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.

Balancing Kids and Home Appliances in 2013


The arrival of 2013 means my wife and I will soon be marking nine years in the Eastern Panhandle.

We moved here from Charleston in the summer of 2004.

Our kids were very young then: our son was entering first grade and our daughter was in pre-school. Now, he’s completed his first season in his high school marching band and our daughter is singing in her middle school choir.

I could run through many other milestones they’ve hit since we moved here, but they all show one thing: they are growing up fast. The time isn’t far off when we’ll be moving them into their college dormitories.

Right now, though, their mother and I are steeling ourselves to see them through their teenage years. They are at the age when they think they know everything and their parents are stupid and embarrassing.

There will come a day when they realize they don’t and we aren’t. There may be nothing we can do about the embarrassing part.

But for now, the arrival of 2013 – like birthdays – is an annual reminder that time doesn’t stop for anyone – not even for our kids. And, for that matter, not even for our household appliances.

I don’t mean to compare our kids with ovens and dishwashers. I’m just saying that as our kids get older and morph into recalcitrant teenagers, household appliances become just as troublesome with age.

Since we moved into our house, we’ve had to replace almost every modern convenience that came with it – the oven, the dishwasher, the garbage disposer, the laundry machine, the water softener and the hot water heater.

The only thing that hasn’t been replaced is our heat pump.

That’s not to say we haven’t worried about it. Fear of losing it to the ravages of time has become something of a running joke between my wife and me.

Whenever an appliance acts up – say, the dishwasher for instance – one of us will quip “Well, at least the heat pump still works.”

If our heat pump had hair, it would have turned white and brittle long ago. It might even be as old as our house, which was built back in the 1980s.

It’s been a workhorse. It’s kept going long past the time when it should have rolled over and gasped its last breath.

It hasn’t … yet. But over the holidays, we feared it would.

I woke up the day after Christmas to a heat pump in dire straits. It was wheezing. Ice had formed on top and the fan wasn’t spinning.

I turned it off, chipped away the ice and waited, thinking it might be refreshed once it took a nap. (A nap always works for me. Just ask my wife.)

After about an hour, I turned it back on. It still didn’t work properly, so I resigned myself to finding a repairman.

As a general rule, I don’t like calling fix-it guys – mostly because appliances these days aren’t made to be repaired. They are made to be replaced. The guy who has looked at our refrigerator, our dishwasher, our washing machine and our oven readily confirms as much.

He’s a nice guy, and I’ve learned a lot from him. I just don’t like having to write a check every time he tells me I’d be better off buying a new appliance than trying to fix the broken one.

But thankfully, the heat pump was different. The repair guy our helpful neighbor tracked down popped in a couple of new parts, and now we are back to being toasty.

I’m under no illusions, though. Our heat pump is ancient. and it’s probably not long for this world.

But I’m resolving not to worry about it this year .

It can be replaced.

Time with our kids can’t.

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.