Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Payton Prep forfeits baseball game after parents refuse to let kids drive to Roseland on a Saturday night

Bee, I know you're going to think this is about sports, but it's not really. Nor is this really about race, but that's the way it's being reported here.

Walter Payton College Prep and Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep are two of the best, most prestigious high schools in Illinois. That's not my opinion; that's the verdict of the current U.S. News & World Report rankings. Payton checks in at #2, Brooks at #13. These are both Chicago Public Schools (indeed, seven of the top 20 in the state are CPS schools -- most of them, Payton and Brooks included, highly selective "magnet" schools).

Payton is located not far from the Loop, at 1034 N. Wells, in an area the Realtors call the Near North neighborhood, close to both the Gold Coast and River North neighborhoods. Brooks, on the other hand, is located at 250 E. 111th Street, about two miles east of I-57, in the Roseland neighborhood.

Roseland is increasingly in the news these days, and not in a good way. It is wracked by gang violence, shootings, drugs, and all manner of crime. You can get mugged near Payton on a Saturday night, too. Cabrini Green used to be just a couple of blocks away -- but that neighborhood is, objectively, far safer these days than Roseland.

The Brooks baseball team plays on its own field, on the school grounds. According to one account I saw, the field is literally locked away from its surrounding environs. Ninth Ward Ald. Anthony Beale, who happens to be an assistant coach on the Brooks team, says that Brooks has the nicest high school field in the City. Even if he is a Chicago alderman, on this point at least, I take him at his word. It looked pretty sweet on TV.

The story broke this way: Sunday morning it was reported that Payton forfeited its scheduled night game at Brooks because 'team parents' refused to let their kids venture into the Roseland neighborhood. The Payton coach was embarrassed. The Brooks coach was embarrassed -- and angry. Furious backtracking has been underway since.

We will probably never know exactly what happened. It seems, however, that a bus was supposed to take the team to and from the game -- which may or may not have been hastily arranged. It's been an awful spring around here, folks. Coaches can't reschedule all the rain-outs and freeze-outs and they are grasping at any opportunities they can to get their kids some playing time. It's quite possible that last-second bus arrangements might have fallen through.

Unless you've had kids who've played high school baseball you may not know what that means.

Let me tell you: Some parents would have been able to take their own kids and maybe a couple of others. But, on a Saturday night, in families with more than one kid, there may have been -- would likely have been -- conflicts. Who knows? Maybe some of the moms and dads had plans of their own. So that means that kids would be expected to get themselves there. To carpool. To drive to an unfamiliar, and dangerous, neighborhood, where kids can, and do, get killed because they looked like someone else. Or maybe just because they looked like they didn't belong.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell, an African-American, wasn't happy about the situation, but, she wrote, "Given the steady stream of shootings and killings occurring on the South Side, I really can’t blame any parent for having concerns about a night game." She added:
I’m not proud to admit it, but I don’t travel certain streets at night when I have my grandson in the car.

Crime can happen anywhere. But by now, I have a good idea where I run the greatest risk.

Obviously, this is not something parents should have to worry about, but they do — especially when they are not familiar with the area.

Unfortunately, because of the increase in homicides that we experienced last year on the South Side, the entire area must seem like one big shooting gallery.
Mitchell writes that there were 13 shootings in Chicago this weekend, one resulting in a fatality, and most on the South and West Sides. "Although none of the shootings occurred in Roseland," she writes, "the entire South Side has been stigmatized by the gun violence."

I agree with Ms. Mitchell about the stigma that attaches to the entire South Side -- but the fact that none of this weekend's shootings were in Roseland is no more than a happy coincidence.

But at least Ms. Mitchell is trying not to see this controversy in terms of black and white. Simply calling this a black and white issue is overly simplistic, of course, and (although perhaps not just because it is the simplest) it is the the one adopted by the media generally: Brooks is in an African-American community, therefore Payton parents must be bigots for refusing to let their kids go play. A picture of the Payton team, gathered around their coach during a game Monday at Taft (in a largely white neighborhood on the Northwest Side), on page 10 of this morning's Sun-Times, subtly reinforces this view. The kids sure look white, at least from a distance. I'll bet some of them are.

But there is no such thing as a lily-white Chicago Public High School, and certainly not a magnet school. Every race and nationality is represented at Payton. If Brooks is predominantly African-American, it is a function of its location in such an overwhelmingly African-American area -- but I'd bet there are white kids there from Mt. Greenwood and Beverly, too. That makes it a little harder to just cry bigotry.

Image from this morning's Chicago Sun-Times
I'll also bet that, even if there aren't a lot of African-American kids on the Payton squad, there probably are a lot of Hispanic players. A lot of high school baseball teams in this area are heavily, if not predominantly, Hispanic. And appearances can be deceiving: My kids are half Cuban. Middle Son's high school catcher, a 6'4" behemoth who looks more like a Viking than anything else, is half Dominican. The picture that accompanies the on-line version of the page 10 story I just referenced shows Mayor Emanuel making nice with the Brooks players. Some of the kids are surely African-American, but -- again -- I'd bet money that the Brooks squad is heavily Hispanic, too.

Moreover, although I'm sure Payton students are drawn from all over Chicago, I'd guess that the majority may be native to the North Side. It is a fact of Chicago life that North Siders are cheerfully ignorant of anything south of Roosevelt -- Soldier Field and McCormick Place occasionally excepted -- just as many South Siders, white and black alike, are ignorant of anything north of Oak Street (North Avenue, perhaps, for the adventurous). I am a rarity among my fellow Chicagoans. I was born on the South Side and I've lived on the North and Northwest Sides. There aren't that many of us. So it's neither surprising nor conclusive evidence of racism if Payton parents plead unfamiliarity with the far South Side.

Sixty-six years after Jackie Robinson, white Payton parents weren't refusing to let their kids play against African-Americans. Parents, white and Hispanic alike, weren't comfortable allowing their kids to go to an unfamiliar, dangerous neighborhood on a Saturday night. Especially when they'd have to drive themselves. Is that really racism? Or is it prudence?

(Those who think that having a bus available would have solved everything need to consult the very politically incorrect police blog, Second City Cop. In SCC's coverage of this story, in NEWSFLASH! South Side Isn't Safe and in today's post, More Payton vs. Brooks Controversy, it is noted that school buses are sometimes targeted by gangbangers with guns.)

However, as the linked Sun-Times story notes, the game will finally be played this Saturday night, weather permitting. We can assume that the 5th and 22nd Police Districts will be employing surge tactics along 111th Street: Mayor Emanuel will insist that there be no incidents. The kids will be happy to play, as kids are. It'll take some time, though, for the alleged grown-ups to work through all this.

The Curmudgeon blogging empire celebrates a blogaversary

Today is the first blogiversary of The Blog of Days. Unlike this blog, that blog has had at least one post every single day now for an entire year, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays included. Of course, holidays are included, that being the general idea of TBOD.

Of course, that blog, unlike this one, has a clear and consistent theme. Second Effort is a blog about anything -- and sometimes a blog about nothing. How come it worked so well for Seinfeld, but not for me?

Apparently regular posting pays off: If the increasing levels of anonymous spam are any indication, The Blog of Days seems on pace to surpass this one in terms of page views, possibly in just a few months. I'm hoping that there are some actual real readers there, too. There should be. Judging by the complaints I've heard over the years, TBOD has one distinct advantage over Second Effort. Unlike this blog, the entries on TBOD tend to be relatively short....

Monday, April 29, 2013

"Perfessor, can we have class outside today?" Curmudgeon reminisces

February, March, and (until now) April have been so miserable in Chicago -- cold, wet, gloomy -- culminating just a week or so ago in massive flooding -- that all memory of the unusually warm January we enjoyed in these parts has been erased.

Unless you're one of the unhappy people whose home was trashed by the overflowing Des Plaines River, today, however, almost makes up for what we've been through around here recently.

