Friday, March 24, 2006

The NCAA Tournament Ended Last Night

At least for me. And I'll bet it ended for lots of other people too when LSU beat Duke. My brackets were shredded by the upset wins of George Mason and Bradley (Bradley beat one of my Final Four) -- but no one predicted those wins so all of us ameteur 'bracketologists' were in the same leaky boat.

But Duke -- well, Duke always seems to have a good tournament run. So I always pick Duke to go far. In fact, when Youngest Son was printing out the brackets at home, he aksed, "Dad, do you want to fill out a bracket this year, or should I just write down Duke as your champion?" This may have been followed by a little rim shot.

Everyone in our house is a comedian.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Journey of the Shoes -- Or -- Maybe We Should Just Bag the Whole Thing

I had completed my morning ablutions and was perched at the edge of the bed, warily eyeing the sock in my hand.

Now I realize that for some people, perhaps even most people, putting on one's socks is not an arduous task. For me, however, it amounts to strenuous exercise -- what with the bending and all. (It's enough to make me wonder, sometimes, if perhaps I should get more into shape.) I was therefore fully engaged in this endeavor when I heard Long Suffering Spouse come back into the house.

LSS had just dropped off Younger Daughter at the home of the girl with whom she carpools to Orchestra class, four days a week. We take turns running this shuttle, one week on, one week off. During the off weeks, like this one, I have more time to stress about putting on my socks.

LSS does not drop Younger Daughter off at the girl's actual home, not ordinarily. By the time Younger Daughter finally arrives in the morning, her car pool companion and the girl's father are in their car, at the end of their street, ready to turn onto Talcott and race like the wind to the North Shore. Orchestra class meets at 7:00 a.m.

Younger Daughter's habitual tardiness is a source of continuing stress for LSS, and this morning had been no exception. Like most teenage girls, apparently, Younger Daughter prefers extended stays in the bathroom, requiring another half hour to select her clothes and dress herself beyond that. (I wonder sometimes how much worse it might be if Younger Daughter attended a school which didn't require uniforms.) During the weeks that I'm not driving, LSS must shower, dress and hector Younger Daughter about why she still isn't downstairs -- all within that last half hour. This sort of routine can cast a pall on the rest of the morning.

But this morning was exceptionally bad; I could tell that from the way LSS slammed the front door. Younger Daughter must have done something out of the ordinary, I thought.

As if on cue, LSS called up the stairs, "Do you know what she did?"

Now I could have answered, in all honesty, that I had not seen Younger Daughter that morning; that I was busily engaged in my morning sock ceremony; and that it would therefore have been impossible for me to ascertain what Younger Daughter had done.

That would have been a mistake.

So I carefully answered: "No. What happened?"

"She left her soccer shoes here! Doesn't she have a game today? What is the matter with her? She can't play without shoes!"

These remarks may have gone on a bit longer than this, and they may have become repetitive, but LSS was letting off steam. She built to her conclusion: "And I'm not bringing them to her!"

In the minutes that followed, I learned that Younger Daughter had fussed and fidgeted even more than usual this morning. She no doubt made more than one trip out to the car in the driveway, going back inside to pick up this or that, maybe her lunch, maybe something else. Younger Daughter did have her first JV soccer game yesterday; she may have been excited about that. She was definitely not excited about the prospect of 7:00 a.m. Orchestra, or about carpooling. She feels that the other girl's waiting at the end of the street rather rubs it in about Younger Daughter's tardiness, without conferring any significant advantage in terms of arriving more promptly at the school. This has never motivated Younger Daughter to be ready on time, however.

This morning Younger Daughter had a bag for books, another bag for her uniform skirt (why she couldn't wear it, even over the lounge pants that the girls favor, is not something I presume to understand), perhaps another bag for lunch. There were, according to LSS, five million bags in all. This may have been a slight exaggeration. But the point was that, however many bags there may have been, Younger Daughter's soccer shoes were in none of them.

These were brand new shoes. We'd just bought them Sunday, after LSS realized that Younger Daughter -- who was complaining that her feet hurt -- was wearing the soccer shoes she'd worn (and worn out) in 8th grade, two years before.

"And I'm not going to bring them to her," LSS told me again. "I can't go now; I have to be at school." (LSS teaches at the grammar school that all of my children attended, and which Youngest Son still attends.) "And by the time school's out, it'll be too late."

