Friday, August 30, 2013

As the United States stumbles into Syria...

We'll be at war any day now with Syria. The Assad regime has (again) crossed that 'bright line' that Mr. Obama warned about: gassing his own citizens.

Probably. Apparently.

I mean, Syrians were gassed -- murdered in carload lots -- and the government has been blamed. There are witnesses and everything.

Britain's Parliament voted yesterday not to join us in this new adventure. The Obama Administration has no plans to give Congress a chance to take a position one way or the other.

I have just one question: Who does our government think we'll be helping when we launch our missiles or unleash our bombers?

There are, in the uneasy coalition of forces arrayed against Assad, persons with whom we in the West could do business. Tolerant, reasonable, democratic people who are just naive enough to think that they may have a say in how Syria will be run after Assad goes.

They can be referred to as Dead Men Walking.

No, when we attack Assad, we will be helping out al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda sympathizers and even operatives have taken leading roles in the anti-Assad coalition. The professional jihadis intervened a long time ago, back when the United States and Europe were just starting to dither. They know an opportunity for expansion when they see it. For western media consumption, al-Qaeda will keep a low profile. But, locally, al-Qaeda will loudly condemn every bomb and every missile and exploit every civilian death, furiously fanning the flame of anti-Americanism among their Syrian allies -- and when Assad is driven from power, with the aid of the aforementioned bombs and missiles, they will rush in like a flood tide, kill their moderate allies and assume absolute control of poor, doomed Syria. The once-vibrant Christian community in Syria will be quickly and completely dispersed (or eliminated).

Frankly, I wouldn't put it past al-Qaeda to have provoked or even to have staged (via infiltration into Assad's own forces) the gas attack that now has forced President Obama to back up his unfortunate promises. I know how cynical that sounds.

But it's a cynical world, especially in the Middle East.

As Americans, we think of "good guys" and "bad guys." Westerns were the most popular entertainment when the good guys wore white hats and bad guys wore black hats and you could tell, at a glance, who should win the inevitable showdown. And, of course, the good guys always won. Westerns went out of fashion when shades of gray were introduced. Bad good guys. Good bad guys. Indians who just wanted to keep their lands as promised to them by solemn treaty.

Unfortunately, much as we wish it were otherwise, the real world is not black and white. Assad is a bad, bad guy. And while there are some arguably good guys who are fighting to see him gone, they have made common cause with guys who are arguably worse than Assad on his worst day. And it's a safe bet that some guys we think are good guys are really pretty bad guys who are just pretending, awaiting their chance.

What are we doing getting involved in this? Has America learned nothing in 20 years of involvement in the Middle East?

I think sometimes The Onion must be on the verge of putting itself out of business. It's supposed to print humor -- sarcasm -- satire. This fake column by Bashar al-Assad, for instance. But if you follow the link and read it, you'll see: It's really not funny -- because it's absolutely right. When The Onion analyzes foreign affairs better than our elected geniuses in Washington, we have ourselves a real problem.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The nation remembers a "dream;" Curmudgeon watches a nightmare

Yesterday the nation remembered the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the occasion on which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his memorable "I Have A Dream" speech.

Anniversaries provide opportunities to measure, to assess, to evaluate. How have we progressed, or failed to progress, in the area of civil rights?

Some answers are obvious: The legal barriers that barred African-American progress began falling within a couple of years of the 1963 march. We have an African-American President now.

But I went to a deposition yesterday afternoon and encountered a world so alien from my own, and so very different from the promise and the progress shown yesterday on the National Mall that I am compelled to write about it this morning.

I can't tell you details of the case, of course, but our deponent yesterday was a 19-year old African-American woman. Pretty. Soft-spoken.

She dropped out of her Chicago Public High School in the middle of her 10th grade year, three years ago. Since then, according to her testimony, she has held exactly one paying job, lasting for about three months, earlier this year.

