Friday, May 28, 2010

Dinner for 35 in a strange city

My work obligations have resulted in my visits here being sporadic this week... and possibly next week, too. But, when time permits, we're telling tales here about Oldest Son's wedding.

It is not true that the father of the groom has no responsibility at a wedding. According to accepted American tradition, he has one -- and sometimes two -- very important obligations.

The one you know about -- and the one which the title of this essay suggests -- is providing the rehearsal dinner. The night before the actual ceremony, all the wedding party will usually gather in the place where the nuptials are to be celebrated, for what amounts to a walk-through. Participants are given their marks: You will stand here, you there, these two will come down the aisle first, and so on. If a religious ceremony is part of the wedding rite, the celebrant (or some designate) will skim over the liturgy itself, so that the people sitting in the front pews know when to stand or sit or, in the Catholic tradition, kneel (Catholic aerobics, some call this). Since someone in the wedding party is probably not a regular church-goer, this is not a bad idea. There is often someone looking up nervously at the ceiling, thinking the place is probably going to fall in. When I got married, one of my groomsmen was an Orthodox Jew. At the rehearsal, the priest made a good save: "Well, OK, he won't be kneeling... let's see how we can rearrange this"... and an awkward moment was avoided on the Big Day itself.

After the rehearsal, the wedding party repairs to some nearby restaurant and the father of the groom provides dinner. The rehearsal dinner isn't that hard to do where the bride and groom are from roughly the same area: Both sets of parents are likely to have enough knowledge of the place to select an appropriate venue. It gets a little harder when one is visiting the place for the first time ever... as was our situation with Oldest Son's wedding.

Back during the Christmas holidays, Oldest Son told me that my pending in-laws had a place all picked out. All I'd have to do would be to call and make the arrangements. It was agreed that we shouldn't mention that this was for a wedding rehearsal; the fear was that the restaurant would jack up the price.

There is nothing I hate more than calling strangers on the telephone. I don't much care for calling people that I do know on the telephone either, not unless I know that they are waiting for my call. I've been the unwilling recipient of far too many unwanted or inconveniently-timed phone calls. (Caller ID and voice mail are really wonderful inventions in my estimation.)

But I was obliged to overcome my reservations due the the persistent entreaties of Oldest Son (who was presumably catching heat from his fiance and her parents). Some time in mid-February, I called. I put a deposit on my credit card. I agreed to set a menu at some undefined point in the future. In the meantime, my pending in-laws went back to the restaurant and sent me a menu.

We didn't communicate directly, mind you. I didn't even meet the bride's mother until the rehearsal. (We were supposed to meet at the shower my wife threw for the happy couple; for why that didn't work out, read this.) But the menu was duly delivered to my office by Oldest Son.

And every item on the menu included mushrooms.

Now, mushrooms and I have never gotten along. Since my insides were removed, I have scrupulously avoided contact with mushrooms on all occasions. So I can't say for certain what they might do to me now. I can say, however, that Older Daughter is downright allergic to the things, complete with swelling and hives and all sorts of other unattractive responses. We simply aren't foodies in my family. Oldest Son may be the pickiest eater among us -- and Long Suffering Spouse is certainly the healthiest -- but none of us can claim a particularly adventurous palate.

Looking at the menu, I found myself thinking of Eric Idle in the Monty Python Spam Cafe sketch.

Eventually, we found a couple of items that didn't have too much spam, er, mushroom in it; my son's fiancee had helpfully marked items that she and her family particularly liked and I finally called the restaurant back. We needed four items -- voila! two from each list.

This was a couple of weeks ago.

The nice events coordinator at the restaurant had begun to think the place might be able to keep my deposit without hearing further from us. But we had a pleasant conversation and she said all my choices sounded "perfect" and she even promised to eliminate the mushrooms entirely from the two largely mushroom-free entrees I'd selected. We also figured out a method for limiting the bar tab to a reasonable amount.

I was particularly worried about the bar tab because this dinner, unlike most, would feature a lot of 20-something guests -- not just the wedding party, but the bridal couple's college friends. We broadened the usual invite list for this event to include all the out-of-town guests; thankfully, not all of them took us up on the invite.

It's not just that I'm cheap -- at the moment, I'm also broke.

All my slow-paying clients have become non-paying. My few good-paying clients have gone slow. Thus, I don't have May's mortgage paid, or the last installment of Youngest Son's tuition, and I'm doing the minimum payment dance on the credit cards. If I were as hard-eyed and practical as I claim to be, I would have sent Oldest Son a nice card and told him to have a good time... without me. But how often does a kid get married?

We'll get through this or we won't, but in the meantime we needed to fulfill our obligation.

And the dinner itself did go well. My little speech was well-received... mostly because it was very short... and everyone seemed to have a good time. My credit card went through without incident. And we only had to walk a block or two back to the hotel. In fact, if the hotel pool had been open when we came out of the restaurant, we wouldn't have had to walk that far. And the party continued in our room and in another room down the hall.

Things didn't get really weird until Shrek and Donkey arrived. But that's a different story.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Meantime, I know I mentioned that there were two possible duties assigned to the father of the groom and I realize I've only mentioned one.

The other possible duty is for the father to rent a tuxedo.

As an inducement to the groom, many rental places offer a 'free' tux after a certain number of rentals. In my day, I guess the magic number was four. Either that or I simply chose not to resist when my father asked me please don't force him to wear a tux. He promised to wear a nice suit instead.

In Oldest Son's case, the magic number may have been five. Like me, he had four groomsmen, but he asked me to rent a tux anyway. I didn't fuss about it; it was one less thing to pack (I could be fitted for the thing a Men's Warehouse near my home and he could pick it up in Texas -- Older Daughter and her husband did the same thing at their wedding). Or, maybe, he just doesn't like my suits.

Anyway, as far as I know, the rehearsal dinner and, sometimes, wearing a tux describes the entire universe of responsibilities for the father of an American groom. Do you know of any others?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
For more wedding-related reading, see:
Apparently, I didn't finish writing about Older Daughter's wedding. Which, on the one hand, is good because there's guaranteed new material, then, for the book, right? On the other hand, it augers poorly for my ever finishing this round of stories....

And, speaking of incomplete efforts, here's a post from 2006 wherein I described how... and why... Long Suffering Spouse and I moved up our wedding date. I promised to write about our honeymoon trip to Mexico, but never quite did. Perhaps some day I will.

If you've read any of my travel posts, though, you'll know it won't be about how easy everything was, or how smooth....

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Getting there is half the fun?

It rained a little in Chicago Thursday evening, though not constantly and not hard. Still, flights were delayed at O'Hare that night, presumably because of severe weather between Chicago and Oldest Son's wedding in San Antonio, Texas.

Older Daughter and her husband were flying from Indianapolis, and Oldest Son was already in Texas attending to last minute preparations, but the rest of us were traveling as a family.

We live close to the CTA train that runs right into the airport (note to Chicago visitors coming downtown -- taking the Blue Line from O'Hare or the Orange Line from Midway is almost always the best way to go). Our plan would have been to walk to the train with our bags.

But my mother-in-law could not walk that distance, with or without luggage. Thus, we had to pick up my mother-in-law, drive her into the airport, leave her with one or more of the kids, go back and park and then walk to the airport. When the time came, Middle Son, Younger Daughter and Youngest Son all opted to keep her company. Middle Son figured to get her through security and to the gate; we'd catch up eventually. That led to some complications in Long Suffering Spouse and I obtaining our boarding passes -- Middle Son had the printouts with all the various numbers on them, but he texted them all to me and the machine finally accepted one of them.

Middle Son also took charge of checking the bags -- I wrote last week about why it was necessary to check some luggage.

