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Conditions in home are heavenly, just like those on Jupiter


Until recently, I did not think I had much in common with Jupiter. It had its worries -- major ventilation problems from the look of things -- and I had mine -- an old house, aging cars and a demanding family.

But my attitude changed recently when the planet began taking those hits from fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9. It took a lickin' and kept on emittin', which is what veteran planets are supposed to do.

I became sympathetic with the old planet, and even began to see parallels between Jupiter's life and those of people like me. After all, when you have a house, a car, kids or pets, daily bombardment is a part of life. Inspired by news accounts of the comet fragments that clobbered Jupiter, I began recording the cosmic annoyances that rained down on our household.

Fragment "A": Back door begins to stick. Minor impact. Attempted quick solution: Tightening screws on door hinges; this fails when some screws won't bite. Alternative solution: Remove door and hinges and plug screw holes with pieces of small wooden dowel. Current status: Problem under study.

Fragment "B": Washing machine makes "funny noise" during spin cycle. Could have major impact on family life and budget. Immediate action: Peek in machine during spin cycle to make sure tub is still spinning. Long-term solution: Replace spin-cam shaft, or replace entire machine. Current status: Problem under study.

Fragment "C": Spouse leaves town on business trip. Major impact on all areas of life. Immediate course of action: Try to remember to make bag lunches and wash clothes for kid going to baseball camp. Alternative action: Consume many cold beverages while sitting in backyard.

Fragment "D": Spouse's car is low on oil. Minor impact if oil has not been low very long, but there is no way of telling, as dipstick is foreign territory to spouse. Immediate action: Get oil changed. Current status: Dipstick shows everything is fine, but car is dripping oil.

Fragment "E": Older kid calls me at work to say he can't find house keys. Minor impact unless kid has dropped keys on sidewalk in front of house and burglar picks them up. Immediate action: Get kid to remember the "last place" keys were seen. Current status: Kid calls back three minutes later to say keys have appeared in a drawer.

Fragment "F": Bathroom faucet begins to drip. Minor impact unless some "lake maker" plugs up sink. Long-term solution: Take faucet apart, replace washer. Short-term solution: Turn off cold water supply pipe to sink. Current status: Problem under study.

Fragment "G": Running late to pick up kid at camp bus stop. This could be the big one, the domestic equivalent of the massive fragment "G" that socked Jupiter's backside. Impact could be disastrous. Abandoned kid could erupt in anger. Bus could disappear as driver, following established drop-off and pick-up rules, could return kid to camp on other side of town. This has happened before. I race out of work to meet bus. Thunderstorm hits, traffic slows, stomach churns. Arrive at pick-up point two minutes early. Alarm called off. Stomach juices stop flaring. Return to house, consume cold beverage in backyard. Current status: One more week of baseball camp.

Fragment "H": Toilet sprays water under tank lid. Minor impact. After months of keeping quiet, innards of this troublesome toilet erupt again. Reminds me of Jupiter's "Missing Fragment M," the comet fragment that experts thought had gone away, only to discover later that it was still around, wreaking havoc. Immediate action: Replace leather washer in old fill-valve assembly. Alternate solution: Replace entire fill-valve assembly. Current status: Project under study.

Fragment "I": Letter of instructions for older kid's weeklong, overnight basketball camp in Maryland mountains fails to arrive in mail. Impact unknown. Immediate course of action: Call camp to talk to camp person who says not to worry. Current status: Find canceled check of camp payment and take it to camp registration session, just in case.

Fragment "J": Supply of cold beverages dries up. Major impact. Immediate action: All other activities go on hold until cold beverage supply is replenished. Subsequent course of action: Sit in backyard, hoist cold beverage toward sky and toast Jupiter, and any body that can take what the universe dishes out, and still keep going.

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