Thursday, December 17, 2015

Turkey Dog

So, the turkey was carved and we all were seated at the dining room table to feast on Thanksgiving dinner. And feast we did, over-indulging the way one can on a national holiday when gluttony and subsequent self-loathing are strongly encouraged. 

You tell yourself you're going to take only a small portion of this and a taste of that, saving plenty of room for dessert, during which you intend to take only a sliver of that and maybe a modest spoonful of this. When all is done you might as well have been competitive eating. What started out as manners ("Please pass the potatoes!") has devolved into greasy-fingered gestures and grunts ("Ugh... Give... More..."). You really don't even want dessert, but you cram it down regardless because you feel morally obligated. After all, everyone went to the trouble of baking. 

Somewhere during the early stages of dinner: phase one, I heard a strange noise coming from the kitchen. It might have been the dishwasher running, only we hadn't yet loaded the first dish. It might have been the kitchen faucet running, only it wasn't. Instead, it turned out to be the frantic lapping of our six-pound Havanese, Lola. 

The problem wasn't really Lola. Lola was simply doing what any dog would do if turkey juices were flowing freely from the carved carcass on the countertop. The problem also wasn't the cracked cutting board that allowed the turkey juices to escape and flow to the floor. No, the problem was the fact of turkey juices hitting Lola square on the head as she stood there in her own little tryptophan-laced Thanksgiving celebration.

In case you've never soaked you hair with seasoned turkey grease, let me assure you it has some staying power. Three baths later the savory aroma of thyme, rosemary and tarragon continued to waft from Lola's head and her usually toussled top lay heavy between her ears. Try as we did over the next few days, it wasn't until the professional groomers got hold of her several weeks later that all was set right.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Z Rating

For years, My Lovely Wife has displayed a tendency to doze off while watching movies either at home or in the theater. She masterfully exercises her stealthy catnapping skills in everything from family-friendly fare, to melodramas, to hyperkinetic action flicks.

The napping itself shouldn't be immediately mistaken for dismissal because good or bad, interesting or not, the nap will most likely happen. Sometimes she regrets having slept through a movie that otherwise was enjoyable. Other times there is no regret for having missed it.

When you closely examine the behavior, as we have done throughout the years, you'll find movies fall into one of six categories of what we have come to call the Z Rating System.

A movie with a Z-5 ranking is one that, in the opinion of My Lovely Wife, should never have been committed to celluloid. Its very existence is a noteworthy offense and should require a full refund. Napping during a Z-5 is less a comment on the quality of the film and more a defense mechanism to protect the brain from injury caused by rampant stupidity, plot holes, sloppy acting, bad dialogue, the presence of an actor she finds objectionable (i.e., Michael Caine), or westerns (not excluding Blazing Saddles). As someone who fully appreciates Michael Caine and has been known to enjoy westerns from time to time, I don't always understand the application of a Z-5. Then again, it isn't my rating system.

Almost as bad as a Z-5, the Z-4 is the kind of movie that frustratingly fails to live up to its full potential. There might be one or two redeeming qualities, but overall the movie is disappointing (such as every comedy featuring Diane Keaton or Steve Martin (or both (with the exception of the first Father of the Bride)) since the early 1990s). Napping during a Z-4 is My Lovely Wife's way of avoiding the annoyance of a good idea or a strong cast being wasted in a story that doesn't go where it should.

The Z-3 ranking is reserved for average movies -- not great; not awful. They're better than mediocre, but not enough so to make them laudable. A Z-3 might also be a perfectly good movie that just does not interest her, such as any of the recent string of Marvel superhero movies. The nap during a Z-3 probably doesn't impede the understanding of the plot or detract from the enjoyability of a film's positive attributes. What was missed was missed and that's okay. Snoring has been known to obscure bits of dialogue from time to time, requiring those of us in close proximity to raise the volume. In the end, the Z-3 nap doesn't necessarily represent punitive judgement; it simply doesn't matter one way or the other if any portion of the film was napped through.

The thing that differentiates a Z-2 from a Z-3 is the expression of mild regret at having fallen asleep. The occasional "I was trying to stay awake" might be uttered and there is often genuine interest about the sections of the movie that were lost to unconsciousness. However, the need to revisit the film to see the missed portions is sketchy.

A Z-1 is a movie during which My Lovely Wife fights with all her might to keep her peepers open for the entirety of the showing. If it was something we rented, you might find her watching it again the following day before we return it. If we own the movie, she might suggest watching it again within an uncharacteristically short span of time. And, finally...

Yes, there actually are certain movies through which My Lovely Wife manages to remain awake and alert from opening sequence to final frame. The Z-0s are few and far between, but they really do exist and are often the films we end up purchasing. The best thing about a Z-0 is its unpredictability. For years, I had tried to get My Lovely Wife to watch Dodgeball. When she finally broke down and allowed me to play it for her, she giggled all the way through and Dodgeball is now a family favorite in our household. Other recent additions to the Z-0 ranking include The Hundred-Foot Journey and Mr. Holmes. They are almost always met with the same expression of disbelief: "I loved that movie! I stayed awake the entire time!"

Friday, November 6, 2015

A Note in Support of Mr. Collins

Phil Collins!

There, I said it. You read it. Phil Collins.

For those of you nearing the age of AARP membership, or who have recently scheduled colonoscopies, there was a time when, love him or hate him, Phil Collins could do no wrong -- acting career aside. Hit after hit during the 1980s catapulted him from little-known drummer/singer of Genesis to mega-superstar of galactic proportions. For decades, the workaholic churned out album after album, project after project, and I'm not just talking about hit singles.

The guy made a concept album with Flaming Youth before The Who popularized the idea with Tommy (and a couple years before his future Genesis bandmates got into the act). He played drums on five albums with jazz/fusion group Brand X in the late 1970s while simultaneously and successfully taking over lead singing responsibilities in Genesis. He's been responsible for producing, collaborating with, and inspiring numerous artists throughout the years. And his inhuman drumming helped elevate the early fairytale music of Genesis out of English gardens into rock arenas and, ultimately, onto FM radio. The guy was a multi-talented, adaptable, unstoppable, impressive, all-around-enjoyable musical machine.

