Thursday, December 04, 2014

Curmudgeon addresses "the vision thing"

No, this isn't about George H.W. Bush -- or Hillary Clinton -- I'm not political today. This is about glasses....

I wear glasses. So does Long Suffering Spouse. But we wear them... differently.

Like most self-respecting middle-aged men, I have prescription bifocals. I've never quite figured out how to use the bifocal part, though. I can't wear my glasses to read -- and I read fine print for a living. I need the glasses to drive, even if the Illinois Secretary of State has not yet required me to do so, and I wear them more or less religiously now whenever I get behind the wheel. Distance is my problem.

I have one pair of glasses. They are generally on my nose or in their case.

If I recall correctly, Long Suffering Spouse had prescription eyeglasses when she was a kid. She grew out of them. She has no prescription now -- but she wears glasses, too. She wears "cheaters" -- you know, the frames with magnifying lenses you get three-to-a-pack at Walgreen's. Distance is not a problem for my wife. She can count the feathers on a falcon emerging from the cloud deck. But she can't see anything close. Even though the kids ginned up her cellphone so that it shows jumbo letters when she texts, she can't read anything on her phone without first finding her glasses.

My wife must have a dozen pairs of cheaters. There's an unopened three-pack of new frames in our bedroom. Just in case. And there's a pair in the car she drives (so she can correct while she's waiting for someone), and in her classroom, and in her coat pocket. My wife has a pair of glasses squirreled away in darn near every room of the house.

And yet, when her cellphone dings, she can never find any of them. "Where are my glasses?" she will yell, as she fumbles helplessly with her phone. It's not a question; it's an accusation. I believe my wife suspects that I purposely conceal her glasses every time I come across a pair.

Because I have no idea where her glasses are, I will plead ignorance. "'I don't know' is not an acceptable answer," my wife will snap. If I am nearby, she will shove the phone at me. "Here. Read this."

I read the message. Generally, it will be from Older Daughter or Younger Daughter. My wife does not text much with her mother (although Abuela has learned to text, sort of, sending occasional messages to Older Daughter or Younger Daughter AND ALWAYS IN ALL CAPS) but I begin to think that Baby-Boomer-or-younger parents these days do not communicate with their teenage-or-older offspring except by text. At least initially. After a while, if the transcript becomes sufficiently lengthy or involved, someone may actually give in and use their cellphone as a phone.

No, seriously. I've seen it happen.

Anyway, I'll read the message while Long Suffering Spouse scrambles to find a pair of glasses. "They were right here," she will say to herself, but out loud, as she plumbs the depth of the chair cushions or moves everything around on the end table.

Long Suffering Spouse says I'm deaf because I don't always respond when she says something. But I don't always know for sure whether she's talking to herself or me. If I guess wrong -- well, I guess maybe she's right. Maybe I am growing deaf.

Still fumbling for her glasses, Long Suffering Spouse will switch gears from a running commentary about "I used them here this morning" to dictating an answer to the incoming text. If I'm in the same room (and I usually am if I've just read the text to her) I will pick up on the transition. (I'd better.) I key in the message as directed.

This can go on for awhile, with me functioning as reader and writer -- a scribe in the 21st Century -- depending on how long it takes for Long Suffering Spouse to either find the missing glasses or go in search of a pair in the next room. Sometimes three or four pairs will pile up in the dining room. It's a high-traffic area.

I lose my glasses, too, sometimes, but it's usually at work. Later in the week, and especially later in the day later in the week, I'll need to put my glasses on to see the computer screen.

My eyesight is changing: My focal length is getting shorter. Though the computer screen hasn't moved here at the Undisclosed Location, it used to be comfortably on the 'near' side of my vision -- but, now, sometimes, slips into the 'distance' side.

My eye doctor is unconcerned with my trifling complaints. He's a 'big picture' guy, a specialist and a surgeon. He's not peddling new lenses; he wants to know if my glaucoma has finally deteriorated to the point where he must operate to save my remaining vision. (So far, but for one impromptu laser session, I'm a great disappointment to him. I hope to go right on being a disappointment to him until we both retire. At least until then.)

So I'll put on my glasses to see the computer screen, but then I need to refer to a paper in my hand on on the desk. I have to take them off to read from the paper. Maybe, because I'm going from page to screen, I'll lean in closer to the screen while I type. While I'm not looking, I'm pretty sure my glasses burrow beneath another stack of papers or a file jacket. I've not actually seen them doing this; my peripheral vision stinks -- glaucoma, remember? -- but I'm pretty sure that must be what's going on because I can't believe that my glasses could get as far as they do without some means of self-propulsion. (It's not just my glasses. My cordless office phone does this, too.)

Even if I'm wearing my glasses, I will generally take them off to answer the phone. Don't snicker: You probably do it, too. I think almost everyone does. I have no idea why that might be. Even Long Suffering Spouse, who must have her glasses on to answer a text or make a call, will take them off when the connection is made. In that way, I suppose, our vision issues are the same -- but in every other way, they're different. A modern-day Mr. and Mrs. Jack Spratt....

Friday, November 21, 2014

Not just outraged about Bill Cosby -- I'm also so very sad

I liked Bill Cosby. A lot of folks did -- he was No. 1 for how many years on NBC? Even though I never met the man, I grieved when his only son was murdered -- even wealth and fame are no absolute defense against street crime.

It is impolitic to admit these feelings on the Internet at the moment, even in the past tense, because the only acceptable emotion now vis a vis the one-time Jello pitchman is supposed to be outrage. Bill Cosby must be a far-more gifted actor than the critics who panned Leonard Part 6 and Ghost Dad ever dreamed: While he was persuading Middle America that he was an inspirational family man, he was secretly soliciting, drugging, and then raping young women.


Couldn't he have obtained women just by flashing his winning smile and fat bankroll?

Some of the outrage is actually kind of amusing -- one Tweeter purported to "dismiss" the allegations against Cosby as "just another case of he said / she said she said she said she said she said...."

Every PI attorney has heard of the phenomenon of "jump-in claimants" -- how 100 people claim to be injured in a bus accident... when the bus couldn't hold more than 50 -- so it's possible that one or more of Cosby's many accusers is turning something consensual into something else. But jump-in claimants don't exist without a real accident.

Mr. Cosby's defenders, if there are any left, face an insurmountable problem: When six former altar servers independently accuse Fr. Smiley of groping under their cassocks in the Sacristy, Fr. Smiley's denials fall flat and his most ardent supporters look foolish. So it is with Mr. Cosby. There are just too many women coming forward. There are too many allegations. Even if some are false, it only means that some aren't.

There's no sugar-coating here.

But, still, I'm not just outraged. I'm really, really saddened, too.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The sad, desperate world of Clash of Clans

I'd seen the ads in the subway for some time prior to the baseball playoffs this fall.

The gentleman at the left was featured prominently in most of them: Gaze into my mustache and despair! read the caption on the poster.

Seriously? I admit I had to look it up in order to get the words right, but I at least remembered that this slogan was meant to evoke a famous poem. It's Ozymandias, by Percy Bysshe Shelley, in case you're at all curious: "My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; / Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

Then came the MLB playoffs and the commercials -- hundreds of them, thousands of them -- for this stupid game. I watched and I wondered: Who would be goofy enough to waste their time on nonsense like this?

At a family gathering I found out: My sons had all downloaded the game and were happily destroying each other's villages.

"Can't you peacefully coexist with your neighbors?" I asked. "Can't you grow and prosper by trade or diplomacy instead of warfare? Must everything end in violence?"

My kids regarded me with that pitying look reserved for hopeless cases. They hated the way I'd played the one computer game of theirs that I had attempted (a few different incarnations, over the years, of Sid Meier's Civilization) -- "your turns take 45 minutes," they'd complain, as I built railroads and cleared forests and negotiated trade routes. "No, Dad," they told me, "this is just kill or be killed."

It sounded awful... but the kids were clearly enjoying themselves. And I have this iPad at home and you can only play so much Sudoku or Solitaire and, well, one thing led to another. I downloaded Clash of Clans.

I liked building up my village. I liked clearing the obstacles and setting up my gold mines and building defensive walls. It's hard to build up quickly, because you have to carefully husband your resources. (Either that or spend real money to buy "gems" that can be used to spur production. Well, that wasn't going to happen in my case.)

Still, I started to feel a certain affinity for my villagers, all of whom, apparently, resemble the nice young lady at right who calls me "Chief."

At first, she offered helpful hints about what to build first and where to build.

But all too soon, her messages became darker: "While you were gone, our village was destroyed by MetalMan" -- and, sure enough, I could watch a "replay," starting with my villagers fleeing in terror to the village hall for protection while my cannons and archer towers spat death at my attackers, only to be overwhelmed by force and numbers. Then my mines were destroyed and the builder's huts and resource storage units and, finally, my poor village hall and all the poor creatures huddled within whom I had failed by not upgrading my walls from wood to stone.

