Saturday, September 24, 2022

Stratospheric Water Bills

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published September 26, 2022] ©2022

It’s never good news when your refrigerator suddenly starts sounding like a fountain. We actually have a small recirculating outdoor fountain that we turn on when we’re reading the paper on our patio in the morning. (Lighten up, water zealots: it takes like a gallon.)

For several weeks, for hours at a time, I’d hear the familiar fountain burble and think we’d accidentally left it on until I realized the sound was coming from the refrigerator. Suffice it to say, this was an eventuality not covered by the fridge’s owner’s manual.

I called our usual appliance repair place. Been in business 40 years, they said. Never heard of a refrigerator sounding like a fountain. Was it working? Yes, I said. No water on floor. Everything’s cold. Still makes ice. Then no point in coming out, they said, probably making a note to ignore future calls from this number.

Then we got a water bill that was double the last one. I nearly fell out of my chair when I opened it. At that rate, per annum, we could get two first class tickets to Maui. Which, of course, we’d much rather do than pay the water trolls whom we suspect of unduly profiting at the taxpayer’s expense 

Of course, one possibility was that they’d mis-read the meter, a way-too-common  experience in  my neighborhood and a common post on our local social media network. The folks to one side of us have had their meter mis-read twice, receiving bills for over $2,000 for their very modest lot. But the real whopper was the neighbor on the other side of us who received a water bill for $41,065.20 for a 600 square foot rental property on a postage stamp-size lot in Pacific Beach with a customary water bill of $80. Good thing they didn’t have Automatic Bill Pay!

As for $24,078.89 of that amount being for “Sewer Usage”…no, we won’t even go there.

My neighbor called the water department expecting they would immediately agree with the unlikelihood of a 36,326.5% (I love the .5) increase in usage from the last bill.  Instead, the water lady replied, “Sounds like you have a leak.” 3.4 MILLION GALLONS WORTH???? My neighbor, who was quietly having a heart attack, replied, “For that much water, there’d be a sink hole the size of Qualcomm!” It was her husband who immediately suspected – and confirmed – the mis-read meter. 2742 was recorded as 7242. (Apology from water folks? Nope!)

So that was our first thought: The Myopic Meter Reader Strikes Again! What was especially puzzling was that a year ago, we’d paid $2,800 to have our sprinkler system revamped and upgraded with low-flow heads, and our water bills had dropped considerably. Until now.

I called the refrigerator folks back and $81 later, they confirmed that nothing was wrong with the fridge which had remained maliciously silent while the repair guy was there but started burbling 10 minutes after he left. He didn’t think the bill and the phantom fountain noise were related. But on his way out he said, “You know, you might want to check under your house.”

It is a testament to how much both Olof and I hate going under our house that we managed to ignore this suggestion for another five days. I’ve written previously about crawling under the house – as nasty a rat and spider-filled place as you can imagine, never mind my personal vision of Hell - as a chronically broke single mom dragging two gallons of muriatic acid to pour into the cleanout pipe. My list of lifetime goals included never doing it again.

A leaflet had come with our humongo water bill suggesting we check our meter. Instructions: (1) Make sure no water is running. (2) Open lid to the sidewalk water meter and be stung by black widow spiders who live in there. No, seriously, they do (live there). Actually, what it says is: “Check the area around the meter to make sure there are no harmful insects or other animals.” (What, gophers?) Even before I took a reading we could see the meter moving. Bad news.

So that’s how Olof ended up under the house. (I don’t want him to think that that’s why I married him, but truthfully, it was a factor.) As soon as he pulled off the door to the claustrophobic crawl space, we could clearly hear water running. Flashlight in hand, Olof had to army-crawl the entire length of the house risking rodential and arachnic assaults until he got to – surprise! – the area under the refrigerator where a 1/8 hole in a main pipe was gushing water.

Plumber on a Sunday? Don’t ask. But definitely cheaper than letting it run.

After the plumber left, we tested the meter again. Fifteen minutes and the meter didn’t budge. Phew! But you can believe I’m going to be on that sucker at least weekly from now on. Because I would have much rather gone to Maui.


