Thursday, August 31, 2006

OK, if he keeps stealing other people's work, The Curmudgeon will get his second 100 posts in a week

Actually, I'm not out of ideas -- I'm just short on time to execute them at the moment.

Besides -- and here's the honest, soul-searching confession: I'm very worried about this comic strip. I really enjoy it.

That's usually the kiss of death.

If I like a restaurant, it closes. If I like a TV show, it gets cancelled. When plaintiffs' lawyers were making money by the bushel basket, I did defense work. When I started doing plaintiffs' work, insurers began taking their cases to trial.

So I'm promoting Brewster Rockit this week. And possibly killing it. It's very confusing for me.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Waukegan trip and planetary detour

I had to drive today because I have a court appearance this afternoon in beautiful downtown Waukegan, the birthplace of one of my heroes, Jack Benny. (Benny and my Older Daughter are forever linked because they share a birthday.)

Parking in downtown Chicago is expensive. And the proprietors of these lots assume that their customers are not only rich, but stupid.

For that reason, the garage owners provide mnemonic hints to help the feeble minded remember where they left their cars. Every garage is different. One marks each level with a different country – and plays a song snippet associated with the country as you stand in the elevator lobby waiting to descend to the street. Another, across from the Goodman Theater, assigns a different musical to each floor, also with appropriate snippet. These little aural clips are only 15 or 20 seconds long. If the elevator is slow, even if you weren't feeble-minded at the outset, you will become so standing in the elevator lobby. (Dolly, please stop saying hello. Goodbye already, Dolly. Please.)

I chose a garage this morning that has no song snippets – but each floor is assigned to a different celestial body. The first level is Mercury, the second Venus, the third Earth... and so on.

And today I'm parked on Level 9.

Hmmmm. That would be the Pluto level.


I hope my car is still there when I get back.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Monday, August 28, 2006

The 100th Post

When – if – a sitcom reaches its 100th episode, it is a cause for great celebration, not just for the fans of a beloved TV show, but for the producers and actors and anyone else who stands to profit from syndication. The 100th episode is where the money tree really begins to bear fruit – and a celebratory episode is often prepared, full of knowing inside references for long-time fans.

In studied contrast, this is the 100th posting in Second Effort. Since blogs are self-published endeavors, all 100 posts mean for certain is that the blogger is sufficiently stubborn, delusional, or at least sufficiently self-absorbed to keep plugging away. The Curmudgeon is certainly stubborn and self-absorbed, but even he recognizes that excessive celebration is not at all called for at this point in the development of Second Effort. Still, some acknowledgment seems in order. Thus, the task of the 100th posting has been delegated to yours truly. This may seem something of a cop-out to you, too. Nevertheless, we soldier on.

A recent entry on a BBC news page suggests that there are now 52 million bloggers. If this is an accurate count, then it is probably also true that 50 million of the 52 million are devoted to family foibles and occasional introspection. Some of these bloggers are content to write just for friends and family – a Christmas letter that updates all year long. But many of these bloggers crave readers and ads and book contracts and the opportunity to jump sit on Oprah’s couch. Just like The Curmudgeon.

How does Second Effort differ from the rest of these?

First, The Curmudgeon is male. Most of the ‘family life’ blogs are written by women. By moms. The Curmudgeon’s Long Suffering Spouse could probably write a very funny blog – and that would be more typical of the genre – and The Curmudgeon cringes at the thought of how he might be depicted in same.

Second, The Curmudgeon is old. Not Guinness Book of World Records old; not even Medicare and Social Security old. But old enough that two The Curmudgeon’s five children can be legally served in any gin mill in the United States. By comparison with the typical denizen of the Blogosphere, The Curmudgeon is positively ancient.

The Curmudgeon refers to himself as a “dinosaur” – not that he’s extinct, but that he lives a cheerfully old-fashioned life: titular head of an intact nuclear family; a churchgoing resident of the bungalow belt. Still, he must not be a complete Luddite, else he would not have plunged into this medium.

So, stay with us, won’t you, as The Curmudgeon starts his second hundred posts in Second Effort?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A dilemma and a challenge

This is an AP story in yesterday’s Chicago Sun-Times :
STOCKHOLM, Sweden -- Sweden’s state broadcaster SVT showed a little too much when it mistakenly showed a porn movie in the background of a news broadcast.

Viewers of a five-minute news update at midnight Saturday could see explicit scenes from a Czech porn movie on a TV screen behind a news anchor.

The monitor -- one of many on the wall of a control room visible behind the studio -- normally shows other news channels during broadcasts. But staffers who earlier in the evening had watched a sports event on a cable channel -- which often shows X-rated films after midnight -- had forgotten to switch it back, said news director Per Yng.

“This is highly embarrassing and unfortunate,” Yng said. “It must not happen again.”

A producer quickly spotted the sex scenes and ran into the control room and turned off the monitor, Yng said. He said there had been no complaints from viewers about the mishap, but “enormous interest from media.”
Since I read the article I've been trying to come up with a snappy line about it. So far I've got:
  • (In a conspiratorial whisper)Do we tell Katie Couric about this?
  • (With world-weary authority) Local news is going to get real interesting during the next sweeps.
Can you come up with others? (Keep 'em clean; this is a family blog.)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Good questions, bad assumption

Yesterday’s rant about using the same rating to classify an American classic, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, as MTV’s Real World: Key West drew a couple of good questions from cmhl. Did I watch the movie – and did I find it objectionable?

Of course, yesterday I didn’t say that Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (not to be confused with the similarly named Adam Sandler film from 2002) is an American classic. I assumed that everyone knows this. This was a bad assumption – which directly prompted cmhl’s good questions.

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town was directed by Frank Capra, the same filmmaker who gave us It’s a Wonderful Life.

Surely It’s a Wonderful Life is one of the most well-known movies of all time. It was almost done to death in the late ‘80's or early 90's when it temporarily slipped into the public domain: It was on some channel in Chicago almost continuously every Christmas for a few years. What parent doesn’t smile knowingly as a very stressed out Jimmy Stewart pantomimes putting the petals back on Zuzu’s flower? And next time you watch, notice the movie that’s playing at the theater when George Bailey ‘returns’ to Bedford Falls. (It’s The Bells of St. Mary’s. Henry Travers, who plays the hapless angel Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life, also starred in that classic – as the businessman whose hard heart is melted by the prayers of Sister Mary Benedict – a most unlikely role for Ingrid Bergman – and the melodic maneuverings of Bing Crosby, returning to his Oscar-winning role as Fr. Chuck O’Malley.)

So, yes, I watched Mr. Deeds Goes to Town – and, no, it’s not offensive. The movie is 70 years old – and curiously modern: Jean Arthur plays Babe Bennet, a Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter, no less, who goes undercover as Mary Dawson, newly employed stenographer, in order to get close to new millionaire Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper, taciturn as always). Deeds inherited his millions from an uncle who died racing his car off a cliff on an Italian mountain (the movie’s first scene); before that, Deeds had been a successful poet – turning out sentiments for greeting cards – and playing tuba in the town band in Mandrake Falls, Vermont. The lawyers who’d been managing the uncle’s fortune (and stealing a fortune of their own) hope to keep right on going with the seemingly naive bumpkin Deeds.

