Monday, March 30, 2015

And suddenly, everything went back to normal

Long story short: the contract situation resolved itself and my job isn't going anywhere, at least for a while. Whew.

Long story long: quite a week last week. Of course no sooner did I post the latest update about how everything was hurtling towards the abyss than new and positive developments finally began to emerge. My government boss gathered the department together at about 3 p.m. last Monday for cake to celebrate the birthday of one of our co-workers. Towards the end of that informal get-together, she also mentioned that for those of us waiting to hear about the extension beyond the last day of the current bridge contract (Friday), she was fairly certain the extension would be finalized that day. Furthermore, she alluded to the fact that she expected the real contract award to be announced soon, once the money for funding the contract was officially allocated.

I just want to take a moment to emphasize a couple things, there. All of these little pertinent details were not things which were deemed important enough to be conveyed via official communications. If my government boss hadn't thought to air them in a very casual, off-hand way, I wouldn't have known a thing. Also, these comments about the budgetary aspect of the contract delays was the first I had heard about specific reasons why it was taking so long; up until then I really thought the government was dragging their feet about deciding at all, not that they were keeping the decision under wraps because they couldn't officially announce anything until all the money was sorted.

Anyway, so very early Tuesday morning my contracting boss sent out an e-mail saying that the 30-day extension had been granted, and we would be covered by it until May 1st. The e-mail was waiting for me when I got in on Tuesday, and had a couple of attachments I had to fill out and sign for the expedited processing of my new badge and access card to replace the ones about to expire on Friday. As you can imagine I took care of that paperwork immediately. Then, literally three hours later, we got the official word that we had won the re-compete and been awarded the new five-year contract, which would begin May 4th (the 2nd and 3rd are a weekend). Why not have the new long-term contract go into effect on March 30th and just forget about the 30-day extension which was now apparently no longer needed? Who knows? Ours is not to wonder why and so forth.

So by Wednesday all of our paperwork had been processed and returned to us so that we could take it to the Pentagon and get it countersigned and drop it off at the badge office and get new badges. I ran that particular errand on Thursday morning. Thursday afternoon I picked up my replacement access card. Friday was relatively uneventful. In about a month we're going to have to go through all the same steps all over again (paperwork completed and turned in for processing, returned to us, taken to the Pentagon for countersignature, waiting in line for new badge/card) but then I won't have to do it again for a whole year (if ever) and at least they're usually on the ball enough to get these things done before the expiration deadlines so we don't end up locked out of anything. As transitions go, certainly it's annoying but at least it's fairly smooth.

And as far as the whole "if ever" sentiment goes ... it's nice to know that my job is reasonably stable for the foreseeable future, but my job search will continue. I now feel like I can afford to be somewhat selective, and not that I have to jump from a sinking ship into the first opportunity that presents itself. Granted, given that my security clearance for government work is one of my more marketable assets, there's a high probability that I end up changing from one contractor employer to another, if another is willing to pay me more or let me develop new skills or show me more opportunity for growth or other upsides. So abandoning the merry-go-round of contract re-bids and facility identification and network access tokens and all that is far from a sure thing. One never knows, though.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Fairest of them all (Boy, Snow, Bird)

Continuing my newfound resolve to get back to reviewing more books, here comes another one: Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi.

(CHECKING MY PRIVILEGE: Ms. Oyeyemi is a British woman of Nigerian/Yoruban descent. Take that, white patriarchy!)

If I remember correctly, I had put Boy, Snow, Bird on my wishlist because I had read one or more reviews which alluded to the fact that it was a modern retelling of Snow White, or at least that that old fairy tale provided the spine for a story which in turn encompassed much more. I have a big old soft spot for folklore and retellings thereof (Twice Upon a Time being a prime, recent example) so I made plans to check the story out for myself as soon as I could.

There is, in fact, much more to Boy, Snow, Bird than a riff on Snow White. The novel runs through numerous allusions to the works of the Brothers Grimm and others, sometimes only in a passing reference, sometimes in developing the recurring themes of the story. If nothing else, anyone with enthusiasm for fairy tales can find some fun playing spot-the-hat-tip. But more importantly, Oyeyemi takes the building blocks of Snow White - the sweet beloved girl, the wicked step-mother, the magic mirror - and uses them as jumping off points for incisive examinations of identity and reinvention, about the painful legacies of families in both momentary explosive violence and slowly decaying corrosion.

