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The Sherlock of Homes

6 Sep

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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

Claus: The Feline Archcriminal

15 Mar

I would bet that at least 99% of Americans are opposed to animal crimes. I for one have always taken a firm stand against such patently unacceptable behavior. For these reasons I feel compelled to turn over to the authorities our recalcitrant cat, Claus. Sure, he looks like an adorable stuffed animal. He’ll snuggle up to you, purr, and even lick your hand. But this is all a façade, behind that cuddly fur and saucer-sized eyes, lurks a fiend— an archvillain, a feline Moriarty, a master criminal. Occasionally he slips up and reveals his true nature. He may start out nuzzling you, but before long the claws and fangs come out, and to him you’re nothing more than an oversized hunk of mouse meat.

I offer to the grand jury the following five felony counts and urge that Claus be indicted as soon as possible. Please be wary of his numerous tricks and lies. As we have learned the hard way, he is capable of almost anything.

Felony Count 1 Litter Box Malfeasance: Claus fancies himself an indoor cat. Even though we scoot him outside, whenever the weather is good, he apparently believes that he is “too delicate” to do his business out-of-doors. With his highly inflated sense of self esteem, he apparently holds it all in, until we let him back into the house.

When Claus was younger we kept one of his litter boxes downstairs in the bathroom tub. After we removed the box he seemed to think the drain was good enough. Now we have to keep that bathroom door closed at all times. Now we keep his litter box upstairs on an old vinyl tablecloth to catch any litter that might fall out. Always devious, he has taken to throwing a few pawfuls of litter onto the tablecloth to rationalize using the table cloth, rather than squeezing into his box. Along with his overt transgression, there seems to be a lot of contempt thrown in for good measure. He is the devil incarnate.

Felony Count 2 Food Dish Misconduct: Around 4:00PM or whenever he is let into the house, Claus starts his daily complaints and demands to be fed his wet food. He has always had plenty of dry food available, but by some nefarious means he managed to intimidate his cat-sitter into giving him wet food every day. The cat sitter then intimidated us, insisting that Claus just had to have wet food. I suspect some kind of mind control.

Claus is relentless in hanging around his food dish, griping, moaning, and threatening to bite the microwave electrical cord until he is fed. When he is fed, the first thing he does is tip over his dish, so that a big chunk of food falls on the floor. He often doesn’t even eat this, but just leaves it there. Someone needs to teach that cat a lesson.

Felony Count 3 Sofa Mistreatment: A few years before we knew what we were dealing with, we bought Claus a “Mouse-go-Round” scratching post. It had little mice made of carpet hanging by ribbons from the top of the post so that he could bat them around. All this, however, was evidently not good enough for Claus. Apparently this was not sufficient to satisfy his primal instincts. Recently we discovered that he has also been using a hidden corner of our living room couch as a scratching post. I take this offense rather personally. When he is asked to leave the room or we aren’t quick enough delivering his wet food, we can hear him in there sharpening his claws.

Felony Count 4 Attempted Manslaughter: Like any narcissistic personality, Claus always insists on going first. He runs ahead of us to the door when we come from work to make sure he can get a jump on complaining that he hasn’t been fed. He tries to jump ahead of us when we open the basement door. I don’t know why he is so keen on getting down there. He can get into our basement any time he pleases from the outside, using his secret evil Ninja powers. In addition he is always underfoot in the kitchen, just hoping to trip someone carrying a hot pot or pan. But worse of all, he has taken to jumping ahead of me when I go down the stairs. He frequently entwines himself between my legs as I try to step down. He is fiendishly clever and doesn’t do it every time. So now I worry, even when he isn’t even there. Like in chess the anticipation is worse than the move. I have lost all confidence in navigating the steps. It is a deadly psychological game of cat and what he sees as a very large mouse.

Felony Count 5 Rodent Bribery/Extortion: I know that Claus realizes I am on to him, so he has been playing it cagey pretending to be sweet, but he’s not fooling anyone. The other day I was gingerly coming down the stairs when I almost stepped on a dead mouse, carefully placed on the bottom step. I have concluded that the presence of the dead rodent could mean one of three things. 1. It was an attempt to scare me to death, which almost succeeded. 2. It was an overt threat, sort of like that bloody horse’s head, the gangsters put in the guy’s bed in the Godfather movie. or 3. It was Claus’ cynical attempt to bribe me into silence.

Finally, if my body is found lying at the bottom of our stairs before Claus is prosecuted, make sure the police look for gray cat fur on my pants, just about shin high.

This blog orignally appeared in the Southern Indiana News Tribune.

The Cat Food Standard

10 Dec

 

 

I’m in hot water because we ran out of cat food, again.  I didn’t forget to buy it.  My wife is mad at me because I have this aversion to stocking up on consumables like cat food,  dog food, applesauce,  ketchup, and other condiments. And rather than admit to my neurosis I become defensive. Whenever she says, “Do we need more cat food?” I automatically say no– Just how much cat food do you really  need? Suppose poor Felix, bless his heart,  gets flattened by a truck; there we’d  be with $500 worth of  superfluous Puss-in-Boots on hand. Furthermore  it  would be emotionally devastating to dispose of it,  even if I could find a buyer.  Now if you only have a few cans it’s not a problem to toss them into the donation container at the store.  
 When I was a younger my stepfather would buy cases of dented cans from  this shady surplus store. This stuff was left over from old train wrecks and truck hi-jackings and usually was about a decade old. For years we had cases of  canned pepper steak, chicken chow mein, and tamales crammed in our basement. The rancid stuff didn’t have labels and I was scared to eat it. I developed nightmares about moldy  cans of decaying food crawling up through the floorboards. Hence more of my negative associations with stocking up behavior.
 Another rationalization is that I don’t want to tie up all my readily available cash in  pet food and groceries.  That stuff just isn’t all that liquid. What if a kid says, “Dad I need  lunch money.” and all my cash is invested in a case of Fancy Feast, sitting in the pantry. What you do, throw him a  surplus can and say,  “Here kid, trade this for  a lunch ticket ?” 
 Perhaps instead of the gold or silver standard our economy should switch to the cat food standard. I would feel  much more secure but vending machines would need very large slots.
 This habit partially stems from my single days when I was always broke and spent most of  my spare time  grocery shopping. I literally shopped on a  daily basis. Each night on the way home I stopped at the store and bought tiny quantities of food, barely enough for one meal.  Soft drinks were the only foodstuff I bought in any quantity.
 I imitated the highly efficient Japanese “just-in-time” production method, in which manufacturing companies  have component parts delivered directly to the  assembly line on the plant floor at the precise time they are needed. Their cash earns interest  longer and they save a lot of money in storage space.  The analogy breaks down because I guess, unless you eat in weird places, you usually can’t buy food just as it enters your mouth.
 Using the same logic, I’d seldom  filled up my car’s gas tank. If  I filled up the tank I usually didn’t have enough money left to go anywhere.  People have finally convinced me that buying in bulk is cheaper and that  small portions  are much more expensive. Evidently what’s good for Toyota ain’t necessarily good for most of us. I’ve gotten  better, but those traumatic years occasionally intrude and overpower me.
 I’ve always admired how my friend Tony stocked extras three deep in his pantry. Over at his house, when you’d run out of mayonnase,  magically there would be new jar migrating to the front row, just like a shark’s tooth. For generally  being an idiot  he managed his dry-goods really well.

From an article in the New Humor Magazine