I worked “Star Wars” into my latest newspaper column for Halloween

I don’t know how I’ve managed to make it this far without knowing there is an actual word for what I’ve spent years trying to avoid.

But at least this Halloween, I finally have a simple adjective to describe the turbulence that regularly sweeps through my house as if it were haunted by a ghost who needs anger management therapy.

Our teenage daughter brought it to my attention. She told me the other day she gets really “hangry” when I fail to keep the cupboards stocked.

I may be an out-of-touch, middle-aged, nerdy dad who needs his kids to keep him up-to-date on the finer points of pop culture, but, for once, I didn’t have to ask what she meant.

We had, after all, just averted what could have amounted to a prolonged meltdown.

Our daughter is usually borderline hangry when she comes home from school. That day, we had to make do with what we had on hand because I had yet to go the grocery store.

But even without context, the mash-up of “hungry” and “angry,” seems to define itself.

In any case, I know a hangry person when I see one. I live with enough of them.

To adapt a line from one of the trailers for the new “Star Wars” movie coming out next month: “Hanger runs strong in my family. My wife has it. Our daughter has it. And our cats have it, too!”

Earlier this week, a text message from my wife jolted me out of bed while I was trying to catch up on sleep after having worked an overnight shift in the newsroom. She warned that our cats were out of food. She didn’t have time to go to the store herself before leaving for work, but she urged me to go immediately.

And she left me with this disturbing thought as a motivator to wake up and get moving. She said if our truly ornery cat Skitty didn’t get something to eat soon, she may commit  … BLOODY MURDER!

My wife was exaggerating, but when I investigated the food situation, Skitty WAS sharpening her claws.

And when I peered into the kitchen, I saw that our other cat was hangry, too. She expresses frustration in a less threatening but more messy way –  by leaping on top of the fridge and hurling cereal boxes to the floor.

At least she kept her claws to herself while I swept up the rainbow of fruity colors and grabbed my car keys for an emergency trip to the grocery store.

It was only after I picked up food for the cats that I realized that I had neglected to rustle up snacks for our daughter. But I worked out a strategy to satisfy us both.

Our daughter doesn’t need a whole lot on her stomach to keep her happy, just a nibble here and there usually does the trick. And while she prefers to snack on healthy fruits and veggies, I went big and unhealthy.

I got her a massive bucket of fresh, hot french fries because … plenty of leftovers for Dad.

And because the cats just seemed too hangry to share.

Presidential politics is keeping me up at night

Call me lazy if you want. You wouldn’t be the first.

But if there is anything I take more seriously than “Star Trek,” it’s naptime.

Just ask my wife. She’ll tell you I have a talent for being able to nod off anytime, anywhere.

Her assessment of my ability to doze at will may (or may not) be an exaggeration, but I acknowledge being opportunistic about sleep. If our big dog Rodney isn’t barking, our cats aren’t demanding food, the kids aren’t home and there’s nothing on my wife’s “honey-do” list, my first thought is to slink off to bed.

I may have a penchant for lethargy, but I come by it honestly. In fact, it’s really a skill honed over years of working as a radio journalist. We are expected to work at all hours of the day and night, so you either learn to sleep when you can or end up bumping into walls like “The Walking Dead” zombies.

And, when you tack on the commute to and from the newsroom in Washington, D.C., all I can say is “stick a fork in me.”

Despite my best efforts to drift off whenever the opportunity presents itself, there are times when events conspire against me.

For instance, I was just climbing into the bed this past Sunday night when my wife informed me of a leak beneath the kitchen sink.

I got up long enough to determine that (a) there was indeed a leak, and (b) it was coming from the garbage disposer. Since there was nothing I could immediately do, I soaked the moisture up as best I could, grabbed a bowl to catch the drip and left the cabinet doors open so the space would dry as fast as possible.

I spent the next day considering whether to replace the disposer myself. Believe it or not, I’ve done it before. Several years ago, I installed the one that had sprung a leak. But on my way to work the overnight shift Monday evening, my altruistic side conveniently got me out of it.

Who am I to deprive someone else the pleasure of a job well done?

