Tuesday, October 18, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, though, I had to stand up.

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

And Long Suffering Spouse was dragging, too.

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

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

I was so jealous.

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

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

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

Friday, October 07, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, of course, the Cubs choked anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was never called.

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

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

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

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

How nuts is that?

But it gets much, much worse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The interview was over.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 29, 2016

As I was saying....

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

I'm almost ready to start my week now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, seriously. I did.

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, I know, but where?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hmmmmm, he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isn't that where I came in?

Friday, May 27, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

But now?


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

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

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

And now...?

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the other hand, Donald Trump!

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

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Curmudgeon's Laws -- dental edition

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The years went by. I learned. I coped.

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Fr. Timothy X. Warnn misunderstands Christmas

Timothy X. Warnn is the fictional name I've bestowed on the new pastor of our parish. Well, 'new' as in he's been there two years already, and it seems like forever. We can talk about why I'm still going there some other time. For now, though, let's talk about the poor man's confusion over Christmas.

Fr. Warnn (don't ever call him Fr. Tim!) is one of the more negative people ever to survive to adulthood. And I say this as a registered Curmudgeon, and therefore not exactly a sunny optimist myself. My good wife, who tries to find something to like in everyone, says he's not really evil, or out to deliberately destroy our parish; it's just that there is no way he should ever have been appointed to lead any sort of congregation. He also seems good to his dog, she adds.

A week ago Sunday, on the Feast of St. Nicholas, Fr. Warnn was preaching that Catholics need to reject modern culture; if we're not counter-cultural, we're doing something wrong. (In Fr. Warnn's world, we're always doing something wrong.)

Did you know, he asked rhetorically, that in Japan they have a Christmas parade? He sneered, "Japan is not even a Christian nation!" -- I guess he thinks the United States is a Christian nation? -- but the Japanese Christmas parade only had Santa Claus and reindeer and elves and toys (no religious content at all, in other words), and this, apparently, is all wrong.

Except, of course, that it's Fr. Warnn who is all wrong.

We -- all of us, Catholics, non-Catholics, non-Christians, even non-believers -- can all participate in this kind of Currier & Ives, just-hear-those-sleighbells-jingling Christmas. A Jew, Irving Berlin, wrote "White Christmas." Santa Claus and Frosty the Snowman are non-denominational. Christmas trees and Christmas lights are not religious icons. The message of "Peace on Earth" is a universal one -- and one we all need to heed -- whether we are Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu or atheist.

There's nothing wrong with celebrating that sort of Christmas.

That's what Fr. Warnn should have said. And then he should have added that we -- Christians generally and Catholics in particular -- have a Christmas that is all of that and more.

We Christians know where the message of "Peace on Earth" comes from. We know that this message is part of the glad tidings proclaimed by the angels to the shepherds guarding their flocks in the fields by night, the angels telling the shepherds -- and all of us, down through the centuries -- that unto us, in the City of David, a Child had been born, a Child destined to save the world. Fr. Warnn should have said that the Star of Bethlehem is still shining overhead for all of us, waiting to direct us to the Manger, if we are willing to open our eyes, and our hearts, and follow.

And he should have encouraged us to share this kind of Christmas, too -- we should want to share this Christmas, too -- but we should also realize that not everyone is ready, or willing, to accept this full meaning of the holiday. That's OK. We will share our Christmas joy with our neighbors on any terms that our neighbors can handle -- we don't have to reject Santa Claus to welcome the Christ Child. We know there's more to Christmas than Rudolph's red nose or Buddy the Elf, or even the change of heart experienced by Ebeneezer Scrooge or the Grinch, but believers can enjoy the secular as well as the sacred. The world has something wonderful in the secular Christmas, Fr. Warnn could have concluded, but we Christians have all that and so much more besides.

Of course, Fr. Warnn isn't the only one who misunderstands Christmas. He has equally dense counterparts in the secular world. There are those who bristle at Santa Claus and reindeer and elves as if they were Biblical patriarchs. Who get mad if you let "Merry Christmas" slip instead of "Happy Holidays." These poor creatures think that, because "Christ" is contained within the word "Christmas," the entire holiday is an attack on the First Amendment. They imagine a slippery slope running straight down from "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" to "Adeste Fidelis." Idiots. Wednesday is derived from Woden's Day (after the Norse god Odin), Thursday is Thor's Day, and Friday is Frigg's Day (for Odin's wife) -- but no one claims that these homages to the gods of Asgard undermine our Constitution.