Deeds falls in love with Babe, but he thinks she’s a “lady in distress.” He takes her out to see the literati at a restaurant (that was supposed to suggest the famous Aglonquin Round Table) – but their mean-spirited put-downs lead Deeds to pop one of the patronizing poets right in the kisser. Another poet, impressed and apologetic, offers to take Deeds and Babe out on a ‘good old fashioned bender’... and Deeds returns home, accompanied by a policeman, and unaccompanied by his pants. We see none of this; that might be offensive. Besides, we can imagine the homecoming – and that’s funny without having to see it. The real humor is watching Deeds react to the butler’s recitation the next morning. Deeds is contrite and penitent – even before his flack and all-around cornerman, Corny Cobb, brings him the morning paper – with Babe’s article on the front page.

Deeds is a fish out of water. He’s a volunteer fireman at home – so one night he jumps on a passing fire engine to offer his services. So there is grist for Babe’s articles – she’s not making stuff up – but she exaggerates and slants and turns Cooper into an object of public scorn – the “Cinderella Man.” But even as she’s writing these articles, her cynical shell is beginning to melt, as she realizes that Deeds isn’t the goof she’s portraying, but is really a warm and genuine and caring man.

When she finally sorts out how she feels, will it be too late? And then Deeds decides to give away his fortune, to people who really need the money. And then Deeds is put on trial: Go see this movie. And let your kids watch.

Let me suggest two more Frank Capra movies in case the video store or the local library don’t have a copy of Mr. Deeds Goes to Town available. It Happened One Night was quite risque in its day: Clark Gable removed his shirt – and wore no undershirt. This supposedly had a negative impact on undershirt sales. You may have to explain to your children that there once was a time when it was considered inappropriate for a man and a woman to sleep in the same room, even in separate twin beds, if they were not husband and wife.

Imagine if Nora Ephron remade Mr. Deeds today: When Babe went undercover as Mary Dawson, she moved in with Mabel Dawson, a clerical employee at the newspaper, in order to provide a little extra ‘cover.’ Ms. Ephron would have her moving out of the apartment that she shared with someone like Greg Kinnear so that there could be a scene in which he whine about how she was putting her work ahead of their ‘relationship.’ (For the record, You’ve Got Mail is a somewhere between a remake and an homage to another Jimmy Stewart movie, The Shop Around the Corner.)

And, speaking of Jimmy Stewart, the other Frank Capra movie that you should put on your list is Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, also starring Jean Arthur. Yes, it’s another fish out of water plot as Jefferson Smith is appointed to the United States Senate as a result of a most unlikely coin toss. This movie should be required viewing in every school civics class – even though I know, in that shriveled up cinder where my heart of hearts used to be, that Senator Paine (Claude Rains) probably wouldn’t do what he does in this movie at the very end. Harry Caray, as the Vice President, has a tiny role – and makes the most of it.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Please explain this to me

We were channel surfing Sunday morning at the Curmudgeon house, when we came across a showing of Mr. Deeds Goes to Town on the RetroPlex channel.

A little rating card preceded the movie; that’s normal. What surprised me was that this movie was rated “TV14” because it has “adult content.” By definition TV14 means not suitable for viewers under 14.

This is the same rating that is given to drivel on MTV, such as Real World: Key West. My Super Sweet 16 and Laguna Beach are rated “TV PG.”

Does any sane person believe, for a nanosecond, that it would be better to have your children watch these MTV shows than Mr. Deeds Goes to Town?

Friday, August 18, 2006

Bob comes home -- Part VI

We have come, at long last, to the end of the story of Bob’s homecoming, a story that began, innocently enough, with this entry. At the end of our most recent installment, Bob had finally made it to Betty’s basement. And Betty wanted Bob out.

Was Bob on a waiting list or not? And was Bob supposed to begin out-patient services or not? Betty made one more stab at Haymarket, this time at the Schaumburg location; I’d talked with the gentleman there on Thursday, a week to the day after Bob’s arrival. But he wasn’t in on the next day and neither was his downtown counterpart, the gray-haired lady with whom I’d first spoken the day Bob came to town.

Betty called me from Schaumburg; she put the counselor there on the phone. “You’re all riled up,” he told me, “and Betty’s all riled up. You want Bob to get all these services. But what is Bob doing?”

Bob was in Betty’s basement, Nirvana North so far as he was concerned. Watching TV.

And so a new plan was formed: We would find Bob a place to live; we’d get him some leads on jobs if we could; we had some leads on services from Haymarket. And then we’d let Bob go.

Bob could respond to this in one of two ways: He could fall of the wagon – in which case he’d be eligible for immediate treatment – in which case he would get help finding a job and work and maybe rebuild his life – or he could stay on the wagon and find a job and work and rebuild his life. That’s a win-win in anyone’s book.

I’d been talking to my friend Steve right along about Bob; when Sam’s problems flared up, as they did from time to time, Steve would call me. I hope I’ve been a good listener. Steve mentioned that another of his brothers, George, had a construction business; that the business was going well just now and that George might have need of a laborer for a new project. He offered to call. “Make full disclosure,” I pleaded – and Steve promised he would.

Steve called back a short time later: George was interested. Steve told me that George didn’t think Bob would last long – once he got money in his pocket again he’d probably give in to his inner demons – but he’d be willing to take the help for as long as it lasted. I took George’s number; I promised that Bob would call.

Then I got Bob a room. I won’t say where. Too much information might compromise Bob’s privacy – and he doesn’t need that. Suffice it to say that it’s not a bad place. I don’t travel much, but I’ve stayed in worse rooms. And it’s conveniently located; Betty and I can both get there without too much trouble. Public transportation is readily available. And I could afford the first week’s rent.

The morning that Bob’s room was confirmed I was with Middle Son at an immediate care center. Middle Son was not ill; he needed a sports physical for school. The lady behind the counter wanted to know if Middle Son had been there before. Sure, I told her, but probably not for some time – he probably wasn’t in the computer. So the lady pulled out a stack of paper... and then a funny look came across her face. “How old are you?” she asked Middle Son.

“18,” he said.

“Well, then you get to fill in all these papers. Here’s the history form, the registration form, the consent to treatment form, our privacy disclosure....” She piled the papers on Middle Son as she talked and his eyes grew wider and wider. He was the proverbial deer in the headlights. “Here’s a pen,” she said. “Welcome to adulthood.”

“I’ll be back,” I said.

A short time later, I was on the phone to Betty, advising that we’d not only got Bob a room, we’d got Bob a job too. She was thrilled. She put Bob on the phone.