I finished reading this book a couple of weeks ago and I've been wracking my brain trying to come up with a way to encapsulate it for a review. My gut reaction is to declare it "good, but artsy" where "artsy" is one of my personal codewords for "self-consciously literary English-major bait" and also, perhaps, "pretentious"? But it's really hard to call something out for being pretentious without sounding pretentious as heck myself, since it basically requires me to say "the average person might not get it; I mean, I got it, and I liked it, but I can see how some people might not." Yeesh.

Still, it's hard to shake the old habits that run deep. I grew up on stories full of plot and incident and fantastical elements where the primary aim was to make the reader feel, and later I had to learn how to appreciate stories where nothing much happens and all of what does happen is grounded in reality and the primary aim is to make the reader think. So I always feel obliged to point out when a book falls into the latter category, presenting mundane things through subjective perspectives and ending with no real conclusion or closure. Some books are wide open to interpretation because life is open to interpretation, some don't have neat and tidy endings because life doesn't have neat and tidy endings. I get that, and I'm sure you get that, and I think it's an equally valid choice to seek out books that are superficial and straightforward for pure escapism, and valid as well to seek out books that are engaging or obtuse or however else you want to quantify the other side of the coin. (All assuming that you have actually gotten an education along the line and learned how to think critically and evaluate the distinction for yourself; believe me, if my kids ever say that a book they have to read for school is boring or doesn't make sense they will get an earful from me. As long as I've read the same book and know whereof I speak.)

So, pretentious or not, I dug the story for its ambiguity about where to draw the line between magical outlooks and mental illness, and for its takes on gender and race, and I dug the language employed to evoke the complicated, nuanced layers of things. I liked it because it's a hard book to recommend, and I'd probably recommend it to others for the same reason. Certain others, at least. You know who you are.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The worth of a cog

(With apologies to my wife, my most constant blog-reader, for whom none of this will be news and in fact much will be things which stress her out to one degree or another.)

The contract between my employer and the government is set to expire this Friday. There has been no official word as to what is going to happen one week from today. At the moment I am assuming that I will have to show up for work, because that's my default assumption every Monday and I put a lot of unthinking trust in momentum, I suppose. But there could be some surprises between now and then, certainly. At this point, honestly, I don't even know what would be more surprising: hearing some news finally, or not hearing any news and having to just operate under my own best-guesswork.

About a week and a half ago, a couple days after my last post on the contract limbo stuff, my contracting boss called the whole team together for a meeting to reiterate once again that he would share any and all news with us as soon as there was any to share, and since he hadn't shared anything yet we should all understand that there was no official news. He did add that he had been told to expect some kind of announcement by the end of that week. Clearly, that week ended and there was actually no announcement, and the week after ended and there was also no announcement, and here we are.

My boss also explained that because it takes a certain amount of time to finalize a new contract, and that interval is greater than the time presently remaining on the contract (with the gap growing every day) that it was altogether likely that we would have to enter into a short, placeholder contract once the current contract elapses. Just as a reminder, we are already on a bridge contract; the five-year contract I originally came aboard on ended back in September of 2014. The government was suppose to have conducted the entire re-compete process by then, but blew deadline after deadline which led to us entering into a six-month bridge contract to cover the extension of the re-compete. By law, the government can only play the "six-month bridge extension" card once, and now that they have done so and yet somehow still not managed to award a new five-year contract to anyone (the possibility apparently still exists that after all this jerking around we could lose the re-compete and someone else could be given the new contract), that means they can only enter into some other category of temporary contract which probably has its own name that I forget, and that can only be for a maximum of 60 days. A 60-day last-chance-not-kidding-no-backsies contract looks likely at this point (a 30-day version of same is also a possibility), in fact, if I eavesdropped correctly this past Friday on my co-worker who handles contract stuff and was trying to get ready to go on vacation this week and absolutely had to get certain tasks completed before leaving the office, that is already in the works.

You would think all of this would force the government's hand to the point where they had to award us the contract, at the very least because the also-rans would not be waiting around with resources idle to see if they were going to get it long past the projected start date. Or, if we're on the verge of losing the contract, you would think the government would have to tell us that in the next couple weeks at least, because they can only keep us around for eight more weeks tops, and they're required by law to have a six-week transition plan if they are going to switch from one contractor to another. You would think, yet here we are, as I keep saying.

