News and Tribune

September 6, 2013

STAWAR: The adventures of Sherlock homeowner

By TERRY STAWAR
Local columnist

— 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 be 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 weatherstripping 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 6-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 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.

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 place 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.

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. 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 resisted coming out when I tempted him with this cat teaser toy, when I rattled his wet cat dish and even when I shook his bag of cat treats.

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. Our middle son, who is Klaus’ original 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 Klaus, 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.

Nevertheless, Diane now has a theory as to where Klaus’ favorite hiding place may be and has thwarted his doubling back tactic.

Tonight, however, just as we were preparing to leave town for a few days, another mystery suddenly cropped up. While watering plants, Diane spotted a peculiar wet spot bubbling up on our otherwise dry front lawn. I’m afraid this latest investigation may turn out to be an expensive one.

— Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D., lives in Georgetown and is the CEO of LifeSpring the local community mental health center in Jeffersonville. He can be reached at tstawar@lifespr.com. Checkout his Welcome to Planet-Terry blog and podcast at www.planetterry.wordpress.com