Thursday, January 31, 2013

Gentlemen, we've been sold a bill of goods about housework

Does this quotation sound familiar?
I like hugs and I like kisses,
But what I really love is help with the dishes!
-- Author Unknown
Maybe you've seen statements like this one in newspapers or magazines:
Seriously, seeing a guy put much thought into helping out with the daily doldrums shows he cares, which is a MAJOR turn-on. And, heck: If your woman isn't tired from housework, she'll feel more like... Well, you know...
Or maybe you've seen books like this one (available on Amazon):


Lies, gentlemen. All lies. Propaganda.

A new study just released by the University of Washington shows that "men and women who divide household chores in traditional ways report having more sex than couples who share so-called men’s and women’s work." By "traditional" the study's authors mean "traditional gender roles around the house – wives doing the cooking, cleaning and shopping; men doing yard work, paying bills and auto maintenance."

Of course, the linked press release from the University of Washington, by Molly McElroy, contains a politically correct disclaimer:
Husbands shouldn’t take these findings as justification for not cooking, cleaning, shopping or performing other traditionally female household tasks, warned lead author Sabino Kornrich, a former UW graduate student who is now a researcher at the Juan March Institute in Madrid. “Men who refuse to help around the house could increase conflict in their marriage and lower their wives’ marital satisfaction.”
But I thought rebellious thoughts anyway last night, as I scrubbed the dinner dishes... and then it occurred to me: Never increase conflict in a marriage in a room where there are all sorts of knives....

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Why Curmudgeon hates big corporations, Part 2,137

No "big picture" stuff today. Let's just stay close to home.

There's a kid who's been working here at the Undisclosed Location since shortly after I first moved in, seven years ago (yes, I moved last year -- but it was 35 feet up -- three floors in the same building to the Teeny Tiny Law Office).

By "kid" I suppose he must be pushing 30 by now; after all, he's been here six or seven years and he didn't start working here when he was 11. He's on the maintenance staff. He may be employed by the same outfit that supplies the overnight cleaning crew but he's on the day shift and is directed in his work by the building engineers.

He's of Eastern European origin, Polish I'd guess (this being Chicago); I don't know for sure. I do know his English was just about non-existent when he started; it's improved considerably over the years. I've made it a point to say 'hello' or 'good evening,' as appropriate, and I've seen the improvement.

But I'm not a smoker (not anymore, not for 25 years or so). So I don't go downstairs several times a day to venture out into the alley next door to the Undisclosed Location to hang with the smokers puffing there. Our tenant does smoke. So she sees this kid three or four times a day. He helped us out a few times when we were moving -- making sure we had carts or big waste baskets or whatever else we needed. ("He'd better bring it," my tenant told me at the time. "Some of that stuff belongs to my company and I let the building use it for free.")

Recently, when our tenant was coming in from her nicotine fix, she ran into the kid from maintenance and said hello. The kid glanced furtively around before answering. "I can't talk to you anymore," he said. "New policy. I'm not allowed to talk to people in the building."

Our Undisclosed Location was sold a couple of years ago to a new group of investors. There's a market for Class C office buildings, even in a never-ending recession: There will always be fly-by-night lawyers such as yours truly, and in a bad economy there are always businesses looking to bail from fancier Class A or B buildings when the new lease comes due.

The new owners have become quite aggressive about capturing costs. No longer can we hail a building engineer in the hallway when the heat is not hot enough or there's an issue in the bathroom. Now we are expected to send emails to the corporate office -- in Michigan -- so they can dispatch the engineer (who was just down the hall the whole time) to come fix the problem. But by going through corporate, the appropriate charge can be added to someone's bill.

The maintenance staff has always delivered our rent bills. Last month, though, our rent bill came with an insert: In a "green initiative" the new owners want us to provide an email address to which our future rent bills can be sent. The transparent fiction is that this move would supposedly would save paper -- as if we wouldn't print out the bills to keep a record of payment anyway.

No, the reason for this is to prevent a tenant from asking the person delivering the bill to replace a light bulb in the exit sign or check the thermostat in the back office. These costs must be 'captured,' darn it; these services must be billed. That's the only 'green' in which our new corporate owners are interested.

Which brings us back to the Eastern European kid now afraid to say hello to people he sees every day. He doesn't want to lose his job because he practiced his English. I can't blame him. I don't know exactly who to blame -- but I can bet he or she is in Michigan, at the corporate office, and has an MBA.

He or she is also a thoughtless jerk.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Senate hammers out bipartisan path to citizenship for illegals, promises to tighten borders. What could be wrong with that?


Hey look, Congress may be about to do something! Stop the presses! Ring the bells!

A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators has announced a 'tough but fair' path to citizenship for illegals already in this country, a plan that, according to an editorial in this morning's Chicago Sun-Times, accommodates the Republicans' demand to secure "the border against future illegal immigration." Over in the House, former Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan has also indicated a willingness to consider immigration reform.

So what could be wrong with this?

Plenty.

Where in these proposals are tough penalties against employers who lure illegals over the border with promises of employment? Where is the enforcement now? Every big company in America has exposure on this, restaurants and banks and hotels and retailers and manufacturers. And, yet, no gringo goes to jail.

Here's how it works in the real world: José sneaks across the border, finding a job at a factory in Iowa, and sends money home to his mother each month. When José's employer is ready to hire, he gets the word to José: We have more jobs coming open. José lets the folks back home in his village know -- and a new northward surge begins.

José and his once and future neighbors make more than they would have made at home -- and the jefe Americano pays them far less than he'd have to pay Americans. El jefe doesn't have to worry about unions or overtime or insurance or anything. If an employee gets out of line, he can cut him loose faster than he can say, "I'm shocked to find you don't have a green card, son."

Meanwhile, our own young people can't find entry level employment because the minimum wage is insufficient to feed a family (which, of course, is true -- but irrelevant when considering the parlous employment prospects of the all-American teenager).

I don't blame José for coming here. José and his fellow villagers are doing what our parents, grandparents or great-grandparents did, and for the same reasons: José wants a better life for himself and his family. His neighbors want the same. So did our ancestors. That's what America is all about, darn it.

I do blame the cynical store owners, restaurant owners, factory owners -- los jefes Americanos -- who flaunt the laws about hiring illegals knowing there's no consequence for their crimes -- and lots of opportunity for profit.

And I blame Congress for not going after the bosses... many of whom are contributing some of their profits back to the politicians who allow them to continue doing what they're doing.

Congress is acting -- if it really does act -- here for the most cynical of reasons: It's all about votes. Republicans are interested in immigration reform all of a sudden because Mitt Romney got so little Hispanic support. He's got Mexican relatives -- but few Hispanic votes. Meanwhile, the Democrats see José and his ilk as Future Democrats of America. Once they tread the 'path to citizenship,' however long, Democrats are betting they'll become a virtually captive constituency, at least in the big cities, just as African-Americans already are.

But neither party wants to upset the corporations that profit from illegals... so here's what's going to happen.

If José registers for citizenship, his boss would have to start paying him minimum wage, paying employment taxes, paying Medicare and Social Security. José may be a great worker, and in some cases it'll work out, but there's probably a good chance he'll get tossed out on his kiester. Not immediately, perhaps, but as soon as possible.