We were only an hour and a half late taking off -- and only waiting at the gate for what seemed like forever. When we were finally boarded, we were herded down a stairway and out to the tarmac to get to our plane. I'd boarded a plane like this once before in my limited flying experience, but that was not in Chicago.

And the plane itself was tiny, a CRJ700, operated by someone, the Dogpatch Storm Door and Aeroplane Company perhaps, for United Airlines. The steps to board the plane were built into the fuselage. We clambered up and were folded into our seats like living origami.

I understand that planes are no longer meant to be comfortable. But, on this particular configuration, no matter how I sat, some part of me went numb. My right elbow first -- shift -- then my left leg -- shift again -- then my elbow again. (Oddly enough, we flew back on the same kind of plane, this one operated for American Airlines -- and, though equally small, this second plane was far less cramped. The seats and windows lined up on the second plane, but not the first, leading me to suspect that someone had crammed an extra row into the first plane -- but that is mere speculation on my part.)

The pilot of the delayed Thursday night flight did his best to minimize our period of discomfort: He promised to, and did in fact, make up a substantial amount of time on the journey to Texas. We were only an hour late when we landed... but it was just past midnight. Measuring from the time we picked up my mother-in-law, we'd been traveling 6½ hours already. And we hadn't yet found the hotel.

I'd texted Oldest Son to alert the hotel to our delay -- I didn't want them giving up our rooms. I told him to try checking himself in, if he wanted to, but he did not. He said he'd called.

We got to the rental car lot without too much incident. I'd rented the biggest van I could get for our party of eight. However, this turned out to be a seven passenger minivan.

Younger Daughter got to sit on the floor as we ventured into the early morning.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I had obtained driving instructions from Yahoo! Maps. The shuttle bus driver pointed out, though, that my directions were from the terminal, not from the rental car lot. He told me how I could find my way back to the path I'd marked out.

We came, in the dark, to an intersection. We were at a stop sign. There was a either a divided highway or two parallel roadways intersecting. A bridge overhead suggested the presence of still another roadway, or perhaps train tracks. There was no signage to confirm that this was a divided highway. There was no lighting of any kind and no traffic either.

The absence of traffic can be a curse as well as a blessing: There were no leaders to follow. "Turn left," my wife shouted. "Not there!" she screamed, as I turned, only slightly, before crossing the middle of this intersecting roadway. I was trying to look down the road to see whether it was supposed to have two-way traffic. My wife had correctly concluded that this was indeed a divided highway. I would have been turning into traffic... had there been any.

I'm still not sure how we found the ramp leading into State Route 281, the highway leading from the airport. But find it we did.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I should say something here about my vision, or the lack thereof. Although not yet legally required to do so, I prefer to drive with my glasses on. I need them for distance. My glasses are allegedly bifocals, so I should be able to use them to read as well... but I've never figured out how. So I take off my glasses to read.

Long Suffering Spouse does not wear prescription eyeglasses. But she does wear 'cheaters' in order to read. These are the 1.5x or 2.0x magnifying lenses you can find in any drug store. But reading in the car makes my wife ill. So reading the printed directions is a challenge.

Despite this, however, Long Suffering Spouse usually gets stuck with reading directions because I can't see them at all without taking glasses off -- and, with the glasses in one hand and the directions in the other, I don't have a hand left for the steering wheel.

Most driving safety experts recommend keeping at least one hand on the steering wheel while the car is in motion.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
We eventually found our exit, but -- from what we could see -- it sure didn't look like 'downtown.' Though we were supposed to be housed right by the Riverwalk, San Antonio's 24/7 entertainment zone, we saw mostly old, rundown looking structures. Vacant storefronts. We didn't see any tumbleweeds blowing by -- I guess those grow further west anyway -- but the streetscape sure didn't look inviting or touristy or even particularly safe.

I had hoped Oldest Son would be at the hotel when we got there, but he'd gone off with friends to some gin mill along the Riverwalk. But I proceeded along the streets as indicated on the directions, finding the street on which the hotel was said to be situated.

"There it is!" I finally hollered, pulling into an enclosed courtyard.

"This doesn't look right," said one of my passengers. "This doesn't look at all like the place on the website," said another. "You're in the wrong place!" whined a third.

By this time, it's after 1:00am. I am tired. But the address of the property matches the address of the property on my directions. I have the reservation confirmations with me. This is the address at which I booked our reservations. If I'd screwed up at this point, I'd really screwed up badly: I'd have managed to book us in the wrong place entirely. I put the van in park. "I'll go inside and check," I said. "I'll call Oldest Son," said one of my passengers. "I'll check my GPS," said another. "The picture on line is totally different!" said a third.

My reservations were waiting for me at the front desk. We had six rooms for this party, including a room for Oldest Son, and it took awhile to fill in all the papers. During this entire time, I found out later, my loyal family were continuing to persuade each other that I had led them completely astray. Even the length of time that I was inside the hotel without returning was seen as proof that I had erred. ("He's probably trying to get directions to the right hotel.") Meanwhile, someone had gotten hold of Oldest Son. He was contacted at a tavern and in (perhaps) a slightly altered state, and he was unsure about the address of the right property. Long Suffering Spouse came in to get me at this point. I was almost through registering. "Talk to your son," she said. I stomped back to the van and asked, "Who's got him on the phone?"

I didn't ask nicely. Someone gave me a phone.

There are two Nautilus Hotels in San Antonio (I've changed the real name of the hotels to Nautilus -- but there are two of them). I suppose that, because there are two Hotel Nautiluses in San Antonio, they might have given me the rate Oldest Son had negotiated for his wedding at either of them. This did give me some concern. One of the Hotel Nautiluses, I was told, was right by the Alamo. I thought that we were staying close by the Alamo, too, but I'd not tried to plot that location on any map. One of my GPS-savvy relations did, however, and determined that we were about a mile away. But neither the reception nor the rehearsal dinner were to be held at the Alamo; my printed directions assured me that the addresses of the buildings where these events were to take place were nearby and well within walking distance. Still, my confidence was starting to waiver, just a bit, in the face of all this certainty arrayed against me.

The Alamo was not the landmark that most concerned Oldest Son. "Can you see the Holiday Inn sign?" he asked. "We're not supposed to be at a Holiday Inn," I said. "I know that," he said, "but there's one that's right there. If you're in the right place." I could not see much of anything from the hotel courtyard.

"Well, this is where your room is tonight, if you can find it," I said. "If there's a problem, we'll straighten it out in the morning." I gave the phone back to whoever gave it to me and announced, "We're staying."

"I don't think this is the right place," grumbled one family member to another. "It sure doesn't look like it," agreed another. "I wonder where we're supposed to be," said a third.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Parking is at a premium in this corner of San Antonio. And this is no wonder: The streets are narrow and the vehicles are huge. Everyone seems to have a pickup truck. And each pickup truck looks like it's on steroids.

The young man at the desk told me to pull across the street into the hotel parking lot and look for the security guard. He'd direct me, I was told, to a legal spot. I got a card to put on the dashboard.

But there was no security guard. Eventually, I pulled into a pothole-ridden lot adjacent to the one where I'd been first directed. I came back inside and brought the desk clerk out with me. I indicated the van. In a sea of pickup trucks, the van stood out. "Am I alright there?" I asked. "That'll work," he said.

I went to my room.

"Are you sure we're in the right place?" Long Suffering Spouse asked... carefully, I thought. My red face and bulging neck veins may have provided a cue that I was not interested in pursuing the discussion.

"We'll find out for sure tomorrow," I said.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
There were other issues, too, but I'll save them for the book. The bottom line? We were in the right hotel. And the Hotel Nautilus turned out to be a very nice place after all.

