Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Da Votion

So, we've taken to reading a daily devotional, courtesy of a book from my sister-in-law.

Somewhere, deep inside me, a snarky little cynic is mocking the routine with derisive laughter, but I'm game for the experiment. My thought is it can't hurt. What's the worst that can happen? Communication and conversation? Even if the conversation inspired by the devotionals focuses only on how ridiculously pollyannaish they are, or how ill-fitting they are to our lives, then they've still achieved their goal of encouraging us to communicate.

For instance, one recent devotional talked about turning off the television and getting involved with our children's lives. I estimate My Lovely Wife and I watch approximately one hour of television a day, and many times we aren't even paying attention to it. On the other hand, this week alone we have marching band practice for Our Daughter, dinner with the grandparents, hockey practice for the boys, 10th grade check-in and fee payment for Our Daughter, back-to-school nights at the high school and elementary school, one dentist appointment, three orthodontist appointments, tailgating on Friday before the marching band's performance at the high school football game, the football game itself, and hanging out with the kids at Sonic after the game. And because my brain is like a sieve, I'm probably forgetting half a dozen other things. All this happens around work, which we're always told is less important than family, but you can't afford any of the things you do with the kids unless you make sure your at-work productivity doesn't suffer.

In other words, the person who wrote the devotional chastising us for watching television instead of interacting with our kids can cram that particular life lesson where the sun don't shine. Maybe that's a little hostile. Don't worry. I'm sure the book has a devotional about anger management.

The funniest thing to me is the bit of scripture leading off each devotional. For some reason the writers of the book really seem to put a whole lot of stock in Ephesians. All I've ever known about the book of Ephesians is that Paul, for someone who lived in the first century AD, had pretty steady access to papyrus and ink. I can't help thinking the Ephesians -- or the Phillipians, or the Galatians, or the Corinthians, or the Romans, or anyone else Paul took a fancy to sending a letter to -- were happy to get his letter but always a little annoyed at being obligated to write back.

    "Look! Another letter from Paul."

    "But we just answered his last one!"

I'm always dubious whether biblical passages used to support a point are applicable if you go back to the Bible and learn for yourself the true context of the passage. Maybe we're not getting the full meaning of the snippet we're being handed.

For instance, here's a brief line from Luke 12:1 -- "Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees..."  If I ignore the fact the entire passage from which I lifted this quote is meant to serve as a warning against hypocrisy, I could end up writing an entire devotional about the soul-rotting dangers of buying matzoh and challah from Jewish religious leaders. In fact, that sounds like a fun false teaching to mess around with next April Fool's Day.

Or how about this entire verse from Hosea 3:1 -- "The Lord said to me again, 'Go, love a woman who has a lover and is an adulteress, just as the Lord loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes.'"

That one really has me scratching my head, and I doubt even the devotional book writers could manage to work that into any kind of contemporary context. For starters, the whole loving an adulteress thing would never go over well with my mother, and especially with My Lovely Wife. It's a nice offer, but I'll pass.

And what does the Lord have against raisin cakes? I understand the whole "other gods" reference but raisin cakes? I've never cared for raisins in my baked goods and cereal, so I can sympathize, but lumping somebody who occasionally enjoys a nice Irish soda bread with people who've run off and sacrificed lambs to a statue of a golden cow seems a bit extreme.

Actually, we have found a couple of the devotionals from the book to be slightly more relevant to our lives than raisin cakes and yeast. And reading together at night, if even for a few minutes, is proving to be a relaxing experiment I wouldn't mind continuing. Maybe I should write my own book of daily devotions. There must be plenty more inspirational baking references in the Bible...

© 2012 Mark Feggeler

Monday, August 13, 2012

Urine My Memories

Not to be indelicate to the female audience -- presuming this blog actually has an audience -- but something struck me funny the other day when I made use of a public restroom at a local restaurant. I mean struck me figuratively, not literally. That would be disgusting.

