One of the perks of being in the newspaper business is that you get to spend your shift hearing about the stupid things people do.

It all comes in over the police and fire department radio scanners.

As soon as the weather warms in the spring, the "balcony fire" alerts come in.

Either they are blazes set by folks firing up their grills and hibachis for the first time of the season or they're complaints from the folks living one story up about the flames licking their balconies.

Here's a hint: You don't need to dump a whole can of lighter fluid on charcoal to get it going. And don't substitute gasoline because you ran out of lighter fluid last fall and forgot to buy more.

For years, frugal fellow that I am, I started my charcoal with sticks I picked up in the yard.

No different from the way they showed us in Scouts: Make a little crib of sticks around a wad of newspaper, then gently pile the charcoal around and atop it before setting a match to the paper.

Sure, it takes a bit longer.

But isn't that time you'd happily trade for not seeing the neighbor's living room furniture smoldering on the lawn?

Anyone who works in an emergency room will be happy to tell you about the amateur groundskeepers who show up at the hospital door every summer with mangled or missing fingers.

For years, lawnmowers have had dead man's switches.

Let go of the handle and the mower shuts itself off — to protect the fools who reach in to break loose the stick jammed into the chute.

(In winter, these same intrepid handy folks get these same injuries from snowblowers — by doing exactly the same dumb thing.)

Now, admittedly, it's fairly easy to bypass that automatic shutoff. You can do it with a rag or a loop of wire.

My father never rolled a new mower out of his favorite hardware store without asking, "Which wire do I cut?"

He managed to care for a lawn that was nicer than most people's carpeting and died with all his fingers intact. But it was an amazingly foolish thing to do, even more amazing because his mower had an electronic ignition. Not even a rope to yank.

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People are incredibly creative at stupidity.

Painters tumble into the shrubbery when they reach just a little farther instead of moving the ladder. I've even seen them jump the ladder, basically shift it to the side rather than climb down and move it.

More than a few woodworkers sport somewhat less than a full set of fingers, toes and eyes. Table saws, joiners, band saws, nail guns and routers all are very good at removing flesh — in milliseconds. Especially routers.

Carpenters drill into plumbing and electrical lines, and plumbers can compromise the structure of a house by cutting 3-inch holes through floor joists to run ¾-inch pipes.

And every now and then, a whole neighborhood loses its water pressure when a backhoe or even a lowly posthole digger pierces the main.

I get to hear about it every night — on the scanners.

(Send your questions to HouseWorks, P.O. Box 81609, Lincoln, Neb. 68501 or email houseworks@journalstar.com.)

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