Friday, June 29, 2012

Obamacare survives the Supreme Court -- now what?

People were celebrating or denouncing yesterday's decision in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sibelius according to their preconceived prejudices.

MSNBC viewers were jubilant.

Fox viewers were outraged. I got an email from one right-wing group which began, "The U.S. Constitution died today." Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (son of Ron) said "just because a majority of the Supreme Court declares something to be 'constitutional' does not make it so."

CNN viewers were simply misinformed -- at least for awhile.

Actually, according to the linked post on Constitution Daily (from which the image was grabbed), Fox viewers were also initially told the mandate was thrown out. Presumably Fox is not getting flak for this screw-up because no one necessarily expects Fox to get the facts right in the first place.

But let's see where we are now: Congress passed a lengthy law that most of its members didn't read (remember how quick the final product was rammed through?) which the Supreme Court has now upheld on grounds different from those urged by the Administration in support of the law.

Five members of the Court did in fact reject the Administration's attempt to justify the mandate that all Americans must buy insurance or pay a 'penalty' as an impermissible distortion of the Commerce Clause. Chief Justice Roberts, however, said that -- whatever the Obama Administration might want to call it -- the mandate is a tax, and Congress does have the power to tax persons who don't buy insurance.

The American people have already gotten the goodies that Obamacare has to offer. My family is already benefiting from the requirement that kids be carried on their parents' health insurance to age 26. My unborn grandchild needs that assistance because her parents don't yet have health insurance of their own.

But... let's think a moment about this, shall we?

What incentive does any employer have now to provide insurance for employees? The mandatory obligation to provide insurance is on each individual, not on employers. Companies that have more than 50 employees will also be penalized for failure to provide insurance starting in 2014 -- but the penalty is only $2,000 for each full-time employee. I stopped paying individual Blue Cross premiums when my wife went full-time with the Chicago Catholic school system. That was about seven years ago -- and I was paying $10,000 a year then. Do you think premiums have gone down since?

Yes, the premiums paid for employees are deductible expenses, but administering health insurance plans for workers can be a real hassle. There will be paperwork either way (I'm sure) but if there's such a per capita differential between the cost of insurance premiums on one hand and fines on the other, wouldn't it be prudent to choose the fines? And smaller employers will not have these concerns. Without new and better incentives to do otherwise, lots of employers, big and small, will probably drop employee insurance as a benefit.

Hopefully, this won't happen overnight (or overnight in 2014 when most of the Obamacare provisions kick in) -- but isn't this going to happen?

Insurance stocks are up in the wake of the Supreme Court decision, too. True, under the new law, they can't turn down customers because of pre-existing conditions. Presumably they now should look forward to all sorts of new, and largely healthy, customers.

But they have a captive market. True, Insurance Company A can compete, in theory, against Insurance Company B on price and service -- but are they really going to beat each other to death knowing that everyone must buy their product, no matter what?

Is this really going to contain health care costs?

Big Business, doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies -- all these had input into Obamacare. The elected representatives of the people -- the sad sacks we call Congress -- were presented with a fait accompli and voted for it, or against it, according to party loyalty.

Brace yourselves, ladies and gentlemen: The unexpected consequences of this one are going to be really, really severe.

Substantively updated July 1 after reviewing John Flynn Rooney's article, "Health-care law faces deadlines," in the June 29 issue of the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

On the passing of Nora Ephron

Would Meg Ryan have become America's Sweetheart if not for Nora Ephron?

After When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, and You've Got Mail, I thought Meg Ryan would be impossibly cute just reading the phone book. Then I saw her in When a Man Loves a Woman, playing an out-of-control alcoholic....

True, Ryan did make Joe Versus the Volcano without Ephron and, many years later, Kate & Leopold, and these were good -- but When Harry Met Sally (which Ephron wrote), Sleepless in Seattle, and You've Got Mail (both of which were written and directed by Ephron) were clearly better. And Meg Ryan was cuter. I think it can be seriously argued that Ephron made Ryan cuter.

How good was Ephron? Her 2005 movie, Bewitched, was only OK -- but I found it possible to watch Will Ferrell in that movie without becoming physically ill. I can't say that about too many Will Ferrell movies.

I don't know for certain how much input she had in them (I'm guessing it was considerable) but the soundtracks to Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail introduced new generations to the music of Jimmy Durante and Louie Armstrong.

I recently saw You've Got Mail on cable, though, and it reminded me of my one objection to Ephron's films.

Was it necessary for Tom Hanks to be living with Parker Posey at the beginning of the movie? Was it necessary for Meg Ryan to be living with Greg Kinnear?

Hanks and Ryan are emailing each other, anonymously, from the beginning. They are not physically cheating on their respective partners but... emotionally? In Sleepless in Seattle, of course, Tom Hanks is widowed, but Meg Ryan is living with (and engaged to) Bill Pullman.

I know, I know, these are movies for grownups, and people who have reached the ages of the characters in these movies need to have 'pasts' to be remotely realistic. But must their pasts be so present? Couldn't Greg Kinnear have been living down the hall? Bill Pullman's character probably wouldn't have minded separate establishments before marriage.

I am reminded this morning when reading Ephron's obituary that she was once married to Carl Bernstein (All the President's Men) and that he cheated on her with an alleged family "friend" while Ephron was pregnant. Although you'd think the novel she got out of the experience, Heartburn, might have have been enough, maybe she still needed to get even, in a way, through Meg Ryan's characters.

Or, maybe, given Ephron's obvious love of old movies, maybe she just wanted Ralph Bellamy to really get the girl... if only for a little while.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Curmudgeon wallowing in self-pity... again

Every morning, when I get to the train station, I have a decision to make. Do I step on the train... or in front of it?

It's true what they say about how the coward dies a thousand deaths, while the brave man dies only once.

Yes, I'm depressed. But I'm only depressed because I'm broke. I'm very shallow that way. I'm particularly depressed at the moment because I'm more broke than ever, my prospects are dimmer than Ted Baxter on the old Mary Tyler Moore Show, and my credit card debt is quickly approaching double what I made last year.

And Youngest Son's first tuition installment is overdue.

And, to top it off, yesterday I once again forgot to pay my minimum on my Target card.

But the crisis has been averted, at least for a few days, because I put my last $20 bill on my CTA card this morning.

If I hadn't, the card would have run out tonight when I went through the turnstile. But now?

Well, let's put it this way: I haven't always been broke so I haven't always been depressed. But I've always been cheap. I can't very well waste the rides on the card, can I?

Monday, June 25, 2012

"I need a new phone"

Long Suffering Spouse challenged Youngest Son's flat pronouncement: "What's the matter with the phone you have?"

"The alarm doesn't work."

Youngest Son's phone, of course, is far newer than the phones that Long Suffering Spouse and I use. Neither one could be confused with a smartphone. Mine is a battered Nokia flip phone -- quite the nifty device in its day. Unfortunately for me and my phone, the Sun set on that day about a decade ago.

My wife's phone is even older. Ordinarily, she keeps her phone off and hidden at school. But, due to one family crisis or another, one day this spring she was obliged to leave it on and charging by her desk.

This provoked the curiosity of her junior high students, most of whom are probably younger than her phone. They did not ask "whose phone is that?" or "is that your phone?" No, the little darlings asked questions like "What is that? Is that thing a phone?"

Yes, my wife's phone is old. A lot of phones make a whooshing noise or a series of chimes when they start up. Middle Son's smartphone has a flat robotic voice say "Droid," when it turns on. When my wife's starts up, you hear a voice saying, "Watson, come quickly! I need you."

Then again, she hasn't lost her phone, or dropped it in the toilet, or run it over with a car or any of the other creative ways that our children have found to kill their old phones. The older three have smartphones. They pay for them. Youngest Son is still on our account. If we can't have a smartphone, neither can he.

It took us several years to figure out that we didn't need to go to AT&T to get a new phone every time one of the kids needed a new phone: Sure we didn't have to pay that much for the replacement device, but only because AT&T kept extending our contract obligations each time. We finally realized that the phones at Target would do just as well. And the increasingly obsolete phones we use don't cost that much anymore.

