Wednesday, May 31, 2006

I thought "Gasoline Alley" was closed

Gasoline Alley was one of my favorite comics growing up -- not hard-edged or hard-hitting, granted, but gentle and good-hearted. And it was multi-generational, where characters age with the readers, blazing a trail for current favorites which use this device, like For Better or For Worse. Gasoline Alley provided smiles, as opposed to guffaws. Not that the Curmudgeon is opposed to guffaws -- but I, too, am aiming for smiles here. (If you find here an occasional guffaw, so much the better.)

Anyway, Gasoline Alley was dropped by the Chicago Tribune ages ago, but apparently not discontinued. I just found it -- looking for something else of course. I've set up a link to follow it for awhile; I hope it's still as nice.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Good News / Bad News

All five kids are "in the house" now, at least for awhile. This Summer may be the very last time we are all together like this.

And I have decidedly mixed feelings about it. Sort of like the "good news/bad news" jokes that were once in vogue....

Good News: They're all home.

Bad News: I can never lay down on the couch and watch TV.

Good News: Older Daughter is a college graduate at last.

Bad News: She's unemployed. She says she's looking for work in Indianapolis (wherein resides her boyfriend, sometimes herein referred to as "ODB" for Older Daughter's Boyfriend) but that's hard to do while staying in Chicago. And when she was in Indianapolis, last week, at the home of ODB's family, how many employment agencies did she visit? (If you answered "none" or "zero," you answered correctly.) We've encouraged Older Daughter to look for work in Chicago -- hiring on at a national concern might open up an opportunity for her to transfer to Indianapolis... or wherever ODB decides to go to grad school. But she's babysitting instead. Older Daughter does things her way, or not at all.

Good News: Oldest Son snagged not one, but two internships -- both in his field -- this summer.

Bad News: They're both unpaid.

Good News: Middle Son has finally realized that he needs to get a summer job.

Bad News: He hasn't actually found one.

Good News: Middle Son is looking for a job.

Bad News: This does not deter him from going out every night at 10:00 p.m. or later and coming home as late as 1:00 a.m. He then finds it difficult, for some reason, to get up in the morning, so his job search starts in the afternoons -- and he's surprised that he's only hearing about jobs available in afternoons and evenings. That would interfere with his baseball schedule. Of course, his continuing concern about baseball is...

Good News: Middle Son seems serious about getting better and stronger and improving his pitching velocity this Summer.

Bad News: He's not playing in any of the prestige Summer leagues. This kid is 6'4" tall, a left-handed pitcher; he has potential to become very good and maybe, just maybe, play baseball professionally -- but somebody besides his (possibly prejudiced) old man must see him play. I don't think scouts will be coming to the games in the league where he's playing this Summer.

Good News: Youngest Son was the starting pitcher for his grammar school team yesterday and was not charged with a single earned run.

Bad News: Just a whole bunch of unearned ones.

Good News: Oldest Son finally talked me into getting a high-speed Internet connection for the home.

Bad News: Our chances of seriously limiting Younger Daughter's on-line time have just about vanished. At least, enforcement of meaningful limits will become that much more problematic. And confrontational.

I could go on, but the end of the month is coming, and I have to figure out a way to get next month's rent....

Monday, May 22, 2006

Confessions of a public masticator

I was enjoying a sandwich at my desk when my colleague walked in and sat down.

He countenance was grave; his manner direct: "Have you ever masticated in public?"

I was shocked by this question. I fought the urge to panic and flee. Since I could see no easy out for me, I felt I had to confess.

"Yes," I said.

"When was the last time?" he asked. (What did he know? I wondered. What did he suspect?)

I felt full disclosure might was the only safe course: "A week ago Saturday night," I answered. "In Champaign, at a restaurant."

"Did you feel dirty and guilty when you did it?"

I had not expected the moral question. On reflection, though, I found I did not feel either shame or guilt. "No," I answered. "It was the only way for me to swallow my food without choking on it."

My colleague threw back his head and laughed. "When we're gone," he said -- meaning our generation, not us two in particular -- "it's all over for English. The younger people neither use nor know the language."

To masticate is to chew. What did you think we were talking about?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

McCartney, wife announce split

Ex-Beatle Paul McCartney and his wife Heather have announced that they are separating.

Sir Paul is 63.

Now we know the answer to the musical question that McCartney asked nearly 40 years ago (Will you still need me/ Will you still feed me/ When I'm 64?): Apparently not.


Neil Steinberg, in today's Sun-Times, quoting Dr. Samuel Johnson: "No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money."

Uh oh.

Monday, May 15, 2006

One down -- four to go

Older Daughter graduated from college this weekend.


Her name was in the program. Her name was called and she walked across the stage at the English Department convocation. She received an empty folder, however -- all of the would-be graduates did. The school thinks they've graduated, but it reserves the right to say differently after this semester's final grades are turned in.

