Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, August 31, 2012

If You Can Get It - 28

So then I came down sick. And I swore I'd go to bed by midnight tonight. But it's 2am. MrsDarwin is a saint and stayed up to proofread for me. (Though any mistakes are my fault.)

47,344 words out of 50,000. Tomorrow I just need to get through at least 2,656 and I've hit the goal for the NaNo. I may slow the pace down just a tiny bit after that, so that I actually get sleep on some nights each week. But I'll have the whole thing done by mid-Sept.

- Chapter 7 -

“What were you thinking?” Katie demanded later that night, after their parents had left. “They’re being a lot easier to get along with as visitors than they were as… as parents, but that’s no reason to invite them to move in.”

“They’d just be staying for a couple weeks between when their house closes and when they get into a new place,” reassured Kristy, who was reclining on the couch while drinking an after-dinner Manhattan. “They’d just be staying here for a few days as guests, not running the place.”

“No, Kristy, you don’t get it. You haven’t lived with them in more than ten years. It’s going to be terrible.”

“You won’t be living with them. They’ll be visiting us. It’s my house, and I’m sure they’ll be mindful of that.”

“You’ll see,” Katie predicted darkly. “I’m going to go get a beer before the Gestapo moves in.”

“Oh come on. You want any melodrama with that beer?”

Katie returned with a bottle and sprawled on the easy chair. “Where are we going to put them?”

“That,” Kristy conceded, “is a much better objection. I feel like we have all kinds of space because I’ve never had a stand-alone house before. But with two bedrooms and one bathroom, it would definitely be tight.”

“How about that little room you set up as your office? We could put them in there.”

“That’s awfully small to put a full size bed in.”

“If we put them here in the living room, we could never do anything at night.”

“I think we’d have to give them your room and you’d have to move in with me.”

Katie made a humphing found.

“Look, it’s nothing personal, I just don’t see what else we could do.”

“I just painted that room.”

“It’d only be for a few weeks, if it even happens. Trust me, they’re not going to be eager to be crowded into this house with us for any longer than they have to be. And remember, it may not even happen. This is just if this offer goes through and they close before they’re able to get a into new place. And if they want to. Heck, they may be talking in the car right now about how they don’t want to be crammed into this tiny house with us.”

“I bet they’re not,” Katie prophesied darkly.



Katie seemed to distract herself successfully from her fears for the rest of the long weekend by throwing herself into her next project, which was the bungalow’s one bathroom. While functional and possessed of a certain period charm, the bathroom was not without room for improvement. Katie took Kristy’s credit card down to the Sherwin Williams store in downtown Johnson and bought paint at the Black Friday sale, then braved the crowds at Home Depot to return with a new shower head and what seemed, for such a small room, a vast array of drop clothes, tapes, caulks, fillers, and other supplies.

“Will I be able to take my shower in here tomorrow morning?” Kristy demanded Sunday night, as Katie was re-caulking around the bathtub.

“That’s why I’m doing this now,” Katie explained. “It has to cure over night before it gets wet.”

“Okay. I’m happy to fund all these projects, and you’re doing great work, but keep in mind that we only have one bathroom.”

“How about if while I keep that in mind you get me a can of beer,” Katie suggested, carefully smoothing the line of caulk with one finger.

Kristy considered retort, but instead fetched her the beer.



It was thus with concern but not complete surprise that Kristy received a text from Katie the next afternoon: “make sure you go to the bathroom before leaving work”

She called Katie instantly. “Katie, what happened?”

“Uh, this isn’t a good time,” Katie informed her. “Don’t worry. Everything will be okay. Just make sure you use the bathroom before leaving.”

“Katie…” Kristy warned.

“Bye!” Katie hung up.

When Kristy got home she went straight to the bathroom to see the damage. Katie was sitting on the edge of the bathtub doing something on her iPhone. In the center of the room stood the toilet, resting on a pile of newspapers. Where the toilet had, according to the natural order of things, stood, was a disturbing hole in the tile.

“What is this?” Kristy demanded.

“It’s not as bad as it looks,” Katie said, defensively.

“But… Why did you take it off?”

“I was going to caulk around it. But then it was bugging me that it rocked a little bit. I tried to tighten the bolts, but they were really rusty and one of them broke. And the book said replacing the bolt was really easy.”

“And it wasn’t?”

“Once I got it off, the connection wasn’t like the one in the book.”

“Katie, this is serious. What are we going to do? Crouch over the hole?”

“It’ll be fine: I’ve already got a guy coming. He promised he’d be here tonight.”

Kristy relaxed slightly. “So who’s the guy you’ve got coming?”

“I’ll show you,” Katie said, leading the way out into the kitchen. “I couldn’t find anyone good online here in Johnson. There are plumbers, but this isn’t exactly a plumbing problem. But then I found this,” she held out a church bulletin from St. Anne’s which their parents had left behind.

“You called the church?”

“No, look, there are ads on the back. See? This one.” She pointed to a larger square which said, in a chiseled font that would have seemed more appropriate to a classical ruin, “Paul Burke, handyman” and then noted in smaller letters, “Bathrooms & Kitchen renovations; cabinetry & carpentry; painting. Historic home specialist. Fair prices. (Parishioner)”

“He said he’s finishing up another job, but I told him we had nothing but a hole in the floor for a toilet and he said he’d come tonight. He doesn’t think it’ll take long to fix.”

Kristy was not sure what she had expected, perhaps a heavy man in his fifties, but when she answered the door about an hour later what she found was a man her own age, or perhaps a little younger, with reddish blond hair and a full beard, battered work boots, a flannel shirt tucked into paint spattered jeans, and suspenders.

“Hello, my name is Paul Burke,” he said. He spoke slowly, but in a way that conveyed an instinctive formality rather than a dull wit. “I believe we spoke earlier about a toilet?”

“That was my sister Katie. She went out to pick up dinner and find a bathroom. I’ll show you the problem.”

She led him to the bathroom and pointed to the toilet and the gaping hole. “Katie said she was trying to tighten the bolts, and one broke, so she decided to take it off and replace the bolts like in the Home Depot book, but it wasn’t put together the way she expected.

Paul nodded and bent down next to the hole to look more carefully.

“Yes. I see. The floor under the tile is cement, and the bolts are set into that. You see that often in houses this age. 1920s?”

“1919. It’s a Sears kit house.”

“Those are good. Very well laid out.” He poked at the remaining bolts. “None of these are very solid. They ought to be replaced. That will take some time, however. Let me show you what I can do.”

He pulled a round package out of his bag and unwrapped a ring of black rubber and some disgusting, yellow compound.

“I can put a new wax ring on it tonight and set the toilet on it with the remaining bolts. It will be stable enough for you to use if you are careful with it. Tomorrow afternoon I can come back with a brass plate that will fit this hole and put that down with epoxy. Then I can fit modern bolts on that and fix the toilet down permanently.”

“So long as we can use it tonight.”

“It will be fine. The work tomorrow will take a couple of hours to dry, but you will be able to use the toilet that night.”

“That would be great.”

Paul pressed the ring into place over the hole, then set the toilet down onto it and replaced the nuts on the remaining bolts.

“Thank you so much for coming tonight,” Kristy said. “I was ready to kill Katie when I saw the toilet up and that hole in the floor. How much do I owe you for tonight?”

“You don’t need to pay anything until I finish,” Paul assured. “Let me give you one of my cards.”

The card was magnetic, and featured the same classical lettering as his ad, in this case complemented by a line drawing of a Doric Column. Kristy put it on the fridge.

“May I ask how you heard about me?” Paul inquired.

“May parents brought home a church bulletin from St. Anne’s when they were here visiting a few weeks ago, and my sister saw your ad on the back.”

Paul nodded.

“It says that you do kitchen renovations. We need to work on this eventually. Katie was talking about trying to do it herself, but after this fiasco with the toilet, I don’t want to let her try to build cabinets.”

Paul looked around the kitchen with consideration. “What kind of renovation do you have in mind?”

“It seems like it should have an island, to be a little more modern. And new lights and maybe replacing these old cabinets. I left aside a fair amount of money for working on the kitchen when I bought the house.”

Paul moved around the kitchen, opening cupboard doors, trying the drawers, peering at the plumbing under the sink. “It would be an interesting project,” he said. “I see you have new appliances. Do you want to make a place to put in a dishwasher?”

“Yes!” said Kristy. “I don’t know how the previous owner never had one. Do you work on designs as well as doing the work?”

Paul nodded.

“I’d love to get an estimate on all this.”

“The kitchen will require some planning. I can help you with that for free.”

“I’d be happy to pay. I’m sure the design is a lot of work.”

Paul shrugged. “I’m not a designer. I am happy to just charge for the work. We could talk about it after I finish with the toilet.”

“If you’re putting work into making a plan, it seems like you should charge even if you don’t call it ‘designing’. There’s no reason to be providing value you don’t monetize,” Kristy said, her work instincts kicking in.

“What do you do?” Paul asked.

“I’m a product line manager at Schneider & Sons.”

Paul nodded. “That’s a very good company.”

"Do you use their tools?" Kristy asked.

"I would if I could afford them."

Kristy thanked him again as she showed him to the door. Katie was coming up the walk balancing several bags. Paul stopped on the porch to hold the door open for her.

“Was that the repair guy?” Katie asked. “He’s younger than I expected from the phone.”

Thursday, August 30, 2012

If You Can Get It - 27

Heading into the final stretch here: two more days after tonight. I'm at 45,468 out of 50,000, so I have just over 4,500 more words to write to hit the word count goal. According to my outline, I have three more full chapters, which I'm guessing means another 20,000 words at least. So this definitely has another couple weeks to go. We should get a long ways in the next two days, though, especially as I have Friday off from work.