What a gorgeous morning in Chicago: The air is clear, the buildings downtown stand out against the sky in sharp 3-D relief (too often, recently, the skyline has looked like buildings simply painted on a gray mist-colored scrim). The forsythia have bet that this little Spring-let is the real deal; they are in full yellow bloom this morning. The lilac buds are beginning to swell. The grass has gone from brown to green overnight. There may even be places (one or two) in our yard that could already benefit from the lawnmower. I hung out a small load of laundry on the line to dry this morning before getting on the train to go to work.

And as I was standing in the backyard this morning, squinting into the rising Sun as I hung out my clothes, I couldn't help but think what my college self would have thought on a breathtaking morning like this. "Perfessor," I would say (no, I don't know where the mispronunciation comes from either), "can we have class outside today?" I might not have been the first to ask. And I certainly would not have been the only one pleading. Cabin fever is just as real at 20 as at 56.

And, because of that, sometimes our pleas actually worked, back in the day. We'd all troop outside and sit in the grass and listen to the professor try and keep his train of thought as the warmth of the long-delayed Spring began to settle into his or her bones, too. I can't remember a single specific occasion this morning; I know there can't have been many. I know we asked far more often than we received.

Youngest Son is the only one in college these days. But he can't really ask his professors to hold class outside today. He has finals beginning at the end of this week. A lot of colleges, even here in the frigid Midwest, have finals now.

When I was in undergrad, our academic year lingered into the second week of June one year. If we got out in May at all it was closer to Memorial Day than to the Workers' Holiday. There was time enough for even the most tardy Spring to put in some sort of appearance before we were released from our academic confinement. There were opportunities to ask if we could hold class outside. There were sufficient opportunities to allow us to catch a professor in a weak moment and secure an hour of instruction in the sunshine.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Curmudgeon recognizes he is completely paranoid... but is that a real first step towards anything?

The end of the month is approaching and, with it, the never-ending cycle of new phone and rent and malpractice and other bills that must be paid at the office, and phone, electric, gas, cable, and (of course) charge card bills at home.

The bills arrive with distressing predictability and regularity. (OK, we seem to have lost last month's electric bill at home -- unless it's lost in my briefcase -- I'll look later -- but I'm pretty sure we got it, too.)

What doesn't come are checks.

In my mind's eye I see the mail sorting room from Miracle on 34th Street. Letters going to various offices in Chicago's Loop are cheerfully sorted, without much comment. One of the two guys at the end fishes out an envelope from the stream, only it's not a letter to Santa; it's a check for Curmudgeon. "Look," he tells his buddy, "here's another one. Don't these guys ever learn?"

His buddy pulls something from his back pocket, but it's not the newspaper with the story about Macy's Santa Claus on trial; it's an official-looking memo. "Yeah, he's still on the no-pay list."

"Dead letter office then?"

And instead of getting an inspiration to send the impounded envelops to the nice old man with whiskers at the courthouse, the other guy says, simply, "Yup."

I wake up in a sweat.

I know there's no such memo. At least in my more rational moments I know there's no such memo.

At least I'm pretty sure.

Most of the time.

The rest of the time I'm waiting for the mailman.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Getting nickled and dimed to death makes doing the right thing harder to do

I have an insurance company client that recently began sending me work.

This should be a good thing.

So far, though, it's been a decidedly mixed blessing.

I recently wrote about a vendor billing problem -- I didn't pick the vendor -- the client requires me to use it -- but the bills are totally out of whack.

After wringing my hands here, I wrote my corporate contact and laid the problem out. I haven't heard back. I fear I may have given offense. But I believe I did the right thing and I tried to do it in a positive way.

The vendor bills wouldn't be as much of a problem if the insurer were paying my bills. But it's not. The insurer requires me to 'post' bills through some Third Party Interloper that has somehow sold this insurer (and a number of others around the country, from what I'm hearing) a bill of goods about this somehow being a way to save money.

As Col. Potter used to say on M*A*S*H (mainly because the CBS censors wouldn't him use the actual barnyard epithet), "Horse hockey."

Quibbling over bills just breeds resentment between lawyer and client, just like sneezing uncontrollably in a crowded subway car breeds germs. And maybe even faster.

Look: If you think your lawyer is out to cheat you on his or her bill, maybe you should use another lawyer.

If you enter into the relationship with the assumption that your lawyer will cheat on your bill (else why would you need a Third Party Interloper?) you will actually encourage the lawyer to cheat. Or at least not to accord you the little courtesies and economies that we might otherwise cheerfully provide in an effort to build goodwill -- and more business.

Case in point: I got a new assignment from the insurer a week or so ago about a possible underinsured motorist claim. In Illinois, UIM coverage kicks in if -- but only if -- the party responsible for your injury has less liability coverage than you have in UIM coverage. In Illinois, UIM coverage does not 'stack.' Thus, if you carry UM (uninsured motorist) or UIM coverage with a $50,000 limit and the responsible driver has only a statutory minimum (in Illinois, $20,000 per person) policy, then you have up to $30,000 in additional UIM coverage in the event the responsible party's insurance is insufficient to cover your loss.

Still with me?

This coverage does not kick in automatically. The responsible party's insurer has to put its own policy on the table (or, sometimes, something pretty darn close thereto -- but let's not quibble here) before your insurer gets to decide whether to allow you to take the money or (much less often) advance you the money the other insurer is offering. Then, and only then, can you begin fighting with your own insurer over how much of the UIM limit should be awarded you.

The flip side here is that, if you carry $20,000 in UM/UIM coverage, you probably don't have UIM coverage at all... maybe if the responsible driver comes from a state (if there is one) where the statutory policy liability limit is less than $15,000.

Anyway, in comes this new assignment -- a supposed UIM claim. I spend the time to read the file provided and it becomes obvious that (a) the claim with the primary carrier has not yet been resolved and, therefore, the UIM claim is at least premature and (b) there isn't likely to be a UIM claim anyway because the insured's policy does not appear to be for more than the statutory minimum.

I 'wrote up' seven-tenths of an hour for reading the file; it took longer than that, of course, to acknowledge it through the third party interloper and set up a physical file and enter it into my system. I didn't call the adjuster immediately, but when I did I was prepared to explain why there was not much for me to do on this matter, and maybe nothing at all.

And, as it happens, when I did call, I promptly verified there was nothing to do: The responsible driver's carrier tendered its policy limit, that limit being in excess of the UIM coverage of our insured's policy, and our possible UIM claim vanished like a soap bubble in the breeze.

I congratulated the adjuster on her splendid victory and we had a nice chuckle and, in the ordinary course, I would close my file with no bill. Sure I wasted some time reading the file and doing the administrative tasks in setting the matter up. But I shouldn't resent that because I have hopes, or (in the ordinary course) I should have hopes, that this client will send in more and better business in the future.

Right now, I'm not so sure. This morning I opened up my email to find a notice from the Third Party Interloper advising, in a generic way, that another of my bills to this carrier has been rejected. I have to log into the Third Party Interloper's system to find out why.

And, next week, I am supposed to pay Third Party Interloper $275 for the continued privilege of allowing it to delay my billing.

And the icing on the cake is that the carrier has paid only two of my fee bills this year -- two very little bills. Many more than two remain open, although "approved" by the Third Party Interloper (albeit not without a struggle on several of them).

I will close this file without a bill -- I will have to figure out a way to let the Third Party Interloper system allow me to, of course. It will ask for all sorts of information that does not apply before it will allow me to "close" the matter insofar as it is concerned. I can look forward to wasting an hour or more on that thankless task.

But, still. The right thing to do is close this file without a bill. So I must do the right thing. But I don't have to be happy about it.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Very abbreiviated Frivolous Friday

For one thing I once again neglected to keep track of several good candidates for this occasional Friday feature. Indeed, this morning, when I tried to pull this together, I could only find a couple, such as this one, Monday's edition of Red & Rover, by Brian Basset.

