Tuesday, October 18, 2016

"So -- what are you guys doing this evening? Do you mind if we stop by?"

What are we doing? I thought to myself. Falling asleep in front of the TV like usual, I thought. Game 3 of the ALCS hadn't even begun and already I was anticipating Morpheus's embrace.

The only reason I was even still partially conscious was because Middle Son was texting me and Long Suffering Spouse pictures of his newly painted den---he and Margaret put in new windows and a wood floor, too---and he was asking our opinions about the way the paint job turned out.

Yes, it was green. Kind of a civil service green---the kind of bilious shade you'd see long ago in certain public buildings---but all things old become new again. Not my cup of tea, because I remember the prior usage, but this color is apparently in again among Millenials. Long Suffering Spouse and I had just debated whether the green in Middle Son's den was the same shade as the green in Older Daughter's Indianapolis dining room. I said it was; my wife said I was wrong.

Even in my semi-somnambulant state, I could see that this seemingly harmless inquiry about my opinion concerning the paint job could put me in the middle of a debate between Middle Son and his spouse or Middle Son and his contractor. I was therefore trying to clear the cobwebs, at least for the moment, and ask careful, clarifying questions before venturing any opinion whatsoever.

Olaf's call interrupted this. He sounded bright and chipper, like this was Sunday morning and he was inquiring if we were free for brunch. "Um," I said, "we're not doing anything special. What's up?"

"Oh, nothing," said Olaf, still chipper. "Your daughter tried slicing a potato with her new mandolin-slicer and sliced off a significant portion of her thumb instead. It's been bleeding non-stop for 10 minutes and we can't seem to stop it, so we're going to co to an immediate care and maybe the kids can come play with you for awhile."

Ah ha. Good for Olaf! Keep the tone light and conversational and the kids, particularly four-year old Granddaughter #1, won't pick up on how serious this is or how worried and scared Olaf was. (I don't suppose it mattered as much to six-month old Granddaughter #4, their second child -- but, then again, even small babies can pick up on tension and stress and reflect it right back.)

"Sure!" I said, "C'mon over." Olaf hung up quickly and Long Suffering Spouse and I started picking stuff up to accommodate the young people.

First, though, I had to stand up.

It had already been a long day. I had to babysit the kids in the morning while Younger Daughter had a physical therapy appointment. Then I had to go downtown for a client meeting. Then I had to get back to pick up Long Suffering Spouse. The driving alone would have been tiring. I haven't been sleeping well anyway. Getting up three and four times a night is not conducive to well-rested days. I haven't been able to breathe well in what seems like forever (when we went to Florida in March 2015 I think my sinuses were clear -- but they haven't been clear on consecutive days since).

And Long Suffering Spouse was dragging, too.

There's a reason, you know, why people have their kids at a young age: They have the energy to deal with them. I thoroughly enjoy my grandchildren... but they tire me out more quickly than I'd care to admit.

In the event, we did our grandparental duty and Granddaughter #1 had a pleasant time. Granddaughter #4 came in tired and wanted to sleep, but she wanted her bottle first, and Olaf had told my wife that she should probably stall until 9:00. Granddaughter #4 has a set of lungs on her. By 8:30 I had texted Olaf and told him we were going to try the bottle ASAP. He approved the measure. More importantly, it worked -- the child finally was asleep before the bottle was halfway gone.

I was so jealous.

I'm no less tired today; Long Suffering Spouse even slept in an extra 15 minutes this morning -- waking up in a panic when she realized she'd stayed asleep until nearly 6:00.

But there's work to be done, and I must stop stalling and do it.

And then I have to find out what this business is with the green den.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Hey, hey, holy mackerel, no doubt about it -- the Cubs are on their way

Photo obtained at this site.
Yes, but to where?

Older readers may hear the 1969 Cub anthem when they read the headline of this post. That was the year that I flirted, however briefly, with becoming a Cub fan. Well, my White Sox were playing on an Astroturf infield with a grass outfield and they were rumored to be heading to Milwaukee (they even played a number of games in Milwaukee that year as Bud Selig schemed to get a team to replace the Braves). Things were so bad for the Sox that they didn't even have a major radio station outlet in Chicago---my memory may be playing tricks on me; this could have been 1970---but it was around this time that the Sox games were consigned to a bunch of low-power suburban FM stations. The Chubbinis, on the other hand, were winning, destined to win, certain to win, and on 50,000-watt powerhouse WGN. My sister actually bought Hey, Hey, Holy Mackerel on a 45rpm record. I actually listened to a couple of Cub games on the radio....