My apologies for any issues in proof reading or formatting. I'd sworn I'd be in bed before 1AM tonight, and here it is almost 2.

---

Over the next two weeks paperwork ebbed and flowed: inspections, loan paperwork, proof of employment, equity advance from the relocation company for the California condo. Katie, in a burst of enthusiasm, got a library card and returned home with what appeared to be the entire home improvement and decorating section. Kristy gently mocked this development, especially when Katie brought her new passion into the modern age and started a Pinterest account, but this aloofness did not prevent Kristy from quietly contemplating the relative virtues of Wolf and Viking ranges. Carol assured them that they should be able to close within thirty days. “You can be in by Thanksgiving if you want.”

Their parents were enthusiastic at the news and promised a visit, which occurred on the second weekend since the offer had been placed. The four of them walked down to view the house, Kristy and Katie pointing out its many virtues with the consciousness of impending ownership.

“I’m glad to see you and Katie getting along so well,” Pat said, as she and Kristy were cleaning up the apartment kitchen together that evening. Katie, having made the dinner, had retired to the living room where Tom was watching the football game. “I was real worried about her when she picked up and moved out, but you seem to have been a steadying influence.”

This we-are-the-adult-women-talking-together-about-your-sister dynamic was not one which was familiar between them, and Kristy was not immediately sure if she was gratified by it. “I’ve enjoyed having her with me,” she replied blandly.

“I keep looking back to those couple months she was back with us after college and trying to think what I did wrong,” Pat confided. “How did you get through to her?”

“I did yell at her to go get a job after she’d been sitting around for the first couple days she was with me,” Kristy conceded. “But honestly, she’s matured a lot on her own over the last few months. I can’t take credit for it.”

“You must be doing something right,” Pat persisted. “When she was staying with us she was staying out late without telling us, coming in drunk some nights. I was terrified I’d get a call from the police some night that she’d been pulled over DUI.”

“Nope, I never had that happen,” Kristy said, having no intention of telling her mother about Katie’s court appearance. “I think after she had some space for a while, and thought about things, she found her own reasons to mature,” she added, with truth.

“I feel some times like I failed her as a mother. But it’s so hard to make up that ground now. I wish I’d done a better job when she was younger. I wish I’d known the sort of things that go on at secular colleges these days. Maybe if I’d pushed her to go to a Catholic college she would have had better influences. You were so responsible in college, but not everyone has the strength to resist peer pressure like you.”

Kristy shrugged, divided between the drive to argue with her mother and the desire to move the conversation on to another topic. “You know, Mom, I probably did a lot of stuff you wouldn’t approve of when I was in college and afterwards, it’s just that I kept my grades up and never moved back home while I was going it. Honestly, though, Katie’s a good kid. It’s probably be easiest on both of you if you stopped trying to bring her up and just to to know her better the way she is.”

Pat dashed at her eyes with an elbow as she finished loading the dish washer, and Kristy feared the conversation was in danger of taking a maudlin turn. “How have you and Dad been doing?” Kristy inquired. “It’s good to see you guys. I know I’m terrible about calling.”

“Oh, we’re doing all right. Actually… I was wanting to tell you…” Pat looked around as if afraid of being overheard or guilty over imparting something that was supposed to remain secret. “The latest contract negotiation at your father’s work hasn’t been going well. You know how things are these days. They’ve announced a buy-out for people over between 55 and 65 who are willing to take early retirement, and Dad’s been thinking about it very seriously.” She nodded sagely.

“Wow. Is Dad really thinking of retiring? He’s not that old.”

“Sixty-two next year, honey. That’s not old, but he’d be glad not to have to go out with the trucks anymore. And his knee has been giving him a little trouble sometimes lately. He says if he’s going to keep working, he’d like it to be on something he cares about. If he took the retirement offer he could look into something like teaching a shop class part time at the high school or the community center.”

“Wow. Dad retired and teaching shop classes part time. I guess I really am a grown up.”

“Well… And I’ll tell you something else.” Pat paused dramatically. “Your father’s been talking for ages about what a big yard we have for just two empty nesters like us. And the house is really bigger than we need and so much work to keep clean and decorated. With you girls back nearby, we’ve been talking about whether it’s time to put the house of the market and move somewhere smaller. Maybe even somewhere nearer to your girls. You know that nice young priest we had at our parish for a couple years? Father Larry?”

“Mom, I haven’t been to your place in three or four years.”

“I must have told you about him on the phone, though, hon. You should hear him speak. He gave a bible study on the Epistles last year, and there were a hundred people crowding into the parish center every Tuesday night just to hear him talk. Well, we were all so sad when he got re-assigned this spring. But where to you think it was they sent him? St. Anne’s right here in Johnson. I told him when he left, ‘It’ll be a long drive, but Tom and I will come out and see you some time.’ So when Katie told me the job you were interviewing for was in Johnson, I knew it was meant to be. And here you are!”

Kristy did not venture an opinion on the providential nature of this coincidence. Pat tried to entice her to come to mass with them the next morning with promises that she would be able to meet Father Larry, and this his sermons were short but always made her think, but Kristy passed on the opportunity, slept till eight, and got a run in while her parents were still gone, returning in time to help Katie in preparing breakfast.



The closing date for the house was set for the Friday before Thanksgiving. The sisters were united in their desire to host Thanksgiving dinner at the new house, both to show off the house and as an act of independence. This deadline created certain logistical difficulties, which were solved by Kristy convincing the relocation company to fly Katie, rather than her, back to California for the week leading up to the closing, to supervise the packing and loading of their possessions in the condo. This allowed the movers to arrive the day after they took possession, and would give the sisters nearly a week to unpack and settle in before their parents arrived.

With Katie in California, and thus no other set of eyes to see her succumbing entirely to the lure of the new house, Kristy found herself driving up to the outskirts of Chicago to visit a kitchen showroom, and walked away several hours later telling herself that the savings she had realized by picking a Kitchen Aid refrigerator over a Sub-Zero completely justified the money she had spent on the resplendently red-knobbed Wolf range. Both were scheduled to be delivered on move-in day, and their decrepit predecessors carted away.

Throughout the drive back to Johnson, Kristy felt the most extreme temptation to call Katie and tell her about the purchase. However, although she had assured herself that Katie would enjoy cooking with top-of-the-line appliances, Katie’s enthusiasm for the house had found its expression in planning do-it-yourself project and selecting paint colors rather than contemplating brand name appliances, and she could too easily imagine Katie asking, “You spent how much on those?” She would leave the new appliances, instead, for a surprise on move-in day.



The great day came, and Katie tagged along to the closing, though during the endless iterations of, “This document says…. Please initial each page and sign here,” she quickly lost all relish for the process and gradually became absorbed by her iPhone.

Part way through the signing marathon, Kristy and the title agent paused to get coffee.

“Do you want anything?” Kristy asked her sister.

Katie shook her head silently, a look of intense concentration on her face. Kristy and the title agent stood sipping their coffee and making small talk, while Kristy flexed her signing hand.

“I wish,” Katie suddenly observed from the background, “That someone who knew all about science would write a book on the physics of Angry Birds. I feel like I’m not doing this right.”



At last they left the title agent’s office, Kristy carrying a large, legal-size folder full of papers and the keys to the house. They drove straight there, let themselves in, and wandered slowly through the empty, echoing rooms.

“Let’s stay here tonight,” Katie said, bursting into Kristy’s room, where she had been sitting on the window seat quietly daydreaming.

“There’s nothing to sleep on,” Kristy pointed out.

“We could get a couple sleeping bags or air mattresses or something.”

The idea had an unquestionable allure. The next day, their furniture would arrive, but the house was hers now, and Kristy couldn’t help seeing a night spent anywhere else as a waste.

They went out and laid in cleaning supplies, a pair of air mattresses, and a case of beer. The afternoon was spent cleaning the house — hard, grubby work which neither of them had ever enjoyed as much before, nor would again — and at last, tired and feeling far less fresh than the newly scrubbed house but deeply gratified to look around at the glistening floors smelling of Murphy’s Oil Soap, they sat on the floor of the empty dining room and relished a dinner of pizza and beer.

“Was it like this when you bought your condo?” Katie asked.

Kristy tried to turn her mind back to those days. She and Kevin had started dating during the weeks she was waiting to close on the condo and he had helped her move her things from her old apartment. There had been no need for a day of cleaning then, the newly built condo had been utterly pristine when the agent at last gave her the keys and showed her around. Still, there had been a headiness to placing furniture and unpacking boxes together, which no doubt had speeded her invitation that he move in.

“No,” Kristy said, dismissing the memories. “The condo was different. I was excited, and it’s always fun the first time you go into your new place, before the furniture comes. But it was brand new and perfect, like being shown into a hotel room. I ran around barefoot so I wouldn’t get anything on the new white carpet and showed my boyfriend where each piece of furniture would go.”

Katie stifled a smile behind her hand.

“What?”

“Did you—” Katie stopped herself, apparently struggled, then burst out with her question. “Did you want to have sex with him on the carpet just to show it was yours?”

“Katie— Well. Yes, I did want to. But I was so worried about those new carpets that I waited till we moved the furniture in the next day.”

Katie laughed awkwardly for a moment. Then she stopped and hit the floor with a fist. “Agh! How do you stand it? I just feel so… randy sometimes.”

Now it was Kristy’s turn to laugh, but her laughter had a wistful edge.

“What?” Katie demanded.

