Whoo-hoo! We got the mortgage anyway! My guy resubmitted the package based on my salary and extra income, and it came back thumbs up. The royalties, it seems, were invaluable - which means that everyone who bought the book helped us refinance in the teeth of our temporary setback. The savings on the monthly payment is significant, and the refi process means no payment’s due until September. If there’s a copy of the Gallery on your shelf, I owe you. (Trumpet fanfare, huzzahs)

I get a heavy stone in my gut when I see someone coming up the steps with a clipboard. They’re going to want me to sign a petition. And I’m not only going to decline, but it’s quite possible I’ll argue with them. Why? What possible good can come of this? Best case scenario, the earnest young person will stare down at his clipboard, his preconceptions dashed, his evening ruined, his friends no longer the ideological allies he had supposed them to be. That’s the best outcome, and it would leave him miserable and me feeling cruel. The worst outcome - well, it’s never come to that, but I do enjoy arguing with them. If you say no and shut the door, that’s that, but if you engage them on the issues at least they might think you respect their initiative and dedication, if not the particulars of their cause.

Seven PM tonight. Knock knock. En garde!

He introduced the name of his group, which made no impression - they all have the same sort of names, so it’s hard to tell them apart. The Committee for Justice and Equality. The Equality Project. The Foundation for Equal Justice. The Justice League of America. He announced his cause: making gays a protected class under hate-crime laws. Now, if I’d been really in a generous mood, I’d have drawn myself up to my full five-foot-five elevation and shouted “Protected class? I’d personally cut the bamboo by which we ought to cane the buggers, sir! Be gone!” I’d be lying, but he’d leave with his sense of duty and purpose intact. As long as there are ghastly people like him, I must soldier on. But I stopped him in the middle of his explanation, and said I was opposed to hate crime laws in general. I understood the arguments for them, and I respected them, but I did not hold them myself. Granted, we already factor in motive in determining sentence, but quantifying the nature and amount of emotion behind the motive seemed a spongy sort of science, and I didn’t believe it had any place in the sentencing process.

He said he understood - and frankly, if he had his druthers there wouldn’t be hate-crime laws either, for the very reasons I cited. But as long as there such laws, ought not gays be protected? (Parry, thrust!)

“You can make that case,” I said. (It was a summer night, a lovely night; reason and civility suffused the air like the perfume of a flower that blooms but once a year.) “But I think the chance of getting those laws off the books are less likely when every single Balkanized interest group has managed to get themselves declared a victim group for the purposes of hate-crime laws.”

Minor befuddlement - “What other groups would there be?”

Ah youth. So pure, so trusting. “Where do we start? Religious groups. Political groups. Cultural groups. You name it.”

“But there’s a difference here,” he said. “I don’t think that being gay is a choice.”

“Neither do I,” I said.

“ It’s not something you can change. It’s like being Black, or being gay, or being Muslim.”

I had him now, and redoubling my efforts I backed him towards the parapets.

“Of course Muslims can change,” I said.

“Right, of course. But -"

“And ‘blackness’ has a basic undeniable physical manifestation, whereas gayness doesn’t. A gay person could be beat up for reasons not directly pertaining to homosexuality; who would know if there was hate involved? Yet to some the crime would automatically be a hate-crime because the victim belonged to a protected group. At least that would be the assumption that would have to be disproved.” There! I’ve run rings 'round you logically! “Anyway, I wish you well, and hope you get lots of signatures, but I can’t sign the petition.”

“Thank you for your time,” he said, and he held out his hand: shake? Of course I shook his hand: well played, old sport! Deuced business about the Muslim gaffe, what? I almost gave him a fiver for calmly arguing without resorting to cant, and as I shut the door I reminded myself to be civil, always, to anyone who comes up the stairs with a clipboard. Because one day I’ll see the guy coming - long hair, sandals, help-and-bead necklace, and when I open the door he won’t ask me to sign anything. It’ll be worse.

“Hello, Mr. Lileks. I’m here for your daughter?”

Tomorrow we are going back to The Routine - Gnat to Nana’s, Daddy to the office. It’s been a week, and I miss it. But it’s just pretend, as Gnat would say. All the usual imperatives that used to define Wednesdays - leave by this time, be here by then, hit the highway by 3:17 PM - have evaporated. My wife will pick her up. I can spend allll day at the office.

The office. I hate the office. And I love my job. I like the people I work with, I like my desk, I like chatting with folks who stop by. I like going down to the second floor to get a hard mean cup of coffee from Jim the Jolly Barrista. I like taking a cigar break and looking at the towers of downtown. But I hate the office. Not the office itself, but the concept of it. No matter how good the workplace, how merry the tasks ahead, there’s just something about offices that feels like a trip to Chernobyl. You can only stay so long. My dosimeter starts pinging after three hours.

It wasn’t always so. I loved the Daily’s office, back at the University. Big wooden desks cast off from the 50s, manual typewriters clattering away, blue smoke pouring from the editorial office, a ratty couch on which you could flop and relax. Best workplace ever. After that came the Pioneer Press, which felt like a hospice for careers. Then came the Washington bureau for Newhouse, which taught me office skills I had managed to avoid. I loved my job but hated where I lived, and that was a poisonous combination. When I ended up at the Strib I thought: this is the best of all possible adult offices. And I was right. It’s relaxed. It’s open. On the Glengarry Glen Ross scale, with 10 being Alec Baldwin beating Jack Lemmon to death with a shoe for insufficient company spirit, it’s a Zero. But it’s still an office.

And any office, any office, contains a small drain hidden in your cubicle, and if you listen closely you can hear your mortal allotment gurgling down the pipe. It’s the sitting in one place that does it, and nothing more.

If the entire office was loaded onto trucks and driven around town, I’d be perfectly happy. If the view is moving, you feel like you’re going somewhere. That’s enough.

I’m easy to please.

Anyway. I still find myself trying to make things like they were before at home. I still do the cleaning, the shopping, the cooking, carving out as big a space as possible so my wife can concentrate on the Job Search. It makes me feel useful. Being the sole breadwinner does not make me feel useful. Remembering to marinade the chicken before I leave the house makes me feel useful. Firing off the national column makes me feel somewhat useful, but cleaning the drawers of the fridge so the BBQ sauce bottles don’t stick when you pick them up - that makes me feel much more useful. Pathetic? No. (But of course, I would say that.) I regard this house like Scotty viewed the Enterprise. I take great deep pleasure walking around and knowing everything’s aligned and tuned and running well. Sometimes I even think I’m Scotty, and I put a hand on the floor as if to feel how the engines are doing, and with a smile I think: what a loser.



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