Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Curmudgeon's van again requires service

Our family van is old now. Very old.

This sporadically-updated collection of essays began in late 2005. Our current van was new then. In fact a tribute to its predecessor is about the only post I can specifically recall from my first, long-abandoned blog (you are reading, now, you see, my second effort at blogging).

I readily concede that all older vehicles have their eccentricities... but I think our van is actually haunted.

By what, I don't know. Some mischievous sprite who has taken a personal dislike to me, I suppose.

I've never been any good with cars. Or car people. I have discovered that car people can actually smell automotive ignorance. And, brother, do I reek.

Despite my limitations, I have done my best to maintain our family fleet. I get the oil changed as directed, for example.

A year or two ago, when the family van's front left turn signal went on the blink (*ahem*) I took it to my neighborhood oil change place -- they do turn signals there, too -- and got the blinker replaced.

It may have worked for a week.

I took the van back and had them replace it.

But, once again, it stopped working within a matter of days.

Incensed, I made plans to take it back a third time, fantasizing about driving the vehicle through the overhead doors.

Then it rained.

And the blinker blinked, just as it was supposed to.

But, when the weather cleared, the blinker stopped blinking.

It took us awhile, you understand, to see the relationship between the rain and the restoration of the turn signal. What rational creature would make that connection?

But, eventually, there was no denying. The blankety-blank blinker only blinked when it rained. Or snowed. You know... adding water is not recommended for the ordinary operation of electronic devices. I may not be a car person, but I could figure that much out. Still... what was there to replace?

I had every reason to fear that some sort of electrical system failure underlay the blinker issue, the same sort of electrical issue that made our power door locks inoperable... and unfixable... some years ago. (On one of my thousand-dollar forays to the dealer, I asked them to repair the locks -- and they did -- for about 48 hours. No, I didn't take it back then. Some things we just must accept.)

Rust is steadily claiming the van's sliding doors. One of these days the doors will simply disappear. If the family purse permitted it, I would be considering the purchase of a new vehicle. But, alas.

So we make do.

Or we have tried.

Lately, though, the van has developed a new trick. The air conditioning works fine -- but the fan that blows the cold air into the vehicle has begun working only sporadically.

'Sporadically', for any of you young people out there with a limited vocabulary, means that the blower generally works when I'm driving -- but generally doesn't work when Long Suffering Spouse drives. Or is along for the ride. Especially if the outside temperature is 90 or more.

A week or so ago, Long Suffering Spouse put her foot down. I had to do something about the blower.

And it is a safety matter. That same blower which keeps the van comfortable in the heat is what keeps the defroster defrosting.

So I took the van to a different car repair place -- not the dealer -- I don't have $1,000 to spare at the moment -- and as I was within a mile or two of the place on that first occasion the blower suddenly kicked on. The van was positively chilly by the time I got to the dealer (the outside temperature -- which had been over 90 the day before -- 'coincidentally' crashed at about the same time -- a pneumonia front came in off Lake Michigan). But I gamely explained these facts to the nice people at the car repair place... and they looked at each other... and back at me... and they agreed to take a look.

An hour or two later, an earnest young man delivered the verdict -- keeping his distance from me, you understand. "We looked at it," he told me, carefully. "But, you see, it's working. Why don't you bring it back if it should stop working? Maybe then we can figure out what's wrong."

They were so eager to be rid of me on that occasion that they didn't give me a bill.

And, of course, the blower has worked flawlessly since.

Until yesterday.

Long Suffering Spouse drove the van to school yesterday, and then to Younger Daughter's house. Younger Daughter had to schedule an unanticipated doctor's visit for Granddaughter No. 1 and Younger Daughter's husband had their family vehicle. Long Suffering Spouse was to let Younger Daughter borrow the van and sit with Younger Daughter's other kids so Younger Daughter could get to the doctor. (We have backup car seats in the van -- that's another story -- so it's all legal.)

Anyway, the blower noticed that Long Suffering Spouse was driving and immediately stopped working. It didn't start again when Younger Daughter took the wheel either. Long Suffering Spouse advised me of these facts, at some length, as she drove back -- with the blower still inoperative -- from Younger Daughter's house last evening.