But I think we will still be able to reject Youngest Son's request for a new phone, at least for the time being: There's a perfectly functional alarm clock in his room.

Besides, how often does he get up before noon during the summer anyway?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Younger Daughter's wedding: Tales from the front of the house

We conclude this series of reminiscences about Younger Daughter's wedding weekend (beginning here) with today's installment. But don't worry -- Olaf and Younger Daughter are under our roof now and I suspect you'll be hearing about them plenty in future posts....

I've written so much about the many, many things Long Suffering Spouse did to bring the event off that, perhaps, you may be wondering what I might have done -- indeed, what was left for me to do -- besides sit around and take notes.

Actually, there was quite a bit for me to do, and not just tote that over here, or carry that over there.

In my house, I'm the techno-guy. My first major assignment was to prepare the invitations. No disrespect to printers, but word processing software long ago advanced to the point where very presentable invitations can be created. Hobby shops sell card stock that is just as nice as anything. An inkjet printer can't duplicate the 'engraved' effect of professional printing, but it can look just as nice. When Long Suffering Spouse added blue ribbons to the top of each invite, ours looked pretty fancy indeed.

Of course, that was long before the wedding. Immediately prior to the wedding, though, my techno-skills were called upon again: I had to do the brochure for the wedding (can't tell the players without a scorecard) and set up the music.

I wasn't just the host for the reception; I was the emcee. Remember when I told you how the custodian had entrusted me with the wireless mike? In that stressful week before the wedding Younger Daughter became increasingly concerned about whether the best man would give an appropriate toast. Well, he wouldn't give a toast at all if I never let on I had the microphone, would he? I didn't tell anyone I had it (it fit comfortably in the pocket of my sport coat that Friday, and it slipped easily in the pocket of the tux as well.

Of course, I did have to park it at the hall during the Mass. (I could hide it behind a curtain.)

But that was fine -- because, despite my best efforts to persuade you that my jobs were more than fetch that here or carry that there, that's really what it came down to.

I was off early on the morning of the wedding to pick up 20 lbs of roast beef and two kegs of beer (a ½ barrel of Miller Lite and a ¼ barrel of Miller Regular) and various and sundry other potent potables. We had to get all that set up (read: on ice) before the Mass. Food had to be brought over, too.

But, there we were, finally, at the reception and, of course, I'd have wanted to stay out of that kitchen even if there'd been nothing for me to do in the front of the house.

But there was. I'd mentioned the bread crisis, and the butter crisis. At one point, I tucked a bottle of wine under each arm and went from table to table refilling glasses for the bridal toast -- or, in many cases, filling them in the first place.

Remember I told you that there were a lot of teetotalers on Olaf's side. I had to do some serious selling in several cases.

(Apparently I sold pretty good. I've heard since that Olaf's family wasn't much for dancing either -- I thought that was a Baptist thing, not Lutheran -- but most of the folks out there on the floor were from Olaf's side.)

I stayed within grabbing distance when the toasts were being made. I wasn't really worried about Older Daughter's toast... but you gotta maintain symmetry. My mike work was extremely limited (which, come to think of it, may explain why I received praise for it). Someone told me I had a very good radio voice. I've long been told I have a face made for radio....

I don't know exactly when people started cleaning up, but everyone pitched in just wonderfully.

Well, almost everyone.

Some kid who'd gone to school with the happy couple was passed out on the bathroom floor. He'd lost his company manners in the receptacle most suitable for that purpose, however. After an hour or so flat on the bathroom floor, he made it out to the steps of the Parish Center -- a distance of at least five or six yards.

The journey took a lot of him. Well, more out of him, not that he had that much more to lose. Youngest Son hosed down the sidewalk around where the kid had been sitting. A couple of girls drove him home. We wound up with his suit coat.

Maybe it was the wine. Maybe it was the disco music (well, they are Norwegian -- and Abba turned out to be really popular). But even Aunt Floofy wasn't quite so severe as we knocked down the tables and gathered up all the napkins and tablecloths. We didn't even have to put the darn things back on their hangers.

Younger Daughter and Olaf got to their hotel. The rest of us returned home -- but only for awhile. Everyone but Hank and Older Daughter went back to Middle Son's -- along with the beer kegs -- even Youngest Son, who had a doubleheader scheduled in the morning. Well, his coach was willing to drive him, so I guess I couldn't complain.

I don't know that I could have complained much if I'd wanted to. And when a Curmudgeon can't complain, that's when you know he's really tired....

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Well, I did it. Sort of. More or less. We'll see.

We interrupt our wall-to-wall coverage of Younger Daughter's wedding for a format update: I actually followed through with my threat and upgraded my template. I tried to make it as consistent with what I'd been doing previously as possible.

Still, a lot of the cool buttons and gizmos that I'd stashed in the sidebar over the years disappeared. I don't know how I feel about that yet.

My blog list is much shorter. I know how I feel about that -- terrible.

People have dropped in and out of my online life over the years and then disappeared -- they have health issues -- they get bored -- they take offense -- they get jobs.

But I can't worry about who has gone, I can only be grateful for the people who keep coming back.

If I've left you off the blog list and you want back on, please let me know. All omissions of that sort were inadvertent.

The posts all come with little buttons now that allow readers to tweet posts, or link to them on Facebook or even Google+. (So far as I know, the only Google+ user in my circle of acquaintance is my son-in-law Hank -- and he doesn't know about this blog.)

But, whatever.

I've put in these cool social media buttons. That means I'm going to get all sorts of new links and readers and finally -- finally -- become an overnight sensation.



*Sound of crickets chirping*

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Younger Daughter's big day -- even if she didn't have a license

You'll have to have been following along to catch the reference in today's title. Scroll down to this post and work backwards if you need to keep up.

Long Suffering Spouse was enthusiastic, even triumphant. "The dress works!" she said repeatedly.

Younger Daughter's wedding dress had a high waist (fashionistas will cringe as I struggle through this description) -- an empire waist, I've heard it called, and it was pleated so that, as it draped, it looked like it was but was not in fact clingy. If I was selecting costumes for a sword and sandals epic, this dress could have been the costume for a temple priestess. Does that suggest a picture? There was no train. But with the veil it was unquestionably a bridal gown.

The most important feature of all this from Long Suffering Spouse's perspective -- the thing that made it 'work' -- was that the dress did not emphasize the fact that Younger Daughter was about 5½ months pregnant. Oh, you could see the bump, if you knew to look for it. But if you didn't know, you might not figure it out. Not for awhile. We had to coach Younger Daughter to keep her hands holding the bouquet above said bump -- which rendered the bump nearly invisible, especially looking straight on. When she'd slip, letting her hands drop below the bump, you couldn't help but notice.

The most important feature of the dress -- what made it 'work' -- from my selfish perspective was that this dress cost nearly $2,000 less than Older Daughter's. But Long Suffering Spouse was right, as always. Younger Daughter looked beautiful in the dress.

I've already mentioned that Long Suffering Spouse claims to have dressed in approximately five minutes. I admit: I took longer. It took me five minutes just to press the studs through the tuxedo shirt. And I had trouble adjusting the bow tie.

And it took all day to get the bridesmaids ready. Most of them had gone off with Younger Daughter to a hair appointment first thing in the morning (courtesy of Oldest Son's wife, Abby) and most of them showed up at our house after (Abby came later) to put on their faces. But maybe putting on the dresses really did take five minutes, even for them. I know that, at one point, the bridesmaids were in shorts and t-shirts, sprawled all over the living room, working their lotions and potions and brushes and whatever else you call the many make-up tools and then it seemed that -- in an eyeblink -- they were all in their dresses.

We weren't even that late getting over to the church; in fact, according to Catholic wedding time, we were even arguably early.

The wedding was supposed to go off at 3:00; I dropped the bride off by a quarter to.

