Monday, November 26, 2012

The Forbidden Condiment

I'm guilty of breaking the rules, and so is my Rule Following daughter.

Just last week, I smuggled an illicit substance to her during the school day, on school grounds, and under the very noses of the school officials whose mission it is to keep scofflaws like me from penetrating the sacred halls of their educational institution. I loitered in my car, only mildly menacingly, waiting for the opportunity to hand off to her the prohibited package between classes and on the sly.

Yes, that's right. I brought Our Daughter her lunch.

You wouldn't think bringing your child's lunch to school would be cause for so much super-secret spy stuff. It wasn't like I was trying to hand off TNT in a nitroglycerin sauce, or sneak her a crack pipe and baggie full of crystal meth. It was a turkey sandwich, a Camelbak sipper filled with water, and a snack bag of Sun Chips. So, you can imagine my surprise when I was informed by the secretary at the main office I was not allowed to leave the bag for Our Daughter to pick up.

Evil Lunch Item
According to a new policy instituted either by the high school or the county school system, leaving lunches at the main office puts the school at legal risk by placing it in direct responsibility over the contents of the lunchbox. As explained to me, if the sandwich in question is slathered with rogue mayonnaise and sits for several hours under a hot lamp and the kid who eats it gets sick, the school could be held liable. Likewise, should some random ne'er-do-well decide to commit some random act of ne'er-do-wellness on the unsuspecting lunch items, the school also could be held at fault.

Seemed like an overreaction to me, but I played along, offering to wait at the office for them to call my daughter down so I could hand the paisley lunch bag directly to her, thereby relieving the school of any potential threat of legal action.

Or not.

Turns out the new rule also disallows my bringing to the school any food items whatsoever and doing anything with them other than standing in the main office eating them myself and possibly wearing the lunch bag as a hat, which for all I know might also be against the rules. This is the same institution that charges me $4.00 for a poorly prepared cheeseburger cooked and served by gloveless volunteers out of a dirty concession building each fall at football games just across the campus. Exactly how serious can they suddenly have become about foodborne illness?

I tried in vain to argue the ridiculousness of not allowing me to hand to Our Daughter a lunch bag she would have been carrying around with her all day long had she not left it standing by the front door when she went to school. If anything, the mayonnaise on her turkey sandwich was all that much more the better for having sat in our refrigerator at home for several more hours instead of being kicked around the floor of several overheated high school classrooms.

In the end, I had two options: (1) leave money in an envelope so Our Daughter could purchase lunch from the cafeteria; or (2) follow the wink-and-a-nod "don't ask/don't tell" instructions from several of the people with whom I argued that morning and text Our Daughter to meet me at my car so I could hand off her lunch like covert operatives trading plutonium at the Iranian border. 

It's nice to know the health and well-being of our children are being taken so pseudo-seriously that, although I could in theory drop off a loaded howitzer and a box of hand grenades without any questions being asked, I can rely on the beauracracy of the school system to keep my daughter safe from mayonnaise.

© 2012 Mark Feggeler

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Can't-Opener

I'm not exactly sure why it is we have such trouble with can openers.

Cans have been around a long, long time. The modern canning process is roughly 200 years old. You'd think, then, since society has had so much time to perfect the art of packaging things up in all these cans, someone would have perfected an extraordinarily efficient and durable device for extricating said things from said cans. That way, when all I'm trying to prepare for dinner is a quick pasta with tomato sauce, I can easily get the sauce out of the can and into the pot.

But, by the time the pasta is well beyond al dente, I'm still fighting to get the battery-operated, self-rotating can opener to run long enough to make one full pass around the top of the can. After repositioning the demonic device for the twelfth time, it occurs to me I could have achieved faster results if I had taken the can outside and banged it against a rock, or a tree, or the driveway, or my head. Sure, a little sauce might have splattered here or there in the process, but at least it would no longer be in the can. Instead, I end up with an unopened can with three inch-long gashes at the top, none of which is large enough to allow sauce to pour out.