José's kinfolk will get the message: Don't register. And, if they do, well, there's a lot more villages in Mexico. And we'll have a sudden surplus of unskilled Spanish-speaking workers who were making a living, now forced on a path to dependency.

Here's what should happen: José registers, as do all his friends and neighbors from back home now working at the factory. ICE comes in and charges the boss criminally. Faced with jail and the certain loss of his business, the boss suddenly decides that he can keep José et al. on board after all, even when he is forced to pay an appropriate wage. Some bosses do go to jail. Getting a few Forbes 500 CEO's in a perp walk on the evening news will convince their brothers and sisters to take hiring and wage laws seriously.

This is a Main Street issue. Wall Street benefits more from and (carefully removed from direct contact by several layers of subcontractors) treats illegals worse than the small business-owners left on Main Street. Republicans are trying to shed the label of the Stupid Party. But "No Longer the Stupid Party" is not a particularly positive name. As part of a plan to become the Party of Main Street, not the Lackeys of Wall Street, the Republicans should insist on aggressive enforcement of immigration laws -- existing and proposed -- against employers.

That's the way to have real reform. That's the way to help José -- and all the rest of us, too.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Curmudgeon complains about those who complain about the weather

We've had so little real winter weather in Chicago this year (and last winter, too, come to think of it) that maybe the over-reaction of my six million friends and neighbors to just a taste of normalcy is understandable.

Sort of.

Last Friday's morning rush snow squall (maybe we got an inch from it -- maybe) was enough to turn the Kennedy (and all the other local "expressways") into a stalled sea of sheet metal -- travel times three and four and even five times normal. I woke up to news of an eight-car pile-up on the express lanes at Armitage. This was amended soon thereafter; turns out, there were 12 cars involved. On the other hand, things always get dicey around here -- even in normal winters -- when it snows at rush hour. I recall a two hour odyssey one Christmas Eve many years ago (I'd gone into work) -- a trip that should have taken about 20 minutes. (I was a very popular fellow at home that night.)

But what justifies yesterday?

We had a bit of an ice storm yesterday afternoon.

Now, there's no question that freezing rain is the worst form of precipitation possible. I'd rather have a foot of snow than try and cope with even a quarter-inch of ice. Ice storms are murder on power lines and pedestrians both.

But even in our 24/7 world, if there's one afternoon when things can slow down, it's on Sundays, right? So the weather is awful; driving is hazardous. On Sunday afternoon most of us have the choice to simply avoid it. The weather forecasters promised that temperatures would warm overnight, so any ice that did form would simply melt away. (And, sure enough this morning, according to the thermometer in the van, it is an unseasonably warm 47 ̊. It's a gray, rainy morning in Chicago that April would be proud of.)

But every newscast yesterday was devoted to how terrible things were outside -- the perils of ice -- and so forth and so on. It might have been reasonable to put the weather bunny at the top of the broadcast to take 15 seconds to remind people it was not nice outside (if one assumes the pelt of sleet and freezing raindrops against the windows insufficient to convey this information) -- but to devote 15 minutes of a 30 minute broadcast to normal (for a change), if icky, weather? Why? Are all the other problems of the world solved that we can dwell on this?

I didn't think so either.

Friday, January 25, 2013

"Don't wake the baby!"

We'd stayed up late to finish watching a movie on TCM and then the remote (which has a mind of its own) balked at shutting off both the TV monitor and the cable box, at least at the same time.

I made some innocuous remark about the #$%@! remote and Long Suffering Spouse began hissing at me: "Why are you shouting? Don't wake the baby!"

Never mind that the den of the Curmudgeon manse is as far away as it is possible to be from the baby's room and still be under the same roof. It was late and we were both tired. So I merely apologized, profusely and quietly.

But it got me thinking.

Our granddaughter, the baby-to-be-named-later, is about four months old now. She's really at the height of her portability. She's not yet teething and, truly, she sleeps like a rock.

They all do, at that age.

When they want to, of course. Sometimes, they have other bodily functions on their minds or, like any of us, they just don't feel well. When they get like that you can't get them to sleep, or keep them asleep, without risking intervention by Family Services.

Years ago, when our kids were small, my wife always left a radio on, or a television, or something when our babies were sleeping during the day. She didn't want them to develop an idea that total quiet was a prerequisite to slumber.

Good thing, too. By the time Youngest Son came along, 5th in the series, there was probably no hour of the day or night in which there was not noise somewhere in the house.

No, I had no chance late last night (early this morning) of waking up the baby. I could have started singing and tap dancing outside her door without rousing her.

And my wife, of all people, knows this.

But she hissed at me, I think, because of something that happened early yesterday morning.

We were getting ready to face the rigors of the day and my wife asked me whether I'd heard from an attorney that owes me a rather large sum of money. No, I snarled, I'd not heard from her -- although I'd called her first thing when I got in the office Wednesday.

We'd settled a PI case in December at a mediation. Insurance companies are never overly generous, but they will settle more cases at year-end than at other times for bookkeeping or tax purposes. There were issues to be resolved after the settlement -- medical insurance liens chief among these -- but, in all honesty, I was worried that the settlement would be concluded too far before the end of December.

I operate as a corporation for tax reasons. I don't know how it works with the Too-Big-To-Fails, but we Too-Small-To-Survives are expected to zero out our accounts at the end of the year, thereby showing no corporate income. Of course, with us little guys, that which is not corporate income is personal income, so Uncle Sam is sure to get his cut, one way or the other.

Uncle Sam takes his cut -- income tax, Social Security, Medicare and employer 'contributions' -- on the 15th of each month following the month in which income is earned. Basically, if I want to take home $1,000, I must deduct $1,500 from my checkbook. My wife and I can spend the $1,000 -- but the $500 stays behind to satisfy Uncle Sam on the 15th of the next month.

For 11 months out of 12, that works just fine (if you have income, that is) but it becomes dicey in December. Say you've had $4,000 in income in December. You have to leave behind $2,000 to keep Uncle Sam at bay. But the accountant sees that the $2,000 is, technically, still on the books at year end and says -- oops! -- you have corporate income and must pay corporate income tax on that tax money.

Confused? I was the first couple of years, too. I kept leaving money in because I'd already deducted it from my checkbook. But, you see, I had to 'add it back' on the 14th to make my tax payment on the 15th (these days you must schedule your payroll tax deposit the day before it is due).

To avoid this -- paying taxes on money earmarked for taxes seems excessive to me -- I eventually learned to write myself a check for that last $2,000 -- and earmark another $1,000 for payroll taxes on that. I'd just put that check aside until enough money trickled in at the beginning of the next year to allow me to actually deposit it in my personal account.

But if no money came in, then, on January 15, Uncle would expect me to pay payroll tax on $6,000, not $4,000 -- and I wouldn't have it.

Every year, it's been a close run thing, but I've managed to come up with the scratch.

Except that, in 2011, I made so little money in the 4th quarter, I somehow wound up owing corporate tax anyway.

Go figure that one: I did so badly I wound up owing a corporate tax. My son the accountant says that's right, but I'm darned if I can figure out why.

