Snowzilla gave me a break, but now the dogs are back at it

For a while there I thought we’d never completely dig out from under the massive snowstorm that crawled up the East Coast two weeks ago. The storm dumped so much on our neighborhood, it seemed as if the snow would linger all the way into April before finally melting.

That’s not to say all that snow on the ground didn’t have its upside. For instance, it gave me a welcome break from the daily barking contest our big dog Rodney holds with his nemesis.

Rodney is in the habit of meeting the neighbor dog at the backyard fence to see who can bark the loudest.

The two hold their pissing match every day almost WITHOUT FAIL, but the snow that piled up in the backyard made one-upping each other too much of a struggle. Rodney is big and often goofy, but he’s not stupid. He recognized that even he risked floundering in a snow drift if he tried to make it all the way out to the fence.

I have no idea how the neighbor dog coped, but Rodney was forced to content himself with staring mournfully at the fence from the safety of the only cleared space around the back of the house –  a path we cut through the snow between our deck and the back door into the garage.

We carved that trail mainly so (a) Rodney would have a place to do his business between walks, and (b) so we would have a path to our geezer of a heat pump. It’s not getting any younger and must be watched to ensure it doesn’t get swamped by winter weather.

Every time Rodney went out the back door and down the path he faced the snow barrier. He would then give me his sad face as if to say, “a good friend would clear the way.” Then he would nod toward the fence.

I don’t always think things through to their consequences. You could even say I’m known for not thinking ahead, but even I could see that shoveling a path to the fence was only asking for trouble.

Soon, however, the only evidence that anything unusual happened will be those big mounds of dirty snow piled up at street corners. And eventually, even they will disappear.

As the big snow of 2016 began retreating this week, things got back to normal at our house.

Instead of the dismal prospect of more shoveling, the kids were back in school and my wife was happily busying herself at her job.

As for me, after I finish writing this, the biggest strain I’m facing is a little routine housework: the laundry that’s spinning in the dryer needs to be folded, the pots and pans need to be put away when the dishwasher finishes with them and I really ought to run the vacuum cleaner.

I would catch up with my busy nap schedule, but without thigh deep snow on the ground, I’m not sure that’s going to happen.

Rodney and the neighbor dog are back it again.

Snowzilla: What would Jack Burton do?

Last weekend’s massive snowstorm is giving me an excuse to quote from one of my favorite movies.

Before you stop reading, it’s not “Star Wars” this time. Nor is it “Star Trek.” It’s the classic Kurt Russell martial arts flick “Big Trouble in Little China.”

Russell’s character is Jack Burton, a hapless but full-of-himself trucker whose catchphrase is “it’s all in the reflexes.” When he gets caught up in San Francisco’s Chinese underworld, his antics, inexplicably, help the good guys defeat an evil sorcerer.

In fact, the way the sorcerer dies seems to prove Burton’s “reflexes” mantra, but the audience knows better. We’re in on the running joke that is Jack Burton. He’s a bumbler who gets away with a lucky throw of a knife.

The films ends the same way it opens: Burton is behind the wheel of his truck on a dark and stormy night holding forth on his CB radio before no one in particular:

“Just remember what ol’ Jack Burton does when the earth quakes, and the poison arrows fall from the sky, and the pillars of Heaven shake. Yeah, Jack Burton just looks that big ol’ storm right square in the eye and he says, “Give me your best shot, pal. I can take it.”

What did I do when the poison arrows fell and the pillars shook like they did last weekend?

I abandon my family faster than Burton’s reflexes, that’s what.

You might think me a cad, but I left my home early Friday afternoon because duty called. I work in a radio newsroom in Washington, D.C. And newsroom people don’t let a little weather stop them. At least, not the ones who stay in nearby hotels.

However, I still plead guilty to leaving my wife and kids with nothing but a couple of shovels to see them through to the other side of the storm.

They started shoveling Friday night while I was enjoying warm food in the hotel bar, sleeping in my cozy hotel room and being chauffeured to work in a big SUV. And they still had shovels in their hands when I arrived back home from my winter vacation Monday afternoon.

Our driveway was clear when I pulled up to our house. When I got out of the car, I saw our son helping a neighbor clear snow. My wife was happily chatting with another neighbor and her son while the three of them walked up the street in front of our house. She had just finished uncovering the fire hydrant in our yard.

