Sunday, August 7, 2022

Can't Stand All the Beeping

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published August 8, 2022] ©2022

I’m trying to decide when our lives became controlled by beeps. When I was growing up, I don’t remember anything that beeped. Now I can’t think of anything that doesn’t. And frankly, it’s starting to drive me a little crazy.

If you’ve got a Smart phone, you know the difference between the email message beep and the text message beep and the “loved your text message reply” beep.  My computer alerts me to new emails as well.

When my husband Olof would do the dishes and wipe the digital panel on the stove, it would often start beeping. As an engineer (and, more to the point, a guy), he wasn’t about to admit that he had no idea why. While smashing it with a hammer after it had been going off for a half hour seemed like a perfectly sane option, he would finally wander into the bedroom and announce, “There’s an incoming message from the Planet Klingon.  I think it’s for you.” 

My Kitchenaid range is actually the source of lots of beep dissension in our household.  I admit that I have been known to set the stove’s timer to remind me to turn off the backyard sprinklers, forget all about it, then leave the house to do an errand. The beeper would go off in my absence, and Olof would turn it off.

“Olof, my little lutfisk,” I said finally, “If you turn off the oven beeper, would you leave me a note? I set it for a reason.”

And, of course, that’s becoming part of the problem.  What reason? Not only figuring out which appliance is beeping, or, if it’s the oven timer, but why I set it in the first place. 

What used to be even more of a problem with the oven beeper was that the electronic touch screen panel on the stove was exquisitely accessible to someone of the pre-school grandchild persuasion.  The Options button, which when combined with any single digit between one and seven suddenly makes something that worked before, cease to.  For example, Option + 2 turns off the beeper so that one could, for example, discover that they’ve had the back yard sprinklers running for seven hours

Some time back, a reader sent me the following email on this subject. “My husband and I often laugh at ourselves because we have constant beeping going on and we are forever trying to figure out what they mean.  Some prime examples are the refrigerator when we don't close the door completely, the microwave when we haven't removed an item, the toaster oven when our toast is almost done, and the coffee pot when it's turning off after two hours.”

I hear ya. And I hear the beeping too. 

My car beeps when the door isn’t shut tight and seat belts aren’t fastened.  Cars that are not my 2005 Corolla even beep as you back up if you’re getting too close to something.  That’s actually one beep I wouldn’t mind.

There are two beeps that make me truly crazy. One is the beep that your ceiling smoke detectors make when the batteries are running low. Smoke detectors have been scientifically programmed so that those batteries only start failing at 3 a.m. It’s like the faucet drip torture only ten times worse. You want to stand underneath it and scream, “Stop it!  Stop it RIGHT NOW! I’ll get the ladder and change your battery in the morning!” But no, it maliciously beeps on.

The other one is the blurp sound that tablet devices make when people are playing games on them.  On airplanes, I can hear it ten rows away. I start having fantasies of grabbing the tablet and its owner and hurling both of them out an emergency exit at 35,000 feet.

Have we become a country of people who cannot remember anything if it doesn’t beep at us?  How did we ever survive before? One answer: we obviously didn’t used to have so many gadgets. Still, I personally could live without the washer and dryer alerting me when they’re done.

Fortunately, some appliances will let you disable the beep alerts. But you need an engineering degree and/or a soldering iron. YouTube abounds with videos on this topic.

Should we be relying on beeps less, just to make those ever-aging synapses keep firing? When you look at all those mental gymnastics exercises advocated for older folks, maybe going beeperless should be one of them.  Well, except maybe the ones like smoke alarms that would prevent the house from burning down. 

In the average kitchen, the beeping options are pretty much endless. With so many appliances beeping, will new ones have to start announcing themselves, like “coffee’s ready”?

I hope not. Bad enough that they’re all beeping at me. When they start talking to me, I’m done.  Because I fear I’d start answering.

 

Sunday, July 31, 2022

It's For The Birds

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published August 1, 2022] ©2022

Over the four decades I’ve lived in my house, we’ve noticed sudden influxes and exoduses of bird populations. One was even human-induced. For Henry’s fourth birthday, I hid five pounds of peanuts in the shell (that’s a lot of peanuts) around our front yard as one of the game activities. Whoever found the most got a prize.

