Hey, anybody could do this …

I like to think of myself as a can-do, take-charge kind of guy, so when it came time to replace the filter in my apartment’s heater-air conditioner unit last week, I felt more than equal to the job.

After all, this is S’lano County, where men are men and women shampoo with Jack Daniels.

Sure, I could have asked the apartment maintenance person to replace the filter, but hands-on guys like me don’t ask other people to do the sissy jobs for them.

After all, how difficult could it be? You open the heater, take out the old filter and put in the new filter.

The filter even has one of those little red “This Side Up” arrows to show the mechanically challenged which way is up. It doesn’t actually say “This Side Up” in case you only speak Urdu, but the little arrow is pretty obvious unless you’re holding the filter upside down, in which case it points in the opposite direction.

(You’re following all of this, right?).

Feeling supremely confident, I opened up the old heating-air conditioning unit and lifted the little metal spring bar to release the old filter. Unfortunately, that little spring bar is really springy and it sprang right up into a mass of wires, striking one uninsulated connection.

Zzzzzaaaaap!

The connection broke and one of the little uninsulated wires made contact with the metal wall of the heater enclosure.

Zzzzaaaaap!

That’s when I reminded myself that it’s always good to turn off or disconnect large electrical appliances before working on them.

And things got worse because one of the little uninsulated wires then made contact with the metal wall of the heater enclosure.

Zzzzzaaaaap!

The contact completed some sort of electrical connection that caused the heater to begin operating independent of its wall-mounted control unit. Once a slave to my whims, the heater-air conditioner was now its own master.

I had created a monster, and from deep inside the infernal device, I was sure I could hear a sinister “Nyahahahaha!”

An unnerving sound to say the least, particularly when little blue sparks are still dancing around your head.

Of course, I reasoned, all I had to do was remove the loose wire from the metal furnace wall and I’d have everything under control…

Zzzzzaaaapppp!

And that’s when I remembered, rather lamely, that most modern households have remarkable little devices called circuit breakers that can be used to interrupt electrical power to demonic heater-air conditioner units.

Being the can-do, take-charge kind of guy I am, I located the breaker box behind an old Sports Illustrated swimsuit calendar and flipped a switch. Once again, I was the reigning monarch of my one-bedroom apartment.

After that, replacing the heater-air conditioner filter was a piece of cake. And, I discovered, splicing two pieces of electrical wire is considerably easier when there’s no current flowing through them.

Every now and then, though, long after midnight, I’m awakened from a peaceful slumber by what sounds like an eerie “Nyahahahahahaha!”

And that, amigos, can’t be good…

Originally published June 1, 2003

Scampering through the newspaper…

A newsroom colleague leaned back in his chair a few days ago, scratched his stomach indulgently and slowly drawled “Scamper. You ever notice how seldom you see that word in the newspaper anymore? Scaaaamperrrr. It’s a positively dee-lightful word, but it’s scarcer than a possum at a Rotary convention these days.”

I rather expected that comment would be an end to the unexpected diatribe, but my officemate was locked on target and he wasn’t about to let the two-syllable word get away without a thorough discussion.

“It’s like one of those words that says it all about everything. It’s got life. It’s got action. It’s got joie de vivre – kind of makes you all tingly like when you were a kid waiting for the Easter bunny to scamper out of the woods, or Big Eddie to scamper out onto the playground and pound you into the dirt,” he rhapsodized.

“Look, there goes the publisher scampering down to his office. See what I mean? Whenever you apply the word scamper to someone, they just start to seem like a big, lovable squirrel. I bet he’s got a whole mess o’ acorns stuffed in his desk drawer gettin’ ready for next winter…”

My buddy’s observations were beginning to verge on the obsessive, but he’s from South Carolina, so there’s not much you can do with him except let him wind down or try to sedate him with a fifth of Jack Daniels.

In retrospect, I have to agree with him about the need for more scamperliness in the newspaper.

It is, after all, a feel-good word that probably should be used with giddy abandon not only in newspaper stories, but in newspaper headlines and even in stuffy editorials.

