate has already passed a gay marriage bill. The overwhelmingly Democratic General Assembly, however, didn't have quite the number of votes in the Spring, and may not have them this time either.

For those of you looking in from out of state, I have not made a typographical error. Illinois is a blue, blue, blue, true blue state. The Democrats drew the maps and, on paper anyway, have a veto-proof House majority. And, of course, all the party leaders claim to be for gay marriage. Yet, somehow, they just don't have the votes.

No, it's not die-hards from Downstate who are holding up the passage of the bill; the biggest single reason the measure can't pass is that a lot of African-American state representatives from Chicago and nearby suburbs are afraid of crossing the anti-gay marriage ministers in their areas.

The Democrats are for gay marriage, and they welcome the donations of gay rights supporters, but they don't actually pass a gay marriage law.

Isn't hypocrisy wonderful?

Meanwhile, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield, Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki warned about any demonstrations in favor of gay marriage, saying anyone outwardly plumping for passage of the marriage bill would be removed from evening Mass. He went so far as to say that praying for gay marriage was "blasphemous."

Um.

Maybe he meant to level such an extreme charge as a sort of counterweight to the pleas of prominent Catholic laypeople, such as the aforementioned Gov. Quinn, Attorney General Madigan, or Sen. Durbin, for gay marriage.

As near as I recall, Jesus had a lot to say about marriage -- but nothing to say about homosexuality. Biblical condemnations of homosexuality can be identified -- but these are in the Old Testament or the letters of St. Paul.

And even if gay marriage is as wrong as Bishop Paprocki thinks it is, people pray all the time -- in church and out -- for things we don't need or shouldn't have. But it's not necessarily blasphemy to pray for the wrong things.

I'd like to move to close the debate. I think it readily apparent that the concepts of civil marriage and religious marriage are undergoing an acrimonious divorce. Let's separate the two and move on.

From now on, I would suggest, the states issue licenses for civil unions only. All benefits that heretofore attached to marriage would apply to civil unions. There will not be two classes of marriage, such as recently concerned Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; there will be only one, for men and women, men and men, women and women and any other pairing or grouping that the legislature sees fit to accept. But it's not marriage. Marriage is reserved to churches. Some will embrace gay marriage (many old line, mainstream Protestant denominations already have); some never will. Doctrinal disputes, like the poor, will always be with us.

With my proposal, however, I can decide what is or is not a marriage -- and I can't interfere with my neighbors from tying the knot at City Hall. Bishop Paprocki may condemn me. But, then, so will gay rights activists. It is the scorn that would be heaped upon this proposal from both sides of the cultural divide that prove mine is the only workable solution. Bishop Paprocki and the African-American ministers save "marriage." Yet gay couples are truly equal before the law with straight couples. It may not make anyone truly happy, but it's a win-win for both sides.

It won't happen, of course. If it did, we might actually have to talk about the pension shortfall in this state.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

True confessions: This morning, I was "that guy"

I was "that guy" as in, "look at that guy. What a jerk!"

You know, when you're driving, and the sign says left lane closed ahead? You can count on "that guy" staying in the left lane -- maybe even moving into it because "that guy" is sooooooooo much more important than you are. As "that guy" passes you, you say something like, "That guy thinks he can just zoom past everyone waiting in line and cut right in -- the #$%@!!"

Well... this morning... not too far from my house... after dropping Long Suffering Spouse off at school, I had to head for the Kennedy, planning to jump on the Tollway and head out to court in Geneva.

It's a hike, but I had plenty of time... I thought. I knew there was construction at Cumberland and Higgins. They're rebuilding Cumberland where it crosses the Kennedy and there have been various lane closures in the vicinity -- and consequently slowed traffic -- on the few recent occasions I've had to head that way. I had to turn left from Higgins onto Cumberland.

So, yes, the sign said left lane closed ahead, but I figured, well, that must be the left lane, not the left turn lane. People still have to turn left. The sign doesn't say road closed or detour.

So I stayed in the left lane. I figured that this was the way to get to the left turn lane.

I was absolutely, totally wrong.

In my defense, I will say I didn't zoom past anyone. No one was moving in front of me. No one was moving to my right. Cars were turning out of hotels and restaurants and other parking lots trying to get in line with me. The fastest I moved was when a couple of cars in front of me gave up and made U-turns trying to get away from the gridlock.

It took me 35 minutes -- by the dashboard clock -- to go about one-half mile.

So I was punished for my foolishness -- and I was late to court besides. But, punished or not, today, I was "that guy." I'm truly sorry.

Friday, October 18, 2013

On the increasingly controversial Washington "Redskins"

Seems like everyone these days has an opinion -- mostly hostile opinions -- about the name used by the Washington NFL franchise.  This recent editorial cartoon by Tom Stiglich illustrates a widely shared view:

Editorial cartoon by Tom Stiglich obtained from Creators.com.

The issue here is not whether some find the "Redskins" nickname offensive -- it is established beyond question that some do take offense.

Nor would I presume to argue that those complaining about the nickname should simply 'get over it.' There's no question that the term 'redskin' can be an intentionally offensive insult or slur.

But I will assert that, as used by the Washington NFL franchise, the term "Redskins" is absolutely not used as a racial slur. As I wrote last year, the name Redskins, like the names Indians, Chiefs, and Braves, were adopted by sports teams in honor of other teams or qualities they admired, or that they wished to emulate -- "and early in the 20th Century, most athletes (of any ancestry) wanted to emulate the skill and success of Jim Thorpe and the Carlise Indians."