It's a beautiful day for a ballgame
For a ballgame today
The fans are out to get a ticket or two
From Walla Walla, Washington to Kalamazoo

It's a beautiful day for a home run
But even a triple's OK
We're going to cheer -- and boo --
And raise a hullabaloo
At the ballgame today....

I felt dirty and ashamed and I never did it again.

And, of course, the Cubs choked anyway.

Cub fans and Sox fans coexist in Chicago, often uneasily, sometimes under the same roof. And some Sox fans hate the Cubs and some Cubs fans hate the Sox.

But a lot of Sox fans, and I count myself among these, don't hate the Cubs; we are largely indifferent to them. We would rather they moved to Omaha or someplace (the Ricketts family hails from Omaha), but we save our hatred for the New York Yankees. And that's a frustrating, unrequited hatred indeed... because the only Sox the Yankees and their fans worry about are Red Sox.

Cub fans are obnoxious. There are some who follow the game, of course; there are real baseball fans among them, people who can keep score, people who can recite the Infield Fly Rule, people who have even played the game above the sandlot level. And some are just playfully obnoxious -- like my wife's doctor in late September 1989, as he was delivering Younger Daughter, who made a big show of demanding more Pitocin to speed my wife's labor along because he wanted (he said) to get downtown for the Cubs pep rally. But the knowledgeable Cub fan, or even the merely good-natured and playful ones, are often hard to find among the young, intoxicated, ignorant horde that hangs around Wrigleyville on game days.

These Cub fans can't believe we won't join them in going gaga over their team. And so many of them won't shut up. Ever.

Long Suffering Spouse really has it hard this year: Junior high kids are obnoxious to begin with. Add normal 13- and 14-year old obnoxiousness to general Cub fan obnoxiousness -- well, she's showed admirable restraint so far. After only five minutes or so, I would probably clobber one or more of them and wind up in jail.

And the Cubs really are the favorites this year to win it all (for the first time since 1908, as you may have heard). They have the best record in baseball this year. They're pretty healthy coming in. Their starting pitching matches with anyone's and their bullpen is strong. They have one of the best managers around; I like Joe Maddon (my wife does not, but she can't quite explain why).

But... the team with the best record doesn't always win in the Wild Card era. The Wild Card winners, in fact, seem to have a bit of an advantage -- as the 10-1 shellacking Wild Card Winner Toronto gave Texas yesterday in the ALDS opener illustrates.

The Cubs open their series tonight against Johnny Cueto and the San Francisco Giants. Cueto's been pretty darn good in the playoffs. And because the divisional round is only a five game series---and because Madison Baumgarner awaits the Chubbinis in Game 3---the Kismet arrow points to the Giants unless the Chubbinis win both their games tonight and tomorrow. The Giants had a terrible second half... barely squeaking in at the end... but they squeaked in because they caught fire in the last week of the season. And Connor Gillaspie -- former White Sox third baseman Connor Gillaspie -- light-hitting, inconsistent Connor Gillaspie, of all people, hit the three run homer to put the Mets away in the Wild Card game.

And I mentioned 1989 -- that year the Giants beat the Cubs in the NLCS (there was no NLDS then).

But I wish the Cubs no ill. Not even from the safety of an anonymous blog. I won't be rooting for them if they make it to the World Series---sorry, I'm an American League guy and I root for the American League team in the World Series unless it's Yankees---but I do not root for the Cubs to fail... maybe I root for the ground to open up under some of their fans and swallow them whole... but I've nothing against the kids actually playing the games. If they lose, therefore, it's not my fault!

But a word of advice: Don't bet anything too extravagant on the Cubs winning it all.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Reciprocity? Can you get an ointment for that? (More adventures of Youngest Son in the ignorant world of education)

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post suggesting that the best way to improve education in this country would be to tear down all schools of education. My rant was prompted on that occasion by my son's being refused the opportunity to student teach during his 7th college semester. After he had received fairly mediocre grades in his freshman year education courses---still adequate, mind you, according to the standards then in force---the Education Department at Youngest Son's thrice-cursed South Janesville College decided to raise the standards for student teaching.

Yes, I know. Ordinarily, I'd be the first to say "hooray" for raised standards. But the school retroactively imposed these standards---held them against---Youngest Son; they did not 'grandfather' him into the program. He wound up having to 'return' for a ninth semester---which was the Education Department's goal all along, to keep pumping kids for tuition for the longest time possible---and, even then, he had to battle because the grades he received freshman year, which would not have been perfectly acceptable for eventual student teaching according to the standards in place at the time Youngest Son earned those grades, were still used to threaten his prospects.