And don't even get me started on the allegedly religious dopes who got mad this year at Starbuck's for not putting Christmas trees or other secular symbols of the holiday on their plain red seasonal cups. As if this 'omission' constituted an attack on the deeper, religious meaning of Christmas. Who storm out of stores where clerks say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." Golly, weren't we once concerned about the effects of "commercialism" on our understanding of the holiday? Good heavens.

There are aspects of modern culture that Catholics need to reject, but we do not need to reject what is good and wholesome in our common culture in order to enjoy what is special in our religious heritage.

Merry Christmas to all.

This is a notice I'm not going to send today... but, oh, I wish I could....

Please Take Notice that, on January 15, at 2:00 p.m., pursuant to court order and Supreme Court Rule 214, we will make the [Clients' Name Redacted] home available for inspection by Plaintiff Clueless Construction [yes, I'm making that name up]. The inspection will be conducted without basis, purpose, or reason, but, rather, solely to harass [Clients' Name Redacted]. Just as the house was constructed by Clueless Construction, Plaintiff's inspection will be haphazard, ad hoc, and without any discernible itinerary, plan, agenda, or schedule. All counsel of record are welcome to witness Plaintiff's abuse of discovery in person, if you think you can stomach it.

Friday, December 11, 2015

TGIF? Maybe long ago....

Actually, I used to love Fridays, just like we're supposed to.

The week was over, the weekend was nigh... the Eagle flies on Friday, right? Flush with cash, we could head to our favorite gin mill and commune with our fellows, try possibly to meet a few persons who were not fellows, preferably of the friendly variety, and not worry about having to answer the alarm clock in the morning.

Friday was pinball night, if nothing else. Listening to live music....

In law school I used to get up to Rogers Park in the mid-afternoon, around the time Ron the Bartender (I loved the man, but never did learn his last name) was opening up his place on Sheridan Road. I could down a couple of scotches at a leisurely pace while others in my group drifted in. We'd eventually fire up the jukebox. Ron would go out to get his dinner and I'd cover the bar in his absence. No, I was never employed there.

Ron cashed my checks. (This was in the days before ATMs made life so much more dangerous.) Until a few years ago I had a collection of three consecutively numbered checks, written to Cash, all presented to Ron. My signature was firm and forceful on the first of these... a little crooked on the next... unrecognizable on the third.

Ron had live music at his place every night, but that didn't start up until 9:00 or so. If I liked the solo performer, or the band, maybe I'd stay. If not, maybe I'd go off in search of further adventures. Or home to sleep it off. For awhile there, I didn't go home at all. I stayed in an office in the basement of the student union on the campus which I'd attended as an undergraduate. The security guards knew me. If I couldn't get in on my own, they'd admit me. I had keys to the office. I had a couch there, a table lamp, and a phone. I could use the sauna in the gym next door, and I often did, going there to sweat out the poisons I'd so willingly ingested the night before. I had no one's permission to do any of this.

Those were the days.

Today, I'd probably be shot.

When I got out of law school, Fridays quickly became just another damn day.

Mandatory Saturdays immediately took the happy glow off Friday nights. But my bosses at my first firm were insistent on it. Not that they came in themselves, of course. Not often. They had lives. But they might come in. And we'd better be there, in good functioning order, if they did. So there I was, working, or pretending to....

Marriage and children put the final nail in the coffin of Friday night nightclubbing. We might visit other couples similarly situated... that was a substitute for our former whoop-dee-doo for awhile... but we soon found that visits worked better on Saturdays than Fridays, because on Fridays we were all tired.

We didn't know the half of it.

I remember Cub Scout Pack Nights on Fridays. There were times when I'd have to drive straight there from work because I'd been to court in the suburbs or something and had to go into the office after -- so I'd have to brave the outbound Kennedy during Friday evening rush hour.

Friday evening rush hour then, and now, lasts well into the night. There was no way to get home first -- I would have to leave by mid-afternoon to have any chance -- so I'd just head straight for the school.

My last nerve would be frayed to the breaking point and I'd stumble into a room filled with screaming boys between the ages of 6 and 11, and most of their equally noisy siblings, and the Pack Leader would ask all the adults to put up the Cub Scout sign for quiet -- and I was always afraid I'd make the wrong hand gesture....

And we were still young.

Now, Long Suffering Spouse and I stagger to the finish on Fridays. We have pizza. We fall asleep. If Younger Daughter and Olaf and Granddaughter No. 1 call to say good night -- you know, toddlers are supposed to go to be early? -- like as not, they'll wake us up. Asleep in our chairs.