Sunday, September 18, 2022

Trolls Among Us

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published September 19, 2022] ©2022

It was the best of ideas.  It was the worst of ideas.  Yes, we’re talking about neighborhood social media networks.

On the “best” side, there is no better or faster way to reunite lost or found pets with their owners than these networks.  Often the owner is simultaneously posting a photo of the lost pet while someone else is posting a “found” message.  So much better than stapling photos on utility poles.

Sharing recommendations for vendors, contractors, cleaners, and repair people is another huge benefit.  So many people I’ve hired in recent years have come from these recommendations.  

Bids for help for refugees or people needing special assistance are often met with heartwarming generosity 

I personally think I live in a wonderful neighborhood. My immediately neighbors are all close friends so I tend to assume that everyone in this neighborhood is as lovely as they are.  Hence, it’s always discouraging to realize when reading our local social media posts that there are Trolls Among Us.

The crime alerts were one of the main reasons I subscribed to our area social media network but I confess that one has been a mixed bag.  Most of my neighbors have outdoor security cameras so there are regular posts of miscreants stealing bikes and power tools out of crowbarred garages, swiping the packages off front porches, vandalizing cars, and committing acts that we all hoped those security cameras would discourage. It's our own too-personal version of Crime TV. 

Alerts will often go out on the network about some suspect person going door-to-door allegedly selling pest control. Like we’d fall for a dodgy pretense like that. Nosiree! Such persons are presumed to be, at the very least, a house caser (and at times have been) but equally likely an ax murderer.

Unfortunately, sometimes people actually are selling pest control.  But within minutes, their Ring-generated criminal-in-action headshot is in every in-box in the network, and probably also on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.  I have to say, I’m really not sure I’d want to sell anything door-to-door in my neighborhood. I’d be afraid someone would shoot me before I could even mention the comprehensive roach-and-rodent package.

I should note that other than this network, I am not on any social media.  No Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.  For me, Facebook has always seemed too fraught with peril.

It always seems that no matter how innocuous a post someone makes, there has to be at least one person who posts a truly toxic totally-unhelpful response.  Then everyone piles on.  It sometimes gets so incredibly ugly. When I see a post with 78 comments, I don’t read it.  It will only make me sad. 

There was one a while back that started with a post about homeless people and devolved into housing issues in general, short-term rentals in particular, the general lack of police response, Governor Newsom, Governor Newsom’s mother (who produced Governor Newsom), why Republicans are bad people, why liberal Democrats are destroying democracy, climate change, the last election, and seals at the Children’s pool. I think the mayor and his mother got in there somewhere too.

Dog Poop Wars are another continuing theme on the network although this one I kind of get.  While the majority of dog owners are responsible people, there are those who seem to decide to take out their hostility on the world by letting their very, very big dog poop on the sidewalk.  Preferably right in front of one of those little signs that people stick in their flower bed saying “Please clean up after your dog.”  (Inquiring minds want to know: how do they get them to do it in that exact spot?)  Explicit photographic coprological evidence is provided. 

During the pandemic, there were those who appointing themselves Chief of Covid Police, posting regular rants on neighborhood network about perceived non-compliance.

Alas, there are also those folks who think this forum is a good place to post their personal political views.  I wish the moderator of this network would tag it with a yellow warning message like “! This is a forum for lost pets and crime reports! Stop this now!” (Where is the virtual photon torpedo when you need it?)

Not long ago, someone posted video from their Ring camera of a truck hitting both their car and their neighbor’s, then taking off.  The poster was hoping someone would recognize the truck and its owner could be compelled to make restitution.  A perfect application for this app.  There was lots of sympathy, but some troll just had to post “Your fault for parking on the street. Should have parked in your driveway.”

Gah. There it was, the gratuitous snark. Too bad we can’t vote these people off the island, er, neighborhood. Or subject them to an endless loop of Bambi re-runs where Thumper says, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”



Sunday, September 4, 2022

Thanks For The No Thanks

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published September 5, 2022] ©2022

Welcome to Auntie Inga’s Curmudgeon Hour, Thank You Note edition. 