Her "best friend" is now in jail on account of a fatal accident. Our witness yesterday and her BFF (also a young African-American woman) were with an older man -- he's in his mid 50s -- at the time. Both our witness and her BFF had a sexual relationship with the older man. The young woman yesterday insisted that she "was sexual" with this man only on the first day she met him. (She would have been 17 at the time, just like her BFF.) Her BFF had "intercourse" with him, but it was not a relationship. The older man installed our witness's friend in an apartment; our witness stayed over four or five times a week. The older man stayed over, too, two or three times a week.

No, our witness said, the older man did not pay her and her friend for things they did (allegedly, they sometimes helped clean the building where the BFF was staying and another one that the man appeared to own). But the older man would take them shopping, buy them clothes, take them out to eat.

The older man had a number of young girlfriends. Sometimes our witness would hang out ("just kickin' it") with her BFF and some of these other girls. Once, after the BFF got into trouble, our witness went to a wedding reception with the older man -- and two other young women. They all stayed together in the same hotel room.

He bought them marijuana. Our witness yesterday had a lot to say about getting "fried" and how a high progresses; she and her BFF often smoked marijuana with the older man.

She stated that she stayed friendly with this older man because he was so good to her and her family, "a big help."

I could go on, but I might stray too close to the relevant facts of the case or inadvertently supply potentially identifying information. Suffice to say, I was cringing, even queasy, when left the other attorney's office yesterday afternoon.

The thousands who marched on Washington in 1963 wanted to make freedom ring for all Americans. I saw yesterday how some Americans are using that freedom.

I might feel better if I could believe that I have only stumbled on an isolated instance, that there are very few people who are living life this way. But I don't think I can believe that.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Long Suffering Spouse heads back to school in "the Year of the Parent"

Duplex comic by Glenn McCoy, image obtained from Yahoo! Comics.

The Chicago Public Schools are starting up today. Even if you're not in Chicago, you may have heard about this because of our school strike last year, the controversial closing of 50 schools this Spring, and the creation of alleged "Safe Passage" routes for CPS students to follow as they wend their way to new schools this morning. It's not surprising, perhaps, that policemen have been detailed to these routes, some of which traverse hotly contested street gang borders, but the City has also assigned firemen to these routes, and employees of Streets and Sanitation, and employees from other City departments, too. Oh, and there are 'paid volunteer' escorts -- an oxymoron on the level of military intelligence -- armed with government-issued phones. They can call for help if the gangs start shooting. Unless, of course, the gangbangers are shooting them.

And all of this -- somehow -- is supposedly saving taxpayer money.

Oh, to be a child again! Not that I'd be anxious to re-live my school days, mind you. Once was surely enough. But, if I were as innocent as a young child maybe I could believe such a ridiculous claim.

Meanwhile, some of the Catholic schools in these parts are also starting up this morning. Long Suffering Spouse's school opens for business today.

In the Catholic Archdiocese, this is Day One of "the Year of the Parent."

Now, you had better believe that parental interest and involvement is integral to the success of Catholic education. If all parents were as interested and involved as your typical Catholic school parents, there would be far less need for saturation of "Safe Passage" routes. There might not be any street gang borders to cross.

And parents of Catholic school children make a tremendous sacrifice to send their kids to Catholic schools. A determined parent can find less costly options for his or her child than a Catholic school. By many metrics, several Chicago Public High Schools (the 'college prep' schools -- North Side, Payton, Jones, Whitney Young etc.) are better than anything the Catholic high schools can offer. And there are some excellent 'magnet' schools for CPS students in grades K-8 as well. No, parents who choose Catholic education want a sound foundation in both intellect and character and they want their traditions passed along to their children.

So the Archdiocese had darn well better cater to the men and women who dig deep into their wallets to send their kids to the parish school.


You knew there would be a 'but,' didn't you?

Perhaps you read my Priscilla Pigdahl post earlier this year. If you didn't, maybe you could read it now.

Some well-meaning parents value success for their children more than real learning.