Accordingly, this morning, I packed up my laptop, hoping to get a little work done at the repair place. Long Suffering Spouse had to go to school this morning -- classes are over, but there are end of the year meetings all week -- and I was to drop her off on the way.

But the blower noticed I was driving... and sprung back to life.

I figured to work from home this morning, and I no sooner exited the van when my cell phone rang.

It was Long Suffering Spouse. She needed to return some school-owned equipment this morning, and she'd forgotten to bring a power cord belonging to same. I went inside, grabbed the cord, and fired up the van again.

The blower worked fine.

I parked at school, and delivered the cord.

I started the van, heading back home.

But guess what decided to stop? Well, hot weather is predicted for the coming weekend....

So, here I am in the repair shop. Typing.

The blower stayed off on the trip over. I told Long Suffering Spouse that, given how they'd looked at me last time, there was no way I was setting foot on the premises if the blower resumed operation en route.

Oh, yes, they remembered me from last time.

But, when the blower didn't work for them this morning either, they agreed to undertake its replacement.

That earnest young man has come into the waiting room a couple of times now to tell me that they've encountered unexpected difficulties getting it out.

The mischievous sprite is no doubt toying with them, too.

But, supposedly, at some point ere long, the van will be restored to me and the blower will work.

We'll see for how long....

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

What happened to the necktie?


With Father's Day nearly upon us, this is not merely an idle question. The struggling retail industry would like an answer. Remember when a new tie was the quintessential Father's Day gift? Is this no longer the case?

Every day this week, as I've wandered around Chicago's Loop, I've taken time to notice whether men are wearing neckties.

A lot of them aren't.

Men are wearing sportcoats, even suits, but open-collared shirts. Old men, young men, middle-aged men -- clear majorities of men in all age groups are tieless.

That's particularly surprising in my little corner of the world. My Teeny Tiny Law Office is located in a building pretty much crawling with lawyers. I am three blocks from the Daley Center -- a primary county courthouse. There are lawyers everywhere around me, presumably, but very few of them are sporting ties.

Of course, I'm not wearing a tie today either. Truth to tell, I only wore a tie on Monday because I had to go to court. With the sole exception of one judge, since retired, I can't imagine a male lawyer deliberately going to court without a tie.

Of course, accidents do happen. I came to work once, some years ago, wearing a flannel shirt -- I think I was planning to move boxes or something -- only to realize, upon arriving at the office, that I'd forgotten a court date. Desperate, I scrounged a jacket from a colleague -- he was shorter than me, and thinner, so the jacket had no chance of buttoning and the sleeves came only about three quarters of the way down my arm -- but at least I didn't feel completely naked when I approached the bench. The judge -- with whom I'd been friendly when she was a privatus like me (we'd had some cases together) -- regarded me with exasperation: "Really, Curmudgeon? Flannel?"

But those kinds of accidents don't happen if one comes to work dressed in the uniform of the profession -- that is, wearing a jacket and tie. And it really was unusual for me to come downtown without both.

But that was then.

If this tieless look among professional men is a trend, and I think it is, what accounts for it?

I remember noticing years ago that Israeli politicians frequently sported an open-necked look. But I figured that was probably a consequence of the warm climate in that country. Who likes to wear a tie when it's hot out? But I only noticed the look because it was unusual. Out of the ordinary.

A few years back, I noticed that President Obama didn't always wear a tie, even while giving speeches. In the 2016 presidential primaries, it occurred to me that a lot of candidates were campaigning without neckties. I guess the idea was to appear more a 'Man of the People.'

Donald Trump, on the other hand, always seems to be wearing a necktie. Tied too long, but always on.

Oh, Lord, this can't be a political thing can it?

Please tell me that the disappearing necktie is an American phenomenon -- not just a Blue State thing....

Monday, June 04, 2018

All I wanted was a little piece of coffeecake

It was almost time to go this morning. This is Long Suffering Spouse's last week of school but, though the year may be winding down, and her students long ago checked out, she still has to be there by 7:40.

We were both moving more slowly than would be optimal (it had been a busy weekend) and I had to get the garbage and recycling bins out before I could get even a sip of my much-needed morning coffee.