In the early days of the 20th Century, the Carlisle Indian Industrial School played a major college schedule (and college football was then firmly at the apex of the football pyramid). Coached by Glenn "Pop" Warner (yes, there was a real Pop Warner), the Carlisle Indians dominated the college football world.

Now, you don't have to have a lot of skill at argument to prevail on a claim that the very premise of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School was racist, at least by any standard we understand today. The original purpose of the school was to take Indian boys off their reservations, strip away all vestiges of their heritage, and thereby 'civilize' them. Boarding schools like the Carlisle Indian Industrial School were determined to assimilate their charges into American society. Carlisle's founder, Richard H. Pratt, described the philosophy of the boarding school program as, "Kill the Indian in him, and save the man."

And Pratt was sympathetic to the Indians. He thought he was helping.

But teams didn't take up the banner of Indians, Braves or Chiefs or, yes, Redskins because they were in favor of the destruction of Native American culture. Nor did they take up the names to mock indigenous peoples. They took up the names because they wanted to be as successful as -- as good as -- the Carlisle Indians generally and Jim Thorpe in particular. (Thorpe excelled at baseball, too; it was the discovery that he'd picked up some money playing minor league baseball in the summers between school terms that led to his being stripped of the medals he earned at the 1912 Olympics.)

Stiglich's use of the Confederate battle flag in his cartoon is thought-provoking. There is a wing-nut school of historical revisionists that claim that the Civil War wasn't about slavery. From this, the wing-nut revisionists argue that the Confederate battle flag and similar symbols are not emblems of racial oppression, but of states' rights.

This is, of course, utter nonsense. The Civil War was absolutely about slavery -- even though it is true that most Confederate soldiers were not slaveowners. Some Union soldiers were slaveholders. We like to think of big plantation owners as the only supporters of chattel slavery. That would be so much more convenient than the actual truth: Poor whites in the North and South alike feared economic competition from freed African-Americans and many -- most? -- were implacably opposed to abolition. Their descendants became casual, and sometimes virulent or violent, racists. As Reconstruction ended, as Jim Crow laws were being put in place, the view grew up that many Confederate soldiers had been chivalrous Cavaliers, possessed of honorable qualities well worth emulating. Many sports teams in the South adopted nicknames like "Rebels" as a result. The Confederate battle flag was a common sideline symbol at sports events for decades. This wasn't necessarily a deliberate slap at African-American sensibilities; it is probably more correct to say that, in the racist culture of the time, the effect of the use of these symbols on African-American sensibilities was never given a moment's thought.

But the meaning of symbols can evolve. By the 1960s the symbols of the old Confederacy became increasingly and indelibly identified with the worst, most-violent, die-hard racists. And while historians can still point to the careers of gallant, chivalrous Cavaliers who mistakenly fought for The Lost Cause, we have matured as a society to the point where the hurtful, hateful aspects of the Confederate battle flag overwhelm any virtues that this symbol might once have represented for sportsmen.

How does this apply to the current Redskins controversy? I'd agree that the feelings of indigenous peoples were not taken into account by those adopting the Redskins name. But the Redskins name and logo is, at bottom, an homage to Native Americans, not a deliberate slur. There is no feat of sophistry that can be conjured to transmute the Confederate battle flag into an homage to African-Americans.

Thus, the analogy suggested by Mr. Stiglich's cartoon does not hold.

The Redskins name is not deliberately insulting or an intentional racial slur. The PC Police are wrong to say otherwise. Still, while the "Redskins" name is just another homage traceable ultimately to Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indians, it is the least sensitive of all. Granted, in 70 years, the Redskins name has become a "brand name" and there are many positive things associated with that brand. Nevertheless, if I were advising the team, I wouldn't counsel Daniel Snyder to dig in his heels and refuse to consider changing the name of his franchise. But let's do so for the right reasons, OK?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Curmudgeon on the road to bankruptcy -- a continuing spiral

If anyone were sufficiently motivated to sift through the ashes of my legal career, they'd find far too many mornings like this one: I was prepared to go to work on time, but Younger Daughter woke up feeling poorly and needed to see a doctor. The local Doc-in-the-Box Immediate Care Center opens at 7:30, so Long Suffering Spouse asked if I had anything up in court this morning. No, I told her. Thus it was settled. I would stay home with the granddaughter while Younger Daughter went to the Doc-in-the-Box and Long Suffering Spouse went to work. She's a Catholic school teacher, a position that, with seniority, pays around 70% of what a starting teacher, fresh from college, makes in the Chicago Public Schools. It ranks, in other words, above 'volunteer' on the pay scale, but only slightly.

Still, it's more than I'm bringing in most days. I couldn't argue with the logic.

There are also too many days like yesterday.

I went to work yesterday, on time and everything. Here is how I spent my day:
  • I looked over a pleading and papers filed on a motion to dismiss for an ex-partner. He wanted my opinion about the viability of an appeal. If I took the appeal, he told me, he thought he could get me as much as $4,000 -- or roughly about one third of the minimum amount I should be charging for such a service in order to start turning a profit around here. Still, beggars can't be choosers: I promised to call after I read the materials

    After reading the materials, I realized that taking $4,000 from the client would be tantamount to robbery. He had no more chance of prevailing in this appeal than I do of becoming Pope. I called my ex-partner to explain why. That's what I thought you'd say, he told me. That's what I hoped you'd say. Could you put that in a letter to me so I can use it to show my client that I talked to an appellate lawyer, so he can see that I've turned over every leaf and there just is no point in continuing this?