Long Suffering Spouse and I walked to the Alamo later than morning. We'll pick up the narrative there, perhaps as early as tomorrow.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Packing it in for a Texas wedding

We're packing now for Oldest Son's wedding Saturday in Texas. I have a tux waiting for me there. I'll need a suit for Friday night's rehearsal dinner. I can wear that on the plane. Underwear and socks and a couple of other shirts, a pair of blue jeans, and my dress shoes (I'll wear the gym shoes in the airport, thank you) go in a small carry-on bag and... voila! I am finished.

If it wasn't for the TSA, I'd be able to throw my razor and deodorant and eye drops in there, too. I would have room. I could put the eye drops in my pocket so TSA can sniff and inspect and wonder about them. Replacements for the rest are easily procured at the other end of the journey.

Long Suffering Spouse, however, has to take makeup. TSA won't allow that in a carry-on... not without holding everything up to the light at least, making sure nothing is in sizes of greater than three ounces. And female readers may not be surprised to learn that she's not wearing her dress on the plane. So we will have to check one bag. When the plane lands, that will give everyone else something to do while I go get the rental vehicle.

I'm not at all sure why makeup is problematic for our government minders. After all, I am virtually positive that none of the 9/11 terrorists were in drag. Richard Reid tried smuggling explosives in his shoes; our federal protectors decided that, since one person had tried to smuggle explosives in his shoes, all passengers thereafter will have to remove their shoes for inspection. Fortunately the government has (so far) not decided to apply this same logic after the failed effort of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

I told this story before, but it's worth repeating: In the early 2000s, only a year or two after 9/11, I overheard a young lawyer on an elevator in the Daley Center. He was explaining to a friend how TSA had confiscated his nail clipper from his carry-on... but left him in possession of his then fashionable Razor scooter. Seriously: which do you suppose might do more damage in the arms of someone out to cause trouble? A large metal object or a nail clipper? (Halt! Take me to the cockpit or I'll ruin your manicure!)

And there's other stuff, too, that makes packing more difficult for women than for men. Long Suffering Spouse prefers a type of, um, undergarment that has a metal wire enclosed therein. This 'underwire,' as it is called, offers support in places where she wants support. But it also sets off x-ray scanners and guarantees a session with a TSA agent and one of their magnetic wands. So this garment has to be packed. A different garment must be worn in the airport. Neither of these will work with the dress for Saturday or the outfit for Friday. That's two more garments.

My wife is very good. She's managed to find one pair of shoes for both fancy outfits. So she's only bringing two pairs of shoes. But Younger Daughter hasn't announced how many she's bringing yet. The over/under in Vegas is at 3.5. I've got the over.

We are taking my mother-in-law on the plane. To hear her talk, she's bringing a trunk. My mother-in-law wants a wheelchair at the airport because she's worried that the walk to the gate may be too long for her. (She's probably right: Any flight I book is usually assigned the most distant gate possible. And O'Hare -- or "O'Hara" as The Late Mare used to say -- is a pretty big place.)

Chicago has a wonderful train system that connects our airports with the Loop. We can walk from our home to the Blue Line and be in the airport in 10 minutes. But, first, because walking will be a challenge for her, we must drive my mother-in-law to the airport and drop her off. She just figured out how the rest of us are getting to the airport last night. She was shocked; she thought we'd park there.

The sad truth is, were we to park in the airport, and pay the blood money associated therewith, we'd probably have to walk at least as far to the shuttle bus or people mover as we will walk from our house to the train anyway. But my mother-in-law hadn't thought about that. Now she's wondering how she'll get home. We've suggested we'll all take the train and then I'll run home and bring back the car. She's thinking about a cab at this point. We'll see how that develops. While she's afraid of taking the train, she's nearly as afraid of cabs.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Unsolicited advice for King James

Yes, Bee, it's sports today. At least sorta kinda. Haven't done this for awhile anyway.

I don't follow the NBA; I don't much care for the game. I don't like the shot clock. I used to like college basketball; when it went to a shot clock some years back, I found it easy to ignore that too.

But I do know something about media and perception and marketing. (Not my own marketing, perhaps... but that's another story.)

Anyway, pictured here is LeBron James, the very talented, young superstar of the Cleveland Cavaliers. James had been hoping for -- and many pundits who actually follow the NBA had predicted with some confidence that he might actually win -- a championship ring in Cleveland this year. Unfortunately for pro hoops fans in the Buckeye State, King James and his court were dispatched from the NBA playoffs this year by the more balanced Boston Celtics. This leaves King James a free agent, able to take his services to the any team that wants him.

The New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets want him. The Nets were hoping to win the first round draft pick last night so they could woo LBJ (seriously, Bee, if you're still with me, that's what some people are now calling this kid). The Nets didn't get the first pick; New Jersey's hopes may have faded accordingly. Meanwhile, a strip club in New York has promised King James free lap dances for life if only he'll transfer his allegiance to the Big Apple.

New York seemed to be in the running even before this offer -- after all, King James, though a native of Akron, Ohio, has been seen at Cleveland Indians games sporting the war bonnet of the hated New York Yankees.

But who knows?

The Chicago Bulls have cleared cap space to land LeBron or another premium free agent. They even fired their coach so LeBron (or Chicago native, and current Miami Heat employee, Dwyane Wade) could choose their own. One rumor has Kentucky Coach John Calipari returning to the pros as part of a package deal to land LeBron James in Chicago. Calipari coached Derrick Rose in Rose's one infamous season in Memphis (Memphis's trip to the Final Four was officially erased from the record books after it was contended that one player -- possibly Rose -- was admitted to the school on false pretenses. Rose took the ACT in Chicago -- he's a Chicago native -- at least once and did poorly but, somehow, when he went to Detroit to take the SAT he did much better. Mmmmm hmmmm.)

Young Mr. Rose is quite talented. After his one-and-done at the University of Memphis, Rose became the NBA Rookie of the Year. Rose and James might prove a formidable combination in a combined pursuit of NBA glory.

As a Chicago guy, I know it is my place to invite King James to move to Chicago.

But that is not my suggestion.

I hope LeBron stays home. I hope he stays in Cleveland. If he re-signs, he would own the town on account of his 'loyalty.' And it won't just be in Cleveland that he will benefit: James will win the affection of a lot of sports fans around the country who are tired of mercenary millionaires willing to move without looking back in order to squeeze the last dollar out of the next contract. Marketing people will take note. His endorsements will be maximized.

If King James moves anywhere he will be a villain. He will be particularly vilified if he moves to New York. Even if he turns down the lap dances.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

50,000 mile check-up and the density of doctors

Long-time readers (ye few, ye happy few) will recall my brush with cancer in 2007. (The curious can browse the archives in February and March 2007.)

Cancer is one of those gifts that keeps on giving -- to doctors, anyway. Even assuming the best possible outcome -- a complete cure -- once you've been branded with the Scarlet C, you have to submit to medical poking and prodding for the rest of your life just to make sure that the cancer has not returned.

Yesterday was my day to be poked and prodded.

Now because of the surgery I had three years ago, I don't have as much real estate to be surveyed as I once did. That means I could prepare for yesterday's entertainment in a slightly more civilized way than when I had to prepare for the full colonoscopy.

But only slightly.

Let's put it this way: When the Fleet comes into Norfolk, that's a happy occasion. When the Fleet comes in in my bathroom in the pre-dawn darkness... not so much.

We had to be at the hospital by 7:00, we were told, for an 8:00 procedure.