“OK,” he said. He was not thrilled. And I wished I could have compared the look on his face at that moment with the look I’d just seen on Middle Son’s face when he was handed all those forms.

Later that afternoon, Betty brought Bob to the place where we’d rented the room. In the meantime I’d bought Bob a new cell phone, one of those pay-as-you-go models; I put a couple of hours on the phone to start him off. I told him it was a “housewarming gift.” But he was no longer even pretending to be polite. He was furious. Passive, still, but furious. I could feel it coming off him in waves as he produced his Texas ID for the desk clerk.

Don’t expect gratitude, Steve warned me. And I didn’t get any. But I think Bob was mollified, a little, by the price and quality of the room. He even called about the job. He grumbled that he could have had his pick of these sorts of jobs in Texas. We didn’t ask why he didn’t take any of them. The lying and deception and attempts at manipulation are all part of Bob’s condition. So is the misplaced anger. The most important thing is he’s shown up for the labor job two days in a row. And he’s applied for a night job, too, because there won’t be work every day for him with Steve’s brother.

It’s not over, of course. Bob is not “cured.” He’s mad. He’s angry at Betty. He’s angry at me for blowing him out of Betty’s basement. I tried to explain. “Bob,” I told him, “It’s not right for a 45 year old man to live in his sister’s basement.” “I like basements,” he replied, foreclosing further discussion along these lines.

And the mind is still cloudy. Before we left Bob’s room that first day, Betty and I both asked if he was fixed for funds. I’d hit up the ATM in anticipation of giving him a little ‘tide me over’ money. But he was fine, he said. Next day, he called and asked me to bring $20.

But Bob’s home now. He has a chance. If he stays sober because he wants to, because it’s easier for him to do now that he’s changed his surroundings, so much the better. If he stays sober because he doesn’t want to give Betty and me the satisfaction of being right about what he’s been doing lo these past many years, that’s fine too. If he stumbles – and he may – we now know where to get him help. And maybe some of our experience will be relevant for you, too.

We’ll let Bob leave center stage now. He and Betty will probably be back, but it’s time to let the spotlight move on.

But if you’re the praying sort, say a prayer for Bob. And Sam. And my colleague’s brother. And my neighbor’s brother. And for my other colleague’s late son. And for all the other men and women who still need to come home.

Bob comes home -- Part V

In the last chapter of the Bob saga, Bob arrived in Chicago and had his initial assessment at the Haymarket Center. We left him going home with The Curmudgeon on Thursday evening, to resort in the Curmudgeon’s basement, at least until the following Monday.

Bob wasn’t in Betty’s basement. This was good.

He was in my basement instead. This was unacceptable.

He didn’t talk much, at first; we were certain he had to be exhausted from recent events and he in fact retired early on Thursday evening. When he was awake he watched TV. A lot of TV. When he was rested, he asked odd questions at strange times. And he loomed out of nowhere, when he was least expected.

We took him with us Saturday to Middle Son’s game – Middle Son pitched a complete game win in a Summer league playoff game. That was good. Bob was fascinated by a baby bunny that was running in and out of a large section of drainage pipe left laying on the ground. That was unsettling. But most of his questions about the game were perfectly OK – at least they would have been, if, for example, he had just landed from England or some other place where the game is not commonly played.

Then we went to Youngest Son’s all star game. This was a fiasco. I got pressed into service coaching at third because the father who was supposed to be there had an argument with the manager and left the park. This left Long Suffering Spouse to entertain Bob by herself. And the Bluejay Park All Stars lost again, badly.

Bob decided against going with us to Youngest Son’s next game on Sunday. Oldest Son and Middle Son stayed with him – and they all watched TV together.

Bob had two pair of pants with him. One he wore. LSS washed the other for him – and gave him needle and thread so he could repair the torn pockets. He told us the rest of his stuff was in storage with friends at his old apartment building. Each unit had its own storage area, and he was using space belonging to another, presumably rent-paying tenant. He would send for his stuff when he got situated. In fact, a couple of those guys back at the old building were over the road truckers; he might even be able to get one of them to bring him his stuff for free.

Betty stayed in touch from her vacation hideaway. She’d talked to Angel again; she’d asked Angel about Bob’s storage arrangements. Angel, Betty told me, was appalled. “They’re all drug addicts over there,” Angel told Betty. “If they haven’t already sold his stuff, they will soon.”

The kids didn’t know what to make of Uncle Bob. He was polite. A little scary-looking. But clearly sober. Middle Son asked me about it. “Dad, he just says he’s made some bad business decisions; that’s all.” So I told Middle Son about the storage arrangements – he’d heard Bob’s version already; I filled him in on Angel’s perceptions. “When all his stuff turns up missing,” I asked Middle Son, “is that just another bad business decision? Or is something else going on?”

Middle Son didn’t answer the question directly. “Dad,” he said, “Bob told me that it’s very strange in Texas: You can know someone for years and they all of a sudden turn into drug addicts.”

Betty agreed to return from her vacation a day early so she could join us for the Monday trip to Haymarket. LSS put Bob on the train Monday morning; I met Bob in the subway. We walked to my office, where Betty was waiting. I hadn’t warned Bob that Betty was coming. Then we walked together to Haymarket.

We made small talk on the way over; Bob and Betty talked some about Betty’s vacation. Just outside the entrance, though, I pulled Bob aside. Bob, I told him, this is your last chance today. You don’t have to tell me – ever – about what’s happened to you. I don’t need to know. But the person we’re seeing today can help you if you want to be helped. Don’t sugar-coat it. Tell the whole truth. And don’t tell the doctor you’re going to move in with Betty. That’s not been decided. Not by a long shot.

Betty jumped in. I have kids to take care of, she said, and a crazy ex-husband in the basement already. When I extended that invitation to you, that was a long time ago. (Betty told me that she’d made the offer a year ago or more, when Bob first confided in her about his mounting financial problems. Bob just sort of seized on the old offer the night he called Betty and asked to come home.) “Bill wasn’t in the house when I said you could live with us,” Betty told Bob. “And you can’t live with us until I’m certain that you’re alright. And I’m not at all certain.”

Maybe that’s not a conventional pep talk. But we wanted to cut through the mists in his mind.

And it worked. Sort of. Bob was apparently far more candid with the psychologist than he had been with the initial assessor. Among other things, the doctor recommended in-patient alcohol rehabilitation treatment.

This didn’t happen; whether it may happen eventually is not in my control. The intake manager ultimately explained that Bob’s different stories suggested two different levels of care. Haymarket, with its mixed public and charitable funding, has to choose the lower indicated level of care. Otherwise they might be accused of mishandling their funds – and their future funding would be reduced, possibly even jeopardized entirely. I understand why this must be so, and even why it makes sense from a policy standpoint.

But that still left us with Bob, watching cartoons and sleeping in the basement. I needed my basement back, too: Older Daughter was coming to move some of her stuff out (oddly enough, she did find work in Indianapolis) and we needed some place for her boyfriend to stay. So Bob went off to Betty’s – where he wanted to be all along. Watching cartoons and in Betty’s basement.

