If it seems like I’m trying to avoid you …


thermostatLeaving the house lately has been a lot like being faced with the “Walk of Shame.” In fact, showing my face anywhere right now fills me with trepidation. All I want to do is put on a hat, slip on some shades, duck my head and get through it without talking to anyone.

But I can’t.

Because everyone knows I caved. At least, all my Facebook friends know. And now, if you read further, you’ll know, too. And then you’ll want to ask questions I’m ashamed to answer.

My first mistake was making public my campaign to not be the first in our house to turn on the air conditioner. But posting about it on Facebook was a small blunder compared to the most fatal, grievous, calamitous and downright crushing mistake I made.

I eventually implied in my Facebook posts that I was in a battle of wills with my ultra-competitive wife.

She just didn’t know it.

Not at first, at least.

She eventually found out last week when I informed my FB friends that it was so hot and humid inside our house that my wife appeared “close to breaking,” and that I thought I would soon “claim victory for lasting the longest without turning on the AC.”

When a mutual friend tagged her in a comment that post became my downfall. She turned to me and said, “I didn’t know we were competing.” Then she calmly told me that “if this is a contest, you know you’re going to lose.”

Actually, I’m sort of surprised she hadn’t busted me sooner. The post that ignited her competitive side was just one in a series I had been writing on Facebook.

It started innocently enough with a non-confrontational status update wondering “how long I could resist the siren call of the air conditioner.”

A few days later, I followed it up with another fairly innocuous post expressing relief that cooler temperatures were in the forecast.

A friend of mine then posted a picture of a box fan set up inside a window to encourage a cool breeze.

It went back and forth like that until I finally crossed the line. Last week, I mentioned my wife for the first time when I said I thought we were playing “a sick game of who can last the longest without turning on the AC.”

If I had just left it there, I wouldn’t be going incognito in public right now. But I had to follow it with posts and replies suggesting my wife and I were engaged in a supreme struggle that would scare even our soon-to-be teenage daughter, who is no stranger to conflict.

And then my wife discovered the “close to breaking post” and made it clear that she was anything but.

I spent the next few days gently suggesting that we put aside our contest, that if our tongues hung out of our mouths any further we might be mistaken for our thoroughly miserable dog, Rodney.

But she had a “you started it, I’m finishing it” attitude.

Even our kids were no help. Our daughter took my wife’s side and even wanted a cost analysis between running the air conditioning and all the fans I had running full blast throughout the house. Our teenage son, meanwhile, was oblivious to the whole thing. He spends most of his time at home in our comfortably cool basement pretending he doesn’t live with us.

Eventually, I caved and now I’m suffering the ignominy of having flipped the switch at a moment of craven weakness.

You might be wondering, if I’m so ashamed, why am I admitting to all this?

It’s for husbands who have ultra-competitive wives like mine.

Never let them know you’re competing with them if you want temperatures to cool down at your house.

Sometimes Working Weekends is Cool


At the risk of provoking my wife, I’m actually going to gloat about having to work weekends.

Usually, my schedule elicits pity, or at least confusion – as if it’s unbelievable that someone my age still has to work weekends. But that’s the nature of the news business. News doesn’t take weekends off, either.

I guess it’s the price I pay for decisions I made long ago and last weekend, I was only too happy to pay it.

I was trying to get some sleep when what we now know was a derecho brought its howling winds through our neighborhood and left us among the millions without power and air conditioning in the middle of a heat wave.

But because I had to work, instead of spending the whole weekend boiling, I got to escape to the climate-controlled comfort of work.

Just a few hours after the storm hit, I was on the road. Sure I had to dodge debris and my usual route was blocked by downed trees. But my iPhone helped me find an alternative route to my building in downtown Washington, D.C. and its precious AC.

My wife, meanwhile, was left at home dealing with cabin fever complicated by the stifling heat, a Blackberry that was having trouble holding a charge even after repeated long drives to replenish its juice, an infuriatingly cheery daughter who was energized by the adventure of it all and a sullen teenage son who wasn’t.

Compared to others, though, we had it easy (especially me). By the time Sunday afternoon rolled along, our power was back on.