Long Suffering Spouse and I got there at 7:05 and I was snarling and grumbling all the way. Let's put it this way: Oldest Son is getting married on Saturday. If everything is fine and dandy, I don't need a test. And, if everything is not fine and dandy, I really didn't want to know -- and certainly not this week.

But yesterday was the appointed day and we presented ourselves at the main hospital registration desk and I composed myself as best I could. There's no reason to be rude to people who are just doing their jobs.

Even if their jobs strike me as incredibly redundant!

The hospital had to call me, at home, before the procedure to 'pre-admit' me. They could not talk to Long Suffering Spouse -- even though she's far better at remembering the details than me -- they had to talk with me personally. They called home when I was at work. They called home Saturday morning when I was communing with nature; they would not hold the line. Eventually, they reached me on Saturday afternoon.

I had to go through all the gory details of name, rank, serial number, insurance coverage, prior surgeries -- all prior surgeries, the nurse-interviewer stressed. Long Suffering Spouse chided me from the dining room when she heard me talk about a chest procedure that took place a long time ago. "That was 25 years ago," she said. "I know!" I said, "but this young lady says I have to tell her everything, going back to childhood." To my interviewer, I added, "This call is being monitored for quality control purposes."

Anyway, one might think that this rather thorough-going interview on such a wide variety of topics would suffice for a procedure that would take 15 minutes tops, and that only if I asked for full sedation.

One might think that... and one would, of course, be wrong.

My interviewer concluded with a stern admonition to bring my insurance card and identification (such as a driver's license) with me to registration on Monday. When we were eventually ushered into the interviewer's office on Monday, I had the cards at the ready. I put them on the desk. "Oh, I don't think we'll need these," said the registration person, consulting her computer screen for confirmation.

I can't imagine why anyone would insist on ID for this anyway. I know some people have paid substitutes to take college entrance exams. But why would I procure a substitute to take this test? How?

Anyway, I had just finished putting my cards away when the registration lady looked up again from her screen. "Oh," she said, "Blue Cross requires that we see those cards after all." I took them out again, trying to keep my grumbling sotto voce.

Having been duly registered, we were sent on to the GI lab. Now, I've been at this hospital far too many times in the past few years. Not only have I been there for myself, Long Suffering Spouse has also had a couple of procedures performed there. Once, both of us were summoned in the middle of the night because Long Suffering Spouse's mother -- then an in-patient -- had an episode that required our attention.

That particular hospital has been under construction since 1958. Most of the hospitals in this area are under constant construction. They're like dinosaurs: They keep growing as long as they're alive. If a Chicago hospital does not have an active building program it is probably about to close. Maybe it's this way elsewhere, too, but I only know about my hometown.

The latest fad for hospital construction is the new wing with all single rooms. This is a fabulous idea -- and long overdue -- and, at one time, at least, wholly at odds with the insurance companies' views. There were always private rooms, but most of the insurers would only pay for "semi-private" rooms. Semi-private means that there is another patient in the room, not that either of them has, under those circumstances, any privacy at all.

With all the construction going on over the years, even though I've been in many of the various rooms, the routes thereto have been constantly changing. We needed directions to the GI lab. The registration lady got them almost right. Fortunately, someone was at the end of the hall where we wound up who could guide us the rest of the way.

Once at the GI lab, after presenting my papers, I had more forms to fill in with another receptionist. "Did I know what test I was having?" No, I want it to be a complete surprise. You understand that Dr. M. will be performing this procedure? That's what he said anyway. I consented yet again and was directed to take a seat.

Long Suffering Spouse and I sat as far away from the flatscreen TV as possible. I don't think they had a flatscreen in this lounge the last time I was there. In fact, I'm sure they didn't. It's so intrusive. I don't mean to watch. I don't want to watch -- but it's really the only thing happening in the room. This one, at least, was set to CNN and not to some talk show. Perhaps if I'd come later it would have been set to Oprah.

I was almost done with my newspaper by the time I was summoned inside. Long Suffering Spouse brings tests to grade on these occasions. There are always papers for a teacher to grade. I'm not reading a paperback at the moment and I couldn't work with a TV on. I had bought the newspaper earlier, while we were waiting in the registration area.

Buying a newspaper is one way to get served faster in these situations. It's not that it makes the time go faster... how can I explain this? Can you remember back when smoking was allowed in some public places? (Yes, kids, at one time smokers were not officially treated as social pariahs....) I'd stand on the subway platform, waiting and waiting and waiting for a train. If I thought to light a smoke, however, within the first few puffs, I'd see the train headlight appear. In a waiting room, lighting a smoke would get your number called sooner. Not because you were puffing -- but because you'd have to stub it out upon being called. Buying a newspaper doesn't have quite as dramatic an effect on the wheels of fate -- but anyone foolish to light up a cigarette in most places now will probably be Tasered.

We were finally ushered into the inside waiting room. This was where I was to strip off my clothes, put on the lovely gown and shiver under a thin blanket waiting for the doctor to come. But first... there were more questions.

The nice lady at registration had asked some of the questions that the nurse-interviewer asked just last Saturday afternoon. Now the nurse in the holding area asked all the others. Again. I could see my answers on the computer screen in front of her as she went through the list. And, of course, I had to give my name again. Was it spelled correctly on my bracelet? Was my birth date correctly shown? Does the doctor take off points for spelling? I wondered. If not the doctor, then who?

Soon enough, though, with all this duplication of effort, it was nearly 8:00 and time for the show to begin.

I would contend that, inasmuch as this particular doctor was so much younger than me, he should be seen as no more than the juvenile lead in this show. I would further submit that I should be the leading man in our little drama. After all, it was my derriere and the secrets contained, *ahem*, behind that were the reason why we were all assembled this morning.

Except that we weren't all assembled.

The doctor was late.

He called, at one point, to say he was on his way. But that was somewhere around a half-hour after he was supposed to begin. And he wasn't there yet.

I watched a steady stream of people walk into the holding area, watched the curtains close around their cubicles, watched them open again and various medical professionals descend upon them, and watched them wheeled off to their respective procedures. I watched, too, as others were wheeled back. Some could leave sooner than others. I saw some leave. I saw some leave that had arrived after me.

But still... no doctor.

Finally, the nurse returned and said that Dr. M. was "five minutes away," and she wheeled me out to my room. This was where Long Suffering Spouse and I were parted. She still had her tests. I gave her my newspaper, which I had long since exhausted.

We got to the procedure room well over an hour after the scheduled time. My wife had promised to be back in school by now.

A new nurse was waiting in the procedure room. She and my holding area nurse conferred about the doctor's anticipated arrival and how backed up he would now be going forward. The new nurse said she'd used her unexpected time well, getting a lot done, but, she said, she was still peeved about something.

It turns out that this hospital provides 'flex-points' of some sort as part of the benefits package. These can be used, just like dollars, for any purpose that the employee wants. And this particular employee had decided to use her points on needed dental work.

And the hospital had called to challenge her on this. "That's a lot of points you're using here," she was told by the program administrator. "Well, yes," she replied, "but they're my points to use as I see fit." I gather she persuaded the administrator, but not without something of an argument. At this point, I ventured to speak.

"Let me see, now," I said. "We have a tardy doctor and an angry nurse. Maybe I should just leave now."

Both of the nurses thought that was very funny. It did relieve the tension, I suppose, but I wasn't entirely kidding.

Moments later, Dr. M. arrived, apologizing profusely and taking off his jacket. His flight this morning had been canceled, he said, and he had to make do with a flight on Southwest. His original flight would have landed at O'Hare -- minutes away from the hospital -- but Southwest flies only to Midway in Chicago -- on the other side of town. He had to take a cab at rush hour... and it took awhile.

"Where were you coming from?" I asked.