This year I had a good 4th quarter. I had to. I'd made darn near nothing at all in the first three. So there was a good chunk of change sitting in my checking account at year end, all earmarked for taxes, and I had to write myself another goodly check based on that... which left me with a hugely negative balance.

I thought that my accountants would simply beam at me with delight.

My only concern was that this last settlement, in December, not close until near enough to the end of the month so that I could justify depositing my fee check in January -- thereby restoring a positive balance in my checking account, allowing me to spend that last check, and allowing me to Render Unto Caesar on the 15th as the law requires.

When I'd heard nothing about the money from this settlement after the first of the year, I began to get anxious. I began calling my colleague. She told me the lienholder had yet to sign off on the proposed resolution of its claim. I offered to drive up to Wisconsin (where the lienholder's office is) and help the lienholder make the decision.

I broached the topic of my looming tax shortfall. Will I have the money by the 15th? I asked. "Probably," my colleague said. "I hope. Maybe. I'll call again today." I was not entirely mollified. I don't understand accounting, but I can count. I always insist on keeping a check in my client funds account for a week after deposit, just to avoid any unpleasantness (and, these days, a mandatory disciplinary proceeding) that might arise from a bounced check. (This actually happened to me once -- before it became a mandatory disciplinary matter -- where some bank questioned an allegedly missing endorsement and refused to honor the settlement check.) My discussion with my colleague confirmed that she did not yet have the settlement funds -- nor did I expect her to. Insurers don't send attorneys checks for large sums without sufficient assurance that they are insulated against lienholder claims. Counting on my fingers, I realized that, even if the scales fell from the lienholder's eyes that morning, my colleague would have zero chance of getting me my money by the 14th.

I went crazy then: I sent an email to my accountant, asking about my options in the circumstances.

I hated to ask my accountant a question. The answers are always so expensive. I mean, charging for each and every email or phone call -- who do they think they are... lawyers?

To make a long story at least a little shorter, I discovered that Uncle Sam will graciously accept partial payments on payroll tax deposits... and charge interest and penalties on the balance owed. Still, I had no choice.

Now, until I clear up this tax issue, I really can't proceed with my personal taxes. Maybe an accountant might think I can, but I'm not willing to risk it. Yet, I expect a refund -- and I'll need that refund to pay February bills, just like I needed this uncashed check in my drawer for bills this month. And I can't do my FAFSA (Youngest Son is still in school and we need all the aid we can get) until my taxes are done. (Again, technically, you could do your FAFSA on the basis of estimated tax obligations -- but I believe most colleges will likely ask for your returns anyway to confirm that your estimates were correct. Youngest Son's will ask for our returns regardless.)

So... there's a lot of steam built up in the boiler. And, accordingly, I probably did answer my wife's question yesterday morning rather loudly.

"You don't have to be so loud," she scolded. "Are you going to call the other attorney today?"

Of course I'm going to call! Again. And, I concede, I was shouting at this point, and probably close to apoplectic besides.

"I won't be talked to like that," my wife said.

"I'm not yelling at you, I'm just yelling!" I bellowed. I'm sure my wife heard me, though she'd already stormed out of the room. The neighbors probably heard me too. Younger Daughter later said that she heard me.

The baby, however, did not wake up.

Still... I'm pretty sure that this is why my wife hissed at me after the late movie last night.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

In which Curmudgeon tries to scare his few remaining readers offline....

The bad news this morning is that Google is turning over more and more user data to law enforcement investigators, without a warrant or any judicial oversight.

The good news, according to the linked article by Matthew Sledge on HuffPost Tech, is that Google is telling us about it.

Well... I suppose it is better to know that these sorts of things are going on, and indeed becoming increasingly routine, than to live in blissful ignorance. Probably.

Oh, and one other thing: Sledge writes that "Google received 21,839 user data requests from foreign governments in the second half of 2012, a significant increase from the 18,257 it got in the same time period the year before."

(Sledge's article is drawn from Google's Transparency Report, posted yesterday on Google's Official Blog.)

Meanwhile, yesterday on the Atlantic Monthly website, we have a chilling story by Megan Garber, "'Current Employers of People Who Like Racism' ... and More Actual Facebook Graph Searches."

A Brit named Tom Scott was one of the first to get access to the newly announced Facebook search engine (they're rolling it out slowly). He started playing around with it and posting his results (with identifying individual characteristics generally fuzzed out), on a Tumblr blog called Actual Facebook Searches. The response, he writes, has been overwhelming, all for "a cheap joke I cobbled together in an hour or so."

Oh, but what a dangerous joke...

“Spouses of married people who like [cheat-on-your-partner dating site] Ashley Madison”

He ran a search for married men who like prostitutes -- and got back results that offered to identify the spouses of those men. And he did another one for "Islamic men interested in men who live in Tehran, Iran" -- that's a death penalty offense over there, kids -- or "Current employers of people who like racism" -- he didn't fuzz out the results showing such employers to be the U.S. Air Force, Target, McDonald's....

Mr. Scott has posted some FAQs at his site. An excerpt:
Aren’t you giving ideas to repressive governments?
I’d bet money they’ve already thought of it and have already done those searches. The searches I’m making now were suggested on the day that Facebook Graph Search was announced, more than a week ago.
Also, I think they have more accurate and time-tested intelligence-gathering services than Facebook Graph Search. See the next question:
Isn’t Facebook’s data so bad that it doesn’t matter?
In many cases, but not in all.
Searching for family members, for example, is often disrupted by the (mostly teenage) people who’ve marked friends as their family. And for the “Iranian men who like men” search, a lot of that may be mistranslation: it could be interpreted as the literal ‘interested in meeting’ rather than ‘would like to date’.
I’m freaked out now. What’s your advice?
If it’d be awkward if it was put on a screen in Times Square, don’t put it on Facebook. Oh, and check your privacy settings again.
As I was expressing my anxieties about these latest technological breakthroughs at home, my son-in-law Olaf tried to comfort me with what he said is an old maxim of the Internet: If you're not paying for it, you are the product being sold.

Hard as I tried, I could not find a way to feel all warm and fuzzy about that.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

If I were a Republican, I'd start reading Rolling Stone....

Illustration for Rolling Stone by Victor Juhasz
I'll admit freely that I haven't often turned to Rolling Stone for political analysis or insight. Frankly, I'm old enough to remember when Rolling Stone was interested in music. I remember the song by Dr. Hook.

The last time I mentioned the magazine here was in 2010, in connection with the controversy over General McChrystal. That was probably the last time I looked at the magazine as well.

I may have to reconsider.

I saw a Facebook post to a Taibblog post on the Rolling Stone site by Matt Taibbi. The link was to a piece about Zero Dark Thirty and it was interesting. But it would not have prompted this post.

What got me hooked was a sidebar link to this article, in the January 17 issue of the magazine, "Secrets and Lies of the Bailout." It's a long piece, but worth your time.

