Friday, March 08, 2019

The gear-shifting problem -- we have different faces in different places but it's not always easy to transition

In yesterday's post, I lamented that my babysitting obligations are preventing me from getting any real work done.

I call it the 'gear-shifting' problem.

Long Suffering Spouse has experienced it: She teaches kids from preschool to 8th grade, albeit with varying frequency. She sees the middle schoolers three days a week, but she only sees the kids in Pre-K through 3 once a week and then only one trimester a year. Anyway, she has noticed that, after a grueling battle -- er, class -- with noisy, disobedient, disrespectful (i.e., normal) 8th graders, she finds it difficult to transition to a class of kindergartners. They file in, cute and ready to learn, only moments after the sullen 8th graders have trudged out, and my wife sometimes greets the little ones with fangs bared and raised hackles and, on those occasions, scares them half to death.

It takes a moment or two to calm down and reach the right 'pitch' with which to address a class of eager 6-year olds.

And teachers also have to shift gears when dealing with grown-ups, whether each other, as colleagues, or with (*gulp*) parents.

I think some of them can't do it at all -- which may explain some of the difficulties Olaf and Younger Daughter are having with Granddaughter No. 1's kindergarten teacher.

But I digress.

For me, the transitions are even more abrupt. Dealing with obnoxious opposing counsel, with clients who can never seem to find their checkbooks, or with court personnel who have no discretion and no imagination (and couldn't use either if they had), gets my fangs bared, hackles raised, and stomach churning. It's hard to calm down, some days, to try and think which, after all, is what I'm pretty much supposed to do for a living. Hard to 'gear down' to the point where I can dispassionately analyze facts and read and interpret and apply case law and then formulate and coherently express opinions. And that's when Lexis is working, as it wasn't, for me anyway, for a couple of weeks recently. And every time the phone rings, that little bubble of concentration bursts, and must be reformed.

That's the range -- and the challenge -- for lawyers generally.

But I have to field calls on potty training. Or babysitting requests. Or just because. One of my daughters prefers, while driving from appointment to appointment, to talk on the phone instead of listening to the radio.

Yesterday, Older Daughter called to ask if I could babysit next Wednesday afternoon. Younger Daughter had previously requisitioned me for Tuesday morning. Then she called me yesterday to ask me to pick up Granddaughter No. 1 from kindergarten because her younger two had not cooperated on naptime and were, according to her text "WRECKS." (I had to walk to my wife's school to pick up the family van; she drove yesterday, you may have noticed.)

How can I say no to any of these requests? Why would I want to? And, yet, I somehow have to get work done.

But, with the grandkids, far from being angry or even analytical, I want to be happy and playful and downright silly and make as many googly eyes or silly voices or fake pratfalls as may be necessary. Who wouldn't?

But I've gotten less done than ever this year so far, less still now that I'm home full-time. And I have an appellate brief due later this month that I haven't really begun. And my stomach is really churning this morning, and my chest hurts, too.

I need a better clutch.

(For you young people out there, once upon a time, we had to push the clutch pedal in the car in order to shift gears. I won't explain every reference for you; some things you should look up on your own -- but, now and then, I'll give you a break. As opposed to a brake. As in I think I've downshifted enough that I can hit the brakes on this morning blogging exercise and get some work done... as long as the phone doesn't ring.)

Thursday, March 07, 2019

It's all my fault, as usual -- Curmudgeon tries to explain what he should have said. Once again.

Long Suffering Spouse is having a tough morning already.

She was looking for something.

She'd set up a packet of materials for expense reimbursement -- she just needed one item, that being a copy of the charge card bill on which we'd booked her recent seminar -- and that bill did not show up until this week.

It took me a couple of days to get around to making a redacted copy of the charge card bill (no one at my wife's school needs to see what else we charged on that card in order to confirm that we paid for the seminar) -- but that wasn't really the reason why it's all my fault this morning.

That just started things down the wrong road.

See, I did prepare the redacted copy yesterday and left it on my wife's chair. All she had to do was insert that one missing piece of paper into the set she'd carefully assembled to present to the office -- the seminar brochure, for one thing, a copy of her certificate of completion, for another.

But she couldn't find those papers this morning.

Time ticked inexorably by as she searched with increasing franticness upstairs and down -- talking, mainly to herself, but not entirely so.

And that's where I stepped into it.

Somewhere in the course of this search, Long Suffering Spouse suggested I drive her to school. That way, I could have the car. You know, she added, in case Younger Daughter needs you.

Now, a smart husband, a wise man, would have said "OK," and left it alone.

But... unfortunately... I am not always so smart.