Betty was supposed to go out of town again, this time to a wedding. Her ex-husband agreed to watch Bob, though, and I thought it was working out. While we worked on Plan B. Whatever that might be.

Betty called me, though, first thing Monday morning.

“We have to get Bob out of here today.”

Bob comes home -- Part IV

In our last episode Bob finally got on the bus. Now the bus has arrived.

It was a rainy Thursday morning and I was puttering around the office, too nervous to do any real work. I was sure that I wouldn’t hear from Bob before the lunch hour. I even called Greyhound to check the progress of the bus that I thought Bob was on. I thought I had plenty of time.

So I had stepped away from the office when the call came. Several hours before I expected it.

I didn’t call back. I left immediately for the subway.

The Clinton stop on the CTA Blue Line is only a block away from the Greyhound terminal. Sure a cab would have been faster – but it was raining. You can’t get a cab in the Chicago Loop when it’s raining. The trains don’t run so well either, even underground, which is something I’ll never understand. It just happens to be true.

Just that morning Long Suffering Spouse asked me if I’d even recognize my brother; after all, I’d not seen him since shortly after my father’s funeral, nearly five years ago, when he took a truck full of things – now gone, all gone – back to Texas. Maybe I saw him once in between, at Betty’s house. Maybe.

But I needn’t have worried. I recognized Bob immediately.

He looked like my father – when my father was in the last stages of his last illness. Granted, no one will look their best after a 20 hour bus ride, but Bob was rail thin – cadaverous – eyes sunken, slouching, pasty complected. His hair was longish, perhaps intended to disguise his receding hairline and maybe calling more attention to it.

But Bob’s hair was still brown. What remains of mine is thoroughly gray.

I was remarking on this later, to Long Suffering Spouse, when Younger Daughter happened into the room. “I’m sure his hair is still dark because he has no daughters,” I said – provoking the immediate and expected reaction from Younger Daughter.

We could have walked to Haymarket, I suppose, but the skies were still threatening and Bob was carrying a large red, Marlboro-brand duffel and a weathered Samsonite briefcase. I was carrying my umbrella and a file folder full of papers to review. So a cab seemed like a good idea. And – thankfully – cabs were waiting in front of the Greyhound station.

The sign over the door of the old warehouse building at Sangamon and Washington Streets says McDermott Center. The place is named for the late Monsignor Ignatius D. McDermott. We went inside, up a few steps, through another set of glass doors. There was a chapel on our left; the security desk was straight ahead. We signed into Central Intake, received ID badges, and were directed up a stairway to the second floor. We were promptly intercepted and directed to a waiting room. Bob was told to leave his stuff in the hall; later it was also moved into the waiting room.

The waiting room is set up with three or four rows of plastic chairs facing a television set. A desk is at the entrance to the room, perpendicular to the chairs. On this desk is a sign-in book. Bob signed in. In what I later learned to be a breach of protocol, I did not. As a prospective client Bob was immediately ushered to the washroom to make a “drop.” As a visitor, I was exempted from this welcoming ceremony.

There were people everywhere. Staff people. Cleaning people. Clients. The waiting room was crowded. Next door to the waiting room was a ‘smoking room’ – but no more than three people were allowed in at a time. Which was important since the room was about the size of a closet. A small closet. The man working the desk when we came in wanted to know when our appointment was.

It is said that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. None of my plans seem to survive contact with reality. The man with whom I’d spoken a couple of days before had given me bad information: Unless we came in through detox – where the police bring drunks picked up on the street – we were supposed to have an appointment. The waiting room attendant left to find someone for us to talk to; another took his place.

An admissions counselor was found; I told her why we were there and why we’d made no appointment. She said she’d try and fit Bob in – and she did. But it took awhile. A long while. In the meantime, I kept one eye on the stuff I brought, and watched Michael Keaton’s Clean and Sober with the other. At lunchtime the clients are offered the opportunity to have a meal. Bob didn’t want to go. So I stayed with Bob. People came, people went. Some were clearly being admitted. Some were just there for prearranged appointments. Everyone, so far as I could see – including Bob and me – were treated courteously and with respect. There was a degree of jocularity with those familiar to the staff, but everything seemed appropriate. Even – strange to say in the circumstances, I realize – nice.

Bob wasn’t talkative. Bob wasn’t much of anything. He sat there, reading a book he’d brought on the bus and occasionally watching the movie. We didn’t have a lot to talk about anyway.

Eventually, in the middle of the afternoon, Bob got to see an assessor and I got a chance to return to my office, eat my lunch and return the many phone calls that had accumulated in my absence. I negotiated the settlement of the case that I was talking about at the outset of this cycle during this brief interlude. And none of these calls would have come in were I sitting at my desk waiting for them.

I walked back to Haymarket, carrying nothing this time, trying to time my arrival so as to be there when Bob finished the assessment. They told me it would take around 2½ hours – my original informant had given me the straight dope on that aspect at least – but I wasn’t surprised that I still waited more than another hour for Bob to be done. The room thinned out as the afternoon dwindled away. We saw part of When a Man Loves a Woman with Meg Ryan. I thought I’d be interested in Meg Ryan reading the phone book – but it was hard to watch her as an alcoholic, careening out of control. I know at some point we also saw most of The Days of Wine and Roses (are you sensing a pattern here?) although someone had taped cartoons over the ending.

As time passed, I began to entertain hopes that this would all work out just as I wished: Bob would be admitted to a residential program. He’d find some way to rebuild his life – and see just how crazy it would be to settle for living in his sister’s basement.

It was then that Bob returned. With the assessor. Bob had given him full license to tell me anything I wanted to know. What I wanted to know was whether Bob would be admitted for treatment. But the assessor told me that, based on what Bob told him, in-patient treatment would not be necessary. Bob qualified for Level 1 Outpatient Services – and that would be fine, the assessor said, because Bob’s “drop” was “triple zero” (no alcohol or other problematic substances) and since Bob had plans to live with Betty.

That’s when I blew up. Live with Betty? Betty wasn’t even in town. She didn’t leave the key under the mat; Bob has no place to go. Bob was told this. Repeatedly. In an instant I knew what had happened: Bob had minimized. He had sugar-coated. He had under-reported. He had shot himself right in the foot. What I can’t understand is why he did this.

We were next ushered into the small office of the Manager of the Central Intake Unit. The office was on the opposite side of the floor from the waiting room. Because I was angry, I didn’t observe how or why we got there. I did observe the manager: She was a tall, gray-haired lady. The hairstyle was short and practical. Little kids – children of a client – barged in and helped themselves to candy in her drawer. The phone rang incessantly. Other people were clamoring for her time, too, even though it was past 5:00 pm now and everywhere else had quieted down – and here were Bob and me and the assessor and if the manager was less than gracious with us – with me – on this occasion it was only because she may have sized me up as some sort of spoiled Yuppie consumer expecting to get my own way.