But, finally, I could sit down at the computer and begin an abbreviated version of my morning routine (checking the email, reading the comics). As the first cup of coffee began to take hold, and the will to live began to return, I remembered that my wife had found cheese coffeecake when were at the grocery on Saturday.

I am very partial to cheese coffeecake.

And now that Long Suffering Spouse and I are empty nesters, I can enjoy a little coffeecake all week long.

At least, I've done so recently.

Last week, admittedly, I didn't make it to Thursday.

But I'm sure you understand how these things work.

Anyway, I'd had a little piece on Sunday and, as Long Suffering Spouse had not yet begun actively packing up, it occurred to me that I might have time for a little piece now.

In a normal house, perhaps, the cake would have been on the kitchen counter. But ours, alas, is not a normal house.

It's been a wet spring and, for the most part, a cool one -- though we did have an unusual run of 90-degree days just around Memorial Day.

As near as I can tell, cool temperatures allow for the proliferation of little tiny ants who like to infest the counters of our kitchen. (Our kitchen sits atop a very old, gravel-lined, very shallow crawl space; we think that's probably where most of our invaders originate.)

In our house, ants also seem to proliferate when the weather is warm, wet, or dry. If it's below freezing, they mostly keep to themselves. But that's about it.

When this year's invasion began, Long Suffering Spouse went to the hardware store and bought a whole bunch of plastic ant traps. Now, I understand how these are supposed to work -- but, as near as I can tell, these traps merely discourage any lazy ants who get tired of detouring around these obstacles.

But, fine. If Long Suffering Spouse thinks the ant traps help, I think they help, too. And I don't put any food on the kitchen counter.

Still, stuff has to go somewhere.

We have a kitchen table in the room adjoining the kitchen. (If our kitchen were bigger, the table would be installed in our kitchen. So calling it a kitchen table seems appropriate to me.)

That's where my coffeecake was this morning.

I brought it into the kitchen, intending to set it temporarily on the counter while I fished out a knife to cut me a slice. I opened the box... pulled out the cake... and began brushing away ants.

It was the German chocolate cake fiasco all over again. Only I wasn't meeting a prospective daughter-in-law this morning. (Hey, she married Middle Son despite my issues with the carpet of ants on my Easter dessert -- so there.)

I made a disgusted noise -- which immediately got my wife's attention -- and I began knocking ants off my cake and dispatching them mercilessly. But there were too many. "Throw it out!" said my wife, as she ran into the kitchen, and, reluctantly, I complied, tossing my precious coffeecake into the new bag I'd just set up in the kitchen.

"Where was it?" Long Suffering Spouse demanded, and I told her, and she raced into the adjacent room to see the locus in quo for herself. "Get me the bleach!" she screamed a millisecond later.

Coming round the corner myself, I could see there were ants all over the table, and on the side of the tablecloth. I hadn't noticed these when I grabbed my cake. Perhaps my coffee hadn't taken hold as well as I thought.

"Take that bag out!" Long Suffering Spouse commanded, not bothering to look up -- and I quickly complied. My wife was in the grips of a killing frenzy at this point, and I did not want to be mistaken for an overlarge ant.

I'd barely gotten back in the house, though, when my wife issued another command: "Get the vacuum cleaner! The rug is moving!"

Apparently, ants are just about as fond of cheese coffeecake as I am; about a gazillion or so had come up looking for their own piece.

I wonder how I got away with having cheese coffeecake the last couple of weeks.

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

When she'd calmed down a little, after the vacuum was put away, and we were finally on the road to school (she drops me off en route, so I can catch the train), Long Suffering Spouse acknowledged that it was probably a good thing that I'd seen the ants now.

"Can you imagine what it would have been if we didn't see it until this evening?" she asked.

Well, tell the truth, I hadn't imagined it before she asked. But, thinking on it, now I think I have a bit of insight into how a lot of 1950s horror movies got their plots....

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Devil hosts a celebratory banquet

It was quite a gathering in one of the lower circles of Hell last weekend, a sumptuous-looking banquet (though it tasted like shit, because it was made of shit) in an ornate ballroom from which the damned are usually barred.

The Prince of Darkness himself presided. As imps and other minor demons cleared away the gold plates, still reeking of horse manure, Satan poured himself another generous goblet of blood and strode to the dais, looking out at the many guests of dishonor.