"Minneapolis," he said. "I was at a conference." Apparently, he had plans to head back in the afternoon, too. He snapped on his rubber gloves and began applying lubricant. Showtime!

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Everything went fine thereafter. I was a wimp and needed just a touch of painkiller to finish what needed finishing.

But now I was wheeled back to the holding area. I was fine. And ready to leave. And very late.

But the staff was concerned that my blood pressure was elevated.

Well, duh! What would you expect? I didn't want to be there, I was doing something unpleasant and -- in contrast to my younger days, before I had a bad diagnosis -- I have every reason to fear the outcome of these tests.

They gave me some apple juice and my blood pressure dropped 30 points. Then it soared again.

Fingers, hoses, air, water and a camera had all been pushed, as the song says, the wrong way up a one way street. There are consequences to these actions -- inevitable, regrettable and certain. And I certainly did not want these consequences to happen in my little bed. I needed a few moments in the little patients' room. But the staff was reluctant to disconnect me so I could attend to these increasingly urgent matters -- because my blood pressure was spurting.

Well, duh!

I prevailed, eventually. Upon my return, my blood pressure was lower, but still too high to please my minders. Even Long Suffering Spouse was counseling deep breaths.

My internist had been notified. He'd prescribed a pill to lower my blood pressure and suggested that they should monitor me for an hour to see if things settled down.

Another hour? My blood pressure spiked again. I took the pill -- though I could have easily palmed it -- my new attendant being focused, as she was, on the numbers displayed behind me.

I told her I was not going to wait another hour. I felt fine and I'd be leaving now, thank you.

"You mean you are going against your doctor's advice?" The nurse was young. I think she was shocked. Maybe I imagined it.

"You betcha. He'll get over it," I said.

I thought there would be all sorts of forms to fill out documenting my refusal, but they let me go without too much protest. The nurse did insist on wheeling me to the car, however.

I can't understand doctors. For smart people -- and they are all whip smart, in my experience -- they can be awfully dumb.

Oldest Son is getting married Saturday. I am in a cash crisis at work. My mortgage is unpaid this month. My receivables are high... my collections nonexistent. I have all sorts of extraordinary expenses associated with the wedding. And, on top of all that, I'm stuck at the stupid hospital, a couple hours late already, and the only thing they can think of is to keep me there longer to see how I respond? Apparently a medical degree can blind a person to the obvious.

I was far happier going home.

As for my blood pressure, there's nothing wrong with it that a check for $50,000 wouldn't cure. Sadly, that's not covered on my Blue Cross.

The good news is that I have two more years before I must be poked and prodded again. Maybe. Probably.

Now, on to the wedding!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Everything I need to know I get from the comics, part 4,789

Oldest Son gets married a week from today -- in Texas -- so I'll be traveling. Maybe that's why this cartoon struck me so funny:

(Click to enlarge.)

My kids would expect me to say just what the lobster on the left says here.

Fine. Alright, I do miss film cameras -- you could see what you were attempting to photograph through the viewfinder. Depending on the camera, you might even be able to focus on the object of your picture -- that you could see through the viewfinder, remember -- instead of letting the camera decide what to focus on.

The modern digital cameras can make lovely pictures, but usually by accident. Have you ever actually seen an image on the LCD on the back of a digital camera while attempting to photograph something in full daylight? I sure haven't. I wind up taking pictures of feet or sky or elbows. My fingers don't get in front of the lens -- that was a favorite trick of mine in the film days -- but in a crowd, I inevitably include the top of someone's head in the foreground. And it is on that unknown head that the camera will inevitably decide to focus.

"Tree Lobsters" cartoon taken from this site. You may find some of the cartoons on this site offensive -- I have -- mainly because the (presumably very young) cartoonist confuses hipness with hostility toward religion -- but, hey, this episode was funny... and many other Tree Lobster episodes are as well.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Please note: They call the site Fake Science

If you're reading this in, say, Texas, you might not get that right away.

These very amusing cartoons, and a lot more in this same entertaining vein, are taken from a site called Fake Science (motto: "Fake Science is for when the facts are too confusing"). (Thanks to Popehat for the introduction.)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Lessons in cookie cutting... and government?

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg was making a point about something else entirely when he wrote:
With two boys, 18 months apart, I spent years bisecting cookies with a diamond cutter's care and dividing cake slices with a surgeon's focus, knowing that should one half contain a few crumbs more than the other, the recipient of the smaller piece would howl "It's not fair! His piece is BIGGER!"
Poor, poor Mr. Steinberg. I thought most parents figured this out on their own: If you have two children competing for half of the last cookie, there is no way you can satisfy either of them by trying to divide it yourself.

Instead, tell the one with the better motor skills (usually the older one, but, hey, sometimes a kid is left-handed) that he can cut the cookie in half -- but his sibling gets to pick what half he or she wants.

The appointed divider knows that any inequitable division will result in him getting the smaller piece -- so he (forgive my using the masculine gender here, but it's usually boys in this situation, as it was in Mr. Steinberg's household) will be scrupulous in his efforts to divide the cookie exactly. Meanwhile, the appointed chooser will be measuring crumbs at an atomic level so that he may be assured of snagging the bigger piece, even if it's bigger by only a molecule or two.

Dad's role in this process thereafter is to watch -- mostly making sure one of the two doesn't grab the whole cookie and make a break for it.

Both sides will grumble at the outcome -- but it is quite a different grumbling than occurs if the parent tries to cut the cookie himself. In that situation, both kids will think the old man has favored the other sibling. That resentment will be filed away and surface at the most inopportune times. Like prom night. Or when Dad takes ill and needs help at home.

On the other hand, when the kids do it themselves, both may grumble that the other got away with something -- but their very competitiveness will prevent their giving voice to these inner doubts. To do otherwise would be tantamount to the grumbler admitting that he'd cut poorly... or chosen badly. Of course, each may crow that he got the better deal and poor old Dad may have a new controversy to resolve... but not always.

It's amazing that parents fail to realize that these hard-learned lessons have application outside the home as well.

Consider the role of government. Government is often described as a mediator among competing interest groups. That's a description that applies to snotty little kids, isn't it? And looking at the super-geniuses from BP, Transocean and Halliburton crying "Not me! Not my fault!" in a Congressional hearing room the other day, how could one not think of snotty little kids?

Anyway, when government tries to divide the cookie itself, it becomes resented, distrusted, an object of scorn. But that is one kind of government regulation. On the other hand, when government allocates and supervises the division of the cookie, the interest groups are (usually) pacified. Until the next cookie needs division. This doesn't mean that all government regulation should be done in courts, but a judicial approach -- even outside the courtroom -- is better than a managerial approach.

When I read about reining in Wall Street (and Wall Street's anguished squeals of protest against any government intervention that doesn't just provide them with piles of money when they screw up) I wonder what sort of regulation is contemplated.

President Obama's "Fakebook" page

From the Chicago Tribune website. Click to enlarge:

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Elena Kagan and the American aristocracy

My late father was right about so many things, but in this one area he was simply wrong. And naive.

"Where you go to school is really unimportant," he said, "at least after you've been out a couple of years. At that point, no one cares where you went, only what you can do and how well you can do it."

A concise summary of a core American value, wouldn't you agree? And, maybe, it was even true for awhile in my father's time, in the heady days after World War II, when the need for college-educated professionals exploded and beneficiaries of the GI Bill rushed forward to fill the need. It must have been a frontier situation. (It always comes back to Frederick Jackson Turner, doesn't it?)

But if this was once true, it is true no longer.

The nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court of the United States provides another illustration of this point: Elite positions are reserved for members of the elite alone.

Our American aristocracy has no dukes or marquesses to help one sort out who is above whom. And, importantly, one need not be born into it to become a member of our American aristocracy.

