Friday, May 29, 2015

At work on the day before Middle Son's wedding

This wasn't the plan at all. I was hoping to take today off and rest up for the events of the coming weekend. Heck, I need to rest up if only so my hand doesn't shake too badly when I present the charge card at the end of the rehearsal dinner tonight.

The rehearsal dinner is going to provide one of those Circle of Life moments: There are a lot of people standing up for Middle Son and Margaret tomorrow, and they all have spouses or Significant Others, and there are a number of visitors from out of town to be accommodated. So smaller, closer venues were eliminated as candidates for tonight's event. That left a restaurant in not-quite-as-nearby-as-would-be-optimal Lincolnwood -- OK, maybe not in Lincolnwood, but across the street therefrom -- the same restaurant where, believe it or not, Long Suffering Spouse and I had our rehearsal dinner 33 years ago.

A lot of memories are coming back as tonight's event approaches. I remember, for example, how bemused I was that my father took the day off before my wedding. I remember thinking, why does he need to do this? I'm the one getting married. I worked all day the day before my wedding, barely making it to the church in time for the rehearsal. I had to turn in my timesheets at the wedding reception to our office manager. I remember being up early on my wedding day filling them in; they were folded up in the jacket pocket of my tuxedo during the Mass. Time off before the wedding indeed! Who gets that? I wondered.

Well... Middle Son does, for one. I think he worked some, possibly from home, on Thursday. Margaret has been off work since Wednesday, because that's when her family arrived from Michigan. And the kids will be going on a 10 day (or is it two week?) honeymoon. It boggles my mind. But, then, they are his and her CPA's now (Middle Son passed his last test earlier this year; his license just arrived in the last month) and they are traditionally accorded some serious slack after tax season.

But here I am in the office. I was here to 7:00 last night setting up stuff to be filed in court this morning and I will start running just as soon as I hit the "Publish" button.

Thirty-three years ago I couldn't figure out why my father thought it necessary to take the day off before my wedding. Today I'm wondering, how in the world did he get away with it?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Curmudgeon finally buys two Ken Levine books online

Four years ago I did a post here about überblogger Ken Levine's then-new book, Where the Hell Am I? (Trips I Have Survived). I wanted to buy the book, I said, but I was afraid.

The problem was that the book was available only online. I'm hope I'm not open to a charge of being afraid of the Internet, not after blogging, albeit sporadically, for a decade. Nor was I afraid of Amazon in particular -- but I was (and am) afraid of the State of Illinois. (Have you seen our new billionaire governor?)

The State of Illinois did not impose sales tax on Amazon purchases; instead, it relied on Illinois-based Amazon shoppers to fork over the sales tax on all their Amazon purchases voluntarily, when they paid their state income tax.

See? I can be as funny as Ken Levine -- just by relating the actual facts.

I simply was not going to get into a beef with my home state over whether I did or did not remember every purchase and the absolute safest way to do that was to purchase nothing. Which I did.

This year, however, Amazon and Illinois have reached an accord -- Amazon is willing to open up some facility in Illinois and has consented, in return, to charge Illinois tax to Illinois residents on Amazon purchases. Plus, I needed new razor blades (which my son-in-law had heretofore purchased for me -- online -- and I'm sure he paid all taxes when due). The razor blades came to about $8, but I needed to spend $50 for free shipping.

Among the purchases I made to reach that threshold were two of Ken Levine's books, his current novel, Must Kill TV, and his book about the year he spent broadcasting for the Baltimore Orioles, It's Gone! ...No, Wait a Minute....

Well.

If you like your comedy black, you can't get much darker than Must Kill TV. It is wicked, knowing satire and many themes will be familiar to Ken Levine's blog readers. A thriller as well as a satire, the plot pivots dramatically from page to page. Some twists I liked better than others. One, near the end, literally did make me laugh out loud. (My fellow Blue Line commuters were alarmed by this.)

But... how can I say this? I liked the baseball book better. Not just because I like baseball -- as this is posted, my seasonal sidebar is in full baseball mode -- but because Must Kill TV can be, well, stressful. Maybe I take things too seriously. After all, I'm the guy who mourns when my village is destroyed in Clash of Clans. I take two blood pressure pills a day. I don't watch horror movies. (If I want to be frightened, I tell my kids, I look at my checkbook.) So I'm reading Must Kill TV on the train and watching poor Charles Muncie make still another poor choice and, in my mind, I'm yelling at him, don't do it! -- and then he does. And I had to put the book down for awhile. (I think I was only yelling in my mind -- but, come to think of it, my fellow Blue Line commuters seemed a little more nervous than usual that evening....)

Friday, April 10, 2015

There's good news tonight! British researchers say overweight people are at reduced risk for dementia

I'm sourcing the BBC here, not the Onion, and the BBC, in turn, links to The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.

The abstract of the article specifically states, "Being underweight in middle age and old age carries an increased risk of dementia over two decades. Our results contradict the hypothesis that obesity in middle age could increase the risk of dementia in old age."

The researchers don't know why this is.

Unfortunately, I can guess: A lot of us who are overweight in middle age die from something else before we can get soft in the noggin. Especially if stair-climbing is involved.

But who cares? Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we avoid drooling on ourselves in a nursing home. When I waddle home tonight, I will not hesitate to take that extra slice of pizza....

Thursday, April 02, 2015

This was the week that was, and I wish it weren't

Technically, I realize that the week isn't over yet. It's only Thursday afternoon, but I'm done for the day. I never really got started.

I got the office bills paid today and my portion of the rent deposited. I made a payment on a charge card (I have a 0% promotion on this card, which is good, but it expires next month, which is really bad, particularly because there's still an $18,000 balance on the card -- although that's down from $23,000). I spent a good chunk of yesterday figuring out where my personal finances are going. I was downloading updates and security software on my new laptop so I can work more efficiently yesterday, too. But I never actually made it into the office.

I started the day at Younger Daughter's house. She had to get a blood test; I had to babysit Granddaughter #1. There are worse ways to pass the time.

But the reason I was there -- the reason for the blood test -- stinks. Just a week ago Tuesday Younger Daughter told Long Suffering Spouse and me that she was expecting again and we were over the moon happy. Wow, we thought, what a 2015 -- Youngest Son graduates college (he still has to do student teaching), Middle Son gets married, and both daughters have babies....

But Younger Daughter miscarried Monday. I'm in a fog. I know I should just muscle through this -- hey, it was really early -- these things happen -- she's still young -- and, besides, I've been through this before with Older Daughter and, before that, with Long Suffering Spouse, and you know what? All of that's true -- and none of it seems to matter.

Long Suffering Spouse is coping better than me. As usual. (The weaker sex! Ha!) In addition to comforting her daughter and trying to keep her own mother from dumping her recollections on Younger Daughter (Abuela had five miscarriages 50 years ago -- and she insists on reliving each one, in gory detail, with whoever goes through a similar loss), Long Suffering Spouse is trying to buy a dress for Middle Son's wedding (to Margaret) next month.

Next month already!

The department stores are full of fancy dresses -- it is prom season, of course -- and if you're 18 and in prime physical condition, tall, taut and rail-thin -- you can find a fairly flattering dress without too much trouble.

If you're over 18, though, and if your figure is more womanly than girlish, you are SOL. (You can look up that abbreviation on your own.)

This has left Long Suffering Spouse incredibly depressed. She started looking for dresses a while back -- before we went on vacation. She had Younger Daughter and Granddaughter #1 with her on one of her first outings in this quest. She found a number of dresses, tried them on, and burst into tears. (Younger Daughter ratted her out to me.)

There have been several outings since. I've gone with her three times -- which, to the female readers of this blog, may seem like nothing -- but any male will tell you that we would rather do anything -- and I do mean anything -- teeth cleaning, colonoscopy, prostate exam -- rather than accompany our Significant Other on a Quest for The Dress. I went questing with Long Suffering Spouse once on vacation (if you read closely, you may remember I mentioned the Macy's in Winter Haven) and again yesterday (we went to Woodfield, visiting Lord & Taylor's, Macy's, Nordstrom's, and a few other places besides). There were no tears on these outings -- none that I saw -- but Long Suffering Spouse was, by last night, beginning to despair. "Maybe I just won't go to the wedding," she said at one point, after we'd come back empty-handed once again. (No, she doesn't mean it.)

The Eventual Dress (really, we have to capitalize the object of the Quest) must have sleeves. Long Suffering Spouse did not like the way her arms looked in Oldest Son's 2010 wedding pictures. ("Why didn't anyone tell me?" she complained.) It can't have too low a neckline. ("I'm going to be bending over all day as it is, scooping up kids," she pointed out.) It can't be too gathered in the middle. ("I look like a cow," she says.) And The Dress must be sufficiently fancy. The bridesmaids' dresses are short -- tea length, I think, is the term -- and the bride's mother has already bought a shorter dress. Therefore -- my wife says -- she must also buy a shorter dress. I don't remember reading this in Leviticus or anywhere else but -- my wife insists -- the entire universe of long dresses is closed to her here.

I have, from time to time, ventured suggestions, pointing to this dress, or that one, but -- although I think my wife appreciates my bravery -- she hasn't liked any of my suggestions so far. "That might be a nice dress to wear to a wedding," she's told me, "but it won't do at all for the mother of the bride or the mother of the groom." I have tried to ascertain what "fancy" means in this context. It appears to involve (a) a solid color, (b) sparklies, and/or (c) lace.