Now you may think that my beef is really with South Janesville College, that the SJC Education Department is particularly incompetent and inept---and it is---but my beef is with the entire education establishment in this country, at least insofar as I've encountered it. I said tear the system down in 2014. My attitude has only hardened: Blow up all the schools of education, I say now, burn the buildings down, raze the rubble and sow salt on the sites where the buildings once stood.

Now, not all of the dialog in the screed that follows is exact. I exaggerate for effect. But though I may exaggerate, it is only to expose to sad and sorry truth of the closed, dim, dumb, dense, peanut-sized brain of the apparently typical education bureaucrat and administrator....


Youngest Son did persevere in his quest to complete his teacher's credentials. He served his ninth semester largely at home, teaching in a near north suburban high school, under the mentorship of a friend of ours---someone we know not to have two heads, someone I would wholeheartedly exempt from my attitude toward teachers generally. Every rule has exceptions. My wife is a teacher; I surely exempt her.

And the 'supervising teacher' (I may have the idiotic nomenclature wrong, but this is the teacher who is enlisted by the college to see whether its student functions well or badly---it does not rely solely on the report of the classroom teacher to whom the student teacher is assigned) is the husband of a former colleague of my wife, a colleague that my wife and I both think very highly of. She's actually made appearances in these essays, at least a couple of times. I like her; I trust her. I don't know her husband from Adam's off ox, but I know he has a PhD in history (my son's a would-be history teacher) and a Vietnam vet (that makes a difference to me, which I will come to... eventually).

Anyway, both of these supervisors thought the world of Youngest Son. They thought he handled himself superbly in the classroom. They thought that he should be snapped up in a minute by the school district where Youngest Son was student teaching -- and there were, in fact, three history jobs coming due in the high school for the coming year.

Of course, Youngest Son completed his ninth semester around the end of 2015. Maybe his responsibilities stretched into January of 2016; I don't recall at this point and it really doesn't matter.

High schools hire for the Fall, not for January. And Youngest Son was cut loose, cast adrift, placed at liberty in January.

Sign up to be a sub, he was told. The rules with regard to subbing have long been that anyone with a college degree---even me, though I'm totally unsuited for classroom work---can be a sub. That's what we were told.

He was never called.

There was some delay in processing Youngest Son's license. In a final insult, South Janesville College couldn't quite finish its paperwork so that Youngest Son could get his Wisconsin teaching license right away. It took a couple of extra months, many phone calls and emails and even a pilgrimage to the old campus by Youngest Son to get the paperwork moving.

But eventually it moved. He had to be fingerprinted, submit to a background check, a few things like that. But the license was finally issued.

Now, Youngest Son could supply his license number when he applied for teaching jobs. And he applied to any and all teaching jobs in the Chicago area during the Winter and Spring and Summer---and the glowing recommendations he received from his student teaching supervisors notwithstanding---he got nary a sniff from anyone. Even the school where he had student taught, which had three history teaching positions to fill, did not give him an interview. That school interviewed a knuckleheaded grammar school classmate of Younger Daughter, a girl who'd stretched her undergraduate career to 11 or 12 semesters; Younger Daughter saw it on Facebook and was afraid to mention it to her brother lest his head explode.

Youngest Son became quite adept at applying. It was all computerized, he told us, and it was the delay in getting a license number that, Youngest Son later determined, created the first problem. The computer kicked out anyone without a license number: Even if the person in question had taught in the building and was vouched for by a senior teacher there, the application never made it to a set of human eyes.

How nuts is that?

But it gets much, much worse.

Remember how I mentioned that Youngest Son got a Wisconsin license? Thrice-cursed South Janesville College is in Wisconsin. Naturally its graduates would be licensed in Wisconsin.

Fortunately, Wisconsin and Illinois have a reciprocity agreement: An Illinois license is good in Wisconsin and a Wisconsin license is good in Illinois. Teachers are told that, if they wish to remain in Illinois, however, they should convert their Wisconsin license to an Illinois license within five years.

On this, all were agreed. South Janesville College said so. We heavily discounted anything SJC had to say, of course, but the teachers who supervised Youngest Son's student teaching efforts both concurred as well.

Finally, in August, having applied for a history position that just came open unexpectedly at a Chicago science and technology charter school, Youngest Son received an invitation to interview.