"I don't need the car," I said. (Superfluous, but not problematic.) "I don't want the car," I said. (Redundant, unnecessary, but still not dangerous.)

But I continued.

Maybe it's because I didn't yet know what she was looking for -- and my part, however inadvertent, in creating that problem -- or maybe it was because my morning coffee had yet to take effect.

Or maybe it's because I'm a little sensitive about this "working" from home stuff -- maybe I'm a little prickly about not contributing to the family exchequer these days -- OK, maybe I'm a lot prickly -- anyway, what I said was something along these lines: "Look, I'm happy to retire right now. But, if I'm not going to retire, I have to work here -- I can't be dropping everything everyday just because one of the girls needs something."

"Yes," said Long Suffering Spouse, darkly, though I was oblivious to the warning signs, "you do have to work. You can start by getting off the iPad."

Admittedly, as I was slurping my morning joe, I was playing a word game on the aforementioned tablet.

A smart person would have immediately put down the device and found a way to change the subject (e.g., what are you looking for? can I help you find it?) but we have already made abundantly clear that this was not one of my brighter mornings.

Having walked to the edge of the cliff, I decided (without consciously thinking about it) to swan dive off: "I have a hard enough time gearing up to work," I said -- this is true, although this is probably a personal failing, and not characteristic, necessarily, of lawyers generally -- "without being interrupted all the time. I don't just grade papers."


It is true that Long Suffering Spouse generally has with or near her person, at almost any hour of the day or night, in almost any place she goes, a bag of papers to correct. And she doesn't just carry it with her; she pulls stuff out constantly to work on. It came with her to all our kids' sporting events when they were growing up. If she has five minutes to wait in the car, she gets a stack out. And she never gets caught up -- there is always more work to do.

"I don't just grade papers," she said, icily... and truthfully, too.

"I know that," I said -- too little, too late --

"But you are available for emergencies," Long Suffering Spouse continued.

"Of course I'm available for emergencies. When I was downtown, I was available for emergencies, too."

There may have been more, but I think the quest for the missing set of papers once again consumed Long Suffering Spouse's attention.

Eventually, dimly, aware that Long Suffering Spouse was going to be late, I put down the iPad, refilled my coffee, and went out and started our poor, dying car. With my key. I was going to drive. I put on my coat.

Long Suffering Spouse came downstairs again, muttering something about maybe the papers might be... but they couldn't be there... I'll just look here one more time... and, lo and behold, she found them. "I don't know how they got there," she said. "I don't know how they stayed there," there being an area that would likely be disturbed by crawling grandchildren. She quickly finished assembling her stuff to take to school.

The first thing she noticed was that her keys were still on the dining room table.

"Why are my keys here?"

"I'm driving you."

"You are not driving me. You don't want the car."

"It's OK," I said (too, too late).

"No," she said, "you need to work. You said so."

"I'll drive," I said, and headed out the front door.

"I'll walk!" she said, and she meant it, too, as she barrelled past me.

In the end, she drove. She turned off the car and threw my key at me, then put hers in the ignition and started off. I half expected to see or hear a crash before she got a block away -- she was that angry and, besides, it's very busy on our street at and just after 7:30, as the cars come streaming past en route to a nearby public high school. But I believe she made it to her school without incident.

"And this is before I see any kids today," she said on her way out.

Woe betide the first kid to cross her this morning.

I have a colleague who says solo practice is another way of saying unemployed. At least, that's how our family members view it. This week, just to cite a single example, Older Daughter called immediately after Granddaughter Number 3 did number two in the proper place. Now there's a very good reason for making this call: She wants to reinforce how happy she is -- how happy we all are -- that Granddaughter Number 3 has achieved this latest milestone on the road to being successfully potty trained. (And hers has been a long and winding road, too.) My job, in this circumstance, is to say "hooray" and "yaay" and "good for you" without the least hint of irony or snark. I can do that. Truth be told, I like doing that.

However, let's look at this a moment.

Older Daughter might call her husband for this purpose -- but he's too busy in his office. She might call her mother -- but Long Suffering Spouse can not be disturbed at school. She might call her sister -- but Younger Daughter is chasing after her own kids.

The perception is that I have nothing better to do.

And, again, in terms of what is good, and what is useful, and what I like, this statement is true.

But it is hard to try and analyze a case, or recreate time for billing purposes, or explain the finer points of the law to a client who doesn't want to hear bad news. And when I have finally got the legal oxen hitched up and plowing a straight furrow, it is jarring, and often fatally jarring, to any productivity I might otherwise have achieved, to get called away to say "yaay" and "hooray" for successful pooping.

