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?