I contrast this with my experience with Older Daughter. She got married at Hank's church in Indianapolis -- an Episcopal church. Everyone -- even the guests -- were expected to arrive hours before the ceremony was supposed to start. Their invitation even specified that the music program would begin an hour and a half before kickoff, or something like that.

This was crazy stuff as far as I was concerned. But I've been around enough to know that not everyone does things the same way.

I remember once, many years ago, taking my wife to the wedding of one of my high school friends. It was (if I recall) at a Methodist church. The exact time doesn't matter, but if the wedding had been set for 3:00, we were arriving no later than 3:10. My good wife, raised Catholic as I was, could see the bride in the vestibule as we pulled up and was relieved. "Oh, good," she said, "she hasn't gone down the aisle yet."

Actually, we were seeing the receiving line.

Protestants are punctual people, apparently.

Another thing I remember -- now -- about Older Daughter's wedding was that the ushers were actually expected to seat people.

Now, yes, I understand that this is the function of an usher -- but, in my experience, at Catholic weddings, no one stands around waiting to be guided to a seat. The bride's guests sit on the Mary side of the church, the groom's guests go on the Joseph side. (Modern churches, with just a single 'Holy Family' side altar didn't really pose a problem -- it's still bride's guests on the left, groom's on the right, right?)

Naming someone an usher was just something that one did to keep peace in the families. Everybody's brother or favorite cousin then had something to do -- and the best part was that most of them didn't have to do anything.

But Younger Daughter was angry before she got out of the car because the vestibule was packed with Olaf's family and friends, Protestants all.

"They're just here to gawk at me," she said angrily, "they want to see how big I look." Long Suffering Spouse tells me that Younger Daughter expanded liberally on that theme in the privacy of the bride's room at the back of the church. In fact, my wife had to remind her (a) to stop shouting lest she be overheard and (b) it's probably not a good idea to drop f-bombs in church.

But it may not have been quite that sinister. I think they were actually waiting in the back to be ushered in. When we sent Middle and Youngest Sons out to handle this duty, the crowd quickly dispersed.

Someone will have to tell me if I'm guessing correctly.

Olaf was stuck up at the front of the church, in a storage closet across the altar from the Sacristy. I went up front to bid him good day. Here was another contrast with Older Daughter's wedding: Hank had been ensconced in a rather ornate conference room. Olaf's experience was closer to my own. The soloist walked in and we introduced ourselves to each other.

Having satisfied myself that Olaf was in place and accounted for I found Fr. Ed and pulled out the readings that I'd typed up and got them positioned on the lectern. After the license fiasco, Fr. Ed wasn't counting on me: He had readings and some generic Prayers of the Faithful lined up just in case.

If anyone had rolled past our church at 3:10 on the day of Younger Daughter's wedding, they'd have seen her and me waiting our turn in the vestibule. We didn't start more than a few minutes after 3:00 -- and we had to get the bridal party down the aisle first, you know. (But -- seriously -- this was pretty darn punctual for a Catholic service. Honest.)

I'd already been down the aisle once, to guide Long Suffering Spouse to our pew. Olaf's parents followed. Then I was to double back and do my fatherly duty.

Older Daughter (functioning at this event as Matron of Honor) had been careful to remind me to remove her sister's blusher before turning Younger Daughter over to Olaf. "Otherwise it's supposed to be in your face the whole ceremony and it itches. You almost forgot to do that with me, remember?"

Actually, yes, I'm sure I did forget. I'd forgotten the incident too.

It's hard enough to get down the aisle with one's daughter without crumbling. Older Daughter had been cracking wise at the back of the church at her wedding -- but fell silent as we marched in. Seeing all those faces, turned to look at us -- well, it's a little overwhelming. I know I'd gotten misty eyed back then.

At her wedding, Younger Daughter started bawling. This wasn't sniffle, snorfle, snuffle stuff either; this was full-blown Niagara Falls. ("Thank goodness I had waterproof makeup," she said later.)

This was unexpected. She wasn't unhappy, you understand; it was just all the emotion burbling to the surface at once. And, in that situation, crying, like yawning in most other settings, is contagious. You can imagine what that would have done to my Curmudgeonly-credibility if I'd started bawling too. I told her to knock it off.

Surprisingly, she did.

When we got to the front, I tried to remember what Fr. Ed had said about gripping which elbow with which hand and passing Younger Daughter over to Olaf. As I struggled to recall, the pssssting started from the front pew and the altar both.

"The blusher!" hissed Older Daughter.

"The blusher!" hissed Long Suffering Spouse.

Was it left hand on right elbow? I was still puzzling on this and not listening.

Long Suffering Spouse jumped out of the pew. "The blusher!!" she hissed again.

I gave up on the elbows and pulled up the blusher.

Crisis averted.

But this may have been the chattiest Mass I've ever attended. The stage whispering about the blusher was just the beginning.

It turns out to be difficult to kneel for an hour while 5½ months pregnant. Younger Daughter started to sway. We started buzzing back and forth, worried that she was going to topple. Older Daughter was halfway out of her chair on the altar ready to do her nurse thing on her sister. Fr. Ed eventually caught on and chairs were procured.

The two of them were very cute up there. The priest told them to join hands. Younger Daughter grabbed Olaf's mitt like she was shaking hands.

But for all the informality -- and the near-fainting spell -- and all the table talk -- I thought the Mass had gone quite well.

We were supposed to stay in our seats when Mass ended. The bridal party was to walk to the back of the church and keep walking right back down front to get the pictures over with. Fr. Ed was concerned about timing because our parish has an anticipatory mass at 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays -- and we needed to be out before that crowd came in.

But not everyone at the church was coming to the reception. I made an executive decision.

I followed the bridal party out and tried to line them up in some semblance of a receiving line. It was like herding cats, of course, and I encountered some resistance along the lines of "Fr. Ed said...."

The receiving line formed slowly -- but moved slower.

At Catholic weddings, most receiving lines I've seen have moved right along. You shake hands with each person and, literally, hand them into the outstretched paw of the next person in line. Conversation is minimal. The bride gets kissed and hugged, of course, but no guest can get a drink in the receiving line. So guests move quickly.

But I hadn't counted on the teetotaling tendencies of Olaf's family. Some of them abstain entirely; others frown on anyone who doesn't. So these sober-sided people felt no urgency in the receiving line. They wanted to share their life stories with Younger Daughter. Neighbors of Olaf's parents wanted to make sure that Younger Daughter knew just which house they lived in. "No, not the red brick house with the white siding; we're just south of them."

Some of the early crowd was starting to come in for 5:00. (Granted, it was only 4:25 or so by this point -- but these are the holy rollers who wanted extra time to pray. We'd be getting the stinkeye from them certain sure if we didn't quickly vacate the premises.) I made another executive decision and started moving the receiving line back toward the altar.

Fr. Ed was obviously not pleased.

"We have 10 minutes, people," I announced. "Let's get to it. Mr. Photographer, it's your show. Move us along."

The photographer was a college classmate of Olaf's and Younger Daughter's who hopes to make a living at this trade. He didn't expect to be ordering around old people like me under such pressure-packed circumstances. But he did pretty well.

Really, everybody did pretty well.

We eventually got over to the reception -- I've told you about the kitchen stuff already -- but now I want to give you a couple of stories from the "front of the house."

Is that OK?

If so, stay tuned.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Aunt Floofy and the wedding napkins: Decking the hall for Younger Daughter's wedding

I'm sure I must have must have mentioned that Younger Daughter is part crow. I do not refer to the indigenous people of the American west but, rather, to the large black bird that covets shiny things.

Younger Daughter has been inordinately fond of sparkly, shiny things since infancy. Glitter on everything! Faces, textbook covers, folders, pens, you name it, if Younger Daughter had it, it would be made sparkly or have glitter added.

This is something that almost anyone would notice about Younger Daughter on very short acquaintance and Olaf's family was, of course, no exception.