In that particular restroom, the urinal was mounted so high on the wall as to render it unusable by anyone under, say, seven-foot-five. It became clear after a quick glance around the tiny room it had been decorated by someone who was not a practicing man.

Let's face it, you could relieve yourself on the floor and write your name on the walls with your own feces without significantly impacting the cleanliness of most public restrooms. So, when you find one -- a men's room mind you, not just a unisex bathroom -- that has pretty little handsoaps near the faucet, extra toilet paper stocked neatly beneath the sink, and wall tiles sporting a repeating flower print, it's a safe guess a woman was in charge of the design. And a urinal positioned at a higher altitude than any other urinal in the history of modern plumbing is the final indicator of a non-user calling the shots.

Moreso than as an inconvenience to myself, I considered how utterly useless a high-mounted urinal is to my 11-year-old sons. The entire point of a urinal, as I've always seen it, is to keep men from peeing all over the seat of a standard toilet, thereby reducing the risk of inconveniencing the next seat sitter to come along. If you're then going to mount the urinal so high that men who are not professional basketball players have to stand tippy-toe and arc a stream four feet into the air to avoid free-form urinating all over the restroom, then what possible hope does the average kid have?

Of course, I'd rather have to aim high than pee on my own feet, like those old-timey urinals that run all the way down to the floor make you do. You don't see them around much anymore, but when you come across one you'd better hope your not wearing sandals.

Which reminds me of my favorite urinals of all time, that really weren't so much urinals as a step-down groove in the concrete floor. These were the specialty of some of the racetracks our Dad would take us to from time to time when we were kids. It's amazing how quickly hundreds of beer-filled men can relieve themselves when all they have to do is pee semi-indiscriminately on the floor and let gravity take over. Even the cows at our Uncle John's farm had a more sophisticated waste removal system. You knew you were at a fancy racetrack when they had that twenty-foot-long bathtub in which to pee instead of the floor groove.

So here's a little friendly advice for any ladies out there who might ever find themselves in the position of having to tell a contractor how exactly to mount a urinal:
  1. Higher than the toilet.
  2. Lower than the sink.
That's really all you need to know.

Oh, yes, don't forget dividers if you're going to install more than one. I'm already trying not to pee all over myself. I don't want to have to worry about the mouth breather next to me who smells like his trip to the restroom is already five minutes too late.

© 2012 Mark Feggeler

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Blowout, 3 Tow Trucks, and Grease Monkey Fairies

Ryan from AAA probably didn't expect a long conversation when he called Friday at midnight to ask if we were completely satisfied with the service we had received that evening. He surely must have been expecting something along the lines of:

    Ryan: "Are you completely satisfied with your AAA experience?"

    Me: "Yes."

    Ryan: "Great. Thanks. Goodbye."

To be fair, Ryan might be a great guy. Probably a good family man, or a clean-cut college kid, with a good moral compass fixed deep inside him. And his only involvement with our situation the other night was to perform a simple follow up survey. In no way did poor Ryan deserve the verbal thumping he was about to receive, but things don't always go the way they should.


At 9:00am Friday morning, we loaded up our Honda Odyssey and left the sweltering clamminess of Long Island for the slightly less clammy sweltering of North Carolina. Our vacation was over and it was time to head home. The trip went well until we got south of Washington, DC, and joined all the traffic heading down I-95 to the Virginia beaches. We lost almost two hours in stand-still stop-and-go before breaking free of it in Richmond. The rest of the way should have been smooth sailing.

Then, about 10 miles east of Raleigh, as I was reaching 80 mph in the passing lane, a boom like a cannon blast shook the van and it felt like we'd hit a major pothole. Our speed dropped rapidly and steering got a little dodgy. Within seconds we were at a standstill on the left shoulder with a blown rear driver-side tire. That was 7:35pm Friday night.


The first indication of our impending drama was, initially, merely laughable.

When My Lovely Wife called AAA to report our blown tire, the dispatcher taking the call was unreasonably fixated on whether or not we had already traveled through, or were in, or were anywhere in the vicinity of, Spring Hope. Having never heard of Spring Hope, we instead focused on the facts we did know, which were that we had broken down on 64 bypass heading west and could see exit 427 through our windshield.

