Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Feathery Fascist

Three feeders hang on hooks off our back porch. Each a different size and shape, holding roughly the same quantity of super-sweet red syrup.

You'd think forty-eight ounces of nectar would be more than enough for a gaggle of hummingbirds. After all, the buzzing little creatures are so tiny. Any smaller and they would be more a subject of concern for entomologists than for ornithologists.

I've always felt fairly sorry for hummingbirds, being so small. Despite their speed and precision maneuvering, it must be tough going through life knowing there are few animals and reptiles that would not consider you a snack to be swallowed whole, saving the long pointy beak to use for a toothpick when finished.

Were I in the hummingbird's position, I might be inclined to behave in a head-down, mind-my-own-business kind of way, hoping to avoid interaction with anything possessing a bite radius wider than my body. Turns out quite the opposite is true. Not only are hummingbirds highly inquisitive fellows, they are fiercely territorial. Take, for instance, little Benito.

Benito can regularly be seen fanatically patrolling the airspace defined by our white plastic backyard fence. Should another hummingbird enter his territory, the chase is on. I've seen Benito and his quarry pitch, roll, and bank in ways that would impress the most accomplished jet fighter pilot.

More often than not, however, Benito is perched atop one of the metal hooks holding the hummingbird feeders, puffing out his chest to declare his totalitarian manifesto to the world, or at least to that one rebellious bird from the wooded lot next door who persistently attempts to chip away at the rigid structure of Benito's authority.

If past years offer any indication of what to expect, before too long Benito will be fighting a losing battle. The single rebel from next door will be joined by two, possibly more, partisan freedom fighters. They will take it in turns to lead Benito away from the back porch so the others can raid the feeders during the chase. By the time he returns, weary and worn from yet another fruitless dog fight, his heart rate racing to over 1,300 beats per minute, yet another quarter ounce of precious nectar will have vanished from his supply.

It would be nice if little Benito would let down his guard and broaden his world view. Just think how much more pleasant life would be for all of them if, instead of ruling over the feeders with a heavy wing and unsuccessfully trying to keep them only for himself, he opened his borders and shared the wealth.

Imagine a seventeen-seat counterculture nectar bar full of feathery grooviness and free-form avian poetry readings with a hippie hummingbird manifesto posted for all to see: "Love is all you need!"

And maybe a little nectar, too.

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Little Break

So, I've been taking a little break from the old blogger mill lately.

Not that I've abandoned it to some cyber alley to fend for itself amongst the digital derelicts of other well-intentioned yet uncommitted bloggers. I really do enjoy allowing my mind to wander and my fingers to follow along the keyboard as I create my fluffy bits of piffle to amuse, primarily, myself. They help me to vent many of the distractingly silly thoughts that bounce around inside my head.

There are times, though, when maintaining the blog becomes an arduous task of searching for the next best thing about which to write. Following a month in which I've handily managed two posts per week, I'll find myself suddenly dry of ideas and struggling to patch words together. In the year-and-a-half since creating "Ramblings of a Very Pale Man," I've deleted one post for every two that survived to publication. Trust me, if you've found some of the posts that made it to the blog lackluster, you should have seen the turkeys that faced the firing squad.

The simple truth is that communication is a tricky little beast. Too little of it is unhealthy. One must be able to communicate effectively with spouses, family, friends, employers, coworkers, pets and plants in order to live a productive life. Too much communication, however, can leave a person longing for silence. My Lovely Wife and I experience this fairly regularly. Both our jobs require steady streams of conversation with our respective clients that often drain us of any desire to make conversation with anyone.

This isn't anything new, of course, but in our modern age in which every person has a Facebook account, Twitter account, LinkedIn account, personal email, work email, Hotmail or Yahoo email just for junk mail, cell phone with unlimited texting, voicemail, e-fax number, and an old MySpace account to which we've forgotten our username and password, the potential for over-communicating is greater than ever.

And if it isn't bad enough that we have way too many means of intruding on each other's lives, there is a heightened level of importance associated with it all.

I'm old enough to recall a time before answering machines. If someone called for my parents and neither was in, I wrote a message on a piece of paper and left it in a conspicuous spot in the kitchen, which was where "the" phone was. I couldn't call, text, or instant message them to let them know my hypochondriac Grandfather had called with news of his monthly visit to the proctologist. Heck, if he were alive today, he'd probably be able post a photo of the lab results of his fecal exam to Facebook using his iPhone before he got home from the appointment.

Anyway, back to the blog, or not back to it -- whichever. Now that I've publicly declared it difficult to come up with ideas, I'll probably be inundated with them and shoot out four or five in rapid succession. But if I don't, it hardly matters. I doubt the fabric of society will unravel if the handful of people who read this blog have to wait another week for the next post.

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Italian Butt-Slapping Dance

When your kids are little, nudity really isn't anything that concerns you much.

From the time our children were born until the ages of eight or nine, it was nothing to see their bare butts streaking through the house. The fear of being seen by visitors or spotted through the windows by neighbors or passing strangers on the street did not exist. Humility and shame were emotions to be saved for another day.