When I got home, my wife was cleaning our refrigerator. We had to throw out quite a bit of spoiled food. But on the other hand, our refrigerator is nice and clean now and we’ve gotten rid of the science experiments we were inadvertently cultivating.

With the exception of our technology deprived son, no one was more happy to have the power back on than our big dog, Rodney. As soon as the AC kicked on, he plopped down over a vent and didn’t move for what seemed like hours. Even as I write this, he’s lying there, letting the cool air wash over his wet nose.

I admit to having a touch of survivor’s guilt knowing there are still dogs dragging their tongues on the floor and people sweating it out this weekend. But I suspect it won’t be much longer before they are back on the grid, too. I know this because I saw the cavalry coming.

Several days after the derecho hit, I was driving back to work when I began passing bucket truck after bucket truck on the interstate. These guys were linemen from Michigan and I’m still surprised by my reaction given that our derecho experience didn’t even amount to two full days without power.

I was so glad to see them, I gave each driver in their long convoy an appreciative thumbs up. My eyes even got a little moist at the thought of how far they and others from around the country had come to help.

At the time, my colleagues at NPR were using a stirring Neil Diamond anthem in a story on my car radio. It’s the one in which he belts out that they are “coming to America.”

Indeed, they are.

Tug-of-War over the Man-Cave


If there is one thing I’ve learned while playing tug-of-war with our big German Shepherd Dog Rodney, it’s not to wrap the rope around my hand.  Otherwise, he jerks my arm so hard he knocks me off my feet and I end up flailing around like the bad-guy at the end of old westerns – the one whose comeuppance includes getting his boot caught in the stirrup of a runaway horse.

Rodney leaves my arm sore a couple of times a week. I always know when he wants to drag me around the back yard when he grabs his tug-toy.  He won’t leave me alone until I submit.

These days, though, it’s not just Rodney who’s jerking me around.

Our teenage son is, too.

We’ve been engaged in a completely separate tug-of-war ever since school let out for the summer.  And, instead of only having to deal with it twice a week or so, our tug-of-war is every day.

Before you start picturing the absurdity of us squaring off in the living room with a rope stretched taut between us, our tug-of-war is more figurative than literal.

It started when my wife crushed my long-standing plans to create a man-cave in our basement.  It’s now a teenage boy-cave.  She finally agreed to let our son live down there.

Instead of my own private happy place that includes a big-screen TV, a snack bar and a refrigerator stocked with my favorite beverages, I now find myself beginning each day standing at the top of the basement steps nagging my son to get his you-know-what out of bed.

It was easier when he slept down the hall from us. If all else failed, I used to just send Rodney in his room to slobber on our son until he woke up.  But that doesn’t work, anymore.  There’s something about the basement that Rodney doesn’t like.

I guess I could send our cat Skitty, but she only goes down there long enough to well … go.  Her litter box is in the basement.  Besides, she’s so mean that if she actually did try to wake him, I’m afraid she’d take too much pleasure in poking his eye out (she’s been known to draw blood while insisting my wife get up to feed her in the morning).

So, that leaves me standing at the top of the stairs hollering every half-hour or so until he finally makes an appearance.

My wife and I aren’t totally unaware of what it is going on.  The change in our son’s sleeping habits is directly related to his big move to the basement.  In other words, he’s been staying up all night  on the internet.

We’ve taken steps to put a stop to his late-night surfing.  We now switch off our modem at bedtime.  But he’s been getting around that.  He admitted to me the other day that he’s been using his “ninja” skills to sneak upstairs to turn it back on.

I told him a real ninja would think to turn it back off before he finally fell asleep so his parents wouldn’t figure it out.

I could threaten to make him sleep upstairs again if he doesn’t start getting up at a reasonable hour. There’s still a bed in his old room, after all.  But since my wife has plans to turn it into a home office, it looks like I won’t be getting my basement back anytime soon.

I guess I still have the garage. It’s got some man-cave potential.  There’s room for a big screen TV and if summer temperatures remain where they are, Rodney is not likely to want to spend much time in there, giving me some relief from at least one tug-of-war.