Still, despite the weasel words in the graduation program, I am confident that Older Daughter, in fact, graduated. This was a proud moment for the Old Curmudgeon, one not even ruined by Oldest Son's cynical (if probably accurate) observation, gesturing generally at the several hundred English graduates, "The unemployment rate just went up in Illinois...."

Older Daughter is now officially unemployed. And she hasn't yet figured out what she will do to remedy this. She doesn't even know when she's moving home. She figures she can stay in her Champaign apartment until August, but that would make it difficult to find work in Chicago. She should be here, now, pounding the pavement as of this morning. Instead she talks vaguely of babysitting in Chicago and working in the bookstore in Champaign. Without violating the established laws of nature, this plan can not possibly work.

In the last couple of months Older Daughter has toyed with the notion of going to law school -- she decided to explore this possibility too late for the coming school year, but she'd already indicated she intended to work this year anyway. At first it was to earn money for nursing school. Nursing school? Not that there's anything wrong with nursing, obviously -- but an English degree is not the traditional entree to a nursing career.

And Older Daughter has firmly rejected anything having to do with "business." But what's left when you throw that out? (Besides nursing. And babysitting. And maybe working in the bookstore.)

The sad fact is that Older Daughter will lose her health insurance benefits in a few months, not because her mother and I are big meanies (though we may be) but because she will 'age out' of our coverage. If she doesn't return home, she won't be insured on our auto policy. Not that she presently has a car, or any hopes of acquiring one.

LSS and I are hoping to have a long chat with Older Daughter when her "graduation brain" gets back to something approaching normal. It won't be today. Older Daughter's called already today, wondering whether I still have scrap of green paper she gave me with directions on where to go for Saturday's ceremony. That long-since discarded scrap of paper may -- or may not -- have on it the telephone number of the company that rented the caps and gowns and there seems to be some question as to whether it is already too late for Older Daughter and her boyfriend (ODB) to return these items.

Welcome to the real world, Class of 2006. We're probably not ready for you either.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

I second the motion

Richard Roeper says Jim Thome looks like Mr. Incredible.

You know? He's absolutely right. I wish I'd thought of it first.... In fact, if I'd been smart enough to go to Harvard (like Kaavya Viswanathan) I might have told you that I did think of it first....

If it's raining, we must have a game scheduled....

Spring comes sporadically in the Midwest; many years we go from Winter to Summer in Chicago with no transition at all. This has been a warm Spring, and, generally, a nice one, weather-wise. But once youth baseball starts, all bets are off.

Take this week for instance: To everyone's chagrin and dismay, I coach Youngest Son's Pony League team. We have only one game scheduled this week, on Wednesday. Youngest Son also has games scheduled with his grammar school team on Tuesday and Thursday.

Yesterday, the weather was nice -- but, then, we didn't have a game. But today, Wednesday, and Thursday? Tom Skilling says we may have the most rain we've had all year.

I begin to take this all personally....

Monday, May 08, 2006

Doing Dad duty, part one -- and an eventual commercial tie-in to The Da Vinci Code

Middle-aged men are supposed to be established in their careers, with accumulated vacation time and "people" to take care of things when they can't be at the office. At least that's what I've been told.

Unfortunately this middle-aged man is a sole practitioner, barely covering the rent at the moment. This is an inevitable consequence of my recent office move: I wasn't working a couple of months ago; I'm not collecting any fees now.

But I sure have a flexible schedule. (When you don't have enough business it's real easy being flexible.)

And my Long Suffering Spouse, who's working as a teacher, and whose benefits package currently includes our health insurance coverage, has very limited flexibility: It's almost more work to plan a day off than it is to work the day.

So when the trainer at Younger Daughter's school called last week to advise that Younger Daughter's shin splints had returned with a vengeance, I was delegated to obtain the medical treatment.

Younger Daughter first came up with shin splints last year, as a freshman, when she ran cross country. We discovered she had flat feet; we got inserts for her feet and different shoes and she took some time off from running. Things got better. Then she ran track in the Spring of last year -- and the shin splints came back. She couldn't finish the season.

We therefore entered into this Fall's soccer season with a certain trepidation, concerned about the possibility of recurrence. We didn't notice when Younger Daughter began popping Advil or Motrin by the handful; we had only begun to notice that our supplies were dwindling when the trainer's call came. Apparently Younger Daughter was finding it difficult to actually go up and down the stairs in the school. The trainer suspected that the shin splints might have actually ripened into stress fractures.

So I drove to work on Tuesday, not because I had a doctor's appointment, but just in case I was able to procure one.