Below the head table the entire room was filled with the shades of Catholic clergy -- priests and brothers and even a few nuns. Every one of these had stolen the innocence of boys and girls in their care -- parishioners, students, orphans, relatives. A great many priests, in fact, who'd carefully cultivated seminarians or altar servers. Teachers who groomed students. So many who'd been 'treated' and returned to different churches or schools -- rested, refreshed, and more than ready to renew their pursuit of innocent children.

But none of these were at the head table.

No, as the Devil gripped the podium with one claw, and hoisted the goblet in the other, he looked right and left at the bishops and abbots and provincials, all garbed in their best ecclesiastical finery. Not by their choice. No, this was at the Devil's own insistence.

And he smiled.

It was a terrifying sight to behold, and those beholding it shuddered and shriveled.

Which only made the Evil One smile more.

"I drink to you, reverend fathers, brothers, and sisters," the Devil began, nodding gravely. "I could not have done it without you -- and I am grateful."

There was a buzz in the assemblage, despite themselves. Gratitude was not something ordinarily expressed by the Prince of Darkness. Anger, fury, hatred -- sure -- but gratitude? This was unexpected, and quite unsettling. None wanted to get back to their specific torments, you understand, but the Devil's gratitude stung more, at that moment, than their usual hot pokers.

The Devil paused. He knew that no one in the room followed events back on Earth; an eternity of torment leaves no time for such things. So they didn't know what they'd done to merit his thanks.

That made the coming revelation even more delicious, he decided. He chuckled.

Knees buckled.

"Without your betrayals of your vows, without your abuses of authority, the Irish would never have done what they did this week -- but I am especially grateful to your superiors, to the bishops, and abbots, and provincials here assembled" -- and here the Evil One gestured to include those at the head table. "Not all of them shared your interest in little boys or little girls," the Devil said in a confidential tone, "but they squandered the moral authority of the Church by protecting you instead of the children you defiled.

"And it's not just the lives of those that you ruined, or the many members of their families who renounced their faith when your depredations were finally revealed, so many of whom eventually came to me--" he paused again, savoring the thought -- "no, now the Irish -- the Catholic Irish of all people -- have voted to legalize abortion! And all because of you....

"Who will listen to a Catholic Church that protected the likes of you?" The Devil actually laughed. "So, thank you, thank you, thank you!" He lifted the goblet a final time, then drained it. "Now get the Hell out."

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Curmudgeon vents about laboring in obscurity -- even when he's out in the open

As I've mentioned here before, I also write a blog under my given name.

It's actually fairly popular -- a thousand page views a day is not uncommon these days, sometimes more. This week, lots more. I've won awards for the blog, and prominent people have told me it provides a genuine service. It recently was mentioned in a news article in a genuine newspaper. You know, a major metropolitan daily.

But no one in my family, and no one among my close friends, actually reads the damned thing.

A friend of 40 years told me not long ago that he did stumble across an article on my real-life blog -- he was researching a particular topic, and my article came up. What's more, he told me, he agreed with the position I took. And, yes, he did look shocked about it. I'll have to look at your blog again, he told me.

I don't know whether he has or hasn't. But judging by everyone else in my immediate acquaintance, I doubt it.

I wonder if this happens to writers who make a living from what they publish.

I kind of doubt it, don't you?

Can you imagine J.K. Rowling at a Rowling family reunion, making small talk with a cousin? J.K. makes some offhand reference to Harry Potter and Cousin Reginald just gives her a blank look. Harry who? he asks.

Of course that couldn't happen. J.K. could show up at that reunion in a limo the size of Luxembourg (whether she does or doesn't is irrelevant -- she could if she wanted to). All her friends and relations (including all sorts of relations she probably didn't know she had 25 years ago) would cheerfully follow her around anywhere she cared to lead, all waving wands and slurping pumpkin juice, if she asked them to.

Why? Because J.K. Rowling has made tens, if not hundreds, of millions from her writing.

Me? I've made tens, and maybe even a few hundreds of dollars from my blog. Not quite the same thing.

But, for cryin' out loud, if you can't get friends and family to read what you write, how can you hope to turn those tens or hundreds into tens or hundreds of thousands?

