Friday, December 30, 2011

New What?

Apparently, people don't celebrate the New Year anymore. Not according to the stores in my town, anyway.

An exhaustive search for plates and napkins that read "Happy New Year," or even ones that just show balloons with streamers and confetti popping in celebratory fashion, has yielded nothing. No horns, no hats, no plastic champagne glasses with the bases that fall off when your hands are full, no spinning crank noisemakers, no nothing.

Well, that's not exactly true. I didn't find nothing.

At Walmart, there were two end caps holding a handful of items each mysteriously priced at $2.47. A single cardboard hat that doesn't say "Happy New Year?" $2.47. A bag of four colorful horns that also don't in any way reference the coming new year? $2.47. Two slightly larger horns with glittery outer coverings that also don't speak to the purpose of the occasion? $2.47. So, if we want each of the thirty or so people who will gather at our house tomorrow night to have one cardboard had and one horn a piece, it will cost us approximately $100, and probably an extra 47 cents.

Other stores in the neighborhood weren't any more helpful. Harris Teeter barely had colored plates and napkins, forget about anything with a party theme. Lowe's Foods was equally barren of supplies, and the Rite Aid next door to it was already hawking Valentine's Day.

That left one store, the reliable store, the dependable store that always has what the other stores have already eliminated from their shelves. When in doubt, Dollar Tree.

But even Dollar Tree when I entered the store was in the process of repurposing the shelves that hold the seasonal fare. Remnants of Christmas baubles and bangles on the feature wall gave me hope I might still find New Year's items somewhere in the store. When I asked the young woman where I could find such things she gave me a look, pointed toward an end cap a little distance behind me, and grunted. I like to think she grunted. Otherwise, it was just gas escaping.

Unfortunately for me, had I been able to speak her language I would have understood her grunt to mean they no longer had any New Year's bric-a-brac in stock, but I was welcome to choose from the colorful Mardi Gras supplies. I returned home with red Solo plates, red Harris Teeter napkins, and red Walmart styrofoam dessert plates. I suppose next year I need to start my New Year's supply shopping between Halloween and Thanksgiving.

In the end, the important thing isn't what kind of plates or napkins we use, but instead the fact that we will usher in the new year surrounded by good friends. Happy New Year to all my friends and blog readers!

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Santa: Customer Service Guru

The Tooth Fairy doesn't have the best reputation at our house.

There have been a few occasions, most notably when our Italian was owed some money in exchange for a tooth left under his pillow, when the Tooth Fairy completely crapped out. It's possible the Tooth Fairy overslept, or went to bed without a single thought given to her responsibilities. The Tooth Fairy, it seems, needs to make herself a to-do list.

The first time the Italian came out to breakfast and informed us the Tooth Fairy had neglected her duties, at least she had the decency to leave a letter in the mailbox explaining how the door had been locked. To this day, I believe she was simply trying to throw blame off on me. The very next time the Italian lost a tooth, he reminded me of my past indiscretion to make sure the flighty fairy wasn't locked out.

Turns out it didn't matter. Yet again the unreliable pixie was a no-show. The Italian, being a pretty smart kid, bolted to the mailbox to find her letter of explanation instead of giving us a moment to reflect on the unreliability of fiduciary fairies. At first we thought she had forgotten entirely, for there was no letter to be found, but there it was taped to the front door. We had somehow missed it when we first went out. Sure enough, everything was my fault. Good for nothing fairy...

The one person who hasn't disappointed is Santa. Not only does Santa visit every year, nosh on some cookies, down a glass of fat free milk and leave a bunch of toys for good girls and boys, he also leaves a note to the kids praising them for a year well spent. Until last year, that is. Somehow, even the jolly old elf himself neglected to leave the traditional note. Oh sure, there were presents, but the kids were mighty disappointed to find Santa chose not to communicate directly with them. It's the kind of thing that raise doubts in the minds of even the most ardent believers.