I was angry, yes, but not at the manager, or at Haymarket. I was angry with Bob. I was also disappointed that the assessor had not seen through Bob’s deceptions. I wasn’t trying to force any outcome; I understood we were beggars here, not choosers. But after hearing my spiel – and that was part of it – the manager told us we were to return on Monday for an evaluation by a staff psychologist. The manager gave me her card, writing in her cell phone number, just in case Bob’s situation changed before Monday. In the meantime, the manager offered information about homeless shelters where Bob could stay. That got a rise out of Bob – and me too. I’ll take care of where he stays, I told the manager.

We walked back downtown; I had excess adrenaline to work off. I carried the Samsonite briefcase; Bob struggled with the oversized gym bag duffel. The Thursday morning showers had given way to a hot, sunny, humid early evening. As we walked across the bridge over the Spaghetti Bowl, the downtown interchanges where the Kennedy and Dan Ryan Expressways meet, I called home. I put on my best fake Irish brogue. “Put another couple of spuds in the pot,” I told my Long Suffering Spouse. “I’m bringing the brother home with me.”

Bob comes home -- Part III

In yesterday’s post, Bob had finally agreed to sell the car he couldn’t drive and to which he had no title. He would come to Chicago by bus. The Curmudgeon agreed to meet him and take him in for an alcohol assessment.

Bob wasn’t going to get the celebrity treatment at the Betty Ford Clinic; I knew that. I knew – or thought I knew – that there were a number of substance abuse treatment centers here in Chicago that required large amounts of money in order to secure admission. These were all out of Bob’s price range. He had no money, no home, no job, virtually no possessions. A friend, Steve, suggested the Haymarket Center as a possible destination.

Steve knew about Haymarket for a very good reason: He, too, has a brother like Bob. We’ll call him Sam. Steve and his other brothers had gotten Sam into Haymarket as a resident in a 28 day program. Unfortunately, after a day or two Sam declared himself cured and walked out. Steve thought he knew someone there who might be able to help Bob get in.

That’s the Chicago way. Nobody knows everybody. But everybody knows a guy, or at least a guy who knows a guy, who can help. Steve had a guy.

I called Haymarket one day during the lunch hour. I did not obtain the name of the person with whom I spoke, but I heard his life story. He was himself in recovery. He was in recovery too late to repair his relationship with his mother; she was dead. This was some years ago, it seems, but his emotions were still raw and close to the surface. I could feel his regret, solid and substantial, right through the phone. The person I needed to talk to was out to lunch, this man told me, but it would be alright to bring my brother by anytime. They would ‘assess’ him – and it would be the most searing 2½ hours of my brother’s life. My new friend told me that Bob would find out things about himself that he never knew. And Haymarket would determine the level of care necessary for Bob.

As I reached out for resources to help me figure out how to help Bob I learned something important: A lot of people have brothers like Bob. I knew about Steve’s brother Sam. And I knew a neighbor who has a brother; the brother lurks in the street by our house for hours at a time if our neighbor isn’t home. Or isn’t answering the door. But I didn’t know about the colleague who had to bring his brother home from an island jungle. And there were others.

I was discussing this with Long Suffering Spouse when Younger Daughter chimed in. “Which of my brothers,” she asked, “will turn out like Uncle Bob?”

None of them will, I immediately assured her. It’s a generational thing. Your generation will just have uncles.

I know that’s not true, certainly not for her entire generation. But I so want it to be true. And I hope and pray that “the Curse” will pass all of my children by.

We have such romantic names for alcoholism. The Curse. The Liquid Cross. That was a term I heard used just this year – at the wake and funeral for the son of another colleague. That young man – well, he was around Bob’s age – jumped into Lake Michigan rather than live another day with his alcohol addiction.

I also spoke with one of my ex-landlords. I recently learned that he had been involved in an intervention for a lawyer we both knew; I didn’t know that the intervention had even taken place until after that man had died. Not from drink. Not directly, anyway. My ex-landlord gave me the names and numbers of people at the Lawyers Assistance Program. I had a long chat with a clinician there; Bob’s not a lawyer, but she could talk to me because I am. The clinician recommended that I contact the Way Back Inn in Maywood. She could highly recommend the place because she was on the board there.

(In Chicago terms, that would make her my guy there. Even though she wasn’t a guy. Being a guy isn’t a vital component of being a guy. But don’t ask me who she is because I can’t tell you. If I told you, then she’d be your guy. I don’t know you well enough for that. Is that clear? No? Then you’re one step closer to understanding Chicago. Some day you can explain it to me.)

But, after mulling over the options, I decided to stay with Haymarket. I could walk there from my office. I could walk there from the bus station. There was even a Schaumburg location; I didn’t know at the time that no residential treatment is provided there. I was thinking that the suburban location might be more comfortable for Bob and more convenient for Betty. I’m the only one in the family who likes the City. And if Haymarket wouldn’t see Bob when he got here, I could always try the Way Back Inn next.

So I had a plan, even if I didn't have all the facts straight. All we needed was Bob.

Steve figured the odds at 80-20 against Bob showing up. I thought the odds about 50-50. Betty was sure Bob would get here – and she told me she felt really bad about leaving town under the circumstances. Then she laughed.

Somewhere along the line I spoke with Angel again. She promised to call me when she put Bob on the bus. That way, I’d know when to expect him.

Angel called back on August 2 – the day that Bob told me he’d probably arrive. Angel got him on the bus that morning. This is when she told me about the check. She told me the bus was expected in Chicago about mid-day Thursday, August 3. I did not have the presence of mind to ask the route number of the bus; when I went on line to look at the schedule, I didn’t find any bus that was scheduled to arrive when Angel said Bob was coming. But I found one that was scheduled to arrive within an hour of the time Angel mentioned. I figured that would be it.

Of course, I was wrong.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Bob comes home -- Part II

In yesterday’s exciting, if a bit self-absorbed post, Bob was eventually warned by Betty not to come back to Chicago until August 15. Betty told Bob that she was going to be out of town on a couple of different trips during the first two weeks of August.

So I guess I should not have been too surprised when I found out from Betty that Bob would be here by August 2. The earlier departure was necessitated by the fact that Bob’s landlord was unwilling to provide any further hospitality beyond the 31st of July. That Bob was behind in his rent had previously been made clear; it was only now that we learned that he was in imminent expectation of eviction.

Bob was hoping to drive to Chicago, but his driver’s license had been suspended for failure to appear in court on a traffic ticket. Betty advanced the money to pay the ticket.

But Bob still couldn’t drive to Chicago because he was afraid his car would not survive the journey. It was old, and in delicate condition, he said. So he was hoping we could advance the bus fare.

Betty said she was tapped out. And I already mentioned that my own mortgage was unpaid. I suggested that Bob might sell the car.

It was at this point that Bob finally called me direct. (The phone in his apartment continued to work right up until the moment he vacated the premises. Don’t ask me how.)