Long Suffering Spouse plunged back into the retail jungle today. She has sent out pictures from the changing room of possible candidates to me and/or Younger Daughter. I liked one -- it had sleeves and everything -- and, although it was blue, it appeared sufficiently lacy, and therefore, within the criteria established for The Dress. I said so, in response to a text. But the sales clerk had already vetoed it as not adequately "fancy." Recent communiqués from the mall (Old Orchard today) have been encouraging and I maintain a degree of cautious, if probably unjustified, optimism that an acceptable garment will soon be found... if only because Long Suffering Spouse is going to have to turn her attention soon from The Dress to Middle Son's wedding shower on Saturday the 11th.

Meanwhile, the work piles up on my desk. I took a briefcase full of files with me to Florida to work on -- and I actually did get some work done. It just wasn't enough. And new crises have arisen on my return, meaning that much of what was undone when I left is still undone.

Weekends are supposed to be catch-up time, right? But two weeks ago we went to Michigan for a wedding shower put on by Margaret's family (this was a very proper wedding shower in a tea room -- no menfolk allowed -- but it was five hours' driving each way and I really had to go along to keep my wife company). Last week, Long Suffering Spouse and I both had birthdays -- and we had kids in the house, and grandkids, from Friday afternoon through Monday morning when we left for work. In between, we went to an 80th birthday party for my one "surviving" aunt. I use quotation marks there because the poor woman has Alzheimer's -- she doesn't know anyone anymore, poor thing, and can't even speak. She's been in a home for years -- but this was the very first time her daughters asked any of the extended family for anything. How could we not go? It was nice to see my cousins at something besides a funeral.

Anyway, I can't count on catching up much this weekend -- it's Easter.

I think when I was younger I could handle a lot of outside distractions and still keep on working efficiently. Maybe I'm lying to myself again. I don't know.

But it's Thursday afternoon. And, although my insides are churning with Paleolithic fight or flight adrenaline and my arms are actually numb from stress, I'm done. If I could just tough my way through a couple more emails, I'll get out of here.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Curmudgeon takes a vacation -- Part V -- Bugs and Bugging Out

With each passing year, my waistline grows bigger (sort of like rings on a tree, I suppose) and, yet, my bladder grows smaller. And I had been driving longer than federal regulations permit for over-the-road truckers. And I have only a wee bit of my original colon. Yes, that's too much information. But, armed with that knowledge, you can't be surprised that, within a few hours after hitting the hay at our sketchy Winter Haven hotel, Nature came calling for the Curmudgeon.

Whilst attending to my own business, I could not help but notice the roach on the bathroom floor. In the hotel's defense, it was just one roach, and it was on its back. Clearly it had seen better days. It may even have been dead. On the other hand, I went to college in the City of Chicago. I shared an apartment with roaches once. There is, to my knowledge, no such thing as just one roach. Indeed, in my college days, it was sometimes thought amusing to turn on a bright light unexpectedly in a bathroom and watch the roaches form kaleidoscopic patterns as they scattered. If you're old enough, or a serious film student, you may begin to wonder what inspired Busby Berkeley.

I suppose that last image may have cost me my few remaining readers... but it's not the sort of thing you forget.

And this bug on the floor was one of the smaller, speedy ones I remembered from college in Chicago, not one of the larger, tropical variety. My good wife hates, loathes and despises your everyday Rogers Park Roach (not the scientific name, I know, but that's what I called them) -- but she has a particular aversion to the larger, tropical variety.

The tropical ones fly.

Anyway, taking no chances, I killed the roach, or killed it again, and flushed it for good measure. The toilet didn't work particularly well, but I suppose I'll save those details for the letter to the hotel chain that expects me to pay for this room.

I went back to bed, glad indeed that I had found the creature before my wife did. But now -- you should excuse the expression -- my antennae were out.

Maybe that's why I woke up again just a couple hours later. On the other hand, it was close to our normal wake-up time. Anyway, I started tippy-toeing back to the bathroom.

Our hotel room was dark. It was still dark outside and room-darkening curtains were adequate to block out any pre-dawn gray. But, when I travel, I always leave the light on in the bathroom, with the door slightly ajar. That way, if I wake up confused -- and it happens to the best of us -- I can quickly reorient myself to my surroundings. So while the bed where my wife was (I thought) still asleep, there was enough light for me to see the floor near the bathroom door... and anything thereupon.

In this case, there was a bug on the rug. A big bug. A couple inches long, cigar-shaped, and (fortunately for me) very still. I had no shoes on and I had no intention of trying to dispatch this creature with my bare feet. My wife has very sensible, thick-soled, teacher shoes. These were in easy reach -- well, as easy as may be for an increasingly middle-aged Curmudgeon who never did bend so good -- and I reached one anyway and drummed that big bug home to Big Bug Heaven.

I don't know whether my wife was awake the whole time, or whether it was just my impromptu bug-stomping that roused her to consciousness, but I heard a drowsy, "What's going on?" coming from the darkness across the room.

"Nothing," I said. "Just a bug. I squashed it."

"A bug?" There was no sleep in her voice anymore, and her pitch rose two octaves in four letters. "What kind of bug?"

"A waterbug. Nothing really. It's gone now."

"Let me see it." She got out of bed, cringing, and crept over toward the bathroom where, fortunately, there had been a well-positioned garbage can. She looked inside. "That's no waterbug! That's a cockroach! We're leaving!"

"Hold on," I said, as my wife picked anything up off the floor that might have been left and jumped back on the bed. "Let's get some coffee first, then decide what to do."

I got some coffee, then planted -- again, you should pardon the expression -- a bug in the desk clerk's ear about the uninvited guests in our room. "If my wife sees another one, we'll have to leave."

Now, I should say this about that hotel. The people were nice. The desk clerk must have pulled double-duty over the weekend, because it was the same lady when I got coffee on Sunday morning as had been working on Saturday night as I confirmed my reservation over the loud thumpa-thumpa-thumpa coming from the hotel lounge. But she was certainly sympathetic, promising an especially thorough cleaning (and a plunger and a TV remote -- on top of everything else, there was no TV remote in the room when we checked in). The staff person who promptly brought the plunger and the TV remote seemed like a very nice man, too. But, in bringing these items down the hall that morning, he, like me, must have passed by two more big bug carcasses in the hallway.

No, it was time to leave.

We left. We bugged out.

I didn't even tell Long Suffering Spouse about the little roach in the bathroom until we were some miles away.

"I'm glad you found those bugs," she told me. "And everyone in the hotel should be glad, too. I would have screamed my head off."

And she was not exaggerating.

But here we were, back in the car with the funky oil light, with all our possessions carefully examined before re-packing, on our way to the Orlando airport, there to swap out rental cars. We had no place to return to that night. And our son would be pitching early in the afternoon. Seeing him pitch was, after all, why we had come to Florida. We found Interstate 4 with no problem -- but Google Maps sent us off that soon enough, into a couple of new toll roads. It took forever to get to the airport, and forever to swap out the car (the GMC Terrain was replaced by a similar, but smaller, Buick Encore). But we were still on target to make it to Youngest Son's game. If we could find the park. And if the traffic ever started moving. Why would there be a weekday rush hour on Sunday morning? Construction, apparently.

No, I didn't have a stroke, but Long Suffering Spouse was expecting me to topple over at any moment. Instead, we did make it to the park... eventually... and got to see the entire game (only because the start was delayed) and I'm very happy to report that the kid had a great outing. Then we could start looking for another hotel room. The next hotel turned out to be much nicer. It did have a microwave (which we never actually did use) and no bugs whatsoever. But there's no dramatic tension in any of that. By now, though, I think, I've explained how we drove to Florida and back in two cars, stayed in two hotel rooms, and yet were together the whole time....

Monday, March 30, 2015

Curmudgeon takes a vacation -- Part IV -- Signs of the Times

Well, I've milked this recollection for three full posts so far and I haven't even taken you out of the Midwest. No wonder I have no readers. But, I promise, we'll be in Florida before this post is out....

Older Daughter kept calling and texting her mother -- on the car phone that Long Suffering Spouse couldn't charge thanks to my grabbing the wrong charger -- something that was pointed out to me repeatedly as the miles rolled by.

Older Daughter wanted to know if we'd be stopping by her house.

Older Daughter lives in Indianapolis and a car traveling from Chicago to Florida must go through or around that city. But I was sure that Younger Daughter had put this idea in her sister's head; I doubted she would come up with it on her own, and I said so.

My oldest child is, let us say, directionally challenged. She once got lost going around the block, shortly after we moved to our present home. In her defense, it is a large, irregularly-shaped block, not uncommon in my little corner of Chicago. On the other hand, she was 12 at the time.

Both Older Daughter and Younger Daughter were miffed about my accusation. Younger Daughter swore she'd never breathed a word of our possibly stopping off in Indy -- and Older Daughter insisted that she knew we'd be passing through all by herself. Given how unpopular I already was with their mother, at this point, I did not have any serious concerns about being added to two more fecal rosters.

In the event, we didn't stop in Indianapolis on the way down -- it would have been far too late to come calling, given the late start we'd gotten -- even Long Suffering Spouse agreed with that -- though she was still wary of the field marshal's gleam in my eye.

We crossed the Ohio River sometime after midnight, which was a good thing, really, because the Interstate bridge and its Kentucky environs were under construction and must have been terrible to attempt during daylight hours when normal people drive.

By the time we reached the southern outskirts of Louisville, even I was beginning to realize that our forward progress must be halted, at least temporarily. Even if I didn't fall asleep at the wheel -- something that seemed increasingly likely -- my wife might strangle me, and consequences be hanged. We pulled off at an exit that promised an extensive choice of lodgings.