It's a terrible, terrible mistake. But young parents don't always understand that a kid who flounders now can flourish later. It's better for a kid to fail in 5th grade than to fail in life. We learn from our mistakes more than we ever do from our successes. So let's get those mistakes made sooner rather than later.

But it's easy for teachers and administrators to become cynical. It can happen to anyone. I certainly am cynical. Look at the start of this essay: I couldn't be more jaded. I think something similar has happened to the principal at Long Suffering Spouse's school. I'm speculating now about what's may be in her head:
Enrollment is the lifeblood of the Catholic schools. If enrollment goes down, the school fails. It closes. If it goes up, the school succeeds. Test scores don't really matter -- tests can be taught -- high school performance doesn't really matter -- the struggles of our graduates are not necessarily going to be blamed on us. Really, grade school doesn't matter. Pass everyone through, make them feel good about themselves and hopefully they'll learn something in high school when they're more mature.
Meanwhile, my wife teaches. She has standards. Some of her kids struggle. Some struggle mightily.

And then they go to high school.

The good ones, the successful ones, are placed in honors courses, a full year ahead of their peers. They wind up in AP classes.

Some of the kids who did just OK in my wife's Spanish classes breeze through their placement tests anyway and wind up in accelerated Spanish I or even Spanish II.

And the ones who struggled? Even the ones who struggled mightily? Those who start over in Spanish I find that it's easy; they were well prepared. They get A's and B's. My wife hears from them; they are grateful.

This should be the model in English, in Math, in Science, in History -- and it's not.

Because the principal gets complaints.

She hears complaints about Long Suffering Spouse from parents who have one child or whose oldest child is one of those struggling. If my wife gives a C to a student who gets (undeserved) A's in every other class... who looks like the outlier? My wife's principal doesn't hear complaints from the parents who have multiple children once their oldest begins succeeding in high school. But any complaint is one too many.

There has been friction.

No junior high kid is dreading the start of this school year more than my Long Suffering Spouse. The Year of the Parent? My wife feels she's in danger of losing her job because she's too good at it.

Some days, I just hate the world.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The more contact numbers one has, the harder one is to reach

Click to enlarge or follow link below to original cartoon.
In a post earlier this month I mentioned in passing that the more contact numbers someone has, the harder they are to get hold of (I'll have to remember to include this in my next installment of Curmudgeon's Laws). Anyway, it appears that one of my favorite webcomics, xkcd, has noticed the same thing.

Naturally, I only understand half the references here, but I'm pretty sure I'm interpreting this correctly....

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Everything I need to know I get from the comics, part 4,796

From the comic Bliss, by Harry Bliss; image obtained from the Chicago Tribune Comics Kingdom.

OK, I'm on deadline on a project and I don't have time to blog. But I still have to read the comics. And this one made me laugh.

Sometimes dreams do come true....

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Curmudgeon gets a smart phone, proves how dumb he is

It's official. I now have an appliance that's smarter than me.

There is, of course, an argument to be made that most of my appliances, and some of the furniture besides, were already smarter than me. I try to ignore that sort of thing.

The first proof that smart phones are smarter than we are came in the way we were manipulated into getting them.

Youngest Son, it seems, was missing important text messages. Even on my old dumb phone, I could set up a message to be sent to multiple people. And when I pressed 'send' they all got the message. But a smart phone -- being smart, and also wanting to place its relatives -- sends messages to multiple recipients that can't be opened up on the dumb phone. Youngest Son would get notification that he had a message, but the contents thereof would remain tantalizingly beyond his reach.

What's that you say? He could have seen that Coach Smith sent a message, which he could not read, and responded by calling Coach Smith? "I can't see your message. What do you want?"

Yes, I suggested that, too.

Many, many times.

But apparently there were notifications from professors and deans and regional fraternity councils and such like where calling would not be an option. Youngest Son complained bitterly that he was missing job opportunities as well.

He knew that would get me.

