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The Sherlock of Homes

6 Sep

Being a homeowner is fraught with challenges. Not the least of these is solving the numerous mysteries which inevitably present themselves. Below are two cases that have recently tested our meager powers of deduction.

The Mystery of the Secret Stench

A few weeks ago, we started noticing what seemed to be an odd smell emanating from somewhere in our upstairs bedroom. At first I thought it might an animal or perhaps one of the appliances malfunctioning. The odor was very unpleasant and waxed and waned throughout the day. Our cat who is the usual suspect, when something like this happens, had an airtight alibi, since he has been permanently banned from the bedroom.

A careful examination of the steam iron and air conditioner revealed nothing amiss. Although the disagreeable smell was indescribable, it seemed to be organic in nature. My wife Diane and I wondered if some animal had managed to sneak into the bedroom, perhaps through the window where the weather-stripping is loose. At length we considered the relative probabilities that the animal was a mouse, a snake, or possibly, a snake who had eaten a mouse. Coming to no firm conclusion, we immediately decided the wisest course of action was to abandon the bedroom and move all operations downstairs until the mystery was solved.

Our six-year old grandson listened to the story and said that it must be a skunk. At that point I began systematically investigating every inch of the bedroom, all the while room dreading what I might eventually find. I moved and looked under a large bookcase, a massive chest of drawers, the mattress, and the box springs. After all this I still couldn’t even isolate the source of the odor.
And every time I thought the odor might be dissipating, the smell would come waffling back, with a vengeance. I began to wonder if some animal might have been trapped inside the wall, had come to an untimely end, and was now stinking up the joint, as a kind of ghostly revenge.

Just when I thought that things couldn’t get any worse, one of the electrical wall plugs in the bedroom suddenly stopped working. At the time I didn’t believe the two incidents were connected, although I did imagined that a mouse might have chomped down on an electrical wire and had been electrocuted. What I couldn’t figure out was how his decomposing carcass could have created a stench, days before his unfortunate demise?

In my childhood I worked as a helper for my father, who was an electrician. My usual assigned tasks were to install wall plugs and to cut possibly electrified wires in insect ridden crawlspaces and hot itchy attics. Child labor laws were a bit lax back then.

Drawing on this experience, I set about replacing the wall plugs in our smelly bedroom. The first plug actually had a large crack in it, but replacing it did nothing to help. When I got to the third plug on the circuit, however, I hit pay dirt. This plug, although still working had melted inside and the smell of the scorched plastic turned out to be the unidentified odor that had been violating our bedroom. I now believe that when that plug heated up, the smell would become airborne, like a perverse version of those plug-in room deodorizers.

Diane had come into the bedroom, while I was working on this plug and I asked her to hold a flashlight for me. I realized what must have happened, as soon as I saw the melted plug. Unthinkingly I thrust the plug into her face saying excitedly, “Hey smell this!” It’s remarkable how much a melted electrical plug can look like a dead mouse in a poorly lit room. Thus the mystery of the fowl odor and the nonfunctional electrical plug were solved in one fell swoop and perhaps in a month or two Diane will start speaking to me again.

The Curious Case of the Concealed Cat

The second mystery more directly involved our chronically wayward cat, Klaus. First of all, Klaus is a very spoiled cat. A few years ago, while we were out of town, he managed to convince the cat-sitter into giving him wet cat food every night. He also persuaded the sitter to urge us to continue the practice when we returned. At the time, I told my Diane that there was no way that I was going to buy expensive wet cat food, just so Klaus could stuff his face every night. I said that it was totally unnecessary, since he got plenty of nourishment from his dry food and that he was fat enough as it was.

So yesterday, as I was opening a can of wet cat food, I mentioned to Diane that we needed to get more grilled salmon, since Klaus was getting tired of the flaked whitefish. Normally we keep Klaus in the house at night and make him go out in the mornings. I realize that this just the opposite of what most people do (like the Flintstones) , but we’re afraid that the coyotes, raccoons, and tougher cats in the neighborhood will beat Klaus up at night. Diane says that this is because we live in such a wild area, but I believe that it’s probably Klaus’ disagreeable personality that’s to blame.

Sometimes when it’s raining, Klaus resists going out in the morning, and we let him stay inside. Recently, however, he’s decided that he wants to stay inside every morning. He’s become like an unruly adolescent who wants to sleep late every day, go in and out of the house whenever he feels like it, and then stay out late every night carousing. He fully expects us to be on constant call to serve as his doorman and to make sure he never sees the bottom of his food bowl.

In order to stay inside in the mornings, Klaus has found a hiding spot that has left us completely baffled. We’ve search the entire house multiple times without success. I have to admire Klaus’ will power, as he has managed to resist coming out when I tempted him with the cat teaser (a fishing pole connected to a toy mouse), and when I rattled his wet cat food dish. He even stayed hidden when I shook his bag of cat treats, which almost always works. He usually come running, sort of like I do when someone shakes a bag of bacon jerky. I’m getting a little paranoid. The other morning I imagined that he must had snuck by me when I was half asleep and was now outside watching me through the window and mocking me, as I searched for him.

Klaus is so diabolical that I can find the family couch empty one minute and the next, like a ninja, he suddenly appears out of thin air. I told Diane that I fully expect to see him clinging to the ceiling or perhaps suspended under a chair. One of his chief strategies seems to be to circle back into the rooms we have already checked. I told Diane that I fully expect to see him clinging to the ceiling or perhaps suspended under some chair. One of his chief strategies seems to circled back into rooms that we have already checked. Our middle son, who is Klaus’ putative owner, and who had dumped him on us when he moved out , believes that Klaus is just using his magical cat powers.

