Sunday, November 21, 2021

When A Root Canal Is Preferable To Calling Customer Service

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published Nov. 22, 2021] ©2021

I used to think that the most terrifying phrases in the English language were “It’s a simple outpatient procedure” and “Packed flat for easy assembly.” 

But they’ve both been supplanted by the new, most dreaded phrase there is: “You’ll have to call them.”

Resolving anything by telephone has not been anyone’s first choice for information gathering or problem resolution in a very long time.  But (alleged) staffing shortages from the pandemic have made it a nightmare beyond all reason. 

There’s nobody at the other end.

Late night comedian Jimmy Kimmel did a sketch last February about spending three hours on the 211 phone line trying to schedule vaccine appointments for his elderly parents.  This was supposed to be the alternative for people who couldn’t make the on-line vaccine scheduling system work.  Of course, the reason they couldn’t make it work was because it actually didn’t work.  But neither did 211. He never got humans.

It's a well-known fact that pretty much every business is struggling with understaffing, including and especially customer service lines.  And nowhere has that problem been more egregious than with airlines.

Four? Five? Six hours on hold with an airline has become routine.  People are trying to reschedule all those cancelled flights from last year or reschedule the constantly cancelled flights they’ve booked this year.  For reasons known best to the airlines, this cannot be done on their websites.  It is a major Technology Fail. Maybe Elon Musk can be persuaded to take over U.S. airline operations.

Our daughter-in-law, for example, has often bought a ticket on-line for their five-pound Yorkie to travel back east with them when they visit her parents in the summer.  But this year, a message popped up that she’d have to “call.” Why? Did the dog need a negative Covid test?  It was literally five hours on hold listening to the same mind-numbing recording. When she finally got a human, the transaction was completed within four minutes.

Unfortunately, her children’s school decided to require all students to be back and quarantining seven days before school was starting so the return dates of their trip had to be changed.  Another five-plus hours on the phone.

Airline horror stories abounded all summer. We were sitting outside in our front yard one night enjoying the sunset when some neighbors walked by, the husband holding a phone to his ear.  He said they’d already been on hold with an airline for two hours and finally decided to just go out to dinner while they were waiting.  When they walked by on their return, they were still on hold.

One can only speculate how many cell phones have been hurled against walls in frustration. Does one’s insurance have a Homicidal Rage rider?

To make matters worse with airlines, no one believes them anymore. All those “weather” excuses?  “Techno difficulties?” “Mechanical problems?” “Air traffic control glitches?” “Crew members exceeding work limits?” The excuses are endless.

Having to spend upwards of six hours listening to a recording about how your call is very important to them must begin, by the second hour, to sound like this: 

“You have reached Lying Weasel Airlines. No one works here at the moment, except Fred.  He’s on his lunch break. Till tomorrow. Rather than remain on hold, you can leave your number for a callback by Fred.  In 2023. Please be prepared for the fact that if you ever reach Fred to reschedule your flight, you can expect that it will be cancelled yet again. Which means you’ll have to call back and start this process all over. If you do actually board one of our few aircraft that is actually managing to leave the ground, please be advised that no food will be served, your entire family may be summarily ejected if your two-year-old won’t wear a mask, our flight attendants will be in full Surly Gestapo Mode, we truly don’t care if you’re missing your son’s wedding/dream vacation/parents’ funeral, and if you so much as look at us cross-eyed, you’ll be on our permanent no-fly list. The next available agent still has 450 people ahead of you.”

No one should ever assault another human being, including an airline employee, but it is weirdly puzzling to me that the airline executives haven’t made this connection.

Flying this holiday season is truly an act of bravery.  Maybe bring a portable camp stool to sit on during those long waits in line when your flight is cancelled.  Also a Christmas carol book to add a little holiday spirit when you spend Christmas Eve at Gate 25.

I myself am staying close to home.  I’m too old and too decrepit. And too nostalgic for the era – there actually used to be one – when your call really was important to a business and airlines actually liked the passengers. I know – sounds utterly crazy.



