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.

"WEIGH YOUR ENVY APPLES!"

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

"MOVE YOUR ENVY APPLES TO THE BAGGING AREA!"

"PREPARATION H IS NOW 2-FOR-1! DO YOU WISH TO PURCHASE A SECOND FAMILY-SIZE TUBE OF PREPARATION H?!"

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.

"PLEASE REMOVE THE UNSCANNED ITEM!"

"But I scanned the apples."

"PLEASE REMOVE THE UNSCANNED ITEM!"

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

"PLEASE REMOVE THE UNSCANNED PREPARATION H!"

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

"PLEASE REMOVE THE UNSCANNED BUTT CREAM!"

"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