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.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Family togetherness comes with increasing levels of complication

Sure, you're pretending to work today, surfing the web, hoping the phone doesn't ring, counting the minutes until you can start on your holiday weekend.

I so envy you.

I mean, it will be Memorial Day weekend for me, too, but I can't exactly say I'm looking forward to it. It sounds terribly wrong to say it -- it is terribly wrong -- but I'm dreading this weekend.

Older Daughter is coming for a visit. With Hank and now-month-old Granddaughter #2.

You, dear reader, are probably outraged at this point. Curmudgeon, you fiend! you snarl at your monitor, imagining me cowering in shame. Your daughter is coming to visit you and bringing your new grandchild to see you and you are something other than thrilled?

Well, actually, yes.

The Curmudgeon Manse is, sadly, not a stately English country home. I live in a nice area of the City of Chicago, and my house is not small by urban standards. The modern four bedroom suburban house dwarfs our house, the original part of which probably dates to the 1920s. Our four bedrooms are tiny, by modern standards (the room where Granddaughter #1 sleeps would be considered a walk-in closet in a modern suburban home), but we have a living room, dining room and, by way of addition, a den and something of a great room, though it is mostly used for storage.

As is our basement -- bulging, still, with the wedding gifts from the nuptials of Olaf and Younger Daughter, now two years past. But they are still living with us, along with Granddaughter #1, an increasingly energetic toddler, tall for her age, able to see and pull things off all but the highest shelves. Like knives from the kitchen counters. Or phones recharging in the den. Oh, that child loves phones. Clearly, some of my mother's genes course through her veins. My mother was part telephone, you know.

And then, last weekend, Youngest Son returned for the summer. His stuff returned on Saturday. He returned on Sunday night, having remained in Wisconsin an extra day to witness his girlfriend's graduation from South Janesville College. He's made some progress toward settling in over the past week. The unlaundered pile of clothes and blankets in the living room is now a pile of laundered clothes and blankets. But it's still in the living room, right where Older Daughter and Hank intend to put the mountain of stuff they will bring for their weekend sojourn.

You might think that, inasmuch as we live in the O'Hare flightpath, there might be one or two gazillion hotel rooms within spitting distance of our house. And, if you think that, you'd be right.

But Older Daughter wouldn't think of staying at a hotel. The whole point of coming home is hanging around the house. If you've been counting bedrooms, you may have calculated that Younger Daughter and her husband have one bedroom, their daughter another, and Youngest Son a third. That leaves one for Long Suffering Spouse and me. And none for Older Daughter and her husband and their daughter.

We acquired a futon for Older Daughter and her husband after they got married five years back. That was initially located in the sort-of great room (maybe we could call it a merely good room instead) but it became our primary couch when the couch in the den finally gave up the ghost.

The only room in my house where I spend any time (other than the bathroom of course -- I am a man of a certain age) is the den. My desktop computer is there. The TV is there. The DVD player is there. My recliner is there.

Most nights, Long Suffering Spouse and I fall asleep in the den -- she grading papers, me watching TV, fiddling with my iPad, and waiting for her -- waking up at 1:00 or 2:00 to make the coffee (for Olaf's 5:45 a.m. daily exit) and stagger upstairs.

So I didn't entirely lose it when Long Suffering Spouse seriously suggested that we give up our bedroom for the weekend. It's just a few additional hours in the recliner, and I can go on the computer or do any number of other things before the rest of the sleepers awaken.

This morning, though, Long Suffering Spouse was having second thoughts. If the baby has a rough night, she said, speaking of the newborn, she'll wake up the whole house if she's in our room. Younger Daughter recalled that she used to bring her newborn downstairs in the middle of the night for that very reason. They will advise me of their decision about where I sleep tonight in due course. Maybe -- if Older Daughter decides to delay her expedition until Saturday morning -- I can have a temporary reprieve. I'm not counting on it.

Older Daughter has invited her other brothers over for a barbecue this weekend; she's not sure -- even at this point -- when it will be. And she wants Abuela to come over to meet the new great-grandchild, too. I'm not sure who else she's invited. She's invited my friends Steve and Charlotte certainly, and possibly others.

(Did I mention that this was supposedly my house?)

Yes, I know. Older Daughter is happy. She wants to show off her new baby. I understand; really I do.