And here I am, specifically, because I have yet to find anywhere else to jump to. I had a surreal experience last week where I got an e-mail on Wednesday from a small contracting company's recruiter, who saw my profile on a job site. So in other words this was not a job I applied for, this was someone spontaneously reaching out to me. The recruiter asked if I could do a phone interview the next day, as they were on a tight deadline to staff up a contract, and I said sure. I assumed that, much like my last round of interviews, this would be the pre-screening with a follow-up face-to-face interview set up by the end of it. However, it turned out that I was calling the CEO of the company and she was testing the waters of acceptable parameters for a verbal job offer by the end of the conversation. She told me a written job offer would follow via e-mail.

Now, this would be me jumping from a huge government contracting firm to a smaller government contracting company. I wouldn't be leaving behind the whole cycle of living and dying by the governments whims of awarding work, and it would be a lateral move salary-wise as well. But at a certain point it would be better to be hired by a company just about to start a new contract than to be hanging on by a thread here on my current about-to-expire contract, if only for a temporary easing of paycheck anxiety. Plus there were various other factors of minor appeal, like getting in on the ground floor of a young company and potentially more upside down the longterm road, &c. &c.

None of that was the surreal stuff. That would be the fact that the CEO called me back that evening to double-check my security clearance, something which I had been upfront about in our phone interview but which suddenly, six hours later, was a cause for concern. (Basically I am about mid-level in the clearance hierarchy and they wanted someone a level or so higher than that. No reason I couldn't clear to the next level if they sponsored me through the process, but they wanted someone who was already there on day one. Fair enough, and not really something I have any control over whatsoever. I'm as cleared as my job requires me to be because that's what my employer has sponsored me for because that's how these things work.) When I had gotten off the phone the first time I was under the impression that the written job offer would be coming within minutes and I would need to accept it asap so that the CEO could complete her own contract bid, which was due that day by COB. But the offer didn't come that day at all, then there was the awkward follow-up call, and no written offer nor any more calls nor anything on Friday, and then it was the weekend, and now it's Monday and I feel like the whole verbal job offer was just some fever dream I had last week. I was already a little uncomfortable with the high pressure to accept a job offer without so much as sleeping on it, and then it all apparently fell apart anyway. I may never hear from that CEO again, but if I do, I don't know how much of a red flag I should take all this as. If I get laid off and then hear from the CEO, surely I'd take any job offer as better than unemployment. But if I heard from her in the next 15 minutes, I just don't know.

So that's the holding pattern, as always. Every time I think things might move or change, they manage to turn around back to the starting point again. It would be comforting if it weren't so annoying.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Saturday Grab Bag of Time Management

Lots of reasons to be extra aware of the clocks and calendars recently: the beginning of Daylight Savings Time, Pi Day, the Ides of March, St. Patrick's Day, our youngest's birthday, the first day of spring concurrent with (probably?) the last snow of the year.

Speaking of the weather, I managed the great bi-annual jacket changeover this week, from my long winter overcoat to my lighter coat. It might have been a tad premature, but I powered through. I successfully transferred my building pass for work from one jacket to the other, and once I had managed that once I didn't want to get too fancy switching back and forth. (Of course, the building pass expires in one more week, with the whole contract still in limbo, but that's a rant for another day.)

Time's been on mind my mind, though not on my side, as usual.

+++

On Friday the 13th of this month, after the kids were down in bed for the night, I scooted over to the local microbrewery to refill a couple of growlers (because powering through season 4 of Game of Thrones is thirsty work). While I was waiting at the bar for my order to be filled, I was admiring a ceramic stein that seemed to be placed there for the admiring. It was branded with the name of the microbrewery and I suspected they were for sale to the public, so I asked how much they went for. The guy behind the bar told me ($35) and I must have made a face which was easily interpreted as that's-more-than-I-was-hoping-you-would-say. So the guy then proceeded to give me the spiel about how they're hand-made and high-quality (dishwasher safe!) and all that, but none of that really impacted me all that much.

So the guy shifted gears and explained that the stein held somewhere between 18 and 20 ounces, which is of course a few ounces more than a standard pint. But they fill, and re-fill, the stein while charging the same price as a pint. That, finally, made an impact, albeit a minimal one. Nevertheless the guy emphatically pointed out, "So, you come in, pay for a pint and get your stein filled, you only need to do that, like, 52 times and the stein pays for itself!"

Beer math is the best math, it's true, but I can't even fathom how long it would actually take me to go back to the microbrewery 52 times. Probably four years, minimum. I applaud the guy's salesmanship, but as of yet I've resisted the temptation to invest in free beers in the 2020's.

+++

Hopefully by now most people have had a chance to check out the "If Wes Anderson Directed X-Men Movies" parody on YouTube. (If not, voila.) I like Wes Anderson movies. I like the X-Men. I was amused.