Still, I was going to hold out. Lawyers laughed at me in the courthouse when I pulled out my dumb phone to make a call. They pulled out their oh-so-smartphones to schedule, to post on Facebook, to read vital emails that they could see in two minutes when they got back to their office. But I was resolute. I didn't need a phone with all this stuff on it when I had computers with large, easy-to-read screens. No one was going to swipe a newspaper from me, or a book, as I rode home on the subway -- could these peacocks say the same for their very smart phones? No, sir. Not at all.

In the end, of course, it was Long Suffering Spouse who crumbled. You will get him a phone before he goes back to school, she finally told me. Youngest Son did his best not to turn handstands with glee.

Perhaps she chafed more than I realized at the thought that her students, seeing her ancient phone, did not recognize it as such. "Is that a phone?" one would ask. "Really?"

And, of course, our old phones were useless for storing and displaying pictures of our grandbaby.

Well, we took Youngest Son back to school on Sunday. His tuition is not paid. My real estate taxes are not paid. I pointed out that adding new expenses was not a good plan at this time.

My defenses held until Saturday.

There we were, at Costco, buying phones. I had one hope. They had to run my credit. Surely my credit rating must have cracked under the enormous weight of over $50,000 in credit card debt!

But, no.

Now I have over $51,000 in credit card debt and a smart phone that sits here mocking me.

What? You think I'd buy him a fancy-schmancy phone and not get one for me and the missus, too?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

In the event, Dr. Doom did not show up

I didn't really think she would.

And, in the end, no blood was spilled at Abuela's 80th birthday party. She seemed happy enough -- she'd been poised over her phone all day long and was entirely in her glory when we arrived in the early evening, having heard from (apparently) everyone she knew with enough strength and presence of mind to lift a telephone receiver.

Aunt Josephine commented to her husband Ferdinand that I certainly seemed to be drinking a lot. The interesting things about that are (1) I really wasn't -- no, seriously, I was using a small glass and I was cutting my scotch with ice and soda -- and (2) a Cuban stage whisper is just about as quiet as an Irish one, meaning pretty much everyone heard her. I asked whether the black olive and mushroom and pineapple and bacon pizza came with a hazmat sticker. But, for the most part, everyone was on their good behavior -- and I stayed awake until we got home, too. I sat in my chair, turned on the late news, and immediately fell asleep -- but I did get home first.

On a Friday, that's no mean feat.

My wife continues to say that no one would believe our lives. I know different. I can't cover half of it, of course, and my wife might think my perspective hopelessly skewed, but those of you who have been with me for awhile probably could believe.

Things are, however, a tad hectic at the moment and I'm finding that real world matters are keeping me from blogging here (I'm barely keeping up with The Blog of Days and I set that up with the thought that it would be much less time-consuming). If these were profitable things that were keeping me away from here, I'd be happier. But, of course, they aren't.

More soon. But probably not until next week.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Abuela has an 80th birthday, sure to be a grand occasion

I seldom write about family functions before they happen. If I do talk about the planning the went into an event, I still generally wait until after the fact. I do this because (at least in my own mind), after the fact, I can tease out a more-or-less coherent narrative.

(I'm not putting that up for a vote.)

But today I want to write about the chaos preceding a family event while in the midst of the vortex.

Well... not exactly.

I'm safely at the Teeny Tiny Law Office for now. Today is Abuela's 80th birthday and tonight as much of the entire family as can be assembled will gather at her house for pizza. My job will be to carry the boxes inside. For these sorts of events, in-laws are reduced to beasts of burden. And that's just fine by me.

I browsed the Archives this morning before getting too far into this essay and I notice I hadn't mentioned this upcoming birthday before.

It has already spawned one family crisis.

You'll recall that Long Suffering Spouse has a younger sister, Josephine, and an older sister (of whom I hardly ever speak) that I call Dr. Doom. One reason why I call her Doctor Doom is that she is a medical doctor, a psychiatrist (she left a surgical residency when she had kids with her husband, Dr. Nick). The other reason... well, she may be one of the more negative persons I have had the privilege to know (and you, dear readers, who know from experience how negative I am can just barely imagine what she must be like).