Then he became a commercial success and it all went to hell. Not because of him, though. He was just doing his thing and had enough business smarts to get paid good money for it, a fact that apparently pissed off some people and branded him a sell-out.

Now, after years of self-imposed musical exile, the guy's recent announcement that he plans to release a new album has certain critics freaking out like the devil is crawling out of hell to steal our children (or our chocolate, whichever scenario you find more terrifying). Honestly, what's the worst that can happen -- a crappy album? Or, perhaps, a really good album that you simply don't care for because it doesn't satisfy your taste in music?

I, for one, am looking forward to a new Phil Collins album. It doesn't matter if it's better than the best batch of songs he's ever pressed to vinyl or worse than the most middling soft rock he's ever been accused of compressing to MP3 format, I'm going to give it a listen because that's what a diehard fan does.

A diehard Genesis fan goes to see Peter Gabriel in concert even though Peter Gabriel hasn't released a decent album in 20 years. A diehard Genesis fan owns Mike Rutherford's solo albums (but is excused from anything after The Living Years). A diehard Genesis fan owns the three-and-a-half albums Tony Banks attempted after creatively flaming out in the early 1980s. A diehard Genesis fan owns all 473 Steve Hackett solo albums because he's the only former member of the group apparently not embarrassed by his progressive rock past.

Now, while I am looking forward to whatever music Mr. Collins chooses to release, I do have a small wish list I hope he takes to heart:
  1. Get over it: You were overplayed and overexposed. Not your fault. You think Adele has never heard one of her songs on the radio and thought: "Good God, not her again." Your music would not have sold if people didn't like it, so stop being apologetic for your success. As for the critics who will never like anything you do, tell 'em to go screw.
  2. Get out of your rut: Like many artists who achieve pop-star success, your sound essentially stopped developing when you struck it big. Maybe you think you know what people expect from you, or maybe you think every song you write that doesn't break the Top 40 is a failure, or maybe you just don't hear it. Whatever... Shake things up and forget about commercial viability. After all, you're wealthy enough to not have to worry about it.
  3. Collaborate: Not that you haven't written some fantastic tunes, but some of your greatest achievements in music were in support of other people's ideas. All I'm saying is you don't have to do it all by yourself. Make new friends, call up some old friends, and get others involved in the creative process. (That doesn't mean rehashing your old sound with a young, hip producer -- please don't do that.)
  4. Arena tours suck: Take a cue from your former bandmates and visit venues that are more intimate. My Lovely Wife and I took Our Daughter to see Peter Gabriel in Fairfax, VA, a few years ago with a few thousand other people and it was awesome. I got to see Steve Hackett's superb Genesis Revisited tour in a medium-size hall in Atlanta last year and it ranks as the greatest concert I've ever experienced. Much better than squinting from nosebleed seats a football field away just to see the Jumbotron.
  5. Genesis Reunion: Stop thinking in terms of the trio versus the quintet. If you aren't up to the drumming, hire someone to fill in. We're cool with that. And just because Gabriel might not be interested doesn't mean we wouldn't like to hear Hackett tear through Firth of Fifth or pluck happily away on I Know What I Like. You could always do a one-off guest spot in their tours, or vice versa.
And, if you can't adhere to any of my other requests, please just try to have fun.

© 2015 Mark Feggeler

Monday, October 26, 2015

Remote Conditioning

The gym is a place where you're supposed to sweat. I understand that. I get it.

Few people should expect to leave the gym without sweating. If you do, you probably haven't exercised to an extent that your visit to the gym was worth getting out of bed. Going to the gym and expecting not to sweat is like going to your favorite restaurant and expecting to leave hungry, or watching a Jack Black movie and expecting to be entertained. It doesn't compute.

I, for one, am a free sweater. Forget lifting weights or running the track, I'm the guy who works up a sweat changing his clothes in the locker room. Sweat brakes on my brow just lacing up my sneakers. I'm fairly certain I had to reapply deodorant the other day because I thought about climbing a set of stairs, so what happens when I really do exercise? By the time our spin class at the gym is over I've cycled enough sweat out of my body it looks like I'm personally trying to create a new Great Lake on the floor around me.

I'm perfectly accepting of the idea I'm going to break a sweat at the gym. What I don't expect is for the gym to make the decision for me. 
That's what happened the other day when My Lovely Wife and I arrived for our non-cycle day of non-aerobic strength training. By strength training, I mean we planned to hit what I think of as the "old people" machines. 

You know the old people machines, don't you? They're the machines hidden away in a deep recess of the gym that work only one or two muscles at a time. They don't get your heart pumping, they apply their own non-adjustable hydraulic tension, and they leave with you with absolutely no sense of gratification at having completed a rigorous morning workout because, let's be honest, you haven't. You sit, wiggle your extremities for two minutes, then move to the next machine when the light turns red. It's essentially a timed game of musical chairs during which there's no music, no knocking anyone to the floor, and no winners.

The old people machines are a great day in our weekly workout for several reasons. For starters, less laundry. If I'm not sweating straight through my cycle shorts like I've lost bladder control, then there's no reason to wash the gym shorts I wore for less than two hours. And if my shirt isn't soaked through like a live sponge at the bottom of the ocean, then there's no reason to wash the hoodie that keeps the crisp fall air from hitting my paper-thin drenched shirt. Second, the kids might actually hug us like we're not covered in some grotesquely horrid bodily fluid, because we're not. Finally, no sweating. Not even a healthful, shimmery glisten.

The other day, however, the temperature in the gym was hovering somewhere between tropical and solar flare. Turns out, like so many large buildings these days, the thermostat is remotely controlled by a system five states away that, on this particular day, was combating an Arctic front moving through North Carolina that none of us realized had befallen us.

Somewhere in Atlanta, Tallahassee or Terre Haute was the solution to our heatwave, only it's doubtful anyone that far away cares much about an emergency air conditioning adjustment at five-thirty in the morning just so I don't have to get clammy while pretending to work out.

© 2015 Mark Feggeler

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Trump the Master Clown

Let's face it. When the circus comes to town, what are you most excited about? The trapeze artists? The lion tamers? Tiny dogs chasing each other around a ring and jumping through hoops for a kibble treat? Please... Everyone knows the world loves a clown.

