Thursday, December 8, 2016

Aggressive Kong Dropper

Bump, bop, bippity, bump, bump, bump...

Pretend as though nothing is happening. Avoid eye contact. Do not engage.

Bump, bop, bippity, bump, bump, bump...

Don't smile. It isn't cute. Don't acknowledge the behavior or encourage the persistent badgering. Like an ignored child throwing a showy tantrum, the unrewarded behavior will eventually be abandoned.

Bump, bop, bippity, bump, bump, bump...

The red, rubber kong bounces randomly, knocking ankles and ricocheting off chair legs and kitchen cabinets. It is empty, an objectionable offense if you're a seven-pound Havanese in need of your daily dose of melted American cheese. Pick up the kong with your teeth and launch it where you will.

Bump, bop, bippity, bump, bump, bump...

It lands on my shoe. I have to look down. How frequently does your dog toss a toy in the air only to have it land perfectly on top of your shoe and stay there? In doing so, I spot her a foot away staring up at me with the expression of someone having a difficult time explaining a very simple concept to a very stupid person. The kong is empty. She wants cheese. If she were bigger and had opposable thumbs she'd solve the problem herself, but she isn't and she doesn't and she's annoyed at how staggeringly thick I am that I haven't figured out what she's trying to tell me.

Bump, bop, bippity, bump, bump, bump...

Some people fill kongs with peanut butter, or kibble. We cram it full with American cheese and stick it in the microwave for several seconds. If she's forgotten about the kong, simply pulling open the refrigerator drawer containing the individually wrapped slices of processed cheese-like stuff is enough to bring it top of mind again. 

Bump, bop, bippity, bump, bump, bump...

Take out the cold cuts to make the boys' sandwiches for school. 

Bump, bop, bippity, bump, bump, bump...

Take out the leftover grilled chicken to make yourself lunch. 

Bump, bop, bippity, bump, bump, bump...

Walk through the kitchen in the vicinity of the refrigerator. 

Bump, bop, bippity, bump, bump, bump...

Or, perhaps most egregious, sit at the breakfast table eating your breakfast while she is clearly faced with the challenge of an empty kong. 

Bump, bop, bippity, bump, bump, bump...

Avoid eye contact. Do not engage.

2016 Mark Feggeler

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Fantastic (Beasts) Review

Harry Potter fan here. Let's get that clear from the start.

As such, I argue the designation suitably qualifies me to determine whether or not the most recent addition to the Harry Potter universe, "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," does the universe proud. I am, however, reasonably demanding of movies, which means "Fantastic Beasts" had better do more than offer a few passing Harry Potter references in an otherwise underwhelming and unrelated mess.

Fortunately, while "Fantastic Beasts" might not be the most streamlined ship in J.K. Rowling's armada, it is solidly built and should carry viewers safe and sound to the coming sequel.

Let's begin with the negatives, the greatest of which is editing.

The many different scenes are well-crafted and interesting to behold, but some drag on a bit too long and are strung together in ways that don't allow time for any of the individual storylines to develop sufficiently. As a result, "Fantastic Beasts" manages to be both slow-paced and choppy. Like having a long, dull, frequently interrupted conversation with a famously fascinating person, it leaves you wanting. You get a little of the witch hunters, an intriguing angle that needed better set up, but just as the characters begin to pique your interest and you're hoping to learn more about them, the movie takes you elsewhere. You get a glimpse of the political governance of the American magical world before being whisked elsewhere. You get a little of the obvious bad guy, a compelling Colin Farrell in an under-developed role, before the movie again takes you elsewhere.

The elsewhere to which the movie keeps taking you is the second-biggest problem with "Fantastic Beasts." Namely, the beasts.

They are whimsically fun. They are appropriately cute and/or frightening. And they are a seemingly endless collection of magical creatures that have little to no bearing on the story of good versus evil that should have been the focus of this film. In short, they are enjoyably superfluous and occupy far too much screen time. It doesn't help that Eddie Redmayne is allowed to bring little more to Newt Scamander than introverted mumbling and an awkwardly shy grin, and any potential chemistry between Redmayne and Katherine Waterston is, largely, squandered. Even Scamander's purpose for being in the States, to return a winged magical creature to the wilds of Arizona, is largely inconsequential, except to prove unreasonably convenient toward the end of the movie.

Helping save the day, both as supporting heroes within the story and as entertainment for the viewer, are Dan Fogler as a non-magical bystander drawn into the adventure against his will and Alison Sudol as a mind-reading witch. The two play well off each other and lend a much-needed, endearing playfulness.

In some ways, Fogler's Jacob should have been the main character, allowing the audience to witness the tale unfolding around him as he discovers the magical world, puzzles over the mysterious developments of the plot, and falls in love with Sudol's Queenie. His progression from bafflement and fear to wonderment and acceptance is the best performance in the film, whereas Sudol looks like she's having tremendous fun and its effect is infectious. It would be a shame of near criminal proportion if the two do not feature prominently in the coming sequels.

In all, "Fantastic Beasts" remains loyal to Rowling's creation while taking us in new and entertaining directions, just barely managing to rise above its clunky aimlessness. The degree to which I'm willing to forgive its shortcomings depends on the how well the sequels avoid them.

2016 Mark Feggeler

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Redpudiate: A Definition

Repudiate: to reject as untrue or unjust; to refuse to accept; to refuse to have anything to do with; disown.

I am guilty of doing what many of the more liberal-minded in our country did this year. I spent the campaign season convincing myself, and reinforcing my conviction by gradually limiting the sources of my information, that my fellow Americans were not reckless enough to elect Donald Trump president. It wasn't my intention to flood people with political anti-Trump snark, but faced with being shouted down in lengthy, unhinged rants by people opposed to my earlier more humble opinions it seems clear with hindsight that things were bound to end that way.

The reality is I will continue to scratch my head at people who, when a character flaw or alleged (or confirmed) criminal accusation is raised about our President-elect, choose to attack Hillary Clinton rather than defend Trump. The reason seems simple enough -- there is no defense for many of his actions and words. Some people even said as much leading up to election night: "I'm not defending Trump, I'm protecting America from Hillary." I get it. You hate her more than you fear him.

She was in the White House long enough, albeit not in an elected capacity, and has served in various government positions both elected and appointed for her to be a known quantity. She is flawed. No argument there. Do I believe she is a liar? Show me a human being who hasn't lied. Do I believe she is a murderer? No. Millions of tax dollars spent on multiple investigations would likely have yielded something by now. Do I believe she is responsible for the deaths in Benghazi? No. The Department of Defense is responsible for securing our embassies and Congress is responsible for providing the funding. Do I believe she intentionally destroyed emails? Probably. After comparing her alleged and factual sins to his alleged and factual sins, after weighing their potential strengths and faults as I saw them, I chose to support her.

Was I wrong? No. I simply chose the losing side, and I would if the election were held again tomorrow. Were you wrong if you voted for Trump? No. You simply chose the winning side, and you probably would if the election were held again tomorrow.

So, why am I concerned and what's up with the word "repudiate?"

I am concerned that Donald Trump, at countless rallies during which he worked his devoted followers to a rabid froth, has emboldened the bigoted and given undue legitimacy to hate. 

He encouraged people to lash out at protesters and alluded, even if jokingly, to the assassination of his opponent. He has been slow to denounce hate groups while being fast to play on the fear of Mexicans and Muslims the same way politicians before him have attempted to blame Italian, Irish, Chinese, Jewish and Catholic immigrants for all that ails this country. Whether or not he believes any of the words that came out of his mouth, the fact remains he played crowds like a fiddle until civility was nowhere to be found, a civility that many people who voted for him are now expecting from Democrats in the wake of his victory. That's easier said than done, but as a someone stated this morning, "Our nation is composed of oceans of good and only small lakes of bad. Let's focus on the oceans." A heartening thought, but even lakes have the potential to overflow and cause damage downstream. Just ask the people near Woodlake, NC, who were evacuated after Hurricane Matthew almost caused a dam to rupture.

I am concerned because hate speech, which I firmly believe should be protected under the principles of free speech, can be directly and indirectly responsible for everything from name calling at school to atrocious acts of aggression if allowed to build unchecked to a fever pitch. Trump's gatherings often devolved into xenophobic pep rallies. Regardless of what Trump might or might not have yelled into the microphone, some of his followers took it as an invitation to chant racist, sexist, violent words that were never repudiated by Trump.

