Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Curmudgeon's van again requires service

Our family van is old now. Very old.

This sporadically-updated collection of essays began in late 2005. Our current van was new then. In fact a tribute to its predecessor is about the only post I can specifically recall from my first, long-abandoned blog (you are reading, now, you see, my second effort at blogging).

I readily concede that all older vehicles have their eccentricities... but I think our van is actually haunted.

By what, I don't know. Some mischievous sprite who has taken a personal dislike to me, I suppose.

I've never been any good with cars. Or car people. I have discovered that car people can actually smell automotive ignorance. And, brother, do I reek.

Despite my limitations, I have done my best to maintain our family fleet. I get the oil changed as directed, for example.

A year or two ago, when the family van's front left turn signal went on the blink (*ahem*) I took it to my neighborhood oil change place -- they do turn signals there, too -- and got the blinker replaced.

It may have worked for a week.

I took the van back and had them replace it.

But, once again, it stopped working within a matter of days.

Incensed, I made plans to take it back a third time, fantasizing about driving the vehicle through the overhead doors.

Then it rained.

And the blinker blinked, just as it was supposed to.

But, when the weather cleared, the blinker stopped blinking.

It took us awhile, you understand, to see the relationship between the rain and the restoration of the turn signal. What rational creature would make that connection?

But, eventually, there was no denying. The blankety-blank blinker only blinked when it rained. Or snowed. You know... adding water is not recommended for the ordinary operation of electronic devices. I may not be a car person, but I could figure that much out. Still... what was there to replace?

I had every reason to fear that some sort of electrical system failure underlay the blinker issue, the same sort of electrical issue that made our power door locks inoperable... and unfixable... some years ago. (On one of my thousand-dollar forays to the dealer, I asked them to repair the locks -- and they did -- for about 48 hours. No, I didn't take it back then. Some things we just must accept.)

Rust is steadily claiming the van's sliding doors. One of these days the doors will simply disappear. If the family purse permitted it, I would be considering the purchase of a new vehicle. But, alas.

So we make do.

Or we have tried.

Lately, though, the van has developed a new trick. The air conditioning works fine -- but the fan that blows the cold air into the vehicle has begun working only sporadically.

'Sporadically', for any of you young people out there with a limited vocabulary, means that the blower generally works when I'm driving -- but generally doesn't work when Long Suffering Spouse drives. Or is along for the ride. Especially if the outside temperature is 90 or more.

A week or so ago, Long Suffering Spouse put her foot down. I had to do something about the blower.

And it is a safety matter. That same blower which keeps the van comfortable in the heat is what keeps the defroster defrosting.

So I took the van to a different car repair place -- not the dealer -- I don't have $1,000 to spare at the moment -- and as I was within a mile or two of the place on that first occasion the blower suddenly kicked on. The van was positively chilly by the time I got to the dealer (the outside temperature -- which had been over 90 the day before -- 'coincidentally' crashed at about the same time -- a pneumonia front came in off Lake Michigan). But I gamely explained these facts to the nice people at the car repair place... and they looked at each other... and back at me... and they agreed to take a look.

An hour or two later, an earnest young man delivered the verdict -- keeping his distance from me, you understand. "We looked at it," he told me, carefully. "But, you see, it's working. Why don't you bring it back if it should stop working? Maybe then we can figure out what's wrong."

They were so eager to be rid of me on that occasion that they didn't give me a bill.

And, of course, the blower has worked flawlessly since.

Until yesterday.

Long Suffering Spouse drove the van to school yesterday, and then to Younger Daughter's house. Younger Daughter had to schedule an unanticipated doctor's visit for Granddaughter No. 1 and Younger Daughter's husband had their family vehicle. Long Suffering Spouse was to let Younger Daughter borrow the van and sit with Younger Daughter's other kids so Younger Daughter could get to the doctor. (We have backup car seats in the van -- that's another story -- so it's all legal.)

Anyway, the blower noticed that Long Suffering Spouse was driving and immediately stopped working. It didn't start again when Younger Daughter took the wheel either. Long Suffering Spouse advised me of these facts, at some length, as she drove back -- with the blower still inoperative -- from Younger Daughter's house last evening.