    I wrote the letter.
  • Along the way, I fielded a call from a colleague with whom I'm working on a personal injury case. Our client may have a serious injury. She may also be trying to fake something. Or, possibly, there is another process going on here -- she is a lady of a certain age -- that is unrelated to her accident. We're waiting -- we've been waiting -- for a neuropsychologist's report that will (hopefully) tell us what we're dealing with. But it's been a year already since the accident. And the insurance company for the at-fault driver might not simply write us a check because of our report, should it be favorable to us, and should it ever get here. If all the tumblers align, we could be looking at a nice payday -- but they aren't aligned yet and may never be.

    Besides, that's not why my colleague really called. She has another case -- a littler one -- a passenger injured in a taxicab-pedestrian collision. The cab driver is a former client who thought my colleague did good work for him. He recommended my colleague, in fact, to his passenger; he gave her the phone number. My colleague wanted to know if she was conflicted out of the representation. I worked through the ethics rules with her and told her I thought she was free to undertake the passenger's case -- but she'd be wise to let the cab company's insurer know about her prior representation of the driver. First of all, they'd find out anyway....
  • The next telephone conversation was with another colleague for whom I'd done a different appeal. Anonymously. And that was at my request. The appeal is fundamentally flawed and the attorneys who are pursuing it -- the ones who retained my colleague -- are foolish to take the case up. I'm pretty well convinced that they not only failed to properly preserve the substantive points of error, they actually failed to preserve appellate jurisdiction. That's the kind of thing that can force you to have to call your malpractice carrier.

    Still, I marshaled all my skills and wrote the best darn brief I could. It seems to have struck a nerve with the other side: They haven't figured out the jurisdictional flaw yet -- which doesn't mean the court won't do it on its own -- but opposing counsel were apparently so concerned about my brief that they brought a motion to strike my statement of facts as 'argumentative.'

    One does not argue a case in a statement of facts -- not overtly. On the other hand, the purpose of the statement of facts is to tell the story in a way that, by itself, gets the court thinking about ruling in your favor. You can't do that (not properly, at least) by omitting pertinent facts, or glossing over inconvenient facts, but by arranging all of the relevant facts in the case, good and bad alike, in the most persuasive order possible. In other words, if you've done your job properly, and if the other side is not represented by experienced appellate counsel, you may draw a motion to strike because they perceive that your statement was so darned persuasive it must be argumentative. It's almost a compliment, albeit of the decidedly left-handed variety. I needed to see if my colleague liked the Objections to the motion I'd prepared on Tuesday. She did.

    Coincidentally, if you noted my comment on what I should be charging for briefs, in this case I made the princely sum of $1,250, about one-tenth of what I need to charge. That includes my fee for writing the Reply Brief (probably this coming weekend). I might make more on this case -- eventually -- even though it should be a loser, but only because my colleague has agreed to share more of her contingent fee in another appeal, for these same trial attorneys, that should fare much better on appellate review. Should. Maybe. Someday.
  • I also had a telephone conversation with a young attorney about a case where I'm representing a lady who works at my parish. She has no money to pay a $122 ticket that the City has resurrected some 11 years after it was (allegedly) written. It is over a decade too late to challenge the ticket on its merits, but not too late for the City to try and collect. (No, seriously.) The problem is that the City's records, such as they are, are decidedly at odds with my client's recollection. Now, I grant you that it is possible to forget a parking ticket with the passage of time. But my client recollects that the City towed her car away in the middle of the night, then made her hand over her car title lest it bankrupt her with storage fees. (The car was supposedly abandoned. It was old, yes, but drivable, and licensed, and insured. But a neighbor -- a neighbor with some serious juice apparently -- decided she didn't like the old car parked on her block and agitated to get it towed away.)

    The "problem" is that the City has no record of this. Well, yes, midnight thefts are probably not well documented, even by the City of Chicago. But what this lady says happened to her car is sadly plausible. In other words, yes, I believe her. (She gave up her car title because she was thinking of selling the car anyway and she realized she'd not get that much for a 15-year old car in the best of circumstances.) The lawyer who is running the local office of the private collection firm on behalf of the City is a former Deputy Commissioner of Revenue. She was an honest, hard-working, straight-as-an-arrow public servant -- but she knew darn good and well that there were those in her department who were decidedly otherwise.

    My problem is that I'm not dealing with this lawyer. I'm dealing with her green-as-grass associate. To him the City's records are Holy Writ. What is not there never happened. He will not be moved by my pleas. I've asked him to talk it over with his boss -- the former Deputy -- and he has promised to do so. But she may not have the discretion to act in my lady's favor and my lady may yet be saddled with paying the ticket. I've warned my client of this, of course, and told her to start putting aside the money while I make my last Don Quixote effort. But, gosh, I'd like to win this one. Even though I can't -- and won't -- charge the poor woman a dime.
I did some billable work in the afternoon, for a client that doesn't pay its bills until I scream to the company's general counsel. That's no way to endear me to my client, or my client to me. And the work I did was insufficient, even if timely paid, to defray my 'nut' for the day.

But here I am again, back at the Teeny Tiny Law Office, ready in case work -- or a check -- decides to find me.

My auto insurance payment is overdue. It's raining. And, I've discovered, my shoes are no longer water-tight.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Curmudgeon takes stock at the end of a very long week

Luann comic, by Greg Evans, obtained from Yahoo! Comics.

If you saw last Saturday's post, you know why this comic struck home with me.

I'm still angry about what happened. How could I have let myself deteriorate to such an extent?