But, somehow, all my villagers survived. "We must build up our defenses!" my villager told me, but with no seeming bitterness. If I were them, I'd get me a new Chief pronto, one who could keep the invaders at bay.

But my villagers are stuck with me.

And now I perceive the true horror of their plight. I upgraded the walls, I improved the cannons, I strengthened the archer towers, and still the invaders come as soon as I move onto something else (you know, like work?), and each invasion is more terrible than the last, the attackers always just a bit stronger than anything I'd prepared to repel them, overwhelming my defenses and destroying the town hall where the villagers tremble in fear.

And it never stops.

As soon as I come back, they are made whole again, ready to keep building as I direct even though they should be moving out in droves.

After the village is destroyed, there is a breathing space -- a shield is set up (no thanks to me) -- that keeps the villagers safe for 12 hours or even 16 depending on the extent of the carnage. My villagers are behind such a shield now. But I don't have enough gold to upgrade to level 4 walls -- and if and when I do, stronger armies will come to knock those walls down, too....

Am I taking this a little too seriously?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Chicago's new Archbishop says he wants to listen -- Curmudgeon would like to talk

Incoming Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich (Reuters photo).

Archbishop Cupich, welcome to Chicago. May your time here be a blessing for the Church as a whole, and for the Archdiocese and yourself both in particular.

You have stated several times now that you intend to start your term as Chicago's ninth Archbishop by listening, which is nice.

But to whom will you listen?

There are millions of people in Cook and Lake Counties, many of whom are (or were) professed Catholics. You can't hear from us all or you'll never do anything except go cold stone deaf. If you don't starve first.

Some of the folks who will surround you in these early days will be toadies and sycophants. I envy you the sport you may have in exposing them, watching their heads nod enthusiastically up and down as you say increasingly outrageous things, then watching them wheel and pivot like a flock of starlings when you pull back. ("On second thought," you'll say, withdrawing some silly suggestion, and enjoy the fun as the bobbleheads slam on the brakes in their haste to retreat with you....)

Some of the folks you'll hear from in your early days will have nothing good to say about your predecessor, Cardinal George. I suppose that approach curries favor in some circles; I've seen evidence that it sometimes works, even among churchmen. Anyway, these naysayers will counsel you to undo anything they think that Cardinal George did, to pull the plug on that, to ban this, to revoke faculties to this group or that one. Perhaps some of these nattering nabobs of negativism (Wikipedia credits William Safire with that one, but you probably remember it, as I do, being uttered by Spiro Agnew) will be balanced, somewhat, in your inner circle, by those encouraging you to blaze your own trail (clever pun, no?) but trying to steer you away from changing anything they may consider as a favorite project or cause of Cardinal George.

I respect Cardinal George's intellect, though I've not always agreed with him.

He spoke once at a Chicago Bar Association luncheon that I attended. This was several years ago. His subject was getting public funds for private schools -- but his manner was so professorial and his talk so well organized that I lapsed into a critical listening gear that I have been able to find only occasionally since college. I disagreed with almost everything he had to say -- I am a great supporter of Catholic schools, but to remain Catholic, I believe our schools must remain free of the corrosive influence of public funding -- but the Cardinal made a reasoned, reasonable case. If this is how he speaks at luncheons, I can only imagine the force of his intellect when he really buckles down. (The second speaker that day was also impressed. And he'd been paying attention, too: This speaker came up to the podium and said how pleased he was not to be the most controversial speaker on the program. I'm sure you'll meet this individual soon as well, particularly when the TV cameras are on. The second speaker that day was the Rev. Jesse Jackson.)

I also respect Cardinal George for the graceful way he has carried the cross of his own ill-health. Like another of your predecessors, Cardinal Bernardin, Cardinal George has given us a healthy model of how to cope with life-threatening illness.

Of course, I'm still mad at Cardinal George for saddling us with a bad pastor this past year.

You don't have to agree or disagree with me, Archbishop, about whether my new pastor (of whom I've written here, here, and here) is good or bad. I hope, however, that you will come around to my point of view as soon as possible -- but, in the meantime, I think you can agree that the local parish priests are the most important clerics in the lives of most Catholics. The world is in love with Pope Francis because he is perceived as a good pastor, and being interested in being a good pastor. Your appointment is seen as proof that Pope Francis is trying to make his bishops and cardinals pastors first; you enjoy a reputation of being a good pastor. You now will have the responsibility -- the heavy burden -- of appointing men as pastors from a pool that is... limited. But good pastors will spur a rise in vocations over time. Keep in mind, Archbishop, that the Church grows by example, not by dogma or discipline or even good preaching.

God bless you, Archbishop Cupich -- and God bless all of us who today become your flock. If you'd like to talk some more, there's an email link in the Sidebar... and even if you don't, I may try and offer some additional suggestions at a later date....

Monday, November 10, 2014

Granddaughter #1 has moved out. We're coping as well as can be expected.

Which is to say, not well at all.

Younger Daughter and her husband Olaf and their daughter, my Granddaughter #1 (an occasional contributor here at Second Effort), moved out this weekend.

They bought a house in a nearby suburb. Their chosen real estate attorney managed not to screw up the transaction -- at least not so far as we've heard.

Tonight, then, Long Suffering Spouse and I go home to an Empty Nest.

If anybody had told me, two and a half years ago, that I would have had Younger Daughter and her husband underfoot for that length of time, I am reasonably confident that my head would have exploded. During this time I have (more or less smugly) recounted instances where Long Suffering Spouse became aggravated with Olaf for one reason or another -- failing to pick up after himself, for example, or eating as many meals as a Hobbit, or not getting out of the house soon enough in the mornings (Long Suffering Spouse and I had to wait for him to vacate the only upstairs bathroom before we could begin our morning ablutions).

I, on the other hand, was remarkably tolerant and understanding. At least, you can't prove otherwise, having only the self-serving testimony I've provided on this anonymous blog.

But, if there were occasional annoyances caused from living cheek by jowl, there was also Granddaughter #1. Both Long Suffering Spouse and I rather enjoy being grandparents. Even with the baby under our roof -- teething -- crying in the night -- we didn't have to get up. That was a job for Mommy or Daddy. I probably didn't change diapers more than a handful of times (I told Younger Daughter that I had done my quota with her and her siblings and I stuck to it, except in cases of dire necessity). In short, I was there for comfort and amusement purposes only. What a great gig!

When that child is happy, she makes a high-pitched shriek that is loud enough to set off nearby car alarms. More than once, I was sure my ear would start bleeding when she screamed like that. And yet, Granddaughter #1's shrieks are like Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky to my wife and me.

And now we won't hear them everyday.

Last night Younger Daughter and her mother were texting. This was the gist: Granddaughter #1 had swiped her mother's cellphone and called up a picture of me and her together. She started crying. Of course, many people have been sad when confronted with proof of their association with me. Some things are best forgotten. So that might have been all that was happening there. But Younger Daughter calmed the girl down only to have the child call up a photo of herself with Long Suffering Spouse. She started crying again. Younger Daughter said she was crying too.

"Me too," texted Long Suffering Spouse -- and I can vouch for the truth of her statement.

I interjected a text of my own in this sequence: "Me too," I wrote. But, then, I'm getting weepier as I grow older. If I live to see my biblical three-score-and-ten, I'll probably cry every time the Sun comes out from behind a cloud. Or goes behind. I'll presumably suffer from dehydration.

They had to move out. I know that. They have to have their own home. It's for the best.

But, today, it's also a little tough.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Another guest post from Granddaughter #1 -- a moving tale

Younger Daughter and her husband Olaf are getting a little concerned that their nearly two year old child seems a little behind in verbal communication skills. The words are coming, though, and occasionally now they are strung together -- "hi dog!" -- "bye bye Gwee!" (where Gwee is any nearby grandparent). Part of their concern is rooted in the fact that their child is so tall -- she towers over some five year olds -- so one naturally expects more in terms of verbal ability. I can tell that the child gets frustrated sometimes by her lack of verbal skills, too. But her writing skills have not suffered. With the advent of cooler weather in Chicago, I've taken to wearing a coat again in the morning. I found this note in my pocket today....

As you know, Grampy, Mommy and Daddy have been taking me to all sorts of places lately.

I'm used to going places with Mommy and Daddy -- stores (I can count on Mom to get me something every time) or restaurants (the spicy fries at Five Guys kill me, but Mommy and Daddy like them). We've gone a couple of times to the Shedd Aquarium, which is like walking through Finding Nemo only without listening to Albert Brooks. But lately we're going more and more to empty houses.

I like empty houses.

Most of 'em have basements and they're empty, too. I can run around in them -- and I do. I sure can't do that in your basement, Grampy. I've heard you say that most of the stuff down there belongs to Mommy and Daddy but I'll bet you and Grammy have quite a bit of stuff down there, too. Are you hoarders?