Think about it. You slither out of bed Monday morning with one eye barely propped open, pour yourself a cup of rancid butter and trip over the dog on your way to the front porch. And you don’t even own a dog…

The day is not off to a good start.

Then you pick up your newspaper and read the first headline that catches your eye (the one that’s open):

“Senate scampers to sink tax plan”

Sure, that soon-to-be-scuttled tax plan might have saved your asparagus farm from ruin and you may detest senators in general, but the mental picture of all those windbags scampering anywhere to do anything is guaranteed to put a big, goofy grin on your face for the rest of the morning.

Even a rather mundane wartime dispatch can be brightened with this all-purpose verb:

“Tariq Aziz, Iraq’s deputy prime minister under Saddam Hussein and a familiar public face of the ousted regime, scampered into the custody of U.S. forces Thursday.”

That rascal!

Yes, anytime you can insert the word scamper into a newspaper story about SWAT teams, bulldozers, volcanoes, venture capitalists, federal grand jury indictments or municipal general plans, you’re going to have a much more enjoyable newspaper story.

In coming weeks, we hope to increase the overall use of the word scamper in the newspaper by roughly 38.65 percent. Let us know if you’re feeling more cheerful by, say, July 1.

Later, amigos – gotta scamper!

Originally published May 25, 2003

Everyone should drive an aircraft carrier

Sport utility vehicles – don’t ya just love ’em?

There’s no getting around it, SUVs are the automobile of choice for today’s trendy motorists. If it weighs 87,000 pounds, looks like a bank vault on wheels and costs more than your kid’s tuition at Stanford, you’ve just got to have one in your driveway.

Everybody seems to want one, but the reasons behind this unprecedented wave of SUV popularity are rather elusive.

Admittedly, some SUVs have been purchased by golfers who’ll buy just about anything as long as you can convince them that they’ll be able to stuff just one more set of clubs into it. Others are driven by federal marshals who need a tough, reliable vehicle to deport escaped Republicans and crazed serial killers to places like Wisconsin.

Many SUVs also have been purchased by thirty-something couples who have a dozen kids, three golden retrievers and a riding lawnmower, all of which they take with them wherever they go.

The rest of the nation’s eager sport utility vehicle purchasers, however, are a bit of a mystery. They seem to be driven only by a desire to spend $40,000 for an aircraft carrier on wheels that has all the nimble maneuverability of a dead rhinoceros and the fuel efficiency of an oil field fire.

If you ask these folks why they need an SUV, you’ll be met with a nervous giggle and a blank stare, followed by several fistfuls of cash thrown in your general direction in an attempt to make you go away.

Perhaps the saddest aspect of this trend is that many wet-behind-the-ears SUV owners have virtually no knowledge of sport utility etiquette. They’re just bouncing down the freeways like BBs in a box car without the slightest clue about how to behave in a vehicle that weighs as much as the average three-bedroom home.

Here are a few tips to keep you SUV neophytes out of trouble:

* Turn signals – These are an outdated, leftover option from a bygone era. Don’t waste your time with them. If somebody can’t figure out that the Titanic has just drifted into their lane, they probably ought to stay off the road.

* On the interstate – Always use the left, or “fast” lane on freeways and try to maintain a speed of roughly 50 mph while simultaneously talking on your cell phone, swatting your kids and sipping a latte. (Swatting your latte and talking to your kids is an acceptable option). Don’t worry about the 18 motorists stacked up behind you, they’re just admiring your SUV and wishing they had one.

* Traffic lanes in general – Hey, for what you paid to get that SUV you deserve to use at least a couple of these – simultaneously.

* ‘Compact only’ parking – If you play your cards right and maneuver your millennium mammoth with care, you’ll be able to take up three of these spaces. The same goes for handicapped parking spaces if you don’t mind putting up with a lot of silly whining.

* Entering traffic – Whenever possible, bounce out of driveways and side streets with plenty of enthusiasm, then come to a dead stop, blocking one of more lanes of traffic while you fumble for your mineral water and squash racket (Jack Daniels and ax handle if you live in the Allendale region…).

* Sidewalks – Hey, they’re your playground, amigos…

Originally published February 18, 2001