Mind you, I'm not sufficiently motivated yet to do anything about my evident physical decline -- I'm still in the hand-wringing stage -- and, besides, things are too hectic at home for me to take on some sort of conditioning venture. And what would I do anyway? The Chicago Marathon takes place this weekend and thousands of people, many of them older than me, are going to run 26.2 miles. I can't run 26.2 feet.

The good news is that I can bend my legs again without any pain. It only took several days.

Younger Daughter has already called this morning. Whatever is lurking in the fireplace chimney, just above the (thankfully) closed flue, is active again this morning -- not quite dead yet, apparently. Long Suffering Spouse heard it first. It's hard to describe my wife as she hears something alive and amiss: She gets entirely rigid, achingly alert, and waves of tension, maybe like sonar waves, emanate from the vicinity of her head and shoulders. But she was soon satisfied that, whatever it is, it isn't coming in the house anytime soon. Thus, we were able to leave the house and go to work today.

Younger Daughter was not mollified in the least when I related this to her. Long Suffering Spouse predicted how she'd be. "This is unacceptable," she told me. "Call someone to get that thing out of the chimney -- and be here when they get here," she demanded. I suggested she turn on the TV instead so she couldn't hear it. "I had the TV on," she said.

Of course, Younger Daughter's frayed nerves never had a chance to stop twanging: The Beast in the Chimney arrived Wednesday morning. Yesterday afternoon a giant wasp got into the house. (These things happen as we transition from Summer to Fall.) She used about 18 gallons of wasp spray in an effort to dispatch the creature -- she must have missed badly for some time -- and then couldn't find the wasp's carcass. "This is unacceptable," she told me yesterday afternoon. I suggested that, if the dead wasp had fallen to the floor, her baby would find it for her. Just keep an eye on the kid, I said.

Younger Daughter didn't like that one little bit.

Youngest Son is expected home sometime today. He has a week-long Fall break; he has graciously agreed to spend at least parts of three days of that with us. He has to go back to school early next week because he has to begin winterizing the baseball field. It's been gorgeous in the greater Chicago area the last couple of weeks -- but the one certainty about Midwest weather is that, now we're in October, Winter may begin at any moment. There's no transition required.

Long Suffering Spouse had a brutal week at school. She had an evaluation scheduled for yesterday and her principal is using a new method this year requiring the kind of detailed lesson plan that education majors don't have to write in their most paper-intense class. She's been up late every night this week stressing about the evaluation -- and trying to keep up with everything else she has to do. And then she had to schedule a conference with a problem student as well; that was supposed to take place at the end of the day yesterday.

The parent meeting did take place -- but the evaluation didn't. The principal had gotten behind. When Long Suffering Spouse found her later in the afternoon (giving her the lesson-plan-on-steroids) the principal was surprised. "Why didn't you send someone to get me?" she asked. "I figured you must have had someone in your office or that something else had come up," my wife said. Leafing through the massive lesson plan, the principal said, "Well, thank you for being so considerate." She promised to drop by some other time, assuring my wife that she needn't do another of these lesson plans.

My wife is not happy. "She's going to drop in on me unannounced and I'm going to look totally unprepared." I tried to reassure her -- she's always prepared -- but she wasn't buying.

We'll see how things go today. Fortunately, she has Monday off. Courts are closed Monday, too.

And I actually had some legal work to do this week. I'd tell you about some of that, too, except I still have legal work to do and the morning is getting away from me. Again.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

And, thanks to modern technology, we can get jarring telephone calls even on the train!

Wireless signal is spotty along the CTA's Blue Line train tracks, especially when the sometime-elevated train becomes the Subway. Maybe that's why the caller ID on my oh-so-smart phone said "Unknown."

The last time the oh-so-smart phone said "Unknown" -- also when I was on the train -- it turned out to be Long Suffering Spouse. This time it was Younger Daughter. And, yes, thank you, I do have my wife and daughter -- all my children and children-in-law, in fact -- in my Contacts list. So I should have seen Younger Daughter's name and her number when she called yesterday, although I saw neither.

"Hello?" I said, tentatively. (One of these days, I'll answer a call from Unknown and it will turn out to be a sales call. From that day forward, all Unknown calls will be denied.)

"You're going to have to turn around and come home," Younger Daughter announced.

"What's the matter?"

"There's something in the fireplace and it's alive."

"What do you mean, in the fireplace?

"Well, I can hear it. It's moving and scratching -- here, listen." She must have held the phone near the fireplace -- pretty brave of her, really, considering -- and, over the roar of the train and the fading signal, it is entirely possible that I heard some sort of skittering noise.

"It's a bird or squirrel," I said. "It must have fallen in the chimney. But the flue is closed. It can't get in the house."

"Are you sure?"

"If the flue is closed, I am. And the flue is closed."

That was about when the signal gave up the ghost.

But several texts accumulated while I was out of range.

I called Younger Daughter back when I got in the office.

"I agree with your plan," I told her (having read through the several text messages). "Today seems like a fine day to take the baby out for errands."

"Well the noise stopped," she said. "Maybe it climbed out."

"Or died."

"Yeah." Younger Daughter did not seem comforted by this possibility.

"Well, don't open the flue to find out which it is," I suggested. I didn't mean to be rude, I told her, but I actually had stuff to do yesterday -- including telling you about the first phone call yesterday morning -- and I had to go to court as well. (Imagine that: I sometimes still go to court!) Younger Daughter seemed mollified by the end of our conversation; she outlined an ambitious itinerary that included retail therapy and a visit to Abuela. I said OK and plunged into my day.