Anyway, in some of the empty rooms at these houses, if you squeal just right, you get an echo! That's the best. I think the grownups really like when I do this: Every time I make an echo and they're talking, they usually quiet down right away.

Most of the rooms in these empty houses have doors you can open and close. Mommy or Daddy will grab me, sometimes, when I do this because they say I'm going to close the doors on my fingers. They're stifling my creativity. You really should have a talk with them about this.

It has occurred to me that Mommy and Daddy are looking for a new place to live. That's OK by me. I think it would be a lot of fun to have a new yard to play in and new rooms where I can open and close doors.

But, Grampy, I'm a little concerned... most of the places -- well, OK, all of the places -- they've seen are smaller than your house. We barely fit in our house as it is. How are we all going to fit in a house that's smaller still?

Lately, Mommy seems to keep coming back to this one house. You and Grammy and my other grandparents were all there on Sunday along with the nice blonde lady that always goes with Mommy and Daddy to the houses they look at. She must have a lot of houses.

I heard Mommy talking. She said one room was for her and Daddy and another would be for me. And there was a third room, near the kitchen, that Mommy said could be a family room. Is that where you and Grammy will go?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Curmudgeon struggles to master online music player

Over the last few days here at the Undisclosed Location I've been fiddling with Pandora, the online 'radio' station that allows users to pick what they want to hear. More or less. (I'll come back to that part.)

Now I realize that all the cool kids have played with Pandora and probably moved on to other, more hip and trendy, streaming services. Sometimes I feel like I'm becoming like the old ladies in the (very funny) Esurance commercials....

But, whatever. I haven't felt the need to try any of the online services because I have such a variety of music available to me on my iPod. Back in the days when I had disposable income, I disposed of quite a bit of it in record stores.

When vinyl was replaced by CDs, I dutifully bought CDs of many of the albums I'd cherished on LP. (Vinyl is hip again, by the way. One of my nieces posted a picture of her brand new turntable and her very first vinyl LP purchase on Facebook the other day.)

Of course, I couldn't replace everything. Some things weren't available on CD and, while I switched in mid-series from vinyl to CD on one Time-Life collection, that left a lot of stuff available to me only on vinyl. And as time went on I no longer had disposable income... so my collection became pretty static.

Even with 5,000 non-Christmas songs, repeats start to grate after awhile.

So while I struggled to catch up with my paperwork here (I've just finished another big project which is why posting has been so sporadic) I thought I'd try and experiment with this new-fangled Pandora thing.

My review is mixed. While the music library available to Pandora is extensive, it doesn't contain everything, and it offers "suggestions," not searches. I couldn't search for One Hit Wonders of the 60s, for example. I was craving that shock of recognition -- to hear something I hadn't heard since 1974 on WLS or WCFL -- and, after a week of fiddling, I never really found it.

There's also a lot of dreck on Pandora. Live cuts and alternate takes are generally not as good, and certainly not as familiar, as the definitive recorded performances.

I'm not sophisticated enough to speak about the jazz channels. I know what I like and that's enough for me. So I won't offer criticisms of my samplings of 'channels' in that area.

But I do presume to know a little about popular music in the 60s and 70s. I looked at the Pandora 70s channel... and it was snow white. Growing up in Chicago, our radio stations always played Motown records and Philly soul sounds and our own Chi-Lites; Earth, Wind and Fire; and Curtis Mayfield right along with the Stones, Eagles, or Creedence Clearwater. Listening to the mix as suggested would be like listening to a stereo with one speaker blown: Painfully incomplete.

I had decided to try Pandora after listening to it in the chair at the periodontist's office. Somebody there had set up a Crosby, Stills, Nash and/or Young channel and while it included various permutations of those four musicians, individually and in various combinations, it also included songs by artists that were arguably similar. I thought that was interesting.

So I tried my own hand at this later in the week. I set up a Steely Dan channel, but the station veered off course with Hall and Oates and Seals and Crofts and whatever. I tried to rescue it by pressing the 'add variety' button -- I added Traffic to the mix because I wanted to stress the jazzy side of Steely Dan. After several cuts from Cream and Blind Faith (Steve Winwood being connected to Eric Clapton, get it?), I started getting Beatles records.

I begin to think that the only way I'll get Steely Dan records is to ask for Beatles cuts.

But I'm probably just doing it wrong. I don't understand the algorithm. And I get a little bit closer to becoming the old lady smacking hard candy with a hammer on her kitchen table, thinking she's playing "Candy Crush"....

Monday, September 08, 2014

Curmudgeon believes he makes a helpful intervention, but goes unrewarded

Yesterday, the first Sunday after Labor Day, really was Grandparents' Day. I suppose I would have known that if I'd been keeping up with my long-neglected Blog of Days.

I knew that my wife's school was welcoming grandparents yesterday. Long Suffering Spouse had photocopying and laminating to get done in preparation for classes this week, but she'd already told me about the grandparents' open house and how she didn't want to be there during that.

The light bulb started to flicker a little bit during the early Sunday Mass. Long Suffering Spouse and I were joined, for this occasion, by Younger Daughter and Granddaughter #1. During the Prayers of the Faithful, an invocation was sought for all grandparents.

Anyway, we got home and Long Suffering Spouse and her daughter and her daughter's daughter set up camp in the living room, in the front of the house. I was in the den, at the back of the house, on the computer, reading the comics online. Olaf, who had not joined us for church, stumbled down the stairs in search of coffee.

"Today is Grandparents' Day," my wife told him. "Are you doing anything with your parents today? You should probably call."

We tease Olaf about being a troll sometimes -- he is Norwegian, you'll recall -- and often with good reason. This was one of those occasions. He responded to my wife's well-intended suggestion with an unpleasant diatribe that started being about Hallmark holidays and went downhill from there. Although they've been very generous with him, our son-in-law has a sometimes-prickly relationship with his parents.

I could feel the tension levels escalating in the living room. I knew for certain that my wife was getting angry.

Without budging from my chair, I decided to intervene.

"Wait a minute!" I bellowed. "It really is Grandparents' Day?"

My wife, at least momentarily diverted from hurling any immediate verbal daggers at Olaf, assured me that it was.

"So, do I get presents, or what?"

"What?" That was my wife, instantly exasperated with me.

"Where are my presents? If it's really Grandparents' Day, shouldn't I be getting some major swag at this point?"

"No!" my wife said, rather sharply, I thought. "You're not getting any presents."

"Well, then, I'm with Olaf on this. Doesn't sound like a real holiday to me. Are you sure I don't get presents?"

I didn't get any presents. But the crisis was past.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Attack of the oxygen suckers

They're everywhere, you know. We lawyers seem to attract them, but they can be found in every walk of life, every nook and cranny of our daily existence.

An oxygen sucker is any person who demands -- and requires -- everyone's attention.

Every lawyer who's been in practice for more than a few weeks has a story of the client who provides maybe 1% of the lawyer's fee income -- and takes up 99% of his or her time.

No amount of hand-holding or reassurance is ever enough. Not only does the oxygen-sucking client sap the lawyer of energy and strength, he or she costs the lawyer money. Other clients, anyone who needs any attention, drift away, miffed.

Sometimes lawyers are the oxygen suckers.

Last week, while a colleague was on vacation, I agreed to be 'on call' for her office. My colleague had done her best to schedule all matters out of the week she planned to be out but she's a real estate attorney -- and emergencies crop up.

Sometimes the emergencies aren't.

Aren't emergencies, that is.

My colleague had a matter where the buyer's financing fell through at the last moment (this happens in 100% of real estate closings as far as I can tell, but my colleague assures me that the true number is much lower -- maybe only 90%). Anyway, my colleague and her client took the bad news in stride and rescheduled the closing -- with everyone's agreement, you understand, including the buyer's attorney -- to this Monday, when my colleague would be back in her office.

Somehow, though, the buyer's attorney decided, late last Wednesday, that this matter would have to close on Friday, before my client returned.

Now, it's true, banks can stall forever on approving a loan -- but then, when they fund the loan, insist -- demand -- that the closing come together in 24 hours. Banks are institutional oxygen suckers.

But, in this case, the bank still had not funded the loan. There was no "clear to close." The buyer's lawyer insisted, however, that he would have funding by Friday and that the sale must close by that date. His client was a single mother, he said, and prone to breaking down in tears because of the delay.

The delay caused by her bank, but whatever.

Here's the way this works: The real estate lawyers schedule closings when -- and only when -- the bank says it has money. When the bank puts that in writing. When the bank gives the "clear to close." In a disturbingly large number of these cases, even after the bank has said, in writing, that it has the money it "pulls the package" or the loan "gets questioned by the underwriter" and the money isn't there when all the lawyers and clients and Realtors (the only ones who actually make money from real estate closings) show up.