Initially, things went well. He had his Wisconsin license with him, and his glowing letters of recommendation, and the initial interviewer seemed quite taken with him. She called in someone else---an administrator, presumably---who came in and seated himself before the computer. A few keystrokes later he said, "Your name's not here." He was looking at a page on the website of the Illinois Board of Education. He read off a name. "Is this person related to you?" he asked. "My mother," said Youngest Son. "Well, she's here, but you're not," he said.

"Yes, but I have reciprocity." Youngest Son held up his Wisconsin license.

"Is that contagious? Maybe you should see a doctor."

"No," Youngest Son tried again. "My Wisconsin license is good in Illinois for five years."

"But it's not here," said the man, the apparent administrator at a science and technology charter school, gesturing at the screen.

The interview was over.

But---the statutes notwithstanding---now we knew: The Wisconsin license was bupkis. Youngest Son immediately began the process to convert his Wisconsin license to an Illinois license. More forms were required. South Janesville College was required to send records---Youngest Son's copies weren't good enough---but, wonder of wonders, on this one occasion, South Janesville College acted promptly. Still, two months later, according to the same website that charter-school jackass was looking at in August, the application is "pending." The kid can't get a job without the license---even though he has a license that is supposed to be good under the law---and he can't get the State to act on his application.

Meanwhile, we've learned that the State of Illinois does issue a substitute teaching license. It isn't required, so far as we know; it's just that no one will hire you as a substitute without one. So Youngest Son went a got a substitute teaching license -- I saw it this morning on the screen at the Illinois State Board of Education website. There were still more forms to fill out, another set of fingerprints, all for the hopes of getting $100 or so a day as a sub. A hundred dollars a day, even if you work every day, adds up... slowly... and not to very much.

Public high school teaching jobs start anywhere from $40,000 to $50,000 a year---decent money---but you have to jump through an awful lot of hoops to get there.

And, of course, you have to be on the screen.

Now you may be wondering---if you have a good memory, at least---why I mentioned that it was significant, in my mind, that my son's supervising teacher was a Vietnam vet.

Well, it may not be the only reason why departments of education, education bureaucracies, and educators generally suck (that's a technical term), but I'm absolutely positive that the Vietnam War contributed.

See, back when the war was on and the draft was going, one of the best ways to get out of the draft, and thereby avoid Vietnam, was to go to college. So many of our most hawkish neocons evaded actual military service in this way. A lot of schools, including my own alma mater, had "draft counselors"---students in good academic standing who could earn their continuing deferments---who helped their duller classmates find departments and programs that would allow them to stay in school, too. I was a little young for Vietnam, but some of the ex-draft counselors were still in school or hanging around campus when I started. I got to know a few (I worked for one for many years---I didn't meet him until my last year of law school---but, once I did meet him, I found out we had several mutual acquaintances). And I know a lot of the dullards got steered into education programs. Easy, easy A's and B's---or C's, anyway, for the really dumb ones---aided and abetted by sympathetic professors who did not want to be responsible for sending anyone to the jungles of Southeast Asia.

Yesterday's draft-wary dullards are the deans of education departments today, the superintendents, the principals. Once in power, they continued to recruit and promote equally dull, untalented, unimaginative people just like themselves. And public education in this country went careening downhill. I don't know why the husband of my wife's colleague actually served, but at least he wasn't 'saved' by draft counselors, which is why I automatically exempt him from the scorn I heap upon so many of the 'professional educators' of today. You may not think that's a proper tie-up, but that's my opinion anyway.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

As I was saying....

It's a dark, damp, cool Thursday in Chicago, light rain spitting fitfully from low, leaden clouds over Chicago's Loop.

I'm almost ready to start my week now.

Older Daughter was in town last weekend---again---with her two daughters, the younger one just starting to walk, neither one of them sleeping through the night. At home or on the road.

Poor Older Daughter. She thinks I don't like it when she visits. That's not true. Admittedly, I like it better during the day than during the restless nights. When she came by with two sick children for the Labor Day weekend, I lost a week recovering from the virus the kids gave me.

Well, at the ages of 1 and 2, the kids don't have much of an allowance, do they? What other gift can they give their beloved Grampy besides a virus? And then the next weekend, when Hank and Older Daughter and their two kids were supposed to drive up from Indianapolis for a party with friends in Batavia, the hosts of that party being college friends of Older Daughter and her husband, and the hostess being 8½ months pregnant with her second child, with roughly 100 people coming over, and my daughter and her still-sick kids (who wouldn't sleep in Batavia either) and her husband landing on their doorstep the night before said party. Who does that to somebody?

I blew a gasket on behalf of the young family in Batavia, and I'm not sure I could pick Mr. or Mrs. out of a lineup.