I thought it was funny, anyway.

Wednesday's installment of Dan Piraro's Bizarro also struck me as funny. (Too little this week has been.)

But I admit I did wonder why this wasn't a comic that Mr. Piraro didn't schedule to appear on a Friday. The artist explains on his blog: "Because that's just what they'd be expecting!"

I should have been able to figure that out all by myself, shouldn't I?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Families should celebrate triumphs together

It comes as no shock to regular readers that Olaf has a difficult relationship with his family. Imagine choosing to live with your in-laws in marked preference to moving back with your own folks. (No, I wouldn't have been happy with either option either, if I'd been forced to make such a terrible choice back in the day -- but I'd have preferred we live with my own parents, just as I'm sure my wife would have preferred we live with her parents. It's probably the difference between the Devil you know and -- well, never mind.)

I touched on Olaf's issues a little when the Baby-to-be-named-later was born. I'm not a psychiatrist, nor do I play one on TV, but even I can tell that Olaf's issues with his parents predate his marriage and our granddaughter. Based on my limited exposure, Olaf's parents seem like nice-enough folks. Yes, they're over-the-top baby crazy (see the linked post) but that's not a terrible thing. I was more concerned that they seemed so out-of-sync with their son's health when we were trying (unsuccessfully) to get Olaf to graduate on time. But such things are none-of-my-never-mind.

Olaf's father was trained as an architect and has gravitated into art and, in particular, painting over the years. Recently he was given the honor of a gallery showing by some group out in one of the western suburbs. Even Olaf recognized that this was a Big Deal and that he would need to go.

But he approached the prospect of going to the opening like a criminal mounting the scaffold to be hanged. He didn't want to take his wife and daughter.

Long Suffering Spouse and I try not to interfere (much) in the day-to-day lives of our young tenants, but this was an exception. We told Younger Daughter on no uncertain terms that she would go with, and the baby would go, too.

"But Olaf's parents will just fuss over the baby, when the day should be about Olaf's dad," Younger Daughter protested. "And everyone will be in baby's face and it'll be a mess."

And, of course, the baby started teething in the run-up to the gallery show, which made the baby miserable and the kids even more apprehensive about taking her.

"Maybe we'll go in separate cars," Younger Daughter offered, at one point. "That way I can take the baby and leave if she becomes a problem."

But Long Suffering Spouse and I maintained a united front: You will go as a family. It will be fine.

The big day arrived. Olaf had fretted himself sick with worry over the event but (and this counts as an improvement, honestly) he'd not incapacitated himself. Still, he and Younger Daughter moved at a glacial pace. Olaf appeared finally ready to go. He sat down to watch the baseball game with Long Suffering Spouse and me in the den for a little while and his phone beeped. "What's that?" I asked. "Oh," he said, "I set an alarm to let me know the last possible second that we could leave and still have a chance of being there on time."

I excused myself and went upstairs, the better to hurry Younger Daughter along. She wasn't ready. She hadn't even dressed the baby. "Well, Olaf's not ready either," she said. I told her that he looked ready to me. "Well, the car's not packed," she harrumphed. "You and the baby should be ready regardless," I said.

Eventually, they got ready... and still more eventually they left. Long Suffering Spouse had one last piece of advice. "Take the stroller," she said. I guess the car seat locks into the stroller (I haven't paid attention). But the bottom line was that Long Suffering Spouse knew, even if the kids couldn't puzzle it out for themselves, that people wouldn't insist on carrying the baby as long as the kid seemed happy and content in the stroller. And that's how things worked out. Sure, people made a fuss over the baby -- but the baby was just there to celebrate her grandfather's big day. That's the way it's supposed to be.

Older Daughter called moments after the kids finally left. "She went with?" Older Daughter asked, incredulously. "I would not have gone," she declared. "She needs to show those in-laws a thing or two."

(Older Daughter has issues with her own in-laws. I can't imagine why....)

Long Suffering Spouse and I tried to explain it all again to Older Daughter: This was a big day for Olaf's dad. Olaf and his new family needed to be there to celebrate. There are enough sad occasions when extended families have to gather together -- and too darn few happy ones. There will still be rough patches in the relationships -- there are in most families I've ever heard of -- but there can be happy memories, too, and those will mean more in the long run than any lingering disputes.

Olaf and Younger Daughter were pleasantly surprised at how well things went at the show. And the baby was well-behaved. Long Suffering Spouse and I weren't surprised one little bit.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Curmudgeon gets out the proverbial scissors

I finally heard back from a bar publication about an article I'd submitted last fall. The editor had asked me to update an article I'd written for the magazine over 15 years ago -- and I did. Not surprisingly, I tracked the old article in terms of topics and length and wound up with something substantially similar but boasting fresh case citations, most of them cases handed down after the old article appeared.

When I did finally establish communication last week, the response was both promising -- and terrifying. Yes, we still want to publish your article, the email read, but it's too long. Your article is 3,900 words and our guidelines require articles no more than 2,500 words in length.


This was my project for Saturday. I started first thing in the morning.

The good news was the article wasn't really 3,900 words long; according to the automatic word count, it was only 3,500. (I'd cut 400 words and I hadn't done anything yet!) And the next 500 came fairly easily, too. Some of the savings came from losing a paragraph, but most came from tightening up individual sentences, trying to say in four words something that I'd said in six. I went through the article line by line, carefully pruning. I will admit it was a better article at 3,000 words than it was at 3,500. I celebrated by having lunch.

But I still had to find 500 more words to cut.

The next 200 words went much more slowly. I changed a phrase here, cut out a word there. If I'd started the job with pruning shears I was using a small scissors at this point.

Still, after only a few more hours, I had excised 200 more words and not seriously altered the content of the article. But 2,800 was still too much and I had still over a page of text to lose.

Things really slowed down when I realized I was starting to rewrite quotes from cases. No, that won't do at all, I realized. I'd cut out only 100 more words by dinnertime. And this was after resolving to lose a bullet point in one of the sections. At this point, my scissors had become a scalpel.

I don't know if you've ever tried to cut something down that you've written. Regular readers here know this is entirely inconsistent with my usual approach. My typical blog posts grow like kudzu.

But I have had experience in making cuts before. Once, 20 years or so ago, in DuPage County, I learned the hard way that one of the local judges very strictly enforced a 10-page limit on briefs. Many Cook County judges, then and now, have a 15-page limit, and my brief in this case was no more than 12 or 13, tops. When the judge called me out, I pleaded ignorance (which was certainly true) and apologized. The judge tossed the brief back at me. "I read it," he said, "and you could have said this in eight pages easily." (Even 20 years ago I was smart enough to refrain from asking, since you've read it, why can't we just proceed to the merits? I rewrote the brief instead.)

In federal appellate practice, word limits are rigorously enforced -- and a lawyer may be fined or censured for fudging with margins or font sizes in an effort to try and conceal his or her verbosity. Someone once told me, though, not to stress over the limits. Instead, this person suggested I write whatever I felt needed saying without regard to the word limit -- keep the word limit out of mind completely -- and only then, after making all the points I felt appropriate, however I felt I needed to say them, try and figure out (if necessary) how to shoehorn those same arguments into the prescribed word limits. It turns out to be a good approach.

Here, though, I was trying to update an old article, conveying the same basic information, but with more contemporary citations. It was logical, then, that the new article should be as long as the old. The sorts of drastic cuts I was being asked to make threatened, in my view, to make the article less valuable. Ah, well, I rationalized, a byline is a byline. I began looking in earnest for those last 200 words.

Olaf and Younger Daughter, recent college graduates that they are, noted that I was doing the exact opposite of what college students usually do. Collegians are usually looking to pad their papers to achieve the required page length or word count. They watched in amusement for awhile, but then they disappeared. It was time to put the baby down for the night.

