Friday, June 30, 2006

Bad karma, or something

From an AP story posted yesterday in Yahoo News:
BUFFALO, N.Y. - A pair of pot smokers picked the wrong day to use the drive-thru window at a KFC restaurant in Buffalo. Two men in their 20s pulled up to the restaurant's window and asked for the Wednesday special.

Meanwhile, a couple of narcotics detectives were inside ordering their food. That's when a cloud of marijuana smoke wafted into the restaurant. The detectives then spotted the two men smoking what one of the cops called "the biggest marijuana cigar you ever saw."

The detectives went outside and arrested 23-year-old Charles Morris and 26-year-old Gregory Quick, both of Buffalo. The two men were charged with possession of marijuana and smoking it in public
Sometimes the only luck you have is bad. I imagine Messrs. Morris and Quick, desperate with munchies, still having the presence of mind to purposely bypass a Dunkin' Donuts moments before pulling into the KFC: "Whoa! Dude, don't pull in there, that's, like, a donut shop. It's like a cop magnet or something, man. There's a KFC up ahead. Let's go there!" (I'm hearing the voices of Cheech and Chong as I imagine this dialog; perhaps this is a function of my age; perhaps it's the reference to the 'biggest marijuana cigar you ever saw' that triggers this.)

Monday, June 19, 2006

Be careful what you change the channel to in the Curmudgeon's house

The White Sox had just finished sweeping Cincinnati and we were flipping channels to see what else was on -- a lazy Sunday afternoon in Middle America. Almost all of the family was gathered around the one-eyed monster, all except Younger Daughter. She was working at the neighbrohood hardware store. I had possession of the remote control device (a happenstance due largely to the fact that it was Father's Day and the children were humoring me -- ordinarily, they won't let me near the remote for fear I might put on an old movie, or, worse yet, an old musical).

To appreciate what happened next, it will be necessary to indulge in some backstory: Oldest Son can be the noisiest person in the world when he wants -- or doesn't want -- something. It was ever thus.

Once, when he was an infant, my late mother thought it would be a good idea to take my wife shopping. We had only two children at the time, Older Daughter and Oldest Son, and Oldest Son was still a bottle-feeding infant. I assume both of them came along, too; only Oldest Son figures in the story.

Oldest Son never ate much; as I've said before, we were convinced for a long time that he derived nourishment directly from air molecules.

But when he wanted his bottle, he wanted it. Right then. And there would be a couple of times a day where he would become most insistent about it. It didn't matter where we were; it didn't matter what we were doing. For a kid who doesn't eat much, being hungry is a need that must be attended to immediately.

Long Suffering Spouse tried to warn my mother; they were in Marshall Field's downtown which was then, and will be a few months still, a shopper's paradise. (It will shortly be re-named Macy's. Macy's may be a fine chain of stores. It figures in a great Christmas movie. But renaming Field's is a lousy idea that will only further New York-i-fy Chicago.)

And my mother was a shopper. When she died we found that she had more shoes than Imelda Marcos, many of them never worn -- and all of them purchased "on sale."

Sticking a sale sign in a pile of merchandise -- any merchandise -- was an irresistible lure for my mother. It wasn't fair. It wasn't sporting. It was like hunting deer over a salt lick.

And there were many such piles between the spot where Oldest Son first began to note that he was hungry and the 7th floor dining room where my mother wanted to do her grandmother thing. Those 7th floor dining rooms were just chock full, at luncheon, of matronly ladies, their slightly-stressed daughters or daughters-in-law, and their well-scrubbed and often bored grandkids.

I know my mother was looking forward to participating in this tradition, this rite of passage. But there were so many 'sale' signs along the way.

LSS' warnings got more urgent as the clock ticked ominously toward Oldest Son's (self-)appointed mealtime. My mother wasn't listening, though. It wasn't just the sales signs, though these mesmerized her; she was a grandmother now, a graduate mother, a fully experienced dispenser of maternal wisdom. No, she must have thought, babies fuss when their lunch is delayed. Babies always fuss, but all will be forgiven and forgotten when we get to the dining room.

LSS tried to explain to my mother the difference between normal fussing and what Oldest Son was about to do. And my mother must have thought, "Poor dear. She'll learn eventually. You just don't panic everytime a baby cries a little."