Bob wasn’t happy with my logic, but it seemed to me that, since he did not think the car would survive the trip, and since he couldn’t afford the gasoline for the journey even if the car survived, bringing the car was not a smart idea. Bob suggested that he could store the car with friends. I pointed out that the car would not improve during a long period of disuse. I remained firm in my advice: Sell the car.

That’s when Angel called. Angel has apparently been Bob’s one and only real friend in recent years. She’s fed him when he was hungry; she’s been a confidante; she encouraged him to reach back out to his family when things really got bad. Angel is married and she and her husband are expecting their first child. Long Suffering Spouse raised both eyebrows when these facts were recited, but Betty is confident that Angel is only what she says she is: A friend. And Betty says she’s spoken with Angel’s husband, too.

Angel had called my house before, some months ago; Younger Daughter took the call. She asked if we’d heard from Bob, if he was OK, if we knew how to reach him. She told Younger Daughter that she was worried about Bob. But Angel didn’t leave her name or number, and she didn’t ask for me by the name by which I am usually known; she used my given name, which no one who knows me ever uses. I therefore dismissed the call as a new collection tactic. While it was never a daily occurrence, Bob has received collection calls at our house before. Younger Daughter was so worried, however, that I sent Bob an e-mail – and he promptly responded that everything was “fine.” I didn’t believe that – but I was satisfied there was no immediate crisis.

Now Angel was on the phone telling me that Bob was not fine, and had not been fine for some time. She was certain he needed to leave Texas immediately, to get away from people who were “bad influences” on him. She told me that Bob didn’t want to sell the car; it was the one remaining thing he had of his parents’ (he’d had a rather large truck full of things at one time, but I didn’t bring this up). She understood that my finances might be tight just now, but could I put up just half the bus ticket? She’d put up the other half.

I told Angel why I thought it best that he simply sell the car. And Angel agreed: It turns out that the car was so delicate it was in fact non-functional. It did not run.

Various numbers were discussed in subsequent conversations. When Bob and Angel told me of one supposed offer, I looked up the Blue Book values for the car – and told Bob to grab the offer with both hands and leave town immediately. Of course that offer fell through. Or never existed. But Bob did sell the car. I think. Angel took the money; she gave Bob some pocket money and bought the bus ticket; she wrote a check for the difference. The check was made payable to Betty; Angel didn’t trust Bob with the money. That was telling.

There was still some question about where the car title was located. There was also some question about where the car was located. But I think Bob sold the car. And not to Angel.

Bob was unhappy about selling the car, but he called me one night to tell me his travel arrangements. Betty was out of town, so I would meet the bus. Bob was calling from a woman’s cell phone. “A friend,” he said. But it wasn’t Angel. Bob sounded fine – no slurring, no slobbering. In fact, he was kind of eloquent. He complained that Betty was treating him “like a piece of broken glass.” Yes, he’d had some problems, he admitted, and he’d made some “bad business decisions.” Who wouldn’t be just a little bit crazy after all that?

But Betty had told me that Bob was sobbing when he first called her. Desperate. Out of options. Suicidal. Bob may have not realized how much Betty and I had spoken of his situation. So I was resolute. When I met the bus, we would go immediately for an alcohol assessment. You told Betty about your problems, I told him. Those problems are more than Betty and I can take care of. All we can do is try and get you help. That’s not treating you like “broken glass,” I told him; that’s trying to be helpful when you ask for help. The conversation ended, positively I thought, and I hung up the phone.

Two minutes later the phone rang again. I looked at the Caller ID; it was the same Texas cell phone number from which Bob had called minutes earlier.

“Hello?” I answered.

“Gary?” asked a woman with a shrill southern accent. She was also a trifle loud.

“There’s no Gary here,” I said. “I think you have the wrong number.”

“Gary’s my neighbor,” she announced, stretching out the syllables in ‘neighbor.’ “He’s over here!” ‘ Here’ acquired an extra syllable and at least another ‘h’ when she pronounced it. There was a pause. Then the tone changed; she put an edge on her shrill Texas twang. Suspicious now: “Who is this?”

“This is Bob’s brother,” I told her.

“Oh!” she said, clearly relieved. Then in a sing-song: “Bob, it’s for you!”

Bob took the phone. “Bob, did you call me back?” I asked. “No,” he said, sounding chagrined. He felt some need to explain: “Some friends are over helping me to pack.”

“OK,” I said. “I’ll talk to you later.” I hung up.

Oldest Son and Middle Son could contain themselves no longer. As soon as I terminated the connection, they were rolling on the floor, braying like donkeys and barking like hyenas. “Sure, it’s real funny,” I told them. “Your uncle is 45 years old.”

That sobered them up. And I use the word advisedly.

And so the Bob watch began.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Bob comes home -- Part I

Already the details are starting to fade; too much has happened, with too little time for processing. Strong impressions remain; some incidents stand out in stark relief. But I’m writing now, quickly, because there’s a lull in the action. But it’s not over, not by a long shot.

I was stressed to begin with. College tuition was falling due. Middle Son had totaled one of our cars in mid-July. My largest case was threatening to go into discovery overdrive – in theory good for me as a lawyer who bills by the hour – but in practice a disaster, because the client hadn’t paid me and apparently lacked the funds to pay for a protracted discovery battle. This in a case we had essentially ‘won’ in March: The United States District Court had accepted our reading of the relevant insurance policies, granting summary judgment in our favor on this issue – meaning that the insurance company defendants had underpaid my client’s claim by well over a million dollars. But the insurance company acted as if it were bound and determined to make us spend every last dime of our prospective winnings on pointless depositions and document productions.

I knew we were in trouble the day we went to court to protest the defendants’ discovery requests: When I walked into court there was a full size replica of a locomotive on the wall opposite the jury box. Every hose, every ladder, every safety sticker was faithfully reproduced. That’s what discovery in Federal court will lead to – so how could we expect the judge to sympathize with our complaints about being forced to go to Florida to watch opposing counsel wade through a room full of boxed documents having nothing whatsoever to do with the remaining issues in our case? No matter how legitimate our complaints – no matter how disproportionate the discovery was in our case, it was in keeping with the way things are done in that court. Nor did it matter that we had not filed in that court and that the insurers would never get away with this nonsense in the Chancery Court; we’d been removed there by the insurers entirely in accord with the law. The court gave the defendants carte blanche to do what they pleased in discovery; the sop to us was that we could, if we survived to the end of the case, attempt to persuade the court that the defendants had ‘multiplied the pleadings unreasonably and vexatiously’ and attempt to recover our fees from the defendants at that time.

That didn’t sound very promising to me.

In the meantime, the mortgage was unpaid. This has happened before, and if I was handling it better this time, it was still bothersome. There’s always something vaguely upsetting about your wife and children being put out onto the street.