And, indeed, the sign did not lie. Unfortunately, all of the hotels were booked solid. I stopped at several, just to be sure. At the last of these I was able to engage the young lady behind the desk in conversation. I learned that not all of this traffic was caused by Winter Storm Thor -- although, to be sure, some of it was. Folks who had spent a night or two in their cars seemed eager to sleep in a real bed for as long as possible. But the real culprit, insofar as room usage was concerned, was a girls' volleyball tournament. Teams from all over creation had commandeered large blocks of rooms and parents and other camp followers had filled in the rest. However (said the nice young lady) she'd been talking to the night clerk at the Best Western one stop south not too long before and she said they still had a couple of rooms left.

The fire in my wife's eyes banked slightly at the rumor of a room one exit away. I made haste lest some other weary traveler snag the last room before I got there.

Sure enough, there was a room left at the Best Western. Pausing only to plug my wife's phone into a wall socket, we hit the pillow. And, no, this is not the second hotel to which I made allusion at the outset of the last post.

We resumed our journey early the next morning -- not early enough to suit Field Marshal Curmudgeon, who wanted to go over the top in the pre-dawn grayness -- but as soon as reasonably possible. In the bright, but chilly morning, Long Suffering Spouse decided to forgive me, a little, for my failings of the preceding day. We saw for ourselves the remains of the winter storm, my wife trying to snap pictures through the car windows. Not only did Kentucky in March look a lot like Wisconsin in December, there were an inordinate number of cars still abandoned on the shoulder of the road. One vehicle had apparently been parked a little closer to the edge of the shoulder than the others. Either that, or the passing snowplow strayed just a teensy bit off the road. Either way, the metal skin of the driver's side of the vehicle had been peeled away.

In addition to the abandoned cars, we noted billboards alongside the Interstate. We come from a city where most private citizens weren't allowed legal gun ownership until the United States Supreme Court said so -- and our city fathers have been whining about it ever since. So the many signs for gun shows and various gun stores and gun manufacturers made an impact on us. Rahm Emanuel would have a stroke if he looked out the windows while driving to Florida. And, of course, there were the billboards for "adult superstores" coming up at many of the exits. These were liberally interspersed among both gun-toting and religious billboards. "Evolution is a lie!" a number of billboards proclaimed. Judging from the billboards, there was an exit somewhere in southern Georgia where there must have had a porno emporium on every corner. I wondered how the concentration of such stores might be received among the local God-fearing populace. Would the attitude be 'jobs are jobs' and we'll expect you at services Wednesday night and Sunday morning? Or would families be torn asunder, with those who took jobs selling steamy DVDs to horny truckers being ostracized by their kin?

We saw what for us was the strangest, and on some level, most frightening billboard not long after we crossed into Florida. The Sun was setting by this time, but we could plainly see the giant letters on the sign: #secede. There was a web address below. I looked it up later. You and I may think America's Civil War ended 150 years ago next month -- but, for some, apparently, there has been only a temporary cessation of hostilities. Yikes! I can't recall, now, whether this billboard was before or after we passed the gas station flying a ginormous Confederate flag (the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, for those of you keeping score at home, as opposed to the official Confederate emblem during most of the Late Unpleasantness). (And, no, we didn't stop for gas there either.)

But the day was not given over entirely to meteorological observation or cultural speculations. Somewhere in the course of our first night's drive, the spaceshipish-sort-of instrument panel in our GMC Terrain began proclaiming (to the exclusion of other useful information) "change oil soon." The change oil light came on again as soon as we headed out on Saturday morning. I thought a call to the rental car company might be prudent under the circumstances.

The nice lady with whom I spoke Saturday morning said that these kinds of things happen all the time with these new cars -- it was probably just a computer glitch, she said, and therefore I did not need to pull over and find a Jiffy Lube or similar establishment. Instead, she said, bring the car into another National location and swap it out for an equivalent vehicle, no questions asked. But the concern over the possible consequences of this computer glitch did add, a little, to the stress levels on the journey.

I drove through Kentucky and across Tennessee, and all the way through Georgia into Florida. We paused only twice for gasoline, and other things, along the way. By the time we reached the Florida Turnpike (the first of about 1,000 Florida toll roads) Long Suffering Spouse was becoming most insistent that she drive -- and I was too fatigued to protest. It was full dark when we stopped for gas at the start of the Florida Turnpike. I moved to the passenger seat and assumed the role of navigator -- reduced, of course, to GPS, since I'd left my Google Maps printouts in the living room at home. I looked at the map on the phone en route, as well. Everything looked like a real road. We were about to find out differently.

We thought the stretch of the Florida Turnpike over which we'd been passing looked rather dark, empty and foreboding. Then the GPS had us jump ship onto U.S. 27 and, in the twinkling of an eye, onto something called Villa City Road. We saw no villa, I can assure you, and nothing at all like a city -- although Google Earth says the road cuts through some sort of hamlet -- but, you know, sometimes these map programs -- always trying to save you time -- take you on shortcuts back to the main roads. These were looooong shortcuts, granted, but we were, according to the maps, headed for a long stretch down a state highway.

The state highway, however, turned out to be a two-lane ribbon of asphalt in the night. A couple of motorcyclists were in front of us, and we could watch their headlights swivel and in that way anticipate forthcoming curves. The speed limit was 60, which seemed awful fast for a pitch-dark road in the middle of absolute nowhere. But, sure enough, as we were wending our way down this little road at what we thought was breakneck speed a pair of headlights appeared behind us and closed almost instantaneously.

I really don't know what the custom is among native Floridians regarding personal space. I know in some cultures folks stand jaw to jaw to engage in ordinary conversation, whereas in my experience, getting jaw to jaw means fisticuffs are about to commence. And maybe Floridians do like to crowd each other in person; I wasn't there long enough to find out. I can say, however, that -- judging by what I saw on the Florida roads -- the typical Florida driver has absolutely no sense of interval between vehicles. The front of the typical Florida driver's car liked to snuggle in about an inch or two from the tailpipe of my car. Where possible, on the Interstate for example, I would get over to let the vehicle pass, but the further south we got the sooner he (or she) would be replaced by another vehicle equally as oblivious to any sort of safe interval. I coined a name for these drivers. I called them -- well, never mind exactly what I called them, this being a family blog, but it rhymes with "gas moles."

I think it was on this lonely stretch of Florida Rt. 33, where we were following the motorcycles (at a distance!) where we experienced our first real encounter with this phenomenon away from the Interstate. I don't much care for this sort of driving on the Interstate either, mind you, but it is much more disconcerting in the dark on a narrow road far from civilization. And it's even worse when you don't realize that this is normal native behavior.

Our first follower soon passed us, cutting in close behind the motorcycles. I begin to understand why not all cars have license plates in the front: The extra couple of millimeters would cause no end of collisions. I thought for sure the motorcyclists were done for, but the car passed them soon thereafter and no one seems to have died.

Meanwhile, we were looking for turns and I was watching my phone charge dwindle dangerously low. I tried plugging the phone into the car where we'd had the i-Pod hooked up and this worked, sort of. The battery drained a little slower.

Apparently GPS uses up a ton of battery charge. Each road we came to, though, was darker and more isolated than the next until, suddenly, and without warning, we passed over Interstate 4. "Why the hell didn't you put us on this, you supposedly 'smart' phone?" I snarled at the device in my hand. But the device was smug as well as smart, and would not answer. (Later map study would show that it was -- in terms of miles -- a detour to take I-75 all the way to I-4, which runs southwest to northeast between Tampa and Orlando. But it surely would have been less stressful.)

After nearly a week driving around that area, I came to recognize the Interstate crossing as a positive sign that we were nearly to Winter Haven. But I didn't know that on that first Saturday night. And neither did Long Suffering Spouse. And it was getting later and later and it seemed like hours since (with the exception of that single Interstate crossing) we'd seen any of the trappings of western civilization.

Somehow, though, we found our way to U.S. 17, the main drag in and out of Winter Haven. But just because a road is designated as a U.S. highway does not mean that it too won't meander through the darkness. There was one place in particular where 17 was supposed to jog left and a sign pointed left and the phone was saying turn left and I was saying turn left and -- fortunately -- Long Suffering Spouse did not turn left until she actually found pavement on which to turn a city block or more from where the sign pointed. By this time, Long Suffering Spouse was screaming at me, and I was screaming back, and the phone was down to about 11% -- and falling -- while plugged in.

Winter Haven is a dowager. It may once have been in the upper tier of resort towns -- it was once the spring training base of the Cleveland Indians -- but the Interstate was not all that had passed it by. The passage of time has been unkind to the town, it's life-essence probably drained away in the growth of Orlando and the Mouse House therein. We passed a Macy's in a shopping mall, an unexpected glimmer of prosperity in a sea of permanent depression, decline and decay. And, yes, we shouldn't make snap judgments about a place after passing fearfully through pitch-black country roads, after being on the road for 15 hours or so. We found the hotel where we'd reserved a room for the next three days. There was a police car parked by the entrance. There was loud, pounding music coming from the entrance. There were a bunch of people just there -- sitting out, walking around, no apparent connection to anyone or anything -- just there. "Are you sure it's safe to stay?" my wife asked as I maneuvered around the squad car looking for a place to park.

"Of course," I lied. The objective nearly achieved, the Field Marshal Curmudgeon persona was nearly back in its cage -- but I had one last gasp of willful obliviousness left in me. And, besides, I was tired. It was at least 10:30. Or maybe it was 11:30. We got everything into the room as quickly as possible and texted the kids of our arrival.

The room wasn't much to look at -- nothing at all like the picture I'd seen on line. The chair legs looked like they'd been gnawed by large dogs. One chair was broken, but my wife pieced it together so we could both sit. There was a refrigerator (not plugged in) but there was no microwave.

Long Suffering Spouse was not taken in by my reassurances. Still, I tried. I even looked up the nearest Catholic Church, expecting we'd go to Sunday Mass as usual. "Everything will look better in the morning," I promised. "You'll see."

