I took some time to consider a “curious” question this week

Despite the dishes that needed to cleaned and put away, the kitchen floor that needed to be mopped, the laundry that needed to be dried and folded, the carpets that needed to be vacuumed and the bathrooms that needed to be made presentable in case the neighbors showed up, I actually took a few hours for myself this week.

In fact, I even put off a trip to the grocery store, opting instead to have a pizza delivered to satisfy our teenage son’s bottomless stomach just so l could be totally free to concentrate on the really big question of the day – is Curious George a monkey or an ape?

I hesitate to say which side of the debate I come down on. After all, I’m a journalist. We’re supposed to keep our opinions on issues of public importance to ourselves. It has to do with maintaining journalistic credibility, a cornerstone of the profession.

For example, if I were free to join a group dedicated to convincing others that George is an ape because he has no tail, would you trust me to fairly represent the arguments of those who accept him as a monkey because that’s how he’s referred to in the books?

Whether Curious George is an ape or a monkey is probably a question best left to primate experts, or better yet, “The Man in the Yellow Hat.” But that didn’t stop the debate from spilling over into my Facebook feed, giving me an excuse (not that I necessarily need one) to overlook household chores.

I welcomed the respite. That’s because my wife and I seem to have no down time. Take a typical week at our house. We not only toil at our jobs, but we also make sure the kids get to school on time, and that they go to marching band practice, theater and choir rehearsals, girl scouts, dance classes, piano lessons, orthodontist appointments and football games.

All four of us seem to go in all sorts of directions at once and I haven’t even mentioned our pets.

Our cat Skitty and dog Rodney had their annual veterinarian appointments this week. They each suffered various indignities, the major one involving Skitty and her Pet Taxi, the carrier we use to transport her.  I spent way too much time trying to trick her into getting into it. Eventually, I lost patience and had to risk her claws by simply stuffing her inside it. She meowed in protest the whole way to the vet’s office and back.

At least I didn’t have to cram Rodney into one of those things. Dogs are generally too big to carry around like a piece of luggage.

In my mind, those two trips to the vet plus all our other obligations equaled a break when I found myself alone this week.

The only thing is, I’m not sure what I’m going to tell my wife when she asks why I haven’t gotten the hammer and drill out to install the new shelves our daughter wants mounted on the wall above her dresser.

“Well, you see honey. There was this thing about Curious George on Facebook ….”

Even “The Man in the Yellow Hat” wouldn’t buy that.

Does the Ziploc bag filled with rice trick work on cars?

I should have known better than to publicly declare my car fixed without first driving it around for longer than a week or two following its last repair job.

But I did.

And it’s not.

I blame my premature optimism on the kind of wishful thinking that’s born out of a desperate need for a repair to go right. But the unfortunate fact is, my car is better at frustrating me than our dog Rodney is when he suddenly starts barking and twirling around in circles if my wife even glances at her walking shoes.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that after a lengthy repair process that included two new transmissions and an engine harness, a simple brake switch was all my car needed to fix a quirk I’ve been putting up with for more than a year.

It didn’t.

Fortunately, the more expensive repairs were done while my car was still under warranty. Otherwise, we’d be so broke I would probably be standing over Rodney’s food bowl right now seriously considering whether a little water would soften his kibbles enough to keep from shattering my teeth.

My car notwithstanding, at least the repair gods have not totally abandoned me. The new shower handle we’ve been test driving lately is showing no sign of the kind of quirk that afflicts my vehicle. By that I mean we’re able to turn the water off and on at will instead of watching it cascade unchecked as if it were Blackwater Falls. I had to install the new handle after the old one broke the day we left for a weekend getaway last month.

And just this week, I averted a cell phone disaster.

It happened when our daughter came home from school thirsty for the lemonade I like to keep in the refrigerator when it’s hot and humid outside. She somehow mistook her phone for the glass she had taken down from the cupboard and doused it.

The first sign that something had gone awry in our kitchen came when I heard her yelp for help. When I arrived she was standing in a pink puddle of lemonade, frantically drying her phone with a kitchen towel.

At first, I wasn’t focused on her troubles. I was more concerned about the floor. I had just mopped it an hour or so earlier and I was busy coming to terms with having to do it again.

A few minutes later, though, it finally dawned on me that our daughter’s phone may have been damaged. I figured that out when she complained that its speaker wasn’t working.

Her revelation alarmed me so much that my emergency cell phone saving skills kicked in. We dashed back into the kitchen and quickly threw the phone into a Ziploc bag filled with rice to draw the moisture from it.

But once we sealed the bag, we realized we had overlooked a key step. We forgot to turn off the phone. That’s sort of important if you want to avoid a short.

We had to unseal the bag, turn off the phone and then reseal it, again.

In the end, our efforts paid off. When our daughter got home from school the next day, we booted up her phone and it was like new.

In fact, the trick worked so well, I’m thinking of stuffing my car inside a Ziploc bag filled with rice.

Goodness knows I’ve tried everything else.