Since My Lovely Wife and I are the kind of parents who naturally stay up late, it was no surprise for us to step into the living room this evening to find that Santa had already come and gone while we were dozing lazily in our room in front of the television. We could tell he'd been there because some of the cookies had bites missing and the milk was gone. But, most importantly, he left a letter, the contents of which are as follows:

"Dear Sara, Noah & Nathan,
How’s Lily doing? She seemed a little on the chubby side last year when I came to visit, but then who isn’t a little chubbier than they used to be? Oh, that’s right, Noah isn’t! Anyway, I wanted to apologize for not leaving a note last year. Mrs. Claus and I had all of the written out and packed in a box on the sleigh on Christmas Eve. Then, just as we started to get Dasher and Dancer harnessed up for the big ride, I saw Rudolph pull his head out of the box with a whole stack of letters. Yes, that’s right, my reindeer ate my homework... I want you all to know how good I think you have been this past year! You’ve been listening to your parents and minding your teachers. You’ve all received excellent marks at school, and you are wonderfully supportive of all your friends. Keep up the great behavior and have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Love, Santa"

The children will no doubt be delighted to hear that Santa thinks highly of them. I'm just glad to know there's someone in this world who understands the importance of taking responsibility without playing the blame onto innocent bystanders. The Tooth Fairy could learn a thing or two from this Santa guy about customer service.

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Thanks a Lot, Victoria...

Years ago, I was searching for something special to give My Lovely Wife for Christmas. It was a stage in our relationship when I hadn't yet learned not to waste time buying her clothes.

Word to the wise, if you're considering buying your wife clothes you should hand her instead the money you would have spent and a set of car keys. She's going to bring it back to the store no matter how hard you tried to match her size and style, and you'd better hope she gets a full refund instead of store credit so she can pocket the cash and get herself something from a store she actually likes.

Anyway, several years of togetherness had emboldened me enough to venture into Victoria's Secret to scout for a present. Why Victoria's Secret? Because Frederick's of Hollywood scared the crap out of me. Everything on display at Frederick's of Hollywood looked like Tim Curry's spare wardrobe from Rocky Horror Picture Show. There might be a few corners of Victoria's Secret that, even now, I shy away from to avoid feeling like the resident middle-age perve, but at least Victoria's Secret doesn't stock every shelf with fur-lined, crotchless, black lace panties. If that's your thing, God bless you, they just seem rather impractical to me.

So, there I was, wandering aimlessly among racks of ladies' delicates and bras, lingerie and lacy undergarments, when a sign announcing five pairs of panties for just twenty-five dollars presented itself.

I normally fret over buying underwear even for myself, so don't ask me why the notion of purchasing panties for my wife suddenly struck me as a stroke of genius. It's the kind of thing that could end in tears, reproach, and recriminations, being a meaningless Christmas gift similar in sentimental value to an ironing board or a skillet.

"Here, I thought you needed new drawers. Don't worry, they were on sale."

See what I mean? The only way to make it potentially more creepy and less heartfelt would have been if I had bought used panties from Goodwill and wrapped them with a free sample pouch of detergent.

And what if I bought the wrong size?! That's a whole nother can of worms to be opening on Christmas morning. Nothing says "I love you" like giving your wife a present that suggests you thought she was a whole lot bigger than she really is, or implies you think she needs to lose weight.

On Christmas morning when she unwrapped the pretty pink box, My Lovely Wife gave me the pitying, unenthusiastic look I should have expected. But her opinion of the gift quickly changed once she tried them on. Somehow, by the grace of some Christmas miracle that must have missed its intended target and veered off into Victoria's Secret during my visit to the mall, I managed to bring home the exact right size and style. Each Christmas since then, a box in pink wrappings has appeared under the tree.

Until now.

Because the geniuses at Victoria's Secret decided to alter the shape and fabric of one of their best selling undergarments, that perfectly proportioned panty now exists only in name, a fact we discovered last year only after the box was opened.

And so ends an annual tradition. Thanks a lot, Victoria's Secret. Where am I supposed to buy my panties now?

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Place Where Wild McNuggets Grow

Our first dog was a Dalmatian, which is kind of like owning a sixty-pound, beatifully decorated, maniacally affectionate garbage disposal on four legs.

Pepper, as we called her, never met an object she wouldn't introduce to her digestive system. A wicker bed, bark from a plum tree, asbestos shingles off our first house, broken Coke bottles, five-dollar bills from my dresser... You name it, that dog ate it.

One day she ate an entire tube of A&D ointment, a vitamin-fortified vaseline. Why somebody found it necessary to develop and market vitamin-fortified vaseline is beyond my comprehension. We had a tube of it to apply to Our Daughter's nether regions during diaper changes, because we were told that's what parents do. Pepper snuck into the room and downed the contents, container and all, resulting in several days of suffering through an excessively greasy coat and extreme sphinctal clenching.