As usual, I was wrong.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Cuurmudgeon takes a vacation -- Part III -- A Journey of 1,000 Miles Begins With A Single Step... and Forgotten Maps... and the Wrong Charger

We took two cars, stayed in two hotel rooms, but Long Suffering Spouse and I were together the entire trip. Confused? Well, hang on.

You'll recall, of course, my insufferable bragging about the careful, logical, analytical way I planned our accommodations for this Florida adventure. No detail was too small. I even printed out detailed, turn-by-turn instructions from Google Maps, which promised to get us to our hotel in 17 hours, 47 minutes.

These were the maps and directions I left on a chair in the living room of the Curmudgeon manse when we finally got underway.

And that, Dear Readers, was the least of my failings.

By the beginning of that first full weekend of March, we knew that Youngest Son was scheduled to pitch on Sunday afternoon and again on the following Friday. I had hoped for a Thursday start, perhaps, so that we might have a more leisurely journey home, but at least we were armed with the facts.

Youngest Son had been ill during the week preceding the Florida trip -- fever, hacking, wheezing, congestion. He called me on Monday of the week we were to leave informing me of this malady and, essentially, demanding that I give up the identity of the secret pill or potion that would instantly restore him to good health. As if there was one. From our distant vantage point in Chicago, Long Suffering Spouse and I feared pneumonia, or bronchitis at least, and urged Youngest Son to seek medical attention. He ignored us, of course, at least at first. Perhaps he consulted with the team trainer.

By Friday, the day he was to leave (by air from Milwaukee) -- and the day we were to leave by rented car that I would pick up Friday afternoon -- I was still unsure of his health. I texted him to inquire whether he actually made it to the airport bus. He texted back that the bus had just left campus for Milwaukee's Mitchell Field. Twelve hours later he would text again, to confirm touchdown in Orlando. This made me feel even better about not flying.

Even the weather cooperated... sort of. Winter Storm Thor was pulling out of the Southeast as Friday dawned -- but my wife was petrified by horror stories of persons stuck in their vehicles on I-65 overnight (a lot of celebrities and pols among them, heading for Selma and the 50th anniversary remembrance of Bloody Sunday). There aren't a lot of choices for people driving from Chicago to Florida: The best route is to take I-65 to Nashville, turn east on Interstate 24 to Chattanooga, then turn south on I-75, all the way into Florida, land of the endless toll roads. Stranded motorists were still being pulled from cars in Kentucky -- there had been nearly two feet of snow in Louisville courtesy of "Thor" -- and Long Suffering Spouse was worried that the roads might not yet be passable when we got there.

By this time, however, I'd adopted the stubborn, inflexible mindset of a World War I general. We were going over the top as scheduled no matter what. I was certain that the road would be cleared in time for us. On this one point, at least, I was proved right, ultimately, but our discussions about the likely driving conditions did add an extra layer of tension and confusion to our final preparations.

I took Friday off to prepare for the trip. My wife worked a full day -- and then some -- because, she said, she could not leave her substitute (Mrs. Lork) without stuff to keep the kids busy. She had assignments. She had contingent assignments. She created punishment assignments if the kids got unruly. And she wrote out d-e-t-a-i-l-e-d instructions. She'd been working on these all week -- and she still wasn't finished late Friday afternoon.

Meanwhile, I took our second car to Younger Daughter's house -- she needed the car to watch our house during our absence -- with the expectation that Younger Daughter would then take me to the Blue Line so I could get to O'Hare and the rental car. Both Younger Daughter and Long Suffering Spouse were concerned about using public transportation to get to the rental car place... but you really can't drive up to one of these places in your own car. How do you get out? Everywhere you go is either a gate or a row of spikes that will shred your tires should you foolishly try and back up. No, the train and the shuttle bus was the best plan -- such a planner I'd become!

What I couldn't plan, of course, was the duration of Granddaughter No. 1's nap. Younger Daughter and Olaf are in the process of housebreaking Granddaughter No. 1 -- and she's doing very well indeed, I can tell you -- but it has complicated her schedule. On that particular day, she didn't go down for her afternoon nap until late -- and she wasn't yet awake when I arrived (already later than I'd wanted).

Readers of this blog will readily understand that one cannot simply bundle a toddler, newly awoken from a nap, into a car and take Grandpa for a ride. Wait! Grandpa's here? What are you doing here? Well -- the child was happy to see me (it's my blog and you'll just have to take my word for it) but there had to be a delay before Younger Daughter would even consider trying to get Granddaughter No. 1 into her coat. So we lost more time there.

Eventually, though, we could go. Granddaughter No. 1 was upset when I jumped out of the car at the River Road train station, but I was finally back on the plan.

I didn't realize how cold it would be shivering on the platform at the River Road station. The wind was whipping and -- this is the story of my life -- there were four trains from O'Hare before the first one arrived heading toward the airport. Eventually, however, I got the car -- a 2015 GMC Terrain. It had all sorts of gizmos and whizbangs on a very spaceshipish-sort-of-instrument-panel that I had no clue how to operate. Still, a dim thought worked its way into my consciousness. Perhaps, I thought, we could connect the i-Pod to the vehicle and listen to music. That might be nice.

Younger Daughter and Granddaughter No. 1 were at my house when I brought the rental home. This was not part of the plan. I forget why they had come. Granddaughter No. 1 may have insisted. But I seized on the opportunity to ask my daughter how to connect the i-Pod. Not only could I do that, Younger Daughter told me, but I could hook up the cell phone through the car, too. She was trying to show me how while Granddaughter No. 1 climbed into the vehicle, situated herself in front of the instrument panel, and began pushing random buttons and twisting knobs. I'm not sure I absorbed the lesson very well.

I am sure that it was dark out by the time Younger Daughter and Granddaughter No. 1 were gone and Long Suffering Spouse and I were ready to hit the open highway. "Are you sure we shouldn't wait until morning?" asked Long Suffering Spouse for the 80th time. But Field Marshal Curmudgeon would hear none of this. We had a hotel room in Florida Saturday night which we could not possibly reach if we left Saturday morning. No, although we were hours behind schedule, The Plan Must Be Followed. "Do we have the I-Pass?" asked Long Suffering Spouse -- that gets us through toll booths in Illinois and Indiana, although (as is not particularly surprising) not in Florida -- and I answered in the affirmative. "Are all the bags in the car?" she asked. I answered in the affirmative. "Did you bring a brush for snow?" Well, no, I said, we're going to Florida, remember? "Bring a brush," my wife said, "we don't know what weather we will encounter en route." I was going to ask if she wanted me to bring a shovel, too, but I thought the better of it. If I asked, she might have said yes. "Where is the phone charger?" she asked. "I don't know," I answered. "Get the phone charger," she told me. I went into the family van and grabbed a phone charger.

Now, apparently, although I didn't realize it at the time, we have two phone chargers that plug into the family van. One of these is for a phone that we no longer have. Why this should still be in the van under the circumstances is not something I can answer. I can admit that I didn't check to see if I had grabbed the right charger or the wrong charger because I didn't realize there were two.

Long Suffering Spouse, however, figured it out mere minutes after we finally left. We had just gotten on the Illinois Tollway. The phone charger discovery happened moments after my wife figured out that I'd left the maps and directions in the living room. This was not the most auspicious way to beging a journey.

"Turn around. We are going home. We will leave tomorrow."

If Long Suffering Spouse hadn't said anything about leaving tomorrow I probably would have turned around. Probably. But Field Marshall Curmudgeon was not going to wait until first light Saturday to start the attack on Florida. We were leaving Friday as the plan required, no matter how late on Friday that might be. I didn't turn around. I was not a very popular fellow in that vehicle, let me tell you.

But -- like this story -- we kept going.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Curmudgeon takes a vacation -- Part II -- The Careful Plan

Having had my bluff called on the Florida trip, there was nothing to do now but figure out how to make things happen.

I had one piece of hard data: I had the South Janesville College baseball team's itinerary, showing the addresses of the three different parks, in three different towns. With Google Maps I could readily determine that there were significant distances from each to each -- a half hour's drive or more. The logical conclusion from this was we would need a car for the week.

Having determined that we must rent a car for the week, then the question became whether we should fly down to either Orlando or Tampa -- our destinations were roughly in between -- or whether we should rent a car here and take it there. I'd done that once before, about 17 years ago, when we took a family vacation to Camp Lejeune. Marine bases are not traditional vacation destinations, but Penny's husband Carl was stationed there at the time (Penny was my wife's college roommate, you may recall) and they were able to rent a doublewide trailer on the beach where we could all hang out. I don't remember where we actually stayed on that trip -- at Penny and Carl's home, I assume, but I'm not certain. But there are two things I do remember. First, this was the most unspoiled beach I'd ever seen this side of the pages of National Geographic -- imagine an almost deserted beach on the Atlantic Ocean, closed to all but Marine officers and their guests -- and but for the tanks practicing maneuvers a mile or so behind us every day, it was as quiet as it was deserted. The second thing I remember is that, although we had nice weather at the beach, we had rain going to and coming from North Carolina. Lots and lots of rain. Buckets. Torrents. It made for an interesting drive....

But, anyway, we'd rented a van on that occasion because we did not think our family van up to the long trip. The old van did last a good six years more -- but now, as I planned for the Florida trip, that old van's successor -- our current family van -- is just about 11 years old. I didn't want to tempt fate. So I was receptive to renting a vehicle here for the drive.