The kids lost interest about three peanuts and two nanoseconds later.

But it turns out that blue jays love peanuts in the shell.  So for at least the next decade we probably had the most flourishing blue jay colony in North America. They’d even come up to Olof on our patio table in the morning as he was reading the paper and eat cracker bits out of his hand. 

And then one season they just disappeared.  I tried “reseeding” the yard with more peanuts but just got rats, who, it turns out, like peanuts too. Actually, we’ve discovered that rats like pretty much everything.

But as the blue jays disappeared, they seemed to be replaced by crows.  (I’m guessing there is a correlation.)  Given that we have plenty of crows, I decided to learn a little about them, hoping to find some redeeming habits other than their using our brick walkways and the roofs of our cars - and even our heads - as target practice. 

The first question anyone asks about crows is whether they’re actually ravens which have more cachet.  This is, after all, La Jolla. The Jewel is not a town that has crows and rats. We prefer to think of ourselves as a community with ravens and…no rats.  Sorry on both counts.

For inquiring minds, here’s how you tell a raven from a crow:  A crow’s tail is shaped like a fan while the raven’s tail is wedge-shaped, not that I’ve ever been able to get any of them to slow down long enough to tell.  The big giveaways are that the crows travel in groups (as opposed to the ravens in pairs) and are far louder. Far, far louder. At 5 a.m., I’m tempted to stick my head out the back door and yell, “Geesh, you guys!  Do you have any idea what time it is?”

Crows are reported to eat over 1,000 food items including “carrion, fried chicken, hamburgers, Chinese food, French fries and human vomit.”  I confess I was intrigued by the order on this list. Intentional?  In a study by someone who clearly has too much time (or money) on their hands, crows were found to prefer French fries in a McDonald’s bag over those in a brown paper bag.

Crows mate for life but males will cheat.  (Is this sounding familiar?)  It’s actually pretty amazing considering that male crows have no penis. The male crow’s sperm is transferred from their cloaca (a cavity at the end of the digestive tract) to the female's cloaca in an act that takes all of 15 seconds. Definitely short on the foreplay. 

Once crows have mated, they no longer demonstrate courtship displays.  Is that sounding familiar too? What's the point of bringing her a nice piece of cow dung if she's already committed?

If the male crow is non-fatally injured, his mate won't leave him although reproduction apparently drops waaaay down. I'm thinking it would be hard to notice the difference if all you ever got was 15 seconds to begin with.  Female crows seem to have very low expectations. 

Moving right along, the expression “eat crow” – i.e., having to admit to a humiliating mistake – suggests that crows themselves are not good eats. Others say they taste like chicken.  (Joke.) Regardless, given that they are scavengers, there is an inherent aversion to essentially eating what the crows themselves have eaten.  One website noted that one crow "will feed two people who don't know what they're eating or 12 people who do." 

The two mallard ducks, Quick and Quack, who show up every year to poop in our pool, don't seem to be intimidated by the crows. Nor do the wild parrots who like to mooch a free lunch off our songbird feeders.

 Seagulls, of course, have been perennials but this year we noticed a different and potentially disturbing behavior.  Usually they stick to the coast but this year, we’ve seen groups of five or six of them circling various neighbor’s houses in frenzied squawking for more than an hour. Sometimes even after dark. What is attracting them to leave all those tourist-generated pepperoni pizza crusts that are usually the mainstay of their existence? 

I texted my next-door neighbor the next morning.  Did they by any chance leave a barracuda on their back patio?  Maybe a pizza? A body?  (If you live next door to me, you get these kinds of emails.) The gulls were obviously very fixated on something.  Thus far it remains a mystery, which, since I have no life, I intend to solve.

Now, if only the crows and sea gulls would eat rats…




 

Sunday, July 24, 2022

They're Really Not Sorry For Any Inconvenience

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published July 25, 2022] ©2022

“We regret any inconvenience this may have caused you” seems to have become the national motto.  If “packed flat for easy assembly” and “it’s a simple outpatient procedure” are the two scariest phrases in the English language, the inconvenience line is definitely the most annoying.

