For years I planned and imagined the final semester of my senior year in college with a clear vision of avoiding as much work as possible. In the prior seven semesters I had taken the maximum number of credits so I would have a lesser load. And, since law schools would only review the first seven semesters, I had no concerns about course selection either. If DePauw had offered Intro to Frosting Doughnuts that spring, then I would have enrolled. Yum.
I would tell admissions officers or prospective employers that I had taken this approach so as to enable the most robust application for law schools and/or the most vigorous job search possible. In reality, I would later set out with a fraternity brother to drink for thirty nights straight during the month of April. He had sentenced himself to two years with Goldman Sachs in New York and, in a moment of weakness, I caved and accepted the admissions offer from Notre Dame. We had a lot to drink about.
Still one of the most consequential courses I took as a writer came in that final semester. For a half credit, I enrolled in Advanced Grammar. It met in the evenings on Tuesday, a nominal interference with the swan song of my senior year.
The professor should have more appropriately titled the course The Half Credit That Will Undermine Twenty Two Years of Other English Learning. Sure, we diagrammed some sentences. And there must have been sessions on the finer points of adverbs. Et cetera. But what I remember most is that the course went meta. It discussed the history of certain rules. We learned of philanthropists who had set out to “correct” spellings and of certain usages which had changed over time or started as vernacular before finally being recognized. Which begged the question: who has the power to recognize and why?
In the moments of brief sobriety during that final semester I realized in many cases the Emperor had no clothes. Why is the plural sheep and not sheeps? Why can’t a sentence end in a preposition? Why is it philanthropy and not filanthropy? If a child asked these questions the only true answer is “just because.” The rules only matter because we need to agree on common standards for more efficient communication. And, without regard to whether this should be so, the rules guard the entrance into the kingdom of upper class society.
But despite this, writers who know the rules are empowered to break them. Maya Angelou can write in African American Vernacular English (AAVE) but good luck to the job applicant who speaks it. If an accountant ends a sentence with a preposition we question whether they know the rule; but ending the second paragraph above with the word about was a deliberate choice on my part. I often see the word “shrimps” in menus of restaurants presumably owned by first generation Americans. It’s actually the correct plural, but inexplicably a native speaker would offer salad with shrimp, not shrimps.
And so on. Which brings me to the point that for me this week has been more about uncling than about lawyering. And uncling should be a verb. To uncle means a stack of two dollar bills doled out during the week. It also includes frequent infusions of candy, sugar and ice cream throughout the day, perhaps even before meals. Tag on the beach. Running in the house. Jenga on the patio. Squirt guns. Ice slipped into shirt collars. Reading before bed. Suggestions of pet ownership. And, other indulgences that altogether challenge months of good parenting and help to assuage the guilt I feel for living so far away.
Thus I am unable to report on the hustle in the City of Angels this week because I have been back in the Midwest traveling through Michigan, Chicago and Wisconsin. I could write for years about the differences between the Midwest and California. For starters, the bar where I have slipped in to pen this blog article charges only $3 for a Long Island Iced Tea.
But instead I decided to briefly check in on the hustle here in between sessions of uncling. On Tuesday I attended a reading hosted by the Chicago Tribune at its headquarters on Michigan Avenue. James McBride, the best selling author most known for his memoir the Color of Water, read passages from his recently published The Good Lord Bird. McBride won over the audience with self-deprecating humor, but it wasn’t all laughs. He made controversial comments about race, which I would not even repeat here for fear that I would one day need to apply for a job or run for office.
His novel is a fictional account of the life of John Brown, the abolitionist who raided Harper’s Ferry. I purchased a copy at the end of the reading and, while I can’t give a full review yet, I am hooked about forty pages into the novel.
My fraternity brother Matt Farrell, who is also the Incoming President of the Chicago Association of Realtors, joined me. I reported on Farrell’s appearance on Chicago television in Volume IV of Hustlers in Paradise and he confirmed that the Chicago real estate market remains white hot. A lack of supply has led to bidding wars and properties sometimes sell only days after listing.
Fortunately, an event about Chicago’s startup community also coincided with my visit. On Wednesday night, Inspire Business Center hosted a pitch competition. I met the founders of about ten new companies in various stages of development. Jay Savsani introduced me to his company MealSharing.com. It’s like CouchSurfing.org meets meal time. Over years of travel I fondly remember a small handful of meals in other countries with friends from those countries, either in their homes or in restaurants frequented by locals. So, I was instantly intrigued by the idea. I doubt that mainstream America will start signing up to invite foreigners into their homes, but after logging onto the site I predict it will gain a following among the travellerati. (If I can make up uncling, why not this as well?).
Reppio, another company I met, promises to connect users to local retailers and designers for unique clothing and gifts. Its co-founder Sean Korb said that although the company was currently limited to Chicago, it next planned to expand to Los Angeles. I’m not a maven who insists on owning unique products before everyone else, so I am not sure that I am the target audience. However, their site looks slick and I have been frustrated by the experience of trying to identify a unique gift online. Perhaps this will become part of the answer for that problem.
The Chicago portion of the trip finished at the Publican. A MUST visit for anyone. For the remainder of the trip I will be uncling in Racine, Wisconsin, which will probably involve some squirt gun time and hopefully kringles from the areas’ legendary bakery.