Long Suffering Spouse was in the den with me later in the day. She was grading papers. Periodically, she'd look up. "Aren't you done yet?" she'd ask. "You've been at this all day." I'd give her the current word count in response. "That's only 10 less than last time," she'd say. "Yes," I'd say, or, "Actually it's only six," depending on how things had gone between queries. I realized, finally, that one whole additional paragraph would have to go. I wanted to keep it; I thought it important, but it was increasingly obvious, as the night wore on, that it was the only way I'd ever get to the limit. I was like the high school wrestler trying to make weight. I'd sweated out all that I could; I'd used the enema (seriously, this is something high school wrestlers will do). At some point, the only thing left to remove is flesh and bone. Wrestlers have to admit defeat at this point, but, chanting the mantra, a byline is a byline, I pulled out a penknife and began sawing off my arm.

Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Long Suffering Spouse had already fallen asleep by the time I achieved my triumph: I was under 2,500 words by a dozen or more. I fired the article off to the magazine before remorse could take hold.

Then I woke up Long Suffering Spouse so we could go to bed.

Come to think of it, it's Wednesday afternoon already and I still haven't heard back from the magazine. Gosh, I hate waiting.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

That was not "terrorism" yesterday in Boston

It was a crime.

I don't care if right-wing loonies, left-wing loonies, al Qaeda or the Kim Jong Un Fan Club were behind yesterday's murderous attacks at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, the perpetrators of that crime are not soldiers in a cause, they are murderers. They are criminals. Period. Full stop.

If terror may ever be a legitimate military tactic -- and there may have been times and places in history where terror may arguably have been justifiable -- and, mind you, I say only 'may' and 'arguably' -- terror can never be a legitimate tactic in our United States. Whatever grievances the bombers may have thought they had, there are many, many ways to air them in this country without blowing up women and children.

As long as we remember that -- and insist on the preservation of our freedoms and oppose the creeping expansion of the state trying to 'protect' us -- we'll be fine. And idiot bombers like those responsible for yesterday's atrocities will remain mere criminals.

All the talking heads filling air yesterday afternoon and evening speculating on which group might be behind yesterday's crime in Boston revealed far more of their own prejudices and biases than they revealed about any possible perpetrator. Al Qaeda was blamed. Republicans were blamed. The NRA was blamed. All theories floated, equally, on the basis of nothing.

But that kind of poisonous speculation bears equally poisonous fruit. A Saudi national was chased down by bystanders at the scene and turned over to the police because he ran away from the explosions. Why? What was he doing besides being there and being Saudi?

Please think for a moment. It took a special kind of courage to run toward the victims. That's why police and fire and paramedics and the doctors and nurses who stayed at or responded to the scene are heroic. I dare say that most ordinary people would run away. I dare say a lot of people in the area did their best to clear out when the bombs went off. Perhaps the Saudi was just one of these. If the Saudi had something to do with the murders yesterday, he must and should be held accountable. Maybe some sharp-eyed observer did see him do something suspicious. But if the Saudi national was chased and tackled and held simply because he appeared to be a swarthy-looking foreigner, that's indicative of a species of bigotry I think wholly un-American.

Here's what I think: A crime has been committed. The police (and the FBI) need time to gather evidence and clues.

Let them.

Meanwhile, mourn the dead, comfort the other victims and their families. Pray for them all. We'll find out soon enough (maybe even today) who did it and what their motive was. Because that's the only thing whatever "cause" the bomber or bombers may espouse is useful for at this point, as evidence of the criminal's or criminals' twisted motive. Let's give law enforcement some breathing room to make a good arrest, then let the criminal justice system work.

Criminal justice system. Because there was no "terrorism" yesterday in Boston. Only a crime.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Long Suffering Spouse sees red

And not just metaphorically, either, although that was true as well.

She'd taken something off her classroom wall Friday during homeroom period, intending to replace it with something else. But there was something already there: Some scurrilous graffiti had been scrawled on the wall in indelible red Sharpie.

She immediately called her students to account. "Which one of you did this?" she demanded.

Naturally, no one admitted anything.

"Why do you think it was one of us?" huffed one student. Most of the school population rotates through my wife's classroom in any given week, but, as my wife reminded the students, she is present at all times.

"Well, you're not here at recess," theorized another student.

Long Suffering Spouse considered the point about a nanosecond. "That's true," she said, and it was. Ordinarily, no one is in the classroom at lunch or recess -- and Long Suffering Spouse keeps the classroom door locked. But, when the weather is inclement, the kids spend recess in their homerooms after lunch. It's rained a lot in Chicago in recent days. If April showers bring May flowers, we can expect a riotous floral outbreak in these parts in just a couple of weeks. "So who would be here during recess?" my wife asked, answering her own question when all the kids started looking down at the floor: "Only you."

"Well, someone could have come in here during recess."

"And then you would have all seen that person do this, right?"

My wife looked out over a classroom of heads staring intently at the floor.

"That's fine," she said, "if no one wants to tell me now, we can stay here after school until someone wants to talk."

It was a sullen group that returned for afternoon announcements. Everyone else was going home for the weekend; my wife was going to follow through and hold her students hostage. Meanwhile, though, they had decided on some other possible ways to divert suspicion.

"That's probably been there for years," ventured one theorist. After all... permanent ink, right?

Wrong. "I cleaned this classroom over Easter Break," Long Suffering Spouse responded. "I changed all the wall decorations, as you know. If it had been here before, I would have known. This is new. Now, will someone tell me who did this so we can all go home?"

An uncomfortable silence followed.

Actually, "silence" is not exactly the right word. Eighteen junior high kids are never truly silent. They fidgeted. They muttered to one another. ("We're never getting out of here," my wife overheard one whisper to a friend, "she stays late every day." "I know," the other hissed back. "She's still here most days when I come back for basketball practice.")

Many of the kids tried to get away on the basis of preexisting arrangements. "My mom's waiting in the parking lot," one said. "She can wait awhile," my wife said.

"But I've got a dental appointment!" one said, and, suddenly, so did five or six others. "I guess you'll all be late then," my wife said.

Time passed. At Greenwich, the worthies at the Royal Observatory probably counted the passage of no more than 10 or 15 minutes, but to the sixth and seventh and eighth graders in my wife's homeroom, a lifetime at least had ebbed away.

Finally one spoke. "If I say I did it, will you let us go?"

Long Suffering Spouse regarded the volunteer. She seemed an unlikely candidate; my wife doubted her guilt. Long Suffering Spouse thought that the crude printing was likely a boy's -- but, in this post-literate age, where handwriting is increasingly a lost art, it's harder and harder to tell a boy's writing from a girl's. Girls' cursive no longer necessarily has big balloon letters, much less hearts instead of dots over 'i's. These days, everyone's handwriting looks like a doctor's after a three-martini lunch. "Of course," my wife told me later, "no matter how many times I tell them, half of these kids fail to put their names on their papers. I'm forced to learn how to recognize individual printing and handwriting just to get the kids' stuff graded properly."

No, my wife was pretty certain that the volunteer was not the guilty party. She probably knew who did it; most of the kids in the room probably did, but the unwritten Code of Silence seemed to protect the miscreant. No one would snitch... but my wife was hoping peer pressure would succeed in forcing the guilty party to acknowledge the offense. "But did you do it?" my wife asked the girl who'd volunteered to take the rap.


"Then, no, I won't let you all go."

The kids made no effort to conceal their groans. "What if we all clean desks and blackboards from now to the end of the year?" asked one.

"I thought you don't like collective punishments," my wife answered. Yes, the topic has come up before. "Why don't you just tell me who did this instead?"

Eventually, technology defeated my wife, leaving her madder than ever.

It seems one of the little darlings was doing more than just avoiding eye contact by staring at the floor. She also surreptitiously texted her mother from the cell phone concealed by her purse, asking her mother to have her paged to the Principal's office. Several of her classmates watched her, wondering if it would work.

It did.

The child was paged to the Principal's office, and off she went, ecstatic to be released.