Of course, what the multitude of businesses and travel-related companies actually mean is “we’re well aware our service has been abysmal, but we’re planning on doing a lot more of the same. Sorry not sorry!”

Everybody I know has had a disastrous travel experience.  Flights cancelled. The rescheduled- cancelled flight cancelled.  Cruises cancelled. Cruises not cancelled but all the shore excursions cancelled and shipboard service and amenities abysmal.

Not only no refunds but massive additional expense. And a boatload of stress.

Meanwhile:  inquiring minds want to know:  where are all those people who used to work in the travel industry?  Has everyone become a TikTok influencer? Where did everybody go?

Two places they didn’t go were the California Franchise Tax Board, and the Social Security Administration. There appear to be nobody home in either place.  Got a problem?  It is never going to be fixed.

In May, I chronicled the exasperating – and still nowhere near resolved – saga of our payment to the Franchise Tax Board (FTB) for our 2021 taxes.  Although we paid a month early, the check never cleared by the deadline, and telephone efforts to contact them were met with a disconnect after three-plus hours on hold. Their automated line said no payment received.

As April 18 approached, we finally cancelled payment on the check (PSA: never ever cancel a check to a government agency), and paid again with a direct transfer from our checking account. Although we subsequently learned that the FTB had received our check on March 15, they didn’t actually process it and credit it to us until 45 days later- well past the deadline.

Since there are absolutely no humans home at the FTB, their computers (presumably early Apple Macs) subsequently decided that we had paid twice, so they sent us a refund check for the second payment.  Then, however, their computers caught up with the fact that there was a stop payment on the first check. Since they’d refunded the second payment, as far as they were concerned, we hadn’t paid at all. They began piling on late fees and penalties, along with deadbeat notices.

Meanwhile, we had returned their refund check according to their specific instructions to something called the Returned Warrant Desk, which we were later informed takes three to four months to process. No way to stop penalties until then.

Meanwhile, the My FTB account that we had finally managed to set up in late April has now notified us that our password is already expiring but when we tried to change it, locked us out.

An interesting tidbit about the FTB’s customer service line:  You finally get down to “you are number 6 in line.”  Then five minutes later, it’s “you are number 7 in line.”  Wah????? Who cut in?

Apparently, once the Returned Warrants Desk gets around to recording our returned refund check, our account, that we cannot access, will hopefully show we did pay our 2021 taxes and we can try to deal with the accrued penalties and fees, never mind our status as Tax Deadbeats.  We are sure they will be sorry for any inconvenience this has caused us.

But frankly this saga is mouse nuts (Olof’s favorite phrase) compared to our friend Ingrid’s saga with Social Security, another agency whose employees all seem to have gone on to Better Things. In the ultimate nightmare, Ingrid, whose last name isn’t even common, was declared dead by Medicare. She has no idea how.  They helpfully shared the sad news with Social Security, her banks, her pension provider, and pretty much every financial agency she has ever done business with.  Her bank accounts were frozen and both her Social Security checks and pension stopped coming.

Ingrid has made a pretty much continuous loop to financial institutions and the Social Security Office, supplemented by notarized “I am not dead” letters. Every time she thought she’d rejoined the living, she was re-informed of her demise. 

Let me tell you, it is very very hard to come back from the dead in this country. 

It’s amazing the stress of this situation alone didn’t kill her.  Recently she received a missive from Social Security – curiously sent to the wrong address – that began:

We recently discovered that our records wrongly showed you as deceased.  We are very sorry for any inconvenience this situation may cause you.

Three months of being dead is not “inconvenience.” And the present tense is very alarming here.  Even they aren’t convinced this is over.

“How am I supposed to live?” Ingrid has despaired throughout this nightmare saga.

Fortunately, there seem to be plenty of openings in the cruise industry.