The old Romans used to refresh the ranks of their aristocracy by adopting (co-opting) promising individuals. In America we do it by college degrees. At least since the 1960s we've opened up the ranks of our American aristocracy so that it "looks like America" by reaching into the masses and plucking a few of the best and brightest of our youth. Thus Bill Clinton climbs up from Arkansas, first to Georgetown -- and then, after winning a Rhodes Scholarship, to Yale Law School. Michelle Robinson (now Michelle Obama) gets recruited from Chicago to Princeton and thence to Harvard Law School. Barack Obama started college at Occidental College in Los Angeles -- a very good liberal arts school -- but where would his career have gone if he hadn't transferred to Columbia University? (From there he cemented his status in the elite by going to Harvard Law School.)

But the principle of inclusion only goes so far. One cannot ascend the to summit of the Ivies and then concede that a graduate of Cornell College, the Iowa liberal arts school, can be the equal of a graduate of Cornell University of Ithaca, New York.

And who would be more jealous of the prerogatives of the elite than those newly admitted? You don't need a conspiracy theory or secret cabal to keep the elite marching in lockstep. Common interest will be more than sufficient.

Humans are instinctively tribal and -- like a lot of primates -- hierarchical. If (at least grudgingly) we acknowledge that we have betters it is because, in such a system, there's always someone who is our inferior, too.

There are valid distinctions among people -- some are smarter, some are better looking, some sing better, some are stronger. But full expression and fulfillment of our talents is available only when humans are thinly distributed on the ground. When we get more bunched together, as in modern urban settings, artificial distinctions must be added to satisfy our need for minute stratification.

My grandmother used to tell the story about how, when people arrived in Chicago from County Mayo (God help us) at the turn of the century, they tended to settle on the near Southwest Side. And no one had anything then; they were all equally poor. Equality is great in theory -- and impossible in practice. Distinctions had to be found... or imagined. A person newly arrived would scout out the parish church and look to see if anyone in the congregation was from his or her home village. If not, then he or she could gain status over the neighbors by asserting a more exalted (and imaginary) family pedigree. County Cork had farms with actual dirt in those days, as opposed to County Mayo where there were only big stones and littler ones. So the people of Cork were generally more prosperous. Anyone with relatives there, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, must surely be better of than everyone else. (My grandmother's people, she told me, were from County Mayo -- but my grandfather -- who died years before I was born -- his people, my grandmother said, were from Cork.)

A person's Harvard degree is no guarantee that he or she is smarter than the next person, who went to the University of Illinois; they may be equally smart, in fact, with the edge going to the fellow from Champaign even, but if there are only limited elite opportunities around, the Harvard man will usually get the edge. Aristocracy. Multi-ethnic now, even multi-racial, but no less exclusive for all that.

In other words, you will never, ever see a DePaul Law School graduate on the Supreme Court of the United States. Of the current bunch, only John Paul Stevens didn't take an Ivy League degree -- but, then, he's a WWII vet who came from Northwestern.

Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Kennedy and Breyer went to Harvard Law School -- Ms. Kagan's law school alma mater.

Justices Thomas, Alito, and Sotomayor went to Yale Law School.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg didn't graduate from either Harvard or Yale. But she's all Ivy: She went to Cornell University and Columbia Law School. (And Justice Ginsburg started law school at Harvard -- transferring to Columbia, according to her Wikipedia biography, when her husband took a job in New York City.)

With the frontier gone, in an increasingly crowded nation, our American aristocracy will gain an increasingly firm hold on all elite offices and positions. Ours may be the most inclusive, diverse and porous elite in the history of mankind. But don't kid yourself: It's still an aristocracy.

And we are still peasants.

At least until the next frontier opens up opportunities again.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Elena Kagan for John Paul Stevens

Oddly enough, no one's asked me about it, but I'll tell you anyway: There are some good things to say about the nomination of former University of Chicago Law Professor (and current Solicitor General) Elena Kagan to replace John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court of the United States.

All the pundits are trying to get a handle on Ms. Kagan's politics -- and how she will 'move' the Supreme Court during what should be, given her relative youth (she's 50), a long tenure. Early in her career, she clerked for Thurgood Marshall and, before that, for former North Shore Congressman (and then-D.C. Circuit Judge) Abner Mikva. Judge Mikva is among those few generally given credit for launching Barack Obama on his meteoric rise; I'd not be surprised if Judge Mikva spoke with the President about (and endorsed) this appointment.

Kagan's liberal "cred" is, I suspect, impeccable.

But she's Establishment, too: I rather doubt that there have been many wild-eyed crazies who have served as Dean of the Harvard Law School.

Most important, though, from my standpoint: She's never been a judge. Not since William Rehnquist has someone joined the Supreme Court bench without sitting as a judge somewhere else.

This kind of diversity has to be good for the Court.

Obviously, Kagan has lived in some cloisters of her own -- a rarefied government circle, as Solicitor General and a number of appointments in the Clinton White House before that -- and, of course, in the Ivory Tower of Academia. But... at least... these are different cloisters than the circuit bench.

That's progress, of a sort.

Republicans are fulminating about this: There's no record of how she has ruled in prior cases to predict how she might rule in the future. And Kagan is drawing flak for writing an article, 15 years ago or so, in which she criticized the Supreme Court confirmation process as vacuous, farcical and devoid of substance.

Kagan's confirmation hearing will be no different -- not if she is to be seated. Grandstanding Senators from both parties will demand that Kagan commit herself on abortion, gay rights, and the proper reach of executive power. Some idiot will undoubtedly ask for her opinion on Obama Care. Were she ever to answer such loaded questions, she would be committed, not confirmed.

I assume that Ms. Kagan will be confirmed. And it may be a good thing for the Court to finally get the viewpoint of someone who has not been a career jurist.

Now, if we could just break away from the Ivy League... maybe get someone who's sat in Congress... someone who's excelled in the private sector. Maybe then Supreme Court opinions could be useful to practitioners -- and not wannabe law review articles that raise more questions than they settle.

Hey, a fella can dream, can't he?

Monday, May 10, 2010

About breast cancer awareness... and other things

A lot of ballplayers were using pink bats at U.S. Cellular Field yesterday as my beloved Chicago White Sox dropped another game to the Toronto Blue Jays.

They were using pink bats all around the majors yesterday as MLB raised awareness and funds for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation. There were also walks and runs and other fundraising events here in Chicago and across the country on Mother's Day.

Long Suffering Spouse and I attended yesterday's ballgame, courtesy of Oldest Son, who now has the kind of weekend season tickets we used to have in those happy days before tuition. He couldn't go because he had his bachelor party Friday night and Saturday night -- and he figured (correctly) he might need some recuperation time thereafter.

So he'd given us his tickets as a Mother's Day/Anniversary present. (It was our 28th Anniversary Saturday. Thank you.)

Anyway, Oldest Son's seats are better than the seats we used to have when he was little -- and I could see where, on a steamy, hot Sunday afternoon his seats (in full shade, with a breeze off the concession area) would be simply fabulous.

Yesterday, though, with the temperature in the 50s -- well, we lasted a few innings, then decided to move around to seats in the sunshine.

We were not alone. By the late innings of the game, almost no one was left in the shade -- and almost no seats were to be had in any areas receiving full sun.

The area where we came to rest was largely populated by persons who'd participated in one of the breast cancer charity events earlier that day. I knew that because many were sporting distinctive t-shirts: "Boob Supporter," for example. I saw a lot of women wearing these. Another woman wore a t-shirt with a black, lacy brassiere imprinted on the front, festooned with a pink ribbon where a rosette might sometimes be found. Her t-shirt read, "I Support the Girls." Then there was the man with the t-shirt that read "I ♥ Boobs." In parentheses near the bottom of the shirt was printed the admonition, "If you don't check 'em, I will."