No clients ever call on Friday because they like what you're doing and want to thank you for your efforts. No, they call because they're mad about something, or they've just received something in the mail -- emergency motions emerge like toxic spills late on Friday afternoons. If there is to be a crisis in the office during the week, it will almost surely erupt on Friday. If there are problems with the kids, or their insurance, or their jobs, or their spouses or in-laws -- they all converge on Fridays.

I've got three crises brewing already this morning.

But I'm going to try and adjust my attitude today. It's almost Christmas. We're going to put up our tree tonight. Allegedly. I'm going to try and work efficiently this morning -- at least as soon as I'm through stalling by writing this post -- and head home in the mid-afternoon.
No, I don't really think it will work either. But, what the heck? I'll give it a shot.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Yesterday was my 10th Blogiversary -- but that wasn't my focus yesterday either

In many ways, yesterday was a pretty good example of how things stand in my life at this point.

My wife wants to get to school by 7:30 a.m. each morning, if not sooner. We hit this target better at the beginning of the week than at the end. If my wife is at school by 7:30 a.m., I can be in my office by 8:10. But not yesterday.

Oh, my wife was on time, and so was I. I even started a post on my 'real-life' blog before we left the house. And I had a client email that allowed me to finish a pleading that I needed to efile -- I didn't get the papers filed before I left the house, but I swapped out the signed pages for the unsigned ones in the .pdf file that I would later dispatch to the Circuit Clerk's efiling provider.

But I wasn't going into the office, not directly. I dropped my wife off at school and continued (through the foggy gloom) to Younger Daughter's house. I was on grandpa duty.

Younger Daughter is 'on the nest' again (sometime next April, if all goes well, I will have four granddaughters -- yes, I have been away for awhile). Anyway, my daughter is having a problem for which she must have occasional physical therapy. I won't bore you with the details for the simple reason that I don't know them.

Nor do I want to.

My only question is, is this serious? Younger Daughter says it's not -- but she has to do this PT anyway -- and that's enough for me.

Yesterday, as on a couple of recent occasions, I have been pressed into babysitting duty while Younger Daughter heads off to medical appointments. Yesterday her appointment was at 8:00. Even after doing my fatherly and grandfatherly duty, I had hopes of getting downtown at a decent hour.

The front door was unlocked when I arrived.

Granddaughter No. 1 was in the kitchen with her mother, but she squealed when she heard me bumble in. (I had my briefcase and a large bag of stuff. You don't think my wife would send me off to her daughter's house without sending something along with me, do you? Yesterday, it was two containers of pea soup and a container of assorted cookie cutters.)

"Grampy's here when I wake up!" Granddaughter No. 1 enthused.

I may have mentioned: I am now referred to primarily as Grampy. Long Suffering Spouse believes it is a contraction of Grampy and Grumpy -- and she's almost certainly right.

"Come on, Grampy!" Granddaughter No. 1 came bounding out of the kitchen and grabbed my coat (my hands were full), obviously intent on dragging me somewhere.

"Can't I put down my stuff or take off my coat?" I asked.

"Come on, Grampy!"

Younger Daughter looked on, bemused.

At least the child was dragging me to the kitchen, where I could deposit the soup and cookie cutters. Younger Daughter was darn near excited as her daughter. "Mom made pea soup!"

I still had my coat on as three year-old Granddaughter No. 1 dragged me into her room. I had to see her "Inside Out" sheets. "This is Joy," she told me, "and this is Anger, and this is Sadness...." She also inventoried a dozen or so dolls and stuffed animals on her bed, singling out the Madeline doll she'd taken from my house just the day before. (Long Suffering Spouse saved a great deal of toys in anticipation of grandchildren; her foresight now pays regular dividends.) "And she has a boo-boo," Granddaughter No. 1 told me, lifting up Madeline's jumper to show me the appendix 'scar' on the stuffed toy.

Eventually, I got my coat off and deposited my briefcase. Younger Daughter gave me my final instructions and I gave her my car key so she could get to her appointment. Granddaughter No. 1 had a lot to tell me about the decorations on the Christmas tree. And she remembered to ask, like I'm sure her mother prompted her, "when are you going to put up your Christmas tree, Grampy?"