 

 

Sunday, July 10, 2022

We're All Wacko In Our Own Way

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published July 11, 2022] ©2022

Reading a story in the paper the other day about various psychiatric diagnoses being lobbed at current and former persons in power, I couldn’t help but concede that the DSM-5, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, hasn’t spared any of us.  We are all diagnoses at this point. In some ways I long for the days when it was okay to be just be wacko. 

Let me be clear that I am not making fun of mental illness, plenty of which runs in my own family.  I myself come from a long line of chronically overwrought people; there’s definitely an anxiety gene there.  There’s a worrisome cluster of hoarders too, a few of whom would be shoo-ins for that A&E show.  Everybody seems to be on some spectrum. 

Several years ago, I wrote about my concern that every TV program I watch was sponsored by anti-depressants.  Did they know something I don’t?  Is preference for these shows diagnostic in itself?  Is there, for example, a DSM-5 classification for people who watch TLC?  Something along the lines of “Obsessive Fixation on the Excessively Short, Obese, or Progenitive”?

As a parent, I would never suggest that people not have their child evaluated if they are concerned about the child’s behavior.  But be prepared for a diagnosis.  Both Olof and I became concerned some years ago (our kids were already adults) that every male child on our block seemed to have been diagnosed with ADHD – and most were taking medication for it.  Interacting with these kids on a regular basis, Olof had his own diagnosis: boy.  Most of them reminded him a lot of himself at their age.

Even our lawn mowing guy’s 18-year-old assistant introduced himself with, “I’m ADHD and bipolar.” But that’s one case that I would absolutely not argue.  This kid’s style was to turn up his iPod and kind of get into the Zen of gardening.  Unfortunately, whatever garden he was servicing didn’t appear to be in our galaxy.

There was no DSM category system when we were children but Olof didn’t escape a diagnosis even then.  Hardly an academic ball of fire in his early years, he was deemed an “accelerated non-achiever.”  It was a label that puzzled his parents for years. Did this mean he was gifted but not achieving? Or gifted AT non-achieving?  Regardless, he was not achieving. But somewhere along the way, he managed to up his game and ultimately achieved a degree in nuclear physics from Cal Tech. Sighed his mother (age 93), “If only we could have known.”

In an Abnormal Psychology class many years ago, a classmate queried the professor as to what constitutes a “normal” person.  She replied, “Normal people are those we don’t know well enough to know which ways they aren’t.”  We are all, each in our own unique ways, functionally compromised.

Some years back, a therapist relative who was annoyed by my habit of twirling my hair tried to break me of it by announcing it was “a substitute for masturbation.” 

“Yeah?” I said, twirling faster.

While never embracing being labeled a Follicular Auto-Eroticist, I’ll admit I can think of some new DSM classifications that would apply to me. I am hoping one of these might qualify me for state aid. 

For example, when I think of my total lack of arts and crafts talent (to the dismay of my children when they were in grade school), I definitely suffer from Diorama Deficit Disorder. 

Post-auto accident several years ago, I’m sure I qualify for Freeway Avoidant Syndrome with Mixed High-Speed Surface Street Elements. 

While some people get right back on a horse after falling off, I could definitely be characterized as suffering from Life Aversion Disorder with Equine Metaphoric Phobias. 

My utter inability to embrace technology and my ill-disguised frustration with it would more than justifiably label me as suffering from Severe Techno Disability with Tantrumy Features and Pathological Resistance to Software Upgrades of Any Variety.

At times I wonder if the whole diagnosis thing has gotten out of hand.  If Jesus were to show up for the Second Coming, they’d have him on a 72-hour psych hold before you could say “yeah, and I’m Napoleon.”  There may be a time (is it already here?) when all of our psychiatric diagnosis codes pop up as soon as you input your social security number.

And that, I think, is a real problem:  if a diagnosis is wrong, or, if you’ve been miraculously cured of say, your Equine Avoidant Personality Disorder, how do you ever get rid of it?  Nope, it will live on in some computer forever.

Sometimes I think we should just simplify the system to the three basic categories that seemed to exist in my childhood:

(1) Rarely Attracts Police Attention

(2) Just Doing the Best They Can (Even If Not Very Good)

(3) Bats—t Crazy

For a long time, it worked.