Yeah, I can't figure that out either.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

I have a new tyrant in my life


Behold the Fitbit.

Youngest Son and his wife got Long Suffering Spouse one of these contraptions for her birthday a couple of months back. She liked it. She marveled at how many steps the device registered just as she moved in her classroom, especially on days when she had younger children (my wife teaches Spanish at the parish grade school and, over the course of the year, sees everyone from three-year old preschool through 8th grade). If she ever had time to use the walking track above the gym in the Parish Center -- she seldom does -- she'd come within daily striking distance of the magic 10,000 steps everyone talks about.

Then my wife began thinking. She began to wonder how many steps I was taking each day, going to the office, running errands, pacing while on the phone.

[Cue ominous-sounding music here.]

"A hundred, perhaps," I guessed, when she asked me. "A hundred fifty if I have an extra cup of coffee."

She was not amused.

But I already knew I'm going slowly to seed. I'm not going downtown as often as I used to -- and, many times, when I do, I drive down. Recently, I've driven frequently because I've needed to provide chauffeur service for my oldest granddaughter -- Younger Daughter didn't always have access to her car -- Olaf drives to work -- and Granddaughter #1 still had to get to preschool twice a week.

Yes, I enjoyed playing chauffeur.

Duh.

But walking to and from the parking garage is not the same thing as walking home from the train. And, with efiling, I really don't have to come downtown at all except to check the mail and go to court. And I don't have a lot going on in court at the moment. So there have been many days when I haven't bothered to go in. And it's been a cold, wet spring in Chicago this year. Who wants to go downtown when it's raining? The drive is miserable. And who wants to take the train when you know you're going to get rained on? I probably haven't walked home more than 10 times this year -- Long Suffering Spouse will pick me up at the train.

So, when my wife asked me how many steps I thought I took each day, she thought I was being a wisenheimer -- even though I was exaggerating only slightly.

She got me this new infernal device a week ago.

It has surprised my wife, and confirmed my perceptions.

So now the question becomes -- what am I going to do about it? What do I have to do about it?

It's about to buzz me again -- I haven't taken my 250 steps in the past hour.

Tyrant.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Why do we do it?

Oddly enough, this is the first post I've put up here in a year -- to the day, actually -- which would make this Granddaughter No. 4's 2nd birthday today. Since then, she's been joined by Granddaughters 5 and 6 and Grandson No. 1. Youngest Son got married last summer, too. Small wonder, then, that I haven't blogged here -- with the demands of work and family, I can barely keep up the things I must do, much less those that I might want to do.

But, whether I write them down or not, things are still churning around in my brain (my motto: space available), and one idea in particular has come to the fore repeatedly.

As I'm growing older (growing up?) I realize that I don't just like things anymore, I really like sharing things I like.

When I was younger, I collected music. I collected movies. I collected books. I listened to music. I watched movies. I read books. And I could do so all by myself.

And I still can... I just don't want to. Not to the same extent, anyway.

I want to share what I like with those I like most -- grandchildren, mostly, of course. I want to educate them about the movies I like. About the music I like. About the books I've read.

My kids are largely a lost cause on this subject.

Middle Son used to have a 'rule' about what movies I could put on in his presence -- it had to be in color -- like most Millennials, he can't abide black and white movies -- and it had to be made after 1950. And he could not stand musicals.

Sisters, sisters/
There were never such devoted sisters...
So imagine Middle Son's aggravation this past holiday season when he showed up at his younger sister's house to pick up his infant daughter (Younger Daughter watches Granddaughter No. 5 three days a week) and found the baby cooing along happily with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye in White Christmas.

Middle Son blamed me for his daughter's apparent corruption -- even though I was nowhere near Younger Daughter's house on the occasion in question. Nor was he mollified when I pointed out that the movie in question was both in color and made after 1950....

Of course, in order to transmit my cultural legacy it will be necessary for me to endure whatever the grandkids like at any given time.

These days, the Disney Princesses and the Paw Patrol pups are at the top of the charts with my grandkids.