But Oldest Son didn't fuss. And he didn't cry.

He erupted! He exploded!

He had store patrons looking for the air-raid shelter signs they'd not looked for since the early '60's. And he made these deafening shrieks all the way to the 7th floor -- all the way to their table (they were seated quickly, for obvious reasons). He paused briefly when LSS stuck a bottle in his mouth. She'd had one ready; it needed only to be warmed and a staff person was only too glad to take the bottle from LSS the moment if was proffered.

But the bottle came back boiling hot, something which, in her eagerness to get Oldest Son to subside, LSS didn't notice. Neither, for a blessed silent second or two, did Oldest Son.

But he noticed then.

And resumed shrieking.

My mother had to hold him while LSS dashed off to the ladies' room to try and cool the bottle down. It must have been like holding an air horn that won't go off.

But eventually LSS returned -- and Oldest Son stopped shrieking -- and my mother never took him shopping again.

The other thing you need to know is that Oldest Son hates soccer.

He threatened to boycott ESPN when it profaned "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" by running it behind a World Cup promotion. Since he's an ESPN addict, this proved an empty threat.

But Oldest Son was far from animated yesterday afternoon. He was subdued. He was, we thought, possibly even hung over. He'd gone out Saturday night -- and come home in the wee small hours of Sunday morning. He was laying on the floor, in front of the TV, not trying to crowd anyone off the couch, as he usually would do.

So, mean old Curmudgeon that I am, possessed however briefly with the remote as I was, I flipped to ABC -- which was showing a World Cup Soccer match. And what did Oldest Son do?

He erupted! He exploded!

The windows rattled. The neighbors surely cringed.

I laughed so hard, I cried. I may have pulled a muscle.

I changed the channel quickly, however, and Oldest Son subsided. (Yes, I repeated this a couple of times, just for fun. If he was hung over, he paid a heavy price for keeping up this act....)

LSS said only, "He hasn't changed much, has he?"


Later last night, I turned on the Jack Benny Show. Hey, it was still Father's Day and it's what I wanted to watch.

Older Daughter hates Jack Benny. She tried to imitate her brother's moves.

It was just as funny -- and thankfully not as loud.

I relinquished the remote and went to bed.

Friday, June 16, 2006

"Clean Living" Has a Downside -- Or -- Why Dust Bunnies Are Good for You After All

This clip is from an AP story posted this afternoon on Yahoo:
WASHINGTON - Gritty rats and mice living in sewers and farms seem to have healthier immune systems than their squeaky clean cousins that frolic in cushy antiseptic labs, two studies indicate. The lesson for humans: Clean living may make us sick.

The studies give more weight to a 17-year-old theory that the sanitized Western world may be partly to blame for soaring rates of human allergy and asthma cases and some autoimmune diseases, such as Type I diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. The theory, called the hygiene hypothesis, figures that people's immune systems aren't being challenged by disease and dirt early in life, so the body's natural defenses overreact to small irritants such as pollen.

The new studies, one of which was published Friday in the peer reviewed Scandinavian Journal of Immunology, found significant differences in the immune systems between euthanized wild and lab rodents.

When the immune cells in the wild rats are stimulated by researchers, "they just don't do anything they sit there; if you give them same stimulus to the lab rats, they go crazy," said study co-author Dr. William Parker, a Duke University professor of experimental surgery. He compared lab rodents to more than 50 wild rats and mice captured and killed in cities and farms.

Also, the wild mice and rats had as much as four times higher levels of immunoglobulins, yet weren't sick, showing an immune system tuned to fight crucial germs, but not minor irritants, Parker said. He said what happened in the lab rats is what likely occurs in humans: their immune systems have got it so cushy they overreact to smallest of problems.

* * *

Challenged immune systems — such as kids who grow up with two or more pets — don't tend to develop as many allergies, said Dr. Stanley Goldstein, director of Allergy & Asthma Care of Long Island.
Think about it: All those times you told your toddler to stop eating dirt -- you never dreamed you were doing the kid long-term damage.

In an early Woody Allen movie, Sleeper, Woody Allen's character awakens in a future in which scientists have learned that everything we thought was bad for you was good after all. Cigars and red meat are still suspect -- for now.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

I haven't done 'law stuff' here for awhile...