If this working from home business is to have any hope of success, the family is going to have to think of it as working first, and to be just as wary of interrupting me, toiling away in the girls' one-time bedroom, as they would be of interrupting Long Suffering Spouse.

No, I don't think that's going to happen either.

And, to refer back to the title of this morning's post, the above and foregoing is not what I should have said. I should have avoided the entire conversation -- under the circumstances -- particularly under the circumstances -- and just said "OK."

Once again we see the wisdom in the epigram that appears on the front page of this blog: "Ve grow too soon old, und too late schmart."

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Curmudgeon grapples with depression, death, and dying

Really fertile ground for an alleged humorist, doncha think?

But these less-than-cheery subjects are much on my mind of late.

Winter weather in Chicago can account for a serious mood indigo all by itself. We set something of a record recently for consecutive days of one sort of precipitation or another. It's been gray, it's been gloomy, it's been wet, it's been cold. We have less sunlight in an ordinary February, I believe, than in any other month -- and we're running well below average this month.

Of course, the Sun is out this morning, just to make me look like a liar.

But the weather alone does not account for my current funk.

I mentioned yesterday that I closed my downtown office and am now 'working' from home.

I didn't do this because I had paying clients climbing over each other to shower me with money. I did it because I didn't make one thin dime from the practice of law last year.

I'll let you chew on that for a moment. I did pay the rent, or at least my portion of the rent and electric and Internet. I paid a King's ransom for my Lexis research service. I paid my membership dues in all the various bar groups to which I belong. I paid medical expenses through the firm -- I operate as a C corporation expressly for this reason. But never, not once, during the entire year, was I able to squeeze out so much as a penny of salary. In fact, I had to lend my firm money to keep it going -- doing strange magic with credit card advances -- and the chickens are about to come home to roost on that venture.

All the years that I've been whining about my impecunious stature here on this blog -- in all those years but 2018 I was still able to pay myself something. Thus, last year was awful, even by my low standards.

My lease was up at the end of January. Rent was an expense I could cut, so I did. With efiling it really is almost possible to work from anywhere and still practice law.

I wish I still wanted to.

Now there's a problem.

I do have some work to do. Some of it may eventually realize income. Emphasis on eventually.

But what I've noticed lately is a complete disconnect between effort and results. I do good work on something -- what I think is good work, anyway -- and I get shot down by this judge or that one. I did actually "win" a case recently -- and, from a cynical lawyer's perspective I should be rejoicing because I not only won, my opponent filed an immediate appeal. And this on one of my only paying cases.

However... I should have won that case two years ago. I have been beating my head against the wall -- figuratively, so far at least -- filing motion on motion, raising argument on argument, laying out an airtight case -- and until the learned trial judge who had been handling the matter suddenly retired, I was losing. The other side would -- and I am not exaggerating -- make stuff up -- sometimes inventing some ridiculous claim in open court -- and the judge lapped it up. When I did win, the new judge based the ruling on something that, in all candor, was pretty much irrelevant, at least insofar as I was concerned.

I settled a case last year -- pursuant to client instructions, of course, but for far less than I thought the case was worth -- as it happened, the client's conduct had undermined the value of his claim, but let's leave that to one side -- and the insurance carrier immediately reported the settlement to Medicare. Which meant that I had to deal with Medicare's "Super Lien."

And the carrier should never have done this: My client had slipped past his 65th birthday during the pendency of the claim -- but he was not a Medicare recipient when the accident happened, nor was he a Medicare beneficiary during the entire time he treated for the injuries sustained in that accident. The carrier, in a move apparently calculated to add injury to its insulting settlement offer, made the bogus Medicare referral so that it could try and delay payment on the claim. This is illegal under Illinois law, as long as I made the undertakings required by §2-2301 of our Code of Civil Procedure, which I promptly did -- but I still had to complain to the Illinois Department of Insurance to get my check -- which I had to keep in my client funds account for the inordinate amount of time it took me to convince Medicare that it really didn't have a lien.

I could go on.

I don't have many cases these days but each and every one of them has some obnoxious, nonsensical twist that squeezes any satisfaction from the case that might otherwise exist. And/or the client doesn't pay. Usually and.

Long Suffering Spouse has noticed my depression, and she tries to encourage me to get back in the traces and work my way through all this.

Which, certainly, is the right thing for me to do.

But Long Suffering Spouse's situation also distresses me.