Some people might be scared of clowns, and I sure wouldn't want to spot one coming at me in the middle of the night in a dark alley, but most of the applause and attention at any good circus goes to the clowns.

Clowns make us laugh, they perpetrate elaborate diversions from the seriously dangerous acts around them, and they help us spot the ridiculousness in the behavior of their fellow clowns. Which is why, in certain ways, I appreciate Donald Trump, because without him the state of pre-primary presidential posturing would be a yawnfest of liberal proportions.

Without Trump in the mix, wannabes such as Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, Ben Carson or Rand Paul might have the opportunity to convince the people of their parties they are not only qualified to serve as President, but that their motives for running are pure. Fortunately, Trump the master clown lept quick and early from the multi-color mini-car to embroil them in a war of one-upsmanship funnier than any slapstick routine or pie in the face. They trip over themselves to respond to Trump's latest heinous stance on immigration or women's health and, in many cases, firmly plant one of their oversized shoes in their grease-painted mouths.

The potential benefit of Trump's protracted three-ring act should be to show the voting public just how insincere and easily played all of the other clowns are. Like the Keystone Cops chasing after Buster Keaton, they repeatedly take the bait and fall about themselves playing a constant game of catch up. Instead of pandering to their base audiences and attempting to build their credibility, they end up competing for news coverage and social media mentions. They lack the courage to change the dialogue in order to state their own convictions because they have rare few to flaunt, save the burning conviction they deserve to be the next to sit in the Oval Office.

Even the media has taken the bait, none more so than FOX so-called-News. FOX has lost months sneering at Trump, downplaying his importance to the 2016 Presidential election, and engaging in his cherry-picked battles with the network during a time they otherwise would have spent tearing down the Democratic challengers and trumpeting the second coming of Christ in any or all of the Republican hopefuls. FOX News has unsuccessfully avoided joining the cavalcade of supporting clowns in Trump's performance.

I, for one, am not worried about Trump becoming our next president. Before all is done, he will have decided he has sufficiently increased the value of the name that has carried him through all the remarkably poor decisions in his life, and he will bow out of the race as ungracefully as he entered. Along the way, though, he will have flushed out a few phonies from the Republican field and made it easier for the rest of us to spot our neighboring racist, intolerant, homophobic, sexist boors who are loudly cheering his inflamed rhetoric.

For that, I am appreciative and award his present circus act a five-star rating.

Mark Feggeler

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The New Normal

There’s no point counting down anymore. The time has come to let go the apron strings, loosen the heart strings, and watch Our Daughter and her best buddie roommate recede in the rearview mirror as we drive away from her college dorm.

Not long ago, or so it seems, she cried at the thought of leaving home for college. She practically made us promise never to send her away.

Sure, she was a kindergartener at the time, but what has that got to do with anything? Just because she has managed to maturely accept the concept of living on her own and is eagerly looking forward to the sundry, looming freedoms awaiting her doesn’t mean I can’t hyperventilate every now and then.

Or openly weep.

In public.

While picking out strawberries at Walmart.

Somewhere along the way, and without any regard for my wishes, she changed from a happy, if slightly insecure, little girl to a confident young woman. Play dates have been replaced by plans to meet up with friends. Preschool in Pinehurst has given way to Pre-Dental studies at UNCG. I don’t recall ever giving permission for any of this to happen.

This is the same kid who once blew out a diaper so badly we spent thirty minutes washing poop out of her hair. She’s the same girl who ate so many fish crackers she ended up projectile vomiting all over her mother and the surrounding fifteen square feet of shag carpet. This is the girl who spent the better part of nine years learning how to ride a bicycle. She’s the one who got on the bus for the band trip to Disney without remembering to pack her instrument, and we’re going to trust her to manage her time wisely and, at some point in the not-too-distant future, drill holes in people’s teeth?

And, yet, it is happening, regardless of all my concerns, fears, trepidations and unwillingness to see her as anything but that cute little bundle with the puffy cheeks and tremendous brown eyes we brought home from the hospital nearly eighteen years ago.

Her bedroom has been raked over in search of treasures to either bring with her or pack away, and to make way for her twin brothers to finally have their own rooms. There’s a large pile of stuff in the basement – linens and clothing, textbooks and small appliances – waiting to be packed in the van tomorrow night in preparation for the journey to their new home in Greensboro. And there’s the girl herself, in limbo, struggling with short-timer’s disease, eager to gleefully leap into her studies with familiar wide-eyed enthusiasm, waiting for the next exciting phase of her life to begin.

In a few months, possibly even just a few weeks, it will all become the new normal. We will eventually stop calling it her bedroom. We will adjust to dinners at the smaller table in the kitchen nook instead of the big table in the dining room. The dog will stop searching the house for her and we will accept the fact she is capable of moving on without us into the life for which, if we have been even a faint semblance of the perfect parents we like to think we are, we have prepared her. She will be fine, and so will we.

However, you might want to avoid the strawberries at Walmart for a little while. They might be a bit salty.

2015 Mark Feggeler

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

An Essential Bloom

Children of the Eighties, rejoice! A long lost perennial is flowering once again.

For those whose minds turn to such things, there was a time when a newspaper's comics section offered greater quality of satire and social commentary than most editorial pages. Oh, sure, the vast majority of comic strips have historically consisted of throwaway talking head characters rehashing the same old puns worn thin by the likes of Barney Google, Beetle Bailey and Family Circus. But, for a brief time in the middle of the self-centered Reagan/Gekko heyday of the 1980s there existed a giddy, nose-thumbing, boundary pushing, and genuinely funny comic strip known as "Bloom County."

The characters residing in Bloom County tumbled gleefully headfirst into topics that had never been properly addressed in the panels of the comics pages. Sex, love, feminism, masculinity, divorce, drugs, physical handicaps, politics, religion, ethnicity, and adolescence were just a handful of the things you could expect to find rearing their ugly heads in Bloom County. And, at the center of it all, stood Opus, the breakout star who took over the show. The comic strip version of Steve Urkel, only better because his frequent appearance didn't make you contemplate life-ending scenarios.

