Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Fr. Timothy X. Warnn misunderstands Christmas

Timothy X. Warnn is the fictional name I've bestowed on the new pastor of our parish. Well, 'new' as in he's been there two years already, and it seems like forever. We can talk about why I'm still going there some other time. For now, though, let's talk about the poor man's confusion over Christmas.

Fr. Warnn (don't ever call him Fr. Tim!) is one of the more negative people ever to survive to adulthood. And I say this as a registered Curmudgeon, and therefore not exactly a sunny optimist myself. My good wife, who tries to find something to like in everyone, says he's not really evil, or out to deliberately destroy our parish; it's just that there is no way he should ever have been appointed to lead any sort of congregation. He also seems kind to his dog, she adds.

A week ago Sunday, on the Feast of St. Nicholas, Fr. Warnn was preaching that Catholics need to reject modern culture; if we're not counter-cultural, we're doing something wrong. (In Fr. Warnn's world, we're always doing something wrong.)

Did you know, he asked rhetorically, that in Japan they have a Christmas parade? He sneered, "Japan is not even a Christian nation!" -- I guess he thinks the United States is a Christian nation? -- but the Japanese Christmas parade only had Santa Claus and reindeer and elves and toys (no religious content at all, in other words), and this, apparently, is all wrong.

Except, of course, that it's Fr. Warnn who is all wrong.

We -- all of us, Catholics, non-Catholics, non-Christians, even non-believers -- can all participate in this kind of Currier & Ives, just-hear-those-sleighbells-jingling Christmas. A Jew, Irving Berlin, wrote "White Christmas." Santa Claus and Frosty the Snowman are non-denominational. Christmas trees and Christmas lights are not religious icons. The message of "Peace on Earth" is a universal one -- and one we all need to heed -- whether we are Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu or atheist.

There's nothing wrong with celebrating that sort of Christmas.

That's what Fr. Warnn should have said. And then he should have added that we -- Christians generally and Catholics in particular -- have a Christmas that is all of that and more.

We Christians know where the message of "Peace on Earth" comes from. We know that this message is part of the glad tidings proclaimed by the angels to the shepherds guarding their flocks in the fields by night, the angels telling the shepherds -- and all of us, down through the centuries -- that unto us, in the City of David, a Child had been born, a Child destined to save the world. Fr. Warnn should have said that the Star of Bethlehem is still shining overhead for all of us, waiting to direct us to the Manger, if we are willing to open our eyes, and our hearts, and follow.

And he should have encouraged us to share this kind of Christmas, too -- we should want to share this Christmas, too -- but we should also realize that not everyone is ready, or willing, to accept this full meaning of the holiday. That's OK. We will share our Christmas joy with our neighbors on any terms that our neighbors can handle -- we don't have to reject Santa Claus to welcome the Christ Child. We know there's more to Christmas than Rudolph's red nose or Buddy the Elf, or even the change of heart experienced by Ebeneezer Scrooge or the Grinch, but believers can enjoy the secular as well as the sacred. The world has something wonderful in the secular Christmas, Fr. Warnn could have concluded, but we Christians have all that and so much more besides.

Of course, Fr. Warnn isn't the only one who misunderstands Christmas. He has equally dense counterparts in the secular world. There are those who bristle at Santa Claus and reindeer and elves as if they were Biblical patriarchs. Who get mad if you let "Merry Christmas" slip instead of "Happy Holidays." These poor creatures think that, because "Christ" is contained within the word "Christmas," the entire holiday is an attack on the First Amendment. They imagine a slippery slope running straight down from "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" to "Adeste Fidelis." Idiots. Wednesday is derived from Woden's Day (after the Norse god Odin), Thursday is Thor's Day, and Friday is Frigg's Day (for Odin's wife) -- but no one claims that these homages to the gods of Asgard undermine our Constitution.

And don't even get me started on the allegedly religious dopes who got mad this year at Starbuck's for not putting Christmas trees or other secular symbols of the holiday on their plain red seasonal cups. As if this 'omission' constituted an attack on the deeper, religious meaning of Christmas. Who storm out of stores where clerks say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." Golly, weren't we once concerned about the effects of "commercialism" on our understanding of the holiday? Good heavens.