When they took on the responsibility for decorating the Parish Center (they insisted on doing something you'll remember) it was therefore a lock-cinch certainty that sparkles would be part of the decor.

When it was determined that Olaf's family would take on the decorating responsibilities, they insisted on inspecting the locus in quo. As a teacher in the parish school, my wife has been entrusted with a prodigious collection of keys. There are some foreign cars that weigh less than my wife's key set. But none of these, however numerous, open the Parish Center. Access to the shiny new facility is strictly controlled (we actually had one of the first private parties in the place; after Older Daughter got married in Indianapolis, we had a second party here so that we could celebrate with our friends and neighbors -- that was the occasion on which my wife first field-tested the spinach lasagna).

The point, however, is that my wife can't always get in there. She is in there, nearly every day, during the school year, because there's a track around the perimeter of the room, on a mezzanine level -- 17 times around is a mile -- and Long Suffering Spouse walks it during her lunch hour. But she can be there then only because the gym teacher has the place opened up at that time. The gym teacher has keys; the gym teacher is, I think, the only teacher with a key.

So when Olaf's mother began pestering my wife for a site inspection, Long Suffering Spouse was unable to instantly comply. I'm speculating, of course, but I think the logic train may have run like this: She works in the building; she should have keys to things in her building; she's not letting me see the room -- sabotage!

Logic trains, like real trains, sometimes run completely off the tracks.

My wife did find a Wednesday when she could get in there after school in between classes and the start of the afternoon's athletic practices. She passed word to Olaf's mother -- who showed up with her husband and sister in tow.

Olaf's mother's sister, of course, would be Olaf's aunt. Olaf is an only child but his mother comes from a large family. This particular sibling was at the top of the birth order (Olaf's mother was the baby of the family); she'd never married. She'd worked in some technical field for many years. Her job was a casualty of this never-ending Recession we've been in for, oh, seemingly forever at this point. She did find another job -- in retail. So she's underemployed and bored. And she loves to decorate. I'll call her Aunt Floofy.

I wasn't at this summit meeting (I'm smarter than I look) but, as it was related to me, Olaf's father drew a floor plan, Olaf's mother supervised, and Aunt Floofy poked into every nook and cranny, looked in every closet, and asked every possible question she could think of. Long Suffering Spouse returned from the encounter slightly shell-shocked. I just caught snippets of dialog, mostly from listening to her mutter in her restless sleep over the next few nights....
Do we have to use these chairs?

These are nice chairs. What's wrong with them?

Folding chairs, really?

* * * * * * * * *

Are these the only tables?

Round tables and long ones, yes. We can use the long ones for serving.

But these are the only tables? Really?
There was a later crisis involving the floor covering -- the parish has plastic runners to protect the gym floor. They completely cover the floor, but there are seams and the parish was worried about dancing -- people, especially ladies in heels, might trip over the seams and be injured.

But Long Suffering Spouse was in Costco when they were selling "footies" (perhaps you'd know these as "foot peds") in carload lots. She bought a gross or so. We'll have an old-fashioned sock hop! Crisis averted.

Now I feel compelled, at this point, to depart from the narrative thread here -- as a public service. If anyone should happen upon these essays and be foolishly inspired to put on a soiree of their own using our experiences as a template, I feel I must warn you, don't plan on solving a similar problem, should one arise, at your own neighborhood Costco.

This is not a knock against the chain. It's just... well, Costco has kind of a perverse twist on Harry Potter's "Room of Requirement." I don't refer to the obvious fact that Costco charges for all their neat stuff while Hogwarts students can find what they need need for free in the Room of Requirement. Rather, at Hogwarts, kids can find what they need by looking for it. If you go to Costco looking for something specific -- even something you've seen there before -- yesterday, even -- it will not be there. Costco has a very sophisticated computerized inventory system that gives you one chance, and one chance only, to get what you need when you see it, whether you know (then) you need it or not. That's why Costco customers routinely come home with all sorts of treasures they didn't intend to buy when they went in. And if you go in looking for your own giant box of foot peds, it simply won't be there.

And now back to our story....

Younger Daughter would occasionally bring rumors back about decorating plans. She'd been interrogated thoroughly about the wedding colors at first. Later, she was shown fabric samples and asked to choose favorites. (She liked something with sparkles, she told us. We pretended to be surprised.)

But the one thing that was uppermost in our minds about the decorating was that, whatever we put up, or whatever they'd put up, we'd have to take down.

True, we had the hall for Saturday afternoon and evening -- but there was a men's basketball league that played there on Friday nights and a Zumba group that met there on Saturday mornings. (If you watch a lot of TV, you've probably heard of Zumba. It involves dancing as exercise -- not Sweating to the Oldies, but jumping around to a Latin beat. Long Suffering Spouse had to participate in a Zumba workout at the end of a teaching seminar once. She said it hurt her joints, all that jumping. When the joint's jumping, that's a good thing; when the jumping hurts your joints, that's not so good.) And there was still another group that had the room reserved for Sunday morning.

And none of these groups required the floor covering, tables or chairs that we'd need.

Setting that up was going to take some time all by itself -- without any ornamentation -- and Long Suffering Spouse was dreading the prospect of trying to round up half-crocked family and friends to take everything down at the end of the party.

Then, one day, Younger Daughter and Olaf came home and told us that Aunt Floofy wanted to wrap all the chairs.

You've probably been to wedding halls where they wrap the chairs. Me too. I know it's supposed to look really fancy. It reminds me, however, more of an estate sale.

So I would have hated that idea even if the prospect of wrapping 100 or 150 folding chairs in the limited time available wasn't absol-freaking-lutely out of the freaking question. What the freaking, freakity-freak freak was Aunt Floofy doing? She must be out of her ever-loving, cotton-picking mind.

I went on in this vein for several minutes, blood vessels popping in my eyeballs, and, I must confess, I probably didn't say "ever-loving" or "cotton-picking" either.

I might not even have said "freaking."

When I subsided, and the windows stopped rattling, Younger Daughter was crying for some reason. Something about not wanting to be in the middle of all this. All what? I was just expressing my opinion.

Long Suffering Spouse -- who was plainly less than pleased with my manner of expression -- nevertheless concurred in my judgment on the matter, and (judging by her countenance) was equally determined that there would be no chair wrapping.

Olaf seemed to catch on to our position on this issue. "I told them I didn't think this would be a good idea," he offered. "I'll tell them again."

I'm not certain what Olaf told his folks, but he was persuasive. Thus it came to pass that Aunt Floofy's chair-wrapping was confined to the wedding shower.

And we had even better news in the last couple of days before the wedding.

The school custodian decided he'd be willing to set up the floor and the tables himself. Since he and his assistant wouldn't be working on Saturday, they'd have to do it on Friday -- and the men's basketball league and Zumba would have to use the old gym for their respective meetings.

The best thing about this news was that it came late enough that Aunt Floofy's plans were sufficiently advanced to preclude revival of her chair-wrapping ambitions.

Olaf was over at the house a couple of days before the wedding. "It's crazy at my house," he told us. "They're decorating the napkins."

"Napkins?" asked Long Suffering Spouse. "They're using cloth napkins?"

"Oh, yes," said Olaf, "my aunt bought them special. But don't worry. Her basement already looks like a party supply store. I'm sure she'll find something else to use them on."

Long Suffering Spouse was surprised to hear about cloth napkins because she'd already had the conversation with Olaf's mother about renting plates and silverware. My wife had persuaded her, after some delicate and lengthy negotiations, to abandon that idea in favor of using plastic plates and utensils. We have to clean up the hall that night, she kept reminding Olaf's mother, and if we have to wash dishes we'll be there all night. I think the clincher may have been my wife's solemn assurance that there was no dishwasher on the premises.

There are some very nice plastic plates out there, my wife told Olaf's mother. Eventually, Olaf's mother accepted that as a challenge -- and a quest. But word that Aunt Floofy had come up with cloth napkins -- napkins that they were decorating -- only served to revive my wife's concerns. "What are they up to?" she fretted.

We were about to find out.