Bloom County offered a safe haven for folks planted firmly in Americana to laugh at the trends and tribulations that barraged us from the extreme ends of the socio-political spectrum. It helped us find humor in uncomfortable situations. It pointed big, furry cartoon fingers at public figures who needed their egos deflated. It allowed us to laugh at the ultra-conservatives, the ultra-liberals, the hyper-patriotic, and the self-righteous. If we were lucky, we might even see something of ourselves to laugh at in the panels of Bloom County.

And then it was gone.

Bloom County vanished shortly before the dawn of the Clinton decade, perhaps rightfully so. The story lines had grown thin, the humor sometimes thinner, and many of the endearing early characters had fallen away. Despite lingering efforts and offshoots that were visually impressive yet too surreal for their own good, Bloom County was to be sealed off in the same time capsule that held my high school and college memories. A product of its age; books to be taken out and shared decades later with my children.

Typical reaction to the news.
In recent years, however, one might have caught glimpses of characters and bits of vague commentary on Facebook that gave slivers of hope of a rebirth, not just of certain beloved characters, but also of the light-hearted, joyful lunacy that inspired Bloom County in the early days. Now, it seems, the end of a long wait has finally come with yesterday's posting on social media of the first new Bloom County comic strip in 25 years. People who didn't see it coming are in disbelief. I, for one, think the timing is perfect. The American people have suffered longer than necessary from a bad case of taking-ourselves-too-seriously-itis.

We are in desperate need of good-natured toilet humor.

We are in desperate need of the lampooning of our unaccomplished celebutant superheros.

We are in desperate need of a softer, more thoughtful approach to the lampooning of contemporary pop culture.

And we might even be in desperate need of a Republican Presidential debate organized by a misogynistic lawyer, moderated by a naive penguin, and covered for the local newspaper's burgeoning website by a 10-year-old sage reporter. Perhaps all 31 candidates should be forced to share lodging at the Bloom County Boarding House.

Whatever is to come from the fanciful world of Bloom County, it'll be nice to catch up with some long lost fictional friends. Here's hoping this time around they stay longer than nine years.

2015 Mark Feggeler

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

NC Legislators Shafting Education

Pretty soon, if you want a decent education for your child in the state of North Carolina, you might have to come to grips with the concept of homeschooling.

Not that our teachers are incapable. Our Daughter just graduated high school and received, for the most part, an excellent education that has prepared her well for college. Our sons will be in high school soon enough and then heading off to college themselves, also with heads full of knowledge thanks to their many dedicated teachers (and despite the few who shouldn't be teaching). They are nearly beyond the point at which the vivisection of public education by the North Carolina Legislature can impact them directly. Until, of course, they have their own children.

The disdain for public education by the Republican leadership of North Carolina -- Republicans control both the House and Senate with commanding majorities, in addition to the Governorship --  is palpable. From salaries, to support, to supplies, to benefits, to basic respect, the state of North Carolina is failing our children by failing our schools.

Competitive teacher salaries? Who needs them? In fact, North Carolina celebrates bloated middle management over the value of line-level teachers and school staff.

For instance, the NC Department of Public Instruction hires people in at salaries with a basement of $57,000 to serve as Education Testing/Accountability Consultants. Qualified applicants could draw a starting salary north of $90,000. According to, the basement salary for a Bachelor-degree certified teacher is $33,000. A similarly certified teacher with 25 or more years of experience qualifies for a maximum starting salary of only $50,000. That's a $22,000-$40,000 gap between the teachers charged with directly educating our children and the number crunchers dreaming up tests to measure the effectiveness of our teachers.

And it isn't as though North Carolina employs merely a handful of Education Consultants. A quick search using a handy tool provided by the News & Observer shows almost a full eight screens -- 197 individual positions -- of employees with the title Education Consultant Levels I, II or III. Perhaps, in a state made up of 100 counties, 197 consultants on various topics of public education isn't too extreme, but it makes me wonder why we then employ 76 Education Program Directors who are supposed to serve as the lead authorities for their designated topics. Why do we have more than double the number of consultants than actual directors, all of them drawing salaries beyond the reach of even the most seasoned teacher?

So, what is a state government to do when all this money gets tossed at education yet our overall testing scores consistently put North Carolina close to last place in the Union? Punish the schools, of course. The bloated middle management at the Department of Public Instruction, all too frequently mirrored at the local district levels, couldn't possibly be to blame. Could it? We need all those people milling about, pushing their own agendas, developing new ways to learn math, developing new tests to justify their high salaries. What would we do without them?

Oh, that's right.

We might be able to fund higher salaries for teachers. We might be able to hire additional teacher assistant positions. We might be able to buy proper textbooks. We might be able to fund modern computer labs. We might be able to get students out of trailers and into proper buildings. We might be able to fund personalized reading programs that target the needs of students rather than implementing a bastardized form of the Lexile program which, by its own descriptive content at its website, is meant to be a tool for teachers, not a systematic approach to governing all reading programs. We might be able eliminate the need for teachers and local administrators to help justify the pet programs of their higher ups and, instead, offer meaningful feedback on the effectiveness of tools offered to them without fear of political retribution.

There's a whole lot we might be able to accomplish if our Legislators stopped playing politics with our tax dollars and focused on funding the learning process.

2015 Mark Feggeler

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A Civics Lesson for a Local Official

One of our local Board of Education (BOE) members – who embroiled herself last week in the hotly contested and, ultimately reversed, firing of our school district’s superintendent – is seemingly in need of a civics lesson.

Let’s begin with the fancy footwork that started the whole hullabaloo. Five members of the BOE voted to enforce the Unilateral Termination clause of the superintendent’s contract. The clause itself, also known as a Termination for Convenience clause, allows for the termination of a contract without reason, even if the contractor is performing his or her duties splendidly. There is no need for a causal infraction, default, or violation to justify the termination. The employer, in this case the majority of the BOE, needed only to vote in favor of termination. In that sense, the “Gang of Five” likely held to the letter of the law, making moot the argument over whether they had the right to fire the superintendent.

Just because you have the right to do something, however, does not mean it is the right thing to do. For example, I am fully within my rights to work in my yard without wearing a shirt. I choose not to because it might be an affront to my neighbors and emotionally scar their young children.

In this case, business leaders, teachers, parents and local elected officials admired and applauded the superintendent for the changes he was attempting to make. He was more visible than any superintendent preceding him and was working within the community to develop educational partnerships and bolster teacher morale. It seems to me when you have a leader whose only apparent popularity issue is with the bloated middle management between him and his line-level employees, it might be an indication he’s doing something right.