As befits both his youth (Wikipedia says Taibbi was born in 1970) and his status as a writer for Rolling Stone, Taibbi desperately wants to lay the entire blame for the Wall Street Bailout on the Bush Administration. But, ultimately, he finds he cannot:
[T]he Bush-Obama bailout was as purely bipartisan a program as we've had. Imagine Obama retaining Don Rumsfeld as defense secretary and still digging for WMDs in the Iraqi desert four years after his election: That's what it was like when he left Tim Geithner, one of the chief architects of Bush's bailout, in command of the no-strings-attached rescue four years after Bush left office.
Taibbi's Wikipedia biography says that Taibbi has become recognized as an expert on financial shenanigans (footnotes omitted):
As financial scandals continued to rock the world during 2012, Taibbi's analyses of the machinations garnered him invitations to nationally broadcast television programs as an expert who could explain the events as they unfolded and their importance to viewers and moderators alike. In a discussion of the Libor revelations, Taibbi's coverage in Rolling Stone was singled out by Dennis Kelleher, president of Better Markets, Inc., as most important on the topic, that had become required reading to remain informed.
Granted, of course, that Wikipedia biographies can be written by their subjects (or by their PR firms) but, on the strength of this bailout article, I can well understand why Taibbi might be recognized as an expert. (The Wikipedia article also says that Taibbi is considered polemical -- I can well understand that, too.)

Still, if I were a Republican, I'd make Taibbi required reading. But, then, I've said this before: If I were a Republican, I'd be taking the side of Main Street against Wall Street, the side of the Job Creators against the Economy Destroyers (and, Taibbi suggests, Permanent Economic Leeches, sapping any hope of prompt economic recovery). But I'm not a Republican: I live in Chicago, a place where I could just as easily become a credible Republican as I could become a real unicorn.

President Obama may surprise us, of course, in his second term, launching the criminal investigations of the Wall Street titans that he so scrupulously avoided in his first term. I'm not holding my breath. But if I were an ambitious prosecutor, hoping to nail some big pelts to the wall as I try to climb the cursus honorum, I'd start reading Taibbi as a blueprint. (Prosecutors, repeat after me: Going after 26-year old computer geeks for arguably exceeding his permission on a particular website, when the proprietor thereof was not interested in prosecuting, is a bad idea; going against the Too Big To Fail Banks that are squeezing us to death is a dead-cinch political bonanza. Think about it.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Isn't this how the Watergate burglars got caught?

I don't know how things are at your place of work, but here in the Teeny Tiny Law Office I don't have a bathroom to call my own.

There is a men's room on the floor, just across the hall in fact, and like most such places in office buildings in downtown Chicago, it is locked.

One needs a key to gain access. Indeed, the washroom key is a prized possession and carefully guarded. Reaching for the key becomes second nature, even instinctive.

Indeed, many's the time I've been working at home, and I've gotten up from the computer to answer Nature's Call, when I've reached for my trusty key. I usually walk a step or two with the key out, in fact, before I realize that these security arrangements are not in force within my house. That moment of realization is, frankly, embarrassing. Fortunately, when I work at home, there has never been anyone there to observe me when I've done this.

It was not ever thus. In my lifetime, women's washrooms in downtown Chicago buildings were locked first; only later were the men's rooms secured as well. (Of course, when I started, there were still some buildings in Chicago that didn't have nearly as many women's rooms as men's rooms. Seriously.)

This morning I noticed (after using the key as usual) that someone had taped down the latch. In other words, I didn't need the key; I could have simply pushed the door open. The tape was quite noticeable, of course, on the edge of the door, but I didn't see it at first, although a small piece had folded over onto the front of the door.

Isn't this how the Watergate burglars got caught? I thought to myself. (Yes, yes, it was.)

I mentioned my discovery to my colleague here at the Undisclosed Location. He'd forgotten his bathroom key at home last week; this incident prompted me to remember to ask him if he'd found it yet. "Not until this morning," he admitted sheepishly. And he'd come into the office yesterday (because of the court holiday, I had not come downtown) and had to bother building security twice as a result. (Our office key has also gone missing somewhere along the way. I have my suspicions.)

"Maybe security taped it up for me," my colleague ventured, brightening. "That would have been nice of them."

"I kind of doubt it," I said.

"Probably not," my colleague said, sheepish again.

My father used to tell me that Erle Stanley Gardner started off life as a lawyer. Because Gardner had no business to speak of, he used to invent mysteries and solve them -- in books -- books he wrote about a lawyer named Perry Mason. After awhile, it didn't matter that Gardner had no legal business. He sold plenty of books instead.

I thought about Gardner this morning as I pondered the Mystery of the Taped Bathroom Latch for a good 10 or 15 seconds. My guess is that our building management is fixing up an empty office for an incoming tenant and one of the workers figured out a way to get around borrowing bathroom keys. It is blue tape on the latch, the kind the painters use.

I guess Mr. Gardner must have rented space in a more exciting building.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Look! Up in the sky --


The webcomic Cyanide & Happiness is frequently too crude and raunchy for my taste, but this particular installment made me laugh out loud.

(Hey, look, I can't only do overlong essays here; sometimes I have to switch it up, OK?)

Friday, January 18, 2013

Steve has a large helping of Catholic guilt at a party

Regular readers may remember my friend Steve, the guy who 'retired' after 30 years' service in various public agencies. Once he could pull his pension, he went to work 'part time' for a charity that he'd worked for many years. Some weeks 'part time' comes to 80 hours. He gets a stipend for his labors, but nowhere near enough to live on without that pension.

When we read about public pension double dippers, folks who quit one public job, then take another so that they receive both salary and pension, I think of Steve: Not everybody takes advantage. Some people try to do good with the advantages they already have.

Anyway, Steve is an observant Catholic, just as I claim to be. He could hardly be anything else; one of his uncles was a priest, two of his aunts were nuns.

In addition to his 'part time' charity work, Steve volunteers at the neighborhood food pantry. The food pantry is run from the local Methodist church, but all the neighborhood churches support it to one degree or other. Steve is not the only member of our parish to volunteer his time there.

As a result of his weekly service there, Steve has become friendly with the Methodist minister and several members of her congregation. And, over the holidays, the minister began talking up a party for the pantry volunteers. She finally set the date for last Sunday, after her morning service. Steve decided he would go.

Steve's life is complicated, just like everyone else's. His wife, Charlotte, is taking care of her aging parents (they're both nearing 90 and in rapidly failing health) and that takes up a lot of their time. And we found out that the father of a college friend of ours passed away last week; the wake would be Sunday. And between what they had to do on Saturday and Charlotte working during the day on Sunday and the wake on Sunday evening, Steve realized that he hadn't figured out when he'd go to Mass.

"Maybe I'll just go to the Methodist service," Steve told Charlotte. She didn't say anything; she looked at him and waited.

"It's the same Jesus," he protested, a little defensively.

"Your uncle and your aunts are spinning in their graves," Charlotte said. But, ultimately, if he was to get to the party and if they were to get to the wake, going to the Methodist service seemed the best fit for his schedule.

Still, he told me, he was feeling a little guilty as he walked over to the Methodist church. He headed for the side door, the better to slink in anonymously.

That proved to be a bad idea. Just at that moment, the minister emerged from the parsonage next to the church, wearing her vestments for the service, also planning to enter by the side door. She greeted Steve with a big hug.