There are aspects of modern culture that Catholics need to reject, but we do not need to reject what is good and wholesome in our common culture in order to enjoy what is special in our religious heritage.

Merry Christmas to all.

This is a notice I'm not going to send today... but, oh, I wish I could....

Please Take Notice that, on January 15, at 2:00 p.m., pursuant to court order and Supreme Court Rule 214, we will make the [Clients' Name Redacted] home available for inspection by Plaintiff Clueless Construction [yes, I'm making that name up]. The inspection will be conducted without basis, purpose, or reason, but, rather, solely to harass [Clients' Name Redacted]. Just as the house was constructed by Clueless Construction, Plaintiff's inspection will be haphazard, ad hoc, and without any discernible itinerary, plan, agenda, or schedule. All counsel of record are welcome to witness Plaintiff's abuse of discovery in person, if you think you can stomach it.

Friday, December 11, 2015

TGIF? Maybe long ago....

Actually, I used to love Fridays, just like we're supposed to.

The week was over, the weekend was nigh... the Eagle flies on Friday, right? Flush with cash, we could head to our favorite gin mill and commune with our fellows, try possibly to meet a few persons who were not fellows, preferably of the friendly variety, and not worry about having to answer the alarm clock in the morning.

Friday was pinball night, if nothing else. Listening to live music....

In law school I used to get up to Rogers Park in the mid-afternoon, around the time Ron the Bartender (I loved the man, but never did learn his last name) was opening up his place on Sheridan Road. I could down a couple of scotches at a leisurely pace while others in my group drifted in. We'd eventually fire up the jukebox. Ron would go out to get his dinner and I'd cover the bar in his absence. No, I was never employed there.

Ron cashed my checks. (This was in the days before ATMs made life so much more dangerous.) Until a few years ago I had a collection of three consecutively numbered checks, written to Cash, all presented to Ron. My signature was firm and forceful on the first of these... a little crooked on the next... unrecognizable on the third.

Ron had live music at his place every night, but that didn't start up until 9:00 or so. If I liked the solo performer, or the band, maybe I'd stay. If not, maybe I'd go off in search of further adventures. Or home to sleep it off. For awhile there, I didn't go home at all. I stayed in an office in the basement of the student union on the campus which I'd attended as an undergraduate. The security guards knew me. If I couldn't get in on my own, they'd admit me. I had keys to the office. I had a couch there, a table lamp, and a phone. I could use the sauna in the gym next door, and I often did, going there to sweat out the poisons I'd so willingly ingested the night before. I had no one's permission to do any of this.

Those were the days.

Today, I'd probably be shot.

When I got out of law school, Fridays quickly became just another damn day.

Mandatory Saturdays immediately took the happy glow off Friday nights. But my bosses at my first firm were insistent on it. Not that they came in themselves, of course. Not often. They had lives. But they might come in. And we'd better be there, in good functioning order, if they did. So there I was, working, or pretending to....

Marriage and children put the final nail in the coffin of Friday night nightclubbing. We might visit other couples similarly situated... that was a substitute for our former whoop-dee-doo for awhile... but we soon found that visits worked better on Saturdays than Fridays, because on Fridays we were all tired.

We didn't know the half of it.

I remember Cub Scout Pack Nights on Fridays. There were times when I'd have to drive straight there from work because I'd been to court in the suburbs or something and had to go into the office after -- so I'd have to brave the outbound Kennedy during Friday evening rush hour.

Friday evening rush hour then, and now, lasts well into the night. There was no way to get home first -- I would have to leave by mid-afternoon to have any chance -- so I'd just head straight for the school.

My last nerve would be frayed to the breaking point and I'd stumble into a room filled with screaming boys between the ages of 6 and 11, and most of their equally noisy siblings, and the Pack Leader would ask all the adults to put up the Cub Scout sign for quiet -- and I was always afraid I'd make the wrong hand gesture....

And we were still young.

Now, Long Suffering Spouse and I stagger to the finish on Fridays. We have pizza. We fall asleep. If Younger Daughter and Olaf and Granddaughter No. 1 call to say good night -- you know, toddlers are supposed to go to be early? -- like as not, they'll wake us up. Asleep in our chairs.