When it becomes clear the battery-operated, hand-held can opener will not live up to its name, I resort to the trusty manual can opener hiding in the back of the utensil drawer next to the meat pounder, just behind the micro-grater. I clamp the device to the top of the can and begin turning. Not only doesn't it open the can, the can itself isn't even moving. The blade is spinning in place, creating a slight indentation in the metal directly beneath it. So, I reposition the can opener, ensuring a firm metal-on-metal connection before wasting any more energy.

The pasta is now floating limply in its starchy broth and all I've managed to do so far is dent the top of the can and cut three hairline gashes along the outer edge of it with the electric device. Eventually, through herculian efforts involving massive amounts of denial, swearing, and a bloodied index finger, I manage to manipulate the manual can opener sufficiently to cause the top of the can to be in a state of what I will refer to as "mostly open."

I can see the sauce peeking at me. It's possible I could shake the can enough times to get most of the sauce out of the mostly open can, but I am a scraper. I'm not satisfied with the sauce retrieval process unless I can scrape the inner walls of the can with a spoon to ensure I leave no sauce behind.

One spot on the lid shows promise of giving way if I can twist the metal back and forth enough times to weaken it. I twist and turn, curse and mutter, cut another finger on the jagged edges left by the manual can opener, and with a final effort I manage to break the lid away. Sauce flies in all directions as I end up fist deep in the can. Countertop and backsplash are well-coated with pureed tomatoes, as am I.

Nevertheless, the can is open! I celebrate, hooting and hollering in the kitchen, declaring my caveman-like victory over the modern technology of the 19th Century, scraping gleefully with my spoon to retrieve every last drop of the precious puree. But we are entertaining guests, the pot on the stovetop is deep, and the sauce does not come close to filling it.

Only when I finish my scraping do I glance sideways. I take a deep breath, wipe the sauce from my wounds, and steel myself for the ensuing battle with the second can of sauce.

© 2012 Mark Feggeler

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Nerd Rambles About Star Wars

A long, long time ago in a theater far, far away, I watched the first Star Wars movie and was enthralled. Not quite so long ago as that, in a movie theater just a few miles away, I watched the fourth Star Wars movie and was thoroughly unimpressed.

Why the different reaction? Two reasons: (1) George Lucas; (2) CGI.

Let's start with CGI.

Computerized artistry in films can be remarkable when applied with a deft hand and only when it is needed. CGI becomes problematic when it is used for no other reason than the producers can afford it. In the first three movies, the actors might have been acting against people in crazy masks and costumes, but at least they were acting. In the second set of films, the actors were largely delivering dialogue to imaginary creatures that would be added later by some guy at a computer, and their performances come off like they were delivering their lines to propped up brooms.

But the biggest problem, in my estimation, was George Lucas didn't understand why most people loved the original films. Somehow, somewhere, at some point between the 1970s and the 1990s, Lucas forgot how to make a movie that is fun to watch.

Visually stunning? Yes.

Epic? Yes.

Fun? No.

There was a swashbuckling, space pirate, nerdy machismo to the orginal films that was nowhere to be found in the prequels that followed. You couldn't help getting caught up in the action of the first three movies when everyone looked like they were having such a great time. The cast of the more recent movies all looked like they had volunteered for experimental proctological exams.

The same exact problem befell the last installment of the Indiana Jones franchise. It was loaded with CGI effects instead of the in-person stunts and complex sets we loved so much from the original films, and the actors were left dangling in the wind (or in the CGI trees with CGI monkeys) with crappy dialogue and wasted opportunities for developing their characters. I feared Harrison Ford had forgotten how to be interesting, but have since seen him in films in which he disproves this fear. Therefore, the fault must lie with Lucas and and his partner in crime Steven Spielberg. As one online reviewer wrote at the time: "George Lucas pooped on my childhood again."

So, when it was announced this week that Disney is buying Lucasfilms and the rights to Star Wars and Indiana Jones, among other holdings, I was thrilled. Oh, sure, the good folks at Disney have been responsbile fror some of the most notorious stinkers over the years, but with the influx of Pixar leadership the prospect of quality output is stronger than ever. And the sad truth is Disney really couldn't do any worse a job on the proposed new Star Wars movies than Lucas did on the last three.

Here's hoping...

© 2012 Mark Feggeler