Sunday, November 14, 2021

Inga's Short Guide To Being A Successful Mother-in-law

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published November 15, 2021] ©2021

 I was thinking about writing a guide on how to be a good mother-in-law but truthfully it can all be summed up in two words: “Shut. Up.” 

My long-time motto, to which I have, alas, faithfully failed to adhere, has always been “A closed mouth gathers no feet.”  As anyone who has read my column for a while might guess, letting an opinion go unvoiced is not my strong suit. 

But I really try hard with my two daughters-in-law who are truly the daughters I never had and whose good opinion is my utmost priority.  Having been a daughter-in-law twice myself, I vowed I would be a dream mother-in-law.  A friend of mine insists that’s an oxymoron.  But then, this is a woman whose bedroom sports a throw pillow embroidered “The only good in-law is a dead in-law.”  A tad harsh, I think.

I’ve learned a lot from both of my mothers-in-law.

My first mother-in-law only ever referred to me in the third person, even when I was there, and preferably without conjunctions, as in: “Ask the shiksa she wants dessert.”  These in-laws escaped from Russia in the dead of night with the clothes on their backs, enduring incredible hardships in their new land all so that their son the doctor, their phoenix rising out of immigrant ashes, could marry…me?   SO not part of the plan. 

Ironically, with the passage of time (and the raising of two sons), I have tremendous empathy for her position.  Now that I have adult sons, I know I would be devastated if either of them married someone I truly thought was wrong for him, regardless of the reason.  I wish she were alive today so I could tell her.   (She’d still probably tell me to drop dead, but I’d feel better saying it.)

My second mother-in-law (Olof’s mother) actually liked me.  And I adored her. My own mother died when I was 25 so Olof’s mother was truly a second mother to me.  Although fond of her son’s first wife, I think she wishes Olof and I had married the first time around. (So do my former in-laws.) 

The one thing I told both of my daughters-in-law from the get-go was that I was trying to learn their tastes so that if I got them a gift they didn’t like, they needed to say so. As a cautionary tale, I relayed the saga of a friend who, as a new bride, politely gushed over a hideous china tchotchke her mother-in-law gave her. She has continued to receive another one for every birthday and Christmas for the last 34 years.  Two years ago, her mother-in-law surprised her with a display case for them. 

Honestly, I knock myself out to stay on my daughters-in-laws’ good sides, and fortunately they are such sweethearts that they make it easy for me.  But occasionally, despite my best efforts, I’ve just screwed it up.  When my young grandkids were down visiting one time, I thought it would be really fun to take a bunch of cheapo on-sale hotdog buns down to our favorite sunset spot to feed the seagulls.  Now at the time, the sun was setting at around 5:00, so it was just before dinner.  Neither of my daughters-in-laws are food fanatics but they quite reasonably prefer to maximize the nutritional value of whatever they happen to be feeding their kids.  So as you might guess, not a lot of white bread.

But as soon as we got down to the sunset place and each kid had a bag of hotdog buns in hand, they started eating them instead of tearing off pieces for the birds.  It was like, “Whoa! You don’t even have to chew this stuff! It’s nothing like the 12-grain cement blocks Mom feeds us!”

Mom quickly confiscated the buns and handed them pieces to throw but these went into mouths just as quickly, despite admonishments to the contrary. I could see my daughter-in-law’s jaw tightening.  This well-intentioned happy activity was tanking fast.  It was such a good idea!  Which so totally failed!  The kids were, of course, way too full of nutritionally-bankrupt processed flour product to eat dinner.  My daughter-in-law was totally nice about it.  But in my mind’s eye, I feared becoming fodder for her next dinner party. 

Sadly, I know women who really don’t like their daughters-in-law and have even engaged in the ultimate mother-in-law act of aggression, i.e. sending the grandchildren drum sets for Christmas.  I’m going to continue to be phenomenally grateful that I ended up with the daughters-in-law that I did.  But next time:  whole wheat buns.  After dinner.