Accordingly, this morning, I packed up my laptop, hoping to get a little work done at the repair place. Long Suffering Spouse had to go to school this morning -- classes are over, but there are end of the year meetings all week -- and I was to drop her off on the way.

But the blower noticed I was driving... and sprung back to life.

I figured to work from home this morning, and I no sooner exited the van when my cell phone rang.

It was Long Suffering Spouse. She needed to return some school-owned equipment this morning, and she'd forgotten to bring a power cord belonging to same. I went inside, grabbed the cord, and fired up the van again.

The blower worked fine.

I parked at school, and delivered the cord.

I started the van, heading back home.

But guess what decided to stop? Well, hot weather is predicted for the coming weekend....

So, here I am in the repair shop. Typing.

The blower stayed off on the trip over. I told Long Suffering Spouse that, given how they'd looked at me last time, there was no way I was setting foot on the premises if the blower resumed operation en route.

Oh, yes, they remembered me from last time.

But, when the blower didn't work for them this morning either, they agreed to undertake its replacement.

That earnest young man has come into the waiting room a couple of times now to tell me that they've encountered unexpected difficulties getting it out.

The mischievous sprite is no doubt toying with them, too.

But, supposedly, at some point ere long, the van will be restored to me and the blower will work.

We'll see for how long....

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

What happened to the necktie?

With Father's Day nearly upon us, this is not merely an idle question. The struggling retail industry would like an answer. Remember when a new tie was the quintessential Father's Day gift? Is this no longer the case?

Every day this week, as I've wandered around Chicago's Loop, I've taken time to notice whether men are wearing neckties.

A lot of them aren't.

Men are wearing sportcoats, even suits, but open-collared shirts. Old men, young men, middle-aged men -- clear majorities of men in all age groups are tieless.

That's particularly surprising in my little corner of the world. My Teeny Tiny Law Office is located in a building pretty much crawling with lawyers. I am three blocks from the Daley Center -- a primary county courthouse. There are lawyers everywhere around me, presumably, but very few of them are sporting ties.

Of course, I'm not wearing a tie today either. Truth to tell, I only wore a tie on Monday because I had to go to court. With the sole exception of one judge, since retired, I can't imagine a male lawyer deliberately going to court without a tie.

Of course, accidents do happen. I came to work once, some years ago, wearing a flannel shirt -- I think I was planning to move boxes or something -- only to realize, upon arriving at the office, that I'd forgotten a court date. Desperate, I scrounged a jacket from a colleague -- he was shorter than me, and thinner, so the jacket had no chance of buttoning and the sleeves came only about three quarters of the way down my arm -- but at least I didn't feel completely naked when I approached the bench. The judge -- with whom I'd been friendly when she was a privatus like me (we'd had some cases together) -- regarded me with exasperation: "Really, Curmudgeon? Flannel?"

But those kinds of accidents don't happen if one comes to work dressed in the uniform of the profession -- that is, wearing a jacket and tie. And it really was unusual for me to come downtown without both.

But that was then.

If this tieless look among professional men is a trend, and I think it is, what accounts for it?

I remember noticing years ago that Israeli politicians frequently sported an open-necked look. But I figured that was probably a consequence of the warm climate in that country. Who likes to wear a tie when it's hot out? But I only noticed the look because it was unusual. Out of the ordinary.

A few years back, I noticed that President Obama didn't always wear a tie, even while giving speeches. In the 2016 presidential primaries, it occurred to me that a lot of candidates were campaigning without neckties. I guess the idea was to appear more a 'Man of the People.'

Donald Trump, on the other hand, always seems to be wearing a necktie. Tied too long, but always on.

Oh, Lord, this can't be a political thing can it?

Please tell me that the disappearing necktie is an American phenomenon -- not just a Blue State thing....

Monday, June 04, 2018

All I wanted was a little piece of coffeecake

It was almost time to go this morning. This is Long Suffering Spouse's last week of school but, though the year may be winding down, and her students long ago checked out, she still has to be there by 7:40.