LSS was not hinting for me to do anything. On the contrary, she expressed the fond hope that this failure to bring shoes would cause Younger Daughter to be benched (probable) and would awaken Younger Daughter to the need to become better organized (in my opinion, not likely).

I did, however, volunteer to deliver the shoes. It was a sunny morning, and I could take Sheridan Road and Lake Shore Drive into the city. I don't do that very often, and it is a beautiful drive. If I could get to the parking garage before 9:00 a.m., this little detour would only cost me $14.50 -- the difference between the price of taking the train and the price to park, plus the cost of whatever gasoline I burned in the 22 year old car available for my use.

"And she wanted a Gatorade, too," LSS told me, adding more detail to the morning's confrontation. "She finally gets in the car and the she asks if she can get a Gatorade. I said 'fine' and she said forget about it. So we left."

And LSS was still bothered by the 5,000,000 little bags: "If she had everything in one bag, like the boys do for sports, then she wouldn't forget things." So we found a bag, one of the bags we'd used for our recent Arizona trip. In went the shoes and the Gatorade, and out the door went I.

The delivery was accomplished without incident. At Younger Daughter's all-girl school they are wary of male visitors. The custodian eyed me suspiciously as I walked in the front door, not relaxing until I headed directly to the office. The bag was taken in with the understanding that it would not be delivered to Younger Daughter until after school. This seemed fine with me: If Younger Daughter realized what she'd forgotten during the course of the day, she could sweat it out until the end -- some stimulus for behavior modification in future -- and still allowing her to play in today's game. But, what with the time expended in identifying the right bag to bring and all, I didn't make it downtown before 9:00 a.m., and had to pay the full $25 to park.

But that's not the punchline. No, the punchline concerns the bag: Last night, when LSS picked Younger Daughter up from the game, the bag was nowhere in evidence. LSS inquired about the bag and received a typical teenage nonresponsive response -- on the order of, "I've got it, don't worry about it."

Well, this morning the bag was still nowhere to be seen. And LSS, while driving Younger Daughter to the other girl's house, inquired specifically -- and found that the bag that was supposed to help Younger Daughter get more organized is languishing in her locker at school.

I was sitting on the edge of the bed this morning, holding a sock and preparing myself for the struggle to put it on, when LSS came home....

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Writing, writing every day

That is my firm resolve. At present, at least. How long it will last -- well, time will tell.

I've already realized that some days I will not be able to write here. Yesterday, I didn't write here because I used my self-allotted writing time to compose an essay for the State Bar bulletin board (an essay which, despite the time and care lavished on its composition, received no comments, favorable or otherwise).

(So -- he said in a self-pitying tone -- it was sort of like writing here....)

And, of course, there were a couple of days last week where all I wrote were checks. At least that makes some people happy.

But today I will focus on writing something that may bring in a dollar or two. Which means, unfortunately, I must sign off here.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Getting back to normal

Or as normal as it gets for us.

I made it into the office yesterday for awhile -- not earthshaking news, by any standard, but a healthy development, I hope, inasmuch as the bills will be coming due soon for our Arizona adventure.

And the office is taking shape as well. The carpet's been replaced in my office -- but my worst fears were realized: I did have to move again.

The carpet people showed up at 2:00 p.m. on Friday, March 3. They were expected. But they did not expect the size and scope of the project they'd been sent to undertake. They understood that they'd be replacing the carpet in the hallway outside my office. They'd not been briefed on the giant Rorschach blot on my office carpet.

But that was fair, because it came as a complete (and wholly unwelcome) surprise to me that I'd have to move out of my office right then. The hope that I'd clung to, that they'd first try a patch, was quickly and thouroughly crushed.

The people from the building sent up a number of men to assist in the panic clean-up -- but the weeks I'd spent agonizing on where to put things to minimize losses when moving in were compressed into minutes. And I did lose things, but so far nothing too serious. That was part of yesterday's exercise: Just being around my stuff again, organizing.

Fat chance that'll ever get done. But we must try....

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Excused Absence -- Or -- How We Brought Rain to Phoenix

I've been "away from this microphone," as Paul Harvey would say, for some time now, but not, unfortunately, on a lucrative speaking engagement.

