Thursday, July 28, 2011

Curmudgeon's conundrum about 'contributions'

Usually I just sign the papers that the accountant sends me each quarter. If I read this stuff, I might have questions -- and, I've learned the hard way, the accountant bills me for his answers.

Admittedly, I'd do the same for him, if he ever hired me for something. He hasn't. (One of us is clearly smarter than me.)

But this month, as I was making my quarterly rendering unto Caesar, I couldn't help but notice the certification language in the Illinois Employer's Contribution and Wage Report form.

I am, you will recall, a solo practitioner. I have no employees. Yet I still have to send money into the state every so often for unemployment insurance.

Before I swore off asking my accountant questions, I asked once whether I could collect unemployment if I ever laid myself off.

He laughed.

"I take it that's a 'no'?"

"No, Curmudgeon, you can't lay yourself off," he said.

"Can I fire me? Lately I've become quite dissatisfied with my performance. And I have a bad attitude."

"No, you can't fire yourself either."

"Well, how can I collect unemployment?"

"You can't."

I started to ask why -- and stopped. The answer would have bankrupted me.

Anyway, that check every quarter to the Director of Unemployment Security was a recurring sore spot in my life even before I noticed the certification language:
I hereby certify that the information contained in this report and in all accompanying schedules is true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief; and that no part of the contribution reported was or is to be deducted from workers' wages."
Don't you just love how the word 'tax' can be translated as 'contribution' when rendered in bureaucratese?

Maybe it was the word 'contribution' that caught my eye in the first place.

But I reread that last part again -- certifying "no part of the contribution reported was or is to be deducted from workers' wages" -- and I started thinking.

I mean, as a solo, money I don't pay out in expenses is money I can take home. So, therefore, any money I pay out as expenses is -- effectively -- deducted from my wages... including (yikes!) this 'contribution' to the state!

I've been worried sick since. If I'm reading this right, if I don't pay the tax (er, contribution) I violate the law. On the other hand, if I do pay the tax I have violated my solemn certification....

I'm overthinking this, aren't I?

Do you suppose this is how Wesley Snipes went wrong?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Solve the budget/debt ceiling crisis? End the wars

Speaker Boehner's assertion that the government borrows 42¢ of every dollar that it currently spends is apparently correct. At least it has not been roundly denounced as irresponsible slander, falsehood or calumny.

No one likes paying taxes; certainly I don't. Naturally, I want the other guy to pay more first -- cutting subsidies to the oil industry, for example, seems like a gimme putt to me. On the other hand, my (flat rate) Illinois income tax went up this year by 2¢ on the dollar. There are any number of forces pushing me over the financial cliff at present -- but that tax increase is way down on the list. The Republicans are irresponsible for refusing to consider even the most minor tweaks on the revenue side.

Meanwhile, the Democrats are wimps. Wimps as in Wimpy, the character from Popeye, who was constantly trying to borrow money for hamburgers.

Oh, the Democrats say they want "historic" cuts -- but the Republicans counter that the Democrats are long on rhetoric and short on specifics.

While I'm inclined to disbelieve anything that issues from a politician's lips, just on principle, I can't help but think that there may be more than a particle of truth in this one.

Therefore, I hereby take it upon myself to offer some sure-fire cost-cutting measures: End the wars. End all the wars. To wit:
  • The War in Iraq;
  • The War in Afghanistan;
  • The War in Libya (yes it is a war, Mr. President);
  • The War on Terror;
  • The War on Drugs; and
  • The War on Poverty.
None of them have worked. None of them could work.

Wars are fought against nations. Take the enemy's capital; accept the surrender of the surviving members of the belligerent's government and go home. The American military can win real wars. Occupation, however, is fraught with peril. Yes, it worked in Germany and Japan. It did not work in Iraq (though the surge reversed matters, hopefully for long enough to cover our withdrawal). It has not worked in Afghanistan (the Taliban is resurgent -- and counting the days until we march out of there, too).