The buyer's attorney didn't have anything in writing. One of the Realtors -- his, undoubtedly -- understood that there was a "clear to close," but she also had seen nothing in writing.

That did not stop this man from calling my colleague's office five, six, seven times on Wednesday afternoon and another 25 times on Thursday morning, demanding that the closing proceed on Friday. After trying to move mountains to accommodate him -- the uncertainties of his financing notwithstanding -- my colleague's office had finally concluded that there was no way they could get an attorney to the closing and they told him that the closing would have to take place, as scheduled, as scheduled by contract amendment, on Monday. (I was covering another closing downtown, supposedly -- it ultimately fell through -- isn't that a surprise?) But he wouldn't take 'no' for an answer. He kept calling. He successfully sucked all the oxygen from my colleague's office -- her staff was actually feeling harassed -- and I was asked to intervene.

I said, sure, have him call me. I'd put him right. But my colleague's staff was so rattled, they couldn't find my office number -- even though I call over there nearly every day. Instead they gave out my cell phone number.

Now, perhaps, you're the sort of person who answers their cell phone no matter who calls. Me? I'll talk to my wife. Or one of my kids. Or if I've specifically told someone to call that number (because I'm not in my office). Otherwise, no. If I don't recognize the number, I don't pick up. I have voice mail on the cell phone -- I couldn't find a way to disable it -- which says, "Please don't leave me a message here. I won't listen to it. Call my office instead. I'll listen to the voice mail there. If you don't know my office number, you shouldn't be calling this number anyway, so just hang up." (That may not be the message verbatim, but it's close. My kids can't decide if that's hilarious or horrifying.)

Anyway, I ignored the unknown call when it came in -- and then I figured out who it must have been. A quick bit of snooping on the Internet gave me the attorney's email and I sent him a very nice, polite we're-closing-on-Monday-so-stop-calling note. I put my office number on the email.

Sure enough, he called me. Pouty. Put out. Hurt. "I'm sorry," I began, but he interrupted. "Don't say you're sorry because you're not. You don't care." OK, I said, I won't say I'm sorry. But we'll close Monday. And -- wonder of wonders -- the calls stopped. Mostly. He insisted that the closing be set first thing Monday (that would have been my first guess) but then he had to call to reschedule it to later in the afternoon.

Today the oxygen suckers were an out-of-state lawyer and a prospective client. I had talked with this dynamic duo in March -- at the request of my sister-in-law Josephine, really. Her husband, Ferdinand, is best buddies with the PC. I quickly saw why they get along. They both have the same sort of creepy, over-the-top, touchy-feely pseudo-religious patter. The good news for me was that the PC had his own lawyer in Pittsburgh and I talked with the lawyer -- who seemed relatively normal -- and I volunteered some suggestions for how they might proceed in the suit (which was filed here in Chicago).

A brief conversation with the PC was enough to reassure me that he couldn't afford his friend in Pittsburgh, much less the both of us. So I didn't mind that these two dropped off the face of the earth from mid-April until the last day of June. That's when I heard from the PC again. Had the lawyer called me? he wanted to know. Well, we both want to talk to you, the PC said, and we will. Soon.

"Soon" turned out to be yesterday. First the PC called, then the lawyer. Apparently the matter was up in court this morning and, they were wondering, could I wander over and ask for more time for them to do whatever they were going to do?

Well, I can beg and grovel with the best of them -- but I know an out-of-state lawyer can't represent anyone unless he is admitted to practice pro hac vice. Pro hac vice is a Latin phrase which means, roughly, we'll let you in once, but only for this case and don't even think of opening up an office here and competing for business with the rest of us.

Here is how a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. I knew that motions for admission pro hac vice used to be made to the trial court by local counsel. I knew, too, that the rule had changed so that these motions were no longer to be brought. I hadn't actually read the new rule -- I didn't care about the new rule because no one had hired me on as local counsel. The PC couldn't afford it, remember?

But -- if it would make Noche Buena dinner less awkward because I was helpful to Ferdinand's bestie -- I wouldn't mind being pressed into service to stepping up in court. I like to go over to court.

Still, I needed to know what to say. Did you ever get your pro hac vice appearance straightened out? I asked. Oh, yes, the attorney said. It took longer than expected, but all the paperwork was finally done.

The lawyer had questions, too. Do they really charge for an Appearance in Chicago? the lawyer asked. Is it one fee for all three defendants (the bestie, his wife, and their corporation) or do separate fees have to be paid for each? Just one fee, I said. That's a relief, the attorney said. (If the client can't cover the filing fees, how the heck is he going to cover anybody's bill... no matter how reasonable? But I didn't press the point.) The lawyer had served his Answer, he told me, but the Clerk didn't file it because he hadn't paid for an Appearance. And he was going to call opposing counsel and make sure he had the Answer, and let him know I was coming.

And over I went this morning.

That's when all the oxygen got sucked out of my day.

The case wasn't called. It wasn't called because a default judgment had already been entered against the PC and the other defendants -- a default judgment because nobody had appeared or answered or, apparently, made the arrangements he said he'd made.

And that's when I figured out I'd better look at the new pro hac vice rule. Because I was afraid the Pennsylvania lawyer really hadn't.

Hoo boy.

Yes, the rule has changed so that local counsel doesn't have to bring a motion to the trial judge -- but there still has to be local counsel. To an outsider looking at the situation... well, someone might conclude that I was supposed to be local counsel. And that would make the default my fault.

Oh, brother. I went into full defensive lawyering mode. I disclosed the default judgment to the lawyer and the PC, explained how it can be vacated (if somebody does something in the next 10 days or so it'll be easy -- after that it will be well nigh impossible), and pointed out that the out-of-state lawyer had either not obtained permission to appear in this case or misrepresented himself (and, more important, from my selfish standpoint, misrepresented my involvement) to the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission. After explaining that he has to hire local counsel under the rule, I told the out-of-state lawyer that I could not be that person.

I gave a couple of reasons. I'm about to start work on another appeal -- this is true -- and it will take up a lot of my time in the coming weeks. And I said I can't afford any 'off the cuff' clients at this time -- I have a full book of non-paying clients already. This, too, is true. Sadly. I said there were other reasons besides, which I chose not to disclose.

But you know one of them: After today, if this lawyer told me it was raining, I'd run to the window and expect to see bright sunshine. I don't need to get teamed up with folks like that. I was diplomatic as hell (I think I was, anyway) but I left no wriggle room. I don't care if dinner is awkward on Christmas Eve. I have a license to protect.

But, in the meanwhile, all the oxygen got sucked out of my day.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Here's a cranky, curmudgeonly opening for you: I just don't understand these kids today.

And it's true. I really don't. In my day, a girl was married from her parents' church; then, in the fullness of time, if the union should be blessed with issue, the child would be brought to the font at the church where the young family has settled. But these "rules," if they ever really were rules, are increasingly observed only in the breach.

Case in point: Older Daughter was married five years ago this week. In the usual course of things, she'd have been married from the parish where she grew up and attended school, where her mother and I are members. But, no. If you were reading this blog in 2009, you know that Older Daughter and her husband Hank decided right from the get-go that the wedding would be at Hank's family church -- in Indianapolis. (In fairness, I suppose, to Older Daughter, it might be better to say that Hank decided and Older Daughter was brought around to his views.) In any event, the wedding took place in Indiapolis. (It's almost the weekend -- you can browse through the linked posts and back through the other linked posts linked therein and catch right up on your Curmudgeon Family history, even if you're a newcomer to this space.)

And when Older Daughter finally presented us with Granddaughter #2, the child was welcomed into the Christian faith not in Indianapolis, where Older Daughter and Hank continue to reside, but at my parish church. (I've been meaning to write about that, but I've been doing other stuff.)

Well, you say, Curmudgeon, that's your problem, but the rules still hold for most people.

And maybe that's the case -- I can't take a nationwide survey at the moment -- but I offer in response the fact that, at this hour, Hank and Older Daughter and Granddaughter #2 are on their way from Indianapolis to Chicago where Older Daughter will stand up as godmother to a baby boy born to my daughter's high school friend and her husband, a captain in the Air Force.

Those with a military bent may note immediately that there are no major Air Force installations in the Chicago area. There aren't even any minor ones. The reserve unit at O'Hare closed in 1999. My daughter's friend and her husband are, if memory serves, posted to some place in Maryland these days. They used to live in Las Vegas; I remember that much for sure. Bottom line, though, is that here's another case of a kid getting baptized at what is now the church attended by only one set of his grandparents.

And have I mentioned that Middle Son is engaged?

I probably haven't.

That wedding will be next May. His bride is from Michigan. The wedding will be at my home parish.

Which brings me back to the grumbling with which I started this post: I don't understand the kids today. If there's a new etiquette, I haven't yet figured out how it works. Or is it just that there are no longer any rules at all and we do whatever seems like a good idea at the time?