Pavlov’s response to home repair

If trying to get an appliance fixed these days is any guide, I’m lucky that something as simple as a broken shower handle didn’t lead to my entire house having to be re-plumbed. And when I say the entire house, I mean the whole shebang, from top to bottom, and stem to stern.

Every last pipe.

Every last valve.

Every last fitting.

It would have been a shockingly expensive circumstance to find myself in, but I’ve been conditioned to expect the worst. So much so that when something breaks around our house, I exhibit a similar Pavlovian response that our dog Rodney does when the treats come out. Only, instead of salivating in anticipation, I unconsciously reach for my wallet in resignation.

Take our clothes dryer, for instance. I called our repairman over to the house a couple of months ago because it was making a scraping noise. After he took it apart, he showed me a couple of pads that had worn down and needed to be replaced. He said he could fix it, but as it turned out he couldn’t.

While the manufacturer still makes the pads, it no longer provides a separate part the pads are supposed to fit into.

I ended up retiring our old dryer to the recycling center.

Our fix-it guy is an honest, knowledgeable sort of fellow. But when I call him these days, I sort of feel like I’m taking a shot in the dark, that I really ought to skip the expense of a house call, suck it up and head to the appliance store. After all, we’ve replaced just about every major appliance at least once since moving into our house about nine years ago.

It’s not just expensive appliances that can’t be fixed anymore that had me briefly worrying about a major plumbing upgrade.

For more than a year, my car had a weird quirk that left the fix-it guys at the dealership standing around scratching their heads.

At first, they went for a series of big, costly repair jobs. That wasn’t a surprise, but if you ask me, they were a little too enthusiastic about it.

They replaced the transmission. And, when that didn’t work, they replaced it, again. And, when that didn’t work, they replaced the engine harness.

If my car had not been under warranty, I would have been tempted to put a brick on the accelerator, slip it in drive and send it screaming off a cliff. But then I would not have eventually discovered that my car’s quirk was actually due to a faulty brake switch that cost all of 50 bucks.

My house may eventually need major plumbing work. But fears that my checking account would soon have to absorb the sort of unnecessary repairs that my car was subjected to were unfounded. After all, it was just a shower handle that decided give up.

The handle broke as I was cleaning up just before we left for a weekend getaway in Atlantic City, leaving me sopping wet with water pouring out of the shower head unchecked.

At first, I was true to my conditioning. I looked for my wallet. Then I did the sensible thing. I pried open the access panel and brought the flow to a stop through a vigorous twisting of the shut-off valves.

Our weekend away from home gave me plenty of time to further overcome my initial Pavlovian response. When we got back, I dashed over to the hardware store, picked up a new ten-dollar handle and fixed the problem lickety-split. In fact, it took me longer to find the misplaced screwdriver I needed than it did to figure out how to install the new handle.

If only everything were that simple.

Protip: When traveling with kids, don’t forget the charger

I’ve made a small investment in a simple piece of hardware that I hope will keep me from having to perform the classic “frustrated dad maneuver” this weekend – that is, threatening to pull the car over and making the kids walk.

It’s an inexpensive USB car charger.

For 14 bucks, I have a device in hand that will a) keep everyone’s electronics happily humming along and b) distract the kids from bickering for the duration of our quick trip to Atlantic City.

I ran across this potentially life-changing device in the electronics store.

I made our daughter accompany me there against her will this week. She turns 13 this month and is true to form. The last thing she wants is to be seen in public with me, but I thought ahead and offered a bribe.

After embarrassing her by just being present while she got her back-to-school haircut, I floated the promise of ice cream if she’d indulge me before returning home. She’ll do anything for ice cream, even temporarily forgetting that I should only exist when she needs money … for more ice cream.

When we got to the store, I quickly discovered the leap chargers have made since the last time I was in the market for one. Their potential to keep the peace didn’t escape me, either. I snapped up one with two USB ports.

I’m probably coming late to the whole USB car charger thing, but I have an excuse. It’s been several years since I’ve had to buy a charger. I haven’t had to think about one because my wheels are iPhone ready – meaning I can plug my phone into the car’s system and play it through the stereo while it charges.

But I don’t have an iPhone, anymore. I got a new Android this week, and it doesn’t play nice with my car. It’s rendered its iPhone capabilities almost useless.

However, my new charger fixes that. It taps into my car’s juice in the usual way, through the cigarette lighter. And while it works exactly like the chargers I’m used to, it effectively expands by threefold my vehicle’s ability to keep electronic devices ready-to-go. But the real pay-off is its potential to keep our kids from coming to blows over whose turn it is to replenish their batteries.

The kids each have their own port. My daughter can charge her phone and her Kindle on one while her older brother takes the other for not only his phone, but his video game systems. Since my wife still has an iPhone, she can use my car’s iPhone plug.

That just leaves me.

If you’re keeping score at home, it looks like I’m the odd man out.

Despite having the USB charger, I’m still one plug short. It gives me three, but four people are cramming into my car for the trip to Atlantic City.

I could make one of the kids share time with me, but that would just stir up the kind of trouble I’m trying to avoid.

The last thing I want is to be kicked out of my own car.