I do not know the reason why the Gang of Five wanted to get rid of the superintendent, and I don’t care, either. I’m also not particularly sold on the idea of a recall election. I have to put more thought to that one. Laura Lang, the lone holdout on the BOE who voted to fire the superintendent has been, for now, rendered harmless in her minority standing. A coup to oust her from the board might make her a sympathetic figure. Allowing her to limp ineffectually along to her regularly scheduled re-election could prove the wiser tactic.

That Laura Lang believes her actions justified, I do not doubt. It might even be that she truly believes what she did was in the best interests of Moore County students. Only she can know for certain. In the aftermath of the resignation of the other four BOE members and the rehiring of the superintendent, Ms. Lang made only one comment that struck me as requiring a response:

“Cruel and absolutely harsh things that have been said about all of us has just been so unlike the citizens of Moore County. It’s shameful.”

I’m sure some people went too far when calling or emailing the BOE members to vent their outrage. Anyone guilty of a criminal act should be held accountable for their words and actions.

Many people, however, merely suggested the five BOE members might have colluded to oust the superintendent in order to free the position for a political ally. Others might have used such words as misguided, arrogant, rude, disconnected, and stubborn when talking about Ms. Lang specifically. I might even have suggested the possibility the Gang of Five was helping to foster a bullying, abusive work environment for our teachers. But, none of that is cruel or harsh. In her attempt to portray herself and her fellow BOE members as victims, she is labeling the entirety of the uprising against her shameful and, therefore, attempting to negate our right to vocally and vehemently condemn her actions. Not only do we have the right to stand up for what we believe, we have an obligation to do it. For the most part, the commentary and conjecture has been timid in comparison to the kinds of tactics available to our forefathers.

It was only a generation or two ago that hanging someone in effigy was acceptable in the United States. Instead of posting our comments on Facebook or filing calmly into a crowded high school auditorium, we might have formed an angry mob to parade around the school with a flaming representation of you dangling from a long stick, all the while chanting wildly inappropriate lynching songs. If we tried that these days, we’d be charged with attempted arson, reckless endangerment, communicating threats, and possession of a weapon with intent to do harm before we lit the first match.

And how about our Founding Fathers? If you think people have been uncivil this past week, consider Thomas Jefferson and John Adams when they set the stage for character assassination during the Presidential election of 1800. Jefferson’s campaign labeled Adams a war-mongering, tyrannical hypocrite. Adams’ campaign labeled Jefferson an atheistic, cowardly weakling. Adam’s people said Jefferson was the son of a Native American squaw mother and a multi-racial father. Jefferson’s people called Adams a hermaphrodite. A hermaphrodite! I’d much rather be called arrogant or misguided than a hermaphrodite.

The schools of Moore County have flirted with greatness over the years, often falling short for one reason or another (can you say inadequate local tax funding? Under-funded capital projects? Inconsistent policies and programs? Poor community relations? Putting sports before academics? Bueller?). This time around the thing standing in the way was our own elected leaders.

Take heart, Ms. Lang. You aren’t the first public official to be vilified, and you won’t be the last. If you truly believe you’ve done the right thing, rather than hiding behind words such as “if you knew what I knew” when people condemn your decisions, grow a thicker skin and borrow from that master of public insults, Benjamin Franklin: “Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain… and most fools do.”

Just bear in mind that statement might also apply to you.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Epic Education Fail

Recent events involving our local Board of Education -- namely the firing of well-regarded Superintendent Dr. Bob Grimesey -- have stirred discontent with the potential to cause an uprising worthy of a Victor Hugo novel. 

Many parents are angry at his firing. Many community leaders are angry. Many teachers and administrators are angry (and scared). And many students are angry, while many more students probably do not fully understand the degree to which they should be angry. For many different reasons, I count myself among the angry population.

To be fair, I know very little about Dr. Bob Grimesey. His name began dropping last year after he was hired to serve as superintendent of Moore County Schools here in our heavenly slice of North Carolina. I’ve seen him, as one sees public officials, at a few school events here and there. Other than that, I’ve had no interaction with the man and, therefore, am in no position to make any arguments based on his character. I don’t know him well enough to personally vouch for him, so I won’t even go there.

My reasons for being angry at the five Board of Education members who fired the Superintendent are based on wasted resources (his contract buyout is north of $128,000), cowardice (last-minute, closed-door meetings held at times inconvenient to parents and school staff), alleged collusion (this coup has been in the planning process for weeks despite never being discussed in a proper board session), and hubris (the excessive self-confidence these board members exhibit in banding together to accomplish their pre-determined goal, regardless of the needs and wants of the children they serve and the taxpayers to whom they answer).

The harsh realities of the situation are that Dr. Grimesey is gone and likely will not be back. [NOTE: Since writing this post, and thanks to the intervention of NC State Representative Jamie Boles, we might just get our superintendent back.] It’s a nice dream to believe the decision can be reversed, but the chances of it happening are beyond slim, even if the election recall being discussed to remove certain Board of Education members succeeds. Time passes too slowly. People move on. Better things are down the road for Dr. Grimesey and I wish him well in his pursuit of them. He will thrive.

How do I know this? Because I’ve seen this kind of thing happen before.

Years ago, I worked for a company that encouraged and even congratulated back-stabbing manipulation. Fear and bullying were the order of the day. Decisions were made based on personal preference rather than sound business reasoning. Lies were told and systems meant to protect employees were abused. The short-term result of the company’s management style was good people who were treated like trash and corrupt leaders who protected, pampered and profited political allies. The long-term result was the near destruction of the company through years of turmoil until, finally, the cancers were cut out. Of those good people who were chewed up and spit out, the ones I see around town have achieved personal success and made good lives for themselves. The manipulators who made life hell for everyone have mostly fallen from power and are ostracized, in some cases even by their own family members.

The Board of Education’s vaguely justified and unpopular firing of the Superintendent has not damaged Dr. Bob Grimesey. If anything, he has been liberated to seek the employment of a school system that will embrace and appreciate him. He now has hundreds of glowing personal references available online for future employers to read and can go on his way with an extra $128,000-plus in his pocket. That’s not to say it won’t impact him emotionally. His tearful message to an audience of supporters this week clearly indicates a desire to remain in Moore County to serve the public.

