Monday, November 28, 2011

Growing Up a Muppet

Have you gone to see the new Muppet Movie yet? No? Well, what the heck is wrong with you?!

Okay, so the Muppets haven't always been a surefire guarantee of quality entertainment. The standards of excellence have fluctuated over the decades, even under the direct supervision of puppet master Jim Henson, but there's always been an endearing and undeniable sweetness to the Muppets that kept them in the hearts of kids like me who refused to mature.

It all began for us with Sesame Street's educational fortification from puppet parodies of hippie pop culture and a slew of characters who displayed by example how to (or not to) behave. The inhabitants of that fanciful city block -- even Oscar the Grouch and geeky Bert -- were our friends. They accepted us the way we were and we loved them for it.

When The Muppet Show first aired in 1976, those of us who were still wishing we could fly like Super Grover or binge with Cookie Monster were ready. Kermit, the only crossover from Sesame Street, guided the way to a more adolescent sensibility while retaining the harmless charm we trusted.

I can only assume being at that perfect age to experience the Muppets' development from children's programming to family entertainment is similar to the experience of those children who recently grew up with the three primary protagonists from the "Harry Potter" books and films. There's a kinship kindled from such extreme familiarity and the overwhelming sense of connection to the characters. Just as so many teenagers (and adults) today know every last detail about the magical world created by J.K. Rowling, so do many people my age fondly recall details of a world populated by Muppets.

Released last week over the Thanksgiving holiday, the latest Muppet film recalls the very best of Kermit-led entertainment, warts and all. Drippy sentimentality, a 50-50 ratio of success for all jokes and sight gags, a slew of cameo appearances, inspired new music and characters, unnecessary plot lines that slow the movie down, references to skits and songs so ingrained in our collective subconscious that even the most jaded people in the audience find themselves humming along -- it's all there!

You see, I don't ask for perfection from my Muppets, the same way I don't ask for perfection from my children and My Lovely Wife. Expecting perfection only sets one up for disappointment because nothing is ever perfect. The only thing I expect is a non-stop, machine gun approach from which I'm assured only the possibility of enjoying myself if I overlook what falls flat and choose to focus instead on the bits and pieces that touch my heart, or my funny bone, whichever is more receptive at the applicable moment.

In an effort to either inspire a new era of Muppet entertainment or offer the Muppets the opportunity to go out in style, the makers of the new movie have given us Muppets at the top of their game. And, similar to the first movie all those years ago, the focus this time is on the Muppets themselves.

Go see The Muppet Movie. You owe it to the kid in you.

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

Monday, November 21, 2011


So, the Italian and the German want to play hockey next year. More specifically, they want to play roller hockey. We do live in the Sandhills of North Carolina, after all. Ponds crusted over with four inches of ice are in short supply.

In preparation for the spring municipal elementary-age roller hockey season, our boys have been working since summer to hone their roller blading skills. The Italian, by this point, glides effortlessly along, executing hairpin turns and managing slopes and rough terrain with uncharacteristic grace. The German hasn't yet let go of his fear of falling, so he plods along, one foot at a time, arms flung out like some creature from a low-budget 1970s roller disco zombie movie.

The biggest surprise is the Italian, normally, is the uncoordinated twin. He's skinny and strong, but also clumsy and impatient. Take swimming, for instance. The cherubic German slices through a pool with the mechanical consistency of a precision machine while his Italian brother barely makes half the progress as he flails at the water like it's challenged him to a no-rules death match.

My greatest concern about the two of them playing hockey isn't the threat of injury from flying pucks, high-sticking, or hot-headed opponents. It isn't even the smell from sweat-soaked socks, shirts, and assorted hockey equipment. What concerns me most is my lack of understanding about hockey.

Please allow me to drive that point home a little more emphatically: What concerns me most is my complete and absolute lack of knowledge about anything in any way related to hockey, or just about any sport ever invented by man or beast. If it involves teams, sides, competitiveness, a ball, a basket, a net, a stick, a bat, a horse, a jersey, or any combination of those items, I probably don't understand it and won't find any way to feign interest in it.

Unfortunately, I'm afraid my indifference toward sports has rubbed off on my sons. It's possible they are the only people in the world who know less and care less about sports than I. Not that we haven't tried to get them interested over the years.

We tried soccer when they were about five. Why soccer? I can't recall. Personally, I find it more exciting to count the hairs in my nose than to watch a soccer match. The boys seemed interested, at first, but after a few games we realized the German was more interested in wearing the little orange cones like a hat, and the Italian was more focused on chatting up the girls on the field of play than paying attention to the ball.

Baseball the next year wasn't much of an improvement, and neither was golf the year after that. Any interest they showed early on quickly waned. Not being a sporty kind of guy, I can't say that I was altogether disappointed.

But now they want to play hockey, a sport as comprehensible to me as quantum physics. With any luck, this phase will soon pass and I'll find myself sitting in their school auditorium watching them perform supporting roles in "Beauty and the Beast," or some other scaled-down version of an off-Broadway play with homemade costumes and paper mache backdrops. I understand paper mache and can stitch a mean hem, so these things make sense to me.

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

Monday, November 7, 2011

Off the Rack

The size of a problem sometimes can be measured in inches. In my case, however, the measurement itself poses a new problem.

Being neither tall nor short, thin nor fat, lands one in a confundatory middle ground that clothiers must assume can be served with approximates and guesstimates. The exceptionally-sized people of the world might find it frustrating never to be able to purchase clothes off the rack, but what they don't appreciate is the Law of Acceptability those of us who can have had to accept.