And "wars" against concepts make even less sense. To win our "war" on terror, we make 95-year old women remove their diapers. We have set up mini-despots at every departure terminal, empowered to grab the crotches of any persons they choose. We have enriched murderous criminals in Mexico and Columbia in our hypocritical "war" on drugs. Hypocritical, you ask? Well, our last three Presidents have all admitted drug use of one kind or another at some time in their lives (although Mr. Clinton insisted he didn't inhale). Exactly how committed can we be to eradicating this "scourge" that people at all levels of society, including the most powerful and best-educated, use regularly? And poor people have subsidized cell phones now, but gangs, gang violence, and endemic crime persist in our inner cities. So much for our "war" on poverty.

Balance the budget? End the wars. All of them.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Curmudgeon adopts a respectful attitude toward adoptive parents

I mentioned just last week that Long Suffering Spouse's old roommate Penny would be coming to lunch yesterday.

This is the first time that Penny and her family have come to visit us in over two years (see, Curmudgeon's parenting skills in evident decline).

As I mentioned then, Penny and her husband Carl have four adopted children. The girls are 19 and 15 now. The twins, Tim and Tom, just turned five.

The twins came to Penny and Carl as critically ill preemies. Penny was trained as a nurse, and she needed every skill she ever learned to take care of those babies. Their breathing problems are largely behind them now; she's not getting up every night to clear out their lungs. Most of their still-frequent ER visits are for more traditional bumps and bruises. But there are still developmental deficits. Tom was more mobile and more verbal than Tim when they visited in 2009; he's talking now and will attend a 'mainstream' kindergarten in the fall. He probably could teach the class: He reads well, spells, and does basic math problems quickly. I quizzed him; I can testify that he's not 100% accurate on larger numbers, but he really knows the smaller numbers. It's not just memory.

Tim still isn't talking, and he's a clumsy walker, but he communicates with a kind of sign language and an iPod Touch that vocalizes for him. Of course, Tim has to know what button to push to express his actual concerns. In other words, even if he can't yet talk, he clearly can read. I watched him yesterday pull video boxes off the shelf, pull out the paper inserts and study each closely. He went straight for the Pixar movies -- he's a discriminating film viewer.

I had to frequently discourage Tim from trying to remove the DVDs from the boxes. But I was not vigilant the entire time: When I was out of the room for only a minute, Tim had trouble trying to pull Toy Story from its case -- and snapped off a good quarter of the disk.

Tim will not be attending a mainstream kindergarten this year -- but Penny and Carl are sure he will be mainstreamed soon and I can't help but believe them.

These are truly bright, inquisitive kids. Tim has to touch everything. Tom can be a little fearful; he likes to watch movies standing behind someone and peeking around. And, of course, if you fail to keep a close watch on them at all times, they will venture into places where they can really get into trouble. Youngest Son came back from running and weightlifting and went upstairs to take a quick shower before joining us all for lunch. He was rather surprised when Tom began banging on the bathroom door.

And neither of these little guys would be alive without the sacrifices made on their behalf by Penny, Carl and their older daughters. Long Suffering Spouse and I can't imagine having to cope with five-year olds on a daily basis at this stage of our lives; that realization only deepens the respect that my wife and I have for Penny and Carl's accomplishments.

It was an impressive, and exhausting, visit. Long Suffering Spouse really wanted them all to stay for dinner, too, but Penny said the boys were just about to go critical. Sure enough, within five minutes, they were screaming and crying their eyes out. Penny explained that part of the twins' problem was they didn't want to leave -- but she had already figured out that they were getting overtired. Their sisters each held on to one as Penny and Carl made their goodbyes. "They'll nap in the car," Penny told Long Suffering Spouse -- but there was no chance, she said, that they'd ever nod off at our house, not with all sorts of stuff that remained unexplored. (I don't know if the twins napped -- but I passed out minutes after they left.)