The real, true and genuine effect of the Superintendent’s firing is the fact it has brought into the full light of day those five board members who hoped they could either bully Dr. Grimesey into quietly resigning on Monday, or fire him with little public attention in hastily scheduled back-to-back meetings. People who, seven days ago, weren’t paying the first lick of attention to Moore County Schools are now feverishly discussing recall elections, alleged collusion, nepotism, and potential violation of the North Carolina Open Meetings Law. Much like the leadership at that company I worked for years ago, the five members of the Board of Education and the administration they might wish to create now seem like so much detritus circling a bowl in desperate need of flushing.

Some people will overreact. Keep calm folks. 

Keep threatening language and hyperbole off the table. Accept the reality that you can’t hit the rewind button and undue what has been done. It’s time to move forward politically to remove the problem. Move forward intelligently to elect people who, to the best of your knowledge, will represent you to the best of their abilities. Move forward ethically to do whatever you are going to do in a way that will not disgrace you or your allies in this endeavor.

Most importantly, sleep well at night, secure in the knowledge you are trying to do the right thing. I’d like to think there are five people who can’t.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Reclaiming the Valley of Death

Ten years we've lived in our house and all that time I've lovingly referred to our backyard as the Valley of Death.

The way my backyard once looked.
(NPS photo)

It wouldn't be fair to say nothing grows in the Valley of Death. There's sandy soil with good drainage. Half the yard is shaded by tall pines sprinkled around the periphery of our property. A few lonely bushes planted by the builder in 2005 had managed to muscle through.

Not the azaleas, mind you. Azaleas and I have never been able to reach a common understanding. My record of killing azaleas is second to none in North Carolina. In fact, if reincarnation is real, then all those poor azaleas I've tortured over the years must have committed some egregious sins in past lives for which they needed to atone.

In the interests of full disclosure, most things I've planted in the Valley of Death have withered and died primarily because I've consistently chosen the wrong kinds of plants. I would find myself roaming the garden section of Lowe's or Walmart, see something colorful and think:

"This looks pretty. I'm going to bring it home and watch it grow." 

Then I'd get it home, plant it, and watch it burn to a cinder in the high heat of summer because I neglected to read the informational card telling me the plant needs 17 hours of shade, several gallons of water, morale-building pep talks, and deep-tissue leaf massages three times a day. After years of this behavior, I finally learned to read the labels and, unknowingly, moved to the opposite end of the spectrum. Only those plants capable of tolerating full sun and requiring little to no water started making the trip home with me. It no longer mattered if they were pretty. The question I asked when wandering the garden section became:

"Can it survive equatorial solar radiation, desert droughts, and the occasional fire ant infestation?"

I wanted plants with a Dungeons and Dragons constitution score of 18, plus three for magical potions (fertilizer). The trouble with that line of thinking is you end up with a yard full of plants and shrubs that look scraggly, twiney and neglected even in the best of health and at full bloom. It's difficult to take pride in showing off a garden full of purposefully planted weeds and sticks that would make Georgia O'Keeffe long for the lush greenery of the New Mexican dessert.

Lately, it seems, I have managed to strike a balance between aesthetics and sturdiness. It all began with a blueberry bush.

I can't recall if I bought the bush or it was given to me as a gift. However it came to me, I planted it in the backyard in the one shady spot where things seems to grow. After all, I like blueberries. I like eating them. I enjoy baking with them. I wanted the bush to have the greatest chance of survival, and planting it where I did paid off. The bush produced approximately one dozen berries that first year, a few dozen the next, quite a few dozen the following year, and presently is poised to yield several hundred berries in the coming weeks.

I fully realize one bush does not the Garden of Eden make, but any sign of success was encouragement. So, this spring, I decided it was time for the Valley of Death to meet its maker.

My next project -- a simple, under-
stated water feature.
(NPS photo)
At present, there are five knockout rose bushes, the blueberry bush, two rosemary plants, several new crepe myrtles, two wildflower patches, two butterfly bushes (which were already there, but which appear to have sensed the enthusiasm), two lovely camellias (thanks Mom and Dad), one spindly grassy thing with long spikes topped by purple blooms, and a rapidly growing grape vine. I hadn't really intended to grow grapes, but Aldi had a rack of mismarked plants ("Grape Bush") near the checkout counter and I simply couldn't resist. Even the oregano I ripped out last year has sprouted anew.

With all this new growth boosting my confidence, perhaps it's time to take the yard to the next level. I've often thought it might be fun to install a water feature. Nothing too intricate, just a simple, understated cascading waterfall with mossy boulders surrounded by a fully matured natural pine forest. Piece of cake...

© 2015 Mark Feggeler

Thursday, April 23, 2015

In the Spirit!

It’s Spirit Week at the middle school and our boys have been participating whole-heartedly, which is just one of the many differences between my children’s educational experiences and mine. I never learned to embrace school, or extracurricular activities, or sports, or band, or homework, or clubs, or girls.

Apart from a few good friends, my K-12 education consisted of navigating from one class to another, one year to another, while calling as little attention to myself as possible. Just a few steps shy of pathologically uptight, I avoided anything I saw as a potential threat or danger, which meant the last time I used a school bathroom was that day in fifth grade when a sixth grader popped open the door to my stall and stood there laughing. Why was it funny? I have no idea, but I never stepped foot in another school bathroom again. Perhaps the only thing of real lasting value I learned from school was how to hold it until I got home.

Needless to say, I didn’t go to many (okay, any) parties, I didn’t join any clubs, and I didn’t participate in Spirit Week, if we even had them back then. Dressing in school colors might be too conspicuous. What if the green I wore wasn’t the correct shade of green? And Pajama Day? Not likely. I was one of those kids who inhaled half a can of Aqua Net to make sure each and every hair conformed to the code of the mushroom helmet. I might not have had any style, but my lack of style – from my dad jeans, to my tucked-in shirt, to my old man sneakers – was immaculately represented every day. There was no way I was going to spoil it by wearing plaid pajamas to school.