Mind you, Long Suffering Spouse was aghast as well, but she just vents at me. But, when I said something to my daughter, I was the bad guy. And, really, what I said, albeit perhaps at the top of my lungs, was that, if you really like these people, you will not impose yourself and your children on them the night before they are to entertain 100 people---bring them to our house instead. If Hank thinks he can help them prepare, let him stay out there, I said, but there's no way you can do other than hinder.

In the end, Older Daughter didn't travel that weekend after all. Not only were the kids still sick, neither she nor Hank had made arrangements for their two humongous golden retrievers, Cork and Tipperary.

They didn't come because you yelled at your daughter, Long Suffering Spouse told me.

I didn't say anything you didn't say, I responded.

Yes, but you said it to her, she replied.

Anyway, Older Daughter was back at our house, with her kids, a week ago today. That would be last Thursday. No, Friday was supposed to be a working day in Chicago just as elsewhere in the country.

Older Daughter was back in town because (1) Granddaughter No. 1 was turning four this past Monday and (2) Younger Daughter, her mother, was turning 27 on Tuesday. They would both have parties on Saturday at Younger Daughter's house---two parties, sort of a twi-night double header. As in a 'modern' doubleheader, the house would have to be cleared between parties; the hard part was figuring how to get Younger Daughter out of her own house during what she assumed would be clean-up and recovery time. Younger Daughter knew about her daughter's party; her own was to be a surprise.

My nap time was severely compromised on Saturday, but I cheerfully volunteered to pick up sandwich trays and the cake and all sorts of other things at our local Costco, some of it for the first party and some of it for the second, taking a lot of it to Middle Son's house which lies roughly halfway between the Curmudgeon Manse and Younger Daughter's abode. Middle Son had to completely reconfigure his refrigerator to accommodate the load. And I was still bringing a lot home.

All my kids attended both parties. Youngest Son was late arriving to the first one because he was coming from baseball practice.

You'll remember, perhaps, that Youngest Son used to play baseball for a school I've called South Janesville College here. But he graduated in 2015, sort of---since he had to do his student teaching in the Fall of 2015---and he's no longer playing college baseball. He's coaching. He's not a head coach or anything---as a matter of fact, he's an unpaid "volunteer" coach (though still under written contract for some reason)---and his status as a college coach has enhanced his position as a youth baseball coach. He's even giving pitching lessons to at least one high school kid hoping to make varsity this year (the kid he coached last year didn't make it, but through no fault of his own, or Youngest Son's).

Anyway, my updates here have been so sporadic that I've barely introduced Youngest Son's girlfriend, a beautiful, leggy brunette, that Youngest Son met in college. She graduated in 2014, but they have stayed together. In fact, they went in together on a portable fire pit for Younger Daughter's birthday, and I couldn't help but notice that, on Saturday night, Youngest Son and his girlfriend were seated around their present, talking earnestly in the darkness, lit only by the flickering flames. Time, if not past time, to give the young lady a name: I think I'll call her Danica (not her real name, of course, although it is a good Croatian name, I believe, and Danica is of Croatian heritage on her mother's side).

At some point recently---you'll forgive me if I can't remember exactly when---my dear wife began searching for jewelry her mother had given to her. Abuela is still very much with us---well, mostly with us, as she is getting increasingly forgetful---and she was even at the first of the family parties on Saturday (the second being just a bit much for her). Anyway, my wife found almost everything she was looking for on the very first night. She found one stash right away. She found a second cache after I made a helpful suggestion.

No, seriously. I did.

Look, this is my blog and you'll just have to take my word for it.

Unfortunately, even with my contribution, there were still at least a couple of rings that Long Suffering Spouse could not find. One of these was her mother's engagement ring. When Long Suffering Spouse's father died, many years ago, Abuela started throwing things out wholesale. Even jewelry. When I report that she gave these items to my wife, it's true, but it's also correct to say that my wife intervened to prevent these items from just being thrown away.

I know they're around here somewhere, said an increasingly agitated Long Suffering Spouse at one point. I know they haven't been thrown out.

I tried to look concerned. Actually, I first tried to look invisible. Nothing good can happen for me when Long Suffering Spouse is anxiously searching for something. This morning it's a unit test she prepared some years back---because her classes have Spanish on a varying number of days during successive school years it's not like she can recycle tests from year to year. Sometimes it's four or five years that pass before a test becomes relevant again. If this one is for the eighth grade in October, though, it might have last been given to a seventh grade class in March. Well, there was a year---or was it two?---where she got cut back to two days a week.