But what the clip most keenly made me aware of was just how deeply the Alamo Drafthouse has gotten into my head. Because my first thought after watching the video was that it would be a great element of the pre-feature clip collection for either an X-Men movie or a Wes Anderson movie. In fact, apparently I want to recreate my own little Alamo experience in my house (mostly so I can curate the clip collections myself I reckon), since I briefly entertained the thought of showing my wife the We Anderson X-Men parody before we sit down to watch Grand Budapest Hotel some night. And then I thought IT IS ALREADY IMPOSSIBLE TO CARVE OUT AN UNINTERRUPTED HOUR AND A HALF TO WATCH A MOVIE WITH YOUR WIFE WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO ADD ON A 20 MINUTE PRE-SHOW WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!?!?

+++

I just remembered that I've actually been down this road before. Back in the day when I was a young louche splitting a townhouse with buddies, we would from time to time host parties dedicated to playing the Star Wars drinking game. We would go through the entire trilogy, so these were all day affairs, and by the time we already had survived a couple they were drawing a fairly large crowd. This was around 1997 or so, too, so we were using VHS copies of the movies, which actually matters for the particulars of this anecdote. So, people descended on our townhouse at the appointed time early on a Saturday afternoon, and we were about ready to get started, go over the rules of the game, and so on. But to get everyone's attention, we started with a little video bonus: Hooper X's rant about the gentrification subtext of Star Wars from Chasing Amy. It related to the trilogy, it comes from one of my other favorite movies, and it's pretty hilarious, so it was worth it to physically cue the Chasing Amy videotape up to the scene in question in advance. I would have loved to have done a whole clip reel instead of one scene, but I'm sure that didn't even occur to me given the daunting logistics of popping multiple tapes in and out of the VCR. We had a lot more time on our hands back then, but not infinite time.

+++

I felt like I had a bunch more time-themed things to talk about, but maybe my mind was playing tricks on me. Too much time gone by in my life for my memory to be terribly reliable, I suppose, but I've known that for a while.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Dark wings, dark tunes (and dark 'toons)

There have been two dvd sets hanging out next to each other atop our entertainment center lately. Both of them have birds on the cover. One is the box set of Game of Thrones Season 4, which is almost pure black, a dark background against which a crow spreads its wings, with the feathers extending from the tips of said wings looking suspiciously like swords. The other is the animated movie Rio, which is suitably carnivalesque in its bright and happy color palette depicting friendly animated macaws and toucans and canaries and cardinals (and a marmoset and a bulldog).

You might think the avian imagery are the only thing the two have in common and that they couldn't be further apart other than that one superficial connection. One is a sex-and-violence-fueled drama for grown-ups, the other is an animated musical for kids. Rio has a happy conclusion; Game of Thrones may never end.

All the same, there's some darkness in Rio, most notably in the form of Nigel the cockatoo, who is arguably the main villain of the story. (There are both people and birds caught up in the plot machinations of the movie, ornithologists and pet owners and poachers and smugglers, so you could argue the greedy humans are the main villains, but go with me here.) Nigel is voiced by Jemaine Clement (of Flight of the Concords) and ... wow, he really breaks the mold.

Don't get me wrong, I admire the heck out of Jemaine Clement as both a writer and performer of some really sharp comedy. And he has a great voice, both speaking and singing, so he brings Nigel to life in a delightfully creepy way and gets to perform what is for my money the best song in the movie, "Pretty Bird".

And also don't get me wrong that I appreciate that there is a general tendency for children's entertainment, especially modern feature-length animated films, to be predictably formulaic. Heroes are reluctant but basically decent and learn important lessons about being true to themselves, while villains are power hungry or egregiously materialistic or both. On the one hand, if it ain't broke don't fix it, I get that. But on the other hand I applaud anyone who even tries to deviate from the proscribed boundaries, regardless of their success. So, Nigel got my attention because he's not trying to take over the world, to steal the crown of King of the Birds, or make a fortune by selling out the kindly old Mom and Pop Macaw business to developers or anything like that. His backstory, as relayed when he performs Pretty Bird, is this: he was once a famous TV star, and then he got old and got replaced. And because of the mental trauma associated with rising to the top and then losing it all because of the inexorable passage of time (and the entertainment industry's worship of youth above all else) Nigel became twisted and evil and sadistic, and now his only pleasure in life is making other birds suffer. He works with the bird poachers because it gives him the opportunity to torment other birds. He goes beyond being merely misanthropic (misaviopic?) and into terrifyingly Hannibal-Lecter-crazy; they literally depict him as a cannibal who enjoys eating chicken wings! Like I said, kudos for coming up with a motivation for the bad guy that's not totally rote, but like I also said, WOW.