Our second dog, a poodle named Lily, is much less daring in her adventures. There have been a few blips on the radar. Chewed window blind cords, a few strands of carpet pile when she was a puppy, and a candy bowl raid one holiday season are the only blemishes to an otherwise squeaky clean record. Unlike her predecessor, if Lily heads for something she shouldn't eat, she actually obeys if you tell her to stop, which is why her behavior the other night came as such a surprise.

It happened so quickly, I didn't even realize she had found anything in the grass while we took one last stroll before bedtime. We were barely outside long enough for her to squeeze out an ounce of poodle piddle, so I don't know how she managed to track down this particular object and carry it back into the house on the sly, all the while avoiding the urge to wolf it down.

Just inside the door, Our Daughter looked oddly at the dog and asked "What is Lily eating?"

"Nothing," I said.

Yet when I checked the dog's mouth there it was, clenched between teeth locked tightly down like a steel trap on a wild animal: a McDonald's chicken McNugget.

With fingers pinching the protruding poultry, my brain retraced our steps. All we did was cross the street, she peed in the grass, and we walked straight back to the house. How could this dog -- the same dog that takes no notice of squirrels and rabbits darting across the road not ten feet in front of her, the same dog you have to forcibly lead to kitchen scraps that have fallen to the floor -- how could she possibly have managed to root out an errant McNugget like a crazed pig foraging for truffles?

"Drop it," I told her in that deep, trailing, serious tone we all adopt when instructing domesticated animals and children to stop doing whatever it is they shouldn't be doing.

All I got was a sneering sidelong glance from a poodle ready for a fried nuggety game of tug-of-war, but I wasn't letting go. She eventually relinquished her prize and followed me hopefully to the trash can where she spent the remainder of the evening mourning the loss of her splendid catch.

Ever since, even though I tried to make it up to her the following day with a few pieces of chicken Marsala, I still find her lingering when we pass that spot across the street where wild McNuggets grow.

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

Monday, December 12, 2011

Eat the Stupid Cookie Dough

Why wouldn't you eat cookie dough?

Crunchy crystals of undissolved sugar in a creamy batter of raw flour and egg, seasoned with a touch of vanilla and a pinch of salt, a liberal portion of semi-sweet chocolate morsels swimming at all depths in the magical concoction. Forget licking the bowl, if I could I'd wear it like a hat and let the delectable contents run slowly toward my mouth over the course of the day.

But there are some who warn against such behavior, not just because it gets your hair all sticky, but because of the remote threat of being sickened by E coli. I'm sick and tired of hearing about E coli. It's on unwashed lettuce, it's in undercooked hamburger, they find it in groundwater, kids catch it from goats at the petting zoo... Enough, already!

If E coli is out to get me, it's got many more creative methods at its disposal than lurking on my spatula or attaching itself to a chocolate chip. Let E Coli take its chances. I'll swallow it whole and chase it down with Imodium.

And, I'm just making assumptions here, I have to think that the quantity of cookie dough consumed might also have something to do with the problem of people getting sick. Cookie dough, like Pretzel M&Ms, should be classified a hazardous material and the government should require a special permit or licence to handle it. Simply being in the presence of this unstable substance is enough to drive the common sense straight out of the minds of the most balanced individuals.

Being a lifelong cookie dough connoisseur, I've learned from firsthand experience that I can't plunk my fat ass down in the kitchen and eat an entire tube of the stuff like a ravenous beast attacking a summer sausage. Too much of a good thing, as they say. Moderation is key to enjoying any good cookie dough.

And a note to parents: stop telling kids the raw eggs in the batter will make them sick. Rocky Balboa drank raw eggs for breakfast and we never saw him puking on the streets of Philadelphia or ducking into a public restroom because he was about to blow out his shorts. Nuff said.

So, this holiday season when the mixing bowls come out of storage and even the least talented bakers break out traditional recipes so tried and true there's no way to screw them up, do yourself a favor and dig your fingers in up to the third row of knuckles and tear away a fistful of heaven.

Just make sure the chocolate chips have already joined the party.

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Beasts at the Buffet

Shortly before we were to be married, my Lovely Fiance and I attended a wedding reception at the very same resort we had selected to host our upcoming reception.

It was the same place where, in 1993, we had announced our engagement to our family members over a lovely Mother's Day brunch. Elegant appointments gave the dining hall the proper feel of a turn-of-the-century country club, and the main building itself was nestled neatly under towering longleaf pines. The stately beauty of the location and our sentimental attachment to it made it the perfect place for our reception, and there we were about to get a sneak peak at the skill of the staff we were entrusting to manage our special day.