I admit to a certain prejudice against air travel. I hate it. I hate the phony security (universal inconvenience makes no one safer). I hate the increasingly random pricing schedule. If I buy on a Tuesday with one eye closed I can pay x per ticket, but if I wait until Wednesday with both eyes open I might pay 1.5x or even 2x. Unless I caught the special on Thursday night between 11:00 and 11:15 p.m., when I'd pay .75x.

I can put up with the zig-zag prices, but then there are the extra fees -- like for checking bags. There was no way we could go to Florida for a week and have carry-on luggage only. For one thing, my wife and I would need to bring at least one computer -- she had grades to finish and I had to monitor my practice, such as it is. I had to have enough 'stuff' with me to operate from a hotel room in Florida at least as well as I could from home. Have you ever tried typing a letter on a cell phone? Cell phones are great for reading email -- but any task more complicated becomes well nigh impossible.

Oh, yes, the computer was another vacation cost: We had to buy the laptop for Florida. We had a laptop we'd been using -- but it was an XP machine and Windows (how I hate Bill Gates) recently decided to stop supporting XP. The still-functional machine was now useless -- unless I didn't want to connect in any way to the Internet -- and connecting to the Internet for business is kind of the whole idea when one travels. Now I have a brand new Windows 8.1 machine -- which is almost as good as the one I was using (yes, I'm sure it's a technological order of magnitude better in some respects, but none that concern a word-processing, email reading person like myself) except that it's not yet paid for.

I did scout out airfares, but once I figured out that the cost of flying would equal or exceed the cost of renting a car for the week, my heart wasn't really in it. I had to revive my membership in the National Emerald Club, but it seemed to me like I had made great progress in the planning of the event.

Not so to Long Suffering Spouse, however. "We're going to drive?" she asked. "The whole way?"

I explained the bases of my recommendation. Long Suffering Spouse was resigned to the inevitable, if not exactly enthused about the prospect. "What if it snows?" she asked. "We have to go through mountains. What if there's ice storms?"

Negotiations continued throughout that week. Long Suffering Spouse was paying increasing attention to The Weather Channel long-range forecasts (and these were becoming ominous). And there was one more thing preying on my wife's mind, as she announced one Saturday morning when Olaf and Younger Daughter and Granddaughter No. 1 were visiting. "Where are we staying on this trip? I'm not sleeping in the car!"

I hadn't attempted to book a hotel room yet, it was true. There were three widely separated baseball fields to consider, in a part of the country I didn't know at all (I'd been to a deposition once in the greater Orlando area, as I recalled for certain during the course of the trip, but that was for a single night and day -- the deposition was at the hotel). Cautious individual that I am, I was interested only in major chain hotels -- I'm sure there are wonderful places down there not affiliated with any major chain -- but how was I, from Chicago, supposed to ferret these out? Internet reviews? Please. Internet reviews are written by (a) trolls or (b) the mothers, spouses, and other family members of the business owner.

I tried searching within a radius of a certain number of miles from each park's address. A lot of places were already full up -- there were a lot of college baseball teams being rotated through central Florida in March for this never ending 'tournament.' Harvard was going to play there for a single game. No, seriously. The actual Harvard, as in don't-pahk-yah-cah-in-Hahvad-yahd Harvard. Harvard wasn't playing South Janesville, but still -- Harvard.

Anyway, we could assume that all the best places filled up first and we'd have to sort among the dregs. Again, this is why I was focusing on major chains -- eventually, I found one in Winter Haven, Florida that seemed to meet all the criteria -- major chain -- near one of the parks where the boys would play -- reasonably priced, but supposedly with refrigerator and microwave -- the picture of the typical room looked quite nice -- and there were no glaring troll reviews.

I announced my selection to the assembled throng. But, I said -- again, my native caution coming to the fore -- I would only book the room through Tuesday -- Sunday, Monday, Tuesday -- leaving us potentially at liberty thereafter. My wife was appalled. "We'd have to start looking all over again?" she asked.

"Well, yes," I began, "but at least we'd be in the area and could see for ourselves. And if we liked the place, we could almost certainly extend our stay there for the whole trip."

I could see Long Suffering Spouse building up to a major objection to this plan, but Younger Daughter chose that moment to interject, "That makes sense to me. When we went to Minnesota" (she and Olaf had gone there a couple of years ago for an extended weekend) "I wished we could have changed hotels. Where we were was nice, but there were other places we wanted to see but we couldn't get there and back to our hotel in time."

Long Suffering Spouse throttled down.

I booked the rooms. I suppose I should have wondered more at the no cancellation policy, but I was thinking that -- at that busy time of the year -- the hotels wouldn't want to hold empty rooms that they thought they were going to get paid for.

So we had a plan -- logically arrived at, the product of careful study of all known information, after due and careful consideration.

*Sigh*

We were about to learn -- again -- the wisdom of Von Moltke's maxim, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Curmudgeon takes a vacation -- Part I -- Curmudgeon's Bluff is Called

We don't take vacations often in the Curmudgeon family -- at least not Long Suffering Spouse and myself -- as this essay, from 2006, makes clear.

Here's a link to the story I wrote about that last vacation, nine years ago. The story has 'matured' in the retelling, over the years, as all good stories should, to the point where (the way I spin it now) there's a Shoot On Sight Order posted at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix in case I should ever return again during Spring Training -- how we left Arizona in March 2006, one jump ahead of an enraged committee of the Chamber of Commerce, all decked out in parkas, and carrying pitchforks and torches, bundles of feathers, and buckets of melted tar.

Well, it really did snow as far south as Scottsdale, when I was in Arizona for Middle Son's first Spring Training. That's not exaggerated in the least. And my wife and I and Youngest Son and Younger Daughter wore every stitch of clothing we'd brought with us, all the time, all at once, because it was so darn cold there in the so-called Valley of the Sun. (Meanwhile it was in the 70s and sunny in Chicago.) The hotel didn't have heat -- who needs to heat a hotel room in Phoenix? -- so the only place we could get warm was in the rented van.

We spent a lot of time in that van in 2006.

That part of the story's not exaggerated either.

In the nine intervening years, I believe my wife and I have been out of town overnight on only three other occasions -- once for Older Daughter's wedding (in Indianapolis) and another for Oldest Son's wedding (in San Antonio). We did get to tour a mission on the San Antonio trip and, of course, we remembered the Alamo -- it's right in the middle of town, so you can't forget it, even if you try -- but I don't know if that counts as a family "vacation." And the third trip, to South Bend, for Oldest Son's college graduation, was certainly not a vacation (I offer this as proof) -- and we'd spent the night before the commencement ceremony sleeping, at least occasionally, in a dorm room. Most of the parents did -- there weren't nearly enough hotel rooms, so this was planned in advance. It's just -- well, you've heard of getting a mint on your pillow at a nice hotel? The pillow on my dorm bed was as thick as a mint, and not nearly as soft. I was still recovering from surgery at the time, and was terrified that the only available bathroom was down the hall. Still, we survived.

And time passed.

This spring turns out to be Youngest Son's last Spring Training as a college baseball player. He's a senior already at South Janesville College (the name I made up instead of using the actual school's name) and this year, as in the past three years, Youngest Son's team would be journeying to Central Florida, midway between Tampa and Orlando, for a never-ending 'tournament.' Most tournaments, in my experience, have winners and losers and such. But this tournament is just a way to get as many teams from as many places as possible to play each other. My son's team played a lot of teams from Pennsylvania -- and one from Illinois. Go figure. So it's not really a 'tournament.' Still, it's an opportunity to play in reasonably warm weather, without having to first shovel the field (they do that often in Youngest Son's league), and it may be the actual last time this spring where the kids can play in nice weather.

Anyway, Youngest Son's team has gone down there during the school's Spring Break each year. The very secular South Janesville College does not concern itself with Easter in determining when Spring Break will come -- so it's not surprising that his trip has never coincided with my wife's Spring Break.

But, one night at home, somewhere around Valentine's Day, realizing this was the last time we could see the boy pitch in Florida, I said something to Long Suffering Spouse about how I wished she could get the week off anyway. And -- and this surprised me -- she said she'd ask.

And this surprised me more: The school said, sure, go ahead and go.

I must have been working from home the day all this happened. Perhaps I had a deposition somewhere out here and I didn't want to drive downtown. I have most everything I need to work at home anyway. I know I had gone to the store to buy a box of copy paper for my office -- I was going to be driving downtown at some point, obviously -- because I remember that I was in the parking lot of the store when my wife called and said (a) she needed something she'd forgot at home and (b) she had permission to go to Florida.

I went home and got it and brought whatever it was into the school and, who should I meet on my way to my wife's classroom but the retired teacher who'd already agreed -- just that morning, because everything happened just that quickly -- to substitute for my wife while we were away. "I'm so glad you're going," she told me, and I thanked her.

It wasn't long after that that it hit me: Everyone had called my bluff. We were really going to have to go to Florida, weren't we?

To Be Continued

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Banks do something else stupid... and, in other news, the Sun will rise tomorrow in the East. Unless a banker is put in charge of sunrise, that is....

After the Great Recession, when the banks nearly destroyed the national economy, you'd think that banks might be a little more -- I don't know -- cautious about doing stupid things.

You know, the next time the bankers destroy the economy one or more of them may actually go to jail.

But, apparently, I am ever the optimist -- failing to realize just how mind-numbingly stupid banks can be.

Today I went to my bank with the simple objective of depositing a check in my business account.

Now, you've been to a bank recently -- you know what they look like -- whether the decor is wood or marble, chrome or wrought iron, there are always four or five teller windows, and only one or two is ever open. A really big bank -- really big -- may have a dozen teller windows... with only three or four of them open.

No matter how many people are in line, right?

Even the grocery store knows enough to open a new register when the lines get too long. This will shock you, but I've actually seen this happen at the Post Office.

But never at a bank.