When I had polyps in my 20s Dr. Doom told my wife and the rest of her family that I was going to die.

When my wife had chicken pox, years later (and was terribly sick -- don't get chicken pox as an adult), Dr. Doom told her mother that, not only was my wife going to die but that I was killing her.

Nor was this the first time, apparently, I tried to murder my wife, according to Dr. Doom. I've forgotten the details over the years, thankfully, but I have a recollection of Dr. Doom skulking on the back porch of the first apartment I shared with Long Suffering Spouse, peering in, because Long Suffering Spouse was ill and I was killing her.

Thankfully, Dr. Doom resides mostly on the other side of the world, in Cyprus (although she has places in Florida and Italy, too).

My wife hasn't spoken to Dr. Doom since their father died, 15 years ago. My wife, who was there pretty much every day during my father-in-law's last battle with congestive heart failure, wanted him to go out with the dignity with which he'd always carried himself. Her position hardened irrevocably after a badly botched attempt at kidney dialysis (his kidneys had shut down in the course of all this). My father-in-law was a retired doctor. Even at nearly 86, he knew the shunts or ports for the dialysis were improperly installed; it wasn't just that he was complaining about pain. The persons performing the procedure, however, told him to shut up and may have strapped him down. It must have hurt dreadfully, and my wife still talks about how black and swollen her father's arm became where his blood was taken and returned. Dialysis wasn't going to save him anyway; his heart was giving out. And he eventually sank into a coma, intermittently at first. Hospice arrangements were made (and he'd approved them when he was able).

And then Dr. Doom swept into town.

For all their money (Dr. Nick, her husband, had already retired as a plastic surgeon by this point), Dr. Doom and her husband never stayed at a hotel. Always at my mother-in-law's house. Her father was dying across the hall, but she came and expected lodgings.

Dr. Doom took one look at what was left of her father, saw his grossly distended belly, filling with fluid as his organs failed, and decided that he had been given inadequate care. She proposed to tap her father's belly, like a beer keg. It would hurt like hell, but it would keep him alive a while longer. A little while. Maybe. If it didn't kill him outright.

Long Suffering Spouse put her foot down. That was not going to happen (you can forgive, I hope, my poor mother-in-law for leaving it to my wife to be the assertive one -- my mother-in-law didn't want to lose her husband, but she knew he was going and she was badly torn).

I must have been home with the kids. I don't know exactly what happened. But words were exchanged. Loudly. There were threats, imprecations, probably damnations. In the end, Dr. Doom backed down. And she and Dr. Nick left town. I can't remember for sure, but they may not have even been at the funeral. And my wife and Dr. Doom have not spoken since.

Oh, I've spoken with Dr. Doom. It was on the occasion, a few years ago, of Josephine's marriage to Ferdinand. (Ferdinand and Dr. Nick have to be close to the same age; maybe Dr. Nick has a couple of years on him, but only a couple.)

Drs. Nick and Doom weren't at Josephine's wedding in person; they were in Cyprus. But I was walking through the church, tending to some assigned task (as in-laws do) when I heard a disembodied voice say, "Hello, Curmudgeon."

Well, hearing disembodied voices in church, especially disembodied voices that call you by name, is generally not a sign of vigorous mental health. But eventually, after some repetition of the greeting, I realized that the voice sounded familiar... instead of looking at the ceiling, I started looking at the pews... and saw a laptop, opened up. Dr. Doom would be attending the nuptials by Skype. We exchanged pleasantries on that occasion.

But, really, we don't hear much of Dr. Doom, and my wife doesn't care to.

Of course, my mother-in-law would like it much better if her three daughters all got along, at least for her sake. Every parent wants their kids to get along. Sometimes it happens. Sometimes... well....

But skip ahead now to earlier this year. Josephine decided that Abuela's 80th birthday should be a big occasion for celebration.

But she proposed to celebrate it in March or April, mainly because (we found out) that's when Dr. Doom would be in town.