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

An article on shoe shines and flat fees sets the Curmudgeon off on a rant

The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin was sitting outside my office door as I closed up shop last night. I don't always take it with me on the train home, but I did last night.

There was an interview with the name partner of an insurance defense firm on page three; I won't link to it or mention the firm name. I have nothing against these kinds of puff pieces generally; the firm probably paid a pretty penny to some PR firm to pitch the 'story' about the firm's 25th anniversary. The firm will buy a million reprints (or, I suppose, in this day and age, digital reprint rights) and send it to every client and potential client it can imagine. These kinds of things happen all the time and there is nothing illegal, immoral or fattening about any of it.

And maybe -- I want to be as positive as I can here -- maybe this firm really has evolved from the way I remember it into something actually worthy of this sort of puffery. I try to think the best of everyone.

But when I read about the name partner bragging on providing shoeshines three times a week so that all the attorneys can look their professional best, I saw red.

"We dress up during the week," the name partner bragged. "Saturday is a casual day."

Did you get that? What a great two-sided slam: We're not like these other, sloppy, slovenly firms who have gone "business casual" except when lawyers go to court -- and our galley slaves row on Saturdays, too. But we let them wear khakis then.

Oh, yes, I remember this firm.

They had a handful of lawyers, back in the day, the two name partners and an ever-changing collection of associates, each with a staggering caseload -- or a caseload that would be staggering if the firm had any intention of doing any work on each file.

In MBA-speak, this firm had what are euphemistically called "alternative billing arrangements" with its insurance company clients. Flat fees. Like Earl Scheib painting cars, they'd defend any case, no ups and no extras, for one flat fee. The moment anyone actually did any work on the file, the profit margin on the case was nearly shot to hell. So no one there did any work on any file except when they absolutely had to.

The firm profiled in last evening's article wasn't the first to invent the flat fee concept. I was young then so I don't know all the details, but I think, at least in Chicago, that honor goes to another outfit, the one that the named partner not interviewed came from.

Judges hated both of those firms.

Around the time that this firm now celebrating its 25th anniversary was set up, the Illinois Supreme Court decided to impose "case management" on cases. Before these rule changes, some cases could linger nearly forever on the Law Division docket. Eventually, cases would be called, in desultory fashion, for trial. Sometimes a case made it out to trial because no one remembered to show up and ask for another continuance. Oh, these lingering cases were meat and cheese for flat fee lawyers. They might even "win" when the plaintiff could not be found or the doctor was no longer in practice or the witnesses had vanished like the villagers in Brigadoon. Most cases weren't like this. Many plaintiff attorneys pushed their cases diligently to trial; some defense attorneys pushed plaintiff's attorneys to push their cases.

But the Supreme Court was embarrassed that the average months-to-disposition time for Cook County Law Division cases (and cases in other Illinois counties) grossly exceeded the ABA 'standards.' And so case management was imposed.

That meant that every 60 to 90 days or so (the intervals are shorter now, and the scrutiny more intense), all the attorneys would have to show up and tell the judge what they were doing and how soon they'd be done doing it. For outside hourly insurance defense firms this was a boon -- a billable hour that even the skin-flintiest claim adjuster couldn't question (the court made us do it!) -- and for most everyone else it was just a nuisance. But for the flat feesters, like this law firm profiled yesterday, it was nothing less than a judicial assault on their profit margin.

A lot of times, in the early days, the flat fee firms blew off these 'progress calls.' They just didn't show up. This worked for awhile. But then the judges were told to take these 'progress calls' seriously. When judges began entering orders requiring counsel for all parties to appear on pain of default, we saw the beaten dogs these flat fee firms sent over.

To be honest, I never noticed if lawyers from this firm had shiny shoes. I don't think anyone else did either. You generally never saw the same associate twice. The burnout rate was astounding -- and entirely predictable, given that these poor mopes spent their days getting lambasted by judges for (a) not knowing their files and (b) not having done anything on their files. I never once heard a judge excuse a flat fee attorney's complete ignorance of the case being called because s/he had shiny shoes.

Answering interrogatories is a pain in the tochus in the best of circumstances. The kids at the flat fee firms were doing their discovery responses under threat of default, on a final 7 or 14-day extension, producing insureds for deposition in other cases in similar straits, and, of course, going back to court on still more cases and getting judicially reamed once again. And they had to do it fast, because they had a million other cases in similar shape. And they weren't supposed to spend time on any of them.

Sometimes plaintiffs or even co-defendants sought sanctions against these flat fee firms, and sometimes the court would decide to impose sanctions sua sponte (that's Latin for 'you don't even have to ask, I'm so pissed I'll do it myself'). That's when the flat fee firm celebrated in the current edition of the Law Bulletin would roll out the heavy artillery: The other name partner in the firm profiled yesterday would come over to court on a pacification mission. She would tell the judge that the lazy dog associate who had messed this case up -- it was always the fault of the associate, never the fault of the business model -- would be beaten severely or had already been fired or will have his dripping, bloody head erected on a pike in the firm lunchroom as a warning to any other associates in our firm to never, ever miss one of your deadlines again. If you had so much as a molecule of empathy in your bloodstream, you couldn't help but feel sorry for the poor schlub who was being thrown under the bus by this partner. Judges should possess more than a molecule of empathy; they often backed down. Some would even offer counsel -- you know, you really need to hire more people to handle all this work, they'd say -- and the other partner would say, yes, judge, we're a new firm and we're having some growing pains, but we hired three new people just this week. The judge would beam and the other partner wouldn't be obliged to acknowledge that these three new bodies replaced three others who had been kicked to the curb or who had fled in terror.

I don't believe I've ever met the partner who was interviewed in the Law Bulletin last evening. So maybe he had no part of any of this.


But, in the same interview, in addition to shiny shoes, the partner bragged about alternate billing arrangements with insurance clients. Maybe he and his other name partner have come up with some more realistic business models, or more realistic pricing at least, in the last 25 years. They probably have because they're still in business.

All I know is that, back in the day, firms like this created unreasonable expectations among insurance companies about how little it would cost to defend a case. In other words, they hurt all the other insurance defense firms' business even as they were angering judges, opponents and co-defendants alike with the way they weren't handling the business they had.

There's a lot to be said against hourly billing. Hourly fees can be terribly abused. But hourly fees are like representative democracy. Representative democracy is the worst form of government ever -- until you compare it against every other form of government ever tried by humankind. The hourly fee model is the worst legal business model ever -- until you compare it with flat fees. Even with flat fees and shiny shoes.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Pausing to catch my breath at the rim of the abyss -- and yet, there's reason to hope

Oh, sure, you say -- tongue firmly in cheek -- poor Curmudgeon, you've been blogging yourself to a nub.

Well, no, I reply, perhaps a bit sheepishly. I have a life offline... sort of... and things have been a tad busy.

We got Granddaughter #2 baptized a week ago Sunday. That looks so recent when I write it, but -- trust me on this -- June 29 feels already like ancient history.

I just finished an appellate brief -- a few days after the promised delivery date. Nothing ever seems to get done as fast as I think it will.

The delay in delivery does not diminish my sense of accomplishment in finishing a task like this. I get so narrowly focused -- I got at least a couple hours work in each day on the holiday weekend, family obligations notwithstanding -- and I felt almost like a lawyer. Almost like a real, serious person.

And then I sent the brief off to my co-counsel, who is vacationing in Europe at the moment, with her husband and family. She probably won't read it until next week, when she gets back. We'll see what she thinks of it then. (What she thinks will, in large part, be dictated by what her referring attorney -- trial counsel -- thinks of the brief. If he likes it, she'll like it, too. If he hates it, well....)

Either way, by next week I hope to be getting into the next brief -- I have another in the hopper -- and I'm looking forward to getting this one done because it will have a blue cover.

No, I haven't developed a fashion sense in my dotage; that just means that, in this next case, I will be the appellee. In Illinois, an appellant's opening brief has a white cover, an appellee's response has a blue cover, and the appellant's reply has a yellow cover. I've done waaaaaaaay too many white and yellow covers in recent years. But this blue cover on my brief-to-be means I'll be the lawyer telling the Appellate Court how smart the jury and the trial judge were to see things my client's way. Statistics show that I have a 2 in 3 chance of success as appellee, whatever cockamamie drivel I concoct. And, you can bet the rent -- I am -- that's what one does in taking contingent fee cases -- that I will be writing my heart out, not driveling at all. See... if we win on that appeal, I'll get paid.

These things don't happen overnight, unfortunately.

The Appellate Court decided a big case in my favor a month or so ago. I worked on it last spring. But it too had a blue cover. If my colleague now in Europe had been able to negotiate the traditional fee for our appellate representation in that case, I'd be looking at a seven figure payday. The case was that big.