Upon arriving in the newsroom, I texted my wife and suggested she get in touch with her plumber friend.

When I got back home the next morning, I was looking forward to going horizontal for as long as possible.

The conditions were perfect. Our dog Rodney was in a quiet mood, the cats seemed well-fed, my wife was at work and the kids were at school.

But my talent for sleeping failed me.

I stared at the ceiling for hours.

I tossed and I turned.

And then my wife called to tell me the plumber was on his way over.

It didn’t take him long to replace our garbage disposer, but getting any sleep after he left was wishful thinking. It wasn’t long before the kids came home from school, my wife arrived back from work, Rodney started barking and the cats started whining to be fed.

Before I knew it, I was back on the road wondering how I was going to stay alert for another overnight shift.

But I needn’t have.

That was the night of the first debate among the 2016 Democratic presidential candidates.

Politics these days is enough to keep anyone awake – even me.

“The Martian” called the newsroom this week

I was on deadline this week when a newsroom colleague popped up from her cubicle and said, “Hey Giles, Mark Watney is on the phone. He says there’s water on Mars. Wanna go live with him?”

I knew right away she had to be joking.

Mark Watney on the phone?

Not possible.

Mentioning a man named Mark Watney in the same breath as Mars was obviously a reference to the fictional hero in Andy Weir’s novel “The Martian.” Even in the middle of deadline pressure, I picked up on that fairly quickly. Fictional characters can’t make real-life phones calls, even ones who are problem-solving NASA astronauts with improbable survival stories that are made into major motion pictures.

The odds are much better that “Star Trek’s” William Shatner would call the newsroom. He may never have stepped foot in space while playing the fictional Captain Kirk, but at least he’s a real person who is on THE SAME PLANET!

In the little time I had left before the final newscast of my shift, I decided my colleague was just having some last-minute fun with me, an impression that was reinforced when she laughed at the joke and returned to her conversation with “Watney.”

Besides, I had just finished listening to Weir’s book on my commute, and with the movie in theaters this weekend, new developments about water on Mars seemed to be too much of a coincidence.

Without another thought on the matter, I put the finishing touches on the news I planned to present and headed into the studio.

It was only afterward that I discovered my failure to make like Mark Watney and look beyond the impossible. When I got back out in the newsroom there was an alert on my phone from the “New York Times” saying scientists are pretty sure there is liquid water on Mars.

They haven’t found anything like a lake or a flowing stream stocked with Martian trout, but a new analysis of photos taken by a NASA orbiter has space enthusiasts buzzing.

The photos show dark streaks down Martian slopes. Scientists say they are seasonal and are the best evidence yet of moisture from liquid H2O, although the water is said to be on the briny side.

“You weren’t kidding,” I said to no one in particular.

Not entirely, anyway.

As it turned out, “Watney” was really one of our science reporters, presumably calling to coordinate coverage of NASA’s announcement, the one about liquid water on Mars that I had just whiffed on.

I told myself later that I would have been hard pressed to fit it into my newscast, that the call came too late for me to reasonably include it without courting an on-air disaster. But for a space buff like me, missing a chance to help report on a story like that was disappointing.

Maybe I’ll take it more seriously the next time I’m told Mark Watney is on the phone.

Our cat is not having a good day


This is our ornery cat Skitty. She is not happy this evening because:

a) she had to go to the vet today.

b) she peed in her pet carrier on the way there.

c) not only did the vet make her suffer through an exam and annual shots, but his assistants gave her a quick bath, too. Plus, they disinfected her carrier. I appreciated it. She didn’t.


d) Skitty still stunk when she got home, so I held her down while she howled her way through another bath.

Now, our normally hungry kitty is so pissed she’s refusing to eat.

Tomorrow’s another day, kid.

Homo naledi and me

Last week’s news out of South Africa reminds me of something my mom once pointed out: that I’d be happy living in a cave as long as I had a remote control and a jar of my beloved peanut butter.

She’s not that far off.

I would only add a plush recliner from which to wield the remote and a spoon for the peanut butter.