She is a teacher, of course, and, as indicated above, pretty much the sole breadwinner in the Curmudgeon household at the moment. And, because she teaches in the Catholic schools, she makes a fraction of what her colleagues do in public schools -- and she has no pension besides. (Actually, that's not entirely true -- the Archdiocese of Chicago did not discontinue its pension plan until shortly after my wife began teaching full-time. It lasted long enough for my wife to partially vest in the plan. I believe that, when our golden years arrive, we may look forward to $17 a month from that plan. Or maybe it was $17 a year. Whoopee!)

Basically, my wife works so that we have health insurance. (The Cardinal has not yet -- thank God -- discontinued that benefit.)

And, brother, does she work.

As the school's Spanish teacher, she sees every student in the building at some point during the year. She sees the middle school scholars three days a week, the fourth and fifth graders two days a week, and everyone else, from preschool on, one day a week for 'enrichment' during one trimester a year. Many days she has no break at all. Many days, she can't even go to the bathroom even once during the school day.

This has predictable consequences.

And because she has students during virtually every period of the school day -- when she does have 'breaks' she often has students in her room anyway -- she has no time for grading, or posting grades, or doing lesson plans, or doing any of the other tasks she has been assigned by an ungrateful and unsupportive administration. She's in charge of the honor society, for example. (And, for the record, I like her principal -- I'm just telling it like it is.) So, consequently, when my wife does get home (and after she makes a bathroom stop) she continues to work here. She falls asleep every night -- no exaggeration -- every single night -- grading, or posting grades, or doing lesson plans, or responding to anxious or angry parent emails.

Ah, yes. Parents.

Our school parents pay enormous sums of money to send their children to our parish school. For these prices, they expect miracles. In fact, they demand miracles.

And the teacher is always wrong.

I attended Catholic schools when I was a boy. We had nuns then. That's why the tuition was so much lower; the nuns were really paid next to nothing. Yes, even though modern lay teachers make a pittance compared to their public school counterparts, their salaries and benefits are still 90% or more of our school budget. Divide that up among the number of students in the school, and voila!, you have a princely sum per student.

When my older kids were still in school, the parish was allowed to subsidize the cost of operating the school -- and did -- some years kicking in as much as $250,000. The Archdiocese demanded an end to this before my youngest kids graduated. There is no way Long Suffering Spouse and I could have sent our children to Catholic schools the way things are now.

(And still the bishops wonder why Catholics are falling away!)

So it's understandable why the parents have such inflated expectations about what our school can do for their kids.

The problem is, of course, that the kids don't know any better; they don't appreciate the sacrifices their parents are making to send them to the parish school. So some of them behave as some kids have always behaved -- indifferent, even hostile, to attempts to teach them anything.

My wife's students hate her. She makes them work. She holds them to standards. She will threaten to actually fail those who will not toe the line. She doesn't always succeed at this because the parents of these miscreants scream bloody murder -- and the administration almost always intervenes on the side of those who pay the bills. The teacher is always wrong.

The funny thing is, those same kids will eventually, despite their best efforts, wind up in high school. Where they will retake Spanish I -- and, usually, get A's. The good students, who also hate my wife because, you know, they are kids and don't want to work (and we do?) will place out of Spanish I or place into an honors class and also get A's. Many of these kids, even some of those who were the most hostile and disruptive in junior high, will come back and express gratitude for the preparation they received from my wife. Some of their parents will seek Long Suffering Spouse out and praise her to the heavens -- these same persons who just a year or two ago were sending angry emails to my wife's principal -- and some will even have the good grace to admit that they were wrong back in the day.

There's some satisfaction in that.

But it doesn't stop the next crop of angry, demanding helicopter parents who, despite having access to their darlings' grades all trimester long, wait until the last week of the grading period to insist on extra 'help' or demand 'extra credit.'

I've tried to explain to my kids that there is a great deal of difference between "want to" and "have to." The psychic satisfaction from the many kids who come back and thank Long Suffering Spouse for their success would be so much greater if she didn't have to keep working to keep us afloat.

And Long Suffering Spouse carries the extra burden these days of worry about her mother.

Abuela is 85 now and is on what, if memory serves, is her third round of cancer treatment. Maybe fourth. The day after Grandchild No. 8 was born, Abuela went into surgery to have radioactive "seeds" planted in her liver. This is the second time this procedure has been done; the first did not keep the cancer at bay for even six months. (This was originally a colon cancer. I've had colon cancer.* Mine did not escape the colon. Abuela's did, moving to the liver -- thus the seeds.)

My mother-in-law is not the world's most compliant patient. She's not eating or drinking as directed and, although her initial "numbers" following this most recent procedure are very encouraging, she is convinced that she will not recover this time.

Of course, Abuela says this every time -- but one of these days she must, of necessity, be correct.