The Code of Silence which protected the graffiti artist did not, apparently, apply to escape attempts: A number of the girl's classmates finked on her before the door was fully shut.

The spell was broken anyway. "This isn't over," my wife warned, as she released the rest of the group, just a couple of minutes later. "I will find out who did this and there will be consequences."

I got an earful of those consequences not much later: Long Suffering Spouse was fit to be tied. And she was angry all over again this morning. To my knowledge, however, the perpetrator still remains at large.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Remembering the "Great Chicago Flood"

In the course of preparing this week's posts for The Blog of Days, I couldn't help but notice that April 13 will mark the 21st anniversary of the Great Chicago Flood. April 13 also happened to be the date of the White Sox home opener that year. Oh yes, I remember it well -- and then I found a journal entry I'd made within a few days of the event. Here is that entry, cleaned up a bit, with many of the digressions removed, and with naming conventions conforming to those previously used here....

Our alarm went off at 5:30 a.m., as usual. As usual, it was closer to 6:30 a.m. before I could actually focus in on what the radio was saying.

The first alarm had been turned in at 5:57 a.m. from the Merchandise Mart. Unexplained basement flooding. The City was looking to turn off a 48" water main, underneath Lake Street, I think, in the hopes that this would stop the problem which, early on, was reported as having spread to Marshall Field's and other landmarks. Then, a few minutes later, fish were reported in some of the affected sub-basements. That's when it became apparent -- at least to me -- that the Chicago River had sprung a leak.

Although it was Opening Day, I had to be in the office in the morning, because I had an 11:00 a.m. motion in court. My plan was to take the train to work. Why fight traffic at the ball park when I could ride the CTA and then drink with impunity?

I scrapped this plan early on, however. I told Long Suffering Spouse that the subway would be effected by this problem. It was already understood that freight tunnels used in the first half of this century by the Chicago Tunnel Company were involved. I didn't know how that would affect the subways, or how the tunnels intersected, if at all. I just knew that the subway would go down as the waters came up. So I resolved to drive.

Ordinarily, on Opening Day, the key problem is what to wear. There are two criteria, usually, for me: What can I wear to both the office and the ballpark -- and how can I keep from freezing? The plan was to wear my heavy brown sportjacket and my Levis for old, fat people (which the company prefers to refer to as "Dockers") and risk being called Frazier throughout the game.

The weather forecast was cold, wet and miserable. The Frazier get-up would not be warm enough. My heaviest clothes were full suits. My warmest coats were for work as well. So I wore a Winter suit.

By the time these momentous decisions had been taken, the flood waters had knocked out several buildings in the Loop. The 10 S. LaSalle Building was one of the first to go out. The flood waters reached the electrical panels of that building (in a second sub-basement) causing a brief, smoky fire. The 222 N. LaSalle Street Building was also an early casualty. [There were a lot of law firms in that building -- and many of those lawyers had Sox tickets -- but their tickets were in the building. And they couldn't get in.]

I called Steve at home before I left. It sounded like I woke him up -- and I later confirmed that I had. (He had planned on taking the whole day off.) I told him about the flooding -- and City Hall was reporting severe problems of its own by this time -- and warned him about the subway, too, even though the radio was still saying the CTA was experiencing no service problems and was still in fact encouraging people to use public transit. Steve went back to bed muttering dark imprecations against me.

The drive in was not that bad, probably because the media's exhortations to use public transportation. But the morning, if I can use this term, was a washout. I listened more to the radio than I worked. I did go to court in time for my 11:00.

When I left for court, at 10:30, the subway was still open, but it had just been announced that power would be shut down and buildings evacuated in an area bounded by the River, Adams, Dearborn and Michigan at 11:00. I decided to walk [my office back then was about a mile north of the Daley Center].

City Hall and the State of Illinois Building were, I believe, already closed. The Daley Center, though right in the middle of all this, was still open and was apparently dry. The explanation offered for this was simple: Buildings build after about 1959 were not tied into the freight tunnel system, which in its heyday delivered coal to buildings and hauled ashes away. The tunnel openings had been sealed after the bankruptcy of the narrow gauge railroad that ran through it, but the brick and mortar walls that were typically erected for this purpose had been swept aside in the torrent of water that morning like toy blocks.

When I got to the Daley Center I asked the deputy who checked my ID if there had been any announcements about closing the courthouse down. She'd heard none, she said, but she thought it was crazy that they were still working when much of the Loop had already been abandoned.

The exodus in fact was well underway as I walked to the courthouse. Gold Coast residents (I assume) were strolling home, happy, for the most part, for the unexpected holiday. But I had to go to court. I didn't necessarily expect my opponent to be there. I knew his building was not open. But, if there's a chance the hearing would proceed, there was an obligation on my part to be there.

My opponent was there, although I didn't spot him immediately. I later found out that he had been in the courtroom since the door was unlocked. This was the only motion on his docket for the day. He had nowhere else to go.

The judge was running late, as she often did. I'd arrived about 10:55, and the judge started started the 11:00 call at about 11:10 -- and that wasn't too bad in that courtroom in those days. The problem was that the judge had gotten through only motion number 1 (we were motion no. 9) when the evacuation order came. (The Daley Center never lost power, but it was evacuated in case they had to cut power there suddenly. At this point, remember, the waters were still rising relentlessly.)

The judge made the announcement. She said that the elevators would stop running in an hour. I was sitting in the back of the room. I hollered out, "How will we know the difference?" and got a big laugh. (The elevators in the courthouse had been under repair for a year or more and are incredibly slow.) But the call was over for the day and everything was continued to her next available date -- May 29. [All this, according to my Journal, to get a decision on a motion taken under advisement on February 19.] Opposing counsel and I tried to ask her if she could make her decision available any time before that, but she was not interested in idle chit-chat. She wanted to get out of the building.

So now it was time to turn my attention back to Opening Day. My car was parked in front of the office. Steve was supposed to be on his way -- but I had found out, before leaving the courthouse, that the subways were now also shut down. The waters had arrived.

Steve called shortly after I got back. Long Suffering Spouse and Charlotte were looking at houses [without reading further I don't remember if they were looking for Steve and Charlotte, or whether Long Suffering Spouse was already looking for a new house for us.] Charlotte was willing to drive Steve downtown, or to the ballpark, but not real pleased about it. I told Steve to have her come down to our office.

He got there fairly quickly.

We left the office shortly he arrived. Having listened to the radio all morning, I thought I was prepared to make an intelligent approach to the ballpark. I knew traffic would be a mess and the radio confirmed that the Ryan was a zoo. So I took Lake Shore Drive to the Stevenson, got off at Damen (that's about 31st Street) and went South to 35th. This took maybe 15 minutes. Then I turned left -- and stopped.

It was no later than 12:45 when we got onto 35th Street. It was 2:47p.m. -- the fifth inning -- when we finally got to our Uecker seats, 24 rows high in the right field upper deck.

The only thing that the radio had said about traffic in the immediate vicinity of the ballpark was that there was plenty of parking. When we finally got to the lot by the old coal yard (West of the viaduct), we were waved off. The game had just started then. The police told us to keep moving East.

Police. Ordinarily, there's a cop on every block from Halsted East. On this Opening Day, there were no cops until the coal yard lot, not even by the police station a block West. All but a skeleton traffic patrol had apparently been pulled out and sent downtown.

So we moved East. Glaciers have moved faster. No parking at the site of the old park. We turned down Wentworth. And sat. And sat some more. Some idiots were honking horns. What good does that do anyone? We could all maybe melt away and he could ease into his God-given parking spot? No one melted away; we continued to sit.

There was no parking along the east side of the ballpark. Or along the south. Nor were there any helpful private lot owners waving people in. The City had cracked down on them, Steve told me. He was in a position to know.