"I had to go then, didn't I?" Steve asked me later.

I agreed.

"I wonder. Does she get any extra points for bagging a Catholic convert?"

No, I assured him. Methodists are mainline, mainstream Protestants. It's the Evangelicals who think converting a Catholic is the next best thing to baptizing a pagan baby. (I'm very good at inventing stuff like this when the situation demands.)

Steve explained that one other of our fellow parishioners had also come over for the service; a food pantry volunteer, she was planning on going to the party, too. The minister sent Steve over to sit with her.

"I wonder what she must have thought," Steve said, speaking of the lady from our parish. "Half the congregation greeted me by name." He paused. "It's a small congregation -- there weren't that many people there -- but most of them seemed to work in the pantry."

She probably knows them, too, and the same way, I suggested.

"It was a nice enough service," Steve said, continuing, "and I was right at home during the sermon. It went on way too long. She kind of meandered, just like our priests do." He named one priest in particular; some years back, Steve had wound up on a committee to advise the poor man on how to tighten up his homilies.
(Olaf happened to be in the kitchen when I told this story to Long Suffering Spouse. He snorted derisively at the bit about the wandering sermon. "You should see the pastors at my parents' church," he said. "There are three. Each one takes longer than the next."

You know, thinking about it, I wonder if unfocused preaching isn't something of an unconscious homage to Moses and the Jews wandering in the desert. They wandered around lost for 40 years, according to the Bible -- and I've sat through a great many sermons that seem just as lost, and last nearly as long.)
Anyway, Steve said, the party was nice enough and he stayed long enough to make clear that he appreciated being invited. But soon enough it was time to walk home.

Steve paused.

"You know," he said, "on that walk home, I encountered one person. Just one. Care to guess who that person was?"

I thought about it for a second or two. "Our pastor?" I asked.

"Yes," said Steve, "Fr. Ed. As he came up to me on the sidewalk he said, 'Good afternoon, young man. I'm on my way over to my friend Sam's to watch the football games.' He was asking me to tell him where I was coming from, I just know it. And what was I supposed to say? I'm just coming back from services at the Methodist Church? I didn't have time to come over to our own church this morning?"

I tried to think of something witty to add here, but I was laughing too hard. So Steve continued. "A light must have gone off at the Rectory," he said, "one of ours has gone off into one of their buildings."

"Maybe they put microchips into us at Baptism," I ventured. (No, I didn't mean it; I just wanted him to keep going.)

"I thought of that," Steve said, "but Charlotte reminded me that microchips hadn't been invented when we were born."

Good point, I said.

"Charlotte figured it out. 'I warned you your aunts and uncle wouldn't let you get away with this one,' she told me. That's got to be it. They have more pull than I realized."

Now we were both laughing. "You know," Steve said, "you can't write stuff like this."

But I just did.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Before we condemn -- or laugh at -- Manti Te'o

Image obtained from Yahoo! Sports.
Look, I don't know any more than you do whether star Notre Dame linebacker was in on this whole 'fake girlfriend' thing or not.

If he was, he's got some serious problems -- and needs some serious help.

If he was the victim of a cruel hoax, as Notre Dame is saying so far, people are going to think him a fool, an idiot, a naif at best: You never actually saw this girl, this love of your life, in person? You never Skyped, you never Facetimed?

But before you hurl stones, ladies and gentlemen, where are you right now?

We live so much of our lives on line these days, sometimes the people we meet here are darn near as real to us as the living, breathing people we interact with in person. If we actually do interact with anyone in real life, that is.

In an essay last April about the difficulties of telling truth from fiction on line, I cited to the terribly sad case of Paula Bonhomme, a woman duped into spending over $10,000 on gifts for a 'man' named 'Jesse James' that she 'met' through an acquaintance in an Internet chatroom dedicated to fans of the HBO series Deadwood. Actually, the acquaintance didn't make an introduction, she made up Jesse -- and an extended family, too. Eventually, the victim 'met' most of Jesse's 'family'; she thought she and 'Jesse' were in love, and she made plans to fly from her California home to meet Jesse in Colorado and move in with him. 'He' canceled at the last minute, though, sending the poor woman into depression and therapy and eventually, according to her pleadings, an infection caused by the depression-related suppression of her auto-immune system. Then she was told that Jesse had 'died' -- of liver cancer (not leukemia as in Te'o's case). Even after Jesse's 'death,' the poor woman kept up a relationship with the mutual 'friend' who had supposedly made the introduction, the defendant in this case, meeting her in Colorado and traveling to New Mexico to visit some of Jesse's favorite places. When the defendant came to visit her in California, the victim spent over $1,000 prepping the house for the visit.

When the deception was finally revealed, plaintiff sued -- but the Illinois courts held she had failed to state a claim and threw her case out of court. See, Bonhomme v. St. James, 407 Ill. App. 3d 1080, 945 N.E.2d 1181 (2nd Dist. 2011), Appellate Court affirmed in part and reversed in part by the Illinois Supreme Court, 2012 IL 112393. (For any lawyers out there, the Supreme Court held that plaintiff had waived any other claims she might have been able to make, placing all of her hopes in a claim for the tort of fraudulent misrepresentation, but that tort did not lie because the parties did not have a business relationship.)

Why did the defendant in the Bonhomme case do these terrible things? For fun, perhaps, and for the gifts -- for the money.

Why would someone ensnare Manti Te'o in this horrible web of deceit? Well, supposedly, Te'o finally realized something was amiss when his 'dead girlfriend' called early in December... as Notre Dame was preparing for the BCS National Championship Game. Maybe gambling interests were aware of the hoax from the outset, or maybe some smart guy sniffed it out and decided to 'reveal' the situation to Te'o at a time when it would mess him, and the team, up most. Notre Dame generally -- and Te'o in particular -- played as if they were seriously distracted by something.

I'd like to think that Te'o will be exonerated from complicity in the hoax, even if he ends up being perceived as hopelessly gullible from all this. Of course, I also wanted to believe that Tiger Woods wouldn't cheat on his gorgeous wife.

But, as we rely increasingly on our screens to get us through our days, to manage our appointments, to do our networking, to manage even our 'friendships,' I can't help but wonder if all of us won't become increasingly vulnerable to scams like this. If all the "Nigerian generals' widows" would just take a course or two in grammar and basic writing skills, how many more of us would get sucked in?

No. I may feel sorry for Te'o and I may wind up angry at him. But I won't laugh. There's nothing funny in this story.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Curmudgeon's grandbaby doesn't do what a baby is supposed to do

I'm not exactly certain when a crisis was declared. By the weekend, however, Younger Daughter and Olaf had become increasingly concerned that their baby had stopped doing what a baby ordinarily does so frequently. I've been around babies who did this sort of thing every three or four hours. For the grandbaby, it had been three or four days already without.

"It might be the medicine," speculated Younger Daughter. The baby has been on a specially concocted medication because her upchucking was more acid reflux than little-baby-normal. Older Daughter R.N., carefully monitoring the situation by phone from her perch in Indianapolis, was inclined to agree. She also concurred when Younger Daughter resolved to call the pediatrician for advice.

