Somebody said it and now the deer are keeping me up at night

What I’m about to do might upset The Journal’s reporters and editors. I might even end up banned from the paper because of it.

But judging by the number of big stories that have kept newsrooms hopping this summer, I think it’s safe to defy one of journalism’s unwritten rules: never, ever point out that “it’s a slow news day.”

Journalists consider that a jinx. And if by chance someone seems close to actually saying it out loud, a quick thinking colleague will try to stifle it with a stern “don’t say it” admonishment.

We’ve got enough to struggle with most days without a feckless coworker causing a big story to break at the end of our shift, or even worse, at the end of a week preceding a few vacation days. There’s nothing like putting in some extra time when you’re looking forward to a few days at the beach, or in my case, not catching any fish on a trip to Canaan Valley.

Journalists don’t generally remark on this often (because it involves the “slow” no-no), but the arrival of summer seems to bring a corresponding lull in the news business. The breather might have something to do with laziness induced by heat and humidity, but I suspect it’s at least partly because newsmakers take vacations, too.

This summer, though, has been different. There have been so many big stories lately that I’m beginning to think somebody in a newsroom somewhere inadvertently let the “S” word slip, dooming the rest of us to frantic days, late nights, bad coffee and cold pizza.

The evidence seems clear.

Take the major stories of this week alone. We’ve had to buckle down to cover (a) the nuclear deal with Iran (b) the confusing twists and turns in the Greek Debt crisis (c) the controversial release of beloved author Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman” and (d) the latest astonishing photos of Pluto that a NASA spacecraft has been sending back to Earth.

Being something of a space geek, I actually welcomed the Pluto pictures, but that doesn’t change the fact that NASA’s Pluto mission is among the major stories that are keeping journalists busier than usual this summer.

Other stories that have surfaced lately are simply head-scratchers. For instance, a few days before the Confederate battle flag came down in South Carolina, a colleague sent me a link to one about a Cabell County man who apparently was keeping two deer as pets – and not just in his backyard. He was allegedly allowing them INSIDE HIS HOME!

Clearly the deer story lacks the importance of a nuclear deal. But I still paid attention to it because it was important to me personally.

Deer are the scourge of my commute. And they are the scourge of my wife’s garden. When they are not stalking me as I drive to and from work, they are making a meal out of my wife’s daylilies.

The last thing I need is a couple of them staring at me while I sleep, raiding my refrigerator, lounging on my couch, hogging my TV and using my shower.

I’m blaming the deer story and the busier-than-usual summer on whoever let slip that “it’s a slow day” inside a newsroom – leaving me to worry about the next major story and, more importantly, whether deer prefer the toilet lid up or down.

Here’s why I won’t be seeing “Jurassic World” again

Has anyone not seen “Jurassic World?”

I ask because of the ads I noticed on television this week.

They scream that the dinosaur flick is “THE #1 MOVIE IN THE WORLD!” And, in a not so subtle manner, encourage us all to SEE! IT! AGAIN!

The dinosaur flick has raked in so much money since it hit theaters, if I didn’t know better I’d say our dog Rodney is the lone holdout.

This may come as a surprise considering how much I bore my wife by watching the same movies over and over again, but in the case of “Jurassic World”, once is enough.

It’s not because it’s a terrible movie. It’s because I’m cheap.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some movies out there that I would pay to see twice in theaters. It’s just that “Jurassic World” isn’t one of them.

Here’s why: my penny-pinching Dad brain kicked-in after the lights dimmed and the movie started. The makers of the film captured the look and feel of an amusement park so accurately that all I could think about was how expensive it would be to take the kids there. I could feel my wallet shrivelling in my pocket.

First, there’s the flight for, in our case, a family of four. Then the cruise ship ride out to the island, not to mention the price of admission to the park itself.

As for food and drink, I couldn’t help but cringe as the camera panned over the park crammed with seemingly happy parents and their kids having the time of their lives.

It wasn’t that long ago when I could have been an extra in that scene. Back when our kids were younger, we took them to Florida to stay at the Nickelodeon Hotel. The “Jimmy Neutron” cartoon was popular on Nick TV back then and we paid for the privilege of staying in a room decorated with cutouts of Jimmy and his friends, Carl and Sheen. While there, we joined the throngs at the local attractions, because why take the kids to Florida if you’re not going to spring for Disney World?

That vacation was one of our more memorable trips with the kids. But anyone who has taken children to an amusement park knows it’s all fun and games until one of them melts down.

That’s where lunch comes in.