 


Sunday, July 3, 2022

Inga's All-Time Favorite Quotes - Updated

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published July 4, 2022] ©2022

Over the years, I’ve been collecting favorite quotes – way too many to list here.  I first published this list in March of 2018 but got such a huge response to it that I wanted to run an updated version of it while I am on vacation this week.  As before, some of these quotes seem truly prescient for their time – especially the first four: 

"In America, anybody can be president. That's one of the risks you take."  - Adlai Stevenson (1900-1965)

“The past is a foreign country.  They do things differently there.”  First line of the book “The Go-Between” by L.P. Hartley. (1953)

"The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them." - Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

 "You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts." -Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003), and others

“In our judicial system, you are assumed guilty until proven rich or lucky.”  Pundit John Oliver

“The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.” –William Faulkner

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” - Thomas Edison

“Most editors are failed writers.  So are most writers.”  –T.S. Eliot

“The older you get, the better you get. Unless you’re a banana.” - Late actress Betty White

“Things always get worse before they get a lot worse” - Lily Tomlin

“The road of life is paved with flat squirrels who couldn’t decide.”  (Unknown)

"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."  - Thomas Watson (1874-1956), Chairman of IBM, 1943

“My body isn’t me.  I just live here.”  (Magnet on Inga’s refrigerator)

“A drug is any substance that, when injected in a rat, gives rise to a scientific paper.”  - Darryl Inaba (1984) 

“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” – Hanlon’s Razor

 “We never wanted to divorce at the same time.” Reply from friends of Inga’s when asked the secret of their 50-year marriage.

“She buffers herself against parental input.” - Neighbors, referring to their teenage daughter.

“Not having to worry about your hair anymore may be the secret upside of death.”  - Nora Ephron

"Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." -Journalist A.J. Liebling 

A scientist friend who was invited to present at a professional meeting in Jakarta observed to the organizer that the schedule, as set, was not being even remotely followed.  The reply:  "You should think of the schedule more as a first draft of a play that will be given improvisationally.”

“The only way to be reliably sure the hero gets the girl at the end of the story is to be both the hero and the girl.” - Becoming Duchess Goldblatt, A Memoir 

“A closed mouth gathers no feet.”  - Inga’s personal motto, poorly followed.

“What you accept, you teach.”  - Inga’s parents’ motto, well followed.

“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”  – George Bernard Shaw

“May you step on Legos in the middle of the night.” - Curse

"I've had a wonderful time, but this wasn't it." - Groucho Marx (1895-1977)

“A lot of people ask me if I were shipwrecked and could only have one book, what would it be?  I always say, ‘How to Build a Boat.’” – Actor Stephen Wright

"I have never killed anyone, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction." - Clarence Darrow (1857-1938)

“After a failure, there’s always someone who wished there was an opportunity they’d missed.” - Lily Tomlin

“All swash and no buckle.”  - variation on “all hat and no cattle”

 "I am not young enough to know everything."  - Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

"We didn't lose the game; we just ran out of time."  - Vince Lombardi

"There's many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher." - Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964)

“My brain seems to be working for a different organization now.”  (Friend Julia referring to menopause)

“The wages of sin are death, but after taxes are taken out, it’s just kind of a tired feeling.” – Paula Poundstone.

"Nothing is wrong with California that a rise in the ocean level wouldn't cure." - Mystery writer Ross MacDonald (1915-1983)

“The chief cause of problems is solutions.” – Journalist Eric Sevareid (1912-1992)  

“Be yourself.  Everyone else is already taken.” - Oscar Wilde 

"If everything seems under control, you're just not going fast enough." - Mario Andretti

"Happiness is good health and a bad memory." - Ingrid Bergman (1917-1982)

 

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Thinking Outside The Dent

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 27, 2022] ©2022

Over the years, I have found that some of my best kitchen tools would be under the heading of “off label,” i.e., not originally designed for kitchen use. Or at least their original kitchen use. 