“You won’t always be the bundle of hormones you are at twenty-three. The loneliness stays, though. Loneliness is worse.”

“Oh, Kristy, I’m sorry!” Katie gave her sister an impulsive hug. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I can be such an asshole.”



It grew dark outside. The evening was cold, and the furnace was gently growling in the basement, warm air sighing out into the house through decorative brass grilles. Kristy had picked up a case of fire logs at the store, and the put one into the fireplace and sat talking in the living room until late. At last, they each went to their own rooms, where they had made up the air mattresses using bedding borrowed from the apartment.

Kristy snuggled under her blanket and looked up at the unfamiliar ceiling. The moon was nearly full, casting its blue-white glare in through the curtain-less window, and the trees in the backyard cast strange, dancing shadows across the walls. She heard the click-click-whoosh of the furnace starting up again in the basement. Then, as the ducts warmed, the sighing of the air moving through the house, and the pingings and creakings of the house changing temperatures. A floorboard creaked. There was a strange, quiet rattle somewhere in the house. Kristy pulled the blanket up over her head like a child and felt very wide awake. She found herself wondering if anyone had ever died in this nearly hundred-year-old house. This line of thought only magnified every sound in the empty house, and she found herself wishing very strongly that they had waited until the furniture arrived before spending their first night in it.

She heard footsteps and the door creaked open.

“Kristy?” said Katie in a very quiet voice.

“What?”

“I know this sounds really stupid but: The empty house sounds spooky. Can I get in with you?”

Sharing an air mattress with another adult did not promise for a very comfortable night, but the ominous sounds of the house had already receded to nothing.

“Sure.”

Katie crawled in under the blankets next to her, curled up, and fell almost instantly to sleep. It was some time before Kristy drifted off as well, but with the warm presence next to her, the night held no more fears.



The movers came early the next morning, and all was chaos from there on out. Just it was at its heigh, the truck arrived from the kitchen showroom, and yet another set of workmen entered to carry out the old appliances and bring in the new fridge and stove. Such was the madness at that point that neither sister has time or inclination to stop and wonder at the glistening new stainless steel appliances until after they were left alone in the house together that night.

Nothing is quite as comforting as breakfast, and so when they were alone at last that night Katie fried up bacon and scrambled eggs while Kristy unpacked dishes and put them in the cupboards.

By the end of the weekend, they had most of the everyday accouterments of life unpacked. Kristy went in to work for three days, while Katie laid in extravagant supplies for the Thanksgiving dinner, and simultaneously embarked upon painting her room — a project which she finished in the small hours of Thursday morning, and which Kristy (who had nurtured certain hesitations about Katie’s do-it-yourself abilities) was forced to admit to be entirely successful.

The Thanksgiving dinner, too, was a success. Katie devoted herself to the turkey, which she had brined for two days prior. Kristy took charge of mashed potatoes. Tom and Pat arrived just after noon, bearing the two signature family dishes: green bean casserole topped with french fried onions and a concoction involving cool whip, green jello, and marshmallows. Conversation was ebullient. The sisters could not be more excited about the new house, and the parents were in the throws of their own real estate excitement, having put their own house on the market three days before.

“The way the market is these days,” Pat explained. “You really can’t list too soon. If we’re lucky, it’ll sell within the next six months or so. After New Years, we’ll get into doing some serious looking for a new place closer to you girls.”

The moment, however, that all would remember in years to come did not come until late in the evening, after the dishes had been put in to wash and the football game was concluded, when Pat and Tom were making noises about getting on the road. Pat’s cell phone rang, and as she answered it her shock became obvious to all those in the room.

“Yes? Oh. Really? Well, that’s—”

She turned off her phone at last and tucked it away carefully in her purse before facing the rest of her family. “That was Susan, our real estate agent. A couple faxed an offer on the house over to her this morning. A full price offer. I never— I don’t know what we’ll do. But so long as it goes through, we’ve sold it. I hadn’t even thought we’d start looking till after Christmas, but they want to close as quickly as possible.”

Silence reigned for a moment, and then Kristy heard herself saying, “Well, you’re always welcome to stay here for a few weeks until you can get into a new place.”

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

If You Can Get It - 26

The mystery of the strange partial-house power outage has been revealed: sometime before we moved in, someone jerry-rigged a bunch of temporary connections to the power line, trying to get around the electric company, and those connections went bad. The electric company has made all right, however, and Scrivener is equipped with auto-save, so here's last night's installment.

---

Kristy called a realtor connected with the relocation company and arranged for them to spend Saturday looking at houses. A generously proportioned, older woman named Carol, she arrived at the apartment at 9AM on Saturday, and presented Kristy with an elaborately constructed binder with fliers for all the houses they would be visiting.
“Since this is our first time out, I thought we should look at a range of options in your size and price range,” Carol explained.

“That sounds great,” Kristy replied.

The sisters piled into Carol’s spacious Jaguar XJ. “This back seat is amazing, but it seems like it should come with a mimosa,” Katie announced. Kristy handed her the binder and she occupied herself with inspecting the house fliers.

Kristy had not been much in sympathy with Katie’s excitement over old houses. When Carol led them through Victorian four-squares, Katie rhapsodized about woodwork and tightly spiraled back staircases, while Kristy noted damaged paneling, peeling paint, old-fashioned radiators, and the probable lack of insulation. At the same time, newer houses all seemed to come in little subdivisions so manicured that one almost expected a giant hand to reach down from the sky and arrange plastic people on the lawn. The open floor plans and white walls which had seemed so cleanly natural in California here looked shallowly false.

By the time the the ladies stopped for lunch, tempers were beginning to shorten, and Kristy considered suggesting they call off the rest of the day. However, the limitations of the three months corporate housing were beginning to occur to her: by the time she allowed 30-45 days to close, plus time to move, it was necessary to find a house within the first month. Further, she began to wonder how eagerly Carol would put them on her schedule again if they did not find at least one house they could compliment, even if it were not the right house for them.

The next house was in the old part of Johnson, a neighborhood of two- and three-story Victorian houses presiding over tree-lined streets, where several houses had already charmed Katie but not Kristy. This one, however, was a single story bungalow, its gently sloping roof covered in deep blue tiles. The walls were brick up to waist height, and then light brown stucco.

“When was this built?” Kristy asked. “It looks like some of the old houses back in California.”

Carol consulted a sheaf of notes. “1919. It’s a Sears kit house. Two bedrooms. Kitchen needs a little work, but it has a new furnace and air conditioning, and it’s priced to sell.”

There were touches aplenty to warm Katie’s heart, beginning with the sinuous brass lizard-shaped door knocker on the heavy, green front door. Kristy noted that the windows, though wood-framed, were modern, and that the heating and cooling systems did indeed look modern. These practicalities assured, she could allow her heart to be warmed by touches such as the deep-set, finished-wood window seats in the identically-sized bedrooms — the more so when Carol pointed out that these doubled as cedar-lined chests.

“Look at the fireplace!” crowed Katie from the other room. Art nouveau tiles set off the small-ish fireplace, surmounted by a carved wooden mantle on which lizards like that on the door knocker flocked among stylized leaves.

The kitchen, and to a lesser extent the bathrooms, were the sticking point. The appliances were old, rust beginning to show through white enamel, and no concessions had been made to a more modern taste in layout and storage.

After spending nearly an hour in the bungalow, the women moved on to see the rest of the houses on their itinerary, but Katie’s heart was clearly won and every further house was assiduously, and unflatteringly, compared to the bungalow.

“You would hate that kitchen,” Kristy pointed out that night, as Katie was making dinner in the apartment.

“It’s pretty bad,” Katie conceded. “But we could get a new fridge and stove and fix it up, couldn’t we?”

“The asking price isn’t much more than the equity I can get out of my condo back in California. It would be easy to keep out enough money for renovations and still have a pretty tiny mortgage,” Kristy conceded. “Still, I can’t think of anything I’d like less than having to supervise a bunch of contractors all the time.”

“I could help!” Katie assured.



Through the weekend the hold of the bungalow on their minds remained firm — Kristy’s as well as Katie’s, despite her calmer approach to the matter. When she went running Sunday morning, she unconsciously directed her steps in that direction and found herself standing outside the low, wrought iron fence, looking up the walk.

Tuesday, over lunch, she called up Carol and asked if they could see it again that night. The sisters took their time wandering all over the house. An hour and a half had passed, and Kristy was sitting on the window seat in what she couldn’t help thinking of as ‘her room’: legs pulled up, her arms wrapped around her knees, looking out on the secluded backyard in the gathering gloom.

Carol entered, seeing Kristy and observing, “It’s such a pretty view. The yard would be just right for you: large enough to have a garden but not so big that it would be hard to manage.”

Kristy nodded. For several moments she remained silent. “All right,” she said. “I want to make an offer on it.”

Novel Interrupted

I was typing away fast half an hour ago when the power went off... Thankfully, I believe Scrivener has an autosave features, but there will have to be a longer post tomorrow night, none tonight.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Augustine's Confessions, for children

Yesterday being the feast of St. Monica, and today being the feast of St. Augustine, it seemed like a good time to break out Confessions and read about the childhoods of the saints.  Augustine writes so simply and clearly that he is not onerous for school-age children to listen to, or to read for themselves, but he's also very prolific. I found myself editing on the fly, skipping passages, and flipping around a great deal to find the sections that would be of most interest to the youngsters here.

I've gone through Books 1 and 2, which draw from Augustine's infancy and youth, and highlighted passages that I think will be most compelling for children to listen to, or read themselves. (Teenagers ought to be able to read more extensively on their own -- Confessions is definitely not an inaccessible or difficult book, stylistically.) Each section is short and concise -- certainly children reading at a fourth-grade level or above should have no difficulty reading a passage a day by themselves.