We were both moving more slowly than would be optimal (it had been a busy weekend) and I had to get the garbage and recycling bins out before I could get even a sip of my much-needed morning coffee.

But, finally, I could sit down at the computer and begin an abbreviated version of my morning routine (checking the email, reading the comics). As the first cup of coffee began to take hold, and the will to live began to return, I remembered that my wife had found cheese coffeecake when were at the grocery on Saturday.

I am very partial to cheese coffeecake.

And now that Long Suffering Spouse and I are empty nesters, I can enjoy a little coffeecake all week long.

At least, I've done so recently.

Last week, admittedly, I didn't make it to Thursday.

But I'm sure you understand how these things work.

Anyway, I'd had a little piece on Sunday and, as Long Suffering Spouse had not yet begun actively packing up, it occurred to me that I might have time for a little piece now.

In a normal house, perhaps, the cake would have been on the kitchen counter. But ours, alas, is not a normal house.

It's been a wet spring and, for the most part, a cool one -- though we did have an unusual run of 90-degree days just around Memorial Day.

As near as I can tell, cool temperatures allow for the proliferation of little tiny ants who like to infest the counters of our kitchen. (Our kitchen sits atop a very old, gravel-lined, very shallow crawl space; we think that's probably where most of our invaders originate.)

In our house, ants also seem to proliferate when the weather is warm, wet, or dry. If it's below freezing, they mostly keep to themselves. But that's about it.

When this year's invasion began, Long Suffering Spouse went to the hardware store and bought a whole bunch of plastic ant traps. Now, I understand how these are supposed to work -- but, as near as I can tell, these traps merely discourage any lazy ants who get tired of detouring around these obstacles.

But, fine. If Long Suffering Spouse thinks the ant traps help, I think they help, too. And I don't put any food on the kitchen counter.

Still, stuff has to go somewhere.

We have a kitchen table in the room adjoining the kitchen. (If our kitchen were bigger, the table would be installed in our kitchen. So calling it a kitchen table seems appropriate to me.)

That's where my coffeecake was this morning.

I brought it into the kitchen, intending to set it temporarily on the counter while I fished out a knife to cut me a slice. I opened the box... pulled out the cake... and began brushing away ants.

It was the German chocolate cake fiasco all over again. Only I wasn't meeting a prospective daughter-in-law this morning. (Hey, she married Middle Son despite my issues with the carpet of ants on my Easter dessert -- so there.)

I made a disgusted noise -- which immediately got my wife's attention -- and I began knocking ants off my cake and dispatching them mercilessly. But there were too many. "Throw it out!" said my wife, as she ran into the kitchen, and, reluctantly, I complied, tossing my precious coffeecake into the new bag I'd just set up in the kitchen.

"Where was it?" Long Suffering Spouse demanded, and I told her, and she raced into the adjacent room to see the locus in quo for herself. "Get me the bleach!" she screamed a millisecond later.

Coming round the corner myself, I could see there were ants all over the table, and on the side of the tablecloth. I hadn't noticed these when I grabbed my cake. Perhaps my coffee hadn't taken hold as well as I thought.

"Take that bag out!" Long Suffering Spouse commanded, not bothering to look up -- and I quickly complied. My wife was in the grips of a killing frenzy at this point, and I did not want to be mistaken for an overlarge ant.

I'd barely gotten back in the house, though, when my wife issued another command: "Get the vacuum cleaner! The rug is moving!"

Apparently, ants are just about as fond of cheese coffeecake as I am; about a gazillion or so had come up looking for their own piece.

I wonder how I got away with having cheese coffeecake the last couple of weeks.

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

When she'd calmed down a little, after the vacuum was put away, and we were finally on the road to school (she drops me off en route, so I can catch the train), Long Suffering Spouse acknowledged that it was probably a good thing that I'd seen the ants now.

"Can you imagine what it would have been if we didn't see it until this evening?" she asked.

Well, tell the truth, I hadn't imagined it before she asked. But, thinking on it, now I think I have a bit of insight into how a lot of 1950s horror movies got their plots....