There's something more than a little bit disturbing about hearing your six year old breaking out snippets of "Pretty Bird" at random moments, when they include lines like "I'm a feathery freak/With a beak/A bird murderer/You think you're badder than me?/I've never heard of ya". Yes, it's impressive that he memorized the lyrics after watching the movie only two or three times, and yes his flow is pretty good on the delivery, too, and yes, "murderer ... heard of ya" is a dope rhyme BUT STILL.

The climax of the movie takes place on board a cargo plane and Blu the heroic macaw outwits Nigel and manages to knock the cockatoo out of the hold. At which point Nigel gets sucked into the engine of the plane, in a moment which is more or less played as silly slapstick violence. But when I saw the movie the first time, given the context of Nigel's characterization, I thought it was not outside the realm of possibility that the implication was that Nigel had been brutally dismembered. Later there's an epilogue showing that Nigel survived, and merely was stripped of most of his feathers and made even uglier, which is pretty good comeuppance for the character driven over the brink by thwarted vanity, I guess.

There's a Rio 2 which none of us have seen yet, but I understand Nigel at least makes an appearance in the sequel. Nobody spoil it for me, but if they somehow make the bad bird even more bananas in the second installment, I may be ruined for kiddie flicks for life.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Like a proton torpedo right in the old thermal exhaust port

They really know how to hit me where it hurts. "They" in this case being the Disney overlords, specifically the ones presently responsible for making Star Wars something I can feel some legitimate excitement about again. I don't think I mentioned it hereabouts specifically, but I did geek out pretty hard when the Episode VII trailer debuted a while ago. As someone who loved the original Star Wars trilogy as a kid, and was disappointed by the prequels but not so much that I forsook my earnest childhood fandom entirely, I was initially skeptical about the announcements that the saga would be extended by yet another triptych of movies. But the trailer (ok, specifically the sight of the Millennium Falcon engaged in a dogfight) stoked my inner nine year old something fierce, and my inner grumpy disillusioned cynic has settled into a wait-and-see pattern which basically gives the kid free rein.

So the new movie comes out this December and I'm genuinely looking forward to it, what could be the problem? That would be the recent announcements of a little project called "Journey to The Force Awakens" which apparently involves a multimedia assault with two ostensible purposes. The first and most glaringly obvious one is to monetize the anticipation for the first new Star Wars movies in over a decade. Can't wait for the big theatrical debut? Tide yourself over by purchasing this character encyclopedia, these sticker books for your kids, and more, more, more! Hey, I get it, this is America, Disney's never demonstrated any particular aversion to money before, so it goes. The second purpose of Journey, though, is a bit more insidious. The Force Awakens takes place some time after Return of the Jedi, but not immediately after. In real-world terms, the fact that Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford will be reprising their central roles and have aged thirty or so years in the interval means the new stories have to take place at leas that much later. But what, one might wonder, happened in that galaxy far, far away during the corresponding narrative gap?

Well, you might not wonder all that much. Or you might be perfectly content to pick up the gist of what happened based on context clues within Episode VII when you sit down to watch it on opening night. (We're all going to the midnight showings, right?) But for a certain completist mindset, you might have a greater hankering for deep knowledge about things that will be glossed over on the big screen. And, wouldn't you know it, Del Rey is going to publish a trilogy of novels to answer those very questions, not mere tie-in informational companion books but actual in-continuity stories, the kind that would really appeal to Star Wars junkies, lifelong or reformed or relapsed or whathaveyou.

So, of course I'm going to pick up Star Wars: Aftermath right when it's published. This is the kind of no-brainer that "I mean, come ON" was coined for. Yes, I feel target-marketed, and possibly even exploited, but that doesn't mean I'm going to ignore the books' existence. I will not feel right sitting down to watch Episode VII if I haven't read the book by then. Or books? The one thing I'm not clear on right now is whether the entire trilogy of novels will come out this fall, like a book every few weeks, which means it will just take over my reading list for months as I remain helpless to resist it and December looms closer and closer. Or if it's one book this year, and subsequent volumes in future years, potentially with each installment of the novels revealing more secrets and foreshadowing more developments important to Episode VII and then VII and finally IX. I'm not worried about it, though. I'm sure Disney will make it abundantly clear when and where the books are available so that I can dutifully scarf them up.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Irish Stew