All of Book 1 is appropriate for children. The sections that I have not bolded are ones that can be skipped in the interests of time or flagging interest on the part of the youngsters, but I recommend them all.

Book 2 moves into Augustine's adolescence, and starts examining issues of lust and sexual incontinence that parents might want to avoid with pre-teens. Parents might want to preview the sections here that are not bolded before reading them aloud or assigning them to younger children.

My translation is by R.S. Pine-Coffin, from Penguin Classics.

Book 1.1: Introduction, "you made us for yourself, and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you."
1.2, 3, 4, 5: Continuation of Augustine's questions to God about His existence, His creative love, His attentions to Augustine himself. These are interesting, I think, to children who are themselves so full of questions, but can be skipped.
1.6: Augustine's babyhood.
1.7: faults of infancy
1.8: early boyhood, learning to speak
1.9: trials of going to school
1.10: sports
1.11: Augustine is gravely ill, but recovers before his family feels the need to baptize him.
1,12: the paradoxes of study
1.13: the trials learning Greek and Latin
1.14: Homer vs. Virgil
1.15: short digression on using study for God's glory
1.16: teaching children to admire the false example of false gods
1.17: Augustine recites the speech of Juno
1.18: intellectual vanity vs. eternal concerns
1.19: Augustine's bad habits of childhood
1.20: Augustine's good qualities of childhood

Book 2.1: Augustine recounts his adolescence and sins, particularly lust, to which he was prone.
2.2: continued.
2.3: onset of lust, and his father's unwillingess to check him.
2.4: theft of the pears
2.5: reason informs all behaviors, virtuous or vicious
2.6: meditation on the theft
2.7: acknowledgement of sin
2.8: Augustine explores why he stole the pears
2.9: incitements to the theft
2.10: wandering from God

Augustine also recounts some of the life of his mother, St. Monica. We enjoyed reading these sections yesterday on her feast.

Book 9.8: Monica's childhood and early addiction to drinking wine
9.9: Monica's humility and careful dealings with her husband and mother-in-law (be prepared to discuss how it used to be acceptable for husbands to beat their wives!)
9.11: the death of Monica

I really feel that there is a niche for a beautifully illustrated children's book about the boyhood of St. Augustine, with text taken from Confessions. I would buy it.

If You Can Get It - 25

Closing the gap: 2,100 words tonight for a total of 41,545 out of 50,000.

Also, this might be a good time to confess that my outline is broken into nine chapters, of which this makes the beginnings of the 6th, so while I'm pretty confident I can hit 50,000 words by Friday night, so long as I stay on task, I'm thinking I may not be able to actually complete the story for another week or two afterwards. But if that admission doesn't lose me my last few readers right there, I can at least assure you that there is an outline which includes an end and everything.

---

- Chapter 6 -

The following week passed in a blur of tasks and plans. Kristy’s vague intention of hosting a farewell gathering did not crystalize into any concrete action, and the sum and total of her send-off was, in the end, the sisters going out for sushi — a cuisine she was sure one could find much better examples of in the South Bay than one could in central Illinois. The next morning they both rose early, and Katie drove her to the airport, so that she could bring the car back home to await its own relocation trip.

That evening she found herself settled in the aggressively innocuous setting of her furnished apartment: white carpet, neutral furniture, abstract art prints on the walls. The possessions she had brought with here seemed to provide only the thinnest veneer of personality to the rooms, and the silence was so oppressive that she had to turn on the TV to fill it. She contemplated the few food items with which the relocation company had seeded the cupboards and fridge (salt, pepper, package of microwave popcorn, turkey and mashed potatoes frozen dinner, orange juice, peanut butter, crackers, Snickers bar, pint of mint’n’chip ice cream). A menu far too redolent of dorm room desperation for her comfort. She consulted the phone book and discovered she could order in Mad Jack’s World Famous Wings, pizza, or Mamma Ming’s Chinese Food. For a moment she contemplated getting back in the car, driving back to Chicago, and abandoning small town life and her new job. Then she sobered herself, put the frozen dinner in the microwave, and opened the Snickers bar.

The feeling of emptiness had, if anything, increased the next morning. Kristy briefly contemplated the cupboards and fridge again, then avoided the issue by changing into her running clothes and heading out. After getting in three miles along corn-lined roads, she finished along the old main street, where a middle-aged woman who called her “hon” provided her with a large iced coffee and a plate of fried eggs at the Corner Cafe.

The apartment was still a yawning void, but she showered quickly and then made a pilgrimage to the supermarket, determined to cook a real dinner that evening. The shopping trip was reassuring: However down-home the take out options of Johnson were, the supermarket was eminently cosmopolitan. She drove back with the trunk overflowing with food, a firm intention to keep up to Katie’s culinary standards, and a DVD of Wrath of the Titans in honor of her absent sister. With half gods battling inanity on television, she opened a bottle of wine and set about making curry.

Making dinner had been a welcome diversion, which took up an hour and a half of the evening, but eating it alone took only ten minutes, and the antics of Perseus and his CGI nemises had become too much even as a diversion. At last, she fell back on selecting her first day wardrobe, determined to forcefully express “breath of fresh air from West Coast comes to 140-year-old Mid Western company.”

Settling at last on a grew wool pencil skirt and blazer, silk top, and a pair of heels that brought her to a commanding 5’10”, she laid these aside like a talisman against the morning and went to bed early, telling herself that everything would feel less alien once her job had started.



The next morning Kristy was just heading out the door, feeling tall and resplendent in her chosen outfit, when her cell phone rang with an unfamiliar number.

“Hello?”

“Hi there, Kristy?” asked a vaguely familiar voice.

“This is she.”

“This is Andrea Gomez. We had lunch when you were out interviewing.”

“Yes! Hi, Andrea. I was just heading out the door.”

“Good, I’m glad I caught you. Getting the kids off to school, I almost forgot to call. Did anyone tell you about the orientation this morning?”

“Uh, no,” Kristy replied, fighting down panic.

“Figures. I don’t know if it’s the gals or the guys who find it funny, but somehow everyone forgets to provide the clue the new girl in. There’s an in depth factory tour as part of the orientation. Do not wear a skirt and do not wear heels. You’ll be up and down ladders and there are a bunch of those anti-fatigue rubber mats. Heels get stuck in them something awful.”

“Oh. Okay. Thanks for the warning.”

“Aw, poor thing, you probably had something real cute picked out. Well, have a good orientation. I’ll try to drop by your office this afternoon and say ‘hi’.”

“Thanks, Andrea. See you then.”

Kristy swore as she ran back to her room, shedding clothes as quickly as she could. Orientation started in twenty minutes minutes, which, even though the Schneider & Sons campus was only five minutes away, was suddenly far to little time.

Somehow, within ten minutes, she was walking out of the apartment again, this time in pants, a fitted oxford with pale pink and gray pinstripes, and flats, but with her sense of composure somewhat rumpled.

With only a moment to spare she presented herself to the front desk receptionist and was directed to join a half dozen other new hires milling about the lobby. For all her worry about the time, however, it was not until almost ten minutes after that a harried man from HR, looking barely old enough to be out of college, rushed in, apologized for his lateness, and announced they would start by getting their pictures taken for their security badges.



The first day orientation was necessarily less flattering than the interview process had been. While then she had been the center of attention, and known to be interviewing for a fairly senior role, now she was just one of the unfamiliar faces being shown where the cafeteria was and advised on the workings of paid time off. A friendly, 50-ish looking man named Shin, whose newly made badge marked him as belonging to Engineering, sidled up to her and asked, “Is this your first role?”

Kristy blanked at the incongruous question. “Uh, here at Schneider & Sons? Yes.”

“No, no. First or second role out of college?”

“Uh, no,” Kristy allowed, unsure whether to take this as insult or compliment, except that it was so clearly unintentional that any reaction seemed out of place.

“Sorry. Sorry. You looked so young. Don’t feel bad! Get to be my age, it’s not so bad to look young.”

“Thanks.”



The orientation and tour left the new hires off at the cafeteria at noon. The lines were long, though most people seemed to be taking their food back to their desks. Those who were sitting at tables in groups of two or three talking were mostly not eating: meetings unable to secure a conference room.

Kristy ordered as salad which in keeping with the company’s sustainable convictions — so the tour guide had explained — was served in an opaque compost-able container that would not have been out of place back in California. She seated herself at a table to eat and watch the ebb and flow of people move through. As she was finishing Andrea appeared and waved to her.

“Did you have a good Orientation?”

“Yeah. Thanks for the tip about clothes.”

“Did they take you through the workshops too?”

Kristy nodded. “I got to use an industrial bolt tightener.”

“You laugh now, but pretty soon you’ll want one of your own,” Andrea deadpanned.

“I’ll make sure I find a house with a big garage.”

“See? You’re going to get along here fine. Now, I just ran into Brad on my way down here. He got pulled into a pre-read for the IBP meeting this afternoon, so he asked if I could catch up with you and get you to your desk. He’ll meet you at 1:30. Let me just grab a salad.”

“Okay.”

Andrea returned a moment later. “All right. Walk with me and since I’ve got you in my clutches I’m going to tell you how I think the world works while we go. So you’ve got the Schneider line. You know why you were the one picked?”

“If it’s going to be a reason besides the obvious, please have it be a flattering one. It is still my first day.”