So we snaked back through Bridgeport west of the ballpark, winding up on Canal heading back toward home. It was after 2:00. Where was the first legal street parking north of the ballpark? The parking expert with said we had to go North of 31st Street. In fact, we had to go North of 29th Street. We parked -- legally -- on the street at 28th and Canal. And then we walked back. I was damned if I would give up. I had entertained thoughts of going back to the office -- a mile north of the Loop, remember? -- but Steve had no office to go to even if he'd wanted to. His building had been among those evacuated. I did not want to sit in a gin mill watching the game.

So we walked a mile and a half to the park -- and another mile and half up the ramps and stairs. We stopped at the bathroom (and waited in a long line) and Steve bought three beers (one for both of us, and one for the gentleman were were supposed to meet at the park -- and he was there). Because it was so cold, there was no real wait for beer. We got our seats at 2:47. Even with all the Opening Day festivities, the game started by about 1:30. The record will reflect it was played in two hours and 18 minutes. It was over at 4:00 and I was home by 5:30. I had no interest in stopping along the way.

The Sox won 1-0. We had missed the run by the time we arrived.

The Subways (which, after all, run beneath the Chicago River) stayed closed for at least two weeks -- and I believe they did not reopen until sometime in May).

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

With holes in his shoes, Curmudgeon waxes philosophical

It's raining in Chicago this morning, dark and chilly, and I discovered, while walking from the Subway to the Undisclosed Location, that my brown shoes seem to be less waterproof than I'd prefer. And I shined them up just a week ago, too.

Their appearance isn't half-bad. The reality, however....

Sorting reality from illusion is increasingly difficult in our high-tech age. That's the general perception, isn't it? We can project a carefully-cultivated "persona" into social media sites, our own digital picture of Dorian Gray, electronically concealing our real faults and ugliness. (That is, not just on dating sites!) Just this morning, I heard a report on the radio that suggested that employers are increasingly looking at Twitter to recruit new hires -- and job-seekers are trying to condense their life, career and essence into 140 characters. The traditional résumé may be replaced by short strings of text or six-second videos. Will that be the ultimate triumph of superficiality?

But, as I've gotten older, or as I prefer to express it, "more experienced," I begin to wonder if sorting 'reality' from illusion hasn't always been difficult. Facts can be slanted -- 'spun' -- arranged, recited in a glowing (or glowering) way in order to make the desired impression. That doesn't mean all facts are subjective; rather it means that we can only really be sure of the reality we ourselves perceive. All else is trust. And I grow less trusting day by day.

There's thunder now outside the Undisclosed Location. A sunnier day will produce a sunnier post.

Especially when I finish the application that I didn't get back to yesterday afternoon, despite my best intentions.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

The family that stresses together, bickers

Older Daughter was in Chicago this weekend, without either her husband or dog. Older Daughter was recently implanted for the fourth time. These were frozen leftovers from her last unsuccessful attempt. The pirates that run the fertility clinic promise to refund a portion of the king's ransom that Hank and Older Daughter have paid (with the generous assistance of Hank's parents) if no baby is brought forth as a result of their efforts -- a three strikes and you're out policy -- but there are conditions, stipulations, provisos. And because of these two frozen leftovers from the last failure, Older Daughter was obliged to try again.

No one thought it would work any better this time. Not Hank, not Older Daughter, not the pirates who run the clinic. But the thieves would not consider the promised refund without this last humiliation. Older Daughter is trying to start a new job -- something about having fertility problems and working in a children's hospital was wreaking havoc with her mental health: Every time she'd fail to 'catch' some mouth-breathing idiots would present at her ER with a baby who had 'fallen.' The police would be called. Sometimes the baby would live. The poor thing would always be Older Daughter's patient -- and she would be left to consider the lunacy of a Universe where she cannot conceive a child, but where scabrous, execrable, thrice-cursed mental defectives can effortlessly pop out beautiful children, with neither thought nor effort, only to beat them to death, or near enough.

So Older Daughter found new work -- faster than she thought possible -- work that should pay more and be less stressful -- if, of course, she doesn't lose said new job in the course of losing these last embryos. Hank is venting his bitterness at Older Daughter; she vents right back. So being at home didn't seem like a good idea for her this weekend.

And she could count days on a calendar. Each prior attempt had ended at this-many-days after implantation. Each time she'd been in Indianapolis. This time, she wanted to be in Chicago. (She got through the weekend -- but the outlook is still bleak this morning. I've said this before, but it seems again an inescapable conclusion: The 'doctors' at Older Daughter's clinic can't do anything right, but they are always right about things going wrong.)

So that was a pleasant visit.

Long Suffering Spouse was sick on top of it. We supposedly got to 70 degrees on Saturday. Long Suffering Spouse wore two sweatshirts, one with a hood, curled up beneath two blankets, complaining that she was 'freezing.' It was no way to finish up her Spring Break -- and she still had mountains of papers to grade. She'd rally on Sunday, then stay up until 1:30 Monday morning trying (unsuccessfully) to finish everything she hadn't quite gotten to.

Younger Daughter and her husband are stressed, too. Olaf will -- I think -- graduate in May. Finally. He passed the exit exam a couple of months ago, but he still must complete a stupid, pointless, one-hour course that involves group presentations by math majors for other math majors. Most of the math majors at the school Olaf and Younger Daughter attended will go into teaching -- they have mastered Math Lite at best. Two of the worst of these were 'randomly' assigned to be Olaf's partners for these presentations. Olaf's grade, of course, is dependent on the performance of his colleagues. At the last such performance, one of Olaf's partners stumbled out of the room in the middle of the presentation, so drunk that he could no longer contain the contents of his stomach.

And Olaf had a lovely day at work yesterday, too. He got his job because he and Younger Daughter had a classmate whose father is president of a manufacturing concern. The father had gone to the math department at Olaf's school looking for someone to train to take over quality control at his plant, but the math department couldn't think of anyone who might be interested. It was his daughter who suggested Olaf.

And Olaf likes the work, and is good at it, too, apparently. He's not on salary yet -- his hourly wage wouldn't be that terrible, though, if he weren't hoping to support a wife and child with it -- but the plan was that he would move into a job that his boss would vacate by moving into the job that his boss would vacate. Inasmuch as Olaf's boss is 60-something and the boss's boss is 70-something and in questionable health, the succession is only a matter of training and time. But after Younger Daughter confided in her girlfriend -- the president's daughter -- about her hopes that Olaf would soon be on salary, the president took Olaf aside (this was yesterday) and said he should not expect to be put on salary upon graduation.

The young people took this rather badly. I tried to explain -- remember my mantra, act as if you own the place -- that, right now, three people are doing two jobs. Of course no big raise can be forthcoming... until the logjam breaks at the top. I suppose that Olaf is a victim of his own success -- the stress on Olaf's bosses has been lessened by his quickly learning the responsibilities of his eventual job. But time is on Olaf's side -- if he doesn't overreact.

I was home yesterday to deal with this crisis in real time because Younger Daughter had a doctor's appointment and I was supposed to babysit The Granddaughter To Be Named Later. Younger Daughter is worried about a condition -- I haven't pressed for details obviously -- but she feels the need to see the surgeon who removed the better part of my colon. My wife is sure that Younger Daughter's problem, whatever it is, is not that serious. But I haven't discouraged Younger Daughter -- not with our family history. Even so, this was not supposed to be a long session, and I had hopes that the baby might even sleep through the whole thing -- the doctor's appointment time coincided with baby's nap time. But it was a particularly short session, actually, because, despite Long Suffering Spouse's repeated admonishments, Younger Daughter somehow managed to forget to bring her insurance card with her.

Speaking of Long Suffering Spouse, she had a terrible day yesterday, too. She'd gone to a seminar Thursday -- during her break -- and she needed to provide her principal with her certificate of attendance and, of course, the bill for said seminar, in order to obtain reimbursement. She'd copied everything herself, everything except the bill, which I dug out yesterday morning and copied for her. Not without changing the print cartridge, of course, but still, I handed her the missing piece of paper and I watched her clip it into the rest of the related papers -- and then I resumed doing whatever I had been doing previously.