When the leader of a pack questions the validity of another man's citizenship because of the color of his skin, or demeans women based on their looks, or boasts about molesting women, or encourages hate and fear of Muslims and Mexicans because he says they are terrorists, rapists and criminals, it serves as tacit approval of the resulting actions of members of the pack. Should it come as any surprise that reports of bullying in schools have risen sharply this year, that some minority populations feel inherently unsafe, and that swastikas are being painted on storefront windows to celebrate Trump's election? I fear for the safety of people who came to America seeking freedom from persecution. I fear for the safety of anyone who might look or be "different."

Many of the people calling for unification, peace, love and mutual respect are the same people who said, repeatedly, that Barrack Obama was not "their" President. They are shocked by citizens protesting outside Trump's buildings, yet they are the same people who questioned Obama's American heritage throughout his presidency. 

They've reeled for eight years at the idea that a black Democrat could have won office. They've cheered as the Tea Party movement derailed the Republican Party and wasted the last six years refusing, at every opportunity, to work with the President and Democratic members of Congress on any compromise for mutual benefit, at the expense of government institutions and the Judiciary. They were willing to sacrifice the nation to oppose one man. They set the lowest possible bar for how to behave when you don't get what you want and now they expect their opponents to rise above and be the bigger people? I'm sorry. They don't get to throw a collective temper tantrum and then lecture the rest of us about good graces the moment they catch a break. 

What are my hopes for the Democratic Party? I hope it and I can get our heads out of our asses. I hope it can find a fresh pack of candidates who don't tear each other to shreds during the primaries. I hope its sitting members of Congress show the humility the Republicans were incapable of mustering and compromise when necessary to accomplish good things for this country. I also hope they dig their heels in and fight tooth and nail to protect hard-won civil liberties, environmental policies, and consumer protections from being eviscerated. 

What are my hopes for a Trump presidency? I hope he at least makes an effort to live up to the principles of the Constitution. I hope he turns out to be the con man, used car salesman I think he is and doesn't do a damn thing he said he was going to do. I hope there's some depth of character lurking behind that silver spoon facade. I'm not expecting any of that, but I can hope. 

If nothing else, I hope our new President will repudiate the hate and bigotry he has so successfully stirred up. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

An Angelic Classic

Halloween is creeping closer, so naturally my thoughts have turned to Christmas.

The very moment that last miniature ghoul makes off with your final treat of the evening, grocery stores across the nation will hastily be swapping candy corn for candied yams. Horn-o-plenty decorations will hang for all of eleven seconds and Thanksgiving gravy will barely begin to congeal before the jolly fat man and his frost-bitten buddies take over every end-cap in the local megamart. The Christmas season will magically appear out of nowhere like reindeer poop on the rooftops.

Not that I'm complaining. Among the many things that get me jazzed for the holy days -- along with holiday shopping, homebaked cookies, pumpkin pies and rum-enhanced eggnog -- are the movies. And it won't be long before everything from the classic standards to the made-for-TV knockoffs are cluttering the airwaves.

Obvious favorites are "Elf" and "It's a Wonderful Life." Both excellent family films, although I suspect My Lovely Wife would rather ingest a handful of mistletoe berries than rewatch Jimmy Stewart's mild-mannered everyman be pushed to the brink of suicide in the name of peace on Earth. Surprisingly, some people aren't filled with Christmas spirit by depression-era movies that spend their first 90 minutes highlighting every sucky detail of a beaten down man's life. Without the magical twist ending it's about as cheery as "The Shawshank Redemption." She also doesn't care for "A Christmas Story," which might have been grounds for annulment if only I had learned this fact before Our Daughter was conceived.

Then you have movies that aren't really Christmas movies, but happen to take place during the holiday season. "While You Were Sleeping" and "The Ref" are two of my favorites here. The first is excellent for all ages, while the second is more appropriate to watch after you've put the kids to bed.

"Scrooge" the musical with Albert Finney, "Scrooged" the comedy with Bill Murray, and "Miracle on 34th Street" with Natalie Wood are strong standbys. Conversely, all "Home Alone" movies are intolerable rubbish, "The Santa Clause" series is meh, and "The Polar Express" makes my skin crawl. There's something unrepentantly eerie about the characters' faces. Watching "The Polar Express" gives me the same sensation I believe I would experience if I sat alone for two hours in a dark room filled with ventriloquist's dummies and, every now and then, one of them moved ever so slightly (or did it?).

Stacked up neatly in a row, with Charlie Brown's Christmas and the head-trippy Rankin & Bass specials included for good measure, my favorite is one with which you might not be familiar: "We're No Angels."

Admittedly, I am a Humphrey Bogart fanboy. His films with John Huston are classics and he set the example for Hollywood tough guys for years to come. At a time when the movie industry was young and most leading men were handsome stiffs with pretty hair and passable singing voices, Bogart was a bonafide stage actor who quickly learned how to play to the camera. At the end of his stunning career, he teamed with "Casablanca" director Michael Curtiz for a fourth and final time to bring a pet project to the screen.

"We're No Angels" is an adaptation of a play, and it very much feels like it. The sets are few, yet detailed. The cinematography simple, yet richly steeped in glorious Technicolor. The dialogue is timed for audience response, yet manages to remain light and breezy. The comedy might be a bit dark for some (it is about a Devil's Island prison break, after all), but the silly premise and simple characterizations should keep anyone from taking it too seriously.

Best of all are the three leading men -- Bogart, Aldo Ray and a young Peter Ustinov -- who strike up a warm camaraderie for the camera. In other hands, "We're No Angels" could have been little more than a stodgy period piece. These three manage not only to nail the humor of the situation, they're also having fun with each other and their supporting cast. Perhaps Bogie is a bit clunky delivering a comedic line here or there. Who cares? By the time it's all over, he seems to have settled comfortably into the rhythm.

Many diehard Bogart fans vociferously proclaim "We're No Angels" one of his worst films, primarily because it doesn't conform to his tough guy persona. I disagree. It is one of his greatest performances because it breaks with preconceived notions of what a Humphrey Bogart movie should be and showcases both the range of a Hollywood legend and how gracious he could be as part of an ensemble cast. Anyway, the tough guy is there. He's just tempered by the yuletide season, as evidenced by the scene in which he tells his fellow jailbirds not to get emotional about the family that has taken them in.

"We came here to rob them and that's exactly what we're going to do. We'll beat their heads in, gouge their eyes out, slash their throats... As soon as we wash the dishes."

See? Still a tough guy, but with manners.

2016 Mark Feggeler

Friday, September 30, 2016

Checking Me Out

I have a love-hate relationship with the self checkout section at the local supermarket.

It frequently enables me to avoid long lines, which I appreciate. When others wheel up to human cashiers with four-hundred-and-seventy-nine dollars worth of groceries shoved into their shopping carts and I have only three apples, two bags of Oreos and a tube of Preparation H, it is a wonderful thing to drift toward the self checkout machines. A few minutes scanning, jam the credit card into the chip reader, and off I go on my merry way with boodle in hand.

Utilizing self checkout also makes me feel smart.

I realize supermarket cashiers don't have to earn a degree from some institute of higher learning to run the cash registers, but many of them become so proficient they don't even need to refer to cheat sheets to know the code for my Envy apples is 4167. That's a skill I value which is why, at times when I do have enough items to warrant waiting for a human cashier, I spend less effort searching for the shortest line and more searching for the seasoned veterans. Mary on aisle 9 with her head down, a grunted "hello" and the weathered appearance of a middle-aged chain smoker will get you through that line a hell of a lot quicker than aisle 7's Jimmy, who just called for a manager because he's wasted five minutes trying to figure out how to charge by the pound for milk.

When using the self checkout stations, I strive to be like Mary. I approach with the sticker pulled off the apple and stuck to the back of my hand for easy reference. I inspect the Oreos the moment they come off the shelf so I know where the barcode is and I know how to hold them when running them over the scanner because I've watched the people ahead of me struggle like amateurs until they got it right. The same goes for the Preparation H. In. Scanned. Paid. Done, all so quickly accomplished I could represent the U.S. in self checkout Olympics.

Every now and then, you do come across troublesome machines.

Some have bad scanners. No matter what you do -- invert the package, flatten out the bar code, hold the bar code close up or far away, slam the can down hard enough to cause a crack in the Earth's mantle -- it won't make a difference. The register will still give you the "wrong answer" buzzer sound and ask you to try again.