There are two reasons: First, I have a 'public' (i.e., not anonymous) blog that I started fairly recently for legal-type posts.

You never know what may drum up business. (So far, however, nothing.)

Second, we lost a colleague here at our Undisclosed Location. To a heart attack. Over the Memorial Day weekend. This man had been our ringleader in organizing the move to this new office; while he was far from enamored with the practice of law (who is?) he was happy with our accommodations here. At least after the carpet was replaced.

So, just at the moment, 'law stuff' isn't really funny, for me.

But, as Adlai Stevenson III famously said, 'the sap is rising.'

An essay is beginning to take shape on file churning and discovery abuse. If I put this forthcoming rant on the 'public' blog, where my observations might more readily be related to specific cases, it might be seen as a personal attack on the persons whose conduct has, well, inspired me. Since that is not my intention, I hope to post it here, some time in the next few days.

I assume we can always sort out what should have gone where when the book contracts are signed....

Monday, June 12, 2006

Screwing up a kids' game...

The following story is true; only the names have been changed for the protection of the innocent, the guilty, and, of course, the Curmudgeon.

The Bluejay Park Pony Reds had a make-up game last night in West Pond against the West Pond Pony White Sox; we rescheduled the game some weeks ago after an early season rainout.

Things haven't gone well for the Reds this season: We have a losing record. OK, we have an abysmal record. Coming into last night, we had won only three games -- and lost many, many more.

Part of the reason for our lack of success is the coaching: I love baseball -- but I never played the game at any organized level. I was a baseball fan, never a player. Other fathers teach their sons how to throw; I taught mine how to keep score. I'm a couch potato and a sci-fi geek. At one point in my life, I could actually use a slide rule. The good news is that I'm not trying to live out my athletic fantasies through little kids. I've seen people trying this and it is always ugly. And when it happened to Youngest Son, I was self-employed, and able to foolishly do something about it: I volunteered to coach.

When Youngest Son was 9, it was OK. My job was to carry the bag, put out the bases, and speak in reassuring tones to the over-concerned parents about their sons' blossoming talents. Nobody knew I didn't know anything; even when I told them I didn't know anything, they didn't believe me. I had the shirt and the hat; therefore, I was the wise old coach. And I could throw batting practice slow enough for the kids to hit. Of course, I couldn't throw any harder if I tried. (And sometimes I tried, so I know.)

But by the time kids are 13 and 14, they steal bases; they look for signs. They want to know who should take the throw at second. They want you to explain what is and is not a balk. I've known this day was coming, and I've been trying to quit for two years now -- but the good fathers in the Bluejay Park Baseball Association keep asking me to take another team. I'm in so far over my head that all the kids know just how little I really do know... and even the parents are finally beginning to suspect.

Fortunately for me -- and more fortunately for the kids -- I have an 'assistant' coach who actually does know a lot about baseball. And who can, and does, teach it well. He's happy to be the 'assistant' coach because he already coaches the grammar school team -- and, this way, he doesn't have to take or make the phone calls from the kids, nor does he have to keep the bag at his house. And he can play golf on Tuesdays, whether we have a game or not, because he's the 'assistant.' It would be an understatement to say that I defer to his better judgment on all occasions.

So -- despite my shortcomings -- coaching is not the sole reason for our sorry record. Part of it is that we're not too big. And what we lack in size, we lack in speed as well. I think all of the kids on the Bluejay Park Reds want to play baseball -- but most of them don't really want to work too hard at it. And some of them really would be happier as couch potatoes.

But this would be true, I suspect, of any random group of 13 and 14 year-olds who come out for baseball. And ours is a recreational league: Every kid, no matter how uncoordinated, must play for three innings in every seven inning game. Truth be told, I'd rather play a completely clueless and uncoordinated kid than a kid with a bad attitude. The uncoordinated kids will get better by playing, or hurt themselves trying. The kid with a bad attitude makes everyone around him worse. And nothing is his fault. Ever.

(You may think I have someone in mind as I write these words. I'd rather not admit that -- but there was a kid who, in our last game, missed an easy ground ball at his third base position -- so easy that one of our least coordinated kids would have had a better than 50/50 chance of picking it up and making the throw. And this kid blamed the third base coach on the other team for the error.)

