Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Thoughts while walking home

The Cadillac Palace Theatre is not far from my undisclosed location, and I've walked past it a couple of times in the past few days since Spamalot returned to Chicago.

In fact, I've walked by in the early evening, as people were arriving for the show.

And this temptation has almost overwhelmed me: Should I or shouldn't I try out my Silly Walk as I go past?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

No, Oldest Son is not going to be a drug dealer this Summer

That's just an unfortunate misunderstanding caused, probably, by poor cell phone reception during a conversation yesterday between my Long Suffering Spouse and our Oldest Son.

Oldest Son was calling to tell LSS about the interview he had with a guy he met in a gas station a couple of weeks ago, when Oldest Son came to Chicago for Ring Day. This guy approached Oldest Son at the gas pump and asked if he had yet secured summer employment. When Oldest Son said no, the man said he represented a line of vitamins and health food and that he was looking to hire college kids. He had a website that Oldest Son could look at. The URL was provided and cell phone numbers were exchanged. Eventually an interview was set up for last night at a super-mega-bookstore somewhere in the greater South Bend area. Oldest Son asked me if I thought he should show up for this "interview." Though the circumstances were odd, I encouraged Oldest Son to go ahead.

I mean, if you have a website, you must be legit, right? (OK, never mind....)

Anyway, the guy did have a site, promoting a line of beauty, health and fitness products -- but you had to "register" to get past the front page. Neither Oldest Son nor I are that stupid.

Somehow, in this recital via cell phone, LSS heard "gas station," "vitamins" (which she translated as "drugs") and "interview." She concluded that Oldest Son was meeting a drug dealer at a gas station -- and when I walked in the door last night, she told me to call Oldest Son immediately.

This is what I found out when I called: Oldest Son went to the interview -- at the super-mega-bookstore, not at a gas station -- but the interviewer was as cryptic as he'd been while standing outside at the gas pumps: He didn't want to answer simple questions about the job, other than to say that this would give Oldest Son the opportunity to set up his "own small business." When Oldest Son asked if that meant he'd be expected to buy inventory and re-sell it, the interviewer said he would give Oldest Son more information about the job if Oldest Son would come back for another interview Thursday. Clearly, this individual isn't selling health food, he's selling sales jobs selling health food. Oldest Son has suddenly discovered that his homework schedule makes it impossible for him to attend a second interview -- ever.

This is how one generation can improve on the next. When I was a junior in college, I was offered a job selling Bibles in Arkansas, on the very buckle of the Bible Belt. Sort of like selling ice to Eskimos. But, unlike Oldest Son, I was so dazzled by the salesman's pitch at the very first interview that I actually said yes to the job -- and had to weasel out later. Sad, ain't it?

Friday, April 21, 2006

Speaking of trials... and juries...

The jury that convicted former Illinois Governor George Ryan and his pal Larry Warner here in Chicago recently seems itself on trial now as defense attorneys research the veracity of every statement made by every juror on their initial questionnaires (and presumably during voir dire as well).

It has been alleged that not all of the jurors were entirely truthful in what they told the court and counsel prior to their selection.

Imagine: A jury of liars deciding whether a politician has told the truth. Is that the definition of irony or what?

Not all the alleged misrepresentations are equally serious, nor is the materiality of many of these alleged misrepresentations immediately apparent. Some surely are both old and trivial. Nevertheless, the cumulative weight of these misstatements, omissions, and forgotten past encounters with the law may be enough to overturn the guilty verdicts. Maybe.

But here's the part that I don't get: Usually people lie to get out of jury service. Anyone who's picked a jury has encountered more than one man or woman who will say nearly anything to avoid being selected. In my most recent trial, a woman had already talked herself off the jury -- but, not being certain, continued to spin additional tales of woe about her small business out in the hallway as the judge was trying to tell her she could leave. The people who are now being attacked in the Ryan case apparently told fibs so they could serve for months.

There were no surprises for the Ryan jurors in terms of the time commitment that they were being asked to make; they knew they'd be tied up for months on this case. And yet they were willing to serve. They may have even fibbed, or stretched the truth, in an effort to secure this duty. I'm not sure what to make of this.

It was a splendid victory?

I was on trial last week. Not a big trial, not a high profile matter, not important, really, except to the parties and to the 14 people (12 jurors and two alternates) hailed in off the street to decide the controversy. It's nothing you'd ordinarily read about, even here in the blogosphere.

But it was a jury trial. And civil jury trials are rare beasts: Most civil cases settle or are otherwise disposed of before trial -- on the order of 99%. (Of course, when quoting those kinds of lop-sided statistics, I can't help but recall what a judge once told me about the pre-trial section he supervised: He had a 99.6% success rate, he told me, because 99.6% of the cases assigned to the "Fast Track" Pre-Trial Section were either settled, dismissed, or returned to the trial call. There will be a brief delay while you process that data.... Can you think of any other possible dispositions? So what the heck happened to the other .4%? I didn't have the heart to ask.)