The good people of Phoenix had gone over 140 days without rain. Someone had to do something about this.

And so the Curmudgeon and his Long Suffering Spouse, Younger Daughter and Youngest Son in tow, followed Middle Son on his Spring Training trip to Arizona -- and pretty much ruined it.

But from what I saw in the TV coverage, the people of Phoenix were happy, even downright giddy about the rain that washed out last Saturday's doubleheader and the snow that fell so close to the City.

You'd think, for the benefit we conferred, the nice people of Phoenix might have at least 'comped' our trip -- but, no, we'll have to figure out some way to pay for it ourselves. Somehow.

Now I can understand a certain amount of skepticism in reviewing this post; perhaps the reader doubts that our mere presence in Arizona could bring much needed rain. And perhaps I overstate my claim: It was not our presence alone that brought rain; it was our being there on vacation.

And it's not as if we did it on purpose. If we had known the consequences of our visit, I surely would have brought a coat, or at least a long-sleeved shirt -- but I didn't. The hotel had only an outdoor pool -- and the temperature never climbed above 50 from Thursday on. I did have a tweed jacket, with leather patches on the sleeves. I like to wear a suit or sportcoat in the airport -- the additional available pockets make security a little less difficult. (I like to wear tweed jackets with leather patches on the sleeves because this can sometimes deceive people, for at least a little while, until I open my big bazoo anyway, that I am somewhat smart.) And I wore that and a sweatshirt I wasn't going to pack but for the insistence of the LSS, while locals wore parkas -- parkas! -- to the March 8 WBC game between Mexico and South Africa. And that was the warmest night of our stay.

(And why was I at a World Baseball Classic game between Mexico and South Africa? I was there because Youngest Son, whom I've renamed Bud Selig, Jr., has been obsessing about this tournament since it was announced. I had not been looking forward to this game in any way. And, despite my reservations going in, the game turned out to be a hoot because the Mexican fans were so raucous -- and still friendly to me and my son.)

Still, we saw parts of two White Sox games (we were late to both), and two games involving Middle Son's team. (We froze at both of them.) But did we see Middle Son play?

We arrived Wednesday. He pitched Tuesday. He might have pitched again on Saturday, but for the rain.

Still, the reader may not be persuaded just by the foregoing series of miscues, misjudgments and misfortunes that our mere presence as vacationers would have caused cold weather or rain in the usually warm and sunny desert. Well consider this: We flew home last Sunday night -- into the teeth of another storm, one that closed O'Hare. We were diverted to Milwaukee, not making it into Chicago until after 2:30 a.m., not making it home until 4:00 a.m.

It's just got to be us.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Set the Wayback Machine for 1982 -- Vacation Story I

Yes, this is about the honeymoon.

No, it won't be that kind of story. (There are plenty of those kinds of stories out there elsewhere in the blogosphere.)

The first thing you have to know is that the tradition of June weddings got started because May was unavailable.

May is the month for bowling banquets.

Snicker if you will, but banquet hall owners would much rather book a bowling banquet than a wedding. The bowling banquet may come back next year. The bride and groom? Maybe in 25 years, if it lasts -- and if it doesn't, chances are they'll take their trade elsewhere for their next weddings.

I don't expect you to know all this inside stuff about the banquet industry; I didn't know it until my then-fiancee and I had to reschedule our June wedding to May.

We had to reschedule because my intended's sister was going to have her still recent vows solemnized at her husband's home church on the distant isle of Cyprus. My intended and I were expected to attend, of course; indeed, the passage was to be our wedding present from the prospective sister-in-law and her new husband. This was a fabulous opportunity, obviously, and we were looking forward to it eagerly.

There was just one small hitch: We would not yet be hitched at the time of the trip -- the Cyprus ceremony was a couple of weeks before our chosen date. My prospective mother-in-law was beside herself at the prospect of her daughter traipsing across Europe with me -- and without the benefit of clergy.

This was a source of great pre-marital stress, and there was only one solution. I don't think it took me more than a couple of weeks to think of it: We'd just move our date up.

Silly, naive boy.

That's when I found out about bowling banquets -- but we finally found a place on Milwaukee Avenue that could fit us in, if we would do a morning wedding, and so long as we were gone by 5:00 -- so they could clean up for the bowling banquet that night.