And Long Suffering Spouse has become persuaded that this time really may be it. She is having definite forebodings -- and I have been with her too long to dismiss these out of hand.

I have long held the belief that Abuela was destined to outlast me. If she really is going, this time, I'm getting even more nervous than usual.

But I have whined too long today. I do have things I should be doing... and while there's more on these unhappy subjects I'd like to talk about, I'll have to come back to it later.

Perhaps. When I can better articulate what else I want to say.

* If you are interested, you can read about my somewhat cockeyed experiences here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

In which the Curmudgeon takes a stand against personal corruption... what an idiot

We're #1! (In public corruption, that is...)
We take a sort of perverse pride in the breadth and depth of corruption here in Chicago.

There was no actual civic rejoicing when a new University of Illinois at Chicago study was released recently confirming that Chicago is the most corrupt city in the country -- but the study received prominent play on all the local news broadcasts -- and there would have been considerable wailing and gnashing of teeth (or at least some serious skepticism) if the authors of the study had failed to accord our miserable metropolis its accustomed place atop the garbage heap.

If you're interested, you can find a link to the actual report at the Chicago Politics website, a website maintained by the study's leading author, Professor (and former 44th Ward Alderman) Dick Simpson. Yes, the professor was a member of the Chicago City Council during most of the 1970s. Simpson was already a professor when he got to City Hall. Many of his colleagues, and many other Chicago aldermen down through the decades, became 'college guys' after leaving the City Council. Some went to Oxford.

(Is 'college guys' a strictly local expression? Can you figure it out from context anyway?)

Anyway, the new Simpson study was on my mind last week when I went downtown for an interview. I suppose I might be accused of burying the lede here, but, as of this month, I have closed the Teeny Tiny Law Office and now exist, as a professional, entirely in the virtual world. That's the fanciest way I can think of saying I'm working from home now.

Or I'm supposed to be.

So I had this interview downtown, and I had to drive because, wouldn't you know, I had a meeting to go to in a western suburb immediately thereafter. There was no way to take the train.

Our van, as I've mentioned, is on its very last legs. You know things are bad when the guy at the repair shop just shakes his head sadly and says, "You know, Curmudgeon, we all have to go sometime."

Every trip is an adventure at the moment.

But I made it downtown, the check engine light and the oil light notwithstanding. I'd changed the oil in the van one last time two weeks before -- and the day before this trip I added a quart.

Which reminds me. It probably needs another quart, or maybe two.

But I parked in the garage across the street from the former Teeny Tiny Law Office without serious incident.

And then it occurred to me.

As a tenant in that building, I was entitled to park in this garage for a reduced rate -- $15 for the day, which is a serious savings over the $50 list price.

If you're reading this in midtown Manhattan, you may be envious.

If you're reading this in rural Iowa, I'll wait until your heart stops racing.

I was thinking about the casual atmosphere of corruption in which we Chicagoans live. My wife's students give her Christmas presents in the hopes that she's susceptible to a bribe. (She isn't.) Everybody's got an angle. And, here I was, interviewing for a job that requires impeccable honesty and character.

Why, then, was I thinking of running my ticket through the machine in my former building?

Was even thinking about this demonstrating that I, too, was not immune to the corrosive effects of corruption in the air? And, yet, if I were to walk into my old building, the security guard would greet me warmly and ask how I'm getting on -- and wouldn't blink as I ran the card through the machine on his desk. The folks at the parking garage would never know the difference -- and, if they did, they probably wouldn't care either. I figured the odds at about a million to one against anyone so much as giving me the stink-eye.

But then I wondered -- what would folks in Minnesota or Oregon or one of those other supposedly more virtuous jurisdictions say about validating my parking ticket in this way? I went to my interview, thinking on this the whole time. I probably should have thought more about what to say, and how to say it, during my interview.

But, whatever, in the end, I decided to prove -- if only to myself -- how virtuous I was by not getting my ticket discounted.

Fortunately the interview was brief -- and I was back in the car quickly. The full $50 charge kicks in after two hours and I was done before that.

Still, my personal refusal to buckle under to our amoral atmosphere cost me $40 when I might have spent only $15.

I can really use the $25. I must be an idiot... right?

Thursday, January 17, 2019

And another thing we never dreamed we'd have to worry about: Breaking the seal on social media

Long Suffering Spouse and I welcomed our eighth grandchild into this world on Monday.

Thank you.

Another girl -- that's seven girls and only one boy so far -- that boy, our seventh grandchild, is one year old today.

Thank you again.