I know some folks get a little weird about adoption; they don't quite understand how an adopted child can ever be the same as a "real" one. For my part, I've never understood that view. I like what Jack Benny's daughter, Joan, wrote about her adoption. She said that her parents told her that, in a way, she was more loved than a biological child. After all, parents who have a child the old-fashioned way have to take what God gives them -- but adoptive parents choose to bring home a particular child.

Penny and Carl's children couldn't be more truly theirs; the girls actually look like Penny and Carl these days. I don't know if Tim and Tom will ever actually look like Penny and Carl -- they're Korean, while Penny and Carl and German and Lithuanian respectively -- but I wouldn't bet against it.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
There has been talk of adoption in the Curmudgeon family of late. Older Daughter and Hank haven't yet been able to start their own family. Older Daughter is notoriously impatient; she typically skips from Step A to Step S or T in an eye-blink, bypassing all steps in between.

Thus, because Older Daughter hasn't yet become pregnant and so many of her friends have, she's already thinking that she might never be able to have children.

For my money, such talk is premature. But if Older Daughter and Hank do wind up adopting, the children they adopt would be their children. And they would also be my grandchildren, without question.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Hotel open for business during remodeling

I mentioned recently that Long Suffering Spouse is painting the house this summer.

The whole house.

That includes the kids' rooms -- areas into which we have dared not venture for more than a minute at a time for some 15 years (just long enough to roust a sleeping kid for school or close a window during a sudden cloudburst).

Although it might not seem so dangerous to enter a room in one's own home, particularly now that three of our children live off the premises, you'll have to take my word for it just how crazy-foolish-bold the notion really is. See, two of the three bedrooms have been continuously occupied by one teenager or another since 1996 -- and still are. (Well, Younger Daughter's now 21 -- but don't get picky with me, I'm on a roll here.)

The third bedroom, unoccupied since only January 2010, was immediately turned into a storage depot containing treasures and trash from all five kids. We not only don't go in that room, except for the path to one window we've somehow maintained, we can't get in that room.

Once Long Suffering Spouse undertakes a task, it will be done. There's no denying or delaying it. I've been virtually no help at all, of course, but last weekend even I was polishing silver and washing knick-knacks as we labored to put the dining room back together.

"Just wait until one of them buys a house," Long Suffering Spouse muttered darkly, every five minutes or so. When my folks passed, we kept a lot of their stuff in hopes that we could pass it along to our kids. But none of the passes have yet been completed.

"Don't give the plan away," I counseled. "At Christmas, wrap some of this stuff up in a box, put a big, gaudy bow on it and put it in their house and under their tree."

Anyway, the living room is done, the dining room is done, the upstairs and downstairs halls are done, the kitchen is done and Long Suffering Spouse is working in earnest in the bedroom that was used by all of our boys at one time.

"There's more nail holes than plaster in here," she told me. Well, each one has had their plaques and their posters and their old football and baseball jerseys and each one has had distinct ideas about how best to display these items.

Plans to paint the den and the addition are, however, temporarily on hold because Older Daughter and her husband Hank are coming up from Indianapolis this weekend for a wedding. Naturally, they'll be staying our house.

"Where's the wedding?" I asked. A nearby church was named.

"And the reception?" In a nearby suburb, I was told.

"You know," I said, "there's about 70,000 hotel rooms between here and there. And our house is all torn up with your mother's painting."

"We're staying at a hotel Saturday night," Older Daughter said. "But Friday night we want to be at home."

By "we" I am pretty darn certain Older Daughter means only herself. Hank is understandably not as comfortable under our roof as he might be elsewhere -- despite the luxurious accommodations we have provided for them on past visits. (See, Curmudgeon acquires a futon to solve a family dilemma.)

You know... they're both working now. They have more disposable income these days than I do. And, because of our proximity to O'Hare International Airport, there really are thousands and thousands of hotel rooms within a very few miles. If she and Hank want to come over and visit -- great -- but staying overnight is disruptive. They come in late. They get up late. There are curling irons and extra soaps and lotions and shampoos to work around in the bathroom. And we try to be good hosts -- but the last time Hank was over he wanted to watch Wimbledon. (He is such an Anglophile. Older Daughter told us he actually got up early to watch the Royal Wedding live. Oy!) Before that, he wanted to watch the Indianapolis 500. OK, the latter I could understand, given that he is a native of the place -- but these are not things we would usually watch.