Sometimes you get a screamer, usually on a very quiet morning. You walk up and punch in produce code 4167 for Envy apples and suddenly the skies open up and it sounds like God himself is telling you and the rest of the hearing world what to do with your fruit.


There's no option at this point other than plugging your ears and forging ahead with the rest of your purchases.



Other times your machine has a faulty scale in the bagging area. You've weighed your Envy apples correctly, entered the number of bags of Oreos you're intending to purchase and confirmed that, no, you really don't need a gallon of hemmherhoid cream, only to find every time you attempt to bag your items the machine argues with you.


"But I scanned the apples."


"They're Oreos. The screen says Oreos, two packs, and that's what I put in the bag!"


"I scanned the *!#@! Preparation H!"


"Shut Up!!!"

The final insult -- perhaps not quite as humiliating as publicly arguing with a hearing-impaired computer about my alleged quasi-medical issues -- comes when the machine begins questioning my age. It thinks, in its programmed mechanized way, that it's being nice to me when it asks if I qualify for the senior discount. What it doesn't realize is that I'm on the other side telling it to go do something with itself in ways that aren't even remotely possible.

2016 Mark Feggeler

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Because I Can

This tie I'm wearing is not meant to impress you. There's no ulterior motive behind it.

I'm not asking for a raise, or going on a job interview, or giving a big presentation. I'm not attending a funeral, or officiating at a wedding, or sneaking out for a romantic rendezvous, either. The only reason I'm wearing this tie is because I'm not fat anymore. 

Overweight? Yes, by about ten pounds, but no longer by thirty. 

The more forgiving khakis have been shoved to the back of the closet, along with extra-large dress shirts and some of the poofier cargo shorts, waiting for the next time I balloon into them. That's been the story of my waistline throughout my life. Bone skinny as a little kid, fat through middle school, bone skinny through high school, slightly doughy in college (thanks a lot, beer), slender at the wedding, second-trimester imitation during the pregnancies (thanks a lot, greasy cravings covered in cheese sauce), and so on through the years since the kids were born.

The most recent weight loss has been possible thanks to a way of eating we've adopted that seems to promote a better balance of calorie intake to calorie burn. We haven't cut out sugars, but we have cut them way back. We haven't cut out flour, just all-purpose flour. You'd be amazed the array of baked goods still available if you embrace baking with alternate flours like oat, almond and tapioca. The purpose of this post, however, is not to preach about healthy eating. Rather, it is to explain why I'm suddenly wearing nicer clothes.

You see, when you gain weight it can be disheartening and embarrassing to purchase stylish clothing to fit your new girth. We've all got those lines we don't want to cross. For me, it's thirty-six. So long as the zipper zips and the button doesn't tear free of the fabric and rocket across the room like a ballistic missile, I'm buying nothing larger than a thirty-six-inch waistline. The pants might be screaming, the pockets might be in a state of permanent gape, and my shoes might be staring up longingly at a hemmed cuff hanging halfway down my calf, yet I will convince myself they fit perfectly just to avoid the reality that I truly need thirty-sevens. 

Unfortunately, that approach to denial does have its limitations. Suits are a perfect example.

Whoever invented tailored suits should annually be burned in effigy because suits don't care if you can't cope with your new found fatness. I own several suits and they're all tailored, which means they were purchased at times in my life when I could stomach the notion of being publicly measured like cattle at an auction by a stranger drawing chalk lines on my ass. The moment your weight fluctuates five pounds in either direction, a tailored suit looks more like something you borrowed from a cousin who's almost your size. Gain more than ten pounds and the suit becomes a relic of bygone days, relegated to the far ends of your closet along with winter coats, embroidered sweatshirts and Halloween costumes.

The pants aren't the half of it, either. Few things scream "unchecked weight gain" louder than suit jackets so tight your range of motion is only slightly better than someone encased in an upperbody cast. When your double-breasted jackets don't even afford you one-ply protection from the elements... When your vests ride so high up your stomach they might as well be tube-tops... When your shirt collars are so tight you have to unbutton them to swallow, that's when you trade out suits and ties for husky khakis and reasonably attractive golf shirts.

Then comes the day you take a diet seriously, or begin exercising regularly, or reduce your intake of sugar and gluten as we did. The pounds gradually melt away. You become reacquainted with your jawline. Your nose no longer appears ready to pop off your face. You realize your clothes are suddenly so roomy you wouldn't look out of place singing lead for the Talking Heads. Little by little, you experiment with pants, shirts and suits you gave up on long ago, and they fit!

Which brings me back to where I began. I'm not wearing this tie to impress you. I'm wearing this tie because I can.

2016 Mark Feggeler

Friday, September 9, 2016

Strike Up the (Marching) Band

High school football starts today, which means it's time to get excited about watching kids I don't know play a game about which I don't care so I can enjoy the marching band for fifteen minutes during half-time.

Our Daughter marched in the band during her four high school years. We marched along right behind her, loading trucks, chaperoning special trips, hauling pit equipment onto the field, and volunteering at band competitions across central North Carolina every fall. There's nothing like six consecutive Saturdays eating band competition concession pizza, combined with six Fridays eating football game concession cheeseburgers, to help ensure you won't need a belt to hold up your pants by the end of the season. If the concession food isn't bad enough, then there's all the tailgating.

People don't bring health food to tailgating. You bring five boxes of Little Caesar's pizza and a basket of home-baked pretzels, or buffalo chicken dip and chips, or deep-fried jalapeno poppers. You bring the Colonel's chicken, or Mexican black been taco salad, or bowls of pulled pork barbecue and cornbread. You bring sliders, or pigs in blankets, or cookies and cakes. The family that brings vegan hummus-stuffed lettuce coils in a balsamic chanterelle reduction does not get invited to the next tailgate party because you don't need all that fiber and roughage coursing through your colon when you're facing four-hours of bleacher squatting on a hot night.

Weight gain aside, marching band season is a manic, sleep-deprived time filled with dramatic highs and emotional lows. Instruments will break, uniforms will tear, notes and steps will be missed, and the weather will gradually change from hot and humid to freezing damn cold. Concurrently, awards will be won, routines will be flawlessly executed, camaraderie will blossom, and important life lessons will be learned. The kids somehow manage to keep up with school work while dedicating weeknights and weekends to performing and practicing. The adults somehow manage to make it all happen football game after football game, band competition after band competition, without killing one another or their kids.

Tonight's season opening home football game marks our return to the marching band scene as our sons, both rising freshmen, take up their instruments. The German plays the sax, the Italian the trumpet. By all accounts, the German is loving it and will probably stick with it all four years. The Italian is enjoying himself, but has his eyes fixed on other interests, so this season might be his only marching band experience. Regardless, the two of them have spent the past few weeks immersing themselves in a demanding group activity and developing friendships with kids from all grades.

As the usual suspects gather at the high school auditorium this evening, we will follow the double-line of uniformed marchers to the stadium to take our seats and wait, as we do every year, for the football teams to get off the marching band field.

2016 Mark Feggeler

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

In Defense of My Shorts

Cargo shorts have come under attack lately. And why? Because they're ugly. They are ugly, fugly, God-awfully smugly ugly in ways too prolific to enumerate.

  • They cause any man wearing them to appear five inches shorter than he really is. 
  • Their wide, ungainly, below-the-knee openings make even the most muscular man's calves look like spindly dowels. 
  • The pleated, poofy pockets are impossible to iron and catch on every cabinet knob below counter level. 
  • They cause the wearer to spill over at mid-thigh into neighboring airplane, train or bus seats. 
  • They give the man wearing them the roughshod appearance of one who rolled out of bed and wrapped himself in the first thing he could find that was at least one step better than pajamas. 
  • To top it off, scientists will likely discover cargo shorts are responsible for chronic joint degeneration due to the incessant knocking of wallets, smartphones and keys against the knee.

Will any of that stop me from wearing them? No, and it isn't simply a matter of obstinance.

I have understood the effect cargo shorts have had on my appearance and psyche ever since buying the first pair. I knew they made me look like a pale, unkempt, bloated Smurf with emaciated legs from the moment I saw my reflection in the dressing room mirror.