But... alas. She did not. She could not. I will still get, from that one case, more money than I grossed last year. Five figures is not seven -- decimal points do matter -- but, all by itself, it will make a healthy dent in my $60,000 credit card debt. But first will come the Petition for Leave to Appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court. There's only a 1% chance that the court will take it -- and, assuming it does not, I should see that money during the fourth quarter of this year.

I just have to live that long.

The brief I just finished will have a white cover. And while there was the momentary satisfaction of a job well done -- I liked it, whether anyone else does or not -- there was also the sad reality yesterday that I was $300 short on the July rent. And the Lexis bill -- you know, the electronic research service I need in order to find the cases to discern the law to quote in these masterpieces, white cover or blue -- is about to become two months overdue.

My remaining partner in the office suite was able to advance me the $300. What a heel I am. He's been short the last couple of months and I haven't been in a position to reciprocate. So he's gotten socked with the late fees -- and now he saves me from one.

The American Express bill was due yesterday, too. I couldn't pay the balance (even though, just a couple of months ago, I moved the really big balance on that card to one of those way-too-short-term 0% deals from the Soulless Megabank). For some reason, we keep buying groceries. And gasoline. Still, I paid what I could. Now I have less than $50 in my personal checking account and my business checking account.

I really am at the rim of the abyss.

This morning I went to court for a matter where I expected a final order to be entered -- a final order that would allow me to bill and close my file.


The attorney was unable to accomplish, in the last 30 days or so, what he was supposed to. We now wait to mid-August.

I have bills out.

They're just not getting paid.

That gets very old, I assure you. Meanwhile, I should be doing time sheets. But I did this instead. And, now, I think, I will go home. I will do better tomorrow.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

At a certain point, everybody looks familiar

In the course of a typical day, I will wander back and forth through the City Hall and County Building on my way to and from the Daley Center or run to this bank or that one, there to pay a bill or (¡ojalá!) make an actual deposit.

Along the way I will see, and nod at, a great many men and women.

It wouldn't do to walk past someone with whom one is acquainted and ignore them entirely; that would be rude.

The problem is that in strolling quickly through City Hall or down LaSalle Street I really can't stop to scrutinize the faces of passers by and see if I really do know them. I would probably be arrested if I tried. Or slugged. So, rather than commit a serious social blunder, I nod courteously to anyone who looks familiar.

Problem is, these days, just about everyone looks familiar.

There are probably multiple reasons for this. Certainly, I have worked in downtown Chicago for well over 30 years at this point; one can't help but see many of the same people day in and day out when one works in the same place that long. And, of course, with the passage of so much time, I have become acquainted with more and more people each year. By this time, of course, many are dying off -- but there are more than enough new acquaintances to take their places.

Also, although the Irish are no longer dominant in most Chicago demographics, there are still a lot of us working in the Loop. Many of the Chicago Irish hail from a handful of villages in County Mayo, God help us, and we're pretty much all related somehow. And genetics is funny: Your good friend's fourth cousin twice removed may look an awful lot like your your good friend, at least at a distance, even if the two of them have never met. Baseball writer Peter Gammons -- Youngest Son watches the MLB channel a lot when he's home -- looks eerily like a guy I went to college with.

But the biggest single reason that so many people look familiar to me is that, with each passing year, my eyesight gets worse and worse. Everyone has started to look the same -- in a blurry sort of way -- even when I wear my glasses.

I remember when I first realized this. I was in a Costco a few years back and I saw someone that -- from a distance at least -- looked like someone I knew from court. I put on my best lodge brother face and strode forward to greet this person only to realize, as I closed in, that this wasn't who I thought it was at all.

"You don't have the first clue who I am, do you?" said my quarry.

"No. Sorry. I thought you were someone else."

"It happens."

And it does -- to me at least -- more and more.

So, these days, I just nod and keep going, my purposeful stride discouraging any embarrassing conversations of the type I had that day in Costco.

But I notice, too, that, these days, a lot of people nod back. So I don't think I'm alone in this....

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A guest post from the Baby to Be Named Later: On to the Terrible Twos!

It's a cold and dreary day in Chicago today, the kind of day where this Curmudgeon would gladly work from home -- if work from home were possible. These days, of course, Younger Daughter and the Baby to Be Named Later rule the den in the morning, watching at least one and maybe two episodes of "Play With Me Sesame" -- the same darn shows, over and over -- and just generally being enough underfoot that I never quite gear down to the point where I can accomplish anything substantive.

There are compensations, of course. This morning, I found a carefully folded note in the pocket of my trench coat (yes, it's June here, too, but it's downright chilly as well as damp here this morning). I've deciphered the scrawl as best I can -- I think Granddaughter No. 1's handwriting is actually worse than mine -- and I reproduce that here.

OK, I admit it Grampy. I'm not in the best of moods these days. I think the teeth have stopped erupting for the time being but, as you and Grammy note when you think I'm not listening, I'm starting to have tantrums. Yes, I'm loud. And I'm not just imitating you, Grampy, although you are a continuing inspiration to me.

I get frustrated so easily these days. I can climb up into any chair in the house, but I can't always get down. I want to use a spoon when I eat, but stuff keeps falling off it. I want to see new stuff. And I know there's good stuff up on the counters in the kitchen and on the bookshelves in the den (it's on the shelves that you hide the iPad, Grampy, and don't think I don't know it) so I reach up and grab whatever I can reach. One minute you and Grammy and Mommy and Daddy are praising me for being "soooo big" and then, in the next breath, you're yelling at me because I pulled a knife down off the counter. (It's kind of like a spoon isn't it? How come I can run around with a spoon and you all laugh but when I run around with a knife you all get so upset?)

And you're happy if I crawl up on a chair -- "such a big girl!" you all say -- but when I crawl onto the coffee table somehow it's a different story. It's no wonder I get upset.

But there are other reasons, too. I know, from reading over Mommy's shoulder when she's looking up parenting tips on the Internet, that kids my age are very imitative and want to do everything they see adults do. But you don't even let me see everything you're up to. I've got Mommy pretty well trained now; she knows better than to try and go to the bathroom by herself anymore -- but you and Grammy never let me in, even when I stand outside the door and scream. I know what the shower sounds like, Grampy, and I can open the sliding door when Mommy is in there. She usually lets me come in then, too. You and Grammy make sure to get your showers in when I'm still stuck in my crib. I ask you, is that nice?

The worst, though, is that I can't quite seem to get words out yet. A vocabulary of four or five words (mama, dada, agua, dog -- sometimes I pant when I say this so you figure out what I'm getting at -- or boo -- for balloon, Big Bird and Pooh Bear) is simply inadequate to express the complex ideas that are constantly rattling 'round my cranium. I have so much to say... and I just can't. If it weren't for the release provided by these occasional notes, I think I might explode.

Just the other night everyone said "good night" to me and Mommy scooped me up and headed for the stairs. No one asked me if I wanted to go to bed. I tried so hard to explain that I wasn't tired in the least, but all that came out was gibberish. It's no wonder I started screaming. (Mom said I went right to sleep that night, but I don't remember.)

There are so many things you do that seem so arbitrary to me. Like always putting on shoes before going out into the backyard. Putting on shoes takes time. Sometimes I want to go into the backyard right then but you, or Daddy, or Mommy or someone is always delaying things by looking for my shoes. I'd tell you where I put them -- but I can't, remember? And you don't seem to mind so much if I take the shoes off inside the house -- why should it make a difference in the backyard?

I've noticed, too, that when you want to go somewhere, you get your keys and your glasses and you just go. Well, don't you think that sometimes I want to go places too? I get tired looking at the same old toys all day long. I get my keys and the sunglasses Mommy got me and I head for the door but no one lets me go out. Yes, that gets me going again.

I've heard you and Grammy say I'm going into my Terrible Twos. I don't know what those are, but it doesn't sound good. Especially when you tell Grammy that some of my uncles are still in them.

You're kidding about that, right?

Anyway, I'm getting the distinct impression that somehow my tantrums are related to these Terrible Twos.


Grampy, you're not a bad guy. You give me animal crackers or pretzels even if Mommy frowns at you. You talk to me and pretend to understand me when I talk, even though we both know I can't express myself properly. And, of course, you read and publish my notes. But I don't think I'm going to able to stop these tantrums anytime soon. I'm really sorry about that.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Frivolous Friday: Potpourri edition

"Potpourri." That's a French word. It means "no organized theme."

Which fits right in with Second Effort generally, doesn't it?

Let's start in with this Wizard of Id strip from May 28 (all comics here obtained from Yahoo! Comics unless otherwise indicated):

This is a pet peeve of mine -- judging by some of the things my wife (a teacher) has picked up at schools or seminars, educators seriously believe that kids don't have to memorize things (like facts) anymore because Google has all the answers.

But -- and this is a huge but -- search engines know all the answers only, only, only if you know the right questions and if you know how to sort the wheat from the chaff in the results provided.

