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.

How I work around my TV addiction


I can’t blame you for thinking I must be addicted to TV.

I’ve been writing so much about my viewing habits lately it must seem as though I only have time for refrigerator runs and bathroom breaks.

For example, I’ve been shameless about my affinity for “Star Trek.” I’ve mentioned it here so often my wife is beginning to get embarrassed for me and maybe even a bit disgusted. She helps edit my columns and as she was trying to make sense of one a few weeks ago, she told me “it’s getting old.”

She probably sighed heavily and put her head in her hands when this popped up on her computer screen.

Just last week, she was forced to appear in public after I wrote about our 17-year-old son caustically accusing me of hitting “the trifecta of teenage girl fandom.” In other words, I watch “Supernatural,” “Doctor Who” and “Sherlock.”

Teenage boy contempt – that’s what I get for (a) attempting to find common ground with his younger sister who would otherwise prefer I remain off the radar unless, of course, she wants something and (b) allowing myself to get even more caught up in her shows than she is.

It doesn’t stop at our daughter’s dramas or “Star Trek,” either. If anything, my viewing schedule is expanding despite being under doctor’s orders to get more exercise. “Game of Thrones” is back on HBO and the Revolutionary War spy drama “Turn” is back on AMC. And while the new “Star Wars” trailer is not technically TV, I’ve watched it more times than I should admit.

The key to indulging such a heavy viewing habit is having an accommodating work schedule. I work nights and weekends, so I probably have more time alone during the day than most people.

The last thing you want, however, is to get caught living up to your reputation. That’s why I watch my shows in fits and starts.

Just the other morning, I came home from taking the kids to school and (a) got the dishwasher going (b) started a load of laundry and (c) vacuumed the carpets all before streaming the first 20 minutes or so of “Turn’s” season premiere. Then I got the wood glue and clamps out to put a fake door back in its place beneath our kitchen cooktop before returning to the TV. The door had fallen out earlier that week.

But when I sat back down to reward myself with another 20 minutes, I got busted.

My wife came home unexpectedly. It was in the middle of the morning. She had apparently forgotten something and only briefly breezed home. But it was enough to make me feel guilty.

That’s why I spent the rest of the day cleaning the bathrooms, mowing the lawn, walking our big dog Rodney, picking up the kids at school, making sure they got something eat, taking our daughter to dance class, going to the grocery store and then picking up our daughter from dance class before returning home late that evening to find my wife exhausted from work but ready for the mindless guilty pleasure we watch together.

After a long day, I was ready, too. But since TV gets me into enough trouble without outing my wife, that show is going to remain between us.

You might be a Superwholock if …


I’m not sure that I should bring this up. After all, it could shred whatever credibility I have left after writing this column for the past several years.

On the other hand, why be shy now? I’ve publicly confessed to so many inadequacies that I might as well go all in, so here goes: Apparently, I have “hit the trifecta of teenage girl fandom.” Those are the exact words our son used to describe the current state of my life — as he sees it, anyway.

I don’t remember our conversation word-for-word, but we were in the car at the time, on our way to spend some of the money he received for this seventeenth birthday. His 13-year-old sister and I had just finished exchanging observations about the television show “Supernatural” when he reduced my life to something that more resembles his sister’s than a 51-year-old man’s.

From the backseat, our daughter ran with his remark, suggesting that I’m a “Superwholock.”

I did a double-take.

When I glanced in the rearview mirror, she saw the question in my eyes and slowed things down for her old man.

“Dad, you’re a Super … Who … Lock.”

“That’s a thing?” I asked.

“It’s a thing,” she replied as my son rolled his eyes. “On the internet.”

She went on to explain that a “Superwholock” is made up of the fandoms of three TV shows. The first, of course, is “Supernatural.” The others are “Doctor Who” and “Sherlock”, the British series starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s venerable detective.

She said “Superwholocks” would love nothing better than seeing the three shows mashed up into one (OMG!).

You might be wondering where “Star Trek” fits into all this. I did, too. But it doesn’t. Not neatly, anyway. Besides, this proves I’ve got a life beyond “Star Trek.” It’s just that it’s anchored by … three other TV shows.

In my defense, I’ve been a “Doctor Who” guy for a long time. I discovered the show on PBS when I was our daughter’s age. I started reading the Sherlock Holmes books and stories back then, too.

“Supernatural” is a more recent addition to my repertoire. Initially, I started watching it so my daughter and I could have something to talk about other than the one-sided conversations we usually have that revolve around putting away her shoes and turning down her music.

Now, however, I’m hooked. And, maybe I’ve been a little too enthusiastic, even for a teenage girl. In fact, our daughter told me to “get a life” when she discovered how much I’ve been binge-watching “Supernatural.”

Actually, I did “get a life” this week. At least, I got out from in front of the TV long enough to take our son to a Washington Nationals game. My wife had bought us tickets as a present. Our birthdays are two days apart and over the past few years a Nationals game seems to have become part of our birthday tradition.

Spring games can be a hit or miss affair weatherwise. One day can be warm and sunny, the next cloudy and chilly.