"Prune juice," said the nurse at the pediatrician's office. "Just an ounce ought to do the trick."

"Makes sense to me," said Long Suffering Spouse. But, then, Long Suffering Spouse regularly takes a dose of prune juice each and every morning. Very regularly.

"Prune juice?" asked Older Daughter. "That doesn't sound right to me." She recommended another application of the Old Thermometer Trick, the particulars of which I have refused to consider and which I wouldn't share even if I had. Nevertheless, the womenfolk of the household dutifully reported to me every time the thermometer therapy was tried. I think they like watching me cringe and turn green.

"Prune Juice?" asked the Greek pharmacist. "Are you sure that's what they said?"

Younger Daughter assured him this was the case. "Hmmmm," he said, "I don't know." But, by this point, he had filled the other prescription Younger Daughter had come to get.

I used to make fun of my mother-in-law for this. She never made a decision, particularly after Abuelo died, without consulting at least a handful of people for their opinions. Now that I see Younger Daughter doing it (and I know Older Daughter has done it, too) I begin to suspect that this may be a fairly common decision-making strategy.

Each of the aforementioned has their own distinctive response to the advice they solicit. My mother-in-law would tell me about all the people who've disagreed with me (perhaps testing the strength of my convictions or, perhaps, encouraging me to reconsider); Older Daughter would reflexively tell me I was wrong. Younger Daughter seems inclined to agree with the last person she asked, no matter what they may have said.

In this case, the solid majority this weekend was against prune juice. "Well, let her kick," offered Long Suffering Spouse. "We are," said Younger Daughter, tightening her grip on the infant snuggling into her shoulder. "She just doesn't feel good right now."

I knew it was a crisis because what the baby was not doing was not just the only topic of conversation, it was a conversation that was becoming increasingly hard to follow because the baby was becoming increasingly fussy. Sometimes she was crying. Sometimes she was making straining noises. By Sunday afternoon it had become difficult to watch football over all of this.

With no resolution to the problem, Younger Daughter determined to take the baby to the doctor yesterday. An appointment was scheduled for the afternoon. I wasn't in the office very long, however, before Younger Daughter called me. "She's kind of listless," Younger Daughter told me. "She's not herself. I've moved up the appointment to 10:45."

"Well, call me afterwards," I said, "so I can relay the news to your mother."

My wife can not be interrupted during school hours. So she calls me when she gets a break to see what news the kids have asked me to relay to her. I am a living, balding billboard.

And my direction was superfluous. There was no way Younger Daughter wouldn't call. In fact, she hadn't backed out of the parking lot at the doctor's office before she called me.

"Prune juice," she said.

"Well, hello to you, too."

"Sunsweet's the best, they told me, because it's the most natural. It doesn't have any crap in it." She started laughing. "Isn't that funny? It's got no crap in it, but it --"

I interrupted. "Yes, I get it. I get it. So you'll try the prune juice now?"

"Yes. Tell Mom."

I promised faithfully that I would.

An hour or so later, Younger Daughter called back. "I tried it. Nothing. She just spits up brown stuff now." It was hard to hear Younger Daughter over the sound of the baby making straining noises.

"You have to give it time," I suggested.

"I drank what she wouldn't," Younger Daughter said. "It's already worked on me --"

I tried interrupting again. "TMI, TMI," I said.

"Well, I don't know what I'm supposed to do now," Younger Daughter said.

"Your mother will be home in a couple of hours," I suggested helpfully.

"I guess it's not too serious if they just said to try prune juice," Younger Daughter said. "But I think her stomach is too hard. And she had a low-grade at the doctor's office. The doctor said that was just from being bundled up in the car." But, even through the telephone, I could see Younger Daughter was frowning. "It wasn't our regular doctor."

The conversation continued awhile longer, punctuated by the baby's noises. Eventually Younger Daughter decided I should go back to work.

Shortly thereafter Long Suffering Spouse called. I relayed all the pertinent information. "The prune juice will work," Long Suffering Spouse said with confidence.

"I'm sure it will."

I hung around the office for a couple of more hours but, eventually, it came time for me to head home. I remembered I had prescriptions at Walgreen's, so I asked my wife to pick me up at the train. The Greek pharmacist wasn't in, so I didn't get the chance to ask him what he had against prune juice. But Long Suffering Spouse did bring me up to date on all the latest, which was the same as it was before, except that another ounce of prune juice had been introduced.

I think I had my coat off and had made it as far as the kitchen before Younger Daughter corralled me. She started rattling off the latest bulletin, but I interrupted and said I'd already been fully briefed.

Younger Daughter, Olaf and Long Suffering Spouse congregated in the living room watching the baby in the playpen.

"Let her kick," said Long Suffering Spouse.

I cowered in the den, as far away from the living room as I could get, and tried to eat dinner. I looked for something on TV. If a Jamie Lee Curtis commercial came on I think I would have screamed.

Older Daughter finished her shift at the hospital in Indianapolis and called Long Suffering Spouse's cell phone from the parking garage. "Has it happened yet?" No. "What did the doctor say?" Prune juice. "Prune juice? That doesn't sound right." No, it will work. (Long Suffering Spouse was not looking to reopen the weekend's Great Prune Juice Debate.) I turned up the TV. Jamie Lee Curtis did not make an appearance.

With the TV blasting, I didn't hear the celebration until it was well underway. But eventually I heard Younger Daughter cry in triumph, "Olaf, come smell!"

"I'll get the bath started," said Olaf, and ran up the stairs.

"Coward!" said Long Suffering Spouse. "Slacker!" said Younger Daughter.

But the crisis was over. The Curmudgeon household once again stood down from Red Alert.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Sure-fire method to make money from Facebook

Obtained from lamebook.com.
Interestingly, while visiting Facebook too frequently destroys productivity, regularly reading this blog will help you lose weight, clear your skin, grow hair where you want it, and remove it where you don't.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Youngest Son is leaving this weekend

And he won't be back before May.

South Janesville College has a Spring Break, of course, but that's when the baseball team goes to Florida. There's really no time off at Easter -- and Youngest Son will probably have a doubleheader on Holy Saturday.

We haven't seen much of Youngest Son over Christmas Break, of course. He's a Nocturnal at this phase of his life, like many teenagers, most 20-somethings -- and all college students. He sleeps past noon. When we get home from work he starts thinking about getting cleaned up to begin his evening rounds. He checks in, usually, with one of use when he gets home. Maybe he'll eat something then, too.

Last night was fairly consistent with the usual pattern, although he was already gone by the time I got home from work. Long Suffering Spouse fell asleep in her chair and I fell asleep in mine. I woke up to change channels at some point. I woke up enough to finish cleaning the sink and take my blood pressure pill and ascertain that Youngest Son was not yet home. Whereupon, since Long Suffering Spouse was still comatose, I returned to my chair.

When I next woke up, Long Suffering Spouse was conversing with Youngest Son. He was in a chatty mood. It was about 1:00 a.m. I joined in the conversation. In fact, Youngest Son and I talked to almost 2:00 and I'm pretty sure it was a pleasant, friendly conversation. Of course, at that time of night my powers of retention aren't what they can be. And I can't check with Long Suffering Spouse because she drifted off again when I woke up.

