You're sitting outside on a mild summer night when you hear your wife scream from the kitchen. Either a spider riding a rat just ambled across the table, or she's trying to sign up Daughter for soccer on the city park system's website. Assuming the latter, you head inside to help.

This! Thing! It! Won't — Augh! It sends me here! I go there! It sends me back! It …"

There there, you say. I'll take a look at it tomorrow.

So the next day you call up the page to register. The first search box is called "WHAT," because apparently it was programmed by an annoyed teen. It asks for a keyword; you put in SOCCER, which should narrow it down, unless the software reads that as "any activity involving a spherical object, including astronomy, which includes the moon." But so far so good.

There's an option for "exact match." You're hard-pressed to think of a situation where I wouldn't want a search for SOCCER to yield results that have to do with, you know, soccer, but maybe they also have a Zacher league or a Sochor team.

The next field: "NUMBER." You have no idea what this means. Team number? Shoe size? Pi? The Powerball? Then it's "Activity Category," which includes "Computers and Technology" and "Life Skills." Yes, I want to search for a league devoted to Soccer Technology.

Next: "DEPARTMENT." This calls up a list of parks. Remember when you were a kid and your mom said, "It's a beautiful day — let's go to the Department!" Right. Then it's "Search Level," which is the sort of thing only a programmer could love. The options:

Activities Only / Sub-activities / Activities and Sub-activities

You have no idea if SOCCER is a SUB-ACTIVITY; for that matter, you don't know what a sub-activity is, unless they're putting the kids on an underwater vessel in Lake Calhoun.

Next search option: "WHERE." The LOCATION menu gives you all the parks, which are apparently different from the DEPARTMENTS. You can also search by ZIP code, which is handy; how many times have your children said they want to sign up for soccer, but only if it's in the 55423 area?

Next search option: "WHEN." Your options: Future. In progress now. In progress / Future. Since April 2013. Since January 2013. So … I could search for something that began in April? If it's still going on, wouldn't that be in progress? If not, why is it an option? You choose "Future" because the future is where we are all going to spend the rest of our lives, as a wise man once said, and look at the next option: "SEASON." The default option is FALL 2012.

So it's possible to sign up for something in the past. Did your kid get beat by a particular team last year? Sign up retroactively and be a winner!

Next choice: "TERM." Which means … well, let's check the choices. They are: A blank field with a check mark, or: NONE.

OK, skip that. The rest is straightforward — age of the participant, number of search results. You hit SUBMIT.


Remember, you just searched for "soccer" and the name of the park. OK, well, remove the name of the park, just search for soccer.


This is insane, because when your wife searched for soccer it yielded 18 pages of search results. Go back to the main page. Click on SOCCER. Start over.

Fall League Details: 2012 Youth Soccer Bulletin. For a moment you want to check the paper to see if it says "Romney Makes Final Pitch." Find your local rec center. Click on something that looks good, and lo: a page that asks you to sign up for an ActiveNet account.

Grab fork; go to fridge; take out leftover meatloaf; stab repeatedly. Breathe deeply. OK. Just call the park. Search for the name of the park. Result: something about Youth Tennis. Restab meatloaf. Shut down computer. Walk down the block to the freeway underpass where they can't hear you scream. Call 411 for number.

Someone answers! He knows exactly what you're trying to do within seconds of describing it! When you note your difficulties with the website, there's an instant sigh of sympathy. He knows.

As it turns out, registration closes in 90 minutes. Drive to park. Sign a piece of paper. Give them cash money. The way it used to be, in other words.

Suggestion: an iPad app. When you're accessing on a laptop, you want to punch the screen, but it's fragile. iPads are rather sturdy things, and can be bashed against your forehead in frustration without damaging the device at all.

One more thing: There's talk of having the city take over the power utilities? Can't wait to sign up for that.