We had to tell the in-laws, eventually, the happy news that they could get in the hall on Friday -- before the rehearsal -- instead of waiting until 10:30 on Saturday morning (and the wedding was set for 3:00 p.m.). Since the rehearsal was set for 6:30 Friday evening, my wife suggested we all rendezvous at the Parish Center around 4:00 p.m. That way, we could get the room set up and go directly down the block to the church for the rehearsal.

Olaf's mother suggested they get in there at 11:00 a.m. instead.

You'll remember that the Friday before the wedding was also my wife's last day of school. There was only a half-day scheduled -- but even that wouldn't be over at 11:00.

And you'll remember that I've told you (as if you couldn't figure it out for yourselves) that, by this point, my dear wife was dangerously, exquisitely, entirely fatigued. She somehow found the strength to point out that she was still working at that time and had a mandatory luncheon following and to persuade them to come at 2:00 p.m. instead. She ended the call -- and screamed. Five hours! What do they think they're going to do in there for five hours? No one was going to question her math at this point.

The Curmudgeon clan descended on the hall as soon as Long Suffering Spouse got back from her brunch -- and she'd been the first to leave, about 1:00 p.m. She'd signed out the key for the room that morning; she'd asked the custodian to meet me at 2:00 to go over the lighting and sound system instructions.

The floor was down. The tables were all set up. My wife had us move some hither and thither. We extended the head table to accommodate the attendants and their escorts. Long Suffering Spouse even accepted one of my suggestions (one of mine!) -- that we could seat people on both sides of the head table as long as we kept the space across from the bride and groom clear. That way, everyone in the room would have an unimpeded view of the happy couple -- if they ever sat down -- and the head table would not take up one entire wall of the room.

I met with the custodian as planned -- and got the wireless microphone -- and got instructed on how to plug in the iPod to the sound system. Penny and Carl were here by that time and their 16-year old daughter plugged hers in, just to make sure it worked. She had a lot of country music on the iPod. We kept the volume down, despite Youngest Son's protests. The girl kept running back to it, trying to keep one jump ahead of any curse words in the songs. She succeeded, mostly.

By 3:00 we'd accomplished just about all we could without the decorations themselves -- and there was still no sign of Olaf's family.

They finally showed up shortly after 3:00 -- traffic was terrible, they said -- and on a Friday afternoon in Chicago, too. Who'd have ever guessed?

We trooped out to the parking lot and began unloading boxes and tablecloths. The tablecloths were on hangers.



There were to be two to a table. A dark blue circular cloth was the first layer, then a lighter blue rectangle, covered in silver sparkles, was to be put on over.

The Curmudgeon family, supplemented with Penny and Carl, bent to the task. A couple of times someone put the undercloth on seam side up -- but one disapproving glare from Aunt Floofy was enough to make the guilty party correct the error.

Then the utensils box was opened. I've seen plastic silverware in my day, some better than others. I never, until the day before Younger Daughter's wedding, ever saw silver plastic silverware. It looked nicer than the metal stuff we use at home.

And then the napkin boxes were opened up. Each "napkin" was about the size of a kitchen towel, carefully folded, and tied up with a blue ribbon. There were three large plastic diamonds tied to the ribbon on each. We set about putting one at each place. Aunt Floofy followed us around, floofing the napkins to some internal specification we couldn't possibly appreciate or understand. It was at that moment that I named her. It was either that or deck her -- and I didn't think that would go over well with my new in-laws.

Of course, you never know....

They brought big bowls for each table. And two big, decorative bottles of water -- from the Norwegian hometown of Olaf's father's family, we were told, and that (I admit) was kind of interesting -- and marbles for the bowls and five candles for each table. We helped put 'em all out.

The box of clear plastic plates was opened. Long Suffering Spouse wanted these at each place, too, but Aunt Floofy vetoed that idea. (We'd probably have had to put the plates underneath the napkins and then she'd have to re-floof the napkins all over again.) My wife argued that, if they were in the buffet line, people would take more than one or take a second plate when they came back for reinforcements and, either way, that would increase the danger of our running out.

And these were such nice plates. None of your flimsy stuff here. These were substantial plates that were (probably) dishwasher safe. And they were clear, but grayish-tinted. But Aunt Floofy had the last word and they were stacked up at the beginning of the serving line.

It was just past 4:00 now. We'd done everything -- and had two and half more hours to kill before the rehearsal. And I wanted to smack Aunt Floofy. There was no time for the in-laws-to-be to go home and back. They decided to change clothes at the hall, then go shopping for an hour or so before we'd all meet again at the church. We waited while they changed... then went home. Olaf came with us. The kids all poured drinks. Since one of them handed me a beaker of scotch, I did not complain.

And that brings you, now, to where I started with these reminiscences. (Hey, it worked for Homer, didn't it?) Anyway, now I can tell you about the wedding and the reception itself.

But not today.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread: Part II -- thankfully, a tranquilizer dart was not required

I didn't mention yesterday, in my seemingly exhaustive catalog of what Long Suffering Spouse did in the days and weeks leading up to last Saturday's wedding, that school was in session that entire time.

My wife had a half day of school on Friday, before we went to decorate the parish hall, and the graduation Mass was held on the morning of the wedding.

Long Suffering Spouse missed exactly zero time from work during all of this (OK, she didn't go to the graduation Mass -- but that's it). So, amidst the flowers and the cakes and the souvenir cookies and the potatoes and the chickens and the potatoes and the potatoes and the chickens, my wife was also grading papers, creating and grading tests, calculating report cards and doing all of the other end-of-term stuff that a teacher does.

I hesitated to mention that yesterday because I figured I was straining your credibility already: I was afraid you'd turn away, saying no one could do so much.

And, yet, in truth, she did more.

But, as Saturday neared, Long Suffering Spouse began to realize that she'd not be able to appear in the wedding photos and start the food. She'd have to have help.

Charlotte and Penny and Mrs. Lork all stepped up to volunteer.

They knew they were entering into a tough spot, but I don't know if any of them, despite their years of friendship with Long Suffering Spouse, could really have understood what they were getting into.

You see, something had to be sacrificed in order to accomplish all of these tasks.

That something was sleep.

Years ago, usually during the Christmas season, my wife and I would put names to our increasing levels of fatigue. I can't remember them all now -- I think at one point we had as many names for exhaustion as Eskimos allegedly have for snow (which, by the way, is largely a myth -- but I won't digress). After "tired" came "exhausted"; after "exhausted" came "cranky"; after "cranky" -- probably several steps after cranky (I just can't recall them all now) -- came a very dangerous stage called "charming."

And Long Suffering Spouse had reached that phase well before Saturday. I'd say she'd reached "charming" by Friday morning. I think it was the flower arranging coupled with Younger Daughter's bachelorette party on Thursday night that pushed her over. By that time, Older Daughter had arrived, of course, with husband Hank and their dog, Cork.

Cork descended the basement stairs for the first time Thursday night to see what Long Suffering Spouse was up to. My wife was in the basement because that was the coolest area of the house and she needed a large table to work on. All large tables on the first floor had been commandeered by blenders and sissy drinks and paper umbrellas.

(Younger Daughter couldn't drink, of course, but that didn't stop her sister and sister-in-law from outfitting her in a feathery pink boa and a plastic, red-blinking tiara. They'd gone out to dinner, but had returned for the aforementioned sissy drinks by 10:00pm or so.)

Meanwhile, in the basement, Long Suffering Spouse had to expend energy she didn't have trying to keep the dog from eating small pieces of rose stems that had fallen to the floor. The dog had a liberal policy for determining what was, or what might be, food. In the dog's view, anything that fell from a table must be food.

Nor was there any way for Long Suffering Spouse to 'ditch' the teachers' brunch following the dismissal of the last class. Yes, the in-laws were about to descend en masse on the Parish Center for the decorating binge, but Mrs. Lork was retiring that day -- and my wife was determined to go.