Last week when we couldn’t find him, we tried making him over confident by talking loudly about much smarter he is than us. We hoped he would overhear us and get cocky and slip-up. He didn’t bite.
Never-the-less, Diane has theory as to his favorite hiding place and has neutralized his doubling back tactic. Tonight, however, just as we are preparing to leave town for a few days, another mystery suddenly cropped up. While watering plants, Diane spotted a mysterious wet spot bubbling up on our otherwise dry front lawn. I not sure what it is, but I’ll bet Klaus has something to do with it. I thought I saw him playing with, what suspiciously looked like a pipe wrench the other day.

Originally published in the Southern Indiana News-Tribune.

Sherlock Homes


Not so Sweet Mysteries of Life

4 Feb

Last week at the Friends of the Library  sale in New Albany, I bought  a book by David Feldman entitled: Imponderables: The Mysteries of Everyday Life.  I’ve already read several books in this series and I’m a big fan of  Feldman, who defines “Imponderables”  as  “questions that cannot be answered by numbers, measurements, or standard reference books.”  He says that he discovered imponderables one day at the supermarket, when he noticed that virtually every cereal, even the really sugary ones, contained 110 calories per ounce. With a college major in popular culture,  Feldman  is very serious about his “imponderables”.  He has been working on them since the 1980’s,  he’s published nine volumes on the topic, runs the website, and has even trademarked the word.

With their short entries,   Feldman’s books make excellent reading for situations that call for brief distractions. I never pass up one of Feldman’s books or any of those of his chief rival,  syndicated columnist, Cecil Adams , who modestly bills himself  as “the world’s most intelligent human being” and writes books, as well as the Straight Dope newspaper column.    

Some of the  topics they address remind me of the comic strip, They’ll Do It Every Time,  created by  cartoonist Jimmy Hatlo in 1929.  Suggestions for this strip came from  readers and Hatlo credited them with an acknowledgment that featured a drawing of himself,  tipping his hat. My wife Diane’s mother once got a   “Tip O’ the Hat” for  her observation on how movie theaters would try to charge a young person an adult admission one time,  but then refuse admission to a movie for adults the next.


            While both Feldman and Adams have done a commendable job covering an enormous range of questions, there are still a lot of things that baffle me.  Below are a few of  my most recent puzzlements.   

  1. About a dozen years ago we moved in to a house with both an upstairs and a basement, so why are we not as thin as rails, from constantly traipsing up and down the stairs. I recall a  study from the 1950’s that said  that when typists  started using electric typewriters  they burned  fewer calories and, on the average, gained 10 pounds over the course of a  year.  Taking into account the average number of trips up and down the stairs we make each day,  according to my calculations  by now Diane and I should each weigh about 95 pounds. So what gives?   
  2. I also find that I am an “Imponderable”  for another person.  A former co-worker of mine had a heart attack several  years ago. He went through cardiac rehabilitation and is doing very well. Unlike me, however, he had always been very careful about his weight,  diet,  exercise, and  cholesterol levels. Also unlike me, he didn’t have an extensive family history of  heart problems. He never said it directly, but whenever the topic came up I could tell that he just couldn’t understand why he had  a heart attack,  instead of me. He always seemed a bit  agitated by this bit of cosmic unfairness and I usually felt like I should apologize for not defibrillating. When I suggested it might be due to all the stairs that I climb at home, he was not amused. 
  3. Another thing I can never understand is why, whenever we go grocery shopping and get anything extra, it seems to disproportionately increase the total bill. Adding a simple pot roast or a couple jars of mayonnaise  suddenly inflates the bill tremendously. The same is true in restaurants,  if we’re   foolish enough to order dessert, an appetizer, or coffee after dinner.
  4.  Diane has noted that some Jeffersonville merchants often talk in glowing terms about how downtown   New Albany has developed,  while merchants from New Albany  often seem to envy the quaint  downtown Jeffersonville shopping district.  I suppose this is mostly a case of the grass always being greener on the other side of the fence.   
  5. Tapas restaurant are another mystery to me.  It seems that if a menu item is called a “ Tapa”,       somehow it’s  okay to charge a lot for a relatively small portion. I think “Tapas” must be Spanish for   “expensive leftovers”. Of course, after drinking  a pitcher of Sangria, you don’t really mind so much.
  6. Why do other people always have pets that are loyal, obedient, and affectionate, while ours are always traitorous, stubborn, and usually highly defiant (not unlike our children). When we got our last dog,  I did  some research to try to find the perfect breed. No such luck, Newman was  just as obnoxious as our previous pets. He finally ran away, found a better family with children, and was loyal to them.
  7. Why do new shoes feel really comfortable in the shoe store, but start hurting the second you get them home.
  8. Another question that has baffled me for years is, why can’t I ever  drive down the street, without someone pointing at one of my tires.
  9. How can I lose a receipt, just walking from the check-out  to the  exit at Wal-Mart? Once they asked to see my receipt, as we were leaving the store,  so without bothering to check,  I gave   them the only one I had in my wallet. Turns out that receipt was from Off-Broadway Shoes. 
  10. I would like to know just who is it that is listening to our car radio turned up so loud? I deny it, Diane denies it, but occasionally when I put the key in the ignition, the radio is so loud that I nearly jump out of my skin.
  11. My grandchildren would really like to know how come, when you get a new sled, it never snows?
  12.  Why does my cell phone bill change ever month? My cell phone bills are like snowflakes— no two are ever alike. Every month it seems that the charges randomly fluctuate.
  13. Finally, one of the mysteries of the ages, “Why do Tater Tots taste so darn good?”

Based on a newspaper column in the Southern Indiana News-Tribune.