Now this lack of funds was not entirely the fault of the non-paying client, although its was (and still is) by far the largest outstanding bill. The real problem was that I had sent so few other bills: So much time was spent moving or getting ready to move – and moving again – and, sadly, on the loss of a colleague who’d moved with us – that I didn’t have a healthy crop of receivables coming due now. We’re like farmers, you know: We plant our time today, and reap payment (we hope) 90 or more days down the road.

And, of course, I do spend a fair amount of time on this soapbox, confiding to the world.

It was in the middle of all this that Betty called.

Not Bob. Betty.

Betty told me that Bob didn’t want to talk to me. Not right away, anyway. Betty told me that she’d told Bob to come back to Illinois. That he could live with her. And her family. And her bipolar ex-husband.

Betty was pretty shaken: Bob had not only disclosed his lifetime of drinking, but he told Betty that he was also hearing ‘voices’ in his head that made him do ‘bad things.’ He had thought of ending it all.

Betty – thanks to her ex-husband – has some experience in mental health matters. She figured Bob was bipolar, too.

And this image came unbidden to my mind: Bob and Bill (Betty’s ex-husband), sitting in the basement of Betty’s home, trading pills: “That big green one looks interesting,” Bob said. “I’ll trade you two of my red ones for one of your greens.”

I suggested to Betty that the proposed living arrangements might not be a good idea – at least not at the outset. We know Bob has an alcohol problem, I told her; let’s get him treatment for that and we can work on these other issues as we go. Bob living with her might be a step in his recovery, but it should not be the first step.

So I was to begin investigating alcohol rehab centers available to penniless and soon-to-be homeless persons. Betty continued her discussions with Bob, and started talking to him about the need for treatment upon arrival in Chicago. One thing was made clear to Bob: Betty had a number of out-of-town trips planned in the first two weeks of August. He should not plan on coming home before August 15.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Enter The Curmudgeon's siblings

The Curmudgeon has a sister, Betty, and a brother, Bob.

Betty's a schoolteacher, a divorced mother of three. Two of the children take medication to control their attention deficit problems. Betty's ex-husband probably had these problems as a child; he's since been diagnosed as bipolar. And he now lives in Betty's basement.

Betty explains it this way: Her ex-husband can afford either rent or child support, but not both. And Betty needs the child support money so she can send her daughter to the Catholic high school. She agrees that these arrangements may not be conventional, but insists they are practical.

Betty is more or less normal.

At least compared to Bob.

Bob lived with The Curmudgeon's parents well into his 30's, moving out shortly before, or maybe shortly after, their parents became ill with the his and her cancers that would, eventually, kill them.

Bob didn't move out until later in life, but he moved out farther than either of his siblings, going all the way to Texas, where he lived until the last couple of weeks.

Bob came back to Chicago infrequently during this interval. He made it to his father's wake, but stiff as a hinge, according to The Curmudgeon's Long Suffering Spouse. Had he noticed his brother's condition at the time, The Curmudgeon might have been slightly envious -- but if The Curmudgeon noticed at all, he promptly forgot about it.

Bob never married. He may have owned a house once; he said he did -- but he lost it somewhere along the line. He lost every item he brought down from his parents' house. He lost every dollar he obtained from his parents' estates. Most of his stories ended with the police becoming involved, and some species of burglary. Then there were the stories about living with strippers, one in particular apparently, who had a daughter. The daughter was in her late teens. The story ended badly. The Curmudgeon wasn't much interested in these stories, but he heard about them second-hand from some of his cousins, with whom Bob would also, occasionally, communicate. When Bob spoke with The Curmudgeon he talked about his various business ventures. These always ended badly, too.

Bob never talked about his drinking. But The Curmudgeon was always convinced that Bob drank. A lot. And for a long time. The Curmudgeon knew of one incident, when Bob was still in high school, when their father noticed a ceiling tile askew in the basement.

The basement of the house in which Bob, Betty, and The Curmudgeon passed their adolescence was "finished" with wood paneling on the walls, tile on the floor, and a suspended ceiling -- acoustic tiles suspended in a light metal grill. There was no reason for the tile to be askew, not any that Bob's father could puzzle out, looking at it. So he reached up to move it back into place -- and was nearly smothered in the ensuing avalanche of empty beer cans. Bob had stored his empties there.

Bob called Betty about three weeks ago and admitted his drinking. He was out of options. Eviction proceedings were underway to kick him out of his apartment. He wanted to come home.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Security: The first thing we do, let's search all the lawyers

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. -- Benjamin Franklin, 1755

You know you’re in trouble when an alleged humorist opens with an epigram.

But don't worry: I’m not going to contend that having toothpaste in my carry-on luggage is an “essential liberty.” I just wish more people would keep Dr. Franklin's very true statement in mind. Besides – unlike my Younger Daughter – my life does not revolve around hair care products: The shampoo provided by even the cheaper chain motels is just fine for my purposes, thank you.

On the other hand, notwithstanding the contrary suggestion in the accompanying Jack Higgins cartoon from this morning’s Chicago Sun-Times, it wasn’t vigilance by airport security that unmasked the liquid bomb plotters in England yesterday – it was plain old, dull, boring – and obviously brilliant – police work.

And airport security today surely is better than the stereotype skewered in the 1982 movie Airplane II in which Sonny Bono played the most obvious mad bomber imaginable – and still got on board the ill-fated moon shuttle without serious challenge. But stopping would-be bombers in the airport is cutting things a bit close, isn’t it?

So instead, airport security makes a lot of fat, sweaty men take off their shoes – surely an environmental hazard for those around them, as well as a health hazard for those fat, sweaty men doing all of that unscheduled bending. (Damn you Richard Reid!)

I have a great natural sympathy for fat, sweaty men, being one myself and all. Fortunately for all concerned, I don’t have to travel often.

But the first time I did travel after 9/11, and after the capture of the aforementioned Mr. Reid, was late on a Friday afternoon in 2002. I was catching a plane to Kentucky to join my family, away with Middle Son at a baseball tournament. It was Summer. It was hot. I was wearing a suit. I’d been running to and from court and on one errand or another all day long. I was barely on time for the plane as it was. And I was dog tired.

Thus, instead of complying cheerfully, or at least dutifully, with the request to remove my shoes, in my fatigue, I responded with a smart-aleck response – not particularly witty, you understand, just something along the lines of, “You really don’t want me to do this.”

But they really did.

Now I have noticed, on the few occasions that I’ve traveled since, that whatever other sterling qualities they may possess, the fine people of the TSA are not generally endowed with a sense of humor. Nor were they so equipped on this occasion: I was removed from the line where I was and put in a different line. For special handling. I thought I heard the distinctive *snap* of rubber gloves being pulled on. And it occurred to me, a little late perhaps, that this was neither the time nor the place to make a stand for individual liberty and freedom.

I began to remove my shoes. A security guard was watching closely.

Close enough, I’m afraid, that his eyes began to water as soon as I’d peeled off the first shoe. I was thereafter passed through the line without additional difficulty.