Anyway, I've always liked being on trial. It certainly beats getting ready for trial all to heck: Before you start, you're trying to commit your entire case to memory, trying to anticipate every possible scenario, trying to avoid thinking about all of the million things that can go wrong. What if the witness gets lost on the way to the courthouse? What if the judge doesn't accept your argument on the admissibility of the key testimony or piece of evidence? What if you catch a cold?

I did catch a cold this past week -- spent Easter with bronchitis and on antibiotics. All from trying to get ready for trial and make it to baseball practice (to Youngest Son's eternal chagrin, I've been his coach for the past several years) and keep up with the other things that must be done in a solo law practice.

But when you're on trial, those things all go by the boards: You are immersed. You are committed. You are locked in. As I was this past week.

And for all this commitment, what was the result?

Well, it was what we call a Pyrrhic victory: The jury gave us something. It was therefore a victory -- but many more such victories and we are bankrupt. As I told the attorney who referred the case to me, we swung for the fences... and popped out to the second baseman.

I've long held the belief that trials only happen when someone is unreasonable; that's why they're so rare. It may be the party. It may be the attorney. It may sometimes be the judge. Of course, I'm working on an explanation as to why the rule doesn't apply in this case....

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Update on Ring Day -- Or -- A demon has been exorcised?

We got the rings.

I had to leave the office at 10:15 and wait in the cold with my son at Gate 5 at "the Cell" -- I must have cut in front of 100 people behind him, but I had to get my ticket from him, didn't I?

When the gate finally opened, a loud cheer went up from the assembled throng, and we began surging forward. No one was trampled, and Oldest Son found a seam and started to pull away. I urged him to go on ahead alone; I'd get my ring if I could, but he was young and strong, and he should go move ahead if the crowd dynamic permitted. (I told him to start calling my cell phone if I hadn't caught up with him in an hour or two. Just in case I got trampled.)

Our seats were in the very last row of the upper deck, under the new canopy, in the shade, about two-thirds of the way down the left field line.

When the ballpark was first opened, the wind used to whip through the upper deck concourse at hurricane speeds, even if it that wasn't windy outside. There would be a wind-chill factor in July. The recent renovations have tamed the winds within, but they have to go somewhere, don't they?

Yesterday was a very windy day, and winds went around the stadium, accelerating along the way, and blowing right up our backs. I had was wearing Under Armour beneath a flannel shirt and a jacket. And I was still cold. And I kept waiting for my hat to blow off my head.

Young people are generally oblivious to the chill, but an hour before game time, Oldest Son said, "My feet are cold. This is a bad sign." (In the sunshine, people were wearing t-shirts and were comfortable. LSS told me the radio announcers were disputing the stated 47-degree temperature at game time; they thought it was more like 80°. They, too, were in the sun.)

So we're freezing. We're in seats that even Bob Uecker wouldn't confuse with "the front row." We're seemingly in danger of being swept by a gust of wind and hurled to our deaths from the still-steep upper deck at U.S. Cellular (though it does look much nicer now). But we got our rings. And for me it was a Löwenbräu moment.

The cultural reference may be too obscure for those who weren't paying attention to beer commercials 25 years ago. The jingle (and anyone happening upon this little essay may be grateful that I have not undertaken a study of how to make an audio post) went, "Here's to good friends/ Tonight is kind of special/ The beer we pour, must be something more, somehow.... Each commercial in the series was a little tear-jerker, about bonding, among friends, between family members.

Oldest Son had bought me a ticket to the ballgame. A circle closed somewhere.

And we had some time to talk. So I mentioned that the day had put me in mind of some of the ballpark giveaway days that I mentioned here in my last post -- the Bat Day, the Red Hat Day.

Oldest Son waited until I subsided and said, "That's not what I was thinking about."

"No? What?" said I.

"The baseball cards," he said.

How in the world does a kid remember that, 16 or 17 years later? He was four or five years old. How much does anyone remember from when they were four or five?

He remembered, and I've remembered more, too. When we were told that they were out of cards at the gate where we entered, we walked around to every other gate in the park. We went to an office. LSS remembered (when I told her this story) that she called the team to complain, and that she was told that cards would be mailed.

They never were.

This obviously left an impression. I thought that might be a subconscious motivation -- but I never dreamed it was still in active memory.

I'm so glad Oldest Son invited me yesterday. And I'm so glad we got the rings. Maybe we even healed the hurt feelings of a little kid, 16 or 17 years later.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Ring Day brings memories of other giveaway days

As I write these words, Oldest Son is behind the wheel of his roommate's car, trying to figure out how to navigate around the ubiquitous road construction that cuts Northern Indiana off from Chicago. His object: To arrive at U.S. Cellular Field (ne Comiskey Park) before 11:00 a.m. when the gates open on "Ring Day." Today the first 20,000 patrons admitted to the park will receive diamond-less replicas of the World Series rings. The actual rings will be awarded to the players during a pre-game ceremony.