Anyway, I'll start in to whining in this vein for awhile and Long Suffering Spouse will nod sympathetically -- and then shut me down. "She wants to spend time in her own house," she'll say. "It's still her house to her." Then Long Suffering Spouse will get a bit misty and I'll apologize for being a grump and matters will be settled. We'll have guests Friday night.

Meanwhile, Middle Son stopped by the house the other night for a meal and to accompany my wife to Costco. He goes with her every couple of months so he can stock up on stuff for his apartment. He pays his way; he drives my wife to and from; he's generally cheery. And he won't change channels on me if I'm watching the Sox game either. (Of course, if I'm watching a musical, he'll object vociferously....)

Anyway, Middle Son's visit/Costco run went smoothly this week. He declined my invitation to come by the house and paint. But then he said, "Stan's block party is Saturday."

Stan was on Middle Son's baseball team in high school and college. They roomed together, for a time, in college as well. Stan does not live with Middle Son these days -- but a few months back he threw a party at Middle Son's apartment. Fortunately, he invited Middle Son.

Stan is a character.

And Stan's annual block parties are legendary. Of course, Stan has nothing to do with the planning or the preparation or the bills for these block parties. But Stan's uncle does and the uncle and a few like-minded neighbors have somehow convinced the more straitlaced property owners on the block to go along with this once-a-year blowout. Stan lives with his uncle.

"So, yeah," Middle Son continued, "Stan's block party is Saturday and I'm going. I may need a place to crash Saturday night." Our house is within reasonable stumbling distance. And this is not a party one drives home from.

So, apparently, we're going to have a houseguest on Saturday night, too.

Oh -- and we're having company Monday, too. Remember Penny? Penny was Long Suffering Spouse's college roommate. Penny and her husband, a retired Marine lawyer, live in Virginia, but they're in the Midwest this month visiting friends and family.

I'm leaving work early today. Long Suffering Spouse is going to need a lot of help getting ready for this weekend. But I don't think a lot of painting will get done.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Havin' a heat wave....

Sari, who lives in the greater Phoenix area, where temperatures have hit 117 this summer, can call me a wimp if she wants. But, dog gone it, it's hot here.

The official high temperature yesterday was 99° F. This translates to something like 50° in Europe. It's not just our dollars -- our degrees aren't worth as much over there these days.

Yesterday's 99° high was shy of the official record of 101°, set in 1901 (that's for you, Al Gore), but that mark was easily exceeded at a number of unofficial reporting stations. And it was not cooler near the lake.

Lake Michigan is supposed to be our natural air conditioner, moderating temperatures winter and summer both. But if the winds are wrong, as they were yesterday, there is no relief even at the lakeshore.

It was hot enough to send all the local TV talking heads into a tizzy. I can't really blame them. Other than lawyers, TV talking heads are about the only other folks who have to dress up when it gets this hot.

Of course, I had court yesterday morning. This morning, too, come to think of it. I haven't had to be in court for over a week -- but, on the hottest days of the year, I have matters up. How did I get so lucky?

At times like this, the weather-people like to talk about something they call the Heat Index. Near as I can tell, the Heat Index is the inverse of the winter Wind Chill: It's just that little extra added insult to injury that you can dab like sunscreen on your self-pity as you go forth, reluctantly, into the oven outside.

Back in early February, we had two feet of snow here. Lake Shore Drive was shut down. Courts were closed. Drifts were four and five feet high. Because snow had drifted near my front door, to get my sidewalk clear, I had to pile snow over my head.