When people openly embrace something they know is bad for them, there is typically one root cause. For all their evils, cigarettes provide a calming effect, which is why so many people in high-stress occupations smoke. Chocolate might be fattening, but it provides a temporary elevation of mood some studies have claimed is similar to the way we feel when falling in love. Professional wrestling might be idiotic pantomime appealing to adults who never developed a taste for entertainment beyond Tom & Jerry or Punch & Judy, but... Actually, there is no benefit to professional wrestling.

The single reason cargo shorts have, for me, proven more than a passing trend is simple -- practicality.

My wallet is a huge mass with its own gravitation pull and weather system. I would never, for no good reason, wad up layers of leather and cram them full of plastic, pictures and paper just to shove it all in my back pocket, and neither would you. Sitting all day with one butt cheek propped several inches higher than the other can't be good for the spine or the sciatic nerve, so if I can wear shorts that position the wallet elsewhere in my attire, I will. Apperances be damned.

If I look back through the photographic journal of my life, there are style choices that immediately come into question. Acid-washed jeans, anyone? Facial hair? Anyone who has ever seen me with facial hair has witnessed living proof why blondes should not grow beards. There are only two end results for blondes with beards -- spiraling drug addict or shopping center Santa Claus. How about the tried-to-grow-my-hair-out-and-failed-with-a-bad-mullet phase? Wind suits, polyester pants, two-tone shirts, high-top sneakers, courduroy pants, oversize belt buckles, calculator watches, pink dress shirts, Magnum P.I. courduroy short shorts, knee-high tube socks, flannel shirts... Had any of those trends proven themselves anywhere near as practical as cargo shorts, I might still be wearing them.

I have no immediate plans to abandon my cargo shorts and I have every intention to replace them as they wear out. They might be ugly, and they might not be sexy, but they sure do come in handy when you ask me to carry your phone.

2016 Mark Feggeler

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Will It Rain Today?

Will it rain today? According to the various weather apps on my iPhone, the answer ranges from "No, silly boy" to "Ark-worthy." Perhaps that's a bit of an exaggeration.

In actuality, the free Weather app on my iPhone calls for a 20% chance of rain today based on a 30% prediction of rain at 10:00pm. 

The Weather Channel app also calls for a 20% chance of rain based on a prediction of anywhere between 15% and 35% chance of rain.

Then there's the roguish AccuWeather app, which calls for a 60% chance of rain based on an hourly forecast from now to midnight of between 20% and 56% chance of thunderstorms.

I wasn't a math major in college (that's Our Daughter), but I'm fairly certain if your hourly report says the greatest chance of rain is 35%, then you shouldn't be low-balling at 20%. Likewise, if you're calling for a 56% chance of rain at any point in the day, then the greatest chance of rain you should be predicting is 56%, not 60%. Imagine my boss's reaction if I told her I fully expect to make 100% of my annual goal based on an expectation of never exceeding 67% of any of my monthly goals. It sounds like the kind of mathematical acumen you'd expect from an English major.

These apps don't seem to play loose and free with numbers when it comes to the temperature. 

Today's high temperature is consistently predicted by all three apps to be 86 degrees Fahrenheit and the low tonight will be 71 degrees. When I check the hourly forecasts, I clearly see where the high and low temperatures fall throughout the day. None of the apps say the high today is 86 degrees but at 3:00pm it'll be 92 degrees, or the low tonight will be 71 degrees but at 10:30pm we'll have snow. That would be ridiculous! The high is the high and the low is the low, and no other numbers are dangled out there in the minutiae to the contrary.

Maybe there's some greater-concept thinking going on at national weather central headquarters that I simply don't comprehend. Maybe an over-riding formula beyond the grasp of my simplicity is applied that factors the forecasted potential for precipitation and averages it out to a number that, while seemingly ungrounded in reality, is soundly based in scientific actuality. 

For instance: If the greatest chance of rain is 35% at 8:00pm, and the least chance of rain is 5% at 4:00pm, and there will be seven hours of cloudless sky before noon with at least three hours of severe thunderstorms (with hail) after sunset, and if the color of the liver of a sacrificed park pigeon is favorably red, and there's enough milk in the fridge for all the Oreos in the pantry, and it's been more than six months since any of the college interns have filed a sexual harrassment complaint with Human Resources, then the chance of precipitation today is 20%. That's the only way it makes sense to me.

I understand weather forecasting is just a best guess given available scientific data. Fronts move, winds change, storms stall, hurricanes shift direction and unexpectedly gain strength off the coast... Anything can happen and frequently does. I don't expect the different weather apps to agree with each other, but at the very least they should agree with themselves.

So, will it rain today? Who knows...

© 2016 Mark Feggeler

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Sham Shopping Shenanigans

We don't buy things like new bed linens in a simple, straightforward manner.

To begin with, we have a tendency to wait until the condition of any item needing to be replaced is so critical as to suggest the only reason we haven't replaced it is because we suffer from a diagnosable attachment disorder. Such was the condition of the bed linens in Our Daughter's room. The bedskirt was irreparably torn in several places and a corner of the fitted sheet had slowly been unravelling for years. It didn't help they were made of the kind of material that clings to your skin like plastic wrap, sticks to your hair with a death grip, and stores enough static electricity to cause a power surge.

If you've purchased bed linens at any point in your life you must be aware it's significantly more complicated than a quick jaunt to the store to buy a spread. A properly dressed mattress involves the layering of patterns and colors to accentuate the decor of the bedroom. You'll need accent pillows, throw pillows, blankets, throw blankets, duvets, quilts and coverlets. And don't forget the sheets (to include the flat sheet, fitted sheet, pillow cases and shams, just in case shams don't come with your comforter set, or if you have an unsatiable desire to load your bed with pillows stuffed in decorative covers intended never to be used for resting your head on, ever).

Step one in buying new bed linens is to photograph the most colorful object in the room with your smartphone. This object -- in our case a painting inherited from my in-laws that hangs above Our Daughter's bed -- gives you the option of moving in a variety of color directions while limiting you to select hues, values and intensities. For the women in our family, the photograph serves as a color guide. For me it is a tool applied only every fifth time I randomly ask the question: "How about this one?"

Once you've scoured the store and located a few decent comforter sets that come complete with bedskirt and shams, and that are on sale for under $100, or were marked clearance (but not if the store doesn't accept returns on clearance items), you can now begin the hunt for twenty more decent comforter sets at all the other stores to expand your options. In our vicinity there are several places to go for reasonably-priced beddings -- Bed Bath & Beyond, Tuesday Morning, Ross's, Kohl's, Steinmart, Walmart, Belk and TJ Maxx, just to name a few. Only when it appears to strangers you might illegally be selling stolen comforter sets from the back of your minivan are you ready to shop for sheets.

Shopping for sheets is a very similar process, except you you might find yourself carrying comforter sets into the store like a directionally challenged shoplifter in order to match colors. Also, I ask "How about this one?" much less frequently because even I know color basics, like how boysenberry purple is NOT a match for Tuscan Sun yellow. Before too long, you're home putting freshly washed new sheets on the bed and arranging shams ever so carefully behind accented throw pillows.

The final step comes the following day when you revisit all the stores to return all the shams, sheets and comforters that didn't pass muster. Of course, I could always just park the minivan in the mall parking lot and hawk my wares:

"Pssst... Hey, buddy! C'mere. You lookin' to score a sham?"

© 2016 Mark Feggeler

Friday, June 24, 2016

Dropping Like Flies

The older you get, the less reason there is to pussy-foot around the topic of mortality. I'm not purposely trying to be morbid. I realize that "almost 50" doesn't directly equate to "one foot in the grave."

We're all as young as we feel, in which case my relative age changes more rapidly than Donald Trump's estimated net worth. In the span of any given day I can go from feeling like an awe-inspired toddler to a tottering old fool depending on how the day plays out. My general take on mortality is to ignore it, live each day as it comes, and try to go to bed content in the knowledge I haven't wronged anyone and, with any luck, have made the world a slightly better place in which to be.

Then the alumni newsletter arrives in the mail.

Brimming with pictures of people I don't know doing things in a place from which I am now 26 years removed, the alumni newsletter is a mildly entertaining distraction. It's nice to see my alma matter keeping up with the times and bettering the lives of its students. I particularly enjoy issues of the newsletter that don't dedicate 75% of their space to college sports. I couldn't possibly give less of a fornication which team won what trophy, or what player was named All-American. Didn't care when I went there. Really, really, really don't care now. I'd much rather read how the university is preparing kids for the future, not how many of its alumni will suffer early-onset joint trouble and concussion-related memory issues.