While we're on the subject of teachers, though, Grand Avenue (by Steve Breen and Mike Thompson) has been doing a series this week on the end of the school year. This one struck me as very funny:

My wife would probably disagree. She gave her 6th graders tests yesterday. They complained bitterly. How can you give us tests now, they protested, don't you know we get out of school next week?

One parent, lobbying (I guess) for her son to get a second retake of a test he'd bombed already twice, seemed to be making a similar argument. Long Suffering Spouse had to remind the parent that, next year, when her son goes to high school, his last class will be a final exam. The kid's mother is an intelligent, educated woman; surely she remembers this. The good news, I suppose, is that the mother is concerned about her son's grade. The bad news, however, is that her son stopped caring around the time he took his high school placement test. In January. And his grades reflect this. It isn't just this one test that has brought down his grade.

Sticking with schools, this Grand Avenue strip struck me as all too true:

But, as apprehensive as parents may be about the kids coming home for the summer, it does not compare to the relief that teachers feel at being rid of the little monsters, er, darlings for the summer. (See discussion above.)

We switch now to the terrible world of telemarketing. I do feel sorry for telemarketers. I do. They have horrible jobs and people mostly answer their calls just to scream at them. Still, there's humor even in this, as the following Duplex comic, by Glenn McCoy, from May 28, shows:

I've spent a lot of time here crowing about being a grandfather -- and I truly do love the gig. I mean it when I tell people it's the best club I've ever joined. Even so, this F Minus comic, by Tony Carrillo, from April 18, strikes me as all too true:

I lack the discerning eye of all those (in my family, it's the womenfolk) who can gaze at a newborn infant for 10 seconds and pronounce authoritatively that 'the baby has her father's eyes' or 'she has her mother's ears' or 'she has her Aunt Tessie's tushie.' No! I don't believe it. Newborn babies look remarkably like Winston Churchill or Richard J. Daley. Eventually, as they grow, they will resemble this relative or that one -- but sometimes, at least it seems to me, for only a little while because, with another growth spurt, they then resemble someone else entirely.

But that's my opinion only. The weight of authority is clearly against me on this one. I guess.

I enjoy reading the comics -- lots of comics -- every day. For amusement. For entertainment. For laughs. But sometimes... well, sometimes it seems the comics are used as a place for the artists to work out their own issues.

Recovering lawyer (and one of my favorites) Stephan Pastis, the creator of Pearls Before Swine, may be going through some sort of rough patch and working it out right in front of us in our daily papers. At least if this May 23 Pearls strip is any indication:

This week, Stephan invents a little kid from down the street, a precocious 2nd grader named Libby, who turns out to be able to draw rings around the artistically-challenged Mr. Pastis (he's such a terrible artist that he's only syndicated in about a gazillion newspapers). Today's installment brings together his domestic issues, his insecurities about his artistic skills, and his concerns about how long there will be a gazillion papers to carry his work (and keep him from having to return to the practice of law):

I hope Mr. Pastis feels better soon. I hope his domestic issues are resolved satisfactorily. But, although it's a little dark for me to say it, right now, I'm sort of enjoying his pain.

Wow, that came out badly.

But not as badly, I'm afraid, as things turned out for Dorothy in this truly dark, (*ahem*) Wicked re-imagining of The Wizard of Oz in this May 28 Bizarro strip by Dan Piraro (this one was obtained from the Chicago Tribune Comics Kingdom):

UPDATE 6/7/14: This is so cool! Pardon me, while I gush like a teenager, but "Libby" in this week's Pearls episodes was none other than Bill Watterson. Yes, that Bill Watterson. The man who drew Calvin and Hobbes. The J.D. Salinger of cartooning. The recluse. Mr. Pastis kept the secret all week, but, he says, now the story can be told. Wow....

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

In which Curmudgeon explains about monopolies and why he was an hour and a half late to work this morning....

Some men are born Curmudgeons. Some have Curmudgeon-ness thrust upon them. Despite my long-time nom de blog, I may be among the latter category. I did not set out to be rip-roaring angry this morning. But then....

Abuela is having health issues. She is 80; she will be 81 in August. She will be 101 in August 2034, too. In other words, this crisis will pass and she'll be fine.

But, right now, she is scared. Her blood pressure, usually low, is soaring. Her pulse is speed-racing, even when she doesn't move. And, at the moment, other than dialing the phone to one of her daughters or one of her doctors, she's not moving at all. Last week she got an appointment with a cardiologist set up for this morning; she also talked the cardiologist into providing a monitoring device and a 24/7 help number. She called it last night when her heart beat started zooming out of control again. Then she called Long Suffering Spouse.

And Long Suffering Spouse checked in with her before we retired last evening -- Abuela had calmed down some -- and, under the circumstances, I was neither surprised nor upset when Abuela called again this morning as Long Suffering Spouse and I were trying to get ready to leave. I kept emptying the dishwasher while Long Suffering Spouse fielded the call.

I finished unloading the dishwasher. I put in the dishes that accumulated overnight (remember, Youngest Son is back from college). I fixed my bagel and poured my coffee. Long Suffering Spouse was still on the phone to her mother. I couldn't tell by sound, you understand -- my wife was obviously not getting a word in edgewise -- but she was still in the rocking chair in the living room not moving.

I took my coffee and my bagel and my sandwiches for lunch into the den and fired up the desktop computer.

Younger Daughter and Granddaughter #1 were awake; they were just turning on Play With Me Sesame for the 9,000,000th time when I walked in. I opened the screen door, letting the cool air wash over me.

Younger Daughter immediately groused that it was too cold. Well, yesterday it had been too hot. Younger Daughter had merely complained that I'd not turned on the air conditioner; Youngest Son was nearly belligerent about it. But 30 degree temperature drops (and sometimes 30 degree temperature increases) are just part of the background noise of living in Chicago. I didn't let it bother me any. I was still pleasant and cheerful.

I opened up Facebook. I'd taken some pictures at the Memorial Day Parade in our neighborhood and posted these on the parish Facebook page and, sure enough, I'd picked up a few "likes." This pleased me. The milk of human kindness was coursing through my veins. I clicked on the Home tab intending to look at the news in a couple of other groups I've assembled. The little Windows 7 wheel of misfortune began spinning.

And kept spinning.

I looked at the router, the router I'd just purchased from AT&T barely two weeks ago. I may not have needed to do this. I thought my old router had failed, and Younger Daughter really needed the Internet to finish a project she was doing for my friend Steve (keeping the gaps as small as possible on her resume, doncha know), but when I went through all the steps to set the new device up I realized that my equipment wasn't broken; rather, AT&T had broken the Internet. There was a large outage in the Chicago area and we were caught up in it. I was, I admit, fit to be tied on that occasion.

Now, as I looked at the router and saw the ominous red light, the milk of human kindness curdled.

But, fine. Even new equipment can have a problem. Pull the plug, count to 10, try again. I know the drill. For good measure, I rebooted the desktop.

I waited.

One by one the green lights lit on my router. One by one, but not the one I needed. That light came back red. I was seeing red by now, too.

Still, there was one more thing to try -- the Windows troubleshooting menu.

People used to be able to fix things, back in the day. My father taught me how to change spark plugs and set the gaps and change the oil on the car. But then came electronic ignition and bans on what you could do with the old oil you drained. So I don't change my own oil. And nobody changes spark plugs.

But, also back in the day, only not as far back, during the DOS days, I could troubleshoot problems, locate corrupted files, reinstall programs. Meanwhile, back in Redmond, Washington, Darth Gates and his minions were designing Windows. (We can't have a self-sufficient peasantry, he must have told them, they'd be far too independent.) But, as a sop to those of us who thought we could diagnose and fix problems, the evil geniuses came up with 'troubleshooting menus' -- additional buttons to push, all to no avail, while the button-pusher's blood pressure spikes ever higher.

So, no, I didn't expect much from the Windows troubleshooting menus, and I was not surprised when Windows soon admitted that it could not resolve my problem.

Meanwhile, as I was plummeting from the heights of happiness to the depths of Internet despair, Long Suffering Spouse was trying to talk Abuela into not driving herself to her doctor's appointment. "If you feel like you're going to pass out, someone else should drive," my wife said -- repeatedly.

Younger Daughter volunteered and Long Suffering Spouse relayed the offer.

The offer was rejected. Long Suffering Spouse didn't really want Granddaughter #1 anywhere near a doctor's office -- who knows what germs she might pick up? -- and Abuela was adamantly opposed.

Youngest Son was volunteered.

Note the use of the passive voice. He did not know his services were being offered; he was asleep. He just got a job coaching a high school travel baseball team and they have a game today; only he knows when and where. So he might not have been actually available anyway. He was dismissed as a possible chauffeur.

