Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sputter and a Thud

All my life, the one thing I have never been troubled with is allergies.

On just about any day during the last 45 years, if you were to have asked me how I was doing, I could easily have answered without any hesitation: "Well, I'm not suffering from allergies, that much I know!"

Oh, sure, on the rare occasion I might experience a fluke reaction to something or other.

Like that time, twenty years ago, when My Lovely Fiancee and I were at Sunday brunch with her parents. There I was, minding my own business, feasting off a plate mounded high with buffet delicacies, when suddenly my skin puffed up, red patches flared and vanished and flared again on some very inconvenient parts of my anatomy, and my throat closed up so tight I could barely draw a breath. Let me tell you, nothing puts a damper on a fancy buffet faster than the unexpected sensation you might not survive to digest it.

Whenever hives have hassled me, it's been impossible to tell what might have been the cause. But lately, over the past three weeks, I have experienced a lingering constriction of the throat that my doctor assures me is the result of a mid-life food allergy. After a week of abstaining from most everything one possibly could be allergic to, it's time to start investigating the usual suspects.


I've eaten my weight, and probably your weight, too, in peanuts, almonds, cashews and walnuts. Peanut butter and almond butter, both the hippie tree-hugging natural varieties and the good old chemicalized mega-processed kinds, are no strangers to my diet. I fully understand some people can't get within 60 yards of a shelled nut without a HazMat suit and an EpiPen, but I am not one of those people. I could strip naked, slather myself in peanut butter and frolic through plantation fields in Georgia without fear of contracting a single itch. A little chafing, perhaps, but no itching.

Dairy, then?

Same story with dairy. Considering the quantities of milk and cheese I've consumed in my lifetime, there are probably hundreds of cows laying low, like mob informants in the witness protection program, deathly afraid of being hooked back up to the milking machines. If it turns out I am allergic to dairy, I'll bet the daily quota per cow at every farm across the nation gets cut by a third.

Then there's things like gluten and grains. I don't even want to go there. No bread? That's just cruel and unusual, especially at a time in my life when I've finally learned how to make a perfect pizza dough.

So, now begins a period of trial and error, during which I slowly reintroduce those items I have been avoiding. Take tonight, for instance. A slice of pizza will no doubt test the potential dangers of cheese, tomatoes, yeast, flour, oregano and basil. Okay, maybe four slices.

If you hear a muffled sputtering for air and a loud thud, you'll know half a pizza wasn't a very good idea. Kind of makes me wonder where I might have left that EpiPen.

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Some Papal Never Learn

You'd think, with our track record, they would have hidden the children in the basement of the church last year when we became members.

Not that we aren't well-inentioned. We are. Very.

Perhaps we simply are living proof that a lapsed Catholic and a lapsed Methodist should never be allowed to team up to teach Sunday school.

The first sign of trouble is that word "lapsed." Doesn't sound so bad at first, but the word itself doesn't really provide any indication of degree of lapsitudidness, does it? There's a big difference between, say, one month lapsed and twenty years lapsed. One month lapsed falls in the "things got busy and church fell by the wayside for a bit" side of things, while twenty years lapsed is more at the "remind me again who this Jesus guy is" end of the spectrum.

Then there's practical knowledge and personal experience to consider. The lapsed Catholic doesn't immediately understand the intended purpose of Sunday school, because it isn't really a habit of the Catholic Church to sit young children down in a room, read passages of the Bible, and then open the floor for discussion and interpretation. It isn't a habit amongst its adults, either.

Yet even for a lapsed Methodist, having grown up in a church that did provide many lessons aimed at instilling an understanding of the Bible and a willingness to look at it from many angles, you have to consider the quality of the student. The first thing I learned in Sunday school was how to take off my jacket, tie, belt and shoes in under 15 seconds without the teacher noticing until it was too late. The pants would have gone, too, but even at that young age I knew where the line was and not to cross it.

Several years ago, when we decided to reconnect ourselves to the religious world, we opted first for the Episcopal Church. It was a great combination of Catholic-like structure and Protestant-informed openness -- Catholic Lite, if you will. We threw ourselves into the place and, in short order, were somehow recruited to teach Sunday school.

