Saturday, February 25, 2012

Shu-Shu the Pirate

It's no secret kids loved their stuffed toys.

I'm 43 years old and my old Snoopy is hidden away in the top of my office closet, not because I'm ashamed of him, but because I don't want my kids playing with him. Snoopy is old and frail. They might damage him beyond repair. Besides, he's mine.

The boys still have many of their stuffed animals, too. Although at times the number swelled to zoo-like quantities, presently each boy has only four animals in bed with him on any given night. The full cast of characters might fluctuate slightly from night to night, but both boys have favorites that always take the spotlight.

The German, for instance, has Giraffy, a red and white giraffe given to him years ago by his late Grandma. Hot on Giraffy's heels in terms of popularity is a gray squirrel purchased from the gift shop on one of the Royal Caribbean ships. Can you guess what his name is? That's right, it's Squirrelly. You'd think we would expect more out of the child we consider to be our most creative.

Squirrelly almost didn't make it home from that cruise. He went missing one day and the German was inconsolably bereft. We searched our cabin to no avail, then finally contacted housekeeping to see if Squirrelly had accidentally been sent to laundry with the bed sheets. Assuming we were accusing him of stealing a stuffed toy, our cabin steward arrived and, essentially, tore the room apart looking for him. I suppose fear of being deported back to Latvia on account of a nine-dollar, t-shirt wearing squirrel was coursing through his brain as he searched, but he finally did find the toy under a mattress. Crisis averted, Latvia homecoming avoided, we set full steam ahead!

For the Italian there is and has only ever been one stand-out favorite -- Little Puppy. Even now, at the ripe old age of 10, the thought of losing Little Puppy would be enough to bring the Italian to full-on nervous breakdown. And because the silly thing has been so unconditionally loved throughout the years it has taken on near mythical status in our happy home. When the time comes to store these mementos of early childhood for safekeeping, Little Puppy will be a difficult one for us to pack away.

For a brief period, Little Puppy had a runner up, a stand-in, a vice president, as it were. Hoot (an owl, if you can't figure that out on your own) also joined our family during the same cruise as Squirrelly, only soon thereafter was permanently disfigured when our poodle got hold if it and chewed off one of its eyes. Despite Oma's attempts at ornithological ocular surgery, the bird never regained its former glory, though it has lately been spotted atop the bed.

Our Daughter had several favorites when she was very little. In the stuffed toy category were a St. Bernard ("Bernie") and a Dalmation ("Dottie"). These two dogs instilled in me the belief that TY, the creator of Beanie Babies, has discovered some new indestructable cloth out of which to makes its toys. Bernie and Dottie withstood long car trips, multiple dining experiences in high chairs with pureed foods, diaper changes, vomit, and hours of playtime at the hands of toddlers. I should look so good as those two surviving toys.

Being a girl, Our Daughter also had several prize dolls. I'm not talking about collector's items or the naked Barbies crammed into the baskets under her bed -- check now and you might still find a few -- but instead I speak of the plastic-headed, fabric-bodied, bean-filled gatherers of grime and filth known as Shu-Shu and Miranda. We asked her recently if she still had them around. It had been a while since I had seen Miranda, and Shu-Shu was all but a distant memory for me. She assured us they were in her room somewhere. It seems the poodle worked her magic on them as well, as Miranda is missing several fingers and Shu-Shu, like Hoot, is in dire need of an eye patch.

A quick search to collect these special toys for a group photo yielded all but Shu-Shu. If the poodle has had any say in the matter, by now Shu-Shu might be off somewhere getting fitted for a wooden leg and a hook.

© 2012 Mark Feggeler

Friday, February 17, 2012

Thread Count Audio

Some people spend big money on car audio systems.

When I was a kid, every other vehicle that cruised down our Long Island street had speakers the size of steamer trunks clogging up the rear dash and reverberating pounding bass at levels loud enough to rattle the rafters. It didn't matter if your car leaked a line of oil down the parkway, or the air conditioner made your car hotter, or the tires were bald, so long as you could treat the neighborhood to some righteous rhthyms.