Three hours later or so I was in the lobby of the Daley Center looking for someone. The person I was looking for was allegedly looking for someone, too. But the person I was looking for was nowhere to be seen. Meanwhile, the court had been waiting 45 minutes. I pulled out my phone to check messages -- I didn't expect to find this man hiding in my voice mail, but there might have been a clue.

Instead, there was only a frantic message from Long Suffering Spouse. "Where are you? I've called your cell phone, I've called your office and I can't find you! There's some sort of animal in the house!"

Apparently I wasn't the only one Younger Daughter had texted. My wife keeps her phone off during the school day -- she doesn't trust the 'mute' button -- but she must have had a moment to switch it on during her lunch break yesterday. The message had just been left a few minutes before, though, so I tried to call my wife.

She answered. "Where are you? I've been trying to find you everywhere."

"In court."

"Oh. I'll hang up."

"No, I'm outside the courtroom now." (I'd gone back up on the elevator as I was dialing the phone.) "I already talked to Younger Daughter. It's not in the house. It's in the chimney above the fireplace. It can't get through the flue. Whatever it was stopped moving a couple of hours ago now."

"It probably died."

"That's what I said."

"Well, we can't use the fireplace!"

"We haven't used the fireplace in two years."

"Sure we have. Haven't we? Once?"

"Look, bottom line here is the noise is stopped. Whatever it was is dead or gone. Younger Daughter and the baby are going out on errands. We can figure out everything later."

I had to get back to the courtroom to report the outcome of my unsuccessful reconnoiter. Sometimes work intrudes on the steady stream of family phone calls.

Some people wonder why I long for the days when we weren't accessible 24/7/365. But, just once, I would like to start in on a project and work on it without interruption.

Do you know the surest way to get a client phone call? Start in on a different file. If you can start in on a different file -- if all the crises at home are being managed....

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Late afternoon, early morning phone calls shatter your nerves as well

It is always a nervous time in the Curmudgeon home, don't get me wrong. A young Woody Allen would complain that we're all too neurotic, even for him. A young Robin Williams would complain that we're far too manic for him to be comfortable.

But we have been even more on edge than usual for the past several weeks because Older Daughter has tried her luck again with IVF -- a different doctor -- different medications -- same old roller coaster ride (for more about Older Daughter's past IVF experiences, click on the IVF tab at the bottom of this post).

Except.

Except maybe -- this time -- there may be a different outcome.

No, I haven't written about this latest attempt before. I've written about others and they all turned out badly. I won't write about the details now. I don't believe in tempting fate. But I have to mention -- to tell this story -- that, despite an inauspicious beginning, and some very dark moments along the way, things had progressed, as of yesterday, to the point where an ultrasound was scheduled and it was anticipated that a heartbeat would be clearly visible.

Older Daughter is in Indianapolis; the rest of us are in Chicago. We had to wait for her report. Nervously.

She got hold of her sister first. "Hello?" said Younger Daughter. "What's the news?"

There was silence on the end of the line.

"Hello?" repeated Younger Daughter. "Are you there?" (She wanted to ask, are you OK? but there was no way to frame that question in a way that would get a 'yes' answer if the news were bad -- and the continued silence was really getting to her.)

"I'm really pregnant," came the response, finally. Oh, so softly.

So understated that Younger Daughter had to consider an extra second or two whether the news was good or bad.

Long Suffering Spouse later reported a similar lull at the outset of her eventual conversation with Older Daughter. "I couldn't tell if it was good news or bad at first," she told me later. "But she's so happy -- and I'm so happy for her -- but, I have to tell you, if she said 'it's surreal' one more time, I was going to reach through the phone and strangle her, happy or not."

No, she wasn't really threatening her child; she was venting pressure. We all were. Older Daughter called six more times or so. Long Suffering Spouse had her on the speakerphone at one point as Older Daughter was talking about really wanting to eat salty foods and drink milk.

"Pretty soon you'll want pickles and ice cream," I said. No, Long Suffering Spouse never had bizarre cravings like that, but I've watched my share of sitcoms, back in the day.

"They both sound good," Older Daughter said, "but maybe not together."

"So is it official?" I asked. "Can I start drinking for two?"

"Well, my husband is," she said. "I bought him a bottle of 10 year old Bushmill's this afternoon on my way home from the doctor."

Older Daughter had told her husband she'd buy him a bottle of good whiskey when she knew she was pregnant. This was actually bottle number two -- she'd bought another one a couple of weeks ago when a prior ultrasound demonstrated a fetal pull (the precursor of a heartbeat). In her excitement at the time, she'd confided all this to the salesman who waited on her in the liquor store. She saw the same salesman yesterday afternoon, she told us.

"And he said 'so this means things are going well?' and I said 'you remembered?' and he said 'I told you I'd be praying for you.'"

"You have no idea how many people have been praying for you," Long Suffering Spouse interjected at this point. "So many."

Yes, there was a general lessening of tension in the Curmudgeon household yesterday evening -- great happiness and joy (and relief) for Older Daughter and her husband Hank.

And, then, this morning, at about 6:40 or so, the house phone rang. Long Suffering Spouse was already downstairs; I was still getting dressed. She beat me to the closest phone. I had no doubt about who was calling; I ran down the stairs half-dressed. Fortunately I did not trip on my untied shoelaces.

Long Suffering Spouse heard me coming and met me in the dining room.

"She's going to kill me," she said.

"What's wrong?" I asked. I didn't really want to know, but I knew I would have to listen.