Well, this bank has some new, fancy wallpaper -- covered with slogans -- up on one wall now -- new since I was last there a couple of weeks ago (it's been a long time between checks for deposit, I know) -- and exactly no teller windows open.

Seriously.

This, by the way, was in the early afternoon. I hadn't broken in after hours or anything.

A banker walked up to me as I stood there puzzling over the complete absence of tellers. I didn't realize he was a "banker," of course. I took him for a greeter. A lot of banks have greeters these days. Just like Wal Mart, only younger. With the money banks make from nonsensical fees alone, they can afford to hire armies of greeters.

"Can I help you?" says the banker.

"I'd like to make a deposit." I gestured at the empty, closed teller counter.

The banker picked up on my meaning. He may have noticed the deposit slip and check in my hand. "We don't have tellers at this location anymore, sir."

This is still a bank, right? Some vestige of the good manners my mother taught me as a child prevented me from asking that question in the tone in which I'd have liked to ask it.

"I can show you how to use our ATM machine. Do you have an ATM card?"

"No, this is a business account," I said, "I don't have -- or want -- an ATM card."

"We have bankers handle all these transactions. I'll get you into see a banker as soon as one is available." He was carrying an iPad Mini on his arm -- maybe that's how he kept track of all the "bankers." Maybe he used it to play cards.

"We don't need dedicated tellers because we are cross-trained to do everything," he added.

"You do realize that that is the dumbest thing I've heard all day." My mother -- and my childhood -- have been gone a long time.

"Many banks are moving to this model," he told me, "but we still have some branches with tellers." He named one a few blocks out my way. At least it was still Downtown.

Somebody else came in at that point, also hoping to make a deposit. I watched the scene play out again.

"We're short-handed today. We have three bankers out with the flu." Well, we have had 50 degree temperature fluctuations here in Chicago in the past few days. That can get a lot of people sick. If bankers are people -- a mighty big if, mind you -- I suppose they wouldn't be immune.

Someone emerged from a cubicle. I don't know what he'd been doing in there. Undermining the economy, probably. But it freed up a live terminal for my helpful banker to take my deposit.

Finally.

On the way to my next errand, the craziness of what I'd just witnessed sank in a little. Banks are moving to a model that does away with tellers? What next? Grocery stores doing away with food? Auto dealers doing away with cars? A bank is a place where you put money in or where you take it out... and they are moving away to a model that does away with people who actually handle money just so customers can meet with a "banker" on each visit? Why? So the "banker" can tout the unsuspecting customer on the dubious virtues of credit debenture swaps or whatever scam they dream up next on Wall Street?

They say the Great Recession is finally over. They say the economy is recovering. But the banks... and the unjailed bankers... are still here. Innovating insanely. Don't count on the recovery lasting any length of time.

And start keeping your money in your mattress.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Curmudgeon goes to a funeral, comes away moody

My friend Steve and I went to a funeral yesterday. I wouldn't tell you whose it was -- that would compromise my anonymity -- and, frankly, if I described it, even, I'd give it away. So maybe I'll tell the story of why I felt I had to go some other time, when it won't be as easy to connect the dots.

The decedent had been politically involved. I can say that much. His eulogist said a lot more about that. A lot more.

And it was very entertaining. Very funny. Very impressive. But the man couldn't have been home much in the evenings.

He was divorced. I knew that. So many lawyers are, you know. I served a term in the state bar Assembly 25 years ago -- my father used to go to the conventions each year, up in Wisconsin, and my wife and I could have dinner and a couple of drinks with him and my mother.

The highlight of the convention, each year, was the installation of the new bar president. We've had a few women presidents since, but in those days, at least, they were all men. And at the big dinner on the last night of the annual meeting, the bar president would give a little speech and proudly introduce his family.

"Isn't that nice?" Long Suffering Spouse would say. "And each daughter is prettier than the next. But where's the wife?"

And my father would lean over and tell her. "See that one on the right? The youngest looking? That's the wife."

My father would lean over to tell my wife this so he could watch the horrified expression on her face as his message sunk in. He was very amused by it. "I think that's the second wife," he'd say, unless he said, "I believe that's wife no. 3." And then he'd add, "You have to spend a lot of time away from home if you want to be president of the bar association."

And that was just state bar politics. You can imagine how much time somebody involved in politics-politics must have been away from home. Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but it takes its toll on the family, too.

The decedent, we were told, was very proud of his family. He had a son and a daughter. His daughter he saw every day. I got the distinct impression he didn't see much of his son or his son's family. They live out East somewhere, and that surely explains some of it. Maybe most of it. But the eulogist, a nephew of the decedent -- making him a first cousin to the decedent's son and daughter -- made it a point to address the son's kids directly from the pulpit. "You don't know me," he began....

You don't know me? Well, my first cousins have roughly 30 kids among them and I don't know them all either. But the eulogist was with their grandpa every day for several decades, he said, as driver, as confidant, as traveling companion, as factorum -- surely if those kids knew their grandfather, they must have known the eulogist as well, right? Well, apparently not....

I have two grandchildren (a third is pending) and both were over at the house over the weekend. I don't suppose the house can be overrun with grandchildren when there are only two, but my wife and I weren't planning on quite so much family togetherness this weekend -- we have a ton of work to do if we hope to get to Youngest Son's Spring Training next week in Florida -- and we were able to accomplish very little. Although going home at nights put an effective kibosh on my political ambitions, at least my grandchildren may get to know me -- if I live long enough. These were heretical thoughts to have, I suppose, during a long eulogy suffused with prominent political names, but there you have it.

Steve and I were walking back to the car after the car after the Mass.

"Charlotte got one of those new iPhones," he told me. Charlotte is Steve's wife.

"Oh?"

"Yes," he said, "and she feels compelled, now, to show me anything that she finds interesting. Your new Facebook picture, for example."

Oh, that. As long as the grandkids were over, I made sure that their mothers got some pictures of the kids sitting on my lap. I put one up on Facebook as a new profile picture (in case you're wondering, Long Suffering Spouse doesn't want her picture on Facebook because she's a teacher). "Yeah, I saw she 'liked' it," I said. "I don't know," I went on, "maybe I'm being morbid. But I keep thinking I need new pictures for the tables at the funeral parlor. Just in case."

Steve laughed.

"You know," he said, "we used to go to weddings and take away ideas. I don't like this -- or I'd like to do that -- and we'd try and remember them for our own. Remember?"

"Yes," I said, as we pulled out into traffic, heading back home. "You're doing it at funerals now?" He grunted an affirmative. "Me, too," I said.

Friday, February 13, 2015

I've been meaning to put this up for years now....


No, it doesn't make any sense for most of my readers, as if I had that many, but Bee will probably be surprised that I figured out her deep, dark secret.... And, yes, this is a real place, on Touhy Avenue in Niles, just outside the Chicago city limits.

By the way, that featureless gray above the top of the building? That's what a February sky looks like in Chicago, more times than not.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Brian Willams gets six month suspension -- that ought to be just about enough

Brian Williams. Photo by David Shankbone.
NBC News anchor Brian Williams has been suspended without pay by NBC for six months because of the whoppers he's told about coming under fire in Iraq while riding in a helicopter. Twelve years ago.

Williams' story -- if not his actual helicopter -- had come under fire from various quarters for years, but the story unraveled completely only recently, when he repeated the account on the air, and all sorts of persons who had also been there that day came forward to refute it.

With this lie exposed, media vultures are now circling Williams' reports from New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, where he reported seeing human corpses floating by in the flood waters.

Meanwhile, the Twitterverse erupted, predictably, with mockery, some of it quite funny (more here):


TV news anchors imagine themselves as journalists, not performers, and the public likes to think so, too. The suits at NBC had no choice but to punish Mr. Williams -- his self-announced 'stepping back' being clearly insufficient.

But the suits had a problem. Williams had decent ratings. High 'Q' scores. He could get all grim and somber reading the news and sparkle in late night TV talk show appearances. But even in a forgiving nation -- and we are -- NBC could not hope to reconstruct Williams' popularity and credibility without a seemingly severe punishment. And, so, six months.

Williams can go into seclusion, or therapy, or both. He can write a book about his personal struggle to confront the lies he's told in his life and his journey toward honesty. It could even be a true account.

Meanwhile, NBC will try out multiple replacements for Williams -- and watch the ratings. If, in six months, after a couple of network 'sweeps,' NBC News ratings are in the toilet, Williams will be offered a chance at redemption. If the ratings hold, however, watch for Brian Williams hawking product on a cable shopping channel near you. Only not toy helicopters. That will be in his contract.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Curmudgeon thinks about heading to Florida for Youngest Son's last Spring Training Trip

One thing security consultants tell us consistently is that we should never, ever announce on line any plans to be away from hearth and home -- or post vacation pictures on Facebook or Instagram while we are still on the trip -- or do anything else that might tip off would-be burglars that our homes are ripe for ransacking.

But this is an anonymous blog -- very anonymous -- so I don't think I'm taking much of a risk in saying that Long Suffering Spouse and I are seriously talking about taking a trip to Florida next month to watch Youngest Son's last Spring Training Trip ever.

Youngest Son is a senior in college this year and he pitches for South Janesville College (at least that's the name I've given his school here) and, well, there's not much chance of his name being called in the 2015 MLB Draft. It's not that he's a bad player -- he's a very good player, and scheduled to be the number two starter on his team -- but his fastball has never broken 90 mph. These days, for a right-handed pitcher to get drafted, he almost has to have a fastball that hits the mid-90's with some regularity. Even Hall of Famer Greg Maddux hit the mid-90's when he was in the low minors. (Of course, it wasn't until he cut the speed to below 90 -- and allowed the ball to move -- that he began his climb to Cooperstown.)