Anyway, I haven't mastered the art of turning invisible. Lamont Cranston, I'm not. (Gee, I wonder if anyone will get that reference.) So when invisibility fails, I try and look concerned. And I am concerned, really. I really concerned that Long Suffering Spouse will get mad at me when she can't find something she's frantically searching for. You must have put it somewhere where you'd remember, I offer, hopefully.

Yes, I know, but where?

There was a lull in the search while Long Suffering Spouse waited to clarify with Younger Daughter that she didn't have the rings. Apparently she'd had them at one point. Well, I knew Younger Daughter and Olaf had no funds with which to buy an engagement ring when they exchanged promises of marriage---and, still, the tumblers failed to click into place as to why Long Suffering Spouse would drop everything in a search for these rings now with so much else going on.

Even when I was reminded that Danica and Younger Daughter share a birthday I did not catch on.

OK, so in some ways I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Are you happy I admitted it?

And it wasn't in the knife drawer, but in the cabinet above, that Long Suffering Spouse eventually found the object of her search.

I was dumb enough to ask why she had been looking for these rings.

Youngest Son has no money, my wife told me, using small words of few syllables and speaking slowly and distinctly so as to maximize my chances for eventual comprehension. Maybe he'll want to use this one, she said, holding it out for my inspection.

The tumblers finally clicked. For Danica, I ventured, hesitantly.

Long Suffering Spouse beamed: The idiot husband was starting to figure things out.

It was reported back to me in due course that Youngest Son was cool toward the idea of using his grandmother's ring. Unaccountably cool, in my wife's estimation.

I listened carefully and a possible explanation occurred to me. I'll handle it, I said.

When I eventually ran across Youngest Son and we were actually alone (no children or grandchildren eavesdropping) I reminded the young man that, 40-some years ago, I was the delivery boy and mail clerk in the jewelry store in downtown Boondockia. Youngest Son tried very hard not to roll his eyes as I groped toward the point---that's the major difference between 16 and 23---when a kid is a little older, he'll at least try not to roll his eyes. At least for awhile.

Well, I continued, on the second floor of the store we had as many as four jewelers. They spent a lot of their time fixing watches, but sometimes they also sized rings. Then I dropped the clincher. It doesn't cost a lot to size a ring.

How much? he asked, warily. I had to admit my knowledge of the industry is 40-odd years out of date, but it wasn't much then and it still shouldn't be that much.

Hmmmmm, he said.

Well, of course, you've figured out where this is headed a lot faster than I did. He found a jeweler and he enlisted a couple of his buddies to come with him (one had to stop to pick up the ring) and install themselves in hiding places where they could photograph the actual proposal. Danica's parents were enlisted in the plan, too. They would also be in the vicinity photographing when the big moment came. Danica's father, whom I've met only once, is apparently an ex-Marine. Youngest Son has hinted broadly that Danica's dad has seen and done some pretty heavy-duty things. I wouldn't know, of course, but I will say I was a little impressed---and alarmed---when Danica's dad assured Youngest Son that he could conceal his whereabouts during the proposal. "I could be right next to you and you'd never know it," he told my son. (Say... maybe he's mastered the Lamont Cranston technique. Who knows? I mean, besides the Shadow.)

In the event, Danica got maneuvered into position on a footbridge overlooking a small lake near the home where Danica resides with her parents and sisters. And she never suspected a thing. "She's a lot like your father, I guess," Long Suffering Spouse explained to Youngest Son.

We were actually at Younger Daughter's house Tuesday evening waiting for confirmation that the proposal had gone off successfully. We'd brought our daughter some birthday gifts on the actual day, you see.

But we hadn't breathed a word to her or her sister (who finally went back home to Indiana on Monday afternoon). Operational security had to be maintained, we were told. Besides, said Youngest Son, do you think my sister would have left if she knew I was doing this? Long Suffering Spouse did not disagree. It occurred to me, however, that if I'd said that, I'd have gotten into trouble....

When word came that the proposal had been made and accepted there was great rejoicing. Granddaughter No. 1 was ecstatic. Uncle [Youngest Son] and Aunt Danica are getting married, she lilted, taking about 10 seconds to dreamily pronounce the word 'married.'

And I've had stuff to do, too, throughout all this---but I've gone on far too long. Half of Thursday is already shot, and I really need to get this week started.

Isn't that where I came in?

Friday, May 27, 2016

The 2016 American Presidential Contest: The Ugly American vs. Liar, Liar, Pantsuit on Fire

So Donald Trump apparently has enough delegates now to claim the Republican presidential nomination on the first ballot.