The great thing about time passing is how effectively it can mellow you. Somewhere between 18 and 25, I began to allow many of my more diagnosable inhibitions to fall away. The result was wonderfully freeing. If one of my coworkers were to announce tomorrow is dress like a baby day, I’d be the first to run out and buy adult diapers and a giant baby rattle. Pajama Day? Please. These days you’d be lucky if I didn’t overdo it and wear women’s lingerie.

And in the interests of overdoing it, there are several new Spirit Week themes I would like to recommend that I believe would prove beneficial to the young people of today. After all, kids can wear school colors any old day, and pajamas would be a step up from most of the clothes kids choose to wear. My Spirit Week themes would forego such silliness in an effort to teach adolescents practical life lessons, such as the benefits of cleanliness and proper hygiene.
  • Monday: Dress Like You Brushed Your Teeth Without Being Reminded Day
  • Tuesday: Take Your Gritty Shoes Off Before Entering the House Day
  • Wednesday: Wash Your Hair Properly (Like, With Shampoo) Day
  • Thursday: Deodorant Is Your Friend Day
  • Friday: Your Bedroom Really Shouldn’t Smell That Way Day

Or how about the hazards of chemical dependency?
  • Monday: Dress Like Snoop Dog and/or Rush Limbaugh Day
  • Tuesday: Bring Your Parents’ Secret Stash to School Day
  • Wednesday: Dress Like Your Favorite Incarcerated Former Politician Day
  • Thursday: Dress Like Your Favorite Overdosed Celebrity Day
  • Friday: Dress Like the Kid Who Sells Weed In the School Bathroom But Hasn’t Been Busted Yet Day

Or even general responsibility?
  • Monday: Dress Like You Own a Mirror Day
  • Tuesday: Don’t Back Out of the Driveway at 50 MPH Day
  • Wednesday: Dress Like You Own More Than Just Your Favorite Shirt Day
  • Thursday: If Your Homework Says “Show Your Work” Then Show Your Work Day
  • Friday: Dress Like You’re Not an Under-Aged Stripper Day

The possibilities are endless, and certainly more educational and entertaining than silly old Pajama Day.

Copyright 2015 Mark Feggeler

Friday, March 6, 2015

Mood Underwear

If you can't tell from the title of this post that you're going to be subjected to too much information -- more than you probably ever needed, wanted, or begged never to hear -- about my choice of underwear, then let me warn you now: you will.

The age-old question about men's underwear -- "boxers or briefs?" -- doesn't strike anywhere close to the heart of the matter, because the important question isn't about preferred cut, of which there are surprisingly many.

For instance, there are boxers, briefs, boxer-briefs for those men incapable of choosing between the two, sports briefs, bikini briefs, Latin briefs, long johns, trunks, Army trunks, lace-up trunks, front-enhancing padded pouch trunks for men with extra-small winkies, thongs, classic thongs, show me thongs for men who are extra proud of their winkies, g-strings, jock straps, cotton jock straps for men who want to feel like they're suited up for sports without actually having any real protection for their winkies, and swimmer jock straps.

Swimmer jock straps? Seriously, aren't most pools cold enough that you don't have to worry about that thing sticking out like a rudder and steering you off course?

Regardless of the preferred style, whether it be a low-rise trunk or no-show briefs, once a style is chosen the truly difficult decision is which brand to buy. It might surprise you to learn that more than one company caters to men who wear hot pink, see-through, crotchless, edible man panties, but I'm fairly certain I spotted three during my research for this post. (Anyone care to guess how much gay porn spam I'll be receiving in the next few weeks?) I guarantee any man who does wear hot pink, see-through, crotchless, edible man panties knows which brand makes the best and buys only from that brand.

Think of me what you will, I prefer a simple brief -- the classic tighty whitie, as it is known. Apart from a few crazy daring times in my life when I experimented with boxers, the brief has been my mainstay as far back as I can recall. Without them, I might as well crawl back under the covers certain in the knowledge it will be a bad day.

When it come to briefs, there really are only two brands that have provided consistency through the decades. They are Fruit of the Loom and Hanes. Now, Hanes are okay, but, much like Lee jeans, they feel like they were designed for a species of creature with a significantly different body type from mine. The rear is too baggy; the hips ride too high. It's like wearing borrowed underwear, which is every bit as unnerving and creepy as it sounds.

Fruit of the Loom, on the other hand, seems to understand me in the same way Levi jeans do. It's as if they stitched their fabrics together on a mannequin shaped like a short-torsoed, slightly overweight man with long legs and said: "These would fit Feggeler perfectly!" And the best part is my size, style and color (or lack thereof) have always been available.

Until recently.

I have struggled in vain since Christmas to locate my tighty whities in the stores. (Okay, maybe just one store, but I have an $8 credit to Walmart and that's what I planned to spend it on.) At the risk of going commando, and for the first time in nearly forty-seven years, I veered from tighty whities and bought a different kind of underwear. Sure, they're still the same cut and size of Fruit of the Looms briefs. The big difference is the color. Yes, I am now the proud owner of a multi-color pack of briefs.

Need I explain how uncomfortable the thought of wearing colored underwear made me feel? And it had nothing to do with issues of masculinity. I gave up pretending to be masculine somewhere back in high school when most guys were heavy into sports and I was honing my God-given shopping skills. My issue was more of an OCD-related one brought on by this sudden change in a rock solid, lifelong, unbending pattern in my life. After a slight hesitation that first morning, I decided it was best to leap in with both feet and embrace the change, so I grabbed the red briefs.

About one month deep into the underwear experiment, I've realized there's a perverse joy in breaking from the old routine. In the past, the first important task of the day was digging through a sea of tighty whities to find a pair new enough that the elastic band hadn't lost its snap. Some were so worn out they made me wonder if I have a diagnosble attachment disorder. These days, it's more like a game of match the underwear to my mood.

Is it a red day? Light blue, or maybe dark blue day? Perhaps today feels more like a gray day. What about green, you ask? Honestly, I've yet to figure out what kind of day green is good for.

© 2015 Mark Feggeler

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Tape, Glue Stick or Rubber Cement?

At this point in my life, I've been in the workforce for twenty-five years and have witnessed wondrous technological advances.