OK, so I’m getting old.  And grumpy. But apparently, I’m not alone. An exceedingly common gripe from readers to advice columnists, including Miss Manners, Dear Prudence, Ask Amy, and Dear Abby, is the failure of young relatives (nieces, nephews, grandchildren) to even acknowledge receipt of a gift, never mind thank them for it. 

Generally, the advice columnist gives them permission to stop sending gifts to the little ingrates.  But this isn’t a very satisfactory solution on either side.  Generally the sender has genuine affection for the giftee and wishes to make them happy.  Not to mention, it’s truly fun to buy gifts for kids so it deprives the aunties and grandmas of the pleasure of doing so. And stopping sending gifts at all just makes the oldies look petty.

According to the advice column mail, parents (we’re not letting dads off the hook here) of the non-thankees will defensively respond that if a relative wants to send a gift to their kid, send it. Demanding a thank-you note, they insist, makes the gift about the giver rather than the recipient.  And by the way, they’ve got “a lot going on” at their house and thank you notes are waaaay at the bottom of their list. 

So, the senders will counter, “OK, but could you at least acknowledge receipt of the gift so I know it got there? “

But the parents of non-thank-you-note writers claim this ploy is merely a not-so-subtle dig that no thanks have been forthcoming. Even the US Postal Service doesn’t lose packages that often, they maintain. (Debatable point.)

A friend in my age group sends all her young relatives a gingerbread house every Christmas.  The ones who thank her get one next year. She is unapologetic about this. Retired from a successful business career, she maintains that expressing appreciation is a skill put to good use later on in acknowledging client referrals or thanking someone for a job interview 

The irony is that thanking someone is easier than ever. In even my own sons’ youth, pen, paper and stamp were required.  Now, all you have to do is send a text. (“Thx 4 gft.”)  Minimalist but gets the job done. And yet, as it has all gotten easier, it seems to be a habit that has fallen out of practice.

I gave my sons until midnight on New Year’s Eve to write Christmas thank you notes, after which life as they knew it was over.  The notes had to be hand written, at least three lines long, and say what they liked about the gift even they didn’t like anything about it.

I saved copies of some of Rory’s oeuvre.

Dear Uncl Peter and ant lucy -  thank you for the telescope. I will use it to hit henry with. love, rory. (Draws picture of himself hitting Henry with telescope and adds:  ha ha Not really! I think that was supposed to qualify as the required third sentence.)

Dear aunt elizbeth, thank you for the chemistry set. I like it. I am trying to make a pocion to turn henry into a frog. Love rory

Dear grandpa henry, thank you for the dire straits tape. And the pencil sharpener and the jeepers creepers thing. I like the pencil sharpener so I can sharpen henry’s head. (Draws picture of Henry’s head labeled “before” and a pointy head labeled “after”)

I am happy to say that both of my sons still thank people for gifts.

I tend to give one group of grandkids gifts in person so I’m not sure how good their thank you note skills still are. The other group’s efforts have become…sporadic.

So is it selfish to want to share in the joy of giving a gift? Especially if you’ve put in a lot of time and energy and money to select it and send it? 

Fortunately, most of the gifts I give my grandkids anymore are charitable donations of their choosing made in their names, a custom started when each kid was around three.

As preschoolers they were largely interested in fishies and horsies (also ‘phants).  The problem, initially, was that the kids wanted to take physical possession of their adopted animal, not quite understanding virtual adoption.  One year, my 5-year-old grandson opted to adopt a humpback whale named Mars from Whale and Dolphin Conservation. I sent the contribution and notified my son and daughter-in-law to have a 50,000-gallon tank ready on their patio by Wednesday.

The kids have gradually been branching more into people: food banks, desks for kids in Malawi, cleft palate surgeries in third world countries, potable water.

The nice thing about gifting charitable contributions is that it is its own reward.  Thank you notes not required.  I know the gift got there.  I’m pretty sure they call me Grammy Tax Deduction behind my back.  But I’m OK with that.  And the whales couldn’t thank me more.