Given the choices that now face Americans in November, it is only a matter of time before Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promises his fellow citizens that he will build a wall and make the Americans pay for it.

Since the twilight years of Og the Caveman it has been normal for older folks to look back on the world of their youth as a Golden Age... and the current world as an Age of Brass. Or worse.

Somehow, humanity has progressed despite the misgivings of all the aging old farts telling wistful tales of Glory Days.

But now?

Oy.

From one perspective, and perhaps only this one, I should be pleased: I'm as good as any of the Sunday morning talking heads who reassured their viewers that Donald Trump was a fraud, a fiction, a media-fueled farce. Youngest Son would ask questions about whether, maybe, possibly, there might be more to it than that, and I would start humming the "Entrance of the Gladiators" (Julius Fučík, Op. 68 -- and you would not believe how long it took me to look that up) -- you know, the circus theme song -- and I would say something stupid like who cares about the Russians conquering eastern Ukraine when the circus is in town?

Not Donald Trump. But
there is a resemblance.
I mean, Trump had to be a clown, right? Just look at the hair.

I don't fall for conspiracy theories easily. But for the longest time I was willing to believe that Hillary Clinton was behind the whole Donald Trump phenomenon; that she put him into motion with a mission to fatally undermine the eventual Republican nominee.

And now...?

The Talking Heads are certain that Hillary will win in a walkover because (a) she's a woman and (b) Donald Trump. I don't know what to think anymore. Except, maybe, it's a good thing I'm getting old because I won't have long to live in the grave new world either candidate will create if victorious.

My kids, and not a few of my contemporaries, accuse me of being to the Right of Attila the Hun. But I purposely and proudly voted for Bernie Sanders and his delegates in the Illinois primary this past March. My parents were probably rotating freely in their graves. Sure, Bernie's a Socialist. But he has some principles, even if I disagree with many of them (and not all of them, believe me). I am convinced that Hillary has no principles. She has only an unwavering dedication to her ascension to the White House -- derailed for eight years by the upstart Obama, but that's inconsequential now -- the Reckoning draws nigh.

The email scandal should have been long fatal to her hopes. How incredibly self-centered can one be to imperil the nation's greatest secrets for the sake of personal convenience? But no fact, no collection of facts, no accumulation of facts can deter Hillary from her Message. Or her selfish Mission.

I'm a discerning news connoisseur. I may read something about Hillary's potential legal troubles on Judicial Watch or a Fox News site -- but I consider the source. But, kids, the stuff that's being published in the Washington Post these days -- the Washington Post! -- is getting absolutely damning.

I still think she'll avoid being indicted -- but, then, I thought no one would vote for Trump either.

And I'm starting to think that if she's indicted, she will continue to run, and if she can't get the charges dismissed, she will still continue to run. And she might win even with a criminal trial looming over her head. After all, Donald Trump! And then she can simply pardon herself when she's elected.

On the other hand, Donald Trump!

I hope I can get into Canada before Trudeau seals up his Wall.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Curmudgeon's Laws -- dental edition

Some years ago, I suggested some "laws" I'd derived over the course of many years' experience. I further suggested they might be universal and they may still be.

They were not, however, viral, and I continue to labor in perpetual obscurity.

Which may not be entirely bad -- if I ever get back to posting regularly.

Anyway, this was the original list of Curmudgeon's Laws:
  1. These laws will never be more popular or well known than Murphy's.
  2. The farther away one gets from a problem, the easier the problem is to solve. (This is why, for example, bloggers and presidential candidates know exactly what to do about the budget, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, immigration,etc., etc., etc. and why presidents seem to have such a difficult time of it. This is also why I can solve every problem but those on my own plate.)
  3. You can't do anything without doing three other things first.
  4. By the time you've done the three other things, you will most likely forget what you set out to do in the first place. (This is why you often feel as if you've worked hard all day and have still done nothing.)
  5. The piece of paper that you had in your hand five minutes ago and that you need right now will invariably be impossible to find.
I subsequently added to the list with these winners --
6. It costs more to be poor in America than it does to be rich.
7. Expenses do not follow when income fails. (Originally, I said that "Expenses do not fall easily when income drops," but this sounds more pithy and Poor Man's Almanac-esque. Anyway, it's my blog and I can edit if I want to.)
To this perhaps not-nearly-so-distinguished-list-as-I-imagine I add the following:
8. If you have a dentist's appointment tomorrow, someone will offer you popcorn today.
I don't have to tell you that this is an offer you must refuse, right? Dental hygienists are, for the most part, lovely people. But they work with sharp, pointed objects and they can, and probably will, make you pay in a million ways for your pre-appointment popcorn consumption.