Anyway, Middle Son gave us a little warning that Margaret's time was getting really close. But his mother-in-law was coming in for the weekend (she lives in Michigan, but winters in Alabama and doesn't much like it, so she comes up here as often as she can) and we thought she might be tasked with taking care of their older daughter (our fifth grandchild, if you're keeping score at home -- she just turned one in August).

Thank you. Really, you're very nice, but stop interrupting, OK? I have a lot of work to do this morning.

Anyway... Middle Son disabused us of this notion over the weekend. The MIL would go with them to the hospital when the time came. We would take care of Grandchild No. 5. I reminded Middle Son that he should call his mother's cell phone when he needed us; that is the phone we keep in our bedroom overnight (we cut the landline awhile back -- but that's another story).

Hmmm. Now I'm interrupting myself.

The phone rang at 3:50 a.m. Monday morning.

Older Daughter installed custom ring tones on my wife's phone some time ago, apparently at a time when she was miffed with her brother: When Middle Son calls, we hear the Imperial March from Star Wars. It's distinctive, certainly.

The phone is charged on my side of the bed. So I answered. And fairly promptly, too.

Middle Son was impressed. "Were you awake?" he asked.

I looked at the clock radio on the nightstand. "No," I said, "I was up at 3:00 as usual, but I'd fallen back asleep." (Hey, this is what happens as men age, OK?)

"[Grandchild No. 5] was up then, too," he told me.

"That's nice. We're in sync," I said. "So, is it time?"

"Yeah. I'm just going to jump in the shower and we're going to go. Can you come over?"

Now, as I'm writing this, it looks like a two-person conversation. This shows the limitations of my art. Long Suffering Spouse woke up during this -- if not while the phone was ringing, then immediately after I started talking -- and was sitting bolt upright, instantly on Red Alert. As soon as I heard her moving, I put the phone on speaker. No point in repeating everything.

"Sure. We'll be right over."

"The front door will be unlocked."


I terminated the call -- I'd say I hung up, but of course you don't hang up with a cell phone, do you? -- and told Long Suffering Spouse I'd run downstairs and turn the coffee on.

We always have the morning coffee ready to go; this was not the result of any baby-related anticipation.

And it gave me a chance to slip away before I would have to plead ignorance to all of Long Suffering Spouse's first dozen questions -- did her bag break? how far apart are the contractions? -- I heard a couple of them as I worked my way down the stairs.

I was going to say that I bolted down the stairs. "Bolt" is a nice action verb. But at 3:51 a.m., in January, in Chicago, it's dark out. The expression "it's always darkest before the dawn" has some scientific validity, at least if my observations mean anything. Also, while I am still reasonably limber, it generally takes at least a little while for my legs to respond efficiently to commands. So I plodded at best. I turned the living room light on at the switch, dispelling the early morning gloom. I got into the kitchen and turned on the coffee. Perhaps I can accurately state that, by this point, I could, and did, bolt back up the stairs.

Long Suffering Spouse was up and moving. Middle Son lives about 10 minutes away. His shower time was our driving time. So we conducted only the most basic, abbreviated ablutions, threw on some clothes and headed out.

With our coffee.

I'd never have made even that short drive without a few sips of that life-giving fluid.

When I say we are 10 minutes away from Middle Son's house, I do not exaggerate. But, on this occasion, at least, I underestimated. There are precisely six stop lights between our home and his -- and we got stopped at the first five of them. At 4:00 a.m. Long Suffering Spouse was exasperated with me, with our route, with the persistent 'check engine' light on our failing van, with traffic signals generally, and with the ones along our route specifically, and she let me hear about all of it. She was nervous. She knew, better than I ever can, what Margaret was experiencing, and she wanted Margaret to get the hospital as soon as possible. Sooner, even.

Imagine our surprise, then, when we walked into Middle Son's house -- the front door was not just unlocked, it was open -- and found Margaret sitting, alone, on the couch, watching television.

She didn't get up to greet us or anything -- but she was remarkably composed, given what was going on. She's a tough kid.

We even chatted a bit, while Middle Son finished writing out detailed instructions, and Margaret's mother stood ready by the door. At one point, a contraction hit. Margaret did not cry out or even wince -- I only noticed because she paused to enter something into her phone. It turns out there's an app for that, too.

There really is an app for everything.

Off they went, finally, and Grandchild No. 5 stayed asleep for a reasonable while longer.

We had a lovely day with her, our fatigue notwithstanding, and Grandchild No. 8 made her appearance before the morning was done.

Margaret's mother -- and Margaret's sister, who'd driven five hours from Michigan when the labor started -- came back to relieve us late in the afternoon.