Several decades ago, in the dark days before Amazon, I found myself unhappy with the selection of wimpy meat pounders at my local kitchen store and ended up purchasing a large rubber mallet at what was then Kragen Auto Parts. I’d been inspired by seeing one in action at the service station and thought, “Yup, that’s exactly what I need.” Chicken or meat or even bags of nuts wouldn’t stand a chance against this sucker.

I still vividly remember the saga of its acquisition. 

The main problem was explaining what I wanted to the Kragen guy since I didn’t look like the kind of person who pounds dents out of automobiles. 

“So, what are you going to use it for again?” the nice sales guy queried, totally puzzled.

“Well, for example, making chicken piccata,” I said. 

The salesman pondered this for a moment. 

 “You know this is an auto parts store, right?”

“It makes the chicken really flat,” I explained.  “But I think it will work equally well for schnitzel or even nut topping for streusel.”

I could sense this guy wanting to back away from me.  But shortly thereafter, he returned with a large rubber mallet.  Alas, the mallet head was black. “Is this what you want?” 

“Exactly!” I said.  “But what other colors does it come in?” A black rubber mallet would look really ugly in my kitchen. Way too, well, automotive-y.

“Lady,” he said, exasperated, “It’s a mallet.  It doesn’t come in colors.” 

But as luck would have it, another sales person, who was likely fired within minutes of my departure, piped up, “Actually I think they come in white too.” 

Amazingly enough, they were able to order me one in white. When I came to pick it up, the guy at the desk said, “The chicken lady, right?” I smiled, “You know, you guys should really be thinking outside the dent.” 

Thirty-some years later, this mallet has been one of the most versatile kitchen gadgets I’ve ever owned. I was tempted to bring the Kragen guys some chicken piccata just so they could see what a phenomenal job it does. But frankly, they looked more like mac n’ cheese people.

Another great “Didn’t-come-from-Williams-Sonoma” gadget is a pair of surgical forceps, acquired from a medical supply store.  I’ve had these for at least 25 years now.  They’re perfect for sautéing really small items.  I figured that anything that could keep a firm grip on internal organs would probably be able to hang on to gnocchi.  As it turned out, these forceps also worked well for tormenting my then-15-year-old son. Kids that age don’t want to know about female anatomy unless it belongs to someone in their own demographic.  Henry watched me cooking with the forceps one evening and commented that it looked a lot like a surgical tool.  “Yes,” I replied, “the surgeon gave it to me as a souvenir after my hysterectomy.  But, don’t worry -  I ran it through the dishwasher first!  Hey, where are you going?” 

OK, I admit it.  It was mean. But maybe you’ve never lived with a 15-year-old boy. Revenge is where you find it. 

Moving right along, Olof decided several years back to re-create his family’s Christmas cookie recipe to send to all the family, including decorating them, his job as a child.  He even included a batch of anatomically-correct ginger people to punk his sisters.  (They were strangely unappreciative.) After trying numerous implements to decorate his cookies and gingerbread persons, he discovered that the ultimate tool was a tiny screw driver that we kept on hand for adjusting the screws on top of sprinkler heads.  It got dishwashered first, of course.

But my most recent kitchen innovation has been to use an adjustable rubber jar lid opener as a grip for a glass with ice in it.  Let me just say that it is perfect for older persons with mildly arthritic hands to keep a good grip on their gin and tonic.  There is nothing worse than sitting out on a nice early summer night with an adult beverage only to have to slide through your fingers and splash all over your orthopedic pillow. Growing older is a constant process of accommodations.   I think I should apply for a patent.

I’ve been writing this column for nearly 14 years now and I honestly can’t think why I never managed to write on this important topic. (OK, the job lid opener is a newer innovation.) 

Of course, now there’s Amazon and the choices are pretty much unlimited so creativity isn’t required. Somebody somewhere is selling just what you want. But it still never hurts to think outside the gadget.

                                             Assorted off-label kitchen tools
 
Jar opener makes perfect G&T gripper

                          Olof decorating ginger persons with tiny screwdriver (in dish)

Note: Images of piccata making and hysterectomy not available

 

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Please Don't Do This To Your Kids

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 13, 2022] ©2022

Have I ever mentioned that on my mother’s side of the family, I am the only one in my generation, including my siblings, who is not a hoarder? 