And then came the decorating itself (I'm teasing the decorating post as long as possible) and the rehearsal (at which the failure to obtain a wedding license added no stress whatsoever -- ha!) -- and the wedding itself.

My wife says she dressed in five minutes. I was otherwise engaged, but, based on what I did see, I don't think she can be exaggerating by much, if at all.

Accordingly, even the very dangerous stage of "charming" was long since surpassed by the time my wife arrived to take command in the Parish Center kitchen.

I tried to be available at the beginning. There were things that had been forgotten, or not anticipated, and there was a shuttle of kids back and forth to the house to obtain that which needed obtaining. My job was to phone or text them and update the list as directed. But I could see the dangerous light in my wife's eyes.

It is not literally true that lightning came out of my wife's eyes or flames shot out of her flaring nostrils. That would be an exaggeration -- at least until it was discovered that the potatoes were taking longer to warm than expected and, worse, that they weren't warming equally.

It is literally true that Penny, Charlotte and Mrs. Lork were working like heroes. Penny burned her arm checking on the potatoes. At one point, during the crisis, I stopped for a nanosecond to ask Mrs. Lork how she liked being retired so far. "I haven't noticed much of a difference yet," she told me, but then I felt the electric discharges coming from my approaching spouse and quickly started moving again.

The one thing one could not be in that kitchen was still. My sister Betty apparently wandered into the kitchen at one point and interrupted my wife. She says she merely asked whether there was anything she could do to help. I didn't see what happened. But I saw Betty moments later, heading for the bar, shaken, and perhaps even singed. "Maybe I can help later," she stammered. "I don't mind getting yelled at. I'm used to getting yelled at," she continued, "but I'm not going in there again."

My wife has no recollection of the incident. Neither, thankfully, does she recall what happened when Olaf's mother strayed into the kitchen with a similar request.

I blame it entirely on the potatoes.

I was in there again, briefly, because some guests ran out of bread. I got bread to pass around. Later, I had to go back because other guests were unable to find the butter on their tables, so I grabbed a bag of butter pats and went out to distribute these. As long as one had a clear purpose, or could respond instantly to orders, one was relatively safe. Make the coffee, I was told, but don't plug it in. I made the coffee.

At one point things must have gotten really stressful in the kitchen. Penny turned to my wife and said, "What are you going to do? Fire the help?" That -- believe it or not -- relieved the tension considerably. At least for awhile.

I never heard any shouting in the kitchen, but I'm told that others did -- those potatoes again! -- and, at some point, my friend (and Charlotte's husband) Steve decided that what my wife needed was a drink.

Steve and I used to put away mass quantities of liquor together. Steve hasn't had more than a sip of ethanol, however, in something like four or five hears because of medication he has to take for a chronic condition. But he doesn't mind when his friends enjoy themselves and he'd appointed himself a bartender Saturday. It was in this capacity that he braved the kitchen, holding a drink in front of him that he'd made for Long Suffering Spouse.

He got her to take a sip somehow. "This is awful!" she said, lightning starting right up again. Steve had meant to bring her a vodka and tonic. Instead he'd brought a gin and tonic. He made an immediate retreat.

Penny's husband, Carl, volunteered to bring in the replacement as long as I watched the twins, Tim and Tom. I readily agreed.

Carl retired from the Marines as a major some years back. Although he's a lawyer by training and never had a combat deployment, he has received specialized training. It was a good match of man and mission.

We conferred briefly before he went in. "Do you think we'll need a tranquilizer dart?" I asked.

"I hope that won't be necessary," Carl said grimly. And he marched off bravely.

Carl succeeded in his mission. Long Suffering Spouse took the drink.

It may have been training; it may also have been timing. The potatoes were finally done.

I shooed the bridal party to the head table and grabbed Olaf and Younger Daughter and parked them in the vestibule. I turned on the wireless mike to introduce them. The party was really underway now.

So I'm doing the stories out of order. So sue me. Next, however, when I get a moment, I want to talk about the decorating. There's a reason (I think) why I should get to that at this point in the retelling. Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread: Part I - the menu for the feast

It would have been dangerous indeed for anyone, even a person with wings and a halo, to set foot in the Parish Center kitchen early Saturday evening, shortly after Younger Daughter's wedding Mass. But to explain why, I have to rewind just a bit.

Long Suffering Spouse had been preparing food during the last couple of weeks before the wedding.

There was an extensive experimentation phase prior to the time that actual preparation began.

It had been suggested that chicken cordon bleu would go over well. But could we make chicken cordon bleus without toothpicks? (Someone might bite into a toothpick, my wife fretted.) She tried making a tray with the wrapped chickens tucked next to each other so they wouldn't unwind. (They also wouldn't cook all the way through, and undercooked poultry is apparently a big no-no.) The Internet was consulted -- but were metal skewers really an improvement over toothpicks? (Harder to miss, worse for you if you did.)

A teaching colleague of my wife's -- Mrs. Lork (no, that's not her real name, but she will figure prominently in the narrative to come and deserves a name -- and perhaps a medal) -- suggested tying them with a string, but Long Suffering Spouse was not overly impressed with that idea. (What if someone didn't see the string and bit into it? How would dinner and a flossing go over?) Eventually Long Suffering Spouse found a restaurant supply store that offered frozen, premade chicken cordon bleus.

Not for the first time, we consolidated our freezer space.

The potatoes were another issue. Mashed potatoes were deemed too plain. Some sort of scalloped dish was decided upon and a tray was procured from the same restaurant supply store at which we (eventually) found the chicken cordon bleus. These were produced at a family dinner -- it may have been Easter Sunday -- but they proved to be a disappointment. Too bland. More cheese would certainly be required.

Several versions followed. As near as I could tell (and I am no foodie), the key issue was the thickness of the potato slices. Too thin and the casserole tray would dissolve into soup upon reheating; too thick and they would be too hard. Crunchy potatoes are fine as french fries, not as scalloped potatoes.

And how deep should the trays be?

We had a lot of scalloped potatoes in the last several weeks before a recipe was decided upon.

The spinach lasagna was a tried and true recipe. These were already in the freezer by the time chickens were acquired. Then came the chickens. Then, somehow, came the potatoes.

There wasn't room for anything else.

We have two refrigerators in the Curmudgeon house, the one in the kitchen and the other in the basement. The basement frig handles the overflow and, understandably, is most heavily used around the holidays or for events like this one. So we had two freezers available -- and, for awhile there, it looked like we couldn't possibly accommodate everything.

My mother-in-law (Abuela to my kids) has a giant freezer, the kind that a successful deer hunter might use to store a season's worth of venison. But she filled it long ago -- in anticipation of Y2K I think -- and she scoffed when my wife suggested that space could be found therein for at least some of the wedding feast. "It's full," she said. "There's no room."

I'm not sure anything in my mother-in-law's freezer is actually still edible -- but if it is, and if the Apocalypse comes, Abuela will ride it out in style. At least as long as she can keep the freezer cold. Somehow, therefore, we made the best of what we had.

The entrees accounted for, it was time to turn to dessert. Long Suffering Spouse found a giant wedding cake cookie mold online -- and for a veteran cookienista (I can make up words in my own blog, can't I?) like my bride, the temptation was irresistible. We tried a couple of different recipes and several frosting and decoration schemes before she settled on the final design. Each cookie was individually wrapped and ribboned. Did they come out alright? Put it this way: Strangers took pictures of these cookies and posted them on Facebook.

Making the final batches of cookies occupied most of my wife's evenings in the first part of the week before the wedding. But she'd already ordered two sheetcakes from Costco to go along with the cookies. We were to pick these up last Thursday along with the flowers.

Oh, yes, my wife made all the bouquets, too. She practiced on plastic flowers, using different color ribbons and types of floral tape and pinning schemes before deciding which to use. She would produce the bouquets on Thursday night.

But... wait! The basement refrigerator, already top-heavy from an overloaded freezer, had to be repurposed to store the flowers. The cakes had nowhere to go.