Long Suffering Spouse had made arrangements to pick up her mother to meet the new great-grandchild (her 12th!) something that had to happen Monday evening or not at all for a month, inasmuch as Abuela was scheduled to undergo a procedure on Tuesday morning that would leave her radioactive for about that long. That's still another story.

And Long Suffering Spouse had a present for the new baby all ready to go -- but we had to stop home to get it.

And Middle Son asked if we might also stop at the restaurant across the street from the hospital and bring them dinner. Well, we had to eat, too, didn't we?

We did all these things -- I went to the restaurant alone, of course, after dropping off Abuela and Long Suffering Spouse -- but I eventually got to meet the new arrival, too. Youngest Son and his wife Danica were already there. We ate. The obligatory Grampy-holding-the-new-baby-like-a-football pictures were taken. As were pictures of Middle Son and Margaret with Grandchild No. 8, and Long Suffering Spouse and the new baby, and Abuela and the new baby....

You know the poses. You've seen them all a million times on Facebook. From a million different families.

Which, of course, is where I'm busting to put these.

But I can't.

Not yet.

With all of our grandchildren so far I've given the parents first dibs on posting about their new arrival. It seems only fair, right? Middle Son deleted his Facebook account -- not that I blame him -- Facebook is getting darn near as hostile as Twitter -- but Margaret still has hers. And she does post from time to time.

But so far... nothing.

So I want to put up a post -- and bask in the glow of the many 'likes' I will receive, some of them from people I've actually met -- but I don't think I should. Yet.

At what point, if the parents don't do it themselves, can I break the seal and make my own post?

This is another question I could never have imagined having to ask 30 years ago... or even 20.

And how do I find an answer?

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Curmudgeon falls into the streaming revolution -- Part II

I begin today's installment (for yesterday's, click here or just scroll down) with something of a confession: I was not entirely ignorant of streaming services before the kids gave me the Roku stick.

The TV in our family room -- the one that's hooked up to the DircTV service -- came with Netflix and YouTube and something else (I forget which) built in.

And, when Olaf and Younger Daughter were living here (they moved out four years ago already!) I was allowed to use their Netflix account.

See, it can be set up for five people -- and I was one of them. I think my designated screen name was "Mooch." No, that's not a name I chose.

Anyway, that's when I learned an important lesson about how these services operate: Every time I clicked on a program or movie to watch, a computer algorithm started whirling and twirling deep within the bowels of Netflix -- if I clicked on a Mickey Mouse cartoon, I got all sorts of cartoons and other Disney effluvia "suggested" for me next time I watched. And, of course, if I clicked on a rom-com I'd get a whole bunch of those suggested for me. Eventually, the Netflix algortihm would start getting to "know" me -- just as Amazon's algorithm has since gotten pretty good at figuring out what books or movies I might like. Scary good.*

Sometimes, with the DirecTV, or, before that, with the cable, when I've clicked through the channels, I'd pause on some cheesy movie or tasteless TV show, just to see what all the fuss was about. You've done this, too, I'm sure; don't pretend otherwise.

But the way I figured it, the show was on anyway, and would be there, whether I lingered there or not. Unless I was hooked up to a Nielsen meter, I didn't contribute to the decline and fall of Western Civilization by peering in.

On the other hand, with Netflix or some streaming service, when I order up a program to watch I am in some small way endorsing it. I am complicit. Because the algorithm will note what I have chosen and then serve up more or whatever it was that I elected to watch. A reality show. A Chuck Lorre sitcom. Any movie with the words "bikini" and/or "hot tub" in the title.

I understand that I could give a negative review if I thought the program tasteless or trashy or whatever -- but I assume the algorithm would just wait and see if I called up another episode or similar show before sneering, yeah, right.

So I'm a little uncertain about how much I'll actually use my new Roku stick. I might learn -- or confirm -- things about myself that I don't really want to know.

* Long-time readers -- as if I had any left given my erratic, and infrequent, posting here -- might remember that, in 2011, I publicly declared that I was afraid to buy from Amazon. I wasn't lying. And I did not in fact buy from Amazon until the giant corporation made peace with my home state by collecting taxes on purchases. And, once that happened, I didn't suddenly start buying everything online -- mostly, if not always, I confined my online orders to stuff not readily available from local stores. But even this was enough for the Amazon algorithm to start predicting with increasingly eerie accuracy stuff I might like. Recently, I've begun searching on Amazon for things I don't like and wouldn't buy -- so I can put its computer off my scent....

Monday, January 07, 2019

Curmudgeon falls into the streaming revolution -- Part I

My children were generous again at Christmas, giving Long Suffering Spouse and me a Roku stick and a "new TV." And all it's cost me so far is $132.