Like many alumni, the first section of the newsletter I flip to is the one in which alumni provide updates on their wherabouts and doings. And why not? It's the most directly relatable part of the newsletter. There might be a name I recall, or a photo that jogs a pleasant reminiscence.

    "Look, there's so-and-so! He's vice president of a bank!"

    "And there's what's-her-name! She supervising physician at a teaching hospital in Oxnard!"

Stuff like that. Every now and then, I might even see my own name in there and hope someone, somewhere, sees it and says something like: "There's that guy! I remember that guy! Says here he just self-published his third book. Poor bastard still doesn't have an agent..."

Unfortunately, adjacent to that section of the newsletter is a page titled "In Memorium." The college obituary column; the list of names that, until recently, was largely free of people my age. The section that once was occupied mostly by deceased alumni from the 1970s and earlier decades. The section of the newsletter that really didn't apply, or if it did, marked a singularity; a unique tragedy; a cancer or car accident that caused an anomaly in the life-expectancy statistics. Not so any longer.

I counted ten names in the issue that arrived this week. Ten names of people my age or slightly younger who apparently dropped like flies at a Raid-huffing party without even warranting special comment as to how, or how tragically young they were when it happened. So many of them together in one list probably makes it difficult to find space enough to put much more than their names and year of graduation. Besides, alumni from the 1950s and 1960s were hogging all the column inches.

Rather than worrying about silly things like aging and dying, however, spotting so many of my former classmates In Memorium has made me wonder what I'm leaving behind. What have I accomplished to be proud of? What legacies -- apart from encouraging the daily consumption of chocolate and teaching my children it's okay to laugh at highly inappropriate times -- am I responsible for that will make the world a better place once I'm gone?

I've written a few books and a few hundred blog entries. I've tried my best to be helpful to people throughout the course of my life. I've tried to be as responsible a person as my degree of attention deficit disorder permits. My Lovely Wife and I have saved money, worked hard and tried to provide an example for our children to follow as they move into adulthood. Perhaps, in the end, that has to be enough.

I won't last forever and nothing I create will, either. But, with a little luck, the children we brought into this world will brighten a few corners of it. I'm good with that.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

A Cautionary Tale

Some years ago, after her husband passed away, my mother-in-law booked a cruise through the funeral home that handled his arrangements. It's a service many funeral homes provide -- vacation packages for the recently bereaved. The idea is simple and well-intended: people who suddenly are alone can meet others who also are alone. Friendships might evolve and all those people might find themselves a little bit less lonely. It didn't hurt that Mom was a diamond-level priority member with Royal Caribbean.

The thing you might not know about these bereavement vacation packages is that unfilled spots are sometimes sold to the general public. Such was the case with the cruise my mother-in-law booked. Some people on the cruise were clients of the funeral home while others were not. When she returned from her trip, we heard all about two new non-client friends she had made while away. Let's call them D and J.

Suspicions were immediately aroused in our household when we heard how they met on the bus to the airport. Mom had raised her hand in response to a question asked by the group leader.

J, a short man of roughly 60 years, noticed the rings on her fingers and later said he simply had to meet a woman with such exquisite taste in jewelry. I've never been emotionally stirred by another person's bling, but I realize some people are that superficial. Mom, of course, took it as a compliment and was flattered by the attention she received from J and his lady friend D, a strange woman I initially and incorrectly assumed was J's wife.

Very quickly, D and J were socializing with Mom at every opportunity. They met for lunch several times a week. They became regular fixtures at family dinners and poolside lounge sessions on hot summer days. They ferried her to and from medical appointments. The fawning and praise they showered upon Mom were excessive, and they seemed to be at her beck and call, available at a moment's notice should she be in need of anything.

Their helpfulness wasn't limited to my mother-in-law, either. They repeatedly offered to help us on busy days should we need someone to pick up the kids from school. The day we moved into our new house, J offered to take our sons over to see his collection of military medals while D helped unpack boxes. Every time I recall his offer, and the fact those two ever crossed our threshhold, I cringe.

The friendship between my mother-in-law and this odd couple ended abruptly on Easter weekend of 2007. While at our house for Easter dinner, Mom called D and J to wish them a happy holiday and ask if they could, as they had done many times, pick her up from dialysis the following day. That was all it took. Mom later received a harsh email from them stating how offened they were at not being good enough to invite to dinner, yet they were good enough to shuttle her home from a medical appointment. If I recall correctly, Mom had no further communication from the couple and passed away later that year still as confused as the rest of us.

Several theories have since crossed my mind regarding D and J. The one I believe most likely is that they were opportunists hoping to worm their way into a lonely woman's life and, through legal maneuverings or other chicanery, take what they wanted from her estate. It wouldn't be the first time something like that happened to an elderly, emotionally vulnerable person. I suspect they cut their losses and moved on after realizing Mom's bonds with her family were too tight break. Call me paranoid, but that's what I believe.

The worst part of it all is we learned, several months after Mom died, that J was a registered sex offender who had spent 12 years in prison for aggravated felonious sexual assault involving forced penetration of a child under 13 years of age. He was on the registry by the time we learned this, but not for very long. It seems he spent at least a year secretly living with his girlfriend in North Carolina while maintaining registration on another state's sex offender list. When I called our county Sheriff's office to tell them he had been in the state for a much longer period of time than his registration date would suggest, my concern was dismissed and I was told to be content that he was now registered.

The man had been in my home. This potential sexual predator repeatedly offered to pick up our children from school, take them off our hands when we were busy, even entertain them at his house. Exactly how was I supposed to feel content about that, other than from knowing he never was alone with our children?

The takeaway lesson from our brush with D and J is to guard your elders just as you do your toddlers. Give them room enough to lead their own lives and be their own people, but bear in mind their weaknesses and help them steer clear of those who might do them harm.

I hate to seem like the kind of person who casts a suspicious eye at every new aquaintance, but in the words of Stephen King: "The trust of the innocent is the liar's most useful tool."

© 2016 Mark Feggeler

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Benefits of Balding

In recent years, my forehead has rapidly advanced in the battle of the receding hairline, so much so it's surprising I don't wake each morning to a pillow covered in fallen folicles. I'm not particularly bothered by the idea of balding, with the possible exception of not being very fond of the shape of my head. Modeling and movie stardom might never have been in the cards for me, but it would be nice if my dome didn't resemble a semi-deflated ball of room-temperature mozerella.

Alternatives to balding are available, toupees and hair transplants being the most obvious options. Unfortunately, I've never wanted to look like my hair was installed by the Home Depot carpet department or planted neatly in symmetrical rows by some subcutaneous farmer. And there's something about all those chemical scalp treatments that scares me. The hair is surrendering willingly. Who am I to keep it from making a graceful exit?

This all got me to thinking recently about the many reasons to celebrate going bald and I came up with the following items. Feel free to add more in the comments.

  1. Hair cuts are much, much quicker. Gone are the days of trimming here, blending there, feathering the crown into the back and sides and wondering if bangs are manly. Grab the trimmer and buzz me like a farmer shears a sheep. So long as I leave with two ears and most of my blood, it's a job well done!
  2. No more hair product. I have no need of mousse, gel, spray, conditioner -- hell, I barely need shampoo at this point.
  3. No longer needing any of those products makes packing for trips a much simpler task, and there's one less bottle of liquid that needs to be checked with my baggage or inspected during the security screening. I was lucky I didn't get pulled for a cavity search the last few times I traveled with a can of mousse. You could see the incredulity on the faces of the TSA workers as their eyes darted suspiciously between the shiny metal canister and my shiny head.
  4. Temperature control is a breeze. It was easy to overheat and difficult to cool down when a bushy head of hair was the norm. Without that extra layer of insulation, all I have to do is find a shady spot and let the wind do its job. And if your head gets cold, just grab a hat.
  5. Speaking of which, baldness allows you to build a kick-ass hat collection. I prefer baseball caps, but you can use your sun-exposed cranium to justify everything from a fedora, to a gatsby, to a pith helmet -- whatever makes you feel good about yourself and helps you avoid a melanoma or two.
  6. Bed head is less of a problem, and eventually not a problem at all. Back when I had a full mop on top, I woke each morning to the most horrendously interesting nocturnal stylings. My favorite was the one where the hair on the left side of my head was smushed tightly against the scalp, while the hair on the right side of my head stuck straight out. I used to call that one "Exit Wound."