Eventually -- after she swung the little foam baseball bat that one of her uncles gave her and showed me how she likes to dance in her princess castle (a small tent, shaped like a castle turret, ideally sized for three year-olds) she subsided long enough for me to sit in my son-in-law's recliner and resume drinking my coffee. I even pulled out my iPad and sent the pleading I had finalized a little earlier off for filing.

It was while I had the iPad out that Granddaughter No. 1 came over and gave me the fish eye.

Insofar as she's concerned, my iPad is a device that she can use to play Elmo ABCs or Elmo numbers or maybe dance to a video of Harry Belafonte's Jump in the Line (she's got great musical tastes, especially for a three year-old). But the efiling website did not look like any of these. "What are you doing, Grampy?" she asked, in a slightly accusatory tone.

"I'm just trying to get a little work done," I said.

Well, this was unacceptable, as I realized the moment I said it. I quickly ditched the iPad.

It was time for TV.

I have been over to the kids' house often enough now that I can work the TV and the DVR all by myself -- but what I can't do is open up the childproof and grandparent-proof lock on the cabinet wherein the DVR resides. So we could watch whatever was queued up -- and, as was eminently predictable for this time of year, the DVR was loaded with the Frosty/Rudolph disc.

So we watched Frosty the Snowman. Then we watched Rudolph.

But, for the most part, we didn't really watch. Granddaughter No. 1 was playing with stuffed toys. Or looking at books (she "reads" to me, but I am not yet allowed to read to her). Then she announced she had to go potty.


The last few times I've sat I've managed to avoid any of this -- but not yesterday -- I tried to her this was not in my job description, but she just looked at me and pretended not to understand.

But Granddaughter No. 1 is very independent and managed her business pretty much by herself. I hovered outside the door, coming in only to make sure that the bowl from the little potty got poured into the big potty without spilling. I probably was supposed to let her flush.

At her birthday party a few months back, one of her father's friends brought her a giant bubble wand -- and I mean bubbles several feet in diameter. I don't think they're substantial enough to show up on the radar at nearby O'Hare, but some of them -- when generated by an expert, at least -- were that big.

The bubble solution is long gone now, but the wand looks very much like a sword and Granddaughter No. 1 brought it out of her playroom to run me through with it. I died several horrible deaths -- my granddaughter thinks I'm a great actor -- before I was able to pry the wand away.

Of course, the only reason I succeeded was that Granddaughter No. 1 was tiring. She climbed up on my lap and we watched a couple of minutes of Rudolph.

She sings all the songs, of course. I'm allowed to accompany her now, sometimes. That's real progress. She wouldn't let anyone (except on rare occasions her mother) sing to her for the longest time. She threw a fit when the assembled company sang "Happy Birthday" to her at her party.

But a couple of minutes rest was all that was required. The next thing I knew, she'd unzipped her PJs again and zoomed into her bedroom. She was pointing to her closet when I walked in. "You want to get dressed?" I asked. She pointed again.

Of course. She needed her Princess Elsa dress. I helped her wriggle into it.

Thankfully Mommy came home soon thereafter. It wasn't even 10:00 -- and I felt I'd already done a full day's work. Younger Daughter said I'd done a good job, though, which helped.

But then it was time to shift gears and head to work.

Back to reality.

Back to a$$hole lawyers.

I have a matter pending now with one of the worst lawyers I have ever met. His word means nothing. He has violated even his own, unilateral agreements. I can't talk to him anymore without getting furious. I can't even correspond with him. He has filed a fraudulent case, in furtherance of his client's desire to bankrupt my clients. Thanks to liberal discovery rules and an indifferent judge, he may yet succeed. And I may yet have a stroke.

And that case was tops on the pile -- as it is most days, these days -- when I got into the office.

Here's the problem: I find it hard to shift gears from happy Grampy to the gear necessary to deal with jerks like this one. The emotional transition is just too jarring. I'm finding it exhausting.

Maybe I'll talk about that case here sometime. Depending on whether or not I stroke out.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Not quite done yet

My real-life blog takes up all my blogging time these days. My real life takes up most of my blogging time.

I miss the work I've done here -- and all the work I've done in my head and never committed to writing.

Each day that passes without my coming back here makes it harder to come back at all. Do I have to explain what I've been up to? I don't have time to write about all that's happened in my life -- some good, some bad, some inevitable -- especially since my object always is to tease a coherent and, hopefully, amusing narrative from my recollections. I have finally decided that, when I come back, I should just keep going, without looking back. That would leave lots of 'new' stuff for the book anyway.

So that's what I will do.


But not today. I have too much else going on right now.

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....


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. On the phone screen, 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.