At the time, folks were saying oh, I wish it were 90. You know who you are. Don't you feel foolish now?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Curmudgeon dabbles in shameless cross-promotion

I received an email from Susan Harris, a blogger whose on-line empire includes, inter alia, Boomer Turn-Ons. Her posts have cropped up several times in Jay Harrison's ezine BoomSpeak. Most important (to me, anyway), Ms. Harris left an actual comment on one of my recent posts.

I really like comments. (That is to say, I really like comments that are not spam or robo-comments. You can't expect a lawyer to make an unqualified statement, even in a personal blog, can you?)

But to return to Ms. Harris and her recent email. She was circulating a story proposal, looking to entice features editors stuck for story ideas into writing about the growing phenomenon of "Boomer blogs," that is, blogs written by, for and about persons of a certain age.

The strength of this proposal is obvious. Persons of a certain age actually read newspapers. The downside, sadly, is also obvious:

But if a story appeared in the newspaper, hesitant boomers might flock to the Internet... if only to look around at carefully previewed, safe sites.

Ms. Harris suggested I alert my "media contacts" about the idea.

But that's a problem. I'm an anonymous blogger. The good news about being anonymous is that no one knows where to send the Sheriff with the summons. The bad news is that no one also knows where to send a check. And while I actually do have some media contacts -- OK, a couple of reporters accepted my Facebook friend request (submitted in my actual name)... and a couple of others didn't reject me out of hand -- I am obliged to admit that, even in real life, I'm not exactly well connected with the 'dead tree media.'

Maybe if I didn't call it that....

Still, I wish to get in the spirit of Ms. Harris' venture. Let me pass on her suggestions by quoting liberally from her press release. (Don't you wish professional reporters admitted when they did that?) Ms. Harris provides this list:

Overview of Blogs aimed at Baby Boomers

The big guns

· AARP has professionally written blogs on every topic.

· NBC Digital launched a family of “Life Goes Strong” blogs in May of 2010. They cover Play, Work, Life, Tech, Family, Style, Home, etc.

Magazine-format blogs

· Boomer Café, written by seasoned newsmen Greg Dobbs and David Henderson, began way back in 1999.

· Boom Speak is an ezine for Boomers who like to think they’re still edgy, by graphic designer and author Jay Harrison.

Individual blogs with unique voices.

· Going Like Sixty is smart and funny, penned by recently retired publisher Mark van Patten, now chronicling his move from Kentucky to Costa Rica.

· Boomer Turn-ons covers the TV, music, technology, second careers, etc. that are turning on a DC-based ex-hippie-turned-corporate-blogger and her friends.

· Baby Boomer Daily covers Boomer culture, politics and celebrities. Terry Hamburg waxes nostalgic about the cultural waypoints that Boomers experienced.

· Bodacious Boomer is also irreverent and funny, by a Texan.

· GeezerSisters is written by Ruth Pennebaker, author of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.

·, begun in 2003, is the granddaddy of Boomer blogs.

· Second Effort is the work of a Chicago “Curmudgeon” who defines himself as “a dinosaur” and “an Ozzie and Harriet person living in an Ozzy and Sharon world.”

· Boomer Chronicles is written by a Boston-based journalist, self-described feminist and lesbian.

Single-topic blogs

· Dirty Hippie Radio covers music.

· Boomeropia is about travel for Boomers.

· Boomers Offshore is for Boomers living outside the U.S.

· is about aging, not specifically Boomers.

· The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide covers consumer choices.

Boomers blogging to showcase their services

· Boomer Tech Talk, written by social media professionals, has excellent content.

· The Savyy Boomer covers all types of marketing to Boomers.

· Lots of Boomer blogs are written by life coaches and counselors. Examples are Feisty Side of Fifty, Retirement as you want it, Contemporary Retirement, So Baby Boomer, Midlife Crisis Queen and

It's nice to be listed among such accomplished writers and with such distinguished sites.

Technical note: If this list comes up as gibberish, it's because I imported it from a Word document. And I'm a WordPerfect guy. I will press publish now and see what happens....