© 2016 Mark Feggeler

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Dreaded Birthday Chicken

My father and I went to Dugan's Pub the other day so I could get my annual celebratory Buffalo chicken sandwich in honor of my upcoming birthday. This isn't a long-standing tradition. I discovered the sandwich somewhere in the last decade and, knowing that eating it on a regular basis would shorten my lifespan, have assigned it formal designation as a birthday treat.

The sandwich is a model of perfection. A full breast of chicken, butterflied, deep fried and Buffalo-ized in an amazing spicy, yet flavorful, red-orange sauce, covered with melted Swiss and served on a bun butch enough to hold up under pressure. Since I was already throwing caution (and several major arteries) to the wind, I went ahead and ordered the beer-battered fries as my side and didn't forget the bleu cheese dressing. It's Buffalo chicken, after all. Any other condiment (with the possible exception of ranch) is un-American.

The end result of eating the Dugan's Pub Buffalo chicken sandwich should come as no surprise. Sensations of burning, bloat and discomfort are immediately visited upon you, and again several hours later when the alien vacates its host body. Sweating, congestion, tears of shame and joy -- all the things you hope for when over-indulging in your favorite flavors and seeking a satisfyingly trough-like experience, leaving you emotionally drained from overwhelming satisfaction and self-loathing.

This year, all the effects were magnified exponentially.

Not only am I growing older, finding myself slightly less capable of tolerating such unbridled over-eating with the passing of each year, My Lovely Wife and I have also been making an effort since the start of 2016 to eat less like hormone-charged teenagers and more like responsible adults interested in meeting our grandchildren. Since January, I've lost close to twenty pounds and dropped two inches from my waistline. Shirts have gone from extra-large to large and I'm as close to not having a pot belly as I've been since graduating high school. While we have cut back on certain foods (I'm looking at you, breads and starches!) and reintroduced ourselves to daily portions of fruits of vegetables, the biggest factor for me has been portion control.

Left to my own devices, I'd eat and nibble and pick and peck and nosh and munch and crunch all day long on all the things I know I shouldn't be eating. Then, I'd sit down to a table three times a day and stuff myself. Even during past diets, I'd replace pretzels and chips with apples and carrots, yet I'd still cram those healthy items down my pie hole like a starved hyena gulping down a baby gazelle. This time around, I'm taking it seriously. Meal portions are reasonable, snacking is down to a bare minimum, water consumption could flood a small Texas town, exercise is more strategic, and foods and sundry ingredients are chosen with greater care.

Which is exactly why Dugan's Buffalo chicken sandwich and beer-battered fries were such a delicious, spice-coated, deep-fried offense to the senses. I've always known fries weren't good for me, but this was the first time in 48 years I could recall ever wishing I had ordered the broccoli florets or fruit cup instead. Not that the fries weren't awesome -- they were, and I ate every last one. Not that the chicken sandwich didn't meet my expectations -- it did, and I smiled and snorted all the way through it and went home with a red-orange tint around my mouth and finger tips. It's just that I was uncomfortably full for several hours.

You might be wondering what lesson I learned from this experience. As I'm fairly dim, with a memory that can be measured in nanoseconds, the answer is: probably none. Next May, I'll go to Dugan's Pub and order another Buffalo chicken sandwich. I might think about a healthy side, but that insanity will pass before the waitress arrives to take my order.

© 2016 Mark Feggeler

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Indiana Jones and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Movie

Not too long ago, in a movie theatre just down the road, I wasted two hours of my birthday watching Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Perhaps the best assessment of the film I ever came across was a simple statement from a kindred spirit in an online review: "George Lucas pooped on my childhood again."

To be fair, you can't lay blame for the horrendous awfulness that was Kingdom of the Crystal Skull solely at the feet of George Lucas. After all, Steven Speilberg directed it, Harrison Ford agreed to star in it, Cate Blanchett should have been jailed (or at least assigned several hundred hours of community service) for her over-acting, and poor Shia LaBeouf was left a broken shell of his former self by oppressive guilt over his participation in the violent wrenching of an iconic film franchise from the hearts of lifelong fans.

I won't waste your time reviewing the myriad things wrong with the movie. Well, okay, maybe just a bit of your time, but I'll be quick about it:
  • Ridiculously bad script;
  • Over-abundance of CGI-enhanced gimickry;
  • Lackluster performances;
  • Under-developed subplots;
  • Overwrought action sequences.
It's as though Lucas and Speilberg thought all we wanted was a clever MacGuffin, as Hitchcock called it, and to see stuff blowing up; that we were interested only in the spectacle (which is important) and not at all interested in the slow, character-development moments (which are equally important). They haplessly flung a few meager scraps of actual storyline at us like lazy waiters tossing around undercooked food. 

The two have often spoken about how Indiana Jones was always intended to be a riff on the fun adventure serials of early Hollywood, and I can appreciate that as an inspiration, but it isn't a defense for low-quality story telling. Story and character development, along with a heaping helping of spectacle, are exactly what made Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade so much better than either Temple of Doom or Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The two superior installments in the franchise allow us to glimpse the emotional motivators driving the characters and leave us feeling connected in some way, unlike the other two installments that come across like bloated video games.

Recently, it was confirmed that a fifth Indiana Jones movie will soon crest the horizon and the news has filled me with dread. I'm not talking about a the-Hobbit-wasn't-nearly-as-good-as-the-Lord-of-the-Rings-because-it-strayed-too-far-from-the-source-material kind of dread, but rather a sincere, heartfelt and oppressive dread brought on by the possibility of witnessing yet another nail being driven into Indiana Jones's celuloid legacy.

Perhaps I, as a fan of the series since elementary school, can offer several suggestions to all at LucasFilm:
  1. Build all the sets you can afford and skip as much of the CGI as possible. The audience really can tell when an actor is standing alone in front of a green screen reacting to a scale-wage handyman waving around a mop instead of a sword-wielding bad guy.
  2. Put the characters in the correct year. Raiders of the Lost Ark took place in 1936 and was released in 1981. Thirty-five years later, Indie should be taking part in moon landings, the Vietnam War, or the opening of Walt Disney World.
  3. Apologize to Karen Allen (and John Hurt, while you're at it) for completely wasting her time in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Bring her back and give her more to do. I still say the MacGuffin of the movie should have been Marion's son and his true identity -- not aliens.
  4. Forget the fourth movie ever happened. None of it. Not a stitch. Write it off as a delusional head trip brought on after Indie experimented with acid at a Steppenwolf concert in 1968.
If you can accomplish any one of those things, then you might succeed in getting me to the theater to see the next Indiana Jones movie. Otherwise, it might be time to hang up the fedora.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

State of Panic

So, what happens when your state's legislative body calls a special session to pass a law no one needed in the span of time it normally takes to slow smoke a pork butt? The kindest description of the result I can think of is "higgledy piggledy."

Immediately, and frustratingly, the media got itself and the hoi polloi all worked up into a frenzy over transgender bathroom rights within nanoseconds of the governor signing House Bill 2 into law. Since then, all announcements about protesting performers, defunct business expansions, and cancelled conventions have cited the arguments of rainbow tolerance and the right to pee in the stall of your choosing as the causes for the loss of millions of dollars of revenues for the state.

But is that what HB2 is really about? What the NC Legislature did was to purposely serve up a heaping slice of turdcake coated in a saucy mixture of divisive controversy in the hopes the right, left and middle would argue ad nauseam about the sauce without realizing the main ingredient beneath that sauce is a turd. Essentially, Republican lawmakers baited the hook and the media went for it like a fat lazy bass, unwittingly helping misdirect the outcry over HB2 away from all the other things that are horribly wrong with the bill.

What is at the heart of it? A coordinated attack on municipal rights, workers' rights, fair wages and state-level legal recourse for victims of discrimination.

Don't believe me? Read the bill yourself. It won't take long. Not only wasn't there time between the official beginning of the transgender bathroom freakout and the governor blotting his signature dry for much to be written, the ideas expressed aren't very complex or carefully considered. Let's break it down.

Part One -- Single Sex Multiple Occupancy Bathroom and Changing Facilities -- This part states you have to use the bathroom that matches the doohicky or hoohah you were born with, regardless of everything or anything that might have happened in your life or how badly you have to go. Part of me is okay with this, because it means it is now illegal for drunk women at concerts to raid the men's room just because the line is shorter. Sorry ladies, it's the law. Side benefits aside, however, this poorly thought through bit of fear-mongering legislation creates more problems than it solves, which isn't difficult because there was no problem to solve to begin with.