So I’ve learned that compliance with security is necessary, and I know, even if I don’t understand entirely why this is so, that increased security measures make a lot of people feel safer in these dangerous times. And I also knew what would happen yesterday when I went to court.

At the Daley Center in Chicago, Sheriff’s deputies make most visitors go through metal detectors, and they run the purses, bags and briefcases of those people through an x-ray machine. This is not entirely a consequence of 9/11; security measures were initially imposed after a lawyer and judge were shot dead by a disgruntled litigant during a court hearing some years ago. Ordinarily excepted from these measures are lawyers and judges, who carry special ID cards, presumably on the grounds that they are more likely to be targets than perpetrators. The ID cards are, of course, checked when we enter the building. However, since terrorists in London were caught in the process of planning to blow up airplanes with liquid explosives, I was certain that the Sheriff’s police in Chicago would deem it necessary to also search all the lawyers coming into the courthouse, just in case. (And, of course, they did.)

Is the reputation of our profession really sunk so low?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

New Declaration of Independence necessary -- this time from oil

No attempt is made at being funny in this post; sometimes the state of the world intrudes.

I saw a reprint of this story in this morning’s Sun-Times; what follows is from Malia Rulon’s article in the Cincinnati Enquirer:
WASHINGTON - U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Miami Township, said Wednesday that she has struck her own blow in the war on terrorism: She bought an ethanol-powered vehicle.

"I will be one of the first in line to buy ethanol this month," said Schmidt, the proud owner of a red 2007 Chevy Tahoe that runs on either the E85 blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline or - if it must - gasoline. Her license plate reads: "E85 4 OH."

But Schmidt said she didn't buy the SUV because ethanol is less expensive or better for the environment. For her, the new car is about stopping terrorism by reducing the amount of money being sent to the Persian Gulf.

"I'd rather give my money to a farmer in Ohio than a Saudi sheik or an Iranian terrorist," she said in an interview.
The Congresswoman is imprecise. There are no problems that arise per se in giving money to Saudi sheiks; the problems come from where the Saudi sheiks send so much of that money. (The alliance with Wahhabism, if now on somewhat shaky ground, has long provided the means by which our Saudi allies have kept their monarchy intact.) And there may not be “Iranian terrorists” as such; the Persians merely finance and supply and train their Shi’a brethren, such as Hezbollah.

The Enquirer article notes that the new alternate-fuel Tahoe retails for $34,000-$47,000 – a fact that has been sized upon by “Schmidt's Democratic opponent, Victoria Wulsin, who... said Schmidt's purchase ‘smacks of insincerity... because not only does it not help us, but she's driving a model that none of her constituents can afford.’"

Somebody has to buy these vehicles, however, so the price can come down: This is the way of technology. Cell phones and computers are ready examples of products which were formerly very expensive, but which became less and less expensive (or providing more and more ‘goodies’ for the same price, which is an illustration of the same principle) as more and more people bought in. What the Republican Congressperson from Ohio is doing – if I may cite on Ms. Schmidt’s behalf a mantra from the Democratic Party – is providing an illustration of the principle, “Think Globally, Act Locally.”

The Curmudgeon is in the market for a new car at present. That is the topic of a much more amusing post which I hope to someday write. Unfortunately, there are no hybrid vehicles or E-85 vehicles anywhere in my price range. I will have to settle for a compact car with the best possible gas milage – and hope that, when next I am forced to buy a car, I will be able to buy one that does not make me contribute, however unwillingly, to further violence in or from the Middle East. Obtaining true independence from oil and gasoline should be a national objective – indeed, an international one, among all of us here in the dar al-Harb.

The need for a real alternative to gasoline is brought home by these two other stories in the news today, one the big story about the Brits foiling a plot to blow up multiple U.S.-bound airplanes, possibly using some sort of liquid explosives – and the other an update on the 11 of 17 Egyptian exchange students who disappeared en route from New York to a “cultural exchange program at Montana State University last month.” Shannon Prather’s story in the St. Paul Pioneer Press describes the arrest yesterday of one of the students in Minneapolis. Two others were arrested in New Jersey after they turned themselves in Wednesday.

Prather quotes FBI sources as saying none of the three students arrested so far posed any threat to national security.
"We have no indication that these individuals posed a terror or criminal threat," said FBI Special Agent Richard Kolko, based in Washington, D.C. "In the post-9/11 world, the U.S. government works very hard to connect all the dots. There is nothing wrong with these guys. It's just an abundance of caution."
This is all very reassuring, of course – but what about the eight still missing?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Star Trek Sings Knights of the Round Table

From something called DevilDucky.

Imagine a metronome

You know, the thing that used to keep time when you were allegedly practicing the piano. Big long pointy needle, swaying back and forth, straight as an arrow, ticking and tocking just a split second ahead... or behind... whatever note you were hitting (or missing) at any particular moment.

Can you see the metronome in your mind now?

Imagine it going forward, to the right -- falling, if you will, toward the top of the piano.

It never quite falls all the way.

But I did. Like a metronome, straight down, without any flexion whatsoever, last night on my way home from work. The tip of my shoe caught in a lip between one slab of sidewalk and the next. The lip was no more than 1½" tall -- barely actionable-- and then only maybe -- according to Illinois case law.

But the difference in slab heights was enough. The tip of my shoe lodged against the upraised slab, and I went forward on my face. I did manage to move my left hand ahead of me, to absorb the worst of the fall (otherwise we might not be chatting at this moment), but my forehead bounced off the concrete, leaving a small, but noticeable, quantity of skin behind.

The sidewalk was uninjured.

My pride is expected to recover.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Back to School -- already?

It seems that the school year starts earlier and earlier each year.

July ended yesterday -- and the school year began in our house.

Younger Daughter got a call from her AP History teacher: She had a term paper due July 15 (talk about your Summer reading!) -- and he was gently inquiring as to its whereabouts. His voice mail mentioned how the assignment was clearly posted on the school website.

Younger Daughter has three basic operating modes -- asleep, on the phone, or on line. But she vehemently denied seeing the assignment on the school site. She claimed to have spoken with a classmate who assured her that nothing was due before the first week of school. Perhaps this girl also got a call yesterday....

Youngest Son is still playing baseball -- although I'm done coaching, the Bluejay Park 13/14 All-Star teams are still in tournament play. But football equipment is being handed out tomorrow. That's a sure sign that the school year is nearly upon us.

LSS got a call from a fellow teacher yesterday; the middle school schedule is a muddle... as it generally is at this time of year. They've begun trying to hash out the various conflicts.

And Oldest Son went back to school shopping yesterday. Mostly, it's true, to replace the clothes he lost on his ill-fated trip to Pittsburgh -- that's one that you'll have to read about in the book -- but he and Middle Son have already started inquiring about when they can use the van to move out. Oldest Son will be gone in just about two weeks.

Yes, some in the family are sad that it's almost school time again. But not me: Soon I'll have my couch back....