The good news is that Older Daughter is (supposedly) not bringing either of her giant dogs this time. I've written about Cork, their giant golden retriever, from time to time. Well, last year they got Cork a playmate, another golden, this one named Tipperary. These are spastic creatures on their best days; that's in the nature of golden retrievers. But these poor monsters are also attention-starved. They need constant reassurance and, if you fail to pay sufficient heed, they will find a way to make you notice them. You haven't lived until an 80 pound dog has leapt into your lap while you're dozing (and you don't feel much like living for some time thereafter).

Cork and Tipperary are being left behind on this occasion because Hank and Older Daughter don't think they can fit both dogs and the baby in their car for a (minimum) three hour trip. It has nothing to do with my convenience, or preference, I can tell you that.

Youngest Son announced last night that he's going to a friend's 21st birthday party this evening, so he'll be gone all night. This would scare me sufficiently for one weekend all by itself. Given the weekend agenda, however, I volunteered to go with him. "I always liked that kid," I told him, as he reminded me of whose birthday it was. "What's his name again?"

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Curmudgeon finds that breathing is more optional than commonly supposed

There was an article online recently about an athlete -- a football player, I think -- who has decided to increase the difficulty of his normal off-season workout by wearing some sort of mask or filter that limits his air intake.

I couldn't find the article this morning to link it -- I can never find anything when I'm looking for it -- but even a non-athlete like myself knows that you need more air, not less, when you do something strenuous, like exercise. In my case, just standing up can sometimes trigger huffing and puffing.

The athlete apparently hopes that, when he plays his sport -- without the filter, of course -- he will be that much stronger, that much more refreshed, because of his unusual conditioning routine.

Of course, the athlete probably spent a significant sum of money on this oxygen-limiting equipment. He might have been better off just by coming to Chicago for the spring.

We were warned that our brutal winter would be followed by a rough spring for allergies. Apparently, all the trees and flowering plants, their revival delayed by winter's refusal to depart, would make up for lost time, pumping out the pollen in record volumes.

Sadly, these gloomy forecasts seem to have fallen well short of the mark. It's much worse than predicted.

My nose is constantly running, except when I'm sneezing, but no matter how much stuff comes out of my nose, there doesn't seem to be room for air to come in through the nasal passages to my brain. My pockets are bulging with used and about-to-be-used "facial tissues." (Remember, all you aspiring writers out there, that we're not supposed to refer to kleenex as kleenex, especially when the "facial tissues" aren't Kleenex, but Puffs. So, for purposes of the written word, in order to avoid any legal unpleasantness, it is strongly recommended that we use the term "facial tissues," even though you've never heard that term used in real life.) And, still, despite all the nose-blowing, dripping, and sneezing, my sinuses remain impenetrable.

It is commonly supposed that humans are required to breathe a certain amount of oxygen in order to survive. I'm beginning to have my doubts. First there was that kid who hid in the wheel well of a jet that flew to Hawaii. According to generally accepted medical belief, the young man should have asphyxiated before he froze to death. But he didn't do either. When the wheels came down on the Hawaiian airport tarmac, he dropped out of the wheel well, a little unsteady on his pins, but otherwise apparently unharmed.

But, of course, it's my own experiences -- or, rather, the lack of my experiencing any significant airflow in roughly the past month -- that is pushing me to the conclusion that breathing is not nearly as necessary as we thought.

Because I can't breathe properly, I'm more tired than usual, and grouchier. But it's not all bad. When the allergy season started, I thought I'd developed a cold. I never drink when I have a cold. I've found that I get even more congested if I try. But then, slowly, because my oxygen-depleted brain is not functioning at anything near peak efficiency, I realized that I did not have a cold at all, but just horrible, miserable, unceasing spring allergies. Drinking wouldn't make that any better -- but it wouldn't make it any worse either. So I could drink again. (When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Isn't that what we're taught? Long Suffering Spouse likes lemonade. Actually, I prefer a slice or wedge of lemon in my vodka. But to each their own.)

I'm also taking cold and allergy pills on occasion (not when I'm drinking -- if you value your liver, that's a bad idea even if you don't have a cold). The problem with taking cold and allergy pills (other than the interruption of one's evening cocktails) is that these pills are apparently useful in the making of methamphetamine, typically referred to as "meth" or "crystal meth." I'm not certain what the connection is; I'm not inclined to look up any recipes. I find it hard to believe, however, that my 40-pill package of cold and allergy medicine could be transmuted into any commercially useful quantity of the illicit drug. Nevertheless, in order to procure the pills, I must produce a driver's license and sign all sorts of small-print disclaimers, before the pharmacist will produce the package from behind the counter. With the spring we're having, I worry that I'm going to wind up on a DEA watch-list because of all the pills I've signed for. I'll bet there's a lot of folks around here who are similarly worried. I know I'm not the only sufferer.