Seeing them made me feel like I missed the kind of shared experience that pulls a neighborhood together. So when my wife handed me the shovel she was carrying, I went to help my son and my other neighbor. I was just in time to get my shovel wet. Only a small mound of snow remained in my neighbor’s driveway.

As I stood there with nothing better to do than to complain about how terrible it was to spend the storm in a comfortable hotel room in downtown D.C., I had a shocking thought. This winter is likely the last one during which I can rely on my son to help his mother clear snow. He’ll be away at college next year.

Time to buy a snowblower.

Even clueless heroes like Jack Burton would do that much.

Snowzilla could make me take one for the team

I have just one question as the Washington, D.C. region faces a snowbound weekend: Whatever happened to team spirit? To the esprit de corps that spurs people to go the extra mile for their teammates? To the collective elan epitomized by “The Three Musketeers” motto “all for one and one for all?”

Answer: It must have melted away with the inch of snow that paralyzed the District Wednesday night.

The small storm blew in just in time to turn the commute into something straight out of a disaster movie. Major interstates came to a standstill. Cars were abandoned. Police were overwhelmed and frustrated motorists spent a long night just trying to make it home in time to do it all again Thursday morning.

The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang called it a sneaky storm that was overshadowed by the blizzard forecast for this weekend.

For my part, I was happily drooling on my pillow while the situation was unfolding, comfortable beneath warm blankets and totally oblivious.

I’m not this weekend.

I’m writing this in my hotel room in D.C., where the Wednesday night dusting was just the warmup act for the main event – the storm that forecasters say could break regional snowfall records.

Call it the price I pay for choosing a career in radio journalism.

The show must go on.

Anyone who has ever worked in a newsroom understands that. You could even say journalists have taken the mailman’s creed to heart.

“Neither rain nor snow nor heat nor gloom of night” and all that.

Duty calls. It’s what we signed up for, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try to get out of it.

Just be prepared for the consequences.

Earlier this week, when we started getting word of the storm that’s outside my hotel window right now, I started pestering a colleague to fill in for me.

He was a good sport, but he wouldn’t be moved. Not even after I made like Tom Sawyer and told him how much fun he’d have cooped up in a hotel and working through the weekend. I even tried the old “take one for the team” gambit.

He didn’t bite.

So much for team spirit.

Truth be told, I was just kidding around (sort of). But what goes around actually came around.

The storm is expected to drop so much snow there are fears my co-worker and others won’t be able to make it to work Monday morning.

So guess who may end up taking one for the team now?

If you’re questioning why I’m growing a beard, here’s the answer you’ve been looking for

I was beginning to think the weather would never cooperate. But it finally got cold enough this week for my new look to start paying off.

It’s about time. I’ve been eager to test what amounts to a newly rediscovered hobby against the elements.

My new pursuit fits me perfectly. I can do it while streaming my favorite TV shows, while I’m reading a book or when our giant dog Rodney insists I stir myself long enough to take him for a walk.

I can also do it while dodging deer on the commute to work, while I’m dodging other drivers on the way back home and when I’m simply taking my customary nap after a long day.

In short, I can do it anywhere I want, anytime I want.

Spring, summer or fall. But it harmonizes best with the winter season, when temperatures plunge.

I woke up Wednesday morning pleased that temperatures were so frigid even our teenagers thought twice about leaving for school without a jacket.

I had been working hard to prepare for just such an arctic blast since before the latest “Star Wars” movie hit theaters last month. In fact, I’ve been thinking of my effort as an homage to the Force.

I’ve been growing a Jedi beard.

Yes, I know. I’m embarrassing my wife, again. She’s sensible enough not to waste time obsessing about a far away galaxy. And she doesn’t like beards, especially the shaggy, unkept kind favored by Jedi Knights.

If she knew that I’m emulating a Jedi beard, I would probably get the biggest of the many eye rolls that have been directed my way over nearly 23 years of marriage.

My wife’s dislike notwithstanding, I’ve always been a beard enthusiast. I’ve been growing them for most of my adult life. But until now, I’ve generally kept things neat and tidy.