Sunday, October 31, 2021

Orchid Growing Tips The Internet Will Never Tell You

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published November 1, 2021] ©2021

There are two kinds of people in the world.  Those who can cultivate orchids, and those who can’t.  I learned this indisputable fact after writing a recent column about killing what was likely my 25th orchid. 

I heard from plenty of other self-professed “orchid murderers” (including the editor of this paper). So I was frankly astonished to learn that there are actually people who don’t regard an orchid as The Gift from Hell.  Their orchids actually flourish.  I was almost tempted to actually buy one just to try out all the good tips these folks shared.  Operative word here is “almost.” 

Interesting, more than one person insisted the problem was that I was “trying too hard.”  Orchids, apparently, survive on benign neglect.  So all those instructions I downloaded from the internet about its precise sun placement, about misting them if the humidity level of my house wasn’t just perfect, about assessing each orchid’s personal picky water needs, about using pricey orchid fertilizer, all apparently led to my orchid’s premature death.

And that’s another thing.  Readers informed me that my orchid didn’t actually die. Well, yet.  It just lost all its blooms. It’s normal for all the blooms to fall off when they move to a new environment [my house], according to a reader.

OK, but a large flowerless stem sticking 18 inches in the air in semi-perpetuity isn’t exactly my idea of d├ęcor. I’d definitely need to pitch it before the grandkids could show up and say, “Is this supposed to be a plant?” Who needs the bad press?

So, I queried readers back, if it isn’t dead, how long until it produces more blooms? 

The answers varied from: “a few weeks/months,” “could take a year,” “never” and “how long have you got?”  I need a definition of “never” so I know when I can officially give up.

Other sage advice:

Forget the orchid food.  It kills.  Your orchid will thrive, even bloom, on your neglect better than it will on attention.  

It’s all about the light.  You need a window with lots of nice non-direct light. (Alas, I don’t have one. It’s my number one excuse for all those orchid deaths. My house is a cave.)

But the most unexpected advice was this:

Three ice cubes a week is the only moisture an orchid needs. If you forget, that's okay too. 

Another reader swears by just one ice cube per week.  But she also talks to her plant which may make up for the other two cubes.

As previously, mentioned, there was more than one reader who agreed with me that an orchid is basically a hostile gift. 

Have you ever written about gifts that require maintenance? I have a severe dislike for gifts that I have to take care of forever. An orchid is in that category, and any other plant, for that matter. Why not just give flowers that I can toss at the end of the week? Don’t give me a bag of scone mix either - now I have to bake?? To me these “gifts” are not gifts!

I guess hostile is in the eyes of the beholder although I think we’d all agree that giving the grandchildren a drum set for Christmas is indisputably in that category. I myself might be OK with the scone mix so long as I only had to add water.

I did hear one really touching orchid story that the writer has given me permission to share. When she and her husband recently moved here from Texas, they paid $200 to the movers to get their orchid to San Diego alive.

Jaded person that I am, I imagined that these movers pitched the plant in the first dumpster out of town then stopped at Vons flower section on Girard when they arrived and picked up a new one for $15.  I mean, they really do all look alike. Net gain $185 and zero hassle. Who would ever know?

Upon further query, I learned that the back story was that the orchid had been a gift to the wife after her father unexpectedly passed away from Covid last December. It obviously had special significance which had been conveyed to the movers, who had it riding on the front seat of a Penske truck and even allotted it hotel space in El Paso. My correspondent added:

I will confess that every gosh darn flower fell off of once it arrived at its new home.  I put it in a sunny window, gave each "stalk" an ice cube once a week and …it's alive again.  So, I'm thinking you simply didn't give your orchid enough time to re-acclimate to its new environment! 

This has been quite an education. But even better that all the excellent tips I received, now I have a list of people to whom I can re-gift any future orchids I might receive.  That was worth the column alone.

Turns out that three ice cubes a week is all it takes
(but not going to personally test it)
(Reader sent photo)



Sunday, October 17, 2021

Embracing A New World Of Mandatory Composting

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published October 18, 2021] © 2021

It's going to be a whole new trash world on January 1 when California residents will be required to recycle food waste. Yup, all those chicken bones, shrimp tails, coffee grounds, moldy lunch meat, vegetable peelings, and greasy fast-food papers. Even those scrambled eggs your picky toddler wouldn't eat.