You may wonder why the phrase "new TV" is rendered in quotes. (You may also be wondering what a Roku stick might be and why gifts from my children are costing me money, but all things will be revealed in time, Dear Reader.)

TVs in this day and age aren't really TVs at all. They are monitors. No different, really, than the monitor on which you are viewing this post, if you're reading on a desktop.

TVs today have no tuners; they receive neither VHF or UHF stations (remember when that was a big distinction?); they have no knobs or buttons -- except possibly a manual power switch, well concealed. They do have plugs in the back. Since this was allegedly a "TV" it had a threaded protrusion as well as an HDMI cable plug. The threaded protrusion is where one might connect an antenna with a coaxial cable.

The TV that formerly stood atop my dresser was where the juvenile squirrel that invaded my house in 2007 perched when said squirrel, after I'd noticed him mewling in the open living room window, opted to ignore my suggestion that he exit through the front door, and scrambled up the stairs to the second floor instead.

This was a small color TV -- 12" maybe -- and an outmoded, analog type to boot. Somewhere along the line, though, we'd gotten a digital TV tuner -- which we connected to the TV with one of those aforementioned coaxial cables -- enabling us to watch TV in our room, sort of, depending on the atmospherics, or whether it was our night to be on the main flight path for O'Hare. Which it is, seemingly, on most nights.

But, whatever, I had the digital tuner. The new 24" super keen flatscreen had a threaded protrusion for a coaxial cable so -- I thought -- at least I'd be able to sorta kinda watch TV as we had before, if on a bigger screen.

I hadn't taken the rabbit ears into account.

The old TV had an antenna -- rabbit ears -- that, while not designed for these frequencies, allowed at least some of the modern digital signal to reach the connected tuner.

The super keen new flatscreen, of course, did not.

As a result, we got no picture at all from the digital TV tuner. Not even a sporadic one.

So I knew I would have to buy a digital antenna.

But, first, I would install the Roku stick.

The Roku stick -- about the size and shape of a pack of gum, only with an HDMI plug on one end (that plugs into the back of a super keen flatscreen TV) and a power cord on the other -- picks up a signal via the home wireless Internet. The signal that the Roku stick picks up allows the viewer to log into Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime or ESPN or CBS All-Access or any number of free, or allegedly free, providers -- including Roku.

"Yes, yes, yes," Long Suffering Spouse said, with some exasperation, as I offered this explanation. "But how does it work?"

I gave the best answer I could. "Magic, I think," I told her, and, unsurprisingly, she found this answer less than satisfactory.

Still, it's the best one I have.

The First Law of Technology is that one need not know how something works in order to use it. I gave up trying to keep up with how computers worked when Windows replaced DOS -- but I've managed to get by, more or less, ever since.

This, of course, would be one of those "less" situations -- but I didn't know that as I gamely plugged everything in, set up my account, linked it to my laptop and started downloading Roku "channels."

I did everything properly -- it's my blog, so you'll just have to take my word for it -- at least on the second run-through. Long Suffering Spouse and I went out to a New Year's Day reception while the Roku "channels" were first installing. At some point, while we were out, the operation failed, leaving me with only six of the 20-something "channels" that I was supposed to have gotten on the standard install. When we got back, I started installing these one at a time.

It took... a... long... time.

But this was nothing compared to the time it took to load and play a 90 second instructional video.

Now we did have a wireless network before this. And it worked fine. Our phones or iPads got signal upstairs, as did my laptop. When Olaf and Younger Daughter were living with us, I'd upgraded the cable modem, which intensified the wireless network throughout the house to the point where the kids could use their computer in their room without difficulty. Youngest Son fell asleep at night, when he was living with us, watching reruns of The Office or Seinfeld on his computer.

But, apparently, Roku sticks need more signal than my modem -- however adequate it had been heretofore -- could provide.

I consulted with the kids and their spouses and learned that I would need a Netgear router.

So, now you see how the kids' gift cost me $132 -- the price of the digital antenna and Netgear router.

And I still had to install them both.

The antenna installation was fairly straightforward, of course. It has a flat panel that is supposed to be part of the antenna rig -- but it also has rabbit ears. I knew what to do with these.

But I thought the Netgear device would replace the AT&T modem.

Not so.

It apparently takes the modem's feed and amplifies the signal throughout the house -- pumping it up to the point where, now, I could finally find out what was available on all those Roku channels. And I should talk about that in my next installment.

But, for now, the best part about the Netgear super high-tech Nighthawk router?

It has rabbit ears.

The more things change....