Well, we couldn't gather more than a token group from our clan. Older Daughter would be unable to come up from Indianapolis. Hank, her husband, is an architect during the week, but a paid church soloist and choir member on the weekends. And Older Daughter was working every other weekend at the hospital (she's a nurse). Youngest Son was in the middle of his college baseball season. If I dropped dead, maybe he could come in for the funeral. Maybe.

Oh, and as far as Abuela was concerned, no party in April -- no matter how elaborate -- would count toward her August birthday. My parents eventually didn't worry too much about seeing the kids on Christmas Day; there were 12 Days of Christmas, after all. And if a birthday fell on Wednesday or Thursday, the celebration could easily be transferred to Saturday if that was more convenient. But my mother-in-law has always been a stickler for doing things on the day. You could wish her happy birthday the day before, even bring a cake, but if you didn't also call on the day she said you'd "forgotten" her birthday. And she'd be miffed.

And then there's the age wrinkle. Hmmmm, how can we put this sensitively? If you give someone an 80th birthday party four months ahead of schedule, aren't you really saying you don't expect the person to be around on the actual natal day? My mother-in-law would not have seen an April birthday party as a birthday party -- but as a death sentence.

It fell to me to try and convey this -- delicately -- to Josephine. Long Suffering Spouse assured me she could not possibly be civil if she tried. I did my best. I tried to explain why the kids could not all be rounded up in April. They were aware of their obligation in August, but they didn't anticipate this early party business. And I tried to express a general unease with the whole early party idea, saying that it stirred some sour notes in my deeply ingrained peasant Irish superstitious nature. As events would show, these efforts were apparently inadequate to mollify Josephine.

But there was no party in April.

As the big day has drawn closer, Abuela became the problem.

"I don't want to do anything," she'd say, repeatedly.

It all started when, for the second year in a row, Cook County got its 2nd installment real estate tax bills out on time. They were due yesterday. My mother-in-law's taxes were more than she expected. Like so many seniors, when interest rates crashed, she was no longer able to live off of income from CDs; she's had to spend down principal. My mother-in-law has a pension and Social Security (my father-in-law worked for the State but both of them worked in the private sector long enough to qualify for Social Security). However, taxes only go up and she can see a time when she'll be lucky to buy food and pay taxes both. There'll be no money for extras. QVC will probably go out of business (she has a direct line).

Anyway, the shadow of her forthcoming tax bill cast a pall on her birthday. "I won't be home," she finally said. "I will be gone all day and I won't tell anyone where I went."

"But Mom," my wife asked, "how will you get your phone calls?" Everyone Abuela knows calls her on her birthday (everyone she knows -- except her daughter Josephine, apparently, and perhaps Dr. Doom, knows that calls on any other day don't count).

"I don't care. I'm turning off my machine, too."

Here matters stood for a month. Long Suffering Spouse got increasingly anxious. She got so anxious she actually called Josephine to seek her counsel. She almost never voluntarily calls Josephine. Josephine did not call her back. I counseled patience.

This sounds, I suppose, like I'm trying to pretend to be wise. Nonsense. I'm an in-law -- so none of this bothers me except that it bothers my wife -- and I'm lazy. Saying don't worry, she'll change her mind may sound wise and soothing, but it was also a good way to do nothing.

And doing nothing is what I do best.

My wife, on the other hand, always is doing something.

A couple of weeks ago, she spent all day Sunday with Taxedo and Wordle, two 'word cloud' programs, trying to create a suitable design she could have printed on a sweatshirt for Abuela's birthday gift. The idea was to put the names of all the grandchildren and great-grandchildren (there are three, I'm a great-uncle twice) into some sort of a design. I spent a couple of hours on the computer myself, but to no avail. (Of course, eventually, last weekend, my wife found some tips online for keeping certain words together and eventually was able to come up with a print she liked. She got the sweatshirt printed yesterday.)

And then the next crisis arose.