Unimpressed by our specifics, the dispatcher continued to ask about Spring Hope. Why? I don't know. Maybe Spring Hope has a really nice old-fashioned soda fountain somewhere along its main drag the dispatcher thought our kids would enjoy while we waited for service, or maybe the town has grease monkey fairies that pop out of cocoons in the roadside shrubberies to assist AAA Plus members with blown tires.

Whatever the reason, the dispatcher's inability to plot our location on the map was cause for concern. If there is any organization in this best of all possible worlds I expect should be able to pinpoint my location when I tell them what road I'm on and what exit I'm next to, it's the Automobile Association of America. A five-year-old with an iPod could've Googled our location based on the details we offered, but apparently this AAA dispatcher didn't have internet access, a functioning computer, a printed map, or any measure of innate common sense.

After five minutes on the phone, all we were able to establish was she didn't know where we were, we didn't know where Spring Hope was, and our hope of speedy service was flushing noisily down the drain.


Not to drag out an otherwise lengthy tale, but let's speak briefly about Honda's infamous locking lug nut.

It's a special lug nut that requires a key. The idea behind the locking lug nut is it deters thieves interested in stealing generic tires off unsexy vehicles like the Honda Odyssey. Honda gives you the key when you buy the vehicle, so in a case like ours we can unlock the locking lug nut, remove the remaining standard lug nuts, and remove and replace the damaged tire.

But what happens when that key breaks and simply spins without unlocking anything?

That's right, the tire becomes irremovable, irreplaceable, and Honda's brilliant anti-theft device becomes inconveniently irritating. What should have been a twenty-minute stop to swap out the blown tire for the donut in the trunk became a tow job, but not just any old regular tow job. No, sir.

Because the tire in question was a rear tire, traditional towing was no longer an option and we required a flat bed truck to carry our van home.


In addition to now requiring one of the larger vehicles in the towing service's fleet, the fact there were five of us to be transported home along with our van complicated matters. We quickly learned from the driver of the first tow truck that showed up about AAA's policy of transportating the vehicle, the driver, and maybe one other person. Anyone else traveling with us would need to take a shuttle service or taxi. I'm not exactly certain how much an 82-mile taxi ride from Knightdale to Pinehurst might cost, but I'm willing to guess it ain't cheap, so I asked to speak with the supervisor of Spring Hope's number one fan to express my dissatisfaction.

To the supervisor's credit, she spent much of the next two-and-a-half hours trying to work out a resolution to our problem. To her discredit, she left us stranded for two-and-a-half hours on the left shoulder of a major highway with no confidence she knew what she was doing, a tow truck driver just as baffled as we were, and three kids who needed to go to the bathroom.

We had developed a deep and profound relationship with the supervisor by the time we received word of AAA's final solution to our situation . Over the course of at least six conversations we had laughed, cried, struggled through conflict, and argued passionately.


Short after 10:00pm, we were told a flatbed truck with a cab large enough to carry all five of us had been sent for. In the meantime, a smaller flatbed was coming to move us off the highway and bring us to the relative safety of the Knightdale Walmart parking lot. Split between the two tow trucks, we rode to Walmart and waited for the big flatbed to arrive.

We pulled out of Knightdale with our van and entire family spot on 11:00pm. Along the way, Ryan from AAA called to ask if we were satisfied with the service we had received. As you might imagine, I had quite a few recommendations on how they could have handled our case better.

After getting dropped off at our service station of choice, and thanks to Senior Awesome's parents who met us there, we made it home with all of our belongings at half past twelve -- a mere fifteen-and-a-half hours after leaving New York. We were exhausted, angry, grimy, and ready to fall into bed. All we wanted was a good night's sleep, but AAA must have had other ideas because Ryan called us again at 1:30am to do a follow up survey.

Apparently AAA missed its calling. It would have made a lovely wake-up service.

© 2012 Mark Feggeler