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.

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.

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.

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.

You don’t want to know what our clothes smell like

To say that my family celebrated my wife’s birthday this week is overstating what actually happened.

Between her work schedule, my work schedule, doctor appointments, dentist appointments, our daughter’s dance classes, Girl Scout meetings, rehearsals for her middle school show choir and the latest Apollo theater musical and our son’s trumpet playing schedule, driving lessons, piano lessons and various evening meetings, it’s little wonder we haven’t had time to take a breath and blow out any candles.

I even had to briefly put off booting up Netflix for my daily “Star Trek” fix so I could pop online to order birthday flowers.

The horror!

Needless to say, the demands on our time are extensive and I haven’t even mentioned our animals.

Take our dog Rodney’s manic insistence that he be taken for hours-long walks all over our neighborhood and beyond.

My wife has to take him immediately upon returning home from work in the evening. If she doesn’t there’s a distinct possibility he could do significant damage to our house. He spins around so fast and barks so loud, it’s a wonder he hasn’t whipped up a mini-tornado and reduced our house to splinters.

And then there’s the extra laundry we’ve lately had to do courtesy of our ornery cat Skitty. She’s taken to relieving herself ON TOP OF OUR DRYER!

There’s nothing that adds to that warm “fresh out of the dryer” feeling like cat urine seeping through the lint trap.

You might think the change in Skitty’s bathroom habits is an unusual thing for a normally fastidious cat, but she has a lot to contend with, too. Namely, the long-standing “live and let live” truce between her and Rodney has been broken.

I feel bad because it’s my fault. I’m the one who made the decision to take in another stray a few months ago.

We call her “Little Cat.” We tried calling her a couple of different names, but “Little Cat” seems to have stuck and she has become Rodney’s “Best Friend Forever.” Between the two of them, they’ve been making Skitty’s life miserable.

Skitty has always made herself at home on top of our dryer. We took to feeding her there to keep Rodney from hoovering up her food. Now, however, she seems trapped by a younger cat and a giant dog who don’t understand that she doesn’t want to play when she jumps down from her perch. She just wants to visit the litter box we keep in the basement.

I generally know when Skitty has attempted to go to the bathroom when I’m startled by a flurry of activity and a lot of hissing. The poor cat can’t even pee in peace.

I can’t blame her for not relishing the thought of running what amounts to a gauntlet. But we are going to have to find a remedy for her and soon.

That’s because I’m planning a belated birthday dinner for my wife Sunday evening. It’s the only time of the week when we are usually obligation free.

The last thing I want is for it to be ruined because our clothes smell like a litter box that hasn’t been changed in a very long time.