“No first day privileges, sister,” Andrea warned, but then flashed her a smile. “What you need to understand is that the Schneider line ought to be a big seller. Too many of the consumer brands have spent the last twenty years engineering quality out of their products so that you can by a drill driver for thirty dollars at Home Depot. Which is great if you want to use it a couple weekends a year and throw it away after four years when the battery won’t hold a charge any more. But it’s frustrating for home improvement enthusiasts who want a tool they can actually love, not just put up with. See, we have that credibility and quality, but what we don’t have is enough of a sense of urgency in the company about what is seen as a stepchild product line to actually make it work. That’s why I advocated so strongly for you (and Brad has this religion too, so don’t worry), because you are a pro, but you’ve an outside player who doesn’t have this institutional sense that the Schneider line is a backwater that people are sent to for bad behavior. All of which I tell you — Have they told you I talk a lot yet? I do, but I make people listen. — because one of your challenges is going to be overcoming that institutional inertia and indifference about the line. Forewarned?”

“Yes. Thanks.”

“Okay. And remember, don’t let it bother you. I’m going to get you sent off to the LeadFirst training. Have you heard of this one?”

“No. I don’t think so.”

“No, I guess you wouldn’t have. It’s not a very Bay Area kind of thing. You’ll enjoy it, though!”



Exhausted by her first day, Kristy promptly abandoned her standards on the way home and picked up dinner at Mamma Ming’s: deep fried and syrupy Chinese takeout of the most guilty sort.

Katie arrived on Saturday evening, and Kristy was so glad to see her that, in a reversal of recent roles, she made dinner for her younger sister. So glad, in fact, that she did not feel frustration boiling up when Katie used the time while her sister was cooking to install the X-Box and begin playing Mass Effect.

Sunday saw Katie rooted to the console for much of the day, until she got up and made a enchiladas and a large pitcher of margaritas for dinner. The pitcher empty, Katie slept in late Monday morning and Kristy wished, to any God who might be listening, that she could as well. This pattern continued, with variations, for two more days, until Kristy threw a real estate catalog and Katie and commanded her to go out house hunting.



“The problem with this shit,” Katie announced Thursday night, indicating the apartment in general, “Is that it’s all white walls and newness and has no character.”

“Do you say this because you’ve been looking at places with character, or places without character, or simply because you’re cultivating a new aesthetic sense and need to practice your discernment?” Kristy asked.

“I say this because it’s soulless,” Katie explained. “Why is it that we have beautiful old houses just five minutes walk from here, and those massive apartments above the old storefronts on Main Street, and yet what they’re building is while soulless boxes with green lawns in front of them? What’s wrong with our world?”
“I think the old places are sometimes a lot of work,” Kristy offered.

“Don’t you think that would be more real, though?” Katie pressed. “To really work on your house? Fix things. Do things. I dunno… Paint things?”

“Katie, have you ever done any home repair work?”

“No. But you work for a tool company now. It would be good practice for you. And we’d be rooted and stuff.”

“Whence all this? Did you find a realtor who specialized in old houses or something?”

“Well… No. But I did walk around a lot with my iPhone and pull up listings on Realtor.com. And some of the old houses around here are really, really cool. Not old like Mom and Dad’s place — hundred years old or more. Seriously, after dinner let me show you some of these listings.”

Monday, August 27, 2012

Did RomneyCare Reduce Abortion?

There's a claim being made that Obama's Affordable Care Act will significantly reduce abortions, despite the concerns voiced by the US Catholic Bishops about the ACA funding abortions, on the theory that providing people with a guarantee of contraception and pre-natal care will reduce the "need for abortion."  The original basis for this claim is, so far as I can tell, a 2010 article by Patrick Whelan, the president of the Catholic Democrats, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. This article states:
The number of abortions in Massachusetts in 2006, the year before the new law was implemented, was 24,245, including 4024 among teenagers. I obtained data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health for each of the two subsequent years.... In 2007, the first year of Commonwealth Care, the number of abortions fell to 24,128, and in 2008, it fell to 23,883 — a decline of 1.5% from the 2006 level. The number of abortions among teenagers in 2008 fell to 3726, a 7.4% decline from 2006. These decreases occurred during a period of rising birth rates, from 55.6 per 1000 women 15 to 44 years of age to 56.9 per 1000 in 2006 and 57.2 per 1000 in 2007 (the latest year for which data are available from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health), and an increase in overall population (in 2008, the Massachusetts population surpassed 6.5 million for the first time, and it was nearly 6.6 million in 2009, according to the Census Bureau). The abortion rate thus declined from 3.8 per 1000 population in 2006 to 3.6 per 1000 in 2008. Overall, since 2000, the number of abortions in Massachusetts has dropped by 12% (from 27,180 to 23,883) and by nearly 36% since 1991.
Now, as you can see from the quote, the claim here is already a little dubious. Dr. Whelan would like to attribute the last couple years drop in abortions to RomneyCare, but he of course has to admit that abortion had fallen much more in the years before, without the benefit of universal health care.

A couple days ago, Brian Fung of the Atlantic published a piece in which he appears to have updated Dr. Whelan's data using the same rough estimation methodology: getting the raw number of abortions per year from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and dividing it by the total Massachusetts population (men and woman of all ages). Based on this update, he reports that the raw abortion rate (number of abortions divided by total population) has further reduced to 3.14 in 2011, giving a total reduction in the raw abortion rate of 17%.

Commonweal reported on the Atlantic piece writing:
Writing for The Atlantic, Brian Fung reports, “As the number of insured has gone up in Massachusetts, new state data show a corresponding decline in the number of abortions performed there since 2006.” Since passage of “Romneycare”, Massachusetts’ abortion rate has dropped 17%.

Then Vox Nova writer Mornings Minion piles on, citing the Commonweal piece and writing:
With this in mind, I thought I would share the results of two interesting new studies.

The first shows that abortion rates in Massachusetts dropped by 17 percent after the introduction of Romney’s healthcare reform. Given that the Affordable Care Act is almost identical to the Romney plan, and has some explicit pro-life measures and protections that the Romney plan did not have, we might expect the same outcome at the national level in the years ahead.

The second study tries to estimate the impact on abortion rates from overturning Roe v. Wade. It finds that the most likely outcome is that 31 states ban abortion, and that the overall abortion rate falls by 15 percent. If only 17 states banned abortion, the rate would only fall by 6 percent. In the most optimistic scenario – all but four states banned abortion – the rate would still only fall by 29 percent. That’s basically the best we can hope for.

Is this claim remotely believable?

The obvious question is: Is the decline in abortions in Massachusetts sufficiently unique to suggest that it is Massachusetts's universal health care system which is responsible for the recent decline. Determining this is made difficult by the fact that rigorously calculated data on abortion rates is not available from reputable sources like the Center for Disease Control or the Guttmacher Institute for years past 2008. However, I took a look at the change in abortion rates for a number of states from 2005 to 2008 according to the Census Bureau (2006 was not reported). The results I got showed that Massachusetts had declined in real abortion rate (the number of abortions per 1000 women aged 15 to 44) by 7.24% between 2005 and 2008. This was more than the US average, which was up by 0.86%. However, it was similar to the decreases in a number of other states:
-8.85% in Alaska
-8.96% in Mississippi
-7.15% in Maryland
-10.71% in Nebraska
-7.25% in North Carolina

Other states saw large increases:
+37.06% in Delaware
+15.37% in Kentucky
+36.59% in Louisiana
+22.22% in Pennsylvania

I picked one of the states that had performed similarly to Massachusetts from 2005 to 2008 that I was able to find data online from (Nebraska) and compared their change in raw abortion rate to that in Massachusetts. The result is very similar: Nebraska (not known for its universal health care coverage) saw a 22% reduction in its raw abortion rate from 2006 to 2011, and a 19% reduction in total abortions over those same years. The raw rate dropped from 1.66 per 1000 in population in 2006 to 1.29 in 2011.

Although each article in the above cited sequence offered stronger claims that 'researchers think' there's a link between Massachusetts's health care law and the reduction in abortions in that state, that belief seems to be based on no more than wishful thinking and interviews with low income Massachusetts residents who say they're "delighted" to have access to subsidized contraception. There certainly appears to be no evidence from the data cited to suggest that RomneyCare has reduced abortion in Massachusetts, nor is Massachusetts unique in its declining abortion rates. The claim that ObamaCare will somehow reduce abortion more than overturning Roe is, obviously, hard to prove one way or the other, since any model of what a post-Roe US would look like would be highly speculative. But at the very least, we can say that there is no real foundation for the belief.

More Talented People I Know

Austin friends: run, don't walk, to the Palace Theater in Georgetown to see their production of A Chorus Line. It's been given a rave review in Broadway World, but more importantly, it features another friend of mine:
As Maggie, Mary Katherine Kinney gets to showcase her beautiful soprano voice and subtle vulnerability during “At the Ballet”.
Ah, I used to direct Miss Kinney when she was a mere slip of a girl, and now she's hit the big time. You can see her sublimely gorgeous face at the Palace Theater, or featured in these photos of the production.

Anyone else ready to step out of my theatrical past to showcase the cool and amazing things they're doing in the biz? Feel free to mention them now -- you can find me at home in the kitchen, washing dishes while the kids throw pillows down the stairs. 

"Just a Moment in the Woods"

From the "Talented People I Know" file: here's my college pal Brooke Evans singing Sondheim at Circle in the Square in New York City. I remember back when Brooke and Darwin were playing courtiers in Twelfth Night, wearing those horrible tights.



Brooke always shone in college, but looking at how she's polished her skills and how her craft has matured over the past eleven, twelve years, I feel almost as proud as if it were one of my own children up on stage. What a gift to be connected, however tangentially, with someone so talented. And, for me, what a bittersweet look down the road not taken.