Concept-wise, Senate Bill 1383, the legislation behind this change, is a fantastically good idea. Currently, almost 41% of the city's waste composition is methane-producing organic material, apparently a far bigger contribution to global warming than carbon dioxide. 

Increasing the win, this organic waste could be converted to fertilizer, compressed natural gas for vehicles, or uses not yet imagined. 

As with all such drastic changes, even ones that are well-intentioned, I anticipate some serious problems in the transition.

A major issue, of course, will be compliance. 

Persons or businesses failing to comply could be slapped with "fines."  By whom? And how? As with the Water Police a few years ago (asking residents to rat out their neighbors for running sprinklers on other than their designated days or times), I think this one is problematical.  Will County Food Waste vigilantes be wandering around on trash day sniffing Hefty bags for whiffs of pizza crusts?  Or worse, slicing the bags open? Will public shaming with the offending food waste - presumably left on the bin lid along with a citation - become a thing?

Apparently, part of this plan is that all the people who don't yet have city-issued green waste bins (that would be my area) will be issued them.  The organic food waste would go in there - no plastic bags - along with the yard waste. 

Part of what worries me is that those city-issued bins of all colors (black for trash, blue for recyclables, green for greenery) are no match for city trash trucks. I'm on my fourth black at this point and it didn't take them two pick-ups to split the lid. The trash trucks literally hurl those things to the ground.  On my street, you'd be hard put to find a black bin that isn't duct-taped together.  I have this fantasy that the trash guys entertain themselves by seeing who can splinter the most bins in a given trash day.  ("Good one, George! You got the wheels totally off that one!")

I'm trying to even imagine the rat problem if we have food waste sitting in fractured green bins. Rats can squish themselves into a half-inch high space.  (I know of what I speak.) They wouldn't even have to try if half the lid is gone. I can feel the local rodentials celebrating already.

The other issue that I don't think the state has quite worked out is what do do with all that food waste between consumption and trash pickup, even if those currently-picked-up twice-a-week greenery bins are picked up once a week.  Remember, no plastic bags. Warm climate. A little research found that it will be recommended that residents wrap their food waste in newspapers or paper grocery bags and keep it in their refrigerator or freezer until trash day. No offense, but this suggestion was clearly made by a guy.  (In point of fact, it was.)

The idea of keeping a paper grocery bag in my fridge full of food waste frankly makes me gag. Your best hope is that your teenager will eat it. They're fortunately pretty non-discriminating.

It would especially make me gag when I pulled the bag out of the fridge on trash day and the bottom fell out because all of that food waste was wet. It is for this reason that the plastic bag industry has been so successful.

I have read that the city may help this somewhat by issuing countertop food containers to put waste in between trash pickups. The picture I saw of it means I'd have to dispense with my blender and my mini-Cuisinart on my limited counter space. Definitely sounds better than the fridge solution but even then, how do its aromatic contents get from there to the green bin?

I actually have first-hand experience with food waste. When my older son Rory was in fifth grade, he accidentally threw out his $200 dental appliance with his lunch bag. As a divorced working mom living paycheck to paycheck, I most definitely could not afford a new one. I took off an afternoon from work, and with the school's permission, worked my way through the school's dumpster, opening bag after bag of the detritus of that day's lunch. Let me tell you, I can attest that a lot of food is wasted in this country. None of the kids ate the fruit. Most didn't eat the bread crusts. And by the way, I did find the dental appliance. But I have never recovered from the experience.

Come 2022, there is going to have to be a crash course for everyone on What Goes In What Bin. Because as of January 1, there can be no food in the blue or black bins; no glass or plastic in the green or black; no dog poop, diapers or plastic bags in green or blue.

There will be a quiz. 