At Bluejay Park, we take 'em all. The tall, the short, the skinny, the fat. The kids who want to play and the kids who want to play around. The kids who support their teammates and the kids who have a bad attitude. We have a draft, so to the problem children are, in theory, divided up equally.

But there are only three teams in our Pony Division at Bluejay Park.

There are six Pony teams at Gitche Gumee Park. They're supposed to take all comers, too.

But they never seem to have fat kids, or really slow ones, or kids who look like they may hurt themselves swinging a bat in the on-deck area. I tell our kids that these guys from Gitche Gumee Park drive themselves to the games. And they bring their own kids. And I tell myself I'm kidding -- but we had a game a couple of Saturdays ago, where we held off one of those Gitche Gumee teams for six innings before they finally punched through at the end. And when we lined up at the end of the game to shake hands, there were four kids taller than me on that other team.

They're supposed to be 13 or 14 years old. And I'm 6'2".

This brings us to last night, at West Pond. After our last humiliating defeat at the hands of another giant Gitche Gumee team, I told the kids that West Pond only had short kids, and fat ones, and kids with wooden legs. I was making it up, yes, but I wanted them to have some hope coming in.

So Youngest Son and I pull up to the park last night and there are kids taking infield/outfield on the diamond. And every last one of them was six feet tall.

"You told us they were midgets, Dad!" Youngest Son yelled.

I hadn't gotten entirely out of the car when I was met by one of the moms from our team. "Don't bother getting out the equipment," she said, "we probably won't play."

The good news was that the giants on the field weren't the team we were supposed to play. They were a Colt team -- 15 and 16 years old, and they were supposed to be bigger and taller than our kids.

The bad news was that the Colt team was scheduled to play on that same diamond at 8:00 pm, just as we were.

The West Pond Pony coach found me a few minutes later. The temperature was around 55°, but this guy was wearing a torn, sleeveless White Sox shirt, the better to show off the fact that he still lifts weights. Or moves boxes or cases of stuff for a living. And he had an earring.

Coach Earring was friendly enough, and apologetic: He would talk with the Colt coach and see if he could get him to relinquish the field. He told me if he couldn't talk the other coach off the field, he'd give us a forfeit. He said that the Colt coach had been at his house at 5:30 pm -- just a couple hours before -- trying to get the Pony coach to switch his game -- our game -- to 6:00 pm. If we all had beepers and helicopters we couldn't have arrived in West Pond in time. So Coach Earring had wisely rejected that plan.

As Coach Earring moved off to discuss real estate possession issues with the Colt coach, I gathered our troops and briefed parents as they arrived about our situation. One of the other moms came over with her younger children, pointing to the youngest, saying that they had to move because they were standing too close to the discussion between Coach Earring and the Colt coach, then ongoing, and the youngest child was learning too many new words. I resolved that, in the event of fisticuffs, I would advise our people to run away as fast as possible.

But violence was averted, and Coach Earring returned in due course: We had the field. Our kids stretched out and took infield practice; his kids started loosening up in left field. I didn't count their noses; what mattered to me was that we had 10 of ours ready to play. I made out a line-up and figured who'd sit the first inning. We gave them a pep talk; the 'assistant' coach had a good story about a game he played in high school, on a team that was better than its record showed.

It was then that I realized it was after 8:00. I wandered over to find Coach Earring and exchange line-ups. He was standing at the backstop. The Colt team was still hanging around, too, down the left field line -- and the team they were supposed to play was milling around the parking lot, waiting.

Coach Earring was unhappy. He only had seven kids, one of them a move-up. League rules require him to have eight to start a game, and he was minutes away from having to forfeit. A kid I took to be Coach Earring's son -- another one who was easily six feet tall -- was asking Coach Earring to call everyone on the team again. Apparently one kid on the team had showed up early -- and had been run off by the Colt team. When Coach Earring called the first time, the kid's mom said he wasn't coming back. Two kids on his 10-man roster were in Washington, on their 8th grade class trip. The whereabouts of the 10th man were unknown. "Who can I call?" Coach Earring asked.

Coach Earring asked if I'd agree to let him play with seven and take the two outs at the bottom of the order; I looked at the two Colt teams hovering just offstage and thought that my consent might be irrelevant. The umpire dashed Coach Earring's hopes about playing with seven shortly thereafter.