Meanwhile, if only I could, I'd like to take a deep breath and get some work done.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Curmudgeon becomes a grandfather again -- Part III

Parts I and II of this series available by scrolling down or clicking here and here.

The maternity floor was on the third floor of the very modern hospital. It was a large room, but oddly shaped, long and narrow.

Our in-laws were already there, of course, at the far end of the room. There was a huge flatscreen TV on the wall showing the NBA playoff game between the Indiana Pacers and the Atlanta Hawks, but neither of them were really watching.

They were watching us. They didn't look entirely pleased. It could have been the stress of the moment, of course.

But there's no getting away from the fact that this is their grandchild. A child in which they feel -- understandably! -- that they have a proprietary interest. Bought and paid for.

IVF treatments are not cheap, and Older Daughter has endured so many. So many false starts. So many failed attempts. So many, many tears.

But this night -- this birth -- could not have been possible without the funds so generously provided by my in-laws. Older Daughter and Hank laid out an awful lot of money themselves, but Hank's parents paid a boatload of money, too. Long Suffering Spouse and I could not have helped. I couldn't afford the cost of gasoline for the trip to Indianapolis.

I understood their point of view. I'd like to think I might not have thought that way, were I in their shoes, but I'm only human. We all are.

I resolved to be friendly. I sat down by them and began chatting.

Long Suffering Spouse and Younger Daughter took up posts a bit further away.

It was the Baby-Who-I-Still-Have-To-Name who bridged the gap. She saw the long room as a runway. And she ran up and back that runway multiple times, grabbing my arm and shrieking in her loudest, shrillest, happiest voice. I'd turn and growl at her and she'd flee in mock terror, only to repeat the process immediately. The in-laws watched carefully. "The kid hates me," I explained, while my granddaughter readied another charge.

"Obviously," said Hank's father, with a four-syllable delivery that would have done Professor Snape proud.

This was further evidence, to them, if any were really needed, that we already had our grandchild. This one -- the one being born down the hall somewhere -- was theirs. So why we were intruding on their party?

Granddaughter #1 charged me a few more times, shrieking every time, ignoring our suggestions that perhaps she might cultivate an 'inside' voice. Well, the kid had been stuck in a car seat for over three hours. Finally, on one return trip, her mother detected a whiff of something that suggested that all this running around might have had another purpose than merely to alienate the in-laws. She scooped up her child and, making apologies, disappeared in search of a bathroom.

The in-laws stared at me. "I guess I bring out the best in her," I shrugged, feigning momentary interest in the Pacers-Hawks game.

More careful small-talk ensued.

Granddaughter #1 had returned by this time and, at their far end of the long room, Long Suffering Spouse and Younger Daughter were trying to interest her in various toys and books. She was still noisy.

Finally, Hank's mother had had enough. She stood up.

"I'm going to see what's going on."

"Good luck," I offered.

This particular hospital had a strict no-visitors policy for the first two hours after childbirth -- the idea being to give Mom a breather, after her ordeal, and a moment or two for the new family to introduce themselves to each other -- and Older Daughter told us that this rule would be strictly enforced.

Why were even at the hospital then? Truth to tell, we had nowhere else to go. Long Suffering Spouse and Younger Daughter had arranged to stay at Older Daughter's house even before the blessed event began unfolding -- so we had to wait where we were, if only for the purpose of receiving keys.

I didn't much care one way or the other. I could spar with the in-laws or sleep in my chair or pretend to watch an NBA game or, if all else failed, look solemnly at my phone. I could read my Twitter feed or play Solitaire. I can hang around doing nothing with the best of them.

Granddaughter #1 would become increasingly cranky, of course. It was getting to be her bedtime, and she'd just accomplished something besides, and she had run around like a crazy person for some time. No, her fuse was lit. And Long Suffering Spouse was distinctly uncomfortable; she knew the in-laws weren't thrilled to see us, and she also understood why. Younger Daughter wasn't as uncomfortable; she had a basic understanding that the present situation was a tad awkward, but she was too focused on her ticking time-bomb toddler to worry much about her sister's in-laws.