"Nothing," my wife said. "She just called to say she hopes I have a nice day. I almost had a heart attack there."

"Me too. Was there anything else?"

"Well, yeah, she said she must have been so stressed yesterday that this morning she could hardly move."

"I'll just bet."

Younger Daughter stumbled down the steps a moment later. "Who was that, as if I didn't know? What happened?"

"Everything's fine," Long Suffering Spouse and I said at once. Long Suffering Spouse continued to explain about how Older Daughter complained about being unable to move this morning."

"At one point yesterday," Younger Daughter told us, "she told me her co-workers must all hate her. She kept looking at the clock. Six hours to go, she'd tell them. Five and a half hours to go. If even she realized that she was making everyone around her crazy, it must have been awful."

"How are we going to survive until May?" asked Long Suffering Spouse, but neither I nor Younger Daughter have an answer to that one.

Calls after midnight are the ones that are supposed to scare us, right? Nothing good happens after midnight? But now, we see, calls in the middle of the day -- and certainly first thing in the morning -- can be just as frightening.

And that was just the beginning of my day.

Tomorrow's post will cover the next crisis that arose -- all before I got into the office....

Saturday, October 05, 2013

A very scary moment on an el platform

I've tried to come up with someone else to blame for this one.

Some of you may think that's the lawyer in me, locked by habit and temperament into a never-ending quest for a deep pocket. I think it's the human in me: Which of us wants to accept responsibility for our own shortcomings?

OK, granted, I was at a reception Thursday night and I spent a good deal of time talking to a man just a few years older than me, a retired Marine officer, who was telling me all about the ten marathons he was running this year -- 10! -- including some abomination he'd already run called the Old Farts Marathon, held in Michigan in the woods over what amounts to an obstacle course. Climbing walls, rocks to be scaled, and somehow the course seemed to be almost entirely uphill. I don't understand the idea of running marathons. Having at least a rudimentary classical education, I keep remembering what was traditionally reported as the fate of Pheidippides, the messenger who ran from Marathon to Athens to inform the city of the glorious victory over the Persians: He supposedly wheezed out news of the victory, then dropped dead. I know that I'd be winded running from the back of the house to answer the front door if the doorbell were ringing. I know that, so I can't blame the man with whom I that pleasant conversation for what happened.

It had been a pleasant gathering. I'd had nothing stronger than water, you understand, and it was a beautiful evening, not too warm, not too cool, humid, but not oppressively so. The reception was in the West Loop and I was planning to take the el back downtown, where I could pick up the family van and get home. I was under orders to buy jelly on the way. Still, because it was so pleasant (the rain forecast for the evening had so far held off) I was toying with the notion of walking back.

Then the phone rang.

It was Long Suffering Spouse. "You said you'd be home by now." I looked at my watch -- yeah, I know, I'm supposed look only at the phone, but old habits die hard. Long Suffering Spouse had a difficult day at school and she had to go talk to her principal about the behavior of the 8th grade boys. My wife didn't get out of school until around the time I was planning to leave for the reception -- so I started a half hour late. And I was leaving only a half hour later than originally planned -- not so bad, I thought. But Long Suffering Spouse had a different opinion. "I'm on my way," I told her -- and I was. I terminated the call and put the phone back in my suit jacket pocket.

It was at that point I noticed my umbrella was missing. I'd brought an umbrella to the reception because of the weather forecast. I'd been carrying it in a side pocket. I hadn't noticed when it fell out.

Maybe it fell out when I reached into my jacket for the phone, I thought, and backtracked a block or so looking for it, without success.

Well, that took some more time, didn't it? And my wife had already chided me for being late. So I abandoned any thought of walking back and started again for the train.

Still, I can't blame my wife for what happened -- or even the umbrella. I knew better.

The el station had been recently remodeled. It had all the modern doohickeys including the little screen suspended from the ceiling that says when to expect trains. The screen refreshed as I was looking at it -- and it said the Pink Line train to the Loop was due. I'd catch that train if I ran up the stairs. Lots and lots of stairs.

But I can't blame the sign. I knew better.

And yet... and yet... there I was charging up the stairs like Teddy Roosevelt up San Juan Hill. Without the horse, of course (a horse's ass, perhaps).

My legs became increasingly heavy and were largely useless by the time I was about a half dozen steps short of the platform. The train was in the station. I grabbed the railing and started pulling myself up.

Ding dong! came the noise from the train speakers, doors closing.

A couple of younger men passed me up as I huffed and puffed those last couple of stairs.

I let go of the railing, lurched onto the platform, and toppled over faster than a pagan idol at a missionary convention.

The thud stopped the young men who were heading into the train. One held the door while the other came back to offer assistance.

"Are you OK?" he said.

I tried to stand, but my legs would not work. "I can't stand up," I said.

He offered a hand, but I couldn't pull myself up. My legs would not work.

Doors closing, said the train speakers. The man's companion successfully blocked the doors again.

The train was only a few feet away. The doors were open right in front of me. I just couldn't get there.

My good Samaritan got down and gave me his shoulder. With his help, I got on my feet. I wasn't really walking, though. He more or less dragged me into the train. "Thank you," I managed and threw myself into a bench seat.

Two young women were sitting across from me, watching.

"I'm so embarrassed," I said.

"I didn't see anything," one said.

"Me either," said the other.

I spent the train ride silently calculating my chances of being able to stand unassisted when I got to my stop. Then I was wondering if I'd be able to walk to the parking garage. Then I wondered if I'd be able to sit in the car. I imagined myself calling from the Jewel parking lot. No, I didn't buy the jelly, I'd have to say, I can't get out of the car.