And that’s when, after you’ve paid for everything else, sticker shock sets in.

If there is one thing I’ve learned about parenting kids, it’s this: happiness is directly associated with a full stomach. But you might as well take the kids to a five-star restaurant for all the money you spend at an amusement park lunch counter. That’s why the thought of buying lunch at a place like “Jurassic World” scares me more than a pack of hungry velociraptors eyeing my fashionable Dad Bod when it’s time for the midday meal.

On second thought maybe I will round up the kids and give “Jurassic World” a second look.

Unless they pay their own way, it’s the closest they are ever going to get to a place like that again.

When you play the “Game of Lawns”

My wife ought to be happy.

There’s one less TV show on my packed viewing schedule. The fifth season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” came to its typically violent and fatal conclusion last Sunday.

I’ve sat through each episode since the show premiered, even when it was so shocking all I wanted to do was turn off my TV. But I’ve stuck with it and have read all the books because at some point, something good has got to happen to the kids of House Stark, right?

That may be wishful thinking, but I want to be there if the Starks ever stop falling victim to the so-called Lords and Ladies of Westeros, a ruling class whose cruelties exceed even those of our cat when she’s caught a mouse.

For now, however, I’m left to scour the internet like all the other “Throneheads” who are looking for clues to what the future holds. The show has largely caught up with where the books have left off. And since the author, George R.R. Martin, has yet to finish the book series, the story is ripe for all sorts of crazy theories.

But even I’ve got to step away from time to time. And, when I do I play a different sort of game.

The conclusion of season five means I’ve got a whole extra hour each week to play a game that should actually please my wife instead of frustrating her – call it the “Game of Lawns.”

The “Game of Lawns” is a simple game played by suburban dads. Instead of a sword with which to take off an opponent’s head, all that’s needed is a lawnmower and the wherewithal to stay ahead of your rivals.

It’s a game my wife fully understands. She plays her version during the winter when she strives to be the first among our neighbors to clear the driveway of snow.

But while she regularly triumphs, I’m usually one step behind.

Okay, maybe I’m more than one step behind. It might be more like three or four.

The point is, there’s nothing like arriving home from work to find most of your neighbors have mowed while your yard looks as if it’s way overdue for a visit to the barber.

This week, however, was different.

I actually got the jump on my rivals.

I got up early Wednesday morning, pulled out my rickety old lawn mower, crossed my fingers and actually got it running, which was quite a trick. The previous week it spewed so much dirty oil onto its deck that I feared it would never start again.

But it surprised me. It roared back to life after I replenished its oil supply.

It ran so smoothly, I happily mowed the front yard, secure in the knowledge that, for at least one week, I was on track to win “The Game of Lawns.”

But then I made catastrophic mistake.

I took a break before mowing the backyard.

I can only assume that the sound of my mower must have spurred one of my neighbors to action. When I came back outside after an hour or so I found he had mowed his ENTIRE lawn, front and back.

It was a move worthy of those consummate schemers of House Lannister.

That’s what I get for not remaining vigilant.

On the bright side, at least the consequences I faced are not as severe as if I were playing the “Game of Thrones.”

You either win or die playing that game.

I was just left to play catch up, again.

Everyone at my house is full of it

If your gag reflex is easily triggered, you may not want to read any further. The following contains a graphic discussion of poop. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

My wife and I (mostly my wife) have been cleaning up after others for years. It started the day we welcomed our first dog into our lives, extended into our kids’ diaper days and remains a major part of our everyday existence thanks to our current dog and the two stray cats that have latched onto us.

Since my wife is the dominant animal lover in the family, the pooper-scooper duties are mostly hers by default. She takes care of the litter box. And, since she’s most likely to be the one walking our big dog Rodney, she takes care of his business, too.

It’s a heavy responsibility. Without going into too much detail (I’m saving that for later) Rodney is a really big dog. And really big dogs drop really big …

Let’s just say that if we left his calling card untouched, the neighbors would likely arm themselves with pitchforks and run us out-of-town.

What holds them at bay, however, are those ubiquitous plastic grocery bags. We keep an ample supply handy because they make good poop bags after they’ve served their original purpose. Without them, we might have been tarred and feathered by now.

When Rodney is regular, everything comes out fine. He generally does his business during his walks, my wife cleans up after him and the neighbors are never the wiser. But when he’s irregular, things get messy.

Take last week, for instance. My wife sent me a text that made me feel fortunate that I work overnights and weekends.