Part Two -- Statewide Consistencies in Laws Related to Contracting and Employment -- Local governments can't require contractors to treat their employees in ways that are more ethical than the state determines is good enough for the likes of them. If Charlotte, Raleigh or Greensboro wants to enact stricter regulations in order to provide an improved work environment and more competitive conditions, too bad. This is where HB2 breaks into its chorus of "the provisions of this article supersede and preempt any ordinance, regulation, resolution or policy adopted or imposed by a unit of local government." With that refrain, Republican lawmakers void all past, present and future workplace protections enacted by all local governments in all 100 North Carolina counties.

Part Three -- Protection of Rights in Employment and Public Accommodations -- Again we hear the "supersede and preempt" refrain, only this time it relates to discrimination. No local government can legally extend additional protections from discrimination to those afforded by the state. It also says if you do manage to have a provable case of discrimination, you can't file suit in North Carolina. Yup, the state is so concerned you might be discriminated against that it doesn't even want to hear about it, especially in any Tar Heel court. Additionally, it limits protection from discrimination to the following factors: race, religion, color, national origin, or biological sex. If you're disabled, you're screwed. If you're a veteran? You're also screwed. If you're a disabled veteran who happens to be gay, you don't stand a chance.

Part Four -- Severability -- Standard legal mumbo jumbo that means just because one part of the law is deemed unconstitutional, the rest of the parts remain in full effect. In other words, even if the ridiculous potty laws get tossed out by the courts, it won't impact the ridiculous employment laws restricting the governing rights of local governments and putting thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of working class North Carolinians at risk of discriminatory employer practices with no state-level legal recourse.

Look, I understand some people live sheltered lives and naively believe they don't know anyone who is homosexual or identifies sexually in ways that deviate from the "norm."

The idea of a man dressed as a woman who wants to use the women's bathroom, or vice versa, is a terrifying notion to these people. They see it as something perverse, different, and strange that needs to be policed, controlled and monitored. As someone who has seen more than his fair share of gas station bathrooms, trust me when I tell you a member of the opposite sex dropping a deuce in the neighboring stall is far from the worst thing you could experience in a public facility. Transgender people are people, and what they want to accomplish in the bathroom is the same thing you and I want to accomplish -- relieving ourselves without catching a third world fungus off the toilet seat.

When it comes down to it, you're more likely to be molested inside a church by a member of the clergy, or in a government office by a member of the Republican Party, than to be accosted by a transgender man or woman in a public bathroom. And you're certainly far more likely to get screwed by the lack of protections afforded by North Carolina's House Bill 2.

© 2016 Mark Feggeler

Monday, April 4, 2016

Deaf Like Me

My selective hearing has given me a bad reputation for being hard of hearing. "Dad's deaf!" frequently are the words I hear after I ask My Lovely Wife or any of our three children to repeat themselves.

The reality is I do hear them. I simply don't begin paying attention until right about the time whoever is speaking has delivered the final word of his or her statement or question. It isn't that I don't care what they're saying. I do. Really, I do. It's just that, because what they're saying somehow doesn't relate to my current task at hand, it takes a few seconds for my brain to switch from whatever it was focused on to listening mode.

There are times, however, when I legitimately am unable to discern the alleged enunciations of my loved ones. I suggest these moments are, for the most part -- and resulting from no fault of my own -- not my fault. Fortunately,  the unintelligible mutterings of my family fall into several convenient categories.

Mumbling Gingers
We have a Mumbling Ginger, which I suspect is the worst sort of mumbler imaginable. Our Ginger (aka, the German) is so softly spoken he might as well be whispering into a hurricane when attempting to communicate with other human beings. This is how most conversations with the Mumbling Ginger begin:

   Him: "Mumble, mumble, mumble."
   Me: "What did you say?"
   Him: "Mumble, mumble, mumble."

It doesn't matter how many times we repeat this opening exercise, the next time the German has something to say it will escape his mouth even more quietly than the last.

The House Crosser
My Lovely Wife specializes in House Crossing. The House Crosser is any individual who begins speaking at normal conversational volume while near you and then, without warning or request for you to follow, leaves your presence and walks all the way across to the other side of the house while continuing to speak at the same volume.

House Crossers might pass any number of noise-making devices along the way -- flushing toilets, running dishwashers, barking dogs, blaring radios, washing machines in spin cycle -- it won't affect the volume at which they are speaking or the degree to which they are annoyed once they realize you are still in the bathroom brushing your teeth and haven't heard a word they've said.

The Verbositizer
The Italian, fittingly enough, has the gift of gab. He's also the kind of kid you sometimes shush when he's making noise only for the sake of making noise, which drives the volume of conversation around him higher and higher until you realize you're yelling to be heard over him.

The Italian doesn't speak, he expounds. The fact he comes by it naturally -- his Mother and I are both card-carrying expounders -- does nothing to ameliorate the effects of being bombarded by a non-stop flood of exposition on his topic of choice. Turning a deaf ear has less to do with not hearing and more to do with self-preservation. Like "Moby Dick" or "War and Peace," the Italian is brimming with tangential details that might seem important but which do not really serve the purpose of the story. If only he came with CliffsNotes.

The Speed Demon
As if it weren't enough that Our Daughter sometimes speaks so quickly her words meld together into stream-of-consciousness babble, she also tends to rise in pitch to squeak level when she does it. It's like listening to a drunk mouse that's been sucking helium.

There is no defense against this attempted form of communication short of immediate mockery, scorn and/or ridicule, followed by a request that she repeat what she said in English and at a tone preferably below that of a dog whistle.

The Non-Transitioner
This one isn't so much a hearing issue as it is a "what the heck are you talking about" issue. When speaking with My Lovely Wife, no matter how long we've been together, I am almost never prepared for the abrupt mental rupture that occurs mid-discussion.

She could be taking the conversation in an entirely new direction, or harkening back to a topic from the previous hour, day or week. Doesn't matter. In her mind, the transition is seamless. I, on the other hand, feel like a thick-brained dullard struggling to figure out how I missed the bit where we went from talking about the German's math homework to a strongly worded condemnation of mayonnaise.

The You've Got to be Kidding Me
This final one is a catch-all for any situation in which any reasonable human being would excuse any non-hearing impaired human being for asking for an unreasonably quiet utterance to be repeated. For instance, when sitting in the middle of the Museum of Natural History Cafe in Washington, DC, on a Saturday surrounded by a thousand bustling tourists all talking loudly in a variety of languages, scraping cafeteria chairs across linoleum, moving tables and yelling at their children to eat more because they just spent their lives' savings on plastic pizza and cold chicken tenders. But, should I say "What did you say?" what do I hear in response? That's right -- Dad's deaf.

2016 Mark Feggeler

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Long Journey Home

The privilege to travel to different cities is one I frequently take for granted and often resent. I am a homebody at heart. The call of the open road doesn't resound in my soul the way it does for others.

That doesn't mean the experience is completely wasted on me. This recent trip to Phoenix is a good example. Did I want to travel all day to Phoenix on a Saturday without My Lovely Wife and children? Of course not. Did I want to sit though several days of meetings? Certainly not. However, it needed to be done and, under such circumstances, one can choose to be miserable or one can make the most of the situation. 

Outside the lovely hotel our company booked for us stood a small hill with a reasonably steep climb to the top, from where the intrepid could take in the breadth of the city skyline and the desert mountains beyond. Returning to the bottom following a hasty, gravity-fueled descent, we allowed the momentum to carry us to the open air market of the Aloha Festival a block away. The connection between Arizona and Hawaii was lost on me, but the sun had only just begun beating through the mild morning air and it felt refreshing to wander aimlessly a bit longer amongst smiling, sunburned faces as someone not quite far enough away sang of the many glories of spam. 

After a shower and change it was time to visit the local spring training baseball stadium of the Los Angeles Angels, a team whose name I struggle with because I understand it directly translates to "The The Angels Angels." If one could pre-order a day suitable to an afternoon baseball game, it would be the kind we experienced on Sunday. The sun was hot, a mild breeze provided occasional relief, and the sunscreened crowd was a sea of red caps and jerseys that cheered in unison at every quickly turned play and home run. We exited the stadium with a couple innings remaining to avoid the long lines for the trolley ride back to downtown Tempe that would surely form once the game ended. After another quick shower and change we gathered for the official start of our corporate function, a poolside reception with good company and lively conversation. 