Early in the morning I had a phone call from Long Suffering Spouse. Had she left these papers at home? I checked all the locations she asked, and a few more besides: No, she had not. She'd gone through her papers six different times, she said, and couldn't find it either. Had she given these papers to the principal inadvertently, stuck behind her lesson plans? If she had, the principal hadn't found them by late afternoon. I'd already called Long Suffering Spouse wondering if she was planning to return home before dark and a time had been duly appointed when I should fetch her. In between, though, the principal found her. "I forgot to tell you," enthused the principal, "I found a whole new Spanish textbook -- everything online. I want you to take a look at it." Long Suffering Spouse was still reeling from the blow as she related this to me in the school parking lot. "You know what this means, don't you?" she asked, rhetorically. "She wants me to change textbooks. I'll have to re-plan the entire program. Start from scratch."

Older Daughter called at this point, so I was back at the computer when Long Suffering Spouse next blew up. She'd gone into the kitchen and realized that Younger Daughter had taken no steps toward preparing dinner.

Well, in addition to the aborted doctor's appointment and the employment crisis, Younger Daughter had taken the baby to the pediatrician.

See, the baby has decided that now would be a great time to sprout some teeth.

Baby teeth literally do erupt, I'd pointed out to Olaf over the weekend. Yesterday there was nothing. Now there's a tooth. You could run your fingers over the baby's lower gum and feel it. Everyone did. "Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!" cried the baby. In baby talk that means, "I sure as heck hope you all washed your hands first."

Anyway, with teeth come all sorts of other problems. Sleep becomes more fitful, for one. And the baby, always prone to diaper rash, now has a fire engine-red bottom that would make a baboon jealous. Long Suffering Spouse has been trying to counsel the kids to use cloth diapers. I've chimed in. But it turns out they're really afraid of pins -- they don't want to stick the baby. I stuck all of my kids, from time to time. I stuck myself more. It's a small price to pay to avoid extreme baboon butt. But Younger Daughter went to the doctor instead, hoping to get medicine. She never did get into the kitchen, though, and her mother was not pleased.

"We had babies. They all had teething problems. We still ate." Long Suffering Spouse was on a roll. "I don't think that girl would eat at all if she weren't living here," she told me (the kids had gone out by this time to fill the prescription and to buy more formula).

Long Suffering Spouse made dinner for all of us. She and I ate ours and went for a walk. The kids were still out. "I don't think I can work any harder," she told me as we made the turn at the park. "I don't think Older Daughter can do more than she's doing. And Younger Daughter is so stressed out by that baby -- I don't know how we can get them through this." I'd told her, by this time, about the salary crisis. "They're going to be with us forever," she said, "and they think you want to throw them out." Sure, I want my house back, I said -- but I understand what must be done and I'm doing it -- why can't everyone understand that?

"And you can't work any harder," Long Suffering Spouse said.

I had to contradict her. "I'm not nearly at capacity," I admitted. "I've been lots busier, done lots more. I just can't get any money for what I do."

"So you're stressed by that. That's just as bad."

I had to be home Monday to babysit. But I planned to also work seriously on a questionnaire, required for an appointment I am seeking. Some salesmanship is required, as is total recall of my 33 years at the bar. And I must be accurate. But even if the persons who will evaluate me based on the questionnaire love me to death -- it won't boost my chances of securing that appointment. On the other hand, if they hate me, or if even some of them hate me, however, it will surely doom whatever infinitesimal chances I might have. So I must still do the best job I can.

The fax machine spat out an overdue bill this morning. These are for medical records for an insurance client that is behind in paying my bills. I got a bill in the email yesterday for a "service" that this same insurer makes me use -- one that allows it to delay paying my bills while they are being "processed." And I pay for the privilege. I thought I'd written about this, but I may not have had the stomach for it.

The first time I heard that $275 was involved in my signing up for this "service," I thought it was meant for me -- some wholly inadequate compensation, at least, for the exorbitant time I spent trying to meet the system requirements. It took six months to get my first bill paid -- and in the meantime I had found out that, no, I was expected to fork over $275 for this privilege. I don't know whether it was my whining or my raving that got the fee waived last year -- but I can expect no such accommodation this year.

So I'll continue working on my questionnaire this afternoon, not that it will do any good. If we do nothing, we can hope for nothing better.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

We'll miss you, Roger Ebert

Sometimes I regret being right: Just last month I speculated that Roger Ebert must be facing another health challenge. A couple of days ago, Mr. Ebert announced that his cancer had returned and that he would be stepping back, taking not a leave of absence, but a "leave of presence," reviewing only the movies he wanted to see, and announcing some other ambitious plans for his recuperation.

Roger Ebert died today.

I hardly ever go to the movies. Movies cost money and I don't have the income to dispose. But I faithfully read Mr. Ebert's reviews -- I looked forward to them. Ebert never tried to sell readers on a particular movie; he knew his tastes might have evolved differently from people who didn't watch movies for a living. But he told you enough about a movie, whether he loved it or he hated it, to let you know whether you'd like it.

The kids often gave me grief for reading all the reviews of movies I never planned to see. Sometimes, though, and often to the chagrin of my offspring, it came in handy.

But I didn't read Ebert's reviews just to police my children's weekend movie viewing. I read Ebert's reviews because I enjoyed Ebert's voice. I liked his style. I liked his way with words.

I didn't always agree with his opinions, whether about movies or politics. Friends sometimes disagree about these things, but it's OK because they're friends.

Of course, my friendship with Mr. Ebert was a trifle one-sided: I read most everything he wrote; he never knew of my existence. But I still can't help but feel as though I've lost a friend.

Taking ownership vs. being a butt-in-ski

I have long counseled younger colleagues to approach each job as if they are the owners of the business. Act like you own the place, I'd tell them. That doesn't mean that anything in the corporate checkbook is yours to plunder; rather, it means consider the success of the business to be your own as well and work to achieve that end. Make the business look good, and look good in the process.

Later, I would give that advice to my own kids.

Of course, it is much easier to give advice than to follow it, as I am reminded now as I face a situation here at the Undisclosed Location with a new client.

The new client is an insurer with a multistate presence, just beginning to expand into Chicago. Getting business as the insurer begins to expand into this market carries with it the tantalizing hope that my own business will expand as the insurer's presence here grows.

But the insurer also arrives here with some preconceived notions and with a list of 'national' policies and, more important for purposes of this discussion, national vendors already in place.

In other words, when you need things -- medical records, court reporters, stuff like that -- you have to use the companies that the insurer has approved.

And that's fine.

When you make a recommendation or a referral, it's your own reputation you put on the line. That's true not just in business. Over 25 years ago I dropped a doctor who made what I considered a terrible specialist referral. It was terrible for me, anyway. And it got me questioning the judgment of the referring doctor. So I didn't go back to him. Eventually, I got a new doctor.

Thus, when a client comes in and says 'use our guys,' I'm only too happy to comply. If their guy screws up, sure, I'll pay the penalty with the court, perhaps, and my ability to achieve the best outcome in the case may be compromised, but I won't have lost face with the client.

On the other hand... and I'm being vague here on purpose, as I'm sure you understand... I just got some stuff from a 'national' provider for this new client and the cost struck me as outrageously high. I'm sure I can beat it locally. I will be reimbursed, eventually, for these costs -- but (if I follow my own well-meant advice) I should tell the client that their guy is way overpriced and, at least in this market, we can do lots better.

But... and here's how following good advice can get you bad results... how do I know that the person who owns the overpriced business in question isn't the in-law, spouse, or BFF of some key decision-maker at the insurance company?

Obviously, I don't know.

Thus, I have to tread carefully here. Helping the client save money is not just the right thing to do, it's generally a good way to ingratiate oneself with the client. Win-win. Attacking the in-law, spouse, or BFF of one of the client's key decision-makers is a sure way to lose-lose the business. I shall have to be cautious (which, since I am a natural-born coward, is easy for me) and I shall have to be diplomatic (and there, ladies and gentlemen, we have identified the problem).