It was sometime past midnight when she sent word that Rodney was having problems, that it was bad, and that it was all over the carpet in our bedroom.

I suspect that dogs have an unwritten rule about diarrhea, that it should only become overwhelming late at night to maximize the “eww” factor  when their humans are trying to sleep.

With my work schedule, such a rule would seem to play to my advantage. I even sent a reply suggesting as much, joking that  “sometimes it pays to work the overnight shift!”

But I was wrong to think that I would get out of doing my part simply because I’m often away at oh-dark-thirty.

When I got home that morning, I could see my wife must have been up for hours. I could also see that a carpet cleaner was in my immediate future. The stain looked as if it was once one of the Great Lakes.

After getting a few hours sleep, I rented a cleaner and was relieved when the stain came up almost immediately.

Then I did the rest of the carpets in our house, figuring I might as well get my money’s worth.

Rodney is not the only one who has tested my cleaning skills, lately. Every so often, our unhappy cat Skitty has to make a point about the other stray cat we took in last fall.

I was trying to nap on the couch this week when I heard her making strange noises from her normal perch on top of the dryer.

When I got up to see what was wrong, she demonstrated her displeasure at having to share her litter box.

It wasn’t the first time she has pooped on the dryer and it likely won’t be her last.

But it sure would make things less time-consuming if she and everyone else at our house would just go where they are supposed to.

Now I know how Thor felt

An email that was both welcome and aggravating showed up in my inbox this week.

It was welcome because it confirmed my phone was in good hands. It was aggravating because those hands weren’t mine.

The email was in reply to a “thanks for finding my phone” note I had sent to a colleague. I discovered she found it when I got home from my job in Washington, D.C., early Monday afternoon.

Since I was on the road and clearly unreachable, my co-worker had used my phone to track down my wife, who left me a note about it the old-fashioned way – on paper.

I was relieved to see that note taped to the door leading into our house from the garage. I had just spent much of my commute in a mild panic, repeatedly going through every nook and cranny of my backpack, where I usually throw my phone when I leave work. Eventually, I had to give up and tell myself that it wasn’t really lost, that I had simply forgotten it.

When I was greeted by my wife’s paper note, I immediately wanted to thank my co-worker. But since I didn’t have my phone to call, text or send an email, I was forced to use our daughter’s laptop. It seemed huge compared to my phone. It made me feel like I was typing on the piano in our living room.

Later that day, I checked the piano (sorry, the laptop) to find my colleague had sent a reply and then signed off with the innocent wish that I “enjoy being unplugged.”

She was simply trying to make me feel better by suggesting that not having the convenience of the internet at my fingertips isn’t such a bad thing, that being unplugged once in a while can, in fact, be a good thing.

I don’t disagree. However, I prefer it to be a planned thing.

After reading her reply, I checked the time, did the math and was crestfallen when I figured out that I was going to have to spend the next 31 hours, 45 minutes and 26 seconds without my phone.

I thought about seeking solace from our big dog Rodney. Unfortunately, he appeared lost in his own countdown. Even though he was sprawled on the floor in front of my chair, he was alert and seemed to be intent on the digital clock on our DVR, no doubt counting the minutes until my wife usually arrives back home from her own job.

I kept checking the clock, too, because for nearly 32-hours I had to make do without the device that is more than just a simple phone. It’s my brain and my entertainment system wrapped in one.

Its calendar keeps me from misplacing the kids. I read and listen to books on it and use it to stream my favorite shows to the TV. I’ve even been known to write columns like this one on it, not to mention the time I waste using it to check Facebook and Twitter.

For 32-hours, I felt like Thor from “The Avengers,” who, when bereft of his hammer had to deal with life without superpowers. He had to prove himself worthy to get it back.

I’m just glad all I had to do to be reunited with my phone was to show up for my next shift at work.

Because if I’d had to prove myself, I’d probably still be plunking the keys on my daughter’s clunky laptop.

Not that I’m obsessed with a particular fish or anything

I suppose I could just lie and tell you that the fishing was great last weekend, that I tricked so many fish into buying what I was selling that I was the envy of everyone on the riverbank.

But lies are what fisherman tell. And apparently, I’m not a fisherman. Or, at least, not a very good one.

In fact, I probably should not have taken the weekend off from my radio gig in Washington, D.C., just to go on a fruitless fishing trip.

I know what you’re thinking, that a “bad day fishing is better than a good day at work.” But if I had showed up for my shift, at least I would have been more productive.