We got married the day before Mother's Day. Another piece of advice for you brides and bridegrooms: The day before Mother's Day is not the best day for a wedding. First, the price of flowers will kill you. Second, your friends and relatives will make all sorts of obvious jokes. (Tell me you didn't think of a couple just now yourself.....)

And there was still another reason to avoid Mother's Day, as we found out in the wee small hours of the following morning, waiting in the longest line ever seen in an airport before 9/11, with all the campesinos waiting for the flight to Mexico City. The line was so long because all the passengers (except us) were bringing large consumer goods home to their mothers -- washers, dryers, refrigerators, TV's.

You may be suspecting a continuity error at this point, unless your ignorance of geography allows you to think that Mexico City might be the first stop on the Road to Cyprus.

But we're still waiting for that trip to Cyprus. Thus, if I pick up the thread of this narrative in future posts, it would be to describe the honeymoon in Mexico....

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Competing with the Griswolds

Middle Son leaves tomorrow for Arizona and Spring Training. His Spring Training -- which sounds so cool, to me anyway, that I can't help boring people with the repetition of it. Yes, it's only a Division III college team; yes, he's only a freshman; yes, he's not likely to be more than a spot starter this season, and even that expectation may be more a reflection of my paternal optimism than of the coach's plan. But still: it's baseball, college baseball.

I am a couch potato. So to see my children succeed in sports is simply amazing for me. And it's not just Middle Son who's succeeded in baseball, either: I was thrilled when Oldest Son made the high school team. I was bustin' buttons proud that Oldest Son lettered twice. I wasn't disappointed that he chose to 'retire' after high school -- but I thought he could have played football or baseball, and maybe both, at a Division III school. I thought he might have parlayed that into graduate school, and a graduate assistant's job, at a big-time football school -- maybe even a coaching career. But he decided that he'd rather go to the University of Our Lady in South Bend. That was the challenge he wanted -- and he was not going to play either sport there. Except for dorm football -- but that's a different post.

This post is about Middle Son's Arizona trip -- and the fact that we will follow him down next week. This will be the first time that my wife will take an airplane trip in 24 years -- since our honeymoon. It will be Youngest Son's first airplane trip.

We've taken a few vacations as a family, but with five kids flying was out of the question -- unless you can charter a flight. So we drove to various places -- sort of a real life Griswold family. We're able to fly this year because Older Daughter and Oldest Son are both staying at their respective schools. And even though I had to buy Middle Son's ticket (of course) I have persuaded myself that I'm really only buying four airplane tickets. Self-deception can be a useful thing.

Anyway, a theme begins to take shape: I expect that future posts will share some of our vacation stories -- as I remember them, anyway. I don't pretend to have total recall -- I don't want to get in trouble with Oprah like James Frey did. She'd cut me into a million little pieces. (I guess that one's been used a few times, eh?)

In the meantime, I must now turn my attention, and the rudimentary HTML skills I have acquired in the production of this blog, to my real life web sites -- you know, the ones that may make get me some paying clients some day.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

"Remember man that thou art dust...

... and unto dust thou shalt return." That's one of the standard warnings of Ash Wednesday and it was pretty close to the words spoken by the Franciscan who dirtied my forehead this morning at St. Peter's in the Loop.

It's just what I need: Another reminder of my onrushing mortality.

Sunday night I was watching the news with Younger Daughter and Middle Son. There was a story during the show about the Hustle up the Hancock, a charity race up the stairs inside Chicago's John Hancock Building -- 100 floors, give or take.

Younger Daughter speculated that she might be able to get most of the way up the stairs, not running perhaps, at least not after the first 10 floors or so. Middle Son, the baseball player, said he could do it with no problem.

I challenged him. I have a hard time believing that anyone could undertake such a climb, much less that anyone I know. He gave me that pitying look that teenagers give: "Dad, I run stairs all the time in practice."

I said I could barely make it from the couch each night up the stairs to my bedroom. And Middle Son and Younger Daughter both laughed. (That Dad, he exaggerates so!)

But I had to climb two flights of stairs to get out the Wells Street exit at the CTA Clark & Lake Station recently. By the middle of the second flight, my legs were lead and my vision blurred. (OK, blurrier than usual.)

Some days I'm dustier than others.