The fax machine, for example, was still making its awkward debut when I was indentured (I mean hired) by the Moore County Citizen News-Record to work as a newspaper reporter. To say budgets were a little tight at the Citizen would be like saying Ted Cruz is only slightly power hungry. A nickel didn't get spent without full consent of the managing editor, the editor-in-chief and my Mother giving written approval in triplicate. Consequently, the pricey thermal paper of early fax machines was a highly coveted item. You didn't dare scroll a superfluous inch of it unless you wanted to be violently chastised by the office controller.

When the fax machine started clicking, whirring, buzzing and bleeping to life, all activity in the office skidded to a halt. We stood around the fax room -- yes, the fax machine had its own private room -- like extras from "The Music Man" waiting for the WellsFargo wagon to start a comin' down the street.

"A fax came for me! I got a fax! Did you get a fax? No? I did!"

These days, the fax machine is looked on as a quaint and nearly irrelevant relic of bygone days, like the PalmPilot or handwritten thank you notes. The fax machine barely lasted as long as the lifespan of a really healthy cat.

Since 1990, workplaces have moved from clunkily networked computer terminals all linked to an outdated mainframe and one overworked laser printer, to everyone having their own laptops routed via wifi to dedicated Bluetooth printers. And if you needed to touch base with someone back then, you couldn't pull a smartphone out of your pocket for a quick video chat. You reached in your pocket for a quarter and found a pay phone.

Now, I'm not one of those curmudgeons who bemoans the loss of carefree, technology-free days. I like my smartphone, and my laptop, and my Bluetooth printers. I love carrying around eight days of music on a single device and being able to watch Harry Potter movies on my iPhone while traveling by plane from Raleigh to Columbus. If anything, I'm wondering why all processes and functions haven't embraced the advances of the past few decades.

Perhaps my greatest hope is to see technology impact the way I submit monthly expense reports, specifically the turning in of receipts.

At the beginning of each month, I sit at my desk and gather scraps of paper of various sizes that should match up to all the purchases I made during the previous month. At least one is usually missing, and sometimes five or six. In twenty-five years, I've probably submitted only one expense report for which I managed to find all the corresponding receipts.

Once gathered, I take out a pair of scissors and trim the excess edges from the receipts.

Why? Because when you have to tape all those little receipts to sheets of printer paper, you want to get as many on one sheet as possible. Why, you might ask, is it necessary to tape all those little receipts to printer paper and mail a huge bundle of papers halfway across the country? Because the expense report accounting process is stuck somewhere between Byzantine and kindergarten finger painting lessons. Even the antiquated fax machine is too high-tech to be part of this process.

In a day and age when my son can FaceTime his friends using a smartphone connected to high-speed internet via wireless router while sitting on the toilet, it amazes me that I am required to complete an important administrative task for which I have to make a choice between tape, glue stick and rubber cement.

© 2015 Mark Feggeler

Monday, January 26, 2015

A Traveling Poem

This bed is all wrong.
This bed's not for me.
This bed has a bump
Where a hollow should be.

The sheets are wrong, too.
They're stiff and they're starchy,
And make my pajama pants
Crackly and sparkly.

The pillows are wrong --
I use only one.
The maniac making this bed
Used a ton!

There's two pillows here,
And two pillows there.
In case that's too little
There's even a spare!

The blanket's wrong, too.
It stops at my hips.
And, because of my snacks,
Smells like chocolate and chips.

The headboard's too short.
There's no footboard at all.
And I'm sure I can hear people
Out in the hall.

The clock ticks past midnight.
It tocks half past one.
By the time I start sleeping
It's time to be done.

Truth be it known
The room is just fine.
If a problem exists
It's entirely mine.

The mattress is comfy.
The pillows are fluffly.
The TV works well,
And the room isn't stuffy.

I prefer my own bed.
It's the best bed for me.
Because when I reach out
You're where you should be.

© 2015 Mark Feggeler

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Little Puppy Is Lonely

Little Puppy has been lonely lately. So has his friend, Hoot, and his cousins, Giraffy and Brownie.

Not too long ago, this gang of plush playthings were as essential to a good night's sleep as the bed itself, or pajamas. The world simply was not spinning in proper rotation unless the Italian had Little Puppy and Hoot tucked up under the covers with him, and likewise for the German with Giraffy and Brownie.

When you're a parent of three young children, the fact each child has his or her essential nighttime toys can be both endearing and infuriating. A forgotten or lost toy can be the difference between harmony and hell when you're ready to call it a day. Like the time we were cruising and couldn't find Squirrelly. Squirrelly wasn't even a first string player; he was back up. Squirrelly was one of those substitute toys you brought on trips because, should something untoward happen to Squirrelly, life would go on. He eventually was found under a mattress, but bedtime suffered a delay and his temporary misplacement caused some small measure of emotional duress for the German.

In Our Daughter's time, there were dolls Shu-Shu and Miranda, in addition to dogs Dottie and Bernie. It became second nature to grab one or all them on the way out the door the way you grab your wallet and keys. She has long since outgrown them.

When she was just four or five years old, Our Daughter heard about college. The concept of leaving home to live and study in a strange city panicked her to tears. I assured her she wouldn't be going anywhere for a very long time. That very long time has now come and gone like the flickering of a candle.

The same will hold true for the twins. Before we know it, thirteen will have turned to eighteen and it'll be their time to tour college campuses and complete scholarship applications. Just around the corner are the dissolution of bedtime rituals and the packing away of the silly toys of early childhood. Our recent housecleaning over the holidays offered proof these days are coming. The ease with which they let go of things that were, only last year, must-keep essentials was equal parts freeing and frightening.

So, what will become of Little Puppy?

For now, he sits atop the dresser overlooking the bed he once occupied. He might end up in a bin under the bed, or a drawer in the closet. Rest assured, there will be an intervention before his well-being is ever in jeopardy. Maybe Little Puppy will end up on the shelf in my office. Whenever I look up to give my bleary eyes a break from staring at the computer screen, I'll see Little Puppy and be reminded of the words from the Paul McCartney song "Little Willow."

"Bend little willow,
Wind's gonna blow you
Hard and cold tonight.
Life as it happens,
Nobody warns you.
Willow, hold on tight."

It's a song I sang hundreds of times to the children when they were babies and toddlers. I wonder, sometimes, if I was singing it to them or to myself.

© 2015 Mark Feggeler