My friend Steve's wife, whom I'll call Charlotte (because this is not her real name either) said she could take the cakes. Charlotte, like Mrs. Lork, becomes a hero of this story, as does Long Suffering Spouse's old college roommate, Penny (that's a link to my 25th anniversary post in which Penny was introduced to the blog). But you'll have to stay tuned for all of that.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How Younger Daughter's wedding went off (almost) without a hitch

The real world has crowded out the Blogosphere in recent days -- of course, the wedding has been at the top of my personal headline package at all times, but I've even had work to do at work.

Please don't be angry with me. Think of it this way: On those rare occasions when I'm forced out from behind my keyboard, I'm more or less doing research for the next series of essays here, right?

At the risk of writing a post of more or less readable length, I'll just focus, for now, on the rehearsal at the church on Friday night.

The families had been together for much of the afternoon, by this point, and tempers were beginning to fray.

To keep costs manageable, Long Suffering Spouse had obtained the use of the parish center for the reception. The parish frowns on using the hall for wedding receptions -- officially, I think it's prohibited -- and the multipurpose room had been booked for events on Saturday morning and Sunday morning both. But Long Suffering Spouse can be most persuasive -- and the parish staff has long looked forward to my wife's generous provision of Christmas cookies.

And, also to contain costs, my wife had decided to cook the dinner for the 110 or so confirmed wedding guests. We invited fewer than 30 of these, not counting the bride, and we had about 28 show up on our side, not all of them invited. The rest were about evenly distributed between Olaf's side of the family (Olaf's mother has a flock of siblings, and she invited a bunch of her neighbors, too) and friends of the bride and groom.

Olaf's family -- his mother, mostly, and an aunt (a never-married older sister to Olaf's mother) -- insisted that they must also do something for the wedding.

There are two ways to spin this: Olaf is an only child and this would be his mother's one and only opportunity to be involved in a wedding -- we'd been through this with Older Daughter's wedding, too, because Hank is an only child as well. So, on the one hand, we could understand that they'd want, even need, to participate to the fullest possible extent. On the other hand, Long Suffering Spouse is an unstoppable force of nature when it comes to events of this kind and the slightest interference would chafe considerably with her.

Younger Daughter got increasingly stressed about it, as time went on, because the groom's family wanted an assignment and Long Suffering Spouse wanted to just get things done without a lot of fuss, bother or even conversation. Finally, though, we agreed that Olaf's mother and aunt could decorate the hall for the reception. That seemed harmless enough.

Then we went to a wedding shower in an uncle's suburban backyard and saw how many of the chairs had been wrapped in bedsheets and how all the tables were elaborately decked out -- centerpieces you couldn't see around and everything -- there was a chocolate fountain inside the house, too -- and Long Suffering Spouse really began to get nervous. Did I mention that all this was in a backyard?

And there was a question of how much physical setup we'd have to do in the parish hall -- which doubles as the school gym -- and when we'd be able to do it. And when we got reports that Olaf's mother and aunt were looking at about a five hour window to set things up, we began to panic. Remember? There was another event coming in on Sunday morning. We would need to take down whatever they put up -- and we'd be doing it, presumably, in a state of inebriation and exhaustion.

But -- somehow -- we got the hall more or less done on Friday afternoon. (And, no, this is not a continuity error; I hope to have time to explain in a later essay.)

We had an hour or two to decompress and rehydrate before the rehearsal.

Now a wedding rehearsal is not really that much different from a rehearsal of any other production. All the participants need to learn their marks and cues and practice their lines. The priest needs to go over the readings, show the readers how to use the microphones, and otherwise guide the participants through what may be an unfamiliar ceremony. One can not assume that everyone who comes to a wedding Mass is a practicing Catholic.

Certainly the particulars of the Catholic Mass were unfamiliar to Olaf's family. They are not unchurched -- just the opposite, in fact -- most of them are hard-core, church-going Lutherans. One of Olaf's grandfathers had been a Lutheran pastor. Olaf's parents aren't Lutheran anymore; they have become devotees of a non-denominational congregation that has very modern services and very archaic beliefs. (Put it this way: We don't talk about evolution with them, OK?) The only unchurched one on the groom's side is the groom himself; a good student of Newtonian physics, Olaf has had an equal and opposite (and predictable) reaction to his parents' embrace of biblical inerrancy. (For further background, if you're curious, see What I wished I could have said: Science and religion can be complimentary.)

I wasn't too worried that anybody would start yelling about the Whore of Babylon at either the rehearsal or the wedding Mass itself; Olaf's family likes Younger Daughter -- and all of their awkward and discomforting questions were likely to be posed in private. They'd already asked a bunch of them. On the other hand, I'm not entirely certain that all the scars have yet healed from the Thirty Years War and I sure as heck did not want it flaring up 364 years later in Chicago.

Our pastor, Fr. Ed (no, not his real name) did a fine job navigating the cultural minefield. He had a great patter, explaining the symbolism of each action in the ceremony. He even had a prescribed procedure for me to hand Younger Daughter off to Olaf at the altar (something to do about clutching elbows -- it really did sound good at the time, I just couldn't remember a word of it when the time came to perform).

Eventually, we were all done. Fr. Ed marched the wedding party to the back of the church, and the rest of us began milling about, waiting to leave for the rehearsal dinner. We expected to be released at any moment -- but there was obviously some sort of delay.

Then there was some clearly anxious buzzing audible in the back of the church and some frantic, random milling about.

I think it was Older Daughter who came back down the aisle first. "I don't want to alarm you," she said, which only had the effect of moving us from yellow to red alert instantaneously, "but there seems to be some small paperwork problem. Fr. Ed had come down the aisle close behind Older Daughter and had overheard her introduction of the topic. "I suppose it's a legal problem, really, but I'm sure there must be some way to handle it."

Well, the family members on both sides pressed around Older Daughter and Fr. Ed, pressing physically as well as for an explanation.

"I asked them to give me the license -- " began Fr. Ed.

"And she said my dad must have it -- " injected Older Daughter, referring to her sister.

The light bulb went on.

"You mean... they don't have a license?" I asked. You know how the expression "his jaw hit the floor" seems like a bit of an exaggeration? Well, it wasn't much of an exaggeration Friday night.

Younger Daughter had fought her way into the center of the group by this point. "We didn't know -- " she started.

"Someone could have told us -- " said Olaf, coming into the group as well.

I resisted the temptation to ask if he also needed to be told to inhale and exhale.

"I thought the church had the form -- " said Younger Daughter.

"Well, you did say that it's the Roman Catholic Church and there's a form for everything." Olaf was trying to spin a new defense.

This was not the time to explain to Olaf that Jesus clearly said to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's. The county marriage license clearly belongs to Caesar.

Olaf's mother jumped in at this point. Now I realize I've given (and will continue to give) her some grief in recounting the tale of this wedding. But she genuinely tried, I believe, to spread some healing balm upon the waters on this occasion. "I'm sure this must happen all the time," she said hopefully.

"Nope," said Fr. Ed, "I can't think of this ever happening before in my 22 years here."

Sometimes a priest's cluelessness can be charming -- but, at that moment I was thinking of strangling him.

"But," said Fr. Ed, perhaps feeling the death glare I was starting to send his way, "we can go through with the ceremony tomorrow as planned. There will be a church document. I'm sure there's a way that the county paperwork can be cleaned up after."

Thus somewhat mollified, the wedding party began to disperse. As everyone else was leaving, Ed needed me to sign a document related to the rental of the parish center. I stepped with him into the Sacristy. "This will be a story they'll talk about at their 25th Anniversary -- at their 50th, too," said Fr. Ed -- and I could tell he was clearly anxious to get on the horn to someone to start telling it, too. "The farther we get from this, the funnier it will be," I agreed. "I'll see you tomorrow."

And, by now, I trust, you've figured out why I chose the title I did for today's essay.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

I can remember where... but not always when

Like most people, I suppose, I have trouble remembering things on command.