Unfortunately, I was shivering by the time our game ended. But I still had a blast. Any day at the ballpark is a good day, especially when it’s spent with a son who will be leaving for college before I know it.

Besides, I apparently needed the testosterone.

If only there was a simple solution to cancer


I’m not sure who was happier last weekend, my wife, our big dog Rodney or me.

My wife was happy because she was at the beach without me and the kids around to annoy her. She goes with a group of friends each spring. I’m not exactly sure what they do, but they were all smiles in the pictures they posted on Facebook. That’s good enough for me. A happy wife equals a happy home.

Even though my wife was out-of-town, Rodney was happy because he was still getting walked regularly.  My doctor’s recommendation that I get up off the couch more often suits our energetic dog just fine.

And despite having to exert myself more often, I was happy because I apparently get to keep my gall bladder.

For the past two-and-a-half years I’ve had recurring pain centered on the upper right side of my abdomen. Two other doctors failed to discover the cause but the third, the digestive specialist I’ve been seeing, proved to be the charm.

After putting me through a few medical procedures about which I’d rather not divulge specifics (you’re welcome), he suggested I get more exercise. He also recommended that I stay away from foods and refreshments that contain high fructose corn syrup, advice that seems to be making for a happier digestive system.

He offered that advice at the end of one of our appointments. It almost seemed like an afterthought, but it turned out to be a key piece of my pain puzzle. I started paying attention not only to anything that smacked of corn syrup in my diet, but also to anything that looked remotely like a sweetener, even plain old sugar.

My attacks are now less severe and don’t last nearly as long as they used to. In fact, I haven’t even had one for more than a week. That’s an amazing turnaround considering the pain was an almost every day thing for longer than I care to remember.

The pain has lessened so much that my doctor is recommending against having my gall bladder removed.

I live by the general principle that there is a simple solution for most problems and that the worst case scenario is likely the last thing to consider.

In the case of my apparent gall bladder pain, it took more than two-and-a-half years to track it down, however the principle still seems to apply. At any rate, limiting sweeteners is a simpler solution than surgery.

I just wish that mantra always held true.

We are hardly alone, but my wife and I have lost too many friends to what is rightly called a scourge – cancer.

I found out about the latest when I took a look at Facebook this week. An old high school classmate had passed away. I found out about her death just a couple of days after I learned of the cancer death of a former co-worker.

To be honest, I barely knew either one. But they both share a connection with others whose deaths have struck closer to home.

They each touched my life in some small way.

And that’s something else I can be happy about amid the sadness and anger over the lives cancer cuts short.

I know where they keep the motherlode of Girl Scout cookies


Last week, I stopped watching “Star Trek” long enough to venture away from my TV to run an errand for my wife.

She wanted me to leave the warmth of home and bundle up on what will probably be one of the last truly bone-chilling days of this winter.

I shouldn’t have been happy about it, but I was. The errand involved a harbinger of spring, namely Girl Scout cookies.

The cookie season rolls around at this time of year as surely as baseball players enter spring training, daffodils begin emerging and our dog Rodney renews his daily barking match with his nemesis – the neighbor dog on the opposite side of the backyard fence.

After dragging my puffy, down jacket out of the closet for perhaps the last time this season and leaving the TV to fend for itself, I hustled our Girl Scout daughter into the car. My wife wanted us to meet our daughter’s leader to fetch the cookies our neighbors, co-workers and friends had ordered.

The only thing was, I had no clear idea where I was going.

My wife’s directions took us down a long, winding road that seemed to lead into the middle of nowhere. It was such a long drive that our daughter got bored with obsessively flipping from radio station to radio station to find the perfect song. She silently stared out the passenger window watching the cold, grey landscape pass by. The clouds seemed eerily close and swollen with the promise of more snow.

Just as I was beginning to worry about a slick drive home, I finally spied the semi-trailer my wife told me to find. It was parked at the end of the road and looked as though it had long ago been abandoned by the big rig that had left it there.

I soon found that looks really can be deceiving.

Our daughter’s leader arrived a short time later. She looked around before stepping out of her car, as if checking to make sure she wasn’t followed. Then she slowly walked toward the trailer. I didn’t notice but I’m pretty certain she must have knocked on the side of it in a certain way or softly whispered a password that wasn’t meant for my ears. In any case, the trailer’s door slid open revealing the motherlode of all Girl Scout cookie stashes.

I might be kidding about the long drive and all the cloak and dagger stuff but I really did stumble upon what apparently was the Eastern Panhandle’s entire supply of Girl Scout cookies. That trailer was brimming with cases and cases of my favorite Thin Mints and Savannah Smiles, plus Do-Si-Dos, Trefoils, Samoas and Tagalongs.

I was cheerfully told by the woman whose job seemed to be to stand watch over the stash that the neighbors know when the cookies arrive when the trailer shows up. She chuckled as we collected our daughter’s cookie order.

The presence of that semi-trailer may be an open secret, but the last thing I’m going to do is publicly reveal where it’s located.

But now that I know where the Girl Scouts park it, you can bet I’ll be looking out for its arrival next year.

And not just because I have an insatiable craving for Thin Mints. It’s because that trailer, at least to me, has joined baseball and daffodils as another sign that spring is on the way.