These tendencies toward random nakedness worried me for a while. It isn't like My Lovely Wife and I are nudists, after all. Speaking for myself, the world is a much better place in which to live for every additional article of clothing I wear. There would be nothing gained from my public nakedness, other than a good chuckle and the possible uptick in sales of sunglasses.

At first, you try not to make a big deal out of their prolific nakedness. You pinch their cheeks when they scoot past you and laugh as they scurry away. But like every other aspect of growing up, there comes a time when something that once was cute begins to get, well, a little creepy.

Our Daughter, being the eldest, reached that point a few years ago. One day she's fluttering like a jaybird through the living room at night with the blinds up and all the lights on, the next day she's holed up in her bedroom with the shades down and the door locked because she's "only" in her underwear. It took us all a little time to adjust to this newfound need for privacy, but I embraced it as a welcome change.

The German never was much of a streaker. Not to say he didn't do his share of running around naked, but it never was for him the same kind of performance art the Italian turned it into. I'm embarrassed to admit how many times our family members were treated to the Italian butt-slapping dance.

As if you needed the mental image, just try to picture a skeletally skinny six-year-old boy jumping out into your living room, pointing his boney little butt in your direction, waving it from side to side and smacking it in rhythym to whatever tune he might be humming. When he was three, it was funny. When he was six, it was mildly distressing. When he was nine, it was time to start wondering whether we needed to prepare for his future by registering the web address "smack my ass dot com."

Somewhere over the last year, however, the performances have disappeared from our daily routine. Only its fluke reappearance the other night called to my attention the fact I hadn't seen it in quite some time. I suppose that should be reasonable assurance he won't end up on YouTube demonstrating the dance to his college fraternity brothers, but I'm reluctant to raise my hopes too high.

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

Thursday, July 14, 2011

"Harry Potter" and the Vexatious Vasectomy

So there I was, recuperating from having just had my privates slashed and burned, flat on my back in bed with a family-size bag of frozen peas thawing across my groinal area.

Don't feel sorry for me. I had a pretty clear idea what I was getting myself into.

Once we found out My Lovely Wife was pregnant with twins, we agreed that she would have her tubes tied if she ended up delivering them by cesarean. If not, then I would have a vasectomy. Through two pregnancies, she suffered months of morning sickness and gave birth to three babies. I figured if I had to go in for one 20-minute outpatient procedure, I was getting off easy.

Still, the experience was not a pleasant one. And all the kidding about the ease of the procedure in comparison to childbirth went out the window after My Lovely Wife watched the entire operation from her front row seat like a rubber-necker watching paramedics extricating a body from a car wreck. I was uncomfortable. She looked like she was ready to pass out.

To show her appreciation for my sacrifice, minimal though that sacrifice was, she presented me with a gift to take my mind off my rapidly bruising nether region -- a videotape copy of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." The film had been in the theaters the year before, but we had not yet gotten all caught up in the Harry-steria like we are now. Let's face it, the books were intended for slightly older children. At the time, our boys were only months old and Dr. Seuss was all the rage in Our Daughter's reading library.

It's a testament to the strength of the story J.K. Rowling... You know, I never pronounce her name the same way twice. "Row-ling" as in rowing a boat? "Raw-ling" as in raw meat? "R-ow-ling" as in my brain goes "ow" when I think about it too much? I tend to pick one of them at random and confidently throw it out like she and I are old friends and I'm the only one who knows how to pronounce it correctly.

Anyway, it's a testament to the strength of the story J.K. Rowling created that neither Hollywood nor a prostate swollen to the size of a grapefruit with bruising halfway down to my knees could ruin it.

Since then, we have seen all of the movies and I have spent hours reading the books aloud to our children. Being 10, our boys are the perfect age for the whole experience. And, at 13, Our Daughter is young enough to enjoy the escapist fantasy, while also old enough to admire the cute guys. I'm sure she is one of a league of teen girls wishing Rowling had not killed off Cederic Diggory. Who knew Robert Pattinson would be so dreamy?

With the last Harry Potter film hitting theaters at midnight tonight, it's difficult to believe the ride is coming to an end. I, for one, will be shocked if Rowling does not revisit the series in the near future. She has created a world rich in detail that allows her to go back in time and detail some of its ancient history, or travel on into the future with the generations that follow Harry, Hermoine and Ron.

Either way, only I have the answer to the most important question a man in my situation needs to know: You will walk normally after a couple days, but you won't feel right in your shorts for about a month.

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Cheap Crap

How low does the price of a crappy product have to drop before it ceases being crap and becomes a good value?

I've always been of the mind that crap is crap, no matter what the price tag reads. If what you're selling holds absolutely no value to me, then why should the prospect of my getting it on the cheap make me suddenly have to have it?

For instance, I would never buy a used Ford Pinto. Having learned to drive in one, I can, without hesitation or fear of contradiction, offer a guarantee that I will never own one.