Given the fact neither of us has ever received any training on how to teach, and considering that due to an oversight no educational materials or lesson plans were provided to us, you'd be hard-pressed to rate our performance that first year as anything other than heretically miserable. For all the good we did, we might as well have been handing out leaflets for Hinduism, Judaism, Muslimism and any other ism that exists in the non-Christian world. We neither understood, nor did we impart any degree of understanding of, the Bible or its teachings. We were the anti-teachers, frequently learning more from the kids in our class than they learned from us. Naturally, then, we were asked to teach again the following year. By the time we left the Episcopal Church, the Sunday school program was all but in ruins. They're probably still picking through the smoldering ashes trying to recoup the souls we corrupted.

And, now, here we are at the Presbyterian Church, recently having been asked to -- you guessed it -- teach Sunday school.

Who knows? Maybe it's our mission in life to hop from one Christian sect to another until we've managed to decimate the youth-oriented biblical study programs of every denomination within a 20-mile radius of our home.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Benefit of Being Downsized

Since 1990, when SUNY Plattsburgh decided it’d had enough of me and awarded a diploma with my name on it just to get me to leave, I’ve worked for 12 distinct corporate entities. That’s an average of one new employer every 1.9 years.

In fairness to me, not every one of those new corporate entities involved a job change. For instance, I was employed by three different corporate entities in the same year while working as director of sales of one hotel in Durham, NC. The hotel’s first management firm was bought out by a second management firm which was, in turn, let go by the hotel ownership which created its own management firm. Simple, right? That’s the kind of year you keep your butt out of the wind and hope nobody more than one level above you knows you even exist.

Having worked for 12 distinct corporate entities, it’s easy to categorize them by degree of enjoyability. On a scale from 1 to 5 (1 being “Made My Spirits Soar Like an Eagle” and 5 being “Made Me Pray for the Sweet Release of Death”) the breakdown is as follows:

  1. Made My Spirits Soar Like an Eagle = Two Companies
  2. Put a Little Spring in My Step = Three Companies
  3. No Impact on My Life Whatsoever = Three Companies
  4. Caused Me to Reconsider My Stance on Assisted Suicide = Two Companies
  5. Made Me Pray for the Sweet Release of Death = Two Companies

Of the bottom two, one was particularly bullying and disrespectful to its employees. You know something’s wrong with your place of employment when you enter the office each day amazed at the fact none of your coworkers has been arrested, or at least investigated. Abuse of power, conflict of interest, unethical business practices, unjustifiable business expenses, questionable investments – the place was a training ground for all of the things you shouldn’t do when running a business if you want to avoid jail time.

Amidst the humanoid detritus that mostly ran this soul-sucking company were a handful of decent people struggling hard to remain decent. Every now and then, one of them would fall victim to the corporate axe, or worse, divest themselves of the virtues that made them decent and join the scheming backstabbers in their game.

I thought, naively, I could remain impermeable to the never-ending parade of injustices perpetrated at that company. “I am one of the decent people,” I would tell myself.

The problem was the decent people huddled together in a cowering mass to bitch and moan about the backstabbers. We became an underground army of gossipers, whisperers and kvetchers. Even when the backstabbers weren’t giving us something to bitch about, we could pull from a vast catalog of past offenses to rile our indignation. We were unhappy, dissatisfied, bitter as tonic water, yet convinced we could hold on to our humanity in spite of every effort of the backstabbers to break our spirits.

Near the end of my sentence, I ran into a former coworker who had been fired some months earlier. He was one of those pleasant, honest people who knows what needs to be done and how to lead by example to motivate others to help him achieve it. I had felt poorly for him when he was let go. He had been wronged, which I expressed to him as we spoke. He smiled contentedly and gave me one of the best pieces of advice anyone has ever given me.

“Mark, get out,” he said. “You think it doesn’t affect you, but it’s corrosive.”

Not long after that brief encounter, I was restructured out of my job. The powers that be called me and six other people into a meeting after lunch and gave us two-hours to clean out our offices. It was the first time I lost a job, and it was frightening, but looking back at it now I am able to appreciate how much of a gift they gave me.

Like an abused pet, I had come to believe I deserved the treatment I received at the hands of those soul-suckers. What was I, anyway, other than a simple drone scurrying this way and that at the whim of its queen bee? Had they not restructured me out of the organization, I might never have moved on to better things.

© 2013 Mark Feggeler