Sunday, August 28, 2022

Even Polio Had Anti-Vaxxers

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published August 29, 2022] 2022

I was more than a little dismayed to read recently that the polio virus has been detected in New York City waste water since May. The United States had been polio-free since 1979.  Not anymore

This is a topic close to my heart as my siblings and I all contracted polio in August, 1955, four months after Jonas Salk's triumphant announcement of a successful vaccine.  I have repercussions of polio to this day.  

Not surprisingly, I can’t even be civil to anti-vaxxers. Not even minimally polite. I think they are ignorant idiots. 

Poliomyelitis, a warm weather virus especially targeting children, was the second greatest fear in post-WWII America after nuclear war. In the 1952 outbreak, 57,628 cases were reported, 3,145 died, and 21,269 experienced paralysis.

 The vast majority of Americans couldn’t line up fast enough to get the vaccine for their kids in the mid-1950’s. But even then, the vaccine had a vocal opponent in the form of a cosmetics magnate, Duon H. Miller, who made his fortune on a first-ever cream shampoo called Vita-fluff. Mr. Miller was convinced the vaccine was dangerous, and more to the point, that polio could be prevented by avoiding soft drink consumption.  He wasn’t too keen on bleached flour either.

 As far as Duon H. Miller was concerned, polio was not an infectious disease (it’s a highly contagious virus) but a state of malnutrition.  Ironically, he wasn’t totally wrong about the perils of a high sugar, refined food diet. It just wasn’t applicable to polio.  

There was no internet then so he was forced to use the U.S. Postal Service to get the word out, ultimately getting shut down by the federal government.  But he still railed against sugar, “processed bread”, and even pasteurized milk for years to come.

While polio particularly targeted children, adults could contract the virus as well.  When teens and young adults remained woefully under-vaccinated, Elvis Presley agreed to be vaccinated on the Ed Sullivan show in 1956 after which vaccination rates in those age groups sky rocketed. Never underestimate a celebrity endorsement.

In truly unlucky timing, given that a vaccine to prevent polio was likely going to be available within months in our small New York state town, my siblings and I contracted polio during a trip to rural Ohio to see my dying grandfather. Most likely cause: we kids spending the week cooling off behind the house in a contaminated creek with a polio outbreak upstream.  Sewage in that era fed into the creek and polio (unknown at the time) is caused by fecal contamination. 

When we returned from that trip, all three of us became seriously ill, the dread polio diagnosis clinched by a painful spinal tap.  There had been no cases of polio in our area, and wishing to keep it that way, the local Board of Health quickly quarantined us.  Let me say, it’s no fun being a pariah. 

For a long time afterwards, none of the neighbors wanted their kids to play at our house. It wasn’t clear at that time how polio was transmitted (even bananas and mosquitos were suspect), and no one was taking any chances.   

When you’re quarantined in a small town, you end eating lot of canned food.  Even if there had been Instacart, they wouldn’t have delivered to us.  I remember literally gagging on Chun King canned chow mein and chop suey, determined I’d never ever eat that cuisine again. When a meal is so awful that you remember it for the rest of your life, you know it was pretty terrible. 

Years later, when I was dating my first husband in New York City, it took him a full year to convince me to go to China Town and try non-canned Chinese food, which I instantly loved.

In those hot humid August days in 1955, I remember being as sick as I’ve ever been.  Probably we kids recovered better than our poor terrified parents. The little boy in the polio ward bed next to my sister’s was suddenly, the next day, in an iron lung, a behemoth ventilator of the era used when polio has caused respiratory paralysis.  

I wish every parent who doesn’t vaccinate their child could time travel back to the 1950s to see how children suffered from now-preventable diseases. I don’t remember mumps, measles, and rubella being any picnic either.

The fact that the polio virus is detectable in NYC waste water is a clear indication that polio is circulating in the city. The New York Times has reported that a Rockland County, NY, man has recently been diagnosed with polio and left paralyzed.  Unlike Covid, polio is totally preventable with vaccination 

I recently read an interview of a woman who said that in lieu of vaccinations, she was feeding her children a totally organic regimen so their immune systems would be able to resist infection. Sounds an awful lot like shampoo guy Duon H. Miller. 

