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....