There were other entertaining activities in and around the scheduled meetings of the subsequent days, such as when a small gang of us invaded a nearby dueling piano bar and lost our voices shouting along to one of the best shows for which I've never paid, or watching my coworkers ride a mechanical bull after an evening of cornhole and ladder ball. I managed to avoid the peer pressure being applied to those choosing not to ride the bull by adamantly adhering to the philosophy that I will not participate in any activity requiring my signature on a waiver, particularly when the waiver is handed across by the same guy serving fireball shots. 

All these are pleasant experiences I will long remember and about which I will reminisce with coworkers at future meetings, which is their purpose -- to provide a few common, unifying experiences for people who otherwise are distanced from each other by hundreds of miles or the deafening silence of cubicle walls. Beneath each experience for me, however, is an undercurrent of regret over not sharing them with those who matter most. The kids would have loved the ballgame and the festival. The wife would have loved the hike, the hotel, and the chance to tour a strange new city. 

I've heard it said your loved ones travel with you if you carry them in your heart, but it really isn't the same. From my vantage point, I didn't leave home for an experience without my family. Instead, each experience I've had since leaving was one more task completed before being allowed to take the long journey home to the place and people who hold my heart. 

2016 Mark Feggeler

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

I Don't Get It

Some things make no sense to me, like thong underwear or Donald Trump. Isn't it the purpose of underwear to serve as a barrier between your butt and your pants and not as crack floss every time you take a step? Doesn't seem to me like a very comfortable way to make it through your day. As for Donald Trump, the only difference between him and Charlie Sheen is it took decades of alcohol and drug abuse to make Charlie Sheen incoherently delusional. Trump comes by it naturally.

I don't understand my son walking across the house flashing cash like a pimp and telling us he's paying us back for games he ordered on his Nintendo DS. He's fourteen. When I was fourteen I was scraping together quarters so I could ride my bike a mile to the local video arcade next to Pathmark to play a few rounds of Centipede or MACH3. Maybe there'd be enough left for a slice of pizza from the storefront around the corner before heading home for dinner.

I'm confused by what's happened to cable television. Fifteen years ago, back when TLC still considered itself The Learning Channel and the Discovery Channel actually cared about science, it was possible to find a fair amount of proper programming to balance out the crap. These days we're accosted twenty-four-seven by inbred rejects and talentless celebutants presenting poorly scripted scenarios so cartoonishly ridiculous they make Gilligan's Island appear Shakespearean by comparison. Somewhere along the way society stopped laughing at these implausible idiots and started celebrating them. No offense, but if your vote in the upcoming presidential election will in any way be swayed by Duck Dynasty or the Duggars, then I'm not sure we're swimming in the same gene pool.

I don't understand why Chick-Fil-A -- probably the most uber-religiously homophobic restaurant chain in the United States -- installed outrageously phallic door handles in its public bathrooms. I can only imagine what Freud would have to say about that. It's as though a set designer from "Will & Grace" went through conversion therapy and found employment in Chick-Fil-A's design & construction department where he unsuccessfully tries to quell his latent-homosexually-inspired design sense. (That actually sounds like a pretty good premise for a television show.) No matter how thoroughly I wash my hands, or how clean the handle appears to be, I can't help feeling dirty every time I open the door. If only their sandwiches weren't so sanctimoniously delicious. 

I'm frequently bewildered by ear and nostril hair. When I was a young man, I had a considerably thick mane of blonde hair atop my head and practically no visible hair in either my ears or nostrils. These days I could braid my nose hair and mousse back the stuff growing out of my ears to cover the ever-thinning areas above my eyebrows. Speaking of which, the eyebrows are getting out of control, as well. Apparently, as traditional top-of-the-head hair abandons us, the ancillary hair areas kick into high gear. I can't wait to see what my armpits and lower back produce as I enter my fifties. 

I don't understand German. Nothing more to say there, really.

I'm bewildered by what's happened to the Republican Party. It sold its soul to the ultra-right-wing lunatic fringe back when the Tea Party movement rose to prominence and has never been able to buy it back. Rather than saying, "Thank you, Tea Partiers, but you'll need to run along and do your own thing somewhere else," Republican Party establishment embraced the upstarts and allowed them to corrupt what it means to be Republican. They even misrepresent the party's patron saint Ronald Reagan, misquoting him at every turn. In 1981 Regan wrote: "Illegal immigrants in considerable numbers have become productive members of our society and are a basic part of our work force. Those who have established equities in the United States should be recognized and accorded legal status." That sure doesn't sound the Republican message I've been hearing lately. I wasn't sure I would live long enough to witness a major political party being torn to tatters, but now I feel certain the Republican Party has only an ugly, lingering death in store. That's okay, though. Our country wasn't always divided into Republicans and Democrats. Some of our past Presidents belonged to the Whig Party, some to the Democrat-Republican Party, one to the Federalist Party, and George Washington didn't belong to any party.

I don't understand why, when only four people presently live in our house, there always are at least seventeen filled water sippers chilling in the refrigerator. I'm all for hydration, but it's gotten a little out of hand. To drink that much water on a daily basis would require mandatory catheterization. And, they leave precious little room for leftovers and other food items, which are the reasons we own the refrigerator in the first place.

Mostly, I don't understand where the years have gone. With one child in college and two preparing to take driver's ed this spring break, I'm having to come to terms with the fact that fart jokes and cartoon voices no longer make me a cool Dad. Our kids are turning into adults before our eyes and they're doing it without my permission. As their father, shouldn't I have some say in this matter?

© 2016 Mark Feggeler

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Krafty Revenge

 Ranch dressing was my go-to salad topper for many years, mostly because for more years than was reasonable I had the stunted palate of an untraveled seventeen-year-old. Ranch dressing, ranch Doritos, ranch-tinged French onion dip, etc. You get the idea. If there had ever been a ranch-flavored toothpaste, you can bet your sweet bippy I'd have given it a try.

In fact, the only negative ranch experience of my nearly fifty years came at the hands of my Mother-in-Law. You know those Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing commercials in which they tell you how delicious your mashed potatoes will taste if you mix in a packet of their dehydrated ranch particles? In reality it's a really bad idea, almost as bad as that one time I decided to shave my face while naked because I was in a hurry. Nothing teaches you not to do something stupid faster than spilling aftershave on your testicles. Well, my Mother-in-Law must have thought Hidden Valley was serious about the whole mashed potato experiment because she made a big heaping bowl of the mushy foulness and served it up with an otherwise perfectly good dinner. My Lovely Wife and I smiled politely through pained expressions while expressing our fondness for the concoction so as not to hurt her feelings. The following week she made them again: "I know how much you enjoyed these!"

Anyway, the potato fiasco aside, I did rely on ranch dressing the way some kids subsist by dousing everything with ketchup. If it was baked, boiled, broiled, browned or basted, I smothered it in ranchy goodness. Eventually, I began to realize there was an expansive world of flavor beneath the white stuff gooped on top and I administered my doses of ranch dressing less and less frequently until I finally kicked the habit. 

Every now and then I do like to break out the Kraft ranch for the occasional salad, or to dip wings into. Lately, however, there's been a recurring problem. You know that plastic bit at the top of the dressing bottle? The part that changes the vessel from a pouring container to a squeeze bottle? That bit has been messing with me. 

I add dressing to my salad and that bit is there. I put the cap back on. Then I realize, when approaching the bottom of the salad, that I need more dressing, so I unscrew the cap, flip the bottle over a give a big squeeze to see tablespoons of ranch dressing flow out like albino lava from an erupting volcano. Where was that plastic bit? It somehow managed to lodge itself in the bottle cap.

More recently, it seems, playing hide and seek isn't enough. My Lovely Wife and I were munching away at our salads over lunch the other day when all of a sudden I find myself trying to chew through the toughest crouton in the history of stale, toasted bread. Yup, that plastic bit must have tired of our little game and opted to go for the throat. 

I don't know if Kraft is trying to get even with me for my disloyalty, or for the fact kicking my bottle-a-day ranch habit resulted in a bleak financial crisis for the company, but it sure seems like it's getting personal.

© 2016 Mark Feggeler