Sorry, lady.  A healthy diet and wishful thinking just aren’t going to do it.

Brochure from Duon H. Miller, anti-polio vaccine crusader

Iron lung for patients who suffered respiratory failure from polio 

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Home Alone

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published August 22, 2022]

Recently my husband Olof went on an 18-day Trains, Planes, and Automobiles trip combining all the travel he had cancelled during the pandemic.  I stayed Home Alone.

Well, not totally alone.  I had our faithful bichon-poodle watch/attack dog, Lily.  She takes the job seriously.  Try to break into our house and she will sink her three remaining teeth into you.

Of course, you could offer her a bit of raw hamburger, and she will happily let you take whatever you want. The offer of a tummy rub would work as well.

Still, the illusion of protection, even if only an illusion, is nice in this era of increasingly-brazen burglaries.  I think all of us who installed exterior cameras thought we were adding a layer of security.  As it turns out, we just get to watch our stuff being stolen in real time.  Some of the boldest of the bike thieves have probably starred in more videos than the Kardashians.

I confess that at first I felt a little creeped out by being alone.  Olof, however, 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.)

In his career, Olof often traveled on business for over a month at a time to foreign places.  We would Skype on ridiculously disparate time zones, generally requiring one or the other of us to be awake at 3 a.m.   But eighteen days was longer than we’d been separated for quite some time.

Now, I’ll confess there were some genuine upsides. Every day, I awoke and asked myself: what shall I have to eat today that will be made by someone other than me?  I never so much as turned on a stove burner.  I rekindled my love for Mexican food and a local bread bakery’s phenomenal sandwiches.  Definitely not a weight loss regime.

I also have to confess that I kind of liked having an entire king size bed to myself.  I alternated sleeping on Olof’s side, my side, and even right in the middle.  I even tried the diagonals, just because I could. 

Lily, meanwhile, quickly commandeered Olof’s pillow.  I don’t think he’s getting it back.  It’s amazing how fast your dog can forget you.

My biggest fear was that my computer would develop some glitch while Olof was gone. There are infinite numbers of things that can go wrong with your computer. And Microsoft thinks of new ones every day.

But miraculously, when I turned on my machine every morning, it not only came up but I had email. I figured that everything else that happened that day was just gravy.  If you are a techno-moron and Home Alone, you have to keep your expectations low.

Still, regardless of some genuine upsides, I was very relieved when Tech Support, er, Olof pulled up to the house after his 18-day sojourn.  He had had three different extended train trips, two flights that actually left on time and didn’t lose his luggage, and assorted rental cars.  And the pi├Ęce de resistance, he didn’t get Covid.

He got to re-une with his college roommates after two pandemic cancellations, to go see our older son’s now-not-so-new home in Santa Cruz, and even commune with his sister in Eugene. The purpose of that visit was to try to get her on email which she has steadfastly resisted all these years, her preferred media being snail mail and tarot cards.   How the same parents spawned these two people remains a mystery to me. 

Before he left San Diego, Olof was able to show me how to track his travels (or actually the location of his Android phone) from my iPhone.  This was truly fun, especially when he was on the train from Minneapolis to Seattle. Turns out that there is actually a Joplin, Montana in addition to a Joplin, Missouri.  Olof has now been there. 

I, meanwhile, took over aviary duties, normally Olof’s domain. Every once in awhile, I’d hear a massive frantic flapping which I know from experience means either a hawk is trying to tear into the cage in hopes of an easy lunch, or there will be an earthquake in about 30 seconds. If you could just get the birds to lengthen that time to, say, two minutes, they’d be a fantastic early warning system.

In fact, for the next stronger quake, I’m going to see whether our birds beat the Shake Alert I recently installed on my phone. 

Meanwhile, Lily and the now-returned Olof continue to battle out who owns his pillow. In her view, it was abandoned property, and Olof is the one who should be sleeping at the foot of the bed.  Bets being taken.

I felt safer knowing I had my attack/guard dog Lily in the house with me

Lily took over Olof's pillow in his absence and is refusing to give it back. 

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…