It occurred to me that, on almost any other day, this man would have had his face slapped by just about every woman who happened to read his shirt. I mentioned this to Long Suffering Spouse.

"I don't know why breast cancer gets all this attention," my wife said. "There are other cancers that cause more deaths than breast cancer. Lung cancer and colon cancer to name two." (Colon cancer doesn't just run in my family; it practically gallops. I've had colon cancer. So we are aware of these things.)

As I mulled my wife's statements over, two thoughts occurred to me. But I only talked about one. "Imagine, if you will," I told her, "a colon cancer awareness campaign: What sorts of smart-aleck t-shirts could you come up with for that?"

She made a face. "Oh," she said. "They'd be gross."

"Precisely," I said, and went back to watching the game.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Words you can't say at work?

I saw that headline on Yahoo! this morning and my first thought was how many ways can you reuse the classic George Carlin routine?

But I looked anyway... and it turned out to be an apparently serious article by Linda Durre on It also turned out that the list was more George Lucas than George Carlin.

Tops on the list of words one should not use at work?

Try "try."

Apparently modern employers are like the Jedi Master, Yoda:

I work alone -- and maybe this is one reason why -- but I can't imagine why "I'll try" or "we'll see" are supposedly workplace no-no's. Why in the world would anyone agree to do something before he knows whether it can be done? If I had minions (something I wish for in my prayers each evening) and I said to one them, "Billingsgate, I want a proposal for a workable perpetual motion machine on my desk before 5:00pm today!" and Billingsgate said, "Sir, yes, sir!" I would think him the biggest idiot in the world. I'd fire him at lunchtime. Also on the proscribed list are some of the most vital phrases in the lawyers' arsenal: "I'll get back to you," "I don't know," and "We'll see." I suppose this may be every client's secret fantasy: You call your lawyer (Milo) and you say, "Milo, tell me yes or no, is the new health care bill constitutional?" Even if Milo helped to write the darned thing, how can he answer that question? "Milo, about that case we just filed: Will we win?" If Milo has a brain in his head he doesn't answer that question yes or no even if it's not asked until the day before trial. "Milo, the Supreme Court just handed down a decision in the Jones case. Does that help or hurt us in our case?" I'm breaking out in a cold sweat just imagining these scenarios. Not only would it be the death of the billable hour -- how in the world could any competent lawyer presume to answer any of these questions without research, investigation, careful thought -- and the liberal use of every weasel word on the proscribed list? Maybe Ms. Durre was intending satire and I am too dim to recognize it. But I think I would have been far happier reading a rehash of the old George Carlin routine.


P.S. -- Did you realize... that these two guys are really the same guy?

I don't know if that enhances my respect for Fozzie Bear or diminishes my regard for Yoda....

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

A request for wedding pictures and the very good reason why we probably can't comply

Oldest Son called his mother last night with what seemed like a simple request.

His fiancee is gathering wedding pictures -- her parents' pictures, her grandparents' -- with the idea of setting up a little display at the reception. Oldest Son asked if Long Suffering Spouse could provide pictures of our wedding. We've got lots of these. But the boy also wants pictures of his grandparents' weddings. Long Suffering Spouse thinks she can supply a picture of her parents' wedding day -- if her mother will let us make a copy. A picture of my parents' wedding, though, will be harder to find.

I've seen at least one picture of my parents' wedding. My father always said he and my mother decided to tie the knot in a hurry -- no six months' notice required in those pre-Vatican II days. At least not for them. A Jesuit friend did the honors on a Saturday; my father always insisted that, right after, he had to cancel a date that had been set for that Sunday.

Can you imagine that phone call?

"I have to break our date today?"


"I got married yesterday."

How does one respond to that?

Anyway, while I know there were some snapshots taken on their wedding day, they weren't prominently displayed in my parents' house. They weren't displayed at all.

I've sent an email to my sister Betty asking if she has picture of my parents' wedding that she can scan and send. But I'm not holding out a great deal of hope.

It's not that my parents had to marry in a hurry; if you must know, I was born a few months before their second anniversary. It's just that, one day, they simply decided it was time to cast their lot together.

And they did.

'Til death did them part.

Just the way they write about it in books. (Except for the part about the His and Her Colon Cancer that claimed them. They hardly ever mention that kind of thing in the classic romances. But they faced that together, too.)

My parents always said that a wedding is one day; a marriage is a lifetime. The wedding day was just another day and the record of that day blended in and was ultimately lost in the record of their lives together.

I think that's a pretty good reason for not being able to come up with my parents' wedding picture. I wonder if Oldest Son and his fiancee will understand.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Anonymity... and work... prevail

Remember that project I alluded to last week? The one that would -- and did in fact -- keep me from blogging all last week?

Well, it's still not done. In a sense, it's not begun, though I've got a much better handle now on the appellate record.

But time is becoming an issue, what with the wedding and all.

Recently, a couple of you were nice enough to send me invitations to "friend" you on Facebook. This would, of course, require me to drop my anonymity. I can't.

And it's projects like this currently undone one that make my dropping the mask impossible (see, I am going to try and tie these together).

I dread the day when this blog does come to the attention of my family (and to the attention of Long Suffering Spouse in particular) -- unless of course I have a book contract and an advance to go along with the revelation. Failing that, I can hear my wife's dismay as she looks at my 1000+ posts (1275 as of today, and counting) and asking -- this is what you were doing when you were supposed to be working?

Actually, even if I wasn't writing on line, I'd be reading. I have the attention span of a gnat -- I sign on line intending to check the status of a case on the Clerk of the Circuit Court's website... but, since I'm on, I have to check my email. And what are the headlines? I have to see if the world might have ended since I last logged on, don't I? And then there are other sites I like to visit... cartoons... I have a regular morning routine. So I'd probably spend far too much time on line to seem efficient in any event.

My other problem seems to be that I like this blog. I enjoy writing it. I particularly enjoy that at least a few people actually read it and seem to enjoy it, too. It's been a great memory aid and a way to relieve pressure. I think of each morning's post as a kind of exercise -- it's just... well, sometimes I spend too long in the gym.

(And, trust me, that's something that never happened in my real life!)

Long Suffering Spouse says I do my best work when I'm up against the hardest deadlines. She's probably right. I'd muse more on this topic... but I have to get ready for court now. Maybe after that I can get back to my brief?

No, I doubt it also.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Oldest Son on the move... and thus we are, too

We are in the merry, merry month of May now. In just a few weeks Oldest Son will be married. His lease was up Saturday and his fiancee had to be out of her apartment the day before. And Oldest Son was unable to get a key to the new place until late Saturday morning.

Even with this, Oldest Son has it relatively easy: His roommate (who is standing up to the wedding) is keeping the old apartment and a new mutual friend is moving in. Oldest Son's fiancee, though, had to be installed promptly in the new apartment. Her parents are in San Antonio, Texas. She'll be there, too, in just a week or two... but the pieces must be moved on the chessboard now.

Both Oldest Son and his fiancee live in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. At least I'd call it Lincoln Park. Neighborhood names are a little... flexible... in the City, particularly in desirable areas. Realtors like to expand the boundaries of the better neighborhoods, whenever possible.

Anyway, the kids' old apartments were about three blocks apart. Their new home is about smack dab in between. I'll pause while you coo isn't that precious?... or gag... depending, most likely, on your gender.

Long Suffering Spouse and I made a capital contribution to all these moves: We put the seats down in the family van and gave Oldest Son the key Thursday night... and again Saturday morning. The family minivan had become the mini-moving van. (Cue "Transformers" theme....)