But -- much as I wish it could be otherwise -- I think Youngest Son is OK with the prospect of having to hang it up after this year. He'll graduate on time (I think) and then do his student teaching and then, hopefully, start a career teaching school and coaching baseball.

In early March, when many of his classmates are scattering to warmer climes for the bacchanalian revels of Spring Break, Youngest Son and his teammates will fly to the greater Orlando area, there to test their skills against other D-III schools on actual baseball diamonds, in weather that should be appropriate -- and surely better than the freezing conditions in which most of their regular season games will be played. Spring in Wisconsin! It's a dangerous time -- can't run the snowmobiles across the lakes as much -- but you can tell the weather's changing because the snow falls less frequently. In each of the last three years, the team-building activity for the South Janesville Team upon its return from Sunny Florida has involved shoveling mounds of snow off their home field.

I want to see the kid pitch. I want to watch a game without worrying about frostbite. I want to go to Florida.

Surprisingly -- even though it would mean having to take a week off from school -- Long Suffering Spouse seems to like the idea. She keeps asking impertinent questions, though, like "how are we going to pay for this?" I don't have any good answers to such questions.

So we're talking seriously about traveling to Florida in March. And I run the risk of leaving our house open to burglars by announcing it here.

Of course, I used to think that no self-respecting burglar would ever take anything from our house. Just one look inside and most burglars, I thought, would turn and leave, possibly dropping a dollar or two as a donation.

But the house is less chaotic since Younger Daughter and Olaf and Granddaughter #1 moved out. Our messes are more localized now: The area around my desk looks like the nest of a giant Pack Rat -- and the dining room table is buried beneath papers that Long Suffering Spouse needs for school. Burglars would still be unimpressed with the shopworn conditions of our living room furniture, and the threadbare carpet, but might venture beyond hoping to find something of value.

Good luck to them.

Of course, all of this could still fall through. I guess I won't believe it can happen until it happens. But that's the plan under discussion right now.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Middle Son registers for his upcoming wedding; something begins to register with Curmudgeon, too

Middle Son is getting married at the end of May.

(Thank you.)

He and Margaret, his fiancee, were at Macy's yesterday filling out their greed list -- the selection ritual having been postponed a week by the Super Bowl Sunday Blizzard -- and Middle Son called from the store in the course of his ordeal.

"I see what you meant when you said I'd want to shoot myself in the face rather than do this," Middle Son began. Actually, I think I said I would gnaw off my right arm in order to get out of such an adventure -- a sentiment which did not endear me to Long Suffering Spouse at the time I voiced it, but there you are.

"I'm sorry for your troubles," I responded. I figured the kid would get around to the point soon enough.

"Yeah, well, I was wondering -- why would anybody need fine china?" Apparently, Margaret and my son had been given an enthusiastic sales pitch on the translucent virtues of fine bone china, but neither he nor Margaret could see any practical value in getting this sort of stuff. "I was hoping Mom would pick up," he confessed -- he did call the house phone first -- but Long Suffering Spouse was on that line with Abuela. Abuela had a full head of steam up about the pastor's latest outrage (which, as it turned out, was really nothing at all -- and I hate the guy). Long Suffering Spouse covered the phone for a moment long enough to tell me that Middle Son was trying to call, so I called him back on my cell phone.

I understood Middle Son's instinctive desire to speak with his mother on the subject of china, crystal and flatware. That's girl stuff, right?

Wrong.

I used to work in the local jewelry store, back in Boondockia, back in the day -- over 40 years ago now -- and, among my duties was delivering china and crystal and flatware -- and the occasional sterling silver tea service -- to local brides. I had inventory responsibilities, too, and sometimes -- though, obviously, I was never allowed to play with the diamonds -- I was obliged to pitch in on the sales floor and sell some of these fine gifts. I developed some definite likes and dislikes -- I even picked up four place settings of a beautiful, but discontinued, Hutschenreuther china pattern for my own 'hope chest' during the jewelry store's sidewalk sale my senior year of high school. My grandmother helped find four more place settings and the survivors sit, right at this very moment, in my dining room gathering dust.

I reminded Middle Son that I knew something about that stuff.

We chatted in circles for awhile -- I pointed out that, really, a wedding is the last time you can ever expect anyone to buy fancy stuff like this, stuff you will have forever, stuff you could never justify buying for yourself. I told him how, in my day, buying a place setting of someone's china as a wedding gift was a really good present, covering one's plate and then some at the reception. I went on in this vein, but Middle Son kept coming back to his original question... why would anyone need this stuff?

Well, I said, you might pull it out if you invite the boss and his wife over for a fancy dinner, or when you have a real, grown-up party with your close friends, or --

Middle Son cut me off. "You've never done any of those things."

"Well, no. But I could have." If the occasion ever arose.

Which it never has.

Long Suffering Spouse had waited out Abuela's latest indictment of the pastor by this time and came into the den.

She took over and covered the same ground -- Middle Son still couldn't answer that why question to his satisfaction. "I don't want a lot of stuff I'll never use," he said. "I'd rather have the cash." And we could explain all night that the cash will go away, but, looking into the china cabinet, even decades later, you can see proof of Aunt Martha's generosity, and be reminded how your college roommate bought four crystal wine glasses, and on and on for each object.

"Yes," said Middle Son, "but why would I want all that stuff I'll never use?"

And... slowly... I think slower and slower these days, I suppose... it began to dawn on me that the boy was right: The world has become an informal place. Sixteen ounce red cups have replaced crystal goblets, paper plates have replaced china (on state occasions, perhaps, Chinet might be used).

I don't know if that's a net gain or a net loss for the world. I miss the thought that, occasionally, even middle class people could aspire to a little glamor.

But no one, I think, misses the obligation of polishing the silver.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Curmudgeon addresses "the vision thing"

No, this isn't about George H.W. Bush -- or Hillary Clinton -- I'm not political today. This is about glasses....

I wear glasses. So does Long Suffering Spouse. But we wear them... differently.

Like most self-respecting middle-aged men, I have prescription bifocals. I've never quite figured out how to use the bifocal part, though. I can't wear my glasses to read -- and I read fine print for a living. I need the glasses to drive, even if the Illinois Secretary of State has not yet required me to do so, and I wear them more or less religiously now whenever I get behind the wheel. Distance is my problem.

I have one pair of glasses. They are generally on my nose or in their case.

If I recall correctly, Long Suffering Spouse had prescription eyeglasses when she was a kid. She grew out of them. She has no prescription now -- but she wears glasses, too. She wears "cheaters" -- you know, the frames with magnifying lenses you get three-to-a-pack at Walgreen's. Distance is not a problem for my wife. She can count the feathers on a falcon emerging from the cloud deck. But she can't see anything close. Even though the kids ginned up her cellphone so that it shows jumbo letters when she texts, she can't read anything on her phone without first finding her glasses.

My wife must have a dozen pairs of cheaters. There's an unopened three-pack of new frames in our bedroom. Just in case. And there's a pair in the car she drives (so she can correct while she's waiting for someone), and in her classroom, and in her coat pocket. My wife has a pair of glasses squirreled away in darn near every room of the house.

And yet, when her cellphone dings, she can never find any of them. "Where are my glasses?" she will yell, as she fumbles helplessly with her phone. It's not a question; it's an accusation. I believe my wife suspects that I purposely conceal her glasses every time I come across a pair.

Because I have no idea where her glasses are, I will plead ignorance. "'I don't know' is not an acceptable answer," my wife will snap. If I am nearby, she will shove the phone at me. "Here. Read this."

I read the message. Generally, it will be from Older Daughter or Younger Daughter. My wife does not text much with her mother (although Abuela has learned to text, sort of, sending occasional messages to Older Daughter or Younger Daughter AND ALWAYS IN ALL CAPS) but I begin to think that Baby-Boomer-or-younger parents these days do not communicate with their teenage-or-older offspring except by text. At least initially. After a while, if the transcript becomes sufficiently lengthy or involved, someone may actually give in and use their cellphone as a phone.

No, seriously. I've seen it happen.

Anyway, I'll read the message while Long Suffering Spouse scrambles to find a pair of glasses. "They were right here," she will say to herself, but out loud, as she plumbs the depth of the chair cushions or moves everything around on the end table.

Long Suffering Spouse says I'm deaf because I don't always respond when she says something. But I don't always know for sure whether she's talking to herself or me. If I guess wrong -- well, I guess maybe she's right. Maybe I am growing deaf.

Still fumbling for her glasses, Long Suffering Spouse will switch gears from a running commentary about "I used them here this morning" to dictating an answer to the incoming text. If I'm in the same room (and I usually am if I've just read the text to her) I will pick up on the transition. (I'd better.) I key in the message as directed.

This can go on for awhile, with me functioning as reader and writer -- a scribe in the 21st Century -- depending on how long it takes for Long Suffering Spouse to either find the missing glasses or go in search of a pair in the next room. Sometimes three or four pairs will pile up in the dining room. It's a high-traffic area.

I lose my glasses, too, sometimes, but it's usually at work. Later in the week, and especially later in the day later in the week, I'll need to put my glasses on to see the computer screen.

My eyesight is changing: My focal length is getting shorter. Though the computer screen hasn't moved here at the Undisclosed Location, it used to be comfortably on the 'near' side of my vision -- but, now, sometimes, slips into the 'distance' side.

My eye doctor is unconcerned with my trifling complaints. He's a 'big picture' guy, a specialist and a surgeon. He's not peddling new lenses; he wants to know if my glaucoma has finally deteriorated to the point where he must operate to save my remaining vision. (So far, but for one impromptu laser session, I'm a great disappointment to him. I hope to go right on being a disappointment to him until we both retire. At least until then.)