Now, let's say you offer to sell me a Pinto for $3,000. I would say "no," and possibly point you to the nearest psychiatric hospital for a consultation. It wouldn't matter to me if you dropped the price to a hundred bucks, offered me a hundred take it off your hands, or if the car magically changed into a flying mechanical pony. I don't want it. I won't buy it.

But the good people at Consumer Reports have made me question my way of thinking.

It's not like they plastered some splashy headline on the cover of their latest issue to cause this re-evaluation. I didn't even register the significance of it myself the first couple times I read the article. Fortunately, we keep the magazines next to the toilet, so I have a fair amount of time during the course of a normal day to dig out little nuggets like this one from the sea of statistics CR issues forth each month.

In the August issue of Consumer Reports magazine, there is an in-depth study of fast food, but not the kind that breaks down the nutritional values of the different food items and then tries to shock you with the knowledge that fast food is loaded with sodium, fat and carbs. Seriously, do we really need anyone else explaining to us how eating super-size portions of deep-fried preservatives is bad for us?

No, this report avoids nutrition and focuses instead on the results of a massive survey on quality and value. In fifteen cases, the people surveyed ranked the perceived value of a particular chain's food higher than the quality of the food.

See, I don't get that.

If the food is substandard, or merely average, then why does throwing it up on a dollar specials menu suddenly make it a good deal? I understand that my judgement has often been influenced by my lack of funds, time, or sobriety. There have been plenty of times when I've had to be satisfied with what I could afford.

Even so, crap is crap. Pricing it low simply makes it cheap crap, which is something we have always advised our children to avoid wasting their money on.

But maybe I'm the problem here. Perhaps I need to reconsider the way I judge a good deal from a bad one. A quick Google search just pulled up a bevy of 1979 Ford Pintos on sale for less than $3,000. If the sellers are willing to haggle on the price, maybe Our Daughter will understand how we couldn't turn down such a great value on her first car...

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Glamu the Pajama Man

First things first: Our trip to Atlanta was awesome!

We had visited the city fourteen years ago and really hadn't been all that impressed. Mind you, My Lovely Wife was raucously nauseated that entire trip due to morning sickness that mistakenly thought morning lasted from dawn to dusk, with a few extra hours thrown in just for good measure. Much of that trip was spent with her violently ill at the hotel while I scoured the area for baked potatoes with cheese sauce.

When your pregnant wife tells you that melted, processed, cheese-flavored plastic is the only thing she can eat without vomiting, then that's what you bring her.

This latest trip to ATL got off to a rocky start when we checked into our first hotel around 10:00pm on Friday. We weren't supposed to have a "first" hotel. The plan was to have "a" hotel, but quality and poor service sometimes have a way of changing your plans.

Entering our suite was reminiscent of opening an oven door. Apparently, keeping the air-conditioning unit off when rooms are unoccupied is a great way to save a few pennies. Any potential savings were surely lost after we cranked the unit into power-sucking overdrive. By morning, we had created distinct temperate zones in which some of us were simply freezing and others (meaning the kids who were closer to the window) were chipping ice off their toes.

The beds were an issue, as well.

Although the king bed mattress was comfortable, our feet came to rest sightly higher than our heads, which might explain my many bizarre dreams about falling off ladders and skydiving. But the kids really had it much worse. The rollaway on which Our Daughter slept looked like an animal had torn through the bottom to nest in the box spring, and the main support bar of the boys' sleeper sofa was so bent it nearly touched the floor.

After canceling the remainder of our stay and booking family suite at the lovely Hilton Suites in the Perimeter neighborhood, we spent the weekend visiting the Atlanta Zoo, the World of Coca Cola, and the Georgia Aquarium. The latter is home to the most amazing single tank I've ever seen. At 6.3 million gallons, with a viewing window taller and wider than most upscale homes, the tank holds an impressive variety of sea life, including several giants of the sea such as whale sharks and giant manta rays.

As memorable as the big wall was, however, it paled in comparison to the unforgettable distinctness of the Georgia Aquarium's dolphin show.

Here's a hint for any future writers out there: When you need a narrator to spend the first five minutes of the show explaining what the show is going to be about, it's exceedlingly likely your story is too contrived.

In this case, the narrator prattled on about a mythical figure who creates stars (that don't really factor into the story of the show), who is attacked by monstrous sea creatures (that never make an appearance in the show), who leads the audience in a trippy song to raise his sunken ship (that you only see in cartoon form on a giant screen), and who wears what look like silk pajamas and a robe stolen from the wardrobe department of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat."

Occasionally, there are dolphins.

The Italian jokingly referred to the show's protagonist as "Glamu," which I thought was a pretty clever spin on Shamu, so we spent the rest of the day laughing about Glamu the Pajama Man.

Of course, no trip to any city would be complete without a food-driven purpose. In this case, we made a special side trip to Flip Burger, a gourmet burger joint affiliated with recent Top Chef winner Richard Blais. The burgers were amazing, but the even bigger hit was the milk shakes topped with liquid nitrogen.

I can live without the coolness factor of the nitrogen, but you can bet I'll spend way too much time this summer trying to replicate the Cap'n Crunch milkshake with peanut butter foam.

© 2011 Mark Feggeler