If You Can Get It - 24

Today was kind of disappointing: only 1400 more words. I'm still less than 3,000 words behind where I should be, but I'd expected to make up a lot more ground. I'm at 39,575 total tonight. I'd hoped very much to hit 40,000 but it just wasn't happening.

---

The next week brought a quickening stream of change. Kristy’s start date was set as the last Monday in September, two weeks away. The transfer of Kristy’s life from the South Bay to Johnson, IL was entrusted to a “relocation specialist” named Carla, working for a company based out of Omaha. Clearly practiced in the details of moving people across the country, Carla set to work with an efficiency which made large decisions pass almost without notice. Emails would arrive laying out some detail of Kristy’s coming life, and providing two or three easily chosen options.

How many people were in her household and what relation did they bear to her? She lived with her sister. Would the sister be moving too? Yes. This was non-standard, but since there were no other members of the household the company would probably approve it. She would check. Yes, they did approve it. Did Kristy want to have the company buy-out her condo if it didn’t sell in three months, or would she prefer to keep marketing it herself as long as necessary? Take it off my hands if it doesn’t sell. Following please find links to three residence communities in which furnished apartments are available in or near Johnson, IL. Let me know which one you would like to have for your three months company-paid temporary housing.

Decisions about where to live, when to move, how to sell her condo, were made so quickly and easily it seemed hard to credit the fact that such major changes were occurring at all.

By comparison, Katie’s court appearance, which had seemed to loom darkly over the week, proved something of an anti-climax. Having been told that all that was required of her was to dress conservatively, say she was sorry, and be polite, Katie had invested the first of these with perhaps undue weight. After spending significant amounts of time contemplating her own closet, she secured Kristy’s permission to plumb the depths of hers. From this she emerged, well satisfied, wearing one of Kristy’s best suits.

“How about this?” Katie asked, turning round for inspection. “Muted colors. Very conservative. Low heels. Does this say, ‘Don’t send me to jail I won’t do it again?’”

Kristy’s first, though she recognized not kindest, instinct was to try to calculate whether Katie looked better than she did in the outfit due to being younger, or worse due to being less in shape, but she quickly drove these unwelcome considerations from her mind.

“You look good, and it’s a conservative look, but that’s an expensive suit. If the judge knows anything about clothes, it’ll make you look too well off for your age, and spoiled-rich-kid is probably not the looks that helps.”

“Are you saying I look too good?” Katie asked, with a hint of a smile — an encouraging change given how obviously nervous she had been all day.

“Yeah, I guess so. We probably want you looking a little young and inexperienced — the sort of girl who never found herself yelling drunkenly at a cop at a traffic stop before.”

“I am the sort of girl who never found herself yelling drunkenly at a cop before,” Katie replied with a touch of sullenness.

“Well, then we just have to make you look like you, right? Would you have gone out and bought that suit for $1,200?”

“Holy shit! You paid $1,200 for this? How can you wear that kind of money.”

Kristy shrugged. “I’ve worn it to the interviews for my last three jobs, and I got the job each time, so I guess it worked. For you, however: How about if you pick out a skirt and top you like rather than a suit. Or if you feel more comfortable with another layer on, pick a cardigan or a jacket. If you really like that suit you can borrow it some other time.”

Katie snorted as she headed back into Kristy’s room. “I’d be terrified I’d spill something on it.”

Kristy laughed silently, and wished that she could see, other than in her mind’s eye, what she had looked like riding around the Schneider & Sons campus on the adult-sized tricycle while wearing the suit.

The fashion crisis having been resolved to the satisfaction of all — after Katie had found an outfit she felt radiated “let me off with a warning”, Kristy decided to exercise her concerned-older-sister prerogative and wear the interview suit for luck — the two sisters drove down to the courthouse together the next morning with plenty of time to spare and met Dan there.

Dan gave them a brief description of the judge Katie would be in front of, then excused himself to continue reading a stack of legal briefs he had with him.

After what seemed like hours of anxious waiting, it was all over very quickly. Dan conveyed Katie’s contrition and resolution not to make such a mistake again. The judge asked Katie several questions in a severe tone. She responded meekly. The judge agreed to suspect the prosecution and explained that this meant if she were charged with another crime within three years she could face both charges, but if she avoided trouble she would have no crimes on her record. Dan thanked him and guided the sisters out of court.

“See, no problem at all,” Dan said.

“I feel like I’m shaking all over,” Katie confessed. “I need to go sit down.”
Dan looked mildly non-plussed. “Is she okay?”

“She’s not used to dealing with this kind of thing like you are,” Kristy said. “Thanks. This really was a huge help. I’m glad I didn’t have to worry about it at all, with all this relocation stuff going on.”

“No problem. You can expect my bill shortly.” Dan grinnned. “Everything going all right? You staying sane while you get ready to move?”

“Yeah. Actually, they make it amazingly cushy for you. It’s easier than planning a business trip, until you start to think about everything that’s happening. The guy who came out to look the condo over for the moving company said, ‘Now don’t pack anything. Any boxes you pack yourself won’t be insured. We’ll get it all done when the time comes to pack and load.’”

“So are they packing all your stuff before you fly out?”

“No. I fly out next Saturday with basically just luggage. They’ve got a furnished apartment for us in Johnson and a rental car while they bring the cars out on a trailer. Katie’s going to stay another week to tie up loose ends, and then she’ll fly out too. Out stuff stays in the condo while we fine a permanent place out there, and then they pack it up and move it for us.”

“Crazy stuff. Are you worried?”

“Oddly not. I’m still waiting for that to set in.”

“Well, good luck. Am I likely to see you again before you leave?”

“I don’t know. I was hoping to do some kind of a going away thing.”

“Well, in case you don’t: Good luck. Keep in touch.”

There was an awkward pause. Dan extended a hand to shake. Kristy started to take it, then reached out both arms and hugged him instead.

For a moment, some faint whiff of sexuality, unwelcome, unlooked for, passed through her at the feeling, so long absent, of a male body held close against her own. Briefly — so briefly, she hoped afterwards, as to have registered only with her — she pulled him tighter, soaking up the physical closeness she had not felt for so long, but almost as soon as she felt it she pushed it away, sensing the violation of using someone so long a comrade, whom she had never sought to make anything other than a comrade, to fill the long unsatisfied need for touch. She released him with a couple of just-pals slaps on the back.

“Thanks, Dan. I’ll be in touch. I’m going to miss having you to watch out for me.”

“All right well—” There was an awkward pause during which Kristy wondered if her briefly fierce hug had been more obvious than she had hoped. “I better get going. More cases to deal with today. Good luck.”

He left, and Kristy turned to her sister. “How’re you feeling, Katie? Want to go pick up some lunch?”

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Abortion and the Rape Exception

Yeah, yeah, I should be writing. But procrastination is a powerful thing.

There's been a lot of talk lately, due to Rep. Akin's comments about "legitimate rape" and pregnancy, about the "rape exception" for a ban on abortion. Entropy makes, what i think is a very key point about this common "except" that people make:
What does a law look like that only allows abortion for rape, incest or the life of the mother?

Incest or the life of the mother can be confirmed by doctors but who confirms that the baby is the result of rape? Does the rape victim have to bring a positive rape kit into the abortion clinic? The conviction of the rapist? The word of the mother?

I'm not trying to be insensitive but I'm sure that I'm failing at that. It just seems like either it's ok to have abortions or it's not. And if it's not but we allow it in terrible situations, then it seems the victim will have also the burden of proof as well.

Another violation.
In a different corner of the internet, Razib pulls some data from the General Social Survey on who opposes abortion even in cases or rape:

A few commenters expressed surprise that women are significantly more likely than men to oppose abortion in cases of rape. This doesn't actually surprise me. I think that one reason people who are otherwise against abortion make the exception is because of a feeling of guilt: "I think abortion is wrong, but do I really have the right to impose that belief on someone who's in a truly horrible circumstance?"

It doesn't surprise me that men, in general, feel less willing to impose their moral views in a situation which doubles up two things which they are highly unlikely to experience (rape) or simply can't experience (pregnancy).

I also particularly enjoyed this exchange down in the comments:
14. Clark Says:
It’s quite surprising that those who believe Bible is fables still have such a high rate. Are these people who are very religious but simply not Christian?

15. Lance Says:
It could be that they are atheist, but still believe fetuses have a right to life. I actually held that position until a few years ago, when Freakonomics opened my eyes regarding the drop in crime rate legal abortion leads to. Now I’m pro-abortion as a social good.

16. Razib Khan Says:
#15, i have a book to sell you about how enslaving low productivity humans increases overall utility! you see, the lazy don’t respond to economic incentives, but they do respond to punitive slave drivers :-)

If You Can Get It - 23

Almost 2500 words today, and all in one big long scene. I hope it proves interesting.

After quite some time being 3000 or more words behind the goal, this catches me up to only 2300 from where I should be tonight. Tomorrow should be another heavy writing day. Perhaps I can get close to caught up.

---

Jeff’s Fusion Bistro described itself as having “a casual yet intimate ambiance” and “a menu drawing from the best of every continent.” It rambled through several small dining rooms, with small, high-backed booths and low lighting. The wait staff, however, dressed casually — clearly under orders to express their own style as wildly as possible while never straying from the company approved black-and-white palette. The menu too claimed a certain casualness by focusing almost exclusively on small portions and exhorting customers to create a meal to suit their particular mood out of a dishes, yet the prices and the exhaustive wine list made it clear that this was no mere light dining venue.