My mom may think she raised a modern-day caveman, but if I ever decide to chuck it all, at least I wouldn’t necessarily be roughing it. And, she might be relieved to know that I’m heeding her admonishment to keep my fingers out of the peanut butter jar because “someone else might want to make a sandwich!”

I thought of my mother’s assessment of my not-so-sophisticated habits when I got out of bed the morning the South African discovery was made public.

Being a journalist, I customarily check to see what’s been making news while I’ve been happily unconscious. My first stop is usually my phone, mainly because it’s been nagging at me to get up. It doubles as my alarm clock. After I shut off the alarm, I start scrolling through the alerts it received while I was asleep.

The first alert to catch my eye that morning was the story from South Africa, where scientists say they’ve found the fossilized remains of a previously unknown species related to humans.

My curiosity was sparked, so I checked the website of my employer, NPR. Sure enough, the discovery was prominently displayed at the top of the page.

With funding from the National Geographic Society, scientists have uncovered a trove of more than 1,550 fossils in a nearly impossible to reach part of a cave popular with spelunkers. And, they believe there’s more waiting for them.

Naturally, science has more work to do to figure out what the old fossil bones are saying. NPR spoke to a paleoanthropologist at George Washington University who said as much.

In the meantime, I’ve come up with some questions of my own.

What would scientists far in the future find if they should somehow think the remains of my house important enough to excavate?

Would they run across my bones?

And if they did, would they think them a significant discovery?

I like to think so.

After all, they’d have to wonder why a Neanderthal was using a spoon to eat peanut butter in a recliner long after his species was supposed to be extinct.

My mom would be so proud.

Why lying around the house isn’t all it’s cracked up to be anymore

Pro-tip: if you’re tired of your teenage kid hogging the family car, don’t put any gas in it.

I know this move works.

I’ve field tested it.

Earlier this week, our 17-year-old son came back into the house shortly after he was supposed to leave for school. He had an annoyed expression on his face because the car he wanted to use was short on fuel.

I was slightly surprised he even noticed. Teenage boys aren’t known for paying much attention to anything except their stomachs.

Which is why it’s a good thing gas gauges are located where even they can’t miss them.

Still, it was either dumb luck our son noticed or he is simply growing up and thinking ahead instead of learning from my dubious example.

In any case, he feared the car would be running on fumes by the time he made it to school. And when I followed him back out to the garage to see for myself, I discovered he wasn’t far off.

I told him he could probably make it, but that he’d have to fill it up before returning home. Otherwise, he might end up stranded on the side of the interstate waiting for the courtesy patrol to save the day.

Then I sensed an opportunity.

I pleaded poverty.

I made a show of checking my wallet for the cash I knew I didn’t have – because, who carries cash anymore?

I also pointed out that the clock was ticking, that he didn’t have time to pull up to a pump before school started. I suggested leaving the car with me made better sense. That way I could fill it up while he was in school in case he wanted to use it later.

I then finished with this coup de grace: I told him that he was just going to have suck it up and ride with me when I took his younger sister. Thankfully, she is not yet old enough to compete with the rest of us for the car keys.

I felt sort of guilty for depriving him of the car. After all, I could have easily handed over the plastic I customarily use to spend our money.

But here’s the thing: I wanted easy access to a car again, if only for one day.

The problem at our house these days is a simple one – too many drivers and not enough cars.

When our son takes one of our two cars to school, I’m left stranded at home because my wife needs to take the other one to work.

This arrangement generally works because of the odd hours I keep. I make my living at night and on weekends, which means I’m home a great deal during the day.

At first I welcomed being stranded. With no one around and no way to get around, I figured I could finally get my busy nap schedule back on track. Or maybe stream some old “Star Trek” episodes that I haven’t seen in a while … at least, not since the previous school year let out for the summer.

But I was wrong.

The truth is, I’ve actually been losing sleep ever since the new school year began. And streaming anything is beginning to bore me, even “Star Trek.”

All because I’m not free to come and go as I please.

In short, lying around the house isn’t quite as satisfying when it’s forced upon you.

Sometimes a guy just needs to get off the couch and drive.

Even if it means tricking your kid into leaving the car with you.

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.