Anyway, at that point, we had no idea whether Granddaughter #2 had even been born, so we had no idea where the two-hour clock might have stood. But neither did the in-laws.

This did not discourage Hank's mother. "I'm a pediatric nurse," she said, and she is, "so I'll play the nurse card. And, if that doesn't work, I'll play the cancer card." She said it lightly, as a joke, as she marched toward the labor and delivery area. She has suffered from breast cancer, diagnosed last year, and while there was some initial concern about what she had and how serious it was, the story now seems to be that she's responded well to treatment -- surgery and chemo and radiation -- and, indeed, she even scheduled her treatment regimen so that it would be concluded before the baby was born. She didn't want to give anyone any excuse to deny or limit access to her grandchild.

I thought I saw Hank's father wince a little at the cancer 'joke." Speaking as someone who's had several feet of innards removed, I am very careful about how I 'joke' about such things. Nothing may be always and everywhere off-limits (as you may note per the linked posts in the preceding sentence). But this didn't seem much like the time or place to bring up the subject. In my opinion.

I don't know what was said, ultimately, or what cards were played. But apparently whatever cards that Hank's mother did play were trumped by the hospital staff. She returned unenlightened. I pretended to really concentrate on the Pacers-Hawks game. Long Suffering Spouse really concentrated on holding Granddaughter #1's attention on a book.

Time passed.

Eventually -- and I do mean to imply an additional goodly wait here -- Hank showed up. Happy. A bounce in his step. Our new grandchild had apparently arrived about the time we pulled into the hospital parking lot. She had 10 fingers and 10 toes and everything.

Hank's father produced a bottle and some shot glasses. One was pressed into my hand. Well, of course, I would not refuse!

But this is the 21st Century. Celebration can't get in the way of notification: All present, Granddaughter #1 excepted, produced cellphones and began texting various and sundry persons.

Then Hank dropped the bombshell. Older Daughter had asked to see Long Suffering Spouse first.

This could not have played well with the in-laws. But, if Hank's mother may have crumpled a bit, Hank's father more than covered for her. I'd provide more detail here, but -- once Hank made his announcement -- I suddenly realized that I'd been just a wee bit nervous, too. I may have surrendered to my emotions. I surely exhaled.

Long Suffering Spouse did not dally. She told me later that she refused Older Daughter's offer to hold the child, realizing that this would go down very badly with the in-laws. Indeed, every moment that she remained in there alone counted against us. So she encouraged Older Daughter to let the floodgates open, promising we would depart promptly and let her get some rest. (Older Daughter, being Older Daughter, didn't want to rest. She wanted everyone to stay -- but that just wasn't smart.)

The nurse had our new grandchild under the french fry warmer when we came in. I'm sure there's a technical name for that lamp, but that's what it reminds me of, and everyone probably understands what I'm talking about, right? She held the child up for inspection and (inevitably) photographs.


That was my first impression.


That was my second impression. But, some part of me remembered, they were all pretty red at first.

"How much did she weigh again?" I asked Older Daughter. "Seven pounds, six ounces," she said. "She's too small!" I protested. "Put her back until she's done." (Older Daughter was our smallest, at 8 lbs., 4 oz.) "Da-ad!" Older Daughter and her sister both yelled. Long Suffering Spouse just rolled her eyes (for better or for worse she may have muttered to herself).

Actually, although she was supposedly two weeks early, her head did not loll and her eyes were open. In my completely un-expert opinion, the child was clearly full-term.

I don't understand how a baby can be early or late when the actual moment of conception can be calculated -- heck, it was charted! -- but maybe that just means we don't know as much about how these things really work as we like to pretend.

We made our excuses to clear out of the hospital room as quickly as possible. Granddaughter #1 was a big help because she clearly had no idea what to make of this tiny red thing and she began to tell us so in no uncertain terms.

"How long are you staying?" Hank's mother asked, but she really meant when are you leaving?

Older Daughter will have her hands full with that one.

But, for now, all is good. It was a very happy Mother's Day in Indianapolis Sunday. I don't care whose grandchild she is; I'm just happy Older Daughter was able to have a baby.

(I know that's very un-Curmudgeonly of me. Tough. I'll try and regain my Curmudgeon-cred in future posts.)