My cousins and the sibs wouldn’t quite qualify for one of those cable TV shows.  Well, maybe one of them.  OK, two.  They are more selective hoarders, particularly books.  And, of course, National Geographics.

What is it about National Geographics that make people hang on to them forever?   I know people who have moved twelve times and while the dining room set or even the kids didn’t always make the cut, the National Geographics invariably end up on the truck. 

It’s probably just as well that I live in a small built-by-the-lowest-bidder-after-The-War 1947 cottage with teeny closets and no garage, attic or basement.  If we buy something, we have to give something else away.

Lack of space, however, has not deterred my various relatives.  I learned only recently that one of my cousins actually lived in a four-bedroom two-bath home which I always assumed from visits was a two-bedroom one-bath home.  The other two bedrooms and bath were just full of stuff.

Ultimately, they maxed out on space and bought a new house solely on the basis that it has TWO basements. Even so, my cousin admitted that they are footing an $8,000-a-year bill for outside storage. 

My cousin added that the trustee for their estate only accepted that responsibility “with the stipulation that she had no responsibility for the immense quantity of ‘collectibles’ clogging up our home.” Smart move.

In the interests of transparency, I will confess that my sons consider my formerly 67-now-36 albums of family photos to be hoarding. I myself think of photos as “artistic curation.” 

The kids had long been threatening to cremate me after my untimely death with the photo albums that I had amassed over the years. It would be a two-fer; get rid of Mom and the albums all at once. 

But at least my “hoard” was confined to one (very large) bookcase.

My dear friend Eleanor actually maintains that she found a cure for her husband’s hoarding. “I put my husband’s stuff that he wouldn’t get rid of in storage, then stopped paying the bill after three months.” This is brilliant in its simplicity. 

On two occasions in my life, I have been tasked with cleaning out the home of a hoarder relative.  For the record, most of the organizations that pick up donations will only take 25 boxes at a time.  That house took me eight months.

When I ended up cleaning out my aunt’s home in Hard-To-Get-There Ohio, distance and time constraints required a 35-foot dumpster, which we filled up the first day. My aunt (never married, no kids) literally had magazines dating back to the late 1800s. And yes, National Geographics.  The house had been in our family since 1860.  It’s amazing how much stuff you can acquire in 145 years.

Some weeks ago, the New York Times had an article about “death cleaning,” i.e., going through your possessions long before your demise so that your relatives are not burdened with the truly onerous task of separating the wheat from the trash.  One of the subsequent Letters to the Editor really caught my eye.  The writer, after noting that she wasn’t planning to spend a single moment of her precious time culling her abundance of possessions, including 15 years of New Yorker magazines, rationalized it like this:

“Isn’t it enough,” she queries, “that my children will receive whatever is left?  Gosh, there’s some pretty good stuff in that mess.  And isn’t it possible that inching their way through it will prove to be an interesting and rewarding treasure hunt?  And won’t this exercise tell them things about me that could not be learned any other way, adding mortar to their memory, and perhaps even their regard for me?”

Note to her kids:  MOVE NOW AND LEAVE NO FORWARDING ADDRESS!

Let me assure you, Letter Writer, their regard for you will be in the dumpster (along with most of your stuff) by the time they’re done “inching” through your lifetime’s collection of detritus. 

“Interesting” and “rewarding” are not two adjectives I’d ever use in cleaning out the home of a hoarder.  It’s true that my aunt’s house in Ohio produced some wonderful treasures, like stereopticons, gorgeous oil lamps, and some ornate ewers - intermixed, alas, with multiple cases of 40-year-old Jell-O, cartons of ratty underwear preserved in 1952 newspaper (she was a child of the Depression), and a huge freezer that was a veritable biohazard.

I remember showing my (hoarder) cousin a freezer container labeled “raspberries, 1968”. (It was 2004.)  She said, “Maybe they’re still good?”

So, please. Do not do this to your poor children!  For every “treasure” they might find after your demise, there will be 200 moments of fervent praying, “Please don’t let this be hereditary.”