As we aged, many of us came to understand it isn't the size of our speakers that matters, but rather the quality of their performance. Clarity and range became more meaningful than bombast and wattage. It's now just as important to perceive the tinkling acoustics of guitars and pianos as it is to thrill to the bravado profundo of primitive bass lines and techno-synth drum sequences. Few things have aided the appreciation of a full range of sound than the digital age. Beginning with compact discs in the 1980s all the way up to the latest iTunes downloads, every last sonic detail that goes into the making of a song is discernible for our enjoyment.

Our Toyota Echo didn't have a CD player when we bought it in 2002. It didn't have anti-lock braking, or power steering, or intermittent wipers. Hell, it didn't even have a clock. Thanks to a birthday gift several years ago from my family it has a high-tech radio with USB input for my iPod. The car might not be cool, but it gets forty miles to the gallon and the audio system is awesome.

Our Honda Odyssey, however, relies on a traditional 20th Century audio jack for input to an auxiliary channel. Not as efficient for sound transference, but we made it work until some time last year when the left speaker started cutting out at whim. We replaced the cable connecting the iPod to the stereo and that seemed to do the trick for a while.

Then it started in again, most noticeably during sharp turns to the right, and only with the auxiliary input. I repeatedly checked the cable, searching for kinks in the cord or frayed wires that might be the cause of our trouble. Nothing. I even slapped the dashboard while cursing -- the tried and true method of fixing any car-related trouble -- to no avail.

Normal people would have called the dealership by now. After all, the vehicle is still under warranty. But who has the time for that? Far too efficient, far too effective, and far too sensible.

All technical problems, regardless of venue or importance, require a six-month period of ridiculous home remedies before one should feel justified contacting the condescending geeks at tech support or, in this case, the condescending grease monkeys at the dealership. Our ludicrous solution took advantage of the fact that pressure applied downward on the plug at the console seemed to do the trick. Heavy jackets, sweaters, windbreakers, umbrellas, shopping bags, bits of string. Anything handy that could weigh down the plug and reconnect the signal did the trick.

Gradually, however, heavier and heavier objects were needed. Just a few weeks ago, only the highest thread count materials were sufficient to guarantee a quality audio performance, but I daresay even that no longer is working. Looks like it's time to suck up my pride, stick my tail between my legs, and lie like a rug to the condescending grease monkeys at the dealership.

"The auxiliary jack suddenly stopped working," I'll say.

"Can you describe what it's doing?" they'll ask.

"If you have a heavy sweater I can show you."

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

Monday, February 6, 2012

Buckle Head

There we were, winding our way along circuitous routes through the maternity ward at the hospital, trying our darndest to walk a baby out of My Lovely Wife.

They say walking is good for a thing like that. I think they're liars.

I think the only reason they tell moaning mothers-to-be to get up and walk around is because they're tired of listening to them. They shoo her out the door and head her down the hallway to be somebody else's problem for the next ten minutes. If they're lucky, maybe she'll toss the baby halfway to Ortho. Knees and hips, feh! Let's see if those joint doctors know what to do with a placenta or two.

Anyway, Our Daughter was stubbornly clinging to the womb interior, refusing to answer the call of life's great eviction notice. Contractions were ratcheting down with ever-increasing rapidity and, by the look on My Lovely Wife's face, were no picnic.

The most amazing thing to me was how sincerely apologetic she would get after every contraction. I'm sitting there on a cushioned chair sipping a diet soda and making small talk while she reenacts the John Hurt scene from Alien, but when the pain passes she apologizes to me. Where is that kind of emotional misdirection when I forget to go the bank?

Oh, there's another contraction, and this one looks like a doozy! Eyes are squeezed tight, her fingers are gripping mine, and everything we learned about the therapeutic value of regulated breathing flies straight out the window. She sits in a chair and pushes her head into me until the severe cramping subsides. When she looks up to tell me how sorry she is for being in pain, all I can see is the imprint of my belt buckle across her forehead.