He found tickets for the game on eBay, which shows some initiative. And he's asked me to go with him today, which is really something special for me.

On the way to work this morning, I couldn't help but think of another giveaway day at the ballpark -- not the Bat Day where Middle Son got his bat and immediately began swinging at about knee or shin-level of the fans crowded around him, although that was a memory, too.

No, I recalled a Card Day, many years ago. Oldest Son learned to write by copying line-ups out of the newspaper. He had memorized rosters at an age when other kids were struggling to spell their own names. And he loved baseball cards.

My memory puts this at the old park, which means before 1991, which means Oldest Son could not have been more than five. We got to the park early that day -- but not early enough. We didn't get any cards.

I don't recall exactly what happened. I just remember the kid's overwhelming disappointment. We may even have gotten cards from someone before the day was out. I know something like that happened a few years later, on a Red Hat day at the new ballpark: Cleveland was in town then, too, and this was in the days when Jacob Field was newly opened and always sold out. So a lot of Cleveland fans came to Chicago -- and a couple of them took pity on my boys and gave them their hats. Which wouldn't have gone over in Cleveland anyway.

Maybe today we will be in time for souvenir rings. I hope so.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Yes, Virginia, the White Sox really did win the World Series last year

I was at the opener last night, until about 30 or 40 minutes after the rains came and it became obvious that the game was not going to get re-started anytime soon.

I wasn't there on my own nickel of course; with three kids in college I no longer possess that kind of discretionary income. Or any other kind, for that matter.

But I was there, wondering how I could be at a Sox-Indians game and cheering for Jim Thome. The world changes.

The banner ceremony was moving -- some thought too slow-moving, I've since heard, but I was not one of these. I was trying to keep from choking up during the deluge of images. Part of this is because my father lived his whole life without seeing the White Sox win a World Series -- and to see them play in exactly one. He probably didn't mind as much as I did.

Eight Men Out was on the cable the other night, and I was protesting to LSS and Youngest Son that they shouldn't be watching such a sad movie. LSS pointed out, not unreasonably I suppose, that the movie isn't as sad anymore, not since the Sox won the Series. But I complained to keep from crying: Maybe it's because my father's cousin-in-law once was given a glove by Buck Weaver. Maybe not.

Maybe it's because, as I get older, I choke up at the strangest things. Emotions well up unbidden and barely controlled. I worry that I'll someday be a seventy-something who cries every time the Sun goes behind the clouds. Or comes back out.

But I don't think that's a sufficient explanation. I think there's something about the connection I forged with the White Sox, as a child, listening to Bob Elson late at night -- late at night for me, as a little kid -- it's a totally one-sided love affair, of course. Back when I did have disposable income, we had weekend season tickets at the old park. Beautiful seats, too: First row above the walkway, last section of the Golden Boxes, just about even with third base. If the game was terrible, we could watch the parade of people wandering past. If the game was good, we could see the whole game.

Then 1991 came and we got moved to "equivalent" seats in the new ballpark -- deep in the right field corner (section 110) with no view of right field and just a couple hundred feet further from the action. See what I mean about one-sided? But they weren't bad seats, they were just nowhere near as good. And it was baseball. I could tell story after story about the ballpark (old and new) and how it figured in at important moments of my life.

Last year, I held back a bit, trying not to get too wrapped up in the pennant chase and the World Series because, as a life-long Chicagoan, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. For some disaster to happen. For some routine grounder to get booted. Even when they won, when LSS clipped and saved every front page (some of which are framed in our home now), even when the victory parade went up LaSalle Street, some part of me didn't entirely believe it had really happened.

But last night, I couldn't help but give in -- and believe. I looked up, not just at the scoreboard, but at the furthest corners of the park, the seats that are never filled, even during a supposedly sold-out game. They were filled last night. "And," my host reminded me, when I pointed it out to him, "they're happy to be there."

And they were there early, too. The Sox gave out 20,000 tube socks to the first 20,000 through the gates. My host and I arrived an hour before the scheduled 7:00 p.m. game time. We didn't get socks. At least we got magnetic schedules: Some traditions remain.

Two jets flew over the park after the National Anthem. I believe they flew directly over my left shoulder. I won't say they were flying low, but I thought I could feel the exhaust -- and the pilot of one of the planes needed a shave.

So the Sox actually won the World Series. I'm certain of it now. And they won the opener, eventually, last night or this morning as you prefer, somewhere around 1:00 a.m, while I was dozing on the couch back at home. (And it may be a good thing, too, that there was a three hour rain delay: I got thoroughly wetted on my journey home, which I think made LSS and the kids less jealous of my good fortune in getting to go in the first place.)