It turns out that it is most difficult to get in to see an orthopedic doctor on short notice. I called the doctor who successfully treated Youngest Son's strained MCL during football season; the prior relationship was enough to get the appointment secretary to take my call until she figured out that I was calling about a different child. Then I got routed back to the triage nurse -- in fairness, more because of the doctor leaving for vacation Thursday than because of any other factor. But I was at my silver-tongued best, and the triage nurse bounced me back to the appointment secretary. I got a Wednesday appointment.

My office mates were impressed: No one, they said, gets an appointment with a specialist in under 24 hours except in cases of the most dire emergency.

LSS was not so impressed: Maybe we should call someone else, she said. This delay was unacceptable; our daughter is hurting now. I persuaded her that this would not get us seen any faster. She said maybe we should go to the emergency room; I reminded her that when we took Youngest Son to the ER after his injury at football practice, the doctors there casted his ankle. But it was a knee sprain, as I've mentioned already. So going to the ER would not necessarily be helpful.

So we kept our appointment with the orthopedic doctor. That is, I kept it: I picked Younger Daughter up at school at 2:00 p.m. She got out at 1:30 p.m. She didn't miss a minute of school. But I missed another half day of work.

The specialist is a nice young man, very smart and apparently very competent. He told us the x-rays he took were inconclusive, but when he examined Younger Daughter he agreed that she did have shin splints so severe that they might have become stress fractures. If the bones were actually fractured, the treatment would of course be different. The only way to find out, he said, was to have a bone scan done. But, unlike the x-rays, this test couldn't be done at his office.

Once again, LSS was not impressed: What do you mean we have to wait again? And then he'll be on vacation and we still won't have an answer?

I got back to the house and started calling the hospital. Sure we can do the test for your daughter, I was told: How about next Tuesday? I knew that wouldn't go over well, so I whined and I moaned and I begged and I pleaded -- and I eventually got an appointment for the next day, Thursday.

Of course, I'd miss another half day of work. This time, I had to pick Younger Daughter up at noon.

But it wasn't all bad. I got to read back issues of the New Yorker in the waiting room. And one of the old people who came into the room actually was brave enough to turn off the TV. I wouldn't watch the soaps or the talk shows, you understand, but they are a distraction. And naturally, although the White Sox were playing an afternoon game, the telecast was only on cable. But I would never have mustered the courage to push the off button. I'd be afraid someone would yell at me.

Younger Daughter made me buy her a late lunch in the hospital cafeteria; this was during the two hours between tests. She told me how she'd talked to the tech about how she was studying bone development in Biology this semester and the tech was very informative then about all that was going on. Eventually, the radiologist came in and added his comments -- what I heard was that he saw no fractures. I thought this good news -- but what Younger Daughter heard was that she had "mild" shin splints. She was insulted.

LSS was furious when she heard this, even though I tried to "spin" it by leading with the news that the radiologist found no fractures. He's incompetent, she said; we have to change doctors, she said. I said, wait a minute; this isn't the doctor who's providing treatment, this is only the doctor reading the bone scans.

I agree that Younger Daughter and LSS are right to take exception to the suggestion that these shin splints are mild. Younger Daughter went to the trainer because the pain was intolerable -- and she has a high pain tolerance. Every child is different: Her sister, Older Daughter, was the model for the Princess in the Princess and the Pea. She could never have endured the constant pain that Younger Daughter put up with for weeks so she could play soccer. Not that there's anything wrong with low pain tolerance: I myself am allergic to pain. (This goes hand in glove with my natural cowardice.)

But I was just a tad upset that LSS was so seemingly critical of everything I'd done.

And then it hit me: Wives are never satisfied with what their husbands do. LSS wasn't really upset with me; it's just part of the job description. Wives are so used to us husbands performing our duties in a haphazard manner, so they have to pick up behind us, that they don't always recognize those few occasions where we may actually get it right. And it's not that wives are dissatisfied with how we perform our fatherly obligations -- no, this general dissatisfaction extends to all areas, and I do mean all areas, judging by the many commercials for... well, you know.

And then I hit on a commercial tie-in: The Da Vinci Code will open in a week or so, perhaps the most anticipated potential blockbuster of the Summer movie season. A central premise of the book, of course, is that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and that they had a child. Do you think Mary Magdalene would have been satisfied with everything her husband did?

In fact, that's why I dismiss this central premise of The Da Vinci Code out of hand. If Jesus had been married, there would be evidence of spousal disapproval in the Bible.

Consider the miracle of the loaves and fishes: This is recounted in every single Gospel narrative. If Jesus had been married, the story would have ended very differently -- something like this: And, lo, Mary Magdalene came to Jesus and said unto Him, "So, Mr. Big Shot. These people come all this way to hear you talk and all you give them is bread and fish? You couldn't come up with a cold beverage for everyone, or maybe a nice slice of pie?"