No clients ever call on Friday because they like what you're doing and want to thank you for your efforts. No, they call because they're mad about something, or they've just received something in the mail -- emergency motions emerge like toxic spills late on Friday afternoons. If there is to be a crisis in the office during the week, it will almost surely erupt on Friday. If there are problems with the kids, or their insurance, or their jobs, or their spouses or in-laws -- they all converge on Fridays.

I've got three crises brewing already this morning.

But I'm going to try and adjust my attitude today. It's almost Christmas. We're going to put up our tree tonight. Allegedly. I'm going to try and work efficiently this morning -- at least as soon as I'm through stalling by writing this post -- and head home in the mid-afternoon.
No, I don't really think it will work either. But, what the heck? I'll give it a shot.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Yesterday was my 10th Blogiversary -- but that wasn't my focus yesterday either

In many ways, yesterday was a pretty good example of how things stand in my life at this point.

My wife wants to get to school by 7:30 a.m. each morning, if not sooner. We hit this target better at the beginning of the week than at the end. If my wife is at school by 7:30 a.m., I can be in my office by 8:10. But not yesterday.

Oh, my wife was on time, and so was I. I even started a post on my 'real-life' blog before we left the house. And I had a client email that allowed me to finish a pleading that I needed to efile -- I didn't get the papers filed before I left the house, but I swapped out the signed pages for the unsigned ones in the .pdf file that I would later dispatch to the Circuit Clerk's efiling provider.

But I wasn't going into the office, not directly. I dropped my wife off at school and continued (through the foggy gloom) to Younger Daughter's house. I was on grandpa duty.

Younger Daughter is 'on the nest' again (sometime next April, if all goes well, I will have four granddaughters -- yes, I have been away for awhile). Anyway, my daughter is having a problem for which she must have occasional physical therapy. I won't bore you with the details for the simple reason that I don't know them.

Nor do I want to.

My only question is, is this serious? Younger Daughter says it's not -- but she has to do this PT anyway -- and that's enough for me.

Yesterday, as on a couple of recent occasions, I have been pressed into babysitting duty while Younger Daughter heads off to medical appointments. Yesterday her appointment was at 8:00. Even after doing my fatherly and grandfatherly duty, I had hopes of getting downtown at a decent hour.

The front door was unlocked when I arrived.

Granddaughter No. 1 was in the kitchen with her mother, but she squealed when she heard me bumble in. (I had my briefcase and a large bag of stuff. You don't think my wife would send me off to her daughter's house without sending something along with me, do you? Yesterday, it was two containers of pea soup and a container of assorted cookie cutters.)

"Grampy's here when I wake up!" Granddaughter No. 1 enthused.

I may have mentioned: I am now referred to primarily as Grampy. Long Suffering Spouse believes it is a contraction of Grandpa and Grumpy -- and she's almost certainly right.

"Come on, Grampy!" Granddaughter No. 1 came bounding out of the kitchen and grabbed my coat (my hands were full), obviously intent on dragging me somewhere.

"Can't I put down my stuff or take off my coat?" I asked.

"Come on, Grampy!"

Younger Daughter looked on, bemused.

At least the child was dragging me to the kitchen, where I could deposit the soup and cookie cutters. Younger Daughter was darn near excited as her daughter. "Mom made pea soup!"

I still had my coat on as three year-old Granddaughter No. 1 dragged me into her room. I had to see her "Inside Out" sheets. "This is Joy," she told me, "and this is Anger, and this is Sadness...." She also inventoried a dozen or so dolls and stuffed animals on her bed, singling out the Madeline doll she'd taken from my house just the day before. (Long Suffering Spouse saved a great deal of toys in anticipation of grandchildren; her foresight now pays regular dividends.) "And she has a boo-boo," Granddaughter No. 1 told me, lifting up Madeline's jumper to show me the appendix 'scar' on the stuffed toy.

Eventually, I got my coat off and deposited my briefcase. Younger Daughter gave me my final instructions and I gave her my car key so she could get to her appointment. Granddaughter No. 1 had a lot to tell me about the decorations on the Christmas tree. And she remembered to ask, like I'm sure her mother prompted her, "when are you going to put up your Christmas tree, Grampy?"