While Abuela did finally soften on the idea of being at home on her birthday, she revealed that she would nevertheless be unable to be home all day. Josephine and Ferdinand were bringing Josephine's kids and taking Abuela to dinner downtown. Maybe, she said, maybe we could come over Saturday?

This is where Older Daughter lost it.

Remember, our kids were told to hold August 2 open on their calendars. Four out of five actually did (Youngest Son is at a fraternity leadership conference today somewhere in Indiana -- he says the dates got changed after he was committed to attend). For Older Daughter, though, Friday was the only possible day she could participate in birthday festivities. She was asked to stand up to a wedding of a friend she's known since high school this weekend. The wedding is Sunday. Wedding-related festivities, however, commence tomorrow morning. Early tomorrow morning.

Younger Daughter broke the news to her that a Friday celebration was looking doubtful -- and received a full blast of ear-splitting profanities for her trouble. These weren't directed at Younger Daughter, mind you; she was just the innocent bystander. But Older Daughter was ready to kill her Aunt Josephine.

So was Long Suffering Spouse. "That's why she wouldn't call me back," she fumed. I think she must have thought her sister had a skin rash, too, because she used a string of words that ended with what-sounded-like "itch."

My wife did what any sibling would do -- she tattled to her mother.

Abuela said she'd call Josephine right away.

Long Suffering Spouse grabbed Younger Daughter and the baby and they all took a walk, at turbo speeds no doubt, around the local park. She had to burn off some of her anger.

Thus, it was left to me to field the subsequent phone call from Abuela.

"Josephine is very busy," she told me. "I had to call all her numbers" -- have you ever noticed it's the people with the most phone numbers who are the hardest to reach? -- "before I got her to answer. She's still at work and she has five people in her office. She told me she couldn't talk. But she said she'd text your wife."

It was already dusk.

Long Suffering Spouse returned from her walk.

"Were the mosquitoes bad?" I asked, looking for a safe topic of conversation.

"No," said Long Suffering Spouse. (No mosquito would dare bite her in her present mood.) "Well?" she asked.

"Josephine is very busy," I told her. "Very, very busy. She had five people in her office and hung up on your mother. But she did tell your mother she'd text you."

"She did. She'll call me when she's driving home. She says."

I poured myself a stiff drink and watched the White Sox lose again.

The phone rang. My wife grabbed it and stalked off into the living room. I curled up in the fetal position, sucking my thumb.

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

The reason Josephine didn't call back? Well, she didn't know about the call. She never listens to the message on her home land line.

And why was she going to take Abuela out on Friday without involving anyone else? Well, she'd tried to put something together earlier, she reminded my wife, but there was "no interest" in our family to do anything for Abuela's 80th birthday.

But, oh yes, plans are changed. Now our family and Josephine's will show up at Abuela's this evening for pizza and drinks. (I've warned my kids that Ferdinand will be there and we've all agreed the best way to handle that is to drink heavily. I plan to.)

And then there were the subsequent phone calls.

Josephine's oldest wants pineapple on his pizza.

Josephine's two daughters won't eat pizza at all. So order plain pasta instead for them.

Josephine and Ferdinand will want black olives and some other disgusting thing on their pizza, too.

And last night, Older Daughter's husband Hank broke his foot at a softball game. She and Hank were at the hospital ER until 2:15 (their time) this morning. Hank had to work today on a project that must be finished by tomorrow. So he's allegedly refusing to take pain pills. And now he may not be coming at all, or he may be coming by bus tomorrow. On crutches. Maybe someone will watch their giant golden retriever, Cork, if he goes. Maybe Cork will be coming up with Older Daughter. (An hour ago my wife wasn't sure. I haven't heard anything since.) But Older Daughter will be bringing a 10-week old golden retriever puppy. She and Hank got the puppy as a playmate for Cork. We met the dog last weekend -- I've spared you that. So far. Anyway, Cork is jealous.

And Abuela says she doesn't want either dog at her house.

Oh, it's going to be a grand occasion.

Who knows? If we're really lucky, Dr. Doom will show up, too. After all, you don't turn 80 every day.