But I'm pretty sure that's the first extended conversation either of us has had with the boy since he's been home.

That's about par for the course for kids that age though, isn't it?

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Rodent passes the Holidaze in the Curmudgeon home

Rodent the pseudo-dog, the shih tzu (in an ancient Chinese dialect 'shih tzu' means 'What The Little Dog Will Do On Your Rug'), stayed with us twice over the Holidaze just concluded.

Oldest Son and his wife Abby brought her over for Christmas -- then flew to Texas for a couple of days to visit Abby's folks. Rodent stayed with us. In a doggie diaper.

Oldest Son never got around to having Rodent 'fixed' -- he decided it would be unnecessary because, as a paper-trained apartment dog, Rodent was unlikely to come in contact with other dogs, particularly at those difficult moments -- so when she stayed with us in December she was experiencing, well, put it this way: Long Suffering Spouse said, "Sometimes it's hard to be a girl dog."

Rodent's Christmas visit overlapped the end of our visit from Older Daughter and her big golden retriever, Cork. So much for the not coming-into-contact-with-other-dogs theory.

Rodent is a sad excuse for a canine, but she has a better sense of smell than any human, and she knew Cork was in residence before she got to the front door. Abby had to carry her in.

Still, this meeting went better than their initial encounter. Someone had to hold onto Rodent at all times (and she trembled like a leaf in a hurricane the entire time) but Cork's attentions were not too obnoxious and easily interrupted (goldens may be among the more easily distracted dog breeds). And Older Daughter did have to leave that day to rejoin her husband Hank (he'd gone home, by bus, on Christmas Eve morning, so he'd be in time for his church-singing gig).

When Oldest Son and Abby got Rodent they knew full well that they had a built-in babysitter for their pocket pooch in Younger Daughter. Younger Daughter is a sucker for puppies -- and a teeny-tiny furball like Rodent was enough to send Younger Daughter into squeals of ecstasy. She'd come home from college -- to our home -- to babysit the dog when Oldest Son and Abby wanted to head to South Bend for football Saturdays. Once or twice Long Suffering Spouse and I took Younger Daughter to Oldest Son's apartment to do her dogsitting duty, but that provided us no real relief.

But now, of course, Younger Daughter has other responsibilities. Rodent finds this confusing. Younger Daughter used to bring the dog up to bed with her at night. Now, when she brings her to bed, Olaf is already there and he has privately admitted to me that he has kicked the dog once or twice during the night -- entirely by accident, of course. And then, when Younger Daughter is awake and supposed to be devoting herself (in Rodent's view) to carrying Rodent around like a plush toy, there's a baby in Younger Daughter's arms instead.

Rodent does not know what to make of the baby. She knows it's not another dog, but, just as Rodent is a poor excuse for a dog, from Rodent's point of view, the baby is a poor excuse for a human. The baby doesn't pet her, it doesn't feed her, it doesn't praise her when she does her business on the puppy pad. A couple of times Rodent has just barked at the baby in frustration.

Rodent had thought Younger Daughter a perfectly acceptable substitute for Abby on those occasions when Abby would be unavailable... but, now, Rodent was no longer sure. Younger Daughter was just as goofy over her as ever -- but not as often. Not exclusively. Rodent acted as though she felt betrayed.

And, at Christmastime, even after Cork was safely back in Indianapolis, Rodent was not too sure that it was really safe to wander our house. She smelled Cork everywhere.

You have never seen a dog, or pseudo-dog, quite so happy as Rodent was when Oldest Son and Abby returned from their Texas trip.

Rodent must have been so confused when Oldest Son and Abby brought her out to our house again late last week. They were on their way to Miami for the BCS Championship game, and what are parents for? (At least this time Rodent was doggy diaper-free.)

Rodent's initial reluctance on getting out of the car quickly passed: She could not detect Cork's scent. Maybe it would be safe! I can't help but wonder if she speculated about whether Olaf and the baby might be gone, too. If that was her hope, however, it was quickly disappointed.

Still, without Cork around, Rodent felt free to roam the house (much more room than in her apartment) and, she discovered, Long Suffering Spouse could provide some of the attention and affection that Younger Daughter had diverted to the baby. One night Long Suffering Spouse graded papers in her chair (she had a lot to do over Christmas break) and I wondered where the dog had gotten to. Then I noticed: She had curled in behind Long Suffering Spouse, in the chair, snug and warm as possible.

We ordered pizza Friday night -- and the one thing Rodent knows about food, based on her life with Oldest Son and Abby, is that delivery people bring the best food.

I couldn't help myself. She was begging for a piece of my pizza so urgently -- so dog-like -- that I had to give her a little piece of crust. Long Suffering Spouse and Younger Daughter both remarked on my uncharacteristic behavior. "You never give that poor dog anything," my wife said.

"That's just it," I agreed. "She's such a rotten excuse for a dog -- but she was exhibiting dog-like behavior just now. I just had to reinforce it."

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Curse of the Curmudgeon strikes again

Yesterday on this very website I announced I'd be cheering for Notre Dame in last night's BCS Championship Game. By the second quarter, Kirk Herbstreit was wishing the Northern Illinois Huskies were playing instead of the "Fighting" Irish. (At least in the Orange Bowl, Herbstreit thought to himself, NIU seemed to be trying.) The only Notre Dame fans who were able to watch last night's debacle with any equanimity were affiliated with the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies (it's OK to let that Tide roll all over you, boys; violence is not the answer).

It's all my fault, and I'm sorrier than I can say.

If I support a candidate, he or she will lose.

If I like a product, it will be taken off the market. Or recalled.

If I like a store, it will shortly thereafter go out of business.

I still don't know how the White Sox won the World Series in 2005. Of course, I wasn't blogging here then. I was barely even breathing. I'd 'watch' the games with my back turned, barely stealing a glance at the TV, mostly when Tim McCarver said something stupid. (That meant I hurt my neck from twisting around so often.) My wife got me the DVD set of all the 2005 White Sox playoff games so I can watch them some time with my eyes open. I'm still afraid to.

Talk about your negative superpowers. I'd put myself up for bid to some major corporation to "like" its competitors into bankruptcy but I'm afraid (and any potentially interested mega-corporation should likewise be afraid) that my negative powers might boomerang and hurt the company that hired me. (Note to self: If a mega-corporation tries to hire me for my ability to 'like' a competitor into oblivioun, be sure to get the cash up front.)

Monday, January 07, 2013

Why Curmudgeon is rooting for Notre Dame tonight

Everybody in the country (except, perhaps, Bee, who doesn't follow sports, even at a distance) knows that the BCS National Championship Game will be played tonight in Miami. It's not the only college football championship game, of course; champions have already been crowned in NCAA Divisions II, III, and FCS. And the NAIA has crowned its football champion, too. (I put in all the links just in case Bee wants to make sure I've giving her the straight dope.)

But tonight's game is really, truly, absolutely the end of the college football season.

Except for the various all-star games (which are really pro tryouts), but let's not be hyper-technical here.