                                           Our trash bins are barely holding together

                                            Wouldn't be too hard for rats to get into these bins 

Monday, October 4, 2021

Confessions Of An Orchid Slayer

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published October 4, 2021] ©2021

They don’t call me Orchid Death for nothing.

I don’t even want to think of how many gift orchids have met their demise despite my genuinely diligent if fruitless efforts.

A friend recently showed up at my door for dinner bearing a gift orchid.  “Please,” I entreated, “take this plant back.  I have a 100% death rate with orchids.” 

Miss Manners (the Judith Martin etiquette columnist) would have been appalled. One should always accept gifts graciously even if they’ll cost you money to sustain them, have annoying personal needs, and are guaranteed to die a slow agonizing death right in front of you.

I have successfully grown a lot of house plants in my time.  Just not orchids.  What’s so sad is that I really try.  And when you look at the environment orchids live in in supermarket plant sections, is that so much better than my house?  Are they getting the love and attention and pricey orchid fertilizer that I provide?

One of my daughters-in-law is the karmic opposite of me when it comes to orchids.  She insists they’re incredibly easy.  The ones that flourish in her sunny front bay window practically have to be whacked back with a machete. 

But I think that’s the key word right there:  window, as in sunny front window.  We have no houseplant-suitable windows in our dark north-facing home. Just some morning sun in the kids’ old bedrooms that we can’t block access to with plant stands. The contractor who put in the skylights in every room of our little house that the roof slope would allow said he’d never worked in a darker house.  You almost expected to find bears hibernating.

Despite trying to decline my friend’s gift orchid, she was insistent. So I took this as a challenge to try nurturing an orchid one last time. 

I read up on the instructions again: 

The best way to take care of your orchid is to place it near a south- or east-facing window that receives strong, indirect light. [See "not happening," above.]

Water the orchids just before they go dry. It's important to water an orchid based on how much water it uses, rather than a certain number of days. [This plant is already starting to sound high maintenance.]

Mist orchids daily if the humidity level in your home is below 40%. Orchids do best in environments with 40-60% humidity. [Mist? Seriously?]

Fertilize the orchids once per month while they're flowering.  Use a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10. [So does Miracle Gro count?]

Actually, in my previous attempts to make an orchid flourish under my care, I have actually sprung for the pricey fertilizer formulated just for orchids.  It didn't help. The flowers wilted and fell off one by one...until there was simply nothing but an accusatory stem screaming "You killed me!" They can be very mean about it. 

In the past, if I've had a house plant that just wasn't thriving, I'd give its pathetic final two leaves one last chance by transplanting it in my back yard.  Most of them succumbed. For five years, however, I had a struggling Ficus house plant in my cave-like living room valiantly trying to hold on. I hated to just throw it in the trash (it had tried so hard), so I finally relocated it and its last leaf outside, wishing it luck.  It is now 25 feet tall and uprooting my back gate and destroying my irrigation system.  This $5 Ficus will probably put me back $2,000 in fence and sprinkler repairs.  Like my daughter-in-law’s successful orchid garden: location, location, location.

One of the ways I’ve gotten around a lack of plant platforms in front of sunny windows was to hang plants on macrame plant hangers near these windows.  Macrame was all the rage when we bought our house in 1973 and I actually managed to master, via the preponderance of Sunset Magazine manuals (the YouTube of their time), to create some fairly sophisticated jute and bead versions for my home.  My plants even did pretty well in them.

Ultimately the macrame craze, and the hangers themselves, ran their course.  I had young kids by that time and my knot-tying talents were now channeled into cub scout dens. While I had been quite successful creating intricate plant hangers, I could never master scouting knots, in spite of spending considerable time practicing the rabbit-goes-around-the-tree-and-through-the-hole method. (My rabbits always went around the wrong tree, got tangled up and hung themselves.)  I guess where there’s a will, there’s a knot.

 It took exactly 37 days to kill this orchid.  OK, I didn’t mist.  But I did find its sunniest spot and solicitously attempted to gauge its personal watering needs. I have to conclude that orchids and I were never meant to be. Do not even think of giving me one, ever again. Life is hard enough without plants making you feel bad.

