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.

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.

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.