Do these jeans look good on me? Well, they poof out around your ass and make your legs appear bowed. But they fit around the waist and hang well at your heel. They're acceptable.

I have managed to reign in my weight recently, so I don't need a thirty-six inch waist. However, I certainly haven't shed enough pounds to warrant needing a thirty-four inch waist. What I need at times like these is for some retailer to order and stock pants that measure thirty-five inches in the waist. Yet, for some reason, the only jeans I regularly find in a thirty-five inch waist are buttonflies. It bewilders me that they even make buttonflies anymore. I had a pair of buttonfly jeans back in high school and I nearly peed myself five times just trying to get the damn things off in time.

And don't get me started on shirts and suit jackets.

When I buy a suit, it's a silly exercise for the tailor to even wrap the tape measure around my chest. I need a forty-three regular. Okay? Got that? A forty-three regular. Now, go into any men's clothing store and try to find me a forty-three regular. Regardless of the store, there are always only five crammed between the forty-twos and forty-fours, and they look like they've been hanging there since 1944.

Shirts are easier to find, but we go right back to the Law of Acceptability.

How does this shirt look? Well, it's baggy around your belly and you're tucking three extra feet of shirt into your pants. But it fits you well across the chest and the collar is roomy enough that your head doesn't look like it's going to pop off. It's acceptable.

A large shirt is just small enough to restrict breathing, pinch my armpits, and untuck if I so much as think of moving. An extra-large shirt, which is what I end up buying, can sometimes make me look like a kid who raided his Daddy's closet for a game of dress-up.

Maybe someday, before I die, someone somewhere will realize that people come in all shapes and sizes, including those in between the ones they already think we are.

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

Friday, November 4, 2011

Happy Birthday!

Wishing for all the most wonderful things for My Lovely Wife on her birthday!

From the moment we met backstage at a dinner theater in Southern Pines ("Your name's Teri, right?"), I have watched her change from stranger, to girlfriend, to wife, to mother -- all with a grace and ease (and the occasional panic attack) that continually inspire me and make me proud to be her husband.

Thank you for all that you have given me. Where would I be without my Myrtle Mae, my best friend, my love, my soulmate, My Lovely Wife?

Happy Birthday, Teri!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

An Inconvenient Fish

It was a big deal when we brought the twins home from the hospital. Having already survived the first years of parenting a single child, we knew we were in for double trouble and tried our best to be prepared.

First and foremost was ensuring that our 3-year-old daughter did not feel overlooked or pushed aside in all the excitement. After all, she was going from center stage spotlight in a one-woman show to equal billing with two relative unknowns in a loosely scripted performance. We began the assimilation process in the hospital with the sharing of gifts. She gave the boys their very first rattle toys and they each gave her a doll. I'm still astonished at the quality of shopping that can be accomplished from within the womb. For my wife's sake, I hope they were internet purchases.

As we had hoped, Our Daughter instantly became a second mother to her little brothers. Upon their arrival home she desperately wanted to introduce them to their new surroundings and dazzle their two-day-old eyes with the magnificence of her prized possessions. That's when things started to slip sideways.

Months earlier, at the North Carolina State Fair, Our Daughter won a goldfish. I don't have anything against state fair goldfish, unless, of course, they choose to come home with me.

The state fair goldfish is not the most robust creature on God's green earth. Its lifespan is anywhere from a few months on the outside, to a few seconds after the crack-skinny carnie fishes him out of the barrel and ties him up in that little plastic bag. Also, they smell, and not like fish. A fish smelling like fish makes sense to me, regardless of the unpleasantness. But somehow a goldfish creates an odor like no other swimming thing. It hovers in place all day long, eating orange mystery flecks, and trailing impressively long strings of excrement that somehow make an entire room smell like a rotting squirrel in a stagnant pond.

Our Daughter was proud of that smelly state fair goldfish. She named her Dorothy and fed her every day. Dorothy was the very first thing she wanted to share with her new brothers. Unfortunately, even though Dorothy had managed to survive all the way from October 2000 to May 2001, it was the very day we brought the boys home from the hospital that Our Daughter found Dorothy floating belly up in her bowl with bulging eyes and a ghostly white pallor.

Stupid, smelly state fair goldfish.

After consoling her over the loss of Dorothy, we were happy to see Our Daughter regain her composure and focus instead on the greater meaning of the day. Okay, so the fish was dead. There remained an entire house full of wondrous baubles and bangles with which to dazzle her baby brothers, like that bottle of sand art. Perfect! It was shiny and colorful and sparkly and just the kind of treasure any 3-year-old girl adores.

She plucked the bottle off its low shelf, enthusiasm spreading in a wide smile that drew upwards through the tracks of her tears of mourning, and headed down the hallway to show off her prize. Seconds later, our sweet sniffling daughter burst out in peals of ear-shattering cries. The top of the bottle had broken off in her hands, cutting her finger and sending a rainbow shower of fake sand all over the beige hallway carpet.

Sometimes fate seems determined to spoil a special moment.

You might be tempted to think the experiences of that day served as a looming omen of the quality of their future relationships, but young children are far more resilient -- and forgetful -- than most adults. Our Daughter and her brothers are sweetly loving to each other, marred only by brief requisite eruptions of female teenage hormones and tweenage little brother obnoxiousness.

© 2011 Mark Feggeler