Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is city editor of the Napa Valley Register.

Last weekend’s scorching temperatures, not to mention dirty air from the wildfire in Yolo County and the threat of PG&E pulling the plug, took their toll on the Courtney household.

By Sunday evening Cheryl had become super cranky. The weather displeased her. I displeased her. The weekend couldn’t end soon enough.

I did not become cranky. I became the walking dead.

I slumped around the house, unable to focus on anyone or anything. At my most product moment, I watered potted plants.

I’d felt this way during my teenage summers in Memphis. Nothing to do, nowhere to go.

Why was June off to such a soul-sucking start? This wasn’t September. Officially, it wasn’t even summer.

My choice of heat wave entertainment — a three-generation, Chinese family drama — did not thrill everyone.

Does it have subtitles? Cheryl asked in a not particularly friendly way.

The movie was surprisingly good. It even had cooling snow scenes.

What happened next was worse than any bad movie. It threw our languid, hot-house evening into chaos.

While Cheryl soaked in the tub, I went around opening windows to admit night air. In our bedroom, I encountered a loud mechanical vibration — something never heard before.

It seemed to be coming through a closed door from our work-in-progress living room, but how could that be? That room was four bare walls and no furnishings.

I peeked into the darkness. The rumble was much louder.

My mind went to a dark place. Beneath this room lay the furnace. I figured that somehow the furnace had turned itself on and was about to blow!

I shouted incoherent words in Cheryl’s direction while racing to the furnace controls where, weirdly, nothing seemed amiss.

What next? I needed to venture into the pitch-black living room and confront whatever lurked there. Following a beam of light from the kitchen, I proceeded like a man who expected to meet his death.

Halfway in, a breeze hit me in the face.

The roar wasn’t the furnace. It was the new ceiling fan, installed three months earlier, but never turned on ... until now.

Indeed, we didn’t have the means to turn it on. We’d lost the remote during the room’s makeover.

But there it was, spinning like a little Chernobyl.

Had the fan come with artificial intelligence that had sensed the human misery in the nearby TV room?

More to the point, how do we turn it off? .

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Back to tubbing Cheryl I went. I uttered more panicky sentences about mayhem in the living room.

Flip the switch, she said.

There’s a switch? No one told me about a switch.

By the door, she said.

I went into the living room and flipped the only switches I could find. Porch lights blinked on and off.

Wrong room, Cheryl said. The switches in the family room!

Wrong fan, I said. It’s the new living room fan that’s out of control.

Still drippy, Cheryl got out of the tub to see for herself.

What the hell!

You must have turned it on inadvertently, she said.

How? I said. Telepathy?

I thought of flipping circuit breakers and plunging the house into darkness. That ought to do it.

Better we find the remote, Cheryl said. Think hard. Where did you put it?

Me? I didn’t put it anywhere. But if I had, it would be on this kitchen countertop.

Coincidentally, Cheryl had just cleaned it. She’d made it as orderly as a president’s proclamation-signing desk.

No remote here, said Cheryl.

What’s the plastic bag, Cheryl?

She peeked in. There it was. The lost remote had been hiding in a bag that Cheryl had thought contained door hardware. She must have squeezed the bag, turning on the fan, while tidying up.

With the press of a button, the fan turned off.

We were joyous.

Yes, our house was still unnaturally hot, but it was a silent heat.

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Kevin can be reached at 707-256-2217 or Napa Valley Register, 1615 Soscol Ave., Napa, 94559, or kcourtney@napanews.com.


City Editor

Kevin has been city editor since September 2010. He joined the Register in 1973 as a reporter. He covered Napa City Hall and assorted other beats over the years. Kevin has been writing his Napa Journal column on Sundays since 1989.