This was one of the first times I'd ridden in one of the CTA's new cars with mostly bench seats. I hate the whole idea of these cars -- but, on this one occasion I admit that the hanging commuter straps allowed me to hoist myself upright when my stop came. I must have looked like Frankenstein's Monster shuffling stiffly to the parking garage. I winced folding myself into the car. I took a deep breath and discovered I could drive, after all.

I even got the jelly.

But I had to tell my wife about what had happened. I had resolved to tell her even before I discovered that I had ripped my new pants at the knee when I crumbled onto the el platform. I knew I'd been bleeding. I didn't know about the tear.

Long Suffering Spouse and Younger Daughter tried not to call me an idiot, though they both thought I should have known better than to try and run up the stairs like that. And I did know better. Honest.

*Sigh*

After all that, I didn't have the heart to tell Long Suffering Spouse I'd lost an umbrella, too.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

It's a rainy, autumnal day in Chicago...

It's a rainy, autumnal day in Chicago. The temperature is supposed to reach 82 this afternoon, but I doubt it will. There's more rain in the area than was forecast, I think.

The lawn, I noticed this morning, needs cutting again, so it's really not yet Fall, but there's the whiff of decaying leaves in the neighborhood these days, a smell magnified by the damp. The minutes are flying off the days now. Even if it's not entirely here, Fall is surely coming.

I'm late arriving at the Undisclosed Location this morning. Oldest Son and Abby are on their way to Texas for a brief visit with her folks and then to Dallas for the Notre Dame - ASU game. I had to drive them to the airport. They were supposed to be at our house at 6:30 for their 8:30 flight. Oldest Son texted his sister (Younger Daughter is the nominal sitter for their dog, Rodent, who will be staying with us this weekend) fairly early, updating their ETA to 6:45. They showed up around 7:25. I got them to O'Hare, weather and all, in 10 minutes.

But the van needed gas and traffic into the City was incredibly snarled. What is it about rain that causes cars to spring up out of the expressway pavement like mushrooms in a low spot? I got gas and headed home for a few minutes before plunging back into the traffic. (No train today, not this late, and not when I'm planning to show up at a reception tonight, if only for a little while.)

Rodent greeted me at the door as if I were a conquering hero. It was all an act, you see; Rodent was trying to make Younger Daughter jealous. Rodent can't quite understand why Younger Daughter insists on paying any attention to her daughter when she has a perfectly lovely Shih Tzu dog to pet. Younger Daughter explained it all to me.

The Baby to Be Named Later needed to take a nap and Younger Daughter put her down just before I left. "Rodent looked so happy when I came down the stairs by myself," Younger Daughter told me. "She really doesn't like the baby. But she hates it when the baby cries, so she's not all bad."

We got the mail late yesterday, but today the mail came early.

Either way, there was no money.

And the rent is just about overdue. Again.

Like the advancing season, I continue to move ahead. There's no where else to go.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

The Stupid Party strikes again

Congress passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010 by the slimmest of margins, securing the necessary votes by methods that were (at best) dubious, and without bothering to read the stupid thing. We have to pass the bill so you can find out what's in it, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi famously said.

The process was so partisan and (arguably) so tainted that there was a backlash and Democrats were swept out of the majority in the House of Representatives in the 2010 mid-term elections. Speaker Pelosi was reduced to Minority Leader. But, just as it takes both the House and the Senate to pass a bill, it also takes both houses to repeal a bill.

The Republicans did not recapture the Senate. So despite the House Republicans' voting to repeal it nearly every other day since taking over the majority in 2011, the Affordable Care Act, now universally dubbed Obamacare, remained on the books.

Remains on the books.

You have to start at least from there in evaluating the current debacle in Washington.

Actually, you could go back a couple of decades and note that many of the key components of Obamacare have Republican roots, including the now-hated individual mandate. There are a number of Republicans in Congress today who were for individual mandates -- who viewed them as nothing more than a tax, just as Chief Justice Roberts would do much more recently -- before they decided they were unconstitutional abominations. (Repeat after me: The Supreme Court is not final because it's right, but right because it's final.)

Mr. Potter would have loved the Affordable Care Act
And you can see why many Big Business Republicans might have been for Obamacare at one point: It looks like it was designed by a committee of the most cold-hearted, miserly MBAs ever assembled.

Let's see... health insurance for an employee's family generally costs $10,000 to $15,000 a year. And businesses have to hire people to assist with employee claims (when the insurance company inevitably messes up) and negotiate with the insurance company on annual rate increases and benefits provided. Or, under Obamacare, they can pay a tax -- ooooh, a penalty -- of $2,000 an employee and let the workers fend for themselves. Gee, that's a hard one. Hmmm. Save as much (or more) than $10,000 per employee and avoid the hassles of dealing with insurance or pay a negligible penalty? Now, of course, penalties will go up -- so give everyone $6,000 (for example) and send them into the exchanges to fend for themselves.

Obamacare was designed to fail. Do not kid yourself otherwise. Private insurers will benefit in the short term (idiot MBAs again, lured by the fool's gold of government subsidies) but when the dust clears the government will be paying most of the nation's insurance tab, whether through income-based subsidies or as the insurer of last resort.

Many Democrats want this to happen because, they believe, the nation will then demand a more "equitable" single payer system instead.

Meanwhile, many large companies -- Big, Big Business -- have applied to the Obama Administration for waivers for a year or more before assuming the burdens (and -- for them -- the benefits!) of Obamacare, and the Administration has granted most of the requests. Some unions and some states (apparently even some "Blue" states) have requested waivers of certain Obamacare provisions as these apply to them in whole or in part.