In fairness to the resort itself, the primary thing wrong with the wedding we attended was the guest list. From whatever town, state or country they came, many of the guests in attendance seemed to be of the opinion they were attending a party thrown for their enjoyment rather than a celebration to honor the couple getting married.

The first indication of their boorish behavior was evident immediately upon entering the reception hall. A crowd of beefy, red-faced people swarmed the small buffet of finger foods and greedily emptied the chafing dishes of their contents with no consideration for other guests. Within fifteen minutes, the first few dozen people had carried away heaped plates of chicken tenders and meatballs while the rest of us milled about waiting for the resort to replenish the buffet.

We waited a long time.

When the couple of honor finally arrived, the crowd cheered as the they performed the ceremonious cutting of the three-tier cake. Little did we know the guests were cheering more for the cake than for the newlyweds.

Moving directly from the cake to their first dance as husband and wife, the newlyweds no doubt assumed the resort staff would cut the cake and distribute servings to all their guests. That's what I would have assumed, but I find the longer I live the more often my assumptions turn out to be false.

The hungry, hungry wedding guests had been waiting close to an hour for fresh chicken tenders and meatballs that were stubbornly refusing to appear. The prospect of a secondary source of sustenance in such close proximity sparked a ferocious feeding frenzy that would have embarrassed a school of pirhanna had there been one around to witness it.

While my Lovely Fiance admired the newlyweds on the dance floor, I watched in disbelief as wedding guests -- including those of the beefy, red-faced variety that had already eaten -- stabbed plastic forks into the middle tier of the cake and dragged their portions of the kill onto their disposable plates. Before long the upper tier and its topper swayed wildly as the wild-eyed guests continued to gut the cake supporting them. I seemed to be the only person not surprised when the entire thing came crashing down to the ground.

The very next week, my Lovely Fiance had a long and pointed conversation with the resort staff. We had no reason to think our guests would behave in a similar beastly fashion if ran out of food, but we weren't takng any chances.

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

Sunday, December 4, 2011

He Knows You Love Him

Some little while ago, when our daughter was only five years old and her brothers were only two, we experienced the loss of a loved one.

Within just a few months of being diagnosed with cancer, my Father-in-Law had gone from an able bodied man -- capable of driving himself and his wife back from a Florida cruise vacation -- to hospice patient. We watched in a state of disbelief as he slipped quickly away, the look in his eyes growing more and more distant with each passing day. The final night, when hospice warned his family he likely would not make it through to morning, we gathered to support my Mother-in-Law and say our goodbyes.

I had been part of my wife's family for a decade by that time, but it felt much longer. It seemed almost impossible to believe that this memorably quirky and gentle man would be only a dreamlike memory for our daughter and probably not even that for our toddler sons. That thought struck home forcefully the night we visited with him that last time.

The twins played, or watched Blues Clues, or did one of the many things that distract two-year-old boys. Our daughter was similarly distracted by family.

As the evening waned and we could no longer postpone the inevitable, we took it in turns to enter the master bedroom to say our private farewells. There was never a moment when I thought of bringing the boys in to say goodbye. They were too young to understand, and potentially too reckless to be around such a frail patient, but our daughter was a different case. She knew her grandfather well. She seemed to understand why we were spending so much time at her grandparents' house and why she hadn't seen much of Poppy in recent weeks. It would have been cruel not to give her the same opportunity for closure the rest of us were being afforded.

As I stood at his bedside holding my little girl in the crook of my arm, he watched us. Whether or not he knew we were there is uncertain. It seemed to me he noticed when I positioned her over him so she could kiss him on the forehead, though that might be wishful thinking. It also might have been wishful thinking to believe our daughter fully understood what she was doing with that kiss. She never cried, never got upset, never questioned his feeble appearance.

For my part, I thanked him for giving me his daughter and for being a loving father-in-law. The words were difficult to get out, but they came. What didn't come were the last few words I wanted to tell him before leaving the room. I tried, only to choke them back for fear of breaking down.

I fixed my eyes on anything in the room that might help reign in my emotions for just another few seconds so I could tell him I loved him. It wasn't helping. Eventually, after two more false starts and with swollen red eyes and tear-streaked cheeks, I looked at my daughter's cherubic happy face.

She didn't ask me what was wrong. My sadness didn't unsettle her or make her cry. She simply smiled and said: "It's okay Daddy. Poppy knows you love him."

That's when I knew she understood why we were there.

© 2011 Mark Feggeler