                                                            Orchid, Day 1

                                                            Orchid, Day 37


Sunday, September 26, 2021

Why Burglars Ignore Our House?

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published September 27, 2021]

During my 12 years of single parenthood, I often reflected that if I wasn’t murdered on any given night, it was only because nobody felt like it.  Last week, I wrote about the police department’s then-recommendation that I keep a can of spray starch by my bed to protect myself from intruders. It didn’t inspire confidence. 

Part of the reason I felt so vulnerable was that in my first year post-divorce, the kids and I were victims of two major crimes (well, three if you count the orthodontist).  The house was robbed while I was at work and every piece of jewelry I owned was taken.  Five months later, my purse was stolen and the perps attempted to access both my home and my bank accounts.  Neither the kids nor I felt safe anymore. 

Of course, the feminist in me rebelled against such an attitude of fear.  I did all the standard things: a Neighborhood Watch Program, good locks, a self-defense course for women, and even an answering machine message purportedly recorded by our Rottweiler.

My younger son’s allergies to animal dander precluded an actual dog.  The kids lobbied for a 9 mm Glock but I was terrified they’d blow my head off by mistake, or that in our current nervous state, we’d panic and waste the mailman. 

Ultimately, I settled on the Single Woman Home Alarm System which consisted of leaving the house ablaze with lights hoping it would look like there were at least forty people in residence.   Probably for what my electric bill was over those twelve years, I might have been able to put an alarm system in.

But really, we couldn’t have afforded one.  Not the cost of the alarm system itself, which would have been a bargain compared to all those $100 fines from the San Diego gendarmes for responding to false alarms.  In fact, I think my older son, Rory, in retaliation for being a latch key kid, would have regularly set it off just for the entertainment value.  As my second husband, Olof, always said, “Rory looks for excitement.  And finds it.”  I knew exactly how this script would go:  Rory sets off the alarm and when the alarm company calls, Rory tells them he is being held captive by masked intruders.   The thrill of all those sirens!  The SWAT team!  Officers with guns drawn!  The Channel 39 news cam!  And best part of all: Social Services visiting Mom! 

Rory and an alarm system were an incompatible combination.  But for the record, the Bomb Squad incident really wasn’t his fault.

I never did find a solution that made me feel very secure but I did ultimately remarry.  Olof feels compelled to point out that his presence is the merest illusion of safety and did I really think he could defend me against a knife-wielding intruder?  But upon seeing the look on my face, he hastily added that he would, of course, breathe his last breath trying.  (Correct answer.)

Alas, even the benefits of security cameras and a second husband hasn’t left me feeling much safer than I did then.  That’s because there seems to be a lot of really brazen crime in my neighborhood lately.

Thus far, our home has been untouched. So we’ve obviously been cased – and rejected.  (A teeny part of me feels offended.)  Sounds like they know I have a 2016 computer and iPhone that is six versions out of date.  They’ve obviously determined that the pickings are better elsewhere.  Is this, in fact, the key to burglar-proofing your house: ancient electronics?  $40 in loose cash?  Jewelry that was already pre-stolen? 

But the creepy part is:  how do they know?

A close friend says that the answer is that our house just doesn’t look like there’s anything of real value inside.  “What are they going to take?” she says.  “Your VCR?”  (Do not make fun of the VCR!)

Neighbors have become extra vigilant in letting each other know when they’re out of town, as evidenced by this recent missive from the neighbor across the street: “So if a moving van pulls up to the house, if they start with the garage, don't call the police until they've finished in there.”  There’s nothing like a little crime humor to take the edge off communal anxiety.

Still, the kinds of crimes that have been occurring here really scare the daylights out of me and have brought all the security issues back, even though the now-adult kids complain the place is locked up tighter than Fort Knox.  All of a sudden, I find myself leaving all the lights on again when we go out which annoys Olof beyond belief.  He just doesn’t understand the Single Woman Alarm System mentality at all. 

As we returned from a recent evening out and pulled up to the house, Olof suddenly exclaimed, “Oh my god!”