But there is one group that has definitely not been granted any sort of waiver: The Little Guy. The currently uninsured. They must plunge into the exchanges (ready or not) and fend for themselves.

Instead of shutting down the federal government, the Republicans might have highlighted the unfairness of this: Giving breaks to Big Business while throttling the Little Guys' necks.

Of course, a lot of Republicans (just like a lot of Democrats, apparently) think that sort of thing is just fine.

So... the Republicans decided to play "chicken" with the Senate and shut down the government.

Except... Obamacare implementation is not affected by the shutdown! It continues, while tourists are turned away from museums in Washington and campers are turned away from our national parks.

All the Republicans had to do was call press conferences to read constituent complaints about Obamacare. There'd be a lot of press conferences. But, no, the Republicans decided to shut down the 'gummint.'

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Another guest post from the Baby to Be Named Later

The following post was found underneath the baby's high chair this morning. My granddaughter's printing isn't the greatest, but I think I've been able to faithfully transcribe it....
-- Curmudgeon

Grandpa C found out that I know all about his blog back in April when I left my first guest post. But I haven't blabbed to anyone. It's good to have something I can hold over the old guy... just in case.

Just in case of what, I'm not sure.

And, speaking of not sure, I'm not exactly sure about what's been going on around here the last couple of days.

Mommy got some balloons from the store -- they're huge! -- and they stay up in the air all by themselves. One is giant number 1 -- I know this because I watch Sesame Street videos these days on everybody's phone or on Grandma's iPad.

I don't know why it's Grandma's iPad. Grandpa always seems to have it. He thinks he can play word games when I'm in the room, but I soon put him straight.

Anyway, the other balloon is a giant cupcake. I didn't know about cupcakes before but Mommy baked up a whole bunch of them, and I got to eat some of them. They're pretty good. She puts frosting on some of them, too. That's even better -- but every time I eat one with frosting, someone takes my picture.

The last couple of days my picture has been taken so many times; I'm getting pretty concerned about it. Has my appearance suddenly changed? I know my hair has grown in some -- Mommy puts bows on me now -- but that's been pretty gradual and doesn't explain all this sudden activity.

And I've been standing more, lately, too. Crawling is still faster, but when I stand I can get at anything they leave on the coffee table in the den -- food, glasses, phones. You'd think they'd discourage this -- they're so picky about my picking up their glasses, for example -- but they cheer me on. Last weekend Mommy and Daddy got me shoes. Grandma and Grandpa and Mommy and Daddy all wear shoes when they go out of the house. At night, Grandpa will come home and take his shoes off just as soon as he can. They must affect his hearing because when he takes them off he says something about dogs barking. They also keep you awake: Grandma takes her shoes off and promptly falls asleep. But now they want me to wear shoes -- and in the house, too.

But this standing and edging along the furniture has been pretty gradual. The shoes are recent, but, like I said, that was the weekend. And all the pictures and all this other strange stuff started towards the end of the week.

My first guess was that it had something to do with teeth.

I have got to tell you, growing these things are murder. I know grownups walk around with whole mouths full of these things, but I can't imagine how you can stand the pain of getting them all.

It's soured my disposition, let me tell you. It's given me fevers and I wake up at all hours and Mommy and Daddy say some of my diapers are terrible.

Growing teeth hasn't hurt my appetite, though, and I can eat bread now.

Grandpa says I beg for table scraps worse than any puppy he's ever seen. He tells me that he doesn't try to take any of the food off my plate when I eat -- so why should I be trying to take food off his plate?

Grandpas are so silly, aren't they? Have you seen the mush Mommy and Daddy try and palm off on me?

Anyway, after Mommy got me those two giant balloons, Daddy came home with an Elmo balloon, too.

I'm a big Elmo fan, which Grandpa says is kind of creepy. I don't think I want to know what he's getting at. I'd rather watch Elmo sing the "Elmo Song" with Big Bird and Snuff -- Snufflup -- Snuffleupagus -- you know, that's a pretty big word for a little kid to write -- and I like Elmo and the Ducks and Elmo singing with Adam Sandler, too.

Yesterday, Abuela came over and she brought some more balloons. No more Elmo balloons though. Grandpa came home last night and said he's figured out that we're the cause of the helium shortage. He's always saying strange things like that.

After thinking about it, I couldn't figure any connection between this flurry of activity and my teeth. Now I'm afraid something much more sinister is going on: Last night, after strapping me into my high chair, Mommy gave me a cupcake -- with frosting -- just like I like it -- but this time she set it on fire. And everybody, Mommy, Daddy, Grandma, Grandpa -- they all sang some sort of song at me.

I started crying. I don't think a kid my age can be a heretic. Why, then, are they trying to burn me at the stake?

And there's something else, too: Usually, when I crawl around and find a magazine or a book or a newspaper on the floor, I like to open them up and read it. That's what Grandma and Grandpa do with these things; I've seen them. They can turn pages without tearing them, though, and they seem to get upset with me when I tear pages out. I try and quickly eat the evidence so they won't notice, but that only seems to get them more upset. I've gotten picked up and carried out of the room unceremoniously more than once for doing nothing more that that, I can tell you.

So... what is going on with these people?

Yesterday, they gave me boxes wrapped in paper and they told me to tear it up. (They still wouldn't let me eat it, though.)

And here's the scary part: They let me tear the paper but they kept taking pictures.

Are they setting me up for something?