"Do you have court this morning, Curmudgeon?" my wife called from the living room. I was in red-light Hell by this time; I snarled back that I did not have anything scheduled. But the last thing I wanted to do today was drive my mother-in-law around.

"Curmudgeon can do it," my wife told her mother. "No, it won't be any problem at all; he has nothing up in court." Abuela agreed to think about it and the conversation, finally, came to an end.

I could at last tell my wife that the Internet had died, right before my eyes.

"Did you try unplugging and replugging the router?" she asked.

"Yes," I barked. "It's not us; it's AT&T. Service is down again."

I raged and fumed and sputtered and swore about monopolies and Third World service at First World prices (I could see Granddaughter #1 mentally taking notes). My wife and daughter anxiously tried to shush me.

Long Suffering Spouse was not pleased. "Calm down! You're going to have a stroke, Curmudgeon," she scolded me, "and they're going to put you in Abuela's room at the hospital."

Ah, yes, Abuela.

"You realize, of course," I told her, "that your mother wants you to go with her? She's scared."

"I can't go. I have to go to school. I can't believe it's so late. I'm not going to get a parking space."

Long Suffering Spouse was up until midnight preparing materials to use in a couple of her classes today. She had every intention of going to school. I'm generally the expendable spouse, the one whose day can be sacrificed for the crisis du jour -- like when Younger Daughter called me to tell me she was going into labor. As long as I was reasonably close by, Younger Daughter wouldn't have dared to try and reach her mother at school.

But Long Suffering Spouse is worried about her mother, too. She expects her mother to be admitted to the hospital after she's seen today; I think Abuela is almost looking forward to it. Abuela seems to like being in the hospital. There was the time, a few years back, when Abuela's hemoglobin crashed; I forget the details. But if good hemoglobin is 11.5 and you need a transfusion at 8 or 9, she was down to a 5 or a 6 or a -2 or something -- something truly alarming -- and it was decided to put her in the hospital immediately. My wife went to take her (it was summertime) and got her in the car, with her bag packed, all ready to go, when Abuela realized she had forgotten to pack a favorite perfume. So my wife went back in her mother's house, rummaging through her bedroom, looking for a bottle of perfume, while she feared for her mother's life. And Abuela, sick as she was, was giddy like she was going on vacation.

Aside from a couple of similar episodes, Abuela has enjoyed really good health, particularly in the last 10 or 15 years. I think it must be sort of disappointing for her.

Anyway, mad as I was at AT&T, and mad as my wife was at me for being so mad, she could see the logic in what I'd said. "I'd better call school right away then," she said. "What's the number?"

We got her the number.

She got an answering machine. "No, this won't do at all!" she shouted. "Bring me my iPad. I need to send an email."

"You can't send an email. We have no Internet." (Younger Daughter asked whether we could send an email to the school from our phones. But the school system is a proprietary one, and one must be logged in before doing anything. I don't know how to do that quickly, if it can be done at all from a phone, I told her. Do you? No, my daughter admitted.)

Eventually, Younger Daughter and I persuaded Long Suffering Spouse to go to school in person and inform her principal of the problem. Problems. Meanwhile, I steeled myself for the ordeal of calling AT&T.

I dug out the most recent bill (it's not even overdue yet!) and began looking for a customer service number.

Like all monopolies, AT&T does not believe in customer service, only billing. On the bill detail there is a number for Internet or DSL billing questions. My actual Internet or DSL billing question -- how dare you send out bills for this crappy level of service? -- was not likely to receive a polite answer. But, after further scrutiny of the bill, I did find a paragraph labeled "customer support," that listed phone numbers -- different phone numbers -- that one could call to speak to AT&T in English, Spanish, Mandarin, Korean, Tagalog, Polish, or even Russian. They probably connect you to one of Putin's own family members if you call the Russian number. AT&T is the kind of business that a guy like Vladimir Putin can appreciate -- as long as he's an owner, not a customer.

Anyway, my Mandarin not being really up to par, I decided to call the English number.

A computer answered.

"If you'd like to continue in English, press 1," the computer said. "Para continuar en Español, marque numero dos."

If you have to, you can think about that one for a little while.

I dutifully pressed number 1 and the computer started talking again. "I see you're calling from" -- and here the computer recited my home phone number. "Is this the number you are calling about?" Yes, I snapped. The AT&T computer voice is always so damn chipper; it just gets me madder to hear it. "One moment please while I gather information about your account." The computer then makes a little whoosh and gurgle like it's pulling in data from the far-flung corners of its endless files. "In a few words, tell me about why you are calling. For example, you can say, 'I'd like to pay my bill' or 'I'd like to order new service.'"

"AT&T is a bloated, corrupt monopoly that was broken apart by the courts but which stupid politicians and regulators have allowed to re-form into an entity even more evil than it was originally."

"I'm sorry, I did not get that," said the computer.

"My Internet is out. Again."

Eventually the computer put me in line to speak with a representative -- all of whom were busy servicing other customers at present, darn it -- but in the meantime I could listen to a steady stream of commentary -- like how many Internet connection problems can be solved by turning off the modem, or unplugging it for 10 seconds, and plugging it back in. I added some commentary of my own about this and Long Suffering Spouse -- back from school already -- started in shushing me again.

Then the recorded voice told me that all sorts of further troubleshooting advice was available at AT& Isn't that nice? If I could get to AT& I wouldn't be in hold-Hell here now, would I?

These messages, and others like them, all equally unhelpful, repeat until a human can be found to pick up the call.

I feel sorry for the poor lady who answered my call. It's not her fault that she has such a miserable job. The economy stinks. And then she has to listen to people driven crazy by endlessly looped messages that are completely unhelpful.

At least when you call the IRS you get soothing classical music as you waste away on hold. Or the music would be soothing if (1) you weren't calling the IRS and (2) it wasn't interrupted every 45 seconds or so by a voice urging you to stay on the line.

The woman from AT&T identified herself. She made me identify myself (didn't the computer already tell her?) and then she asked me how she could be of assistance today.

"Internet service is out in my area again. This is the second time in less than two weeks. This is entirely unacceptable."

"Can I put you on hold, sir, while I investigate? I'm not aware of any outage in your area."

At least this time, there was music and no useless suggestions.

When I began speaking in tongues at the computer this morning, Younger Daughter hustled her child out of the room. Play With Me Sesame had ended anyway. So I put the morning news on for something to pay attention to besides prerecorded inanities from AT&T.

In this news this morning it seems a person was struck and killed by a Metra commuter train in the vicinity of Arlington Park. I don't live in that vicinity, but I do live much closer to the center of the City along that same train line. And, sure enough, the news advised, the CTA was honoring Union Pacific passes this morning on the Blue Line (which I do take) because of disruption to the Metra service going to the northwest suburbs. So that was making the Blue Line slower than usual.

That would have been bad enough, but the Blue Line was also having equipment problems coming in from the airport -- in other words, by me -- and things were really messed up.

"I may just go back to bed," I announced. "If I ever get off hold."

The AT&T lady eventually came back on the line. "Sir, it turns out that there is an outage in your area." She seemed surprised. With monopolies, the customer is almost always wrong.

"When will this problem be fixed?"

"It is currently scheduled to be repaired by 7:30 p.m.," she said. Just another 11 hours (give or take) to go.

"You know," I said, "this is completely unacceptable. To find a number to call you, I had to pull out my bill. And what should I find in my bill but a notice that you are 'upgrading' Internet service in this area? Faster speeds for bigger dollars. Now why would I -- why would anyone -- do that when you can't keep the system you have operating smoothly?"

"Well, sir, I do see that we are going to fiber-optic service in your area and we won't be dependent on the old, copper telephone lines anymore. And that's the problem, that the old lines are in need of replacement."

Like the one I'm presently speaking to you on? But I kept that to myself. Instead I said, "And I also notice that you are billing me for a full month's service even though you have had two outages in two weeks."

"You are entitled to a credit, sir," said the woman. "I can put you on hold and connect you to a billing specialist."

"Please," I begged. "Do. Not. Put. Me. On. Hold. Again."

"Well, alright, sir, have a nice day."

I hung up the phone.

And it rang again almost immediately.

It was Long Suffering Spouse's sister, Josephine, calling from her office. Abuela, it seems, was on the other line with her, even now, telling her how weak she felt, how she thought she might pass out, how she was worried she wouldn't be able to answer the door when Long Suffering Spouse came to take her to the doctor. But, Josephine said, Abuela did not want to call Long Suffering Spouse and burden her with this. She didn't want to inconvenience her. "Not want to inconvenience me? I've already taken the day off to get her to the doctor," Long Suffering Spouse told her sister.

She hung up and said she'd better go to her mother's. "I can drop you off at the train. If it's working."

"I need to get some bills out," I admitted, "and I need the Internet for that."

"If it's not working in your office, just turn around and come home," my wife said.

But it was. It is. And I still need to get out some billing. Now that I've blown off some steam.