Update: I think all of these links are live now... including some where the links don't look like links. I'd try and fix that, too, but that seems beyond my technical ken on a busy morning.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Disappearing people

Have you ever noticed that the people you most want to talk to are the hardest to find? I'm not certain if this is just a corollary of another rule (the people you least want to talk to are darn near unavoidable) or whether it should be considered a free-standing Law, as in Murphy's.

I've been trying to reach a colleague now on a number of matters for weeks. We have so many matters together that my list is growing longer -- and increasingly urgent -- but she's seemingly disappeared from the planet. Her assistant denies this; she says that my colleague is in a meeting, or at a closing, or just ran out for coffee. The assistant says my colleague will definitely call me right back -- but it doesn't happen. I've had a stray email or two from her -- merely increasing my workload and my anxiety -- but no closure on any of these problems.

Of course, my problems with this colleague are minor compared to those I have presently with another lawyer for whom I am supposed to be handling an appeal. I have called, I have emailed, I have wandered over to this man's office. I can't get him to talk to me. I've done everything but take out a personal ad. I may try that today.

Years ago, when I was in college or law school, when someone disappeared for weeks at a time, people would say -- "Oh, Sam? He's fallen in love." Often enough, given our youth and the popular culture (it was the 70s), the statement was true.

There's no such excuse in either of these cases. At least... I don't think so.

Some of our collective fears about lost privacy seem to have been overblown: Although it's harder than ever to avoid knowing that someone is looking for you, it's still fairly easy to stay out of sight if you don't want to be found.

Monday, July 18, 2011

What the Women's World Cup really means in America

Judging by my Facebook news feed, all sorts of people have been watching soccer recently.

Some will no doubt see in this the arrival of soccer as a truly major sport in America. There will be those who claim that the sacrifices -- and extensive monetary losses of big-time operators, like Lee Stern, or small-time operators, like a college classmate of mine who was the uncrowned Soccer King of Chicago's South Side -- have finally paid off.

Don't you believe it.

Men's soccer will never be more than a minor sport in the United States no matter which player is married to what Spice Girl (Old Spice?).

The significance of the recently concluded World Cup is not that soccer has gained a foothold on American attention -- but, rather, that women's sport has.

Title IX was enacted when I was just a little younger than Youngest Son is now. There was an effort to jump-start women's sports at the high school level -- but, in my unenlightened corner of the world, nearly everyone who wanted to participate was viewed with suspicion at least. I knew that some of the girls' gym teachers seemed just about as macho as the boys' gym teachers, but I didn't know why. If Hamilton's Mythology ever mentioned anything about Sappho or the Isle of Lesbos, it was carefully sanitized. Of course, one of my friends had a little sister who had gone out for gymnastics. I had the distinct pleasure of seeing her, whenever I could possibly find any excuse, in her tights -- and, I can assure you, on the authority of my careful, slack-jawed, moony observation, that she was not the least manly. But she seemed to me to be, at the time, an apparent exception.

In a generation, things have surely changed -- and, in this rare case, it's all actually good.

Whatever stigma that may have attached to women's sports is long since gone. Archaic attitudes (and, with the exception of my friend's sister, my attitudes were pretty archaic in high school) have been entirely changed. Although they weren't nearly as serious about it as my sons, both my daughters participated in high school sports.

And here's the thing that tells me that there has surely been a transformation. When the White Sox game was over yesterday, Youngest Son flipped on the women's final. He doesn't like soccer as a men's sport -- but he's prepared to watch it as a women's sport. He was interested.

Postscript: Younger Daughter came into the den during the 'extra time' and tried to explain things. It didn't help. I still don't get soccer.

But I could appreciate seeing the whole field. I wish we used that full-field view more for baseball and football broadcasts. These games are telecast with stationary cameras in center field (for baseball) or showing only the line and the backfield (in football). So much happens in both sports away from the ball. In the 1940s and 50s it might not have been possible to show the full field and viewers wouldn't have been able to see anything on the small screens if directors had tried. But, in the age of giant HD sets, we ought to reconsider that, don't you think?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

How Long Suffering Spouse is spending her summer vacation

At our youngest niece's First Communion, Ferdinand, the First Communicant's step-father, tried to fill in an awkward silence by making small talk with my wife (his sister-in-law), Long Suffering Spouse.