Eventually -- after she swung the little foam baseball bat that one of her uncles gave her and showed me how she likes to dance in her princess castle (a small tent, shaped like a castle turret, ideally sized for three year-olds) she subsided long enough for me to sit in my son-in-law's recliner and resume drinking my coffee. I even pulled out my iPad and sent the pleading I had finalized a little earlier off for filing.

It was while I had the iPad out that Granddaughter No. 1 came over and gave me the fish eye.

Insofar as she's concerned, my iPad is a device that she can use to play Elmo ABCs or Elmo numbers or maybe dance to a video of Harry Belafonte's Jump in the Line (she's got great musical tastes, especially for a three year-old). But the efiling website did not look like any of these. "What are you doing, Grampy?" she asked, in a slightly accusatory tone.

"I'm just trying to get a little work done," I said.

Well, this was unacceptable, as I realized the moment I said it. I quickly ditched the iPad.

It was time for TV.

I have been over to the kids' house often enough now that I can work the TV and the DVR all by myself -- but what I can't do is open up the childproof and grandparent-proof lock on the cabinet wherein the DVR resides. So we could watch whatever was queued up -- and, as was eminently predictable for this time of year, the DVR was loaded with the Frosty/Rudolph disc.

So we watched Frosty the Snowman. Then we watched Rudolph.

But, for the most part, we didn't really watch. Granddaughter No. 1 was playing with stuffed toys. Or looking at books (she "reads" to me, but I am not yet allowed to read to her). Then she announced she had to go potty.


The last few times I've sat I've managed to avoid any of this -- but not yesterday -- I tried to tell her that this was not in my job description, but she just looked at me and pretended not to understand.

But Granddaughter No. 1 is very independent and managed her business pretty much by herself. I hovered outside the door, coming in only to make sure that the bowl from the little potty got poured into the big potty without spilling. I probably was supposed to let her flush.

At her birthday party a few months back, one of her father's friends brought her a giant bubble wand -- and I mean bubbles several feet in diameter. I don't think they're substantial enough to show up on the radar at nearby O'Hare, but some of them -- when generated by an expert, at least -- were that big.

The bubble solution is long gone now, but the wand looks very much like a sword and Granddaughter No. 1 brought it out of her playroom to run me through with it. I died several horrible deaths -- my granddaughter thinks I'm a great actor -- before I was able to pry the wand away.

Of course, the only reason I succeeded was that Granddaughter No. 1 was tiring. She climbed up on my lap and we watched a couple of minutes of Rudolph.

She sings all the songs, of course. I'm allowed to accompany her now, sometimes. That's real progress. She wouldn't let anyone (except on rare occasions her mother) sing to her for the longest time. She threw a fit when the assembled company sang "Happy Birthday" to her at her party.

But a couple of minutes rest was all that was required. The next thing I knew, she'd unzipped her PJs again and zoomed into her bedroom. She was pointing to her closet when I walked in. "You want to get dressed?" I asked. She pointed again.

Of course. She needed her Princess Elsa dress. I helped her wriggle into it.

Thankfully Mommy came home soon thereafter. It wasn't even 10:00 -- and I felt I'd already done a full day's work. Younger Daughter said I'd done a good job, though, which helped.

But then it was time to shift gears and head to work.

Back to reality.

Back to a$$hole lawyers.

I have a matter pending now with one of the worst lawyers I have ever met. His word means nothing. He has violated even his own, unilateral agreements. I can't talk to him anymore without getting furious. I can't even correspond with him. He has filed a fraudulent case, in furtherance of his client's desire to bankrupt my clients. Thanks to liberal discovery rules and an indifferent judge, he may yet succeed. And I may yet have a stroke.

And that case was tops on the pile -- as it is most days, these days -- when I got into the office.

Here's the problem: I find it hard to shift gears from happy Grampy to the gear necessary to deal with jerks like this one. The emotional transition is just too jarring. I'm finding it exhausting.

Maybe I'll talk about that case here sometime. Depending on whether or not I stroke out.