My wife has an Irish maiden name. So does my mother, and so did her mother, all of which I toss out there to establish up front that there's plenty of Irish heritage on both sides in my marriage, my nuclear family. My surname is German, and my father's mother's maiden name is ... vaguely eastern European? I'm terrible at genealogy, is another fact I should put front and center. When I was growing up, both sides of my family were multiple generations post-immigration, and I felt American more than anything else. I was aware that my family came from somewhere, but I didn't feel any personal connection to the research I had to do for various grade school projects on family trees and ethnic identity and so forth. When we had a Home Economics assignment in sixth grade to prepare a family recipe for a dish reflecting our ancestry, I totally cheated. I dug through my mom's recipe box and found an index card for apple pancakes that were vaguely German-sounding. Never in my life had my mother served us these apple pancakes, or anything else that would have been considered remotely exotic in her homeland (Wilmington, Delaware). I went with a German dish rather than Irish even though my mom did most/all of the cooking in our family, because I was eleven and I was a boy and I definitely over-identified with my father at that stage of development. I went with something random because the one recipe of his mother's that my father was always trying to get my mother to replicate was red spaghetti sauce (and clearly there's not much Italian in my family since I call it "spaghetti sauce" and not "gravy"). After many years we all more or less accepted that Grandma's sauce tasted different from Mom's because the pot my grandmother used was made of a different material than my mother's, and probably leached into the sauce in ways best not dwelt upon.

So: me, Irish, in the mix but not in a prominent way. My wife, Irish, much more prominent. She looks Irish, and has in fact been mistaken for native Irish on sight while traveling in southern Europe. (I was once mistaken for Mexican in Mexico by an American tourist, but that's neither here nor there.) The other major nationality in my wife's background is English, and clearly that evokes a whole lot of complicated interplay, much moreso than German-Irish. She's descended from both the oppressors and the oppressed, and she knows the history on both sides pretty well. She owns her Irishness a lot more than me, to the extent that it's not even a contest.

This has come to light over the years in various ways which caught me off guard at first, I admit. My wife and I both enjoy being sports spectators, and have our teams we root for and teams we root against, but my wife has always been much more invested in college sports than I ever was or will be. Early on I discovered her antipathy towards Notre Dame, which didn't really faze me. Nobody in my family went there or hyper-identifies with ND, but I know they're a big enough deal that there are just naturally going to be boosters who have no official connection to the school at all, and haters who have no real skin in the game either. (As a New York Yankees fan who knows other fans who've never lived anywhere near the Bronx and knows haters who could not care less about the entire American League except for despising the Evil Empire, I have a framework for understanding this.) But I was soon informed that it was specifically the pugnacious leprechaun mascot of Notre Dame that drew my (future) wife's scorn. She explained that as an Irish woman she found "Fighting Irish" to be as offensive as the tomahawk chop chant at Seminoles games might be to a Native American. And she was kind of, sort of, a little bit winking and kidding, because she's a person with reasonably clear-eyed perspective on how being the most downtrodden of Europeans still leaves one a lot better off than Native Americans, or African-Americans, &c. She's not claiming to be the most persecuted minority, all the more indignant because others get all the attention. Or if she is claiming that, she's doing so ironically. But also with a grain of truth, a kind-of-sort-of-NOT kidding. It's complicated, but basically I support the validity of her hating on Notre Dame as much as she wants.

And then there's St. Patrick's Day, which some Irish-Americans genuinely seem to enjoy, as a chance for them to flaunt their awesomeness while everyone around them adopts (or co-opts) that awesomeness in an exuberant way. And some Irish-Americans (not to mention some non-Irish-Americans) see St. Patrick's Day as kind of cheesy and lame, an amateur night when the last thing you would want to do is go out amongst the crowds of drunken yahoos carrying on. Certainly the latter take on the holiday is easy enough to understand when the shamrock-shaped novelty sunglasses and their ilk start to appear in retail outlets across the land. It's a harbinger of spring, granted, but a somewhat tacky one.

My wife recently, a couple weeks ago at most, had taken the younger kids to the shopping mall and told me about the excursion later that evening, mentioning that the St. Paddy's displays of gaudy green junk were out in full force. I sympathized. She said that some of the hats and t-shirts attempting to be edgy were, in fact, pretty offensive.

"Don't you mean ... O'Fensive?" I asked, taking great pains to explain the capitalization and punctuation that comprised my out-loud joke.

I don't know why she puts up with me sometimes, I really and truly don't. Must be the luck of the Irish.