Much as I would like to grumble about the failure to teach the U.S. Constitution in our preschools these days (Article I, Section 9, Paragraph 8 -- the Emoluments Clause so much in the news of late -- begins, "No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States" -- and yet all my granddaughters want to grow up to be princesses!), I realize it will not advance my purpose. So I have learned instead to tell Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella apart at sight. (That's not as easy as you might think. Thank goodness for Disney diversity; it's much easier to tell Merida from Mulan, or Jasmine from Belle. Ariel has the red hair -- and fish tail. Snow White's a brunette....)

And I've impressed my fellow grandparents with my recollection of the various and sundry Paw Patrol pups and their catchphrases (Chase -- Chase is on the case! -- Marshall -- I'm all fired up! -- Skye -- Gotta fly! -- Rubble -- Rubble on the double....)

Shakespeare's place on his pedestal remains secure.

But when I recite all the Paw Patrol pups to the grandkids, I always ask, "Where's Ishkabibble? Ishkabibble's my favorite and I never see him." The older ones wait for it, now, ready to howl: There is no Ishkabibble!

But I will demand a high price for this willingness to learn what the preschool set finds to be culturally significant. Someday, they'll have to watch Fred and Ginger movies with me. In glorious monochrome. Just as God, and the RKO Studios, intended. And then I'll get to watch them again for the first time, through new eyes.

At least, that's my plan.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Granddaughter No. 4 turned 1 on Saturday

Well, actually, that's fake news. Or at least premature news. The actual natal day is today, but the family party in honor of Granddaughter No. 4's 1st birthday was Saturday night at the home of her parents, Younger Daughter and Olaf.

All of Younger Daughter's siblings put in an appearance, at least for part of the festivities. Youngest Son came late, his fiancee arriving at least a half hour before he did. Youngest Son is an assistant coach on a local college baseball team this year and, on Saturday, his team won their third and fourth games in a row. Since they've only won six games all season, that's a big deal.

Middle Son made only a cameo appearance. His wife, Margaret, is expecting (Granddaughter No. 5 should arrive in early August), but his wife's delicate condition was not the reason for the brevity of his visit. This past Saturday Middle Son and his wife were babysitting two of their nephews. I'm not sure where the parents were -- Margaret's family is from Eastern Michigan -- so I assume the boys' parents were here doing touristy things sans kinder. Margaret has four nephews in all, just as Middle Son has four nieces. Margaret's mother is over the moon that Margaret is carrying a girl; it seems she's bought dresses---just in case---before all her other grandsons came. She has always put on a good face about things, of course, or at least she believes she has; still, one of her grandsons' fathers, when he heard that Margaret was carrying a girl, supposedly told his son, "say goodbye to your grandma."

Now it's Middle Son who's trying---and not doing very well---at putting a good face on things. Clearly, he had been rooting for a boy. I predict, however, that his funk will last only until his baby girl is put in his arms for the very first time.

Of course, he has to live that long. After he left the party, Older Daughter and Younger Daughter were speculating about whether or not Middle Son would live through the weekend. It seems that Margaret had begun complaining recently that her work clothes were no longer fitting properly. (Who'd have thunk it, right?) Anyway, as Middle Son explained to his sisters, he took it on himself to pick out some new clothes for his wife. He knew what she liked; he just got things that were similar, if not identical, to favorite outfits -- but not from a maternity store. Oh, no, my genius son picked out regular clothes just a few sizes bigger. Middle Son seemed baffled by his wife's response: He reported that she screamed at him, "Do you really think this is my size?" His sisters' response varied from open-mouth horror to shock to outrage and Middle Son eventually seemed to realize that his family was not lining up on his side on this one. "But the clothes all fit," he whimpered, before deciding it would be best to head home and watch his nephews play video games.

* * * * * * * *

We had amazing weather in Chicago on Saturday; the thermometer may not have hit 70, but the Sun was warm and the breeze mild and I'm sure ours was not the only house with all the windows opened during the day. However, if a person had been magically transported into Younger Daughter's living room on Saturday, without the opportunity to take his or her seasonal bearings from the weather outside, that person might have been forgiven for thinking it was Christmas.

Saturday's party provides another handy illustration of the concept of 'Mission Creep.'

Initially, the plan was that Younger Daughter would invite all her siblings (as many as were in town) over to watch Granddaughter No. 4 bury her face in a birthday cupcake. Long Suffering Spouse and I were also part of the initial invite list.