What if the deer really are after me?

deerI’m beginning to get the feeling that perhaps I’ve carried jokes about dodging the deer on my commute a bit too far, that they have pulled out their laptops and tablets, scanned my Facebook and Twitter accounts and have decided it’s to time to get even with me for taunting them so much.

I can’t blame them. I wouldn’t appreciate being made out to be as hapless as Wile E. Coyote, either.

Unfortunately for the deer, though, that’s the gist of my jokes about them. All that’s missing is some ridiculous device made by ACME that spectacularly fails at the moment I drive by.

I’ve posted so often about avoiding deer on my way to work that my friends have gotten in on the act.

One colleague delights in writing notes on pictures of deer she prints from the Internet and leaving them for me to find when I arrive for work.

Just the other day, an old college friend sent me a picture of his deer-damaged car, saying my early morning pursuers made sure a big buck was there to greet him on the Virginia border as he returned home from vacation.

Another friend sends me stealth cam pictures of deer as proof they are stalking me as I make my way to work long before the sun rises.

It’s all in fun, but what if the deer really are targeting me?

I was walking our spastic dog Rodney a couple of weeks ago when I noticed his ears prick up. He’s a curious German Shepherd and easily excitable. I’ve learned that when his ears go up, it’s a sure sign that he’s about to get over-enthusiastic. I gave his leash a quick jerk to remind him to stay calm and tossed a treat in the air for him to catch.

That’s when I saw it.

A doe.

She had emerged from the tree line that borders an expansive field in our neighborhood.

The doe froze.

I froze.

And, surprisingly, even Rodney froze.

While the three of us stared at each other, Rodney and I slowly sat down. Then I pulled out my phone and, with Rodney sitting in front of me, I snapped a picture of the deer framed by his enormous ears.

Call me paranoid, but after I took the picture, I started getting suspicious. It occurred to me that perhaps our encounter was no accident, that maybe this doe staring at us so intently was, in fact, a spy sent to report back to the collective about my habits in hopes of making it easier to catch me while on the commute.

When the doe started stamping one of her front legs like my wife does when she gets impatient with me, I decided it was best to move on.

As we were walking away, though, I happened to glance over my shoulder. A fawn had emerged to join its mother. Apparently, Rodney and I had unwittingly separated them.

It should have been a touching mother and child moment, but I was too busy running scenarios through my head.

What if the doe wasn’t simply worried about her fawn when she stamped her feet?

What if they really were spying on me?

Or worse.

What if they were the vanguard of even more deer hidden among the trees waiting for the right moment to spring their trap?

Deer can be wily.

In any case, I’m on my guard now.

It’d be a shame if the Road Runner was finally caught.

Turns out The World Cup wasn’t a fluke

I’m starting to think that I doth protest too much when it comes to sports. Either that, or I’m developing a higher tolerance for boredom with each passing year. After all, I turned 50 back in April.

A case in point – after rolling out of bed and stumbling into the family room earlier this week, I flipped on the TV fully intending to catch up on the news. Instead, I settled on live coverage of early round play at the British Open golf tournament.

When I was younger, I would have used The Open to lull myself back to sleep. But now I’m INTERESTED … in golf, of all things.

It doesn’t stop there. These days, I find myself seeking out the drama of any game.

For example, over the Fourth of July holiday, I made my wife and kids stand around with me at a Washington Nationals game. And when I say stand around, I mean it. The only tickets available were standing-room only.

If that’s not enough to make you question whether I’m a few shots over par, consider this: when I’m not shifting my weight from foot to foot for hours at a Nats game or can’t find a game on television, I can often be found spending my free time watching TV simulcasts of sports-talk radio shows like Dan Patrick’s.

Let that sink in. I’m actually WATCHING sports-talk radio shows. I used to merely listen to them so I could seem knowledgeable about games and the people who play them when the subject of sports came up in casual conversation.

A guy’s got to protect his street cred, but watching a radio show is probably carrying it too far.

Maybe lightning from one of this summer’s storms has scrambled my brain. Or maybe I’m simply suffering from some sort of soccer hangover.

Whatever the reason, after following soccer’s World Cup as closely as our dog Rodney follows my wife around the house, my usual standbys – Pawn Stars, Top Gear and Tattoo Nightmares – just don’t seem to satisfy as much as they used to. Even Star Trek seems to be taking a back seat to sports.

It’s inexplicable.

But I see now that I was kidding myself the last time I professed an indifference to sports. I wrote a column on the subject a couple of weeks ago, basically claiming my obsession with this summer’s World Cup was a fluke, that our family room was once again safe for Rodney and our cat, Skitty, because I was no longer loudly celebrating the thrill of victory or bemoaning the agony of defeat during U.S. World Cup games.

Actually, I’ve written more than one column on the subject, all of them coming down to the same general theme, that I don’t usually pay much attention to sports.

I suspect that’s one of the reasons why my wife has stuck around so long. My lack of commitment to being a fanboy up to now means she hasn’t had to put up with a sports-obsessed husband throwing bricks at the TV.

Now, I fear I’m just giving her another reason to regret marrying me.