You know those times you aren't supposed to laugh? That was one of those times.

And it was one of the very few of those times in which I actually had enough sense to stifle it. It got slightly more difficult to hold in the laughter the second and third times she sat back with the deep red grooves in her forehead displaying a detailed relief of my buckle, but I managed. Not longer after, following the administration of some very effective pain medications that left her smiling contentedly through contractions that could squeeze coal into diamonds, My Lovely Wife gave birth to Our seven-pound eleven-ounce Daughter.

Three-and-a-half years later, when it was time for twelve pounds of twins to join our family, we had a pretty good idea what we were in for at the hospital that morning. And I made sure to leave the belt at home.

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Señor Awesome

So the recent development of a boyfriend for Our Daughter has been an interesting experience.

All these years, people have tried to warn me against the slew of mouth breathers who might come calling after our sweet little girl. But as I do with many potential problems, I decided my best option was to ignore it until I had no other choice than to deal with it. As the saying goes, "Worrying is interest paid on trouble long before it's due."

We had a minor experiment with a boyfriend last year, but that fizzled out before it became anything that required my sitting in a darkened corner sharpening a hunting knife while sneering maliciously at the boy.

The best thing about this latest experience was the slow, and I mean glacial, pace at which those two young'uns meandered their way into their relationship. At first they texted occasionally. My Lovely Wife shrewdly paid attention to the increased quantity of texts between the two and upped our plan to unlimited texting the very month we would have been hit with a $300 bill. (I married a smart lady.) Then they hung out, by which I mean one's shadow never fell without the other being in close enough proximity to keep it from hitting the ground. For two people who officially refuted being in a relationship, they sure liked holding hands and spending every last spare minute together.

By the time they actually acknowledged their boyfriend/girlfriend status to each other, the rest of the civilized world had already begun treating them as such. Their friends, their siblings, their parents, nomadic tribes wandering the African plains -- everyone breathed a sigh of relief at the prospect of no longer having to tiptoe around the subject. They were, at long last, a couple.

But now what to do with them?

Fortunately for us, Our Daughter's choice has left us little, if no, room for quibbling. He's musically talented, which does not reveal much about the quality of his character, but I don't know many people who can easily springboard from guitar, to piano, to clarinet, to saxophone, to harmonica, and back around to mandolin within the span of a week and be more comfortable with each than I am with simple tasks like walking and not wetting myself. It's an impressive gift that somehow doesn't seem to have gone to his head. He's also an excellent student, active in his church, and is exceedingly thoughtful to Our Daughter (probably more so than she deserves!).

Perhaps the greatest impact he's having on our family, other than being the apple of Our Daughter's eye, is his influence on our sons' interest in sports. We've already been to see several of his roller hockey games and the twins are mightily impressed.

How do we know? Because the Italian has spent the past several months honing his roller blading skills, and the German on several occasions has willingly strapped roller blades to his feet and stalked around the driveway like Frankenstein on wheels. The boyfriend even took them out to the local rink this past weekend to help them work on their game in preparation for their first local hockey clinic session later this week. When the German scored a goal, the boyfriend rolled up and hugged him. Think that isn't a big deal? Try getting a decent hug from the German the next time you see him.

The biggest problem I've encountered with the boyfriend so far has been figuring out how to refer to him in this blog. As you might know, I can't simply refer to him by name. That would go against everything this blog stands for, which isn't much, but one must at the very least maintain minimal standards. Then the Italian helped me out.

My Lovely Wife had picked up the boys from school and the Italian asked if the boyfriend would be coming over to visit that afternoon. Apparently, the Italian believes the boyfriend comes to our house just as much to hang out with two ten-year-old boys as he does to spend time with his teenage girlfriend.

"He's awesome," the Italian told his Mother. "I'm going to call him Señor Awesome."

So, to the few of you who regularly peruse this silly little blog, I would like to officially introduce a new character to the cast. Please help me welcome Señor Awesome!

© 2011 Mark Feggeler