If you demand that I tell you who won Superbowl XX, I'll answer without thinking (and I'll be right).* But ask me who won the Superbowl just this year and I'll go blank.**

I'd probably fail miserably as a contestant on Jeopardy, even though, from my couch at home, I can more than hold my own against the even the longest-running champions.

But going all-deer-in-the-headlights when asked a direct question is the least of my memory defects.

Where I really get into trouble is that I can remember things in perfect detail, on which side of which drawer in which cabinet -- but the memory has no temporal component.

In other words, I remember that the socket wrench set is in a cabinet in the basement -- and it was there, too, until about a year ago when Middle Son borrowed it and didn't return it.

I remember that the Smith case applies in this fact pattern and that I it extensively in a brief I'd written -- but I can't always tell you whether that brief was written one year ago or 30.

Long Suffering Spouse will ask me if I know where something is -- and I'll remember where it used to be -- at our old house, at least 15 years ago.

Today, I was doing a quick bit of library research and I came across a case I knew I'd seen before and used to get a favorable result in a situation similar to the one I'm facing now. But I had to guess when.

I could search the case name on my computer -- but it wasn't when I was in that office, nor was it when I was of counsel to that other guy -- I finally found it in my current business directory -- and it's only been a couple of years since I used it.

I have a good memory -- but it's unstuck, like Vonnegut's Billy Pilgrim, in time.

* The Chicago Bears, of course. Their one and only Superbowl victory.

** The New York Giants. I had to look this one up. I remembered the game was in Indianapolis, but only because Older Daughter lives there.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Younger Daughter figures something out

There was a girl whom we'll call Amelia (since that is not her real name) who was raised in our parish. She was one of about a dozen or so kids and, if she wasn't the youngest, she was close.

Amelia would be a couple of years or so older than Older Daughter, but the two of them became friendly when both of them were hired to work in the parish rectory several years ago.

Time passed. Amelia went away to school but, in this modern age, no one is ever really far from home, not as long as there's Facebook and all the other social media to tie the kids together. Older Daughter and Amelia stayed friendly, even as Amelia graduated from college and got a teaching job. Older Daughter knew all about Amelia's long-time boyfriend who, in the fullness of time, became her betrothed. A wedding date was set.

When Amelia's wedding date was set there was no particular urgency about the scheduling. But things happen.

In short, the proverbial cart got put in front of the proverbial horse, if you know what I mean. And by the time the big day arrived, Amelia was about seven months' big. And she was bitter.

Not about her husband-to-be, you understand, and not about her unborn child -- but about the nasty, wagging forked tongues of the people who were supposed to be her friends and neighbors and fellow parishioners. The surreptitious sidelong glances really began to wear on her. Eventually she heard whispers in the silence and felt eyes looking at her when there was no one there.

I know Older Daughter was upset that Amelia cut her off, too. Older Daughter couldn't figure out why. (They've only recently begun to communicate again, from what I've heard.)

Younger Daughter was still in junior high when Amelia had her problems. She was an altar server back then and she wound up serving Amelia's wedding. She knew even then how angry Amelia was, but she also did not understand why.

But that was then.

Now Younger Daughter finds herself in a similar situation, and she brought Amelia up in conversation over the weekend.

"I hate everyone at this point," she told me.

"Thanks a lot," I said.

"You know what I mean, Dad. I get so tired of people looking at me -- guessing -- speculating -- saying I'm only marrying Olaf because I'm pregnant. And most of them don't know; they're guessing because we're doing this quickly. I don't want to see anyone. I don't even want to go to the wedding."

"You don't want to get married?"

"No, I do. I just don't want anyone to be there at this point. I think this must be exactly what Amelia felt all those years ago."

I'm pretty sure Younger Daughter's right on the money, too.

And we're the Catholics -- allegedly the pro-life people.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

A disconcerting sight -- initially

Whilst driving around Saturday morning discharging my weekend errands, I chanced by the Park Ridge VFW Hall. Those weren't barrels in the parking lot; they weren't barbecue grills. Maybe the receptacles were barrel shaped, but smaller. Flames were clearly visible over the tops; that's what first caught my attention.

But that didn't last, not when I saw what was being burned.

There were two or three flaming receptacles and two or three men at each -- and each man was handling an American flag.

They were burning American flags.

No, these were not the anti-NATO protesters taking over the veterans' hall for one final act of outrage.

These were older men, veterans all (I assume, given the venue), burning old and faded American flags because that is exactly what the Flag Code provides for the disposal of our nation's emblem.

Isn't that amazing? Burning the American flag is supposed to be the ultimate act of outrage and defiance -- but it's also the prescribed method for appropriately retiring a flag.

Burning a flag may be either an act of reverence or outrage, depending on the burner's intent. With flags, as with so much else in life, it's not what you do that's important, it's why you do it.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Why I hate banks, part 5,548 (and counting)

This is an actual insert in a bill I paid yesterday.

Well, "paid" is an ambitious word.

I did put something on account.

The bill is actually due tomorrow -- but you can't pay a bill online to Bank of America unless it's from a Bank of America account. So, even though the bill is due tomorrow, payments after 4:00pm yesterday might be deemed late. (Maybe B of A now accepts Saturday payments now on branches open for business on Saturdays, but -- and I found this out the hard way not that long ago -- this was not always the case. I'm not taking any chances.)

(And We the People bailed these lovely creatures out, remember?)

Anyway, transferring balances from a high interest card to one that charges a less usurious rate is not a bad idea.

But this little gem was included in a bill on a card that charges 24.99% interest.

The only people who charge more than that answer to names like Icepick Louie or Tony the Knee-breaker -- and even some of them would be embarrassed to charge 24.99% interest.

(Not a lot of them, admittedly. But some.)

This is just another instance of adding insult to injury.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Yes, the house is lovely, but...

Apethorpe Hall, in Northamptonshire, about four miles north of the ancient market town of Oundle, is on the market, and priced to sell at £2.5 million (roughly $3.88 million).

It's quite a house -- 48 rooms -- and think of what a 'man cave' you could make of this room!

The place is just dripping with history: The oldest parts date from the late 1400s. Queen Elizabeth I stopped off for visits. So did King James I. The house was the family seat of the Earls of Westmorland for 350 years.

But the Fanes don't live there any more.

Although Wikipedia assures us that the 16th Earl is still very much among the living, Americans familiar with the collected works of P.G. Wodehouse will not be surprised to learn that the family sold the place. The surprising thing is that the family sold out early -- in 1904 -- to a Mr. Leonard Brassey. Whether he was later Lord Brassey or merely a relation, English Heritage tells us "Lord Brassey sold the house and gardens in 1949, though retained much of the remaining estate." Like a lot of old English manor houses, Apethorpe Hall "became an approved school, which closed in 1982."

In short, the joint was abandoned. It fell to rack and ruin, snatched from destruction only by the timely acquisition of the property by English Heritage which, in 2004, "undertook a multi-million pound programme of rescue works, with the aim of selling the Hall for use as a private country house."

Apparently, they're not even going to try and get back all the dough they plowed into the place.

So -- here's a true bargain -- oozing with history and potential. You can invite your friends down for weekends. You can play Upstairs, Downstairs or Downton Abbey.

And did I mention that Rowan Atkinson lives just down the road in the Village of Apethorpe?

You could have him over to tea and maybe persuade him to reenact scenes from Blackadder in the very apartments where Queen Lizzie I once took a royal snooze. I believe House is going off the air; maybe Hugh Laurie can be persuaded to visit, too. Maybe he'll bring Stephen Fry.

And, of course, if you get them you can do Jeeves and Wooster too.

What fun!

I know you're interested -- perhaps reaching even now for your checkbook -- so I should mention that there is one, teeny, tiny problem with the house.

A small thing, really.

But Eric Pfeiffer, on Yahoo! News (where I first learned of this -- and from whence I grabbed the two big pictures here) did mention in his article that there aren't any bathrooms in the house.

Forty eight rooms. Not one toilet.

Must have been a heck of a school. Now we know why the Brits are so famed for their reserve....