For those who came in late, Ferdinand is either the second or third husband of my wife's sister, Josephine. The numeric confusion arises because Josephine married her first husband twice. I've never consulted Emily Post for an authoritative ruling on the question. The point is that Josephine had two children during her first marriage and, a few years later, two more when she married the same guy. The niece in question (if you're still following along) is the youngest product of that second union.

Awkward silences often occur at family gatherings, even where there are no step-anythings to worry about. Have you ever wondered about why a second husband is a step-father or a second wife is a step-mother or why the children of the new spouse's past unions are step-siblings? My current theory is that they are called this because of the necessity of stepping around any number of topics at family events.

Given the coolness of the relationship between Long Suffering Spouse and her sister Josephine, there would probably have been awkward silences at the back of the church on this spring morning even if the first/second husband and his new wife weren't there along with Ferdinand.

But there they all were, all spiffed up and looking polite, and the awkward silences were particularly awkward and long.

Humans are verbal creatures. As much as everyone claims to enjoy silence, most people don't shut up long enough to enjoy it. Ever since the cell phone became ubiquitous, a walk down any city street is a swim through a sea of murmur, as nearly every passer-by carries on some vitally important conversation with some unseen someone at the other end of a cellular connection.

Have you ever attended a meeting where the discussion lagged? Silence begins to crush the room, weighing everyone down. Each individual becomes hyper-conscious of his or her own internal noises... the stomach rumbling... a knuckle cracking... the tickle in the throat that demands to escape as a cough.... Someone always cracks under the relentless, increasing pressure. Maybe with a cough. Maybe with a rude noise that was waiting for the quietest possible moment before it could no longer be contained. If you've been lucky, the guy everyone hates will ask, "I had a question about slide 23?"

Well, on this day, at the back of the church, Ferdinand cracked. Ferdinand is the guy everyone hates anyway (except Josephine, so far as we know). And me. I don't hate Ferdinand; I reserve that emotion for a very select few. But he does creep me out.

Anyway, Ferdinand could take the silence no longer. So he turned to my wife (a teacher, you know) and asked, "And what are you doing this summer? Eating bonbons and watching the soaps, I suppose?"

Long Suffering Spouse would never hit anyone in the back of a church. So she merely smiled -- a smile that would instantly freeze the blood of a penguin -- and said, "Oh, yes."

Another awkward silence ensued. I think even Ferdinand realized, in some dim way, that he'd really stepped in something this time. (Which suggests another possible explanation for step-father, mother, etc. -- but I will not pursue this thought at present....)

* * * * * * * * * * * * *
If you've come with me this far, you may have begun to feel cheated. You began this essay in the hopes of finding out how Long Suffering Spouse is spending her time away from school, only to be subjected to a long discourse about a difficult conversation among extended family members.

Well, of course, Long Suffering Spouse is not eating bonbons or watching soap operas. No, this summer, without a wedding to occupy our time, or surgery (hers or mine) to fill the days, Long Suffering Spouse has decided to paint the house.

With the exception of a touch-up here or there, the house hasn't been painted since before we moved in. In 1996.

There's no question that the house needs it.

In a perfect world I'd be able to take off a couple of weeks and help her. I'd hate it, of course. I painted my parents' house in 1973 -- I remember listening to the Senate Watergate hearings every day on the radio as I worked. And Long Suffering Spouse and I painted our first house before we moved in. That's a chapter in the book all by itself.

So I know how to paint. What I don't know is how to make enough money to afford two weeks off. So I'm here in the Undisclosed Location -- and not blogging, in part because I'm feeling guilty for not helping more at home.

And there are other parts, too, which I've written about, but not yet blogged. And may not blog at all.

I may be back tomorrow. I may not be back for awhile.

We'll see.