So I'll put on my glasses to see the computer screen, but then I need to refer to a paper in my hand on on the desk. I have to take them off to read from the paper. Maybe, because I'm going from page to screen, I'll lean in closer to the screen while I type. While I'm not looking, I'm pretty sure my glasses burrow beneath another stack of papers or a file jacket. I've not actually seen them doing this; my peripheral vision stinks -- glaucoma, remember? -- but I'm pretty sure that must be what's going on because I can't believe that my glasses could get as far as they do without some means of self-propulsion. (It's not just my glasses. My cordless office phone does this, too.)

Even if I'm wearing my glasses, I will generally take them off to answer the phone. Don't snicker: You probably do it, too. I think almost everyone does. I have no idea why that might be. Even Long Suffering Spouse, who must have her glasses on to answer a text or make a call, will take them off when the connection is made. In that way, I suppose, our vision issues are the same -- but in every other way, they're different. A modern-day Mr. and Mrs. Jack Spratt....

Friday, November 21, 2014

Not just outraged about Bill Cosby -- I'm also so very sad


I liked Bill Cosby. A lot of folks did -- he was No. 1 for how many years on NBC? Even though I never met the man, I grieved when his only son was murdered -- even wealth and fame are no absolute defense against street crime.

It is impolitic to admit these feelings on the Internet at the moment, even in the past tense, because the only acceptable emotion now vis a vis the one-time Jello pitchman is supposed to be outrage. Bill Cosby must be a far-more gifted actor than the critics who panned Leonard Part 6 and Ghost Dad ever dreamed: While he was persuading Middle America that he was an inspirational family man, he was secretly soliciting, drugging, and then raping young women.

Why?

Couldn't he have obtained women just by flashing his winning smile and fat bankroll?

Some of the outrage is actually kind of amusing -- one Tweeter purported to "dismiss" the allegations against Cosby as "just another case of he said / she said she said she said she said she said...."

Every PI attorney has heard of the phenomenon of "jump-in claimants" -- how 100 people claim to be injured in a bus accident... when the bus couldn't hold more than 50 -- so it's possible that one or more of Cosby's many accusers is turning something consensual into something else. But jump-in claimants don't exist without a real accident.

Mr. Cosby's defenders, if there are any left, face an insurmountable problem: When six former altar servers independently accuse Fr. Smiley of groping under their cassocks in the Sacristy, Fr. Smiley's denials fall flat and his most ardent supporters look foolish. So it is with Mr. Cosby. There are just too many women coming forward. There are too many allegations. Even if some are false, it only means that some aren't.

There's no sugar-coating here.

But, still, I'm not just outraged. I'm really, really saddened, too.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The sad, desperate world of Clash of Clans

I'd seen the ads in the subway for some time prior to the baseball playoffs this fall.

The gentleman at the left was featured prominently in most of them: Gaze into my mustache and despair! read the caption on the poster.

Seriously? I admit I had to look it up in order to get the words right, but I at least remembered that this slogan was meant to evoke a famous poem. It's Ozymandias, by Percy Bysshe Shelley, in case you're at all curious: "My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; / Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

Then came the MLB playoffs and the commercials -- hundreds of them, thousands of them -- for this stupid game. I watched and I wondered: Who would be goofy enough to waste their time on nonsense like this?

At a family gathering I found out: My sons had all downloaded the game and were happily destroying each other's villages.

"Can't you peacefully coexist with your neighbors?" I asked. "Can't you grow and prosper by trade or diplomacy instead of warfare? Must everything end in violence?"

My kids regarded me with that pitying look reserved for hopeless cases. They hated the way I'd played the one computer game of theirs that I had attempted (a few different incarnations, over the years, of Sid Meier's Civilization) -- "your turns take 45 minutes," they'd complain, as I built railroads and cleared forests and negotiated trade routes. "No, Dad," they told me, "this is just kill or be killed."

It sounded awful... but the kids were clearly enjoying themselves. And I have this iPad at home and you can only play so much Sudoku or Solitaire and, well, one thing led to another. I downloaded Clash of Clans.

I liked building up my village. I liked clearing the obstacles and setting up my gold mines and building defensive walls. It's hard to build up quickly, because you have to carefully husband your resources. (Either that or spend real money to buy "gems" that can be used to spur production. Well, that wasn't going to happen in my case.)

Still, I started to feel a certain affinity for my villagers, all of whom, apparently, resemble the nice young lady at right who calls me "Chief."

At first, she offered helpful hints about what to build first and where to build.

But all too soon, her messages became darker: "While you were gone, our village was destroyed by MetalMan" -- and, sure enough, I could watch a "replay," starting with my villagers fleeing in terror to the village hall for protection while my cannons and archer towers spat death at my attackers, only to be overwhelmed by force and numbers. Then my mines were destroyed and the builder's huts and resource storage units and, finally, my poor village hall and all the poor creatures huddled within whom I had failed by not upgrading my walls from wood to stone.

But, somehow, all my villagers survived. "We must build up our defenses!" my villager told me, but with no seeming bitterness. If I were them, I'd get me a new Chief pronto, one who could keep the invaders at bay.

But my villagers are stuck with me.

And now I perceive the true horror of their plight. I upgraded the walls, I improved the cannons, I strengthened the archer towers, and still the invaders come as soon as I move onto something else (you know, like work?), and each invasion is more terrible than the last, the attackers always just a bit stronger than anything I'd prepared to repel them, overwhelming my defenses and destroying the town hall where the villagers tremble in fear.

And it never stops.

As soon as I come back, they are made whole again, ready to keep building as I direct even though they should be moving out in droves.

After the village is destroyed, there is a breathing space -- a shield is set up (no thanks to me) -- that keeps the villagers safe for 12 hours or even 16 depending on the extent of the carnage. My villagers are behind such a shield now. But I don't have enough gold to upgrade to level 4 walls -- and if and when I do, stronger armies will come to knock those walls down, too....

Am I taking this a little too seriously?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Chicago's new Archbishop says he wants to listen -- Curmudgeon would like to talk

Incoming Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich (Reuters photo).

Archbishop Cupich, welcome to Chicago. May your time here be a blessing for the Church as a whole, and for the Archdiocese and yourself both in particular.

You have stated several times now that you intend to start your term as Chicago's ninth Archbishop by listening, which is nice.

But to whom will you listen?

There are millions of people in Cook and Lake Counties, many of whom are (or were) professed Catholics. You can't hear from us all or you'll never do anything except go cold stone deaf. If you don't starve first.

Some of the folks who will surround you in these early days will be toadies and sycophants. I envy you the sport you may have in exposing them, watching their heads nod enthusiastically up and down as you say increasingly outrageous things, then watching them wheel and pivot like a flock of starlings when you pull back. ("On second thought," you'll say, withdrawing some silly suggestion, and enjoy the fun as the bobbleheads slam on the brakes in their haste to retreat with you....)

Some of the folks you'll hear from in your early days will have nothing good to say about your predecessor, Cardinal George. I suppose that approach curries favor in some circles; I've seen evidence that it sometimes works, even among churchmen. Anyway, these naysayers will counsel you to undo anything they think that Cardinal George did, to pull the plug on that, to ban this, to revoke faculties to this group or that one. Perhaps some of these nattering nabobs of negativism (Wikipedia credits William Safire with that one, but you probably remember it, as I do, being uttered by Spiro Agnew) will be balanced, somewhat, in your inner circle, by those encouraging you to blaze your own trail (clever pun, no?) but trying to steer you away from changing anything they may consider as a favorite project or cause of Cardinal George.

I respect Cardinal George's intellect, though I've not always agreed with him.

He spoke once at a Chicago Bar Association luncheon that I attended. This was several years ago. His subject was getting public funds for private schools -- but his manner was so professorial and his talk so well organized that I lapsed into a critical listening gear that I at least have been able to find only occasionally since college. I disagreed with almost everything he had to say -- I am a great supporter of Catholic schools, but to remain Catholic, I believe our schools must remain free of the corrosive influence of public funding -- but the Cardinal made a reasoned, reasonable case. If this is how he speaks at luncheons, I can only imagine the force of his intellect when he really buckles down. (The second speaker that day was also impressed. And he'd been paying attention, too: This speaker came up to the podium and said how pleased he was not to be the most controversial speaker on the program. I'm sure you'll meet this individual soon as well, particularly when the TV cameras are on. The second speaker that day was the Rev. Jesse Jackson.)

I also respect Cardinal George for the graceful way he has carried the cross of his own ill-health. Like another of your predecessors, Cardinal Bernardin, Cardinal George has given us a healthy model of how to cope with life-threatening illness.

Of course, I'm still mad at Cardinal George for saddling us with a bad pastor this past year.

You don't have to agree or disagree with me, Archbishop, about whether my new pastor (of whom I've written here, here, and here) is good or bad. I hope, however, that you will come around to my point of view as soon as possible -- but, in the meantime, I think you can agree that the local parish priests are the most important clerics in the lives of most Catholics. The world is in love with Pope Francis because he is perceived as a good pastor, and being interested in being a good pastor. Your appointment is seen as proof that Pope Francis is trying to make his bishops and cardinals pastors first; you enjoy a reputation of being a good pastor. You now will have the responsibility -- the heavy burden -- of appointing men as pastors from a pool that is... limited. But good pastors will spur a rise in vocations over time. Keep in mind, Archbishop, that the Church grows by example, not by dogma or discipline or even good preaching.

God bless you, Archbishop Cupich -- and God bless all of us who today become your flock. If you'd like to talk some more, there's an email link in the Sidebar... and even if you don't, I may try and offer some additional suggestions at a later date....