So we won by forfeit. And our kids seemed happy about it -- a win is a win. The parents seemed of two minds: They were aggravated to have come so far for nothing, but they, too, seemed happy to take away a 'victory.' I didn't mind getting home earlier than I expected -- but I also wanted the kids to play. I had set aside the time to be there.

As I was packing our bag to leave, Coach Earring came by and asked if maybe we could reschedule this rescheduled game and avoid a forfeit that way. You don't have to do that, he said, which even I already knew. I looked around at the rapidly departing Reds. "I don't think I can," I said. I'm afraid the parents might stone me if I agreed, I thought to myself.

Homework assignment: What would you have told Coach Earring?

Friday, June 09, 2006

English to be our national language...

And what was it before?

Yet recent Congressional action adopting English as our lingua franca has sparked outrage among the literati: Fr. Greeley's reaction in this morning's Chicago Sun-Times is typical.

I guess they fear that we'll descend to the level of the French, who routinely, and with impeccable comic effect, try to purge non-French words from common usage. Nothing escapes the French 'language police' -- even the term for e-mail had to be appropriately frenchified.

Yet, somehow, I don't see latter day Edwin Newmans or William Safires campaigning to strip English of invading words like 'pizza' or 'taco.' It would be far better to acquaint the allegedly English-speaking masses in this country with the richness (dare I say, the glorious pastiche) of the English language -- and move their vocabulary beyond George Carlin's Seven Dirty Words.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Middle Son still unemployed

He's applied at a number of places, I'm told, and he's clearly a bit defensive about it. Just the other night, when Oldest Son -- the one with two jobs, but both unpaid -- began gooning Middle Son about his jobless state, the volume level increased and the quality of language decreased to the point where, next day, the neighbor made a point of asking my Long Suffering Spouse, "Is everything OK?"

But Middle Son has raised a number of obstacles to obtaining employment: He can't work evenings and maybe not even in the late afternoons because the weight room at his school is only open then. And he's slated to pitch on weekends for a team in the summer league his college coach has put together. This Sunday's doubleheader was cancelled at the last minute -- so I begin to question the necessity of scheduling around these things.

And Middle Son would apparently be willing to work around these scheduling difficulties, too, for the right kind of money: Last week he answered an ad that promised employment at $1,000 to $1,200 a week. The ad did not specify what sort of work might be required for this princely sum, but Middle Son was invited to interview for the position when he called to inquire.

The job was near Midway Airport; we live near O'Hare -- but for that kind of money, Middle Son was willing to travel. After his interview, I asked what Middle Son would be doing.

"Driving an SUV," he said, "delivering stereo equipment." He explained that the job would be five days a week, 10 hours a day, from 8:30 am to 6:30 pm.

"Where?" I asked.

"I don't know."

"Does this job just involve delivery or do you sell the equipment as well?"

"I don't know."

"What kind of equipment is it?"

"I don't know."

"To what sorts of places would you be delivering this equipment?"

"I don't know."

The interview continued a while longer yet, but the pattern did not change. Long Suffering Spouse said, "This sounds like a scam to me."

"Of course it's a scam," I replied, if for no other reason than no real employer would turn an 18-year old loose driving any vehicle in the City of Chicago, much less an SUV, but Middle Son wanted to return the next morning for the start of his three day "training." He left the house early in the morning to make certain he'd be on time. Ninety minutes later, he was on his way home.

"It was a scam," Middle Son said. "It was a sales job.... They told us we'd be starting our own business...."

The college coach has since offered Middle Son an exciting opportunity in the field of telemarketing. Middle Son is increasingly tempted, but still hopes to find something on his own.

I suggested that something in the fast food industry might be in order: He could work the early morning hours that he says he wants and still put together enough hours in a week to earn some meaningful spending money for the coming school year. He certainly has vast experience as a product tester. Moreover, I told him, when he's rich and famous he can be part of a national ad campaign touting his first successful foray into the world of work.

But Middle Son said he would rather call business people like me and endure the abuse we dish out to telemarketers who routinely interrupt our days than be spattered with a little bit of french fry grease. I told him I don't like calling people I know, much less strangers; I'd much rather push a mop and pail around the floor while wearing a silly paper hat. "Well, that's how we're different, Dad," Middle Son said.

Homework assignment: Which would you choose? Telemarketer? Or entry level fast food drone?