Instead, I returned to work this week with no “fish tale” to tell my co-workers, no yarn to make their eyes pop in disbelief. And, more importantly, no story that would justify my new fishing pole to them.

A few months ago, they chuckled sceptically when my new pole arrived at my cubicle. I chose it above all the other gifts my employer offered to those of us marking milestone anniversaries.

I wanted to prove my co-workers wrong and hoped my weekend trout fishing trip to the Blackwater River near my brother’s place in Canaan Valley would do the trick.

No such luck.

All I came away with was a cautionary tale of obsession. Nothing on the scale of the fictional Captain Ahab’s single-minded pursuit of the white whale, but obsession, nonetheless.

After arriving along the Blackwater last Friday evening, a couple of cronies and I fished for a few hours.  We didn’t get any bites, but I wasn’t worried. We assured ourselves we’d fill our coolers the next day and have fresh trout for dinner.

It didn’t work out that way. Aside from one of my friends catching a fish too small to keep, we barely got any nibbles.

My only consolation? No one else fishing near us seemed to have much success, either.

The next day I woke before anyone else and set out for the river, determined to turn our fortunes around and at least catch ONE fish with my new pole before leaving for home later that morning.

That’s when I came across my own white whale, the fish that mocked me for the next of couple of hours.

I first saw it treading water near the riverbank where I was casting my line. It was a good-sized trout and seemed to be offering itself up to be hooked.

I say seemed because getting hooked was the last thing it wanted to do. It really just wanted to toy with me.

I did everything to land that fish, but it wouldn’t take the bait. I think it actually shrugged its fishy little fins at everything I threw at it.

I even tried talking it onto my hook, promising to release it if only it would let me take a selfie of the two of us together as if we were old friends. I wanted photographic evidence to help make the case to my co-workers that choosing a fishing pole was better than settling for a pair of cufflinks I’ll never wear.

But that fish just went on mocking me. Then it mocked my friends when they finally showed up to try their luck catching it.

When we finally ran out patience and began packing up to leave, I swear that fish thumbed its nose at us.

Since it never took my hook, I’m not sure if that fish qualifies as “the one that got away.” But if Captain Ahab can travel to the ends of the earth in pursuit of his nemesis, the least I can do is go after that fish, again.

After all, I’ve still got a selfie to take.

And, I don’t care what I have to do to get it.

Gone Fishing

Before you jump to conclusions – no, I’m not at work this weekend because I overslept after staying up too late obsessively binge-watching our teenage daughter’s fangirl show “Supernatural.”

Even if TV kept me from showing up for my usual weekend radio newscasting gig in Washington, D.C., I would have to blame a different show. Our daughter has forbidden me from “Supernatural” for the time being because (a) she doesn’t want me to catch up with where she is in the series and (b) she says my enthusiasm has “sort of ruined” the show for her.

I feel bad about that.

But not THAT bad.

After all, it’s my duty as a dad to ruin things for my kids.

So why do I have the weekend off?

Well, if I can’t fangirl, I might as well pursue a more age-appropriate activity.

I’m off to West Virginia’s interior, meeting up with a few friends at my brother’s place in Canaan Valley.

We’re going fishing.

Trout fishing, to be specific.

The idea of fishing appeals to me. Casting a line into a mountain stream and waiting for the rush of a fish that takes the bait seems like the perfect way to spend a weekend away from the office cubicle.

And for this trip, I’m looking forward to breaking in the new pole I got for free. I chose it from a list my employer offered as a gift when I reached ten years on the job.

My co-workers chuckled when it arrived, finding it amusing that I’d choose a fishing pole as an anniversary gift rather than a watch or a pair of cufflinks that I’ll never wear.

At the time, however, I ignored them. I figured a fishing pole would more useful.

I might be wrong about that, though. In my experience, the idea of fishing and the reality of it don’t square.

The truth is, I’m a terrible fisherman. As much as I hate to admit this, I can probably count the number of fish I’ve actually caught on one hand.

In fact, I probably spend more time putting a fouled spool of line back into working order than actually casting. And if by some miracle I’m able to get a line into the water, it seems more likely to get snagged on a rock than to hook a fish, leaving me with no recourse but to lose even more precious fishing time trying to work my line free without snapping it.

It’s a wonder I haven’t somehow hooked the back of my head … yet.

There’s still time for that, though.

They say “a bad day fishing is better than a good day working.”

With my track record, it seems I’m putting that old adage to the test this weekend.

But no matter how our trip turns out, at least I’ll have a good fish story to tell when I get back to the office.