“What?  What?”  I said, panicked.

“Someone left one of the lights off!”

For the record, our VCR also has a DVD



Sunday, September 19, 2021

Ironing Out Crime Problems

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published September 20, 2021] ©2021

Last time I wrote about the spate of crime in our area and the frustrated efforts of my neighbors to rein in what seems to be a nightly onslaught of bike thieves, garage break-ins, porch pirates, creepy trespassers, and brazen burglary attempts even when people are home, all caught up-close-and-personal on what are now pervasive security cameras. 

Fortunately, between the time I submitted that column (eight days before its September 9 publication) and the time it appeared, one of the boldest of the bike thieves, who had probably starred in more videos than the Kardashians, was finally apprehended, thanks to dedicated efforts by the neighborhood.  The La Jolla Light reported that the perp was being held in San Diego County Jail with bail set at $300,000.  Is he still there?  Did he post bail with profits from fencing all those high-end bikes?

OK, sounding a little jaded here.  But I was genuinely happy that at least one of the miscreants preying on my neighborhood was finally at least temporarily a guest of law enforcement. One down, fifty to go.

Like many of our neighbors, we installed exterior security cameras, although not the popular Ring variety that so many of our neighbors have.  (They hadn’t really come out when we installed ours.) 

I have to say that these cameras are a huge improvement over my earlier efforts at self-protection against crime. Or at least the illusion of it.

In my 12 years of single parenthood from 1983 to 1995, I felt utterly defenseless.  I remember calling the police department early on and asking what they recommended for a woman alone with two young children.

After a long discourse about how I couldn’t do anything more to them than they intended to do to me (i.e., I was not permitted to murder someone who only intended to beat, maim, and terrorize me) and a lecture that most weapons I might have could be used against me (no argument there), the officer suggested the alone-woman’s protection of choice: spray starch.


Frankly, spray starch never inspired that much confidence in me.  Would the assailant wait while I shook the can and hoped the nozzle was pointing at him and not me? Incapacitating myself seemed counterproductive to the scenario although I’m sure the perp would have been grateful, if puzzled. The mere shock might have caused him to flee.

I specifically remember an incident soon after getting this advice where a neighbor friend mentioned that the previous night, she thought she heard someone in their back yard.  Her husband got up and quietly got the gun out of the safe and loaded it. I found myself desperately envious of her: a man and a gun to protect her. (Three generation of rabidly feminist ancestors were turning over in their graves that I even thought this.)  I, meanwhile, would have quietly reached for my can of spray starch and removed the cap.

When we installed our cameras, plenty of people told us that security cameras rarely result in anyone being arrested or convicted of a crime. But as I’ve written about before, we’ve had our front fence taken out three times, the second and third times by hit-and-run drivers.  (The 86-year-old lady in the ‘49 Dodge who did the first one may have tried to make a break for it but I was faster.)

On another occasion, some reprobates seriously vandalized 50 cars on our street, including ours. So even if the police weren’t interested in making them accountable, I could see myself getting in touch with my inner vigilante and sending my cousin Guido over to chat with them about it.

The folks who installed our video cameras told us that pretty much everyone who installs them has at least two motives. One, of course, is security.  The other, the installer said, is not infrequently related to dog poop. Seriously. People want to know once and for all whose dog is inflicting feculent ordure on their lawn. Dare to deny it now, scumbag neighbor!

A friend who has outdoor security cameras warned me that they are so much fun, I might end up cancelling cable. And I confess she’s right. When I’m in a waiting room for an appointment, I pull out my phone (on which I can see my cameras) to see what’s happening at home. Frankly, usually not much. Sometimes somebody is putting a bag of dog poop in our trash.  I watch the neighbors unloading their groceries, and people blasting through the stop sign in front of our house without even slowing down. (SD PD: we could work a deal here.)  Now that we’re official crazy paranoid spy people with security cameras, I cruise through the replay of the night before to see if there was any action.

But most of all, I’m just grateful I have options other than spray starch.