And there's no insurance in the world that will cover it.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Curmudgeon finds automotive vindication, of a sort, but only after 10 years

One of the few posts I still remember from my long-abandoned first blog (which is how this blog got named, get it?) concerned the demise of our 1991 Plymouth Grand Voyager.

It was maroon in color and we drove it, literally, to death. At the end, even the automobile service representative said attempting to fix it would be a complete waste of time. Think about that for a moment: A guy selling auto repairs saying further repairs would be futile. He may have had some vestigial remnants of a conscience.

Small wonder, then, when the auto industry collapsed early in the Great Recession, his dealership was one that did not survive. How could a dealership that allowed such people to remain employed possibly hope to compete in today's world?

Anyway, we replaced that maroon van with a silver one. We did buy it from that dealership. It wasn't that we particularly wanted a silver car; it's just what they had on the floor. The type of van was essentially unchanged in form and function from what we'd had before. The new one had power door locks; that was pretty spiffy for many years -- I can't remember now, though, how many years ago the power locks stopped working -- and the vehicle was no longer labeled as a "Plymouth." The Plymouth nameplate had been retired. In 2005, then (I'm pretty sure it was 2005), we became the proud owners of a Dodge Grand Caravan.

The van now has over 116,000 miles on it and it is looking a little haggard. In addition to the no-longer-functional power locks, there are visible rust spots creeping up from the undercarriage and a hole in our plastic front bumper. I think the hole was caused by a recent encounter with a particularly deep, and well-hidden, pothole in our neighborhood, but I might be mistaken.

I am not mistaken about a particular quirk this van has had since we acquired it: When we fill it up with gas, it has a tendency to stall out on the way back from the gas station. Over the years, particularly early on in the life of this vehicle, I would take the van in and complain. But I am not a "car guy" (as the linked post will illustrate). So the various service departments into which I've taken the van for repair could -- and did -- dismiss my complaints with attitudes ranging from condescending to patronizing to dismissive. We could find nothing wrong, they would tell me, as they presented yet another bill. You are ignorant in matters mechanical. You are wrong.

Well, I know when I'm licked. So I developed, over time, coping strategies: One of the best strategies was to time my gasoline purchases for early Saturday morning, when there were few cars on the road, so I could keep giving the van gas. If I could accelerate smoothly enough there might be a bucking bronco moment or two but, after the shudders ceased, I'd be home-free. If a light changed to red unexpectedly, or if I otherwise had to apply the brakes, however, the car would certainly die. However, when there were few cars on the road, this was not nearly so dangerous as it was during rush hour.

But we can't always time these things -- when kids borrow a car it's a cinch it will come back needing gas -- and my Long Suffering Spouse began letting me 'handle' the gas purchases as often as possible because she didn't like to fight to keep it from stalling on the way back from gas station.

So I devised other strategies. I noticed how cab drivers would sometimes put their cars in neutral and gun them at intersections. I think some of them may do it just to scare pedestrians crossing in front of them... but it gave me an idea. If I could put the van in neutral and gun it before it stalled, I might get through the rough patch without incident.

The years went by. I learned. I coped.

Now we come to yesterday. I was sorting through the day's collection of catalogs and bills when I came across a letter from Chrysler. "Important Warranty Information," the envelope said. Well, my van has been out of warranty since before Mr. Obama went to Washington. Even the people hawking extended warranties don't bother with me anymore.

So I opened the envelope. I read:
This letter is to inform you that the warranty period (3 years or 36,000 miles) on your vehicle's fuel tank has been extended to a period of 15 years/unlimited miles. This extended fuel tank warranty coverage applies to certain 2004-2005 model year Chrysler Town and Country and Dodge Caravan / Grand Caravan minivans. * * * We are extending the fuel tank warranty period because some of the affected vehicle population may experience a condition where the fuel shut-off float, in the multifunction control valve sticks, which may result in the vehicle stalling after refueling.
That's when I laughed out loud. Youngest Son happened to be in the room when I whooped. He looked at me quizzically. I read him what I just quoted.

But, no, that's not the punch line. The letter continued: "If you are experiencing this condition now or in the future, simply contact your dealer to have the appropriate repairs performed."

Really? Do you believe that they really know now how to fix what they had so long denied was even a problem?

Me neither. But if I take it in to give them a chance, I'm sure they'll say they made an attempt -- and find a thousand dollars worth of non-covered stuff to fix, too. (Go back to the link for details.)