And believe it or not, I kept a close-cropped beard as much for me as for my wife. The mountain man look just wasn’t what I was after.

At least, not until I started thinking like a Jedi.

Besides, times change. Big beards have been stylish for more than a few years now. So you could say that the Jedi beard I’m growing is not only an homage, but also a nod to fashion.

The good news for my wife is that fashion changes and the new “Star Wars” movie will eventually runs its course.

The bad news is it will probably leave theaters just in time for me to get my beard ready for this spring’s premier of the even more beard-happy “Game of Thrones!”

Notes from the commute

Scored a nerdy commuter’s double today.

When I got into the car to make the long drive back home from my job in Washington, DC, “Star Trek” actor George Takei was just being introduced on “The Diane Rehm Show,” WAMU Public Radio’s popular call-in program.

I spent the next hour listening to him talk about “Allegiance,” the musical based on his family’s experience during the Japanese-American internment during World War Two.

Of course, “Star Trek” also came up.

How could it not?

When Takei’s interview was over, I switched universes. I took my car out of warp and jumped it into hyperspace.

Okay. Fine. My car is not the Millennium Falcon. It’s much closer to a simple landspeeder with too many miles on it.

Instead of actually entering hyperspace, I did the next best thing outside of seeing “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in the theater, again. I booted up the “Star Wars” audiobook I downloaded last week.

Yes, I actually downloaded the book based on “The Force Awakens.”

Stop judging me.


I FINALLY came up with a new column

More than likely, the only one to notice that I’ve lately failed to fill this space is me.

But on the off-chance you have too, my absence has been on purpose.

I sent Journal Editor Dave Emke an email back in November asking if it would be okay if I took a break until after the new year.

I told him I was having trouble finding time to write, which was true, as far it goes. But I left out another, perhaps more important detail – I had also gotten lazy. Even our big dog Rodney’s silly antics failed to rouse me enough to sit up straight in my chair and start typing.

If Dave read between the lines, he didn’t say so. He replied the way you expect polite people to reply –  he wished me a cheery “Happy Holidays,” said that would be fine and that he’d be looking forward to hearing from me in January.

In other words, he readily agreed.

Too readily, if you ask me.

I would have preferred him to feign at least mild panic. I mean, he could have lied a little and told me that my reader would likely shrug before turning the page and moving on to more pressing news.

But he didn’t.

And now, here it is January 2016. I’ve had more than two months since I submitted anything to the paper and I’d still rather waste time checking my Twitter feed than seek inspiration.

If only something really nerdy would present itself. Something like say, the new “Star Wars” movie.

That would do the trick because then I could tell you about when my mother took my kid brother and me to see the original and how:

(a) the line to get into the theater stretched down the street for blocks.

(b) the theater was so packed Mom had to find a seat in the back while we sat closer to the front.

(c) I told my kid brother to “go find Mom” just before the exciting climax because he’d gotten sick on too much popcorn, and

(d)  I heartlessly couldn’t stop talking about the Death Star being blown up while he was trying not to hurl in the backseat of Mom’s VW bug on our way home.

If I told you all that, then I’d have to fast-forward to when a good friend and I bought tickets for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” more than a month before the movie actually opened.

I’d also have to fess up to being so distracted about seeing the movie the day it finally hit theaters that I didn’t notice I left the garage doors down until after I bumped into them with the car.

Then I would have to admit that my careful planning for the premier went awry. Despite arriving at the theater an hour early, the kids and I were out of luck (my sensible wife sensibly stayed home).

My movie buddy from October got there even earlier. But he wasn’t able to save enough seats for us all to sit together. The theater was just too crowded.

Luckily, my friend’s kid was able to save my son a decent seat. My daughter and I, however, ended up in the front row. At least we had plenty of legroom.

I won’t go into any specifics about the movie in case you’re one of the few who hasn’t seen it yet.

And let’s face it, I don’t need to. You could fill up the galaxy with what’s already been written about it.

Besides, my holiday break is over. I’ve got to save the really nerdy stuff for inspiration in 2016.

I got NPRmageddoned today

I joined many of my NPR colleagues in getting the Mad Max treatment today. H/T to the Twitter account @NPRmageddon. You guys are hilarious.