Older Daughter's was invited, too, but she lives in Indianapolis, if not for long. Initially, it was not expected that she would attend.

Older Daughter's husband, Hank, the architect, has been transferred to his firm's Chicago office. He must be in place by July 1. So, for the last couple of months, we've played host off and on to Hank and Older Daughter and their children, Granddaughters 2 and 3. Mostly on, it seems. Granddaughters 2 and 3 take turns not sleeping through the night, and they can seemingly be awakened up by the softest footfalls. Our hardwood stairs are much more likely to groan and creak and crack no matter how we try and tippie-toe.

Granddaughter No. 2 is also in the home stretch of potty training; much of it has taken place under our roof. I tell my wife it gives us good practice for the future; someday our conversation may be largely about bowel movements, too. I think Older Daughter and the kids were with us for much of March -- they had to be away from home because (and this is another who'd-have-thunk-it) it turns out that it is difficult to get a house ready to show with two toddlers and two golden retrievers in residence. The good news is we didn't get the dogs, too.

Anyway, Older Daughter got lucky, or so it seemed at the time, because she got a bid on her house within a day or two of its going on the market. Long Suffering Spouse and I congratulated ourselves; our sacrifice seemed worth it. But now Older Daughter and her husband have to pack, and quickly, since the sale will close before the end of the month.

So the one thing we were sure of was that Older Daughter and her kids would have to take a rain check on Granddaughter No. 4's party.

That changed late Friday.

Yes, I understand that they don't know when they're going to unpack, or where, since no replacement home has yet been procured, but---to me---that does not make the obligation to pack any less urgent.

But Older Daughter decided differently. And Hank had business in the Chicago office yesterday and today -- and so we have houseguests again. Maybe until Wednesday. Maybe later. I am always the last to know.

The problem with Older Daughter coming up for the party---aside from their staying with us so soon again---is that Granddaughter No. 2 turns 3 later this month.

And there really couldn't be a party for Granddaughter No. 2 on her birthday, not when the family has to move out three or four days later.

So what had been a birthday party for Granddaughter No. 4, turned into a birthday party for Granddaughters 4 and 2. Mission Creep.

And Younger Daughter had another complication to add: Her mother-in-law's birthday was yesterday. But the plan was that Olaf and Younger Daughter would take Olaf's mom out on Sunday. They were thinking of going to the Shedd Aquarium; they'd done that when Granddaughter No. 1 turned 1. Adding the M-I-L to that party wouldn't have been that difficult -- but that changed late Friday, too.

The M-I-L had plans for Sunday -- but she and her husband would be available Saturday night.

Olaf's folks were added to the guest list and his mother added to the birthday extravaganza. More Mission Creep.

And that, boys and girls, is one of the reasons Fannie May sells so many boxes of mint meltaways.

But getting a present for our in-law was the easy part. What were we going to get Granddaughter No. 2?

Never mind that we'd just bought her two dresses. No, Long Suffering Spouse decreed, grandparents also have to give toys. (Aunts and uncles can give clothes -- should give clothes really; giving toys -- especially toys with batteries and sound effects -- can lead to retaliation... and escalation.)

And so Long Suffering Spouse and I were at Costco late Friday afternoon. By this time Younger Daughter had given up on the cupcake idea---she'd never find time to bake them, she told us---and so we had to buy a cake. More Mission Creep. And, once Long Suffering Spouse found out the in-laws were also coming, there was the question of what else we would have to bring. This too would have to be procured. Still more Mission Creep.

We got a cute little toy lawnmower at Costco for Granddaughter No. 4. The child will walk any day now. Long Suffering Spouse was particularly pleased with the little lawnmower because, she noted, any toy that the child can push and lean on a little will only help her learn how to walk. I was pleased, too: Get the kid used to pushing a lawnmower, I said; then, when she's a little bigger, we can have her use the real thing to cut our grass.

Long Suffering Spouse hit me.

Our next stop, after a quick supper, was Barnes & Noble. B&N is, or used to be, a major book chain. It may still be; we did pass by some books on the shelves -- but mostly, these days, as near as I could tell, the store sells toys, lots of cute, retro toys that the grandparents swoon for. We still had to have something for Granddaughter No. 2.