It's one thing to act like you own someone else's business -- but it's harder when you have your own to think about, too.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Guest post by the Baby to Be Named Later

The following post was found underneath the baby's high chair this morning. My granddaughter's printing isn't the greatest, but I think I've been able to faithfully transcribe it....
-- Curmudgeon

Grandpa C thinks I don't know about his blog. No one else in the family does. But I'm a baby and I have nothing to do all day except pay attention. So I see all sorts of things.

Don't worry, Grandpa, I won't tell.

Not unless you get me really mad at you.

I don't think that's very likely. Grandpa is a big guy, taller than Daddy even, and he has a deep voice. I like it when he laughs. I don't like it so much when he yells.

When I'm around he seems to laugh more. If he's not laughing enough, I'll make faces at him.

He usually makes faces right back. But he laughs then, so it's all OK.

And Grandpa will change his voice, too. He'll make his voice higher than Mommy's or he'll talk with an accent. The other morning he was walking around the living room reciting something he called Shakespeare. Daddy didn't like that very much. Grandma said Grandpa was doing a Richard Burton voice, but I don't know who that is. Grandma wanted to see what Grandpa had poured in his coffee cup. Grandpa said it was just coffee, but Grandma said she wasn't too sure.

This has been a busy few days. That's why I thought I'd write this post for Grandpa, because he seems more tired than usual.

There have been a lot of people here and I've been a lot of places, too.

We went to church Saturday night for something called the Easter Vigil. Daddy said that he never spent that much time in a church before. Grandpa said sure the Mass was long, but he said it was a fair trade because he got to sit down. I don't know what Grandpa was talking about: I got to sit down -- I stayed in my car seat the whole time -- but Grandpa and Grandma and Mommy and Daddy kept standing up and sometimes Grandpa and Grandma and Mommy were kneeling. Grandpa said it would be much worse on Sunday, but Daddy wasn't convinced.

But everyone kept telling me how good I was, even though I wasn't doing anything I don't usually do. I had my toys, and there are things to play with on my car seat. And I had my nookie (Grandpa calls it a 'plug' sometimes but Grandma and Mommy don't like it when he does) and there was a lot of singing to listen to and pretty lights to look at. The windows at home are clear and you can see outside right through them, but the windows in church are all sorts of different colors and pictures. You can't see outside at all. Still, I like the pretty colors. And eventually I found where all the people were singing: They were upstairs, way in the back. Grandpa called it the choir loft. I guess they have to stay up there because they're so noisy. But everyone could hear them anyway and no one seemed to mind all that much. When Mommy gave me a bottle, about midway through, I wanted to sing, too, but Mommy and Daddy shushed me. Maybe they were afraid I would have to go upstairs in the back, too.

And then Sunday, Mommy and Daddy and Grandma and Grandpa all cleaned house because people were coming over, probably to see me. That's usually why people come over.

I've seen all these people before. They're called Aunts and Uncles and there sure do seem to be a lot of them, but Grandma was sad because one of the Aunts couldn't come over. She lives too far away. I remember her, though, because she talks to Mommy and Grandma all the time on the phone and because she and Uncle Hank have a GIANT dog they call Cork. He licks my face. I'm sure they'll come over to see me soon.

Mommy was laughing Sunday because she called one of the Aunts Aunt Margaret and everyone seemed to think that was funny. But I'm pretty sure her name is Margaret. But Mommy said it was funny because Margaret isn't married yet, or something like that, but Mommy and Grandma seem to think it's going to happen one of these days. I don't know what that 'it' is, but they're looking forward to it.

And my Aunt Abby brought a little tiny dog. I'm bigger than this dog -- her name is Rodent -- but when I reach out and try and pull her to my mouth, she runs away.

There were a lot of people in my face Sunday. And all the Aunts wanted to see me get my diapers changed. I'm not sure what the attraction is.

Monday Grandma and Grandpa were tired. They had to take one of my uncles back to school Sunday night. Apparently he came home Saturday night, but I can't prove it. It happened after I went to bed. And I was asleep before they got home from wherever they took him.

But even though he was tired Grandpa went with Mommy on an errand so she can get her taxes filed. Daddy spent a long time doing something called a tax return for him and Mommy but the computer rejected it because the Mommy's name on the tax return wasn't the same as on her Social Security card. Shouldn't it be Mommy everywhere?

But grownups do funny things, I'm finding out, so Grandpa and Mommy had to go out -- but I got to stay home and play with Grandma. So I was happy. And Mommy was still Mommy when she got home, so she didn't get changed too much.

Then everybody -- including me -- had to get dressed up to go to something called a wake. Grandpa has friends called Uncle Steve and Aunt Charlotte and apparently Aunt Charlotte had a Daddy, too, but he died. I don't know what that means, but you have to get dressed up when it happens. And I think Aunt Charlotte was feeling bad because Mommy said that I would cheer Aunt Charlotte up.

Grandma and Grandpa went first because I had to eat dinner. You really can't cheer people up on an empty stomach, I've found.

Mommy and Daddy took me to a building they called the funeral home. We had to go there in the car, but they took me out of my car seat this time. And there was no choir loft for noisy people either. Everyone was noisy. I saw all sorts of new faces. One of my uncles came by but mostly these were new faces. They seemed to know Grandma and Grandpa and Mommy though. I don't know how many knew Daddy, but they all said hello to him.

Grandpa took me from Mommy for awhile and he looked like a balloon that was about to pop. And all these strange new faces peered in at me and said things to Grandpa. But he laughed and they laughed so it seemed to be OK.

And then Mommy took me to see Aunt Charlotte and Aunt Charlotte picked me up and gave me a big hug and Mommy said I made her feel all better and I was glad. And Aunt Charlotte introduced me to her baby, but I think she was foolin' me because she handed me to a grownup who has to be as old as Daddy.

Yesterday we saw Aunt Charlotte and Uncle Steve again. Grandma and Grandpa and Mommy and I went to a different church, but there was singing and Mommy had a bottle for me and I got to stay in my car seat so I thought it was all pretty good. I wasn't too sure about the bagpipe, but Mommy seemed to think it was a good thing. Then we went for a long drive and I think we went into another church. This time there was a flag and a trumpet and a lady dressed up in a sailor suit. I know about sailor suits because I saw a picture once of a baby in a sailor suit. (Mommy tried to tell me that it was Daddy in the picture but it was a baby and I know the difference between a baby and Daddy even if I am only six months old.) And there was a man in this new place, too, in a blue suit with a white hat. Everyone else took off their hats in this place but the lady in the sailor suit and the man in the white hat did not. And they folded up a big flag and gave it to Aunt Charlotte as a present. I don't know what she's going to do with a big flag folded up like that, but she seemed to think it was a good thing to get. I really liked the trumpet part. After it was over and everyone was real quiet I tried to make the same noise the trumpet did, and I think I did a pretty good job: Everyone looked at me and most of them were smiling.

Then we went back into the car, Grandma and Grandpa and Mommy and me, and we went to some restaurant and, wouldn't you know, Uncle Steve and Aunt Charlotte were there again. I think it was a party for me because everyone wanted to come over to see me and look at me and talk to me and make faces at me.

I have to admit that, by this point, I was getting tired of new faces. It had been a busy few days and I had missed my nap. So maybe I was a little fussy. Mommy had to walk around with me for awhile and I guess I did fall asleep finally. But everyone waited around until after I got up and came right back to visit me again.

Grandma said that babies should be mandatory at all funerals and I'm not sure what that means but Aunt Charlotte sure seemed happy to see me. Rather than go to all this trouble to put on a party in a restaurant, though, I don't know why she just didn't come over to the house with everyone else on Sunday. But there's a lot I have to learn, I guess.