Oldest Son called Saturday afternoon. "What are you doing?" he asked. All innocent-like.

"Well," I said, "I just finished cutting the back yard and your mother is gardening."

"Oh," he said, perhaps intending to feign interest. "What are you doing in the next couple of hours?"

Well, anyone could see where this was going. But in a couple of hours, Youngest Son was supposed to return from his high school varsity baseball doubleheader and quickly change for the Junior Prom. Long Suffering Spouse wanted pictures. Middle Son and Younger Daughter had indicated a desire to come over and heckle. We could go over and help but the laws of physics would prevent our getting back in time for Youngest Son.

Particularly since we had no car. Oldest Son had the van and Youngest Son had the other car. I reminded Oldest Son of these facts but added, "I'll tell your mother." I figured that was safe. "OK," he said, seeing clearly where I was going.

When Long Suffering Spouse next came into the backyard I hollered out that I'd heard from Oldest Son. I relayed the substance of our conversation. I was thinking seriously about taking a nap next.

But Long Suffering Spouse surprised me. "We have to go help him."

I tried presenting the immutable laws of nature for her consideration. And the fact that we had no car. "I'll call my mother," she said.

Well, Abuela was dyeing her hair, getting ready for the anticipatory Mass at our parish church. She'd made arrangements to have her late husband and my late mother remembered at that Mass. (Saturday was the 10th anniversary of my mother's passing.) So she really couldn't give us her car because there was no way she'd make it to the church if we did anything more than wave hello to Oldest Son and his fiancee as we drove by, watching them carry stuff.

Even I knew that this would have been cruel.

But Abuela said, "OK, just give me a couple of minutes."

She drove over; Long Suffering Spouse drove her back. Meanwhile, Middle Son called to cancel on heckling his little brother. He'd decided that would be mean. And a cousin called to confirm his attendance at Oldest Son's nuptials. I picked up the phone calls and lost my chance for even a short nap.

We were almost out the door when Oldest Son called again. I thought he'd gotten my message -- but he must have known instinctively what his mother would do. "When you get close," he said, "call me. I have a parking spot."

Parking in that neighborhood is always at a premium.

We eventually got there and Oldest Son moved our van from a legal spot to an illegal one, allowing us to park. He put the flashers on. That way, any passing cop couldn't miss the fact that the vehicle was illegally parked.

Oldest Son's old apartment was a shambles. The new tenant had dumped his stuff in the dining room, on top of the wedding presents. Oldest Son had moved his fiancee's stuff into his room because. So we had to pull his stuff and her stuff out.

Long Suffering Spouse took command instantly. The kids were moving at far too slow a pace. "I don't remember the kid helping us out when we moved into our first apartment," I grumbled to Long Suffering Spouse.

"Well, he wasn't born yet."

"You call that an excuse?"

We got the van filled up on the double-quick ("I would have put more in," Long Suffering Spouse fretted) and Oldest Son drove it over to the new place. Long Suffering Spouse and I walked.

The kids' new apartment is on the second floor. So there were stairs. Eighteen stairs, in all, and fairly steep. We went up and down quickly, Long Suffering Spouse cracking the whip the whole while.

Oldest Son wanted help with the mattress. This was perhaps the heaviest item to be moved save for his giant TV set... and there was no way he was letting me get hold of that. Long Suffering Spouse doubted it would fit in the van. It'll have to bend, I said.

I kept trying to remind my wife about the time... how she was adamant that Youngest Son could not leave the house until she determined that he was suitably turned out. "We'll get the mattress," she said.

Oldest Son took one end and I took the other and we got it into the van -- bent. A couple of small items were added quickly and we took off again. While Long Suffering Spouse and I were walking over, Youngest Son called. "Where are you?" he said. "I have to leave."

Darn those laws of nature, anyway!

I told him that we had to move the mattress up the stairs. If I survived, we'd be home directly after.

That mattress was at least as heavy as it looked. I told Oldest Son I'd take the bottom. Because of the way the stairs turned, we had to switch once. But we succeeded. I told Oldest Son that, if he needed it to get the move finished, he could keep the van overnight. We then made our hasty goodbyes and got back onto the Kennedy... and right into heavy traffic.

At 4:50, I persuaded Long Suffering Spouse to call her mother and tell her we were coming. "I didn't even dry my hair," Abuela said. Even she could see that my wife had set on an impossible course of action. In the meantime, I'd had to scream at Youngest Son to stay put; that we were en route; that we'd be there shortly. "I've already missed the group pictures," he told us. "I still have to pick up my date." After my mother-in-law acknowledged reality, Long Suffering Spouse said, "See, we can go home first, now, and get him out. Then I'll bring her car back."

Youngest Son was fit to be tied. He looked nice -- we'd bought him a suit for the occasion and Long Suffering Spouse had tailored the pants. She wanted to see how it all turned out. But he was snarling and I was biting my tongue and Long Suffering Spouse was... looking for her camera.

Eventually Youngest Son made it to the prom. I suppose you could say I got my nap after dinner... until 1:00am when Youngest Son began texting us about staying out later than 2:00am as previously negotiated. But that's a different story.

* * * * * * * * * * *
Sunday afternoon in the Curmudgeon home. I was doing the laundry and wondering whatever became of our van. Long Suffering Spouse was grading papers. The White Sox were getting blown out of the Bronx.

The phone rang. It was Oldest Son.

It turns out that Oldest Son did not take any more loads over to the new place Saturday night because he'd lose his parking space if he did -- he had no one there to hold it for him. (I told you parking was at a premium in that area.) It also turns out that he had anticipated having more help on Sunday -- but his expectations had not been realized.

"You mean your posse didn't show?" Long Suffering Spouse asked. Long Suffering Spouse hardly ever says things like "posse." Unless she's describing the plot of a Western.

"Maybe he wants the Over-the-Hill-Gang again," I said... not really meaning it, you understand, but knowing that, if Long Suffering Spouse was determined, I'd have no choice. Best to be gracious, I thought.

"He says no," said Long Suffering Spouse. "He doesn't want us." Apparently my pop-eyed, purple face when I got to the top of the stairs with the mattress yesterday had put him off. And he still had that giant TV to move. Youngest Son was unavailable -- he was doing a school project with a classmate at the other kid's house.

Long Suffering Spouse was not happy about being asked -- albeit politely -- not to come... but to refer any able-bodied children of ours that might become available.

"If I'd been doing this, they'd be done by now," she said.

And I'd be done for, I thought to myself. And only to myself.

Middle Son eventually came to his brother's rescue. I called early Sunday evening to thank him, regaling him with tales of my climb up those back stairs with the mattress the day before.

But if the job was done, as Middle Son advised, where was my van? Since I had Middle Son on the phone, I asked him. "They're shopping," he said. "They need a new TV stand."

"You know," I told Middle Son, "I want those two to get a car soon. I just don't want it to be mine."

* * * * * * * * * * *
Oldest Son showed up, looking dead on his feet, about 9:45pm. We had to drive him back.

He'd left the gas tank just about empty, too.

Long Suffering Spouse wanted to talk on the way home. "You don't suppose they're living together, just two weeks before the wedding, do you?"

"Not me," I said, "I'm sure everything's according to Hoyle."

"I hope so. I'd be really disappointed in them both."

"Don't ask any questions," I said. "She's leaving town in about a week. He still has his old apartment to fall back on. Just not tonight with that other kid moving his stuff out of the dining room."

"My mother's going to ask," Long Suffering Spouse said.

"Just tell her everything's fine," I said.

I'll be really happy when this wedding's over.