It was during the course of this visit that I realized that my wife had selected a lot more than one present.

"Well," she told me, "you can't have two of the girls opening presents and the other two not opening anything. You're asking for trouble."

"But it's not their birthdays!" I protested. Futilely. At least we got the word Friday about the expanded nature of the party. Oldest Son and Abby and Middle Son and Margaret weren't notified until Saturday morning; they both did panic shopping then.

When the girls get older, this problem will be solved by a "party bag." You know, candy and a small toy -- a miniature Beanie Baby, perhaps -- stuffed into a paper bag -- one for each party goer other than the guest of honor -- that they take on their way out the door. My periodontist gives me one every time I have an appointment -- a new toothbrush, some dental floss, maybe a travel-sized tube of toothpaste. They give out party bags to the Oscar nominees, too. Those, though, contain more expensive things. Like jewelry.

But the girls aren't yet older, my wife explained, patiently, when I protested that we had multiple things for each of the girls (well, multiple things for everyone except Olaf's mother -- she'd have to content herself with mint meltaways) so one little gift for the two non-birthday girls would cause nearly as much upset as giving them nothing at all.

And thus it looked like Christmas at Younger Daughter's house on Saturday evening. I kept looking for the tree....

* * * * * * * *

The party itself went well. Olaf grilled. In addition to the Costco cake, my wife brought along a vegetable plate. And lettuce. (And, no, we did not make multiple trips to and from the car -- but only because Oldest Son and Abby pulled up when we did and could help us bring everything along at one time.) Olaf's father and I both knew that the vodka was kept on the bar in the basement and we both helped ourselves. Rank hath its privileges.

After everyone had eaten, and the Costco cake was duly set on fire, and Happy Birthday sung, and the older girls got to try on their new princess dresses -- after all that, somehow, the girls found room for lollipops.

These weren't big lollipops like the one on the right. Theirs were more like Tootsie Pops or Dum Dums.

This did not stop me, however, from recalling a little ditty I'd learned from my father, many years ago.

He told me that he'd learned it when he was very young -- probably not much older, if any, than Granddaughter No. 1 is now -- and he'd sung it at some neighborhood talent night.

Maybe it was just a local event, something in the parish. Maybe it was a tryout for a Major Bowes-type program -- the Major Bowes Amateur Hour being the great-great grandpappy of more contemporary programs like America's Got Talent or The Voice. The details of my father's story are lost to me now, these events being 85 years or more in the past, and my father being gone now 16 of those years.

But I could remember the words.

I started singing:

Oh, I'd rather suck on a lemon drop
Than try my luck with a lollipop
With a lemon bean I'm always clean --
But a lollipop gets icky

Granddaughter No. 1 disagreed instantly: "Lollipops are not icky, Grampy!"

I continued.

Oh, it makes me sick
The way they smear
The way they stick in my hair and ear
With a lemon bean I'm always clean --
But a lollipop gets icky

Granddaughter No. 1 was screaming now. I had to make sure it was good-natured screaming and not genuine, if inappropriate, anger. I looked carefully; she was laughing as hard as I was -- and still screaming: "Lollipops are not icky!"

I sang the second verse again.

Granddaughter No. 1 thundered: "LOLLIPOPS. ARE. NOT. ICKY!"

And we both laughed some more.

And that's when I realized: Granddaughter No. 1 is ready to be a talking head on cable news right now.

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 Millennials. 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 go to an immediate care and maybe the kids can come play with you for awhile."

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

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

First, though, I had to stand up.

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

And Long Suffering Spouse was dragging, too.

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

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

I was so jealous.

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

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

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

Friday, October 07, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, of course, the Cubs choked anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

He was never called.

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

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

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

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

How nuts is that?

But it gets much, much worse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The interview was over.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 29, 2016

As I was saying....

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

I'm almost ready to start my week now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, seriously. I did.

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, I know, but where?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hmmmmm, he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isn't that where I came in?

Friday, May 27, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

But now?

Oy.

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

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

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

And now...?

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the other hand, Donald Trump!

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

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Curmudgeon's Laws -- dental edition

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The years went by. I learned. I coped.

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

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

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

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

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

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.