Dan and Kristy had arrived separately, and the first ten minutes after they were seated were taken up with discussion of the food and wine options. Their server — a young woman named Skye with short, spiky, black hair, a fitted black silk blouse, and white pants — took down their choices with apparent calm derision and left them to themselves.

Silence stretched on for several moments. Kristy laughed awkwardly. “I wish they’d bring the wine. I just can’t get the balance right. Last time we saw each other in person I was being too loud. Now I say we should meet and I don’t have anything to say.” She shook her head. “Thanks, by the way, for helping with Katie’s legal problem.”

“No problem. It’s what I do. Really, it’s going to be very simple. Just make she wears some conservative ‘nice girl’ clothes when she comes for her court date next week and it’ll be easy.”

“I didn’t know what to do, but I was sure that it would be a lot easier than she was thinking. I guess you just have to know the way these things work.”

Dan nodded. “As with anything. There’s a heavy tax on not understanding how the legal system works. And a lot of people just freak out any time they have to deal with a judge or a lawyer. That’s why I have a job.”

Kristy nodded.

“So, speaking of jobs: The last I’d heard from you, you were stuck in China trying to fix bags. What happened?”

“Oh God. Where to begin? So you remember I was product line director for this line of expensive, women’s laptop bags, right? There were supposed to be six different bag designs. The US design team had come up with the styles, and they’d source the bags in China. The prototypes looked great, but then once I got there and saw their production samples, I found out they’d been changing designs and materials and taking short cuts.”

Having embarked on the kind of narration that came easily to her, Kristy described the whole China adventure in detail — the details proving far more amusing in the retelling than they had seemed at the time. When she reached: “So then I see myself in the mirror for the first time as she’s drying my hair off and: I’m blond.”

Dan choked explosively on a spoonful of bisque and apologetically began to mop up the table.

“Not just lighter. Not dishwater blond. Nearly platinum blond!” Kristy continued with triumph.

“I’m having trouble picturing that. I kind of wish I’d seen it.”

“There are pictures, but I don’t think the people who have them will share them.”
“Sounds like there’s more story to come. Go on.”

Dan was more serious as Kristy closed the story with the newspaper article and her decision to quit as soon as she landed.

“Now, I’m the lawyer friend, so let me give you the quick lecture here: You did not knowingly speak to a reporter, and you didn’t divulge any proprietary information to the person you thought was just another business traveler, so you have grounds to take action against this reporter if you wanted to, and Aspire does not have grounds to discipline you for appearing in the article. Further, since one of their executives made a pass on you on a business trip, you have very strong grounds for a sexual harassment claim against him and the company, and if they took any kind of action against you — regardless of what they claimed the reason was — you’d have a good case that they were punishing you for reporting the harassment.”

“Dan, honestly, I’m just glad to be out. It may sound funny now, but that China trip was one of the worst business experiences I’ve had in my life. The company culture is crazy. I just don’t want to work there.”

“I get that, but if that’s partly because of the harassment, that’s something you could sue to remedy. You’re letting them off easy by just walking away. A lot of people would say you have a duty to other women to sue so that they’ll clean their act up in the future.”

Kristy looked away for a moment. “Look, maybe I’m a bad person for this, but honestly, I just don’t want to deal with these people again. Yes, Todd was a total asshole, and I imagine he’ll hit on some woman on a business trip again, when he’s feeling like he’s far from home and can do whatever he wants. But it’s not the first or the last time I’ve had to deal with some drunken slob trying to start something with me. Maybe I’m not doing my part for woman kind, but I’d rather just never see anyone involved again — even if that means forgoing some level of justice.”

“You don’t have to defend it to me,” Dan assured. “I just wanted to make it clear that if you wanted to give Aspire a final fuck-you, you can so really easily.”

Kristy shrugged.

“All right. So you got off the plane and quit. But since you lead a charmed existence, you already have another job in the wings. Tell me about that.”

“Hmm.” Kristy poured herself a second glass of wine, enjoying the loquaciousness that came with it. “I didn’t have anything waiting in the wings when I called Bryn and quit. I just wanted to be out of Aspire as soon as I had my feet planted safely back on US soil. But on the way home from the airport I stopped at my salon and had my hair put back in something like its natural shade.”

“Depriving my sense of curiosity.”

“Oh hush. It wasn’t all that. Anyway. By the time I got out, I had an email waiting from a recruiter I’d talked to weeks ago about this job at Schneider & Sons, asking if I was still available. I said yes, and next thing I know I’ve got a phone interview and then they ask me to fly out for in-person interviews.”

“You make these things sound so easy.”

“You know, it was pretty easy. I feel like I should feel bad about it, with so many people having such a hard time finding jobs. But for whatever reason it keeps working out. Though— You saw me before I got the Aspire job. I was mess about not having a job. And I suppose if I hadn’t landed the Aspire job I would have been tearing my hear out over the last two months waiting for something to come along.”

She trailed off, poking bits of food around her plate and contemplating this other possible existence, then shrugged it off. “So I flew out to O’Hare and drove down to Johnson, Illinois where Schneider & Sons has their headquarters. It’s about an hour and a half from Chicago. Definitely a small town.

“Schneider & Sons makes high end tools, mostly power tools — most of their customers are construction companies, contractors, and other professionals who are willing to pay more for tools that will last way longer than the brands you see in Home Depot or Lowes. But the line I’m being brought in to manage is ‘Schneider’, their consumer line. It’s still more expensive than mainstream brands, but it’s not as over-engineered as the professional grade. Right now it’s only sold directly through their website and through a few woodworking chains, but they’ve been working to try to get it into the big box stores. What?”

Dan was shaking his head and smiling slightly. “We’ve known each other for what? Six years? When I look at you I don’t exactly picture power tools and Home Depot.”
Kristy shrugged. “I didn’t use PocketDJs app or carry a designer laptop bag either. Product management is a skill totally separate from using the product.”

“I know, I know. I just—” Dan paused, swirling his wine in his glass and clearly considering his words carefully. “I’ve seen you in, what, four different jobs since you got your MBA? I know how you thrive in a fast paced environment, and how ambitious you are. Are you really going to be happy living in some small town in the mid-west and working at a company that makes power tools? I have trouble picturing you working with a bunch of middle aged guys who drive pickup trucks and shoot deer. Are you sure you’re not just reacting to the bad experience at Aspire Brands? Looking for the farthest thing from that kind of frenetic dysfunction that you can find?”

“In some ways the company isn’t necessarily as different from the tech companies I’ve worked for. I mean, they’ve got a fleet of company bicycles for getting around from building to building — because the campus is big and they want to encourage people not to drive too much. And they’ve got tennis and volleyball courts and stuff — though the woman from HR told me that those date back to the ‘50s when there was the whole ‘company town’ kind of thing and people would come down to the campus on weekends and have barbecues with their families.

“So yeah,” she concluded, “It’ll be a huge change from the Bay Area and from the companies I’ve been working at lately. But it does seem like a fairly young and dynamic company — for all of being 130 years old — and maybe it’s time for me to try a change anyway. Illinois is where I’m from, and the Bay Area hasn’t always been treating me so well lately anyway.”

Dan nodded. “Hey, maybe so. You remember how fast I burned out on corporate law and went off to write wills and dispute speeding tickets. So it’s not like I have any credibility to tell someone to stay on the fast track.”

Conversation turned, for a while, to Dan’s own activities, and then to those of others they’d known from graduate school at Sanford. This flow of conversation was finally punctuated by the server appearing beside their table to glare darkly at them, and, eventually, to inquire if they would be having desert tonight.

“What exactly is the molten cocoa torte?” Kristy asked.

“Basically chocolate cake.”

“I’ll have that.”

The server retreated and left them looking at each other in silence.

“So,” Kristy asked after a moment. “How’s the ‘nice Jewish girl’ thing going?”
Dan shrugged. “She was nice. I’m still single.”

“I just can’t get over that whole idea. Your mom setting you up, that is.”

“Yeah. It kind of makes sense, though. She has friends who have single daughters my age. And it’s not necessarily all that much more awkward that the first date with someone I found on JDate.”

“But why is it so important to find a woman who’s Jewish? I mean, aren’t there much more important things to agree on?”

Dan gave his crooked smile. “Well, like what? Following the same sport? Having gone to the same school? You always first meet someone because of some shared characteristic, and often it’s something pretty shallow. It’s not as if I’d just go off and marry someone just because she was Jewish. But if I’m going to start somewhere, it’s not that bad a place to start, is it?”

“Maybe it’s just because I’m not Jewish, but religion just seems like an odd thing to be so fixated on when looking for a girlfriend.”

“I don’t know. None of my college girlfriends were Jewish, and those didn’t work out either. So at least I’ve got consistency across creeds.”

“But why the big emphasis on finding a Jewish girl now? Have you really become that religious?”

“I’m a bit better than I was when we first met, but no, I’m not what you could call a ‘good Jew’. I believe in God and everything, but somehow I just don’t follow many of the rules most of the time.”

“I really don’t get it then. So most of the time you don’t do that much about being Jewish, but you’re saying that if you met some woman you really hit it off with, but she happened to be agnostic or Methodist or something-or-other, you’d take a pass because you really need to find someone who’s Jewish? That just doesn’t seem like you.”

“No, I’m not saying that. But let’s be honest: I don’t have lots of women just wandering into my life who seem perfect for me. I’m thirty-five and I’m not getting any younger. So if I want to ever get married, I have to search. And if I’m searching anyway, I need to pick some criteria to determine who I look for. The fact is that being Jewish is defining: racially, culturally, religiously. At least we start out with certain things in common. And if things did work out, it would give us commonalities on which to build a family life.”