In the Curmudgeon household, we have a number of reasons to cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame tonight. To wit:

When I was a boy, on the South Side of Chicago, and enrolled in the parish school, the good sisters spoke of only one college in the entire country -- Notre Dame. There may have been some other schools Out East somewhere, Harvard or Yale or something like that, but Notre Dame was the school to which we should aspire.

We watched Notre Dame football games (*ahem*) religiously when I was a boy.

My father used to say it was important that a big town like Chicago have two pro football teams (the Bears being the other one). He could be cynical at times, yes.

I had my period of rebellion, too.

My rebellious period may have begun one fall afternoon in the early 1970s as I was raking leaves at my parents' home in Boondockia. I was in high school then, listening to the Notre Dame game that day on the radio as I worked. The Domers were strafing the Air Force Academy that day, and they won by something like 45 points.

Because I was working, I didn't go and turn off the radio immediately when the post-game show came on and the drooling idiots began calling in. Coach Devine (Notre Dame's coach at the time... he's the head coach in Rudy, too) was an idiot, the callers said, a bum. A good coach would have beat Air Force by 75 points, or maybe 100.

It was a shocking glimpse into the twisted psyche of Notre Dame fandom... not all of whom attended school under the Golden Dome. In fact, as I only eventually came to realize, the Subway Alumni (those who never went anywhere near the school) may be the most obnoxious... or at least the least polished of the fan base. And probably the most numerous.

During my rebellious period, I laughed at all the old jokes:
How many Domers does it take to change a light bulb?

Twelve. Only one actually changes the bulb, but the rest are there to tell you how the new bulb will never be as good as the one that burned out.
Or this one:
How do you find the Domers in a crowded room?

Don't worry. They'll find you.
Many years passed and Oldest Son got accepted there. I began to soften. Somewhere the nuns smiled.

As the parent of a Domer, I had the opportunity to go to two football games a year. I'd never gone to a college football game before (my college had no football team) and the fact that I had to sit up where the echos get shaken down from the sky was really of no consequence to me. I was thrilled with the pageantry and ritual of a Football Saturday in South Bend.

Some of my hardness remained. I've sometimes referred to the place here as the cow college in South Bend.

But a corner had been turned. My attitude toward the place really softened when Oldest Son found a nice wife and a good job, both thanks to Notre Dame. Yes, it resembles a cult in many ways, but they do seem to take care of each other.

When Oldest Son was a student, parents weren't allowed a crack at football tickets for Michigan or USC, but we were allowed in for Army, Navy or BYU.

One year I took my cousin to the Navy game. He'd been a Captain in the Navy, so that seemed appropriate. I had to give away my tickets to the BYU game, though: I didn't know any Mormons.

No, actually, the reason I had to give away my tickets was that one of my kids was scheduled to be confirmed on that particular Saturday and Long Suffering Spouse insisted. "The Bishop would understand," I protested, "I've got Notre Dame tickets." But Long Suffering Spouse would not relent.

At the Army game a year or two later, I got all misty-eyed during the National Anthem. Everyone was standing, of course, but down on the Army sidelines, I couldn't help but notice that the perky little Army cheerleaders, in their perky little cheerleading outfits, were saluting. Saluting, ramrod straight, as is appropriate for future officers in the Army of the United States -- for young people who might be off the football sidelines and on the front lines in Iraq or Afghanistan in a year's time.

I used to like heading to Mass at the Basilica on campus following the game. I got my Sunday obligation out of the way and allowed traffic to clear. And when I couldn't get into the Basilica, it seemed that most of the dorms offered Mass after the game as well. My son's did. I had to stop off there a couple of times instead.

Oldest Son loved to play football (I wrote about how Long Suffering Spouse and I reluctantly let him start playing in grammar school). He wasn't going to play for the varsity in South Bend. Given his love of the sport, I remember trying to get him to consider playing small college ball -- but I think that ended for him the day his high school coach brought a couple of kids from Aurora University (a Division III school out in the far western suburbs of Chicago) to practice.

"They were huge!" Oldest Son told me at the time. "Their necks were enormous! And these were just DBs!"

(Defensive backs, Bee, are among the more normal-sized players.)

I may have told him about the kid who was a couple of years ahead of me in high school in Boondockia. He eventually went on to play in the NFL; he has a Super Bowl ring. Obviously, I didn't see much of the guy after he went to the pros, but I did see him once or twice at parties or something. He was a DB too -- and his neck was enormous -- but it had been a pretty much standard-issue neck back when he was in high school.

If I told him that story, though, it did no good. Oldest Son seems to have abandoned plans to play college football from that day.

But at Notre Dame they play football as an intramural sport -- each men's dorm has a team -- and, it being Notre Dame, they play with full pads and equipment on regulation size fields with referees and everything.

Oldest Son was impressed with the skills of his fellow teammates. "Dad," he told me in one phone call freshman year, "I'm playing on a team with guys who were all state in high school. OK, they were small states, but still...." (Guys who were all state in Florida or Texas tended to play on the varsity.)

I was therefore prepared to accept that the quality of the dorm football would be pretty good even before I went there for the first time and had to ask someone to direct me to the proper field. "Some years," the lady told me, after pointing me in the right direction, "the dorm games are better than the varsity ones."

Actually, during some years of Oldest Son's tenure, that may have been true. The Domers had trouble navigating past Navy. I don't remember whether Oldest Son was already gone when Navy finally sank Notre Dame. They did it a few times before this year.

But, this year, the Irish are back and I'm rooting for them openly. I made some comment on Facebook and a college friend snapped back, "Who are you and what have you done with the real Curmudgeon?"

Still, I don't know if anyone can beat Alabama Coach Nick Saban in a championship game. And all the experts, even most of the local ones, are predicting the Tide will roll over the Irish. But I'll be glued to the screen tonight, hoping for the best.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Why is New Year's Day a big deal?

Turning the page on the calendar seems like a poor reason to get pie-eyed and stupid.

I know people like to make New Year's resolutions. I don't know why. Why should one day be better than another for undertaking some positive change?

What I see is that the paperwork that attends the end of any old month is greatly increased at the end of every December. I have to do more and different things with my record keeping now because I write a different year today on my checks than I did on Monday.

There's a basis for Christmas -- the birth of the Child at Bethlehem may be forgotten by many, and downplayed by many more -- but all one does not have to look far to understand why December 25 is such a big deal (even if December 25 really isn't the actual birthday of Jesus). But why is January 1 important?

In ancient times, the year was believed to start in March. Presumably the year could start at any time. There's no particular magic in picking out one day in the course of Earth's transit round the Sun and saying this is the place to begin. Indeed, a circle has no beginning (OK, I know the Earth's orbit is more oval than circular -- but you get the idea).

But even if we pick out January 1 as the start of the year because it must start somewhere, why should that be a big deal?

January 1 is the day when fees go up, postage goes up, taxes go up -- excuse me, but where in any of this is there cause for celebration?

Liturgically, January 1 used to be the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus (Jesus's bris, in other words) and now it is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. But while that's an important milestone, it seems far too narrow a base on which to build a huge public holiday.

If it's important to you, I wish you a Happy New Year. Me, I just hope tomorrow is better than today -- and I'll have that same hope tomorrow, too.