Kristy considered this as she ate her desert and drank her coffee.

“You know,” she said at last, her sense of honesty overcoming her reluctance to bring a subject back up merely to concede it. “That makes a lot of sense. You’ve thought about this more than I have. Maybe because there were a couple times I really thought everything would word out — with Kevin when he first moved in with me, with Adam back when I was at Stanford — I always thought about marriage in very specific terms: Is this the guy? Maybe that’s enough for a lot of people. But obviously, for people like us, mid thirties, no prospects, we need to have something going for us. If being Jewish means so much to you, I can see how it would be that common thing you’d look for.”

Once such topics had been brought up and their depths plumbed, it was hard to return to small talk. Soon after they requested their checks. The server had, evidently, not expected this, and so they found themselves confronted with a single bill. A series of negotiations followed, but between them they had enough cash and enough flexibility to reach an amicable arrangement, and after a few words in the parking lot, they went their ways.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

If You Can Get It -- 22

The total for the novel now stands at ~35,500 words. I stubbornly remain 3000 words short of where I should be in order to finish in time. This will be down to the wire.

Since I left off in the middle of a scene last night, I provide a slight repeat at the beginning of tonight's installment.

---

Katie blew her nose thoroughly, wiped her eyes, and pulled Kristy’s arm around her more tightly, then began. “You remember that I went out with Abby and Myra from work, and I met a guy named Brian?”

Kristy nodded.

“Well, we’d all been drinking a lot. And then, after a while, Abby and Myra went home, so it was just me and Brian. I had had a lot to drink, and we were going to go over to his place, or maybe he was taking me back here— Okay, to be honest, I don’t really remember where we were going. We got in his car, and he said he could still drive, and we took off. But the cops pulled us over. They were making him do a breathalyzer, and they were both being real assholes. Well, okay, I mean, I think they were. To be honest, I was really drunk. I was telling them that they should leave us alone, and that we were just trying to get home, and they should be out protecting people, and… You know. Like I said, I was really drunk. And I guess I was yelling at them a lot or something after they told me to stop, because the next thing is they handcuffed me and they took us both to the police station. And I think I kind of passed out or fell asleep for a while or something. But when they let me go the next morning they gave me a ticket for $500 for ‘interfering with an officer at a crime scene’. And I didn’t have the money, so I filled out the paper saying I wanted a court date instead and mailed it back, so I’d have some time. But now they keep sending me court dates, and the papers say that I owe $500 plus costs or else I’ll go to jail for 6-10 days. And it doesn’t say what the costs are, and I don’t now how much longer I can keep delaying the court date, but I don’t know what to do and it says if I leave the state they’ll issue a warrant for my arrest and— Oh, Kristy, I’m sorry!”

After having gradually increased in energy and speed her explanation finally devolved, upon this apology, into tears.

“Katie. Katie, it’s okay,” Kristy comforted, stroking her hair.

“It’s not okay. I know it was stupid of me to get drunk and yell at police officers, but I don’t want to go to jail.”

“Don’t be silly. You won’t go to jail. Katie, this is easy. Let me call up my friend Dan, who’s a lawyer, and we’ll get this all sorted out. No one is going to jail. It’ll be fine. Why didn’t you tell me about this back when it happened?”

“I guess… I didn’t want to admit it. Lots of people hook up at bars and have one night stands. It’s not like spending the night in jail.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I know a lot of people who’ve landed in the drunk tank for a night. This is not that big a deal, Katie. I wish you’d told me the truth and not left me thinking that you’d slept with some guy you’d never met before.”

“Have you ever spent the night in jail?” Katie demanded, shrugging her sister’s arm off her shoulders.

“No.”

“And have you ever hooked up with a guy you didn’t know?”

“Well… Sort of. Once or twice. That was a long time ago.”

“Then why are you being all judgmental with me?”

“I’m not judging you, Katie.”

“Yes you are! You’re glad to hear I ended up in jail instead of sleeping with Brian. How is it not judging me to want me in jail instead of sleeping with a guy?”

“Katie, look—” Kristy paused. “We should have this conversation, but I need a drink. Do you want anything?”

“No,” Katie responded sulkily.

Kristy went into the kitchen and poured herself a generous tumbler of bourbon, then returned to the living room. She had a momentary instinct to sit on the easy chair, across from Katie, but instead sat back down next to her on the couch and pulled her sister close.

“Here’s the thing. You get drunk, you yell at a cop, you spend the night in jail. That’s humiliating and upsetting. I understand that. But look, all we have to do is put on some nice clothes, go to court, pay your fine, and it goes away. You don’t have any ties to it. This just becomes a good story to tell people about the kind of dumb things that we’ve all done when we’re drinking. If you’d slept with this Brian guy, where would you be now?”

Katie tried to turn away from her sister, but Kristy kept her arms around her.

“No, really. Like you said, I’ve tried hooking up. What do you get afterwards? You still would have dragged yourself home all hung over, but every time your phone rang for weeks you would have been wondering if he was calling you back, and wondering what was wrong with you when he never did.”

“How do you know he wouldn’t call?” Katie asked.

“Has he called you?”

“No, but that night was so bad… Maybe if we’d had that connection something would have happened.”

“Katie, do you know of any good relationships that started with a hook up with a stranger in a bar?”

“Well… I don’t know. I guess not.” After being sullenly passive since the topic had come up Katie suddenly shifted to the conversational offensive. “Look, it’s easy for you to be all righteous about this stuff. You had your hook ups when you were young, and now you’re older and successful and have everything you want. What am I supposed to do? Just sit around wishing I was like you?”

“Katie, what are you talking about? I don’t have everything I want. I haven’t found a boyfriend or had sex since Kevin and I broke up three years ago. Do you think that’s what I want? To be alone at thirty-three and not know if I’ll ever find anyone again?”

“But you’ve got your job, and this place, and… You have everything so together.”

“Yeah, I’ve done okay with my career. I dunno. Maybe I’ve done great. So what? I got to call myself a director for two months while I was stuck in China getting hit on by some married forty-year-old freak of a senior vice president. Is that so great? I mean, yeah, I’ve been lucky. If I’m going to be lonely I’d rather be lonely with a nice condo and a BMW. But I don’t have everything I want.”

“Really?”

“Yes. And you know what?” She pulled Katie closer. “One of the best things about the last three months has been having you here and starting to feel like a little bit of a family. I didn’t realize I’d been missing out on that until after you came.”

Katie leaned back into her sister’s hug. “Thanks,” she said.



The next morning Kristy printed off the offer letter from Schneider & Sons, signed it, scanned it in, and emailed it to their HR department. Then she looked up Dan’s law office number and called it.

“Fischer & Plumm. Can I help you?”

“Good morning. May I speak to Dan Fischer?”

“Who may I say is calling?”

“Kristy Nilsson.”

“Just a moment.” Kristy waited, reflecting that once again she had not called Dan until she needed something. The secretary’s voice returned, “Thank you for holding, Ms. Nilsson. He’ll speak to you now. I’ll put you through.”

Dan’s voice greeted her. “Kristy, what’s up? Why are you calling on the office phone? You’ve got my cell.”

“Hey, Dan. I know, I just— This is a professional call, and I want you to go ahead and bill me, so I figured I should call on the business phone.”

“Oh, come on, Kristy. If you need a hand with something, you don’t have to pay me. What’s the problem?”

“No, Dan, seriously: I want you to bill me for this just like you would anyone else. Okay?”

“Kristy, is everything okay? This doesn’t have anything to do with that newspaper article, does it?”

“Oh, you saw that? No. Nothing to do with that. Here’s the deal: My sister Katie needs to go to court. She was out at a bar a couple months ago and drove home with a guy who got pulled over on a DUI. She got in an altercation with the cops, spent the night in jail, and she’s got a ticket for ‘interfering with a police officer at a crime scene’. She’d filed for a court date in order to put off paying the ticket, so she’s up for $500 plus costs and she’s got a court date coming up. I figured you would know how to deal with this so that she keeps her record clean and doesn’t pay any more than she has to. Let me pay whatever your normal rate would be plus any fines or expenses. I just want to make this go away for her.”

“Okay, well honestly, this should be pretty easy. Basically, she just comes into court — I’ll go with her and bill you for a couple hours, email me the date and I’ll put it on my calendar — and we explain that she’s really sorry, she’s never been in trouble with the law before, and we ask them to suspend the prosecution. If the judge is in a good mood, and thinks she looks like a nice girl, the judge suspends the case and so long as she stays out of trouble for the next three years the whole thing just goes away. If she does end up in legal trouble again, she has to deal with both charges. Now, if that’s not working, we offer to plead guilty in exchange for having the charge reduced to something harmless (jaywalking would be good). Then we just pay the fine and she’s good. Either way, it’s not a problem.”

“You mean, chances are we just ask them to drop it and they do, and we don’t even have to pay a fine?”

“That, my friend, is the unfair advantage of having legal representation. And knowing what to ask.” Dan now shifted audibly from business voice to chit-chat. “So how’re things at Aspire? You’re back from China, I discern?”

“Uh, yeah. We haven’t talked in a while. Well, actually, it’s only been a few days, but— I quit Aspire as soon as I got back last Thursday. It was… It’s was just bad. I had to get out.”

“Wow. Are you okay?”

“Yeah. Yeah, actually… I just got back from central Illinois where I had an interview, and they offered me a job.”

“Illinois?” Dan sounded taken aback. “That’s far from home. Are you thinking of taking it?”

“It seems like a good company and it’s near my parents and— You know, what we need is to have dinner. When are you free?”

“How about Saturday?”

“That would be great.”