Thursday, April 11, 2024

Inga's Guide to Post-Divorce Dates From Hell

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published April 15, 2024] ©2024

OK, so I’m guessing my local readership is a little tired of broken appliances and streetlights at this point.  I get it.  So maybe it’s time for a little lighter fare, like Inga’s Primer of Post-Divorce Dates from Hell.  I confess I was inspired by inadvertently cruising into a web site where people (read women) can vent – and more importantly, advise - about disastrous dates.  Where were these ladies years ago when I was newly single and needed them? 

I was engaged to my first husband at 20 and clueless about dating when I was divorced at 35. Let me just say that the learning curve was hugeIt’s a bit of a toss-up as to which of my early dates was the biggest creep: the criminal lawyer with a cocaine habit and herpes? The newly-certified massage therapist whose date proposal was giving me a massage at half price.

Then there was the commodities broker who invited me out for drinks. I'm guessing he should have gone short on pork bellies instead of long.  The passenger side door of his ancient two-door sports car was broken which meant climbing over the gear shift - in a short skirt - from the driver's side to get to my seat. Could he have warned me in advance? Or was this all part of the plan?  

But here's some dating advice from me: never let your date pick out the rental movie.  Of course, this advice is fairly useless since rental movies have pretty much gone the way of the rotary dial telephone except at the public library where you can get them for free.  But rental movies in the pre-streaming world used to be a big thing. It would be a mob scene at movie rental places on weekend nights as people vied for the latest flicks. It behooved you to develop a friendly relationship with one of the desk people who might be persuaded to hold a copy of the latest Star Wars for your when someone returned it. 

Anyway...shortly before my marriage ended, my then-husband and I had bought a 100-movie package at Video Library, the earlier incarnation of Blockbuster Video on Fay Avenue.  (The Flower Pot Cafe now occupies this space.)  Even after we separated, my ex and I retained joint custody of the  package.  The Video Library clerk knew both my former husband and me well; we frequently both had movies out on the same night. 

One Tuesday, when the kids were going to be at their dad’s, I suggested to a date that we cook at my house (I couldn’t afford to take him out to a restaurant but wanted to reciprocate his hospitality) and rent a video. Since the video store was on his way to my home, I suggested that he might stop by and pick out a movie on our plan. In retrospect, I can’t even imagine what I was thinking. Video Library at that time had a back room with pornographic titles. My kids (aged three and six) loved to crawl under the curtain and giggle at all the “boobies” on the boxes.

Still, I’m thinking my date is going to pick out a nice rom-com, so it was with no little dismay on my part when he shows up with “All American Girls in Heat, Part 2.” I just Googled it and yes, this flick is still out there (although I’m guessing not at the public library), summarized as "A rich woman gathers her old college girlfriends for a free weekend on a tropical island so they can relate their wildest sexual experiences." 

I can’t imagine what Part I was like, but frankly porno flicks have never done much for me. On the big screen particularly, a tumescing organ just ends up looking like a bald cyclopic version of the Monster That Devoured Cleveland. Suffice it to say that my date loved the movie. He never even noticed I’d gone off to do the dishes.

Returning the movie the next morning was problematical.  There was no anonymous drop box then like Blockbuster instituted later; you had to actually bring it to the desk and have them check it in. As I stood there clutching the paper lunch bag disguising my video (in case I ran into someone I knew), the video guy pulled up our family membership on his screen. “Looks like you guys have two movies out,” he notes. Then he bursts out laughing. “I’m not even going to tell you what your ex-husband rented. It’s probably the grossest movie we have. Let’s see, you’re returning The Care Bears in the Land Without Feelings?”

I was actually recounting this story to my adult sons recently.  I think this may have been a mistake.  I predict this story will be told at my funeral.  And I also predict that I’m going to get Part 1 for Christmas. 

Saturday, March 9, 2024

How Many City and SD G&E Employees Does It Take To Change A Lightbulb?

[ Let Inga Tell You, La Jolla Light, published in 4 segments (March 14, March 21, March 28, April 4) 2024 This is a saga of how many people it takes to change a (street)light bulb in San Diego. Find out the answer at the end.

Get It Done: The app where city repairs go to die.

At least that's been my feeling since posting a repair request over a year ago on San Diego s Get It Done site when the streetlight in front of our corner house went out. I was dismayed to find out at the time that the city was backlogged 5900 streetlights repairs. That number grew to 6,100 two months later. We doubted it would be fixed in our lifetimes.

Unfortunately, the streetlight fixture (owned by the city) is mounted on a telephone pole owned and this is important, powered - by San Diego Gas & Electric (SD G&E). And neither party wants anything to do with it, or each other. In my efforts to resolve this situation I have spent the last year in an infinite loop in the seventh circle of infrastructure hell.

You can only imagine the "How many people does it take to change a light bulb?"  jokes this situation has inspired. I'll tell you at the end.

There is a true paucity of streetlights in my neighborhood, so losing even one makes a big difference. Our corner, in particular, is heavily trafficked by pedestrians including restaurant go-ers, dog walkers, people exercising, and us just trying to find our driveway. We had an electrician come out and add additional outdoor lighting just so we could find our front gate. But the entire block was pitch black.

So dark, in fact, that at night, we could hear the screeching of tires as cars barely made the turn at our corner. This was not an idle fear on our part. Three times while we've lived here, cars have crashed through our front fence, one coming to within six inches of the house.

The irony is that if it weren't for me, this light would have been out for more than 20 years. I've had to deal with its repair twice before in the decades I've lived at my quirky address. The first two times the light went out (2002 and 2012), its repair was complicated by the fact that neither SD G&E nor the city of San Diego would lay claim to our street light. Eerily, both insisted that there was no street light in front of our house. (Cue the twilight zone music here.)

It's hard enough to get a streetlight fixed in this city. Getting a non-existent streetlight fixed is exponentially harder. I consider the repair of a phantom streetlight not once but twice and now three times to be among my top life accomplishments and should be listed in my future obituary.

Previously I could deal with actual humans. Both times, it took six months of pathological persistence. But pathological persistence is my middle name. (Well, actually it s Louise.)

Now, alas, the only way to get a streetlight repair is through the city's Get It Done app. No hope of prevailing upon actual humans as I have done before. I was pleased to read some months ago that the city was going to hire outside contractors to catch up with the backlog.

When I filed the Get It Done report, I was careful to include three photos including the exact location of this streetlight, including the street sign below it, and photos of the fixture itself mounted on the wooden telephone pole. Just try to say it doesn't exist now, bozos!

There really is a streetlight fixture on this pole

So after a mere year, I was thrilled to get an Update message from Get It Done saying, Thank you for using Get It Done to report non-emergency problems to the City of San Diego. Your report is now closed.   City crews recently resolved the issue or conducted the necessary repairs as reported in your inquiry.

Except, no they didn't. The streetlight was still out. An entire year wasted. Were we back to the whole "not our streetlight"  issue?

Yup! The city ultimately confirmed what I already feared: The street light on the wooden pole belongs to SDG&E, follow up would have to go through them. Thank you. Um, you couldn't have mentioned this in your Update before closing out the repair request?

Gah! Summarizing a lot of conversations, it turns out that the Get It Done guys did come out and replace the actual streetlight bulb in December of 2023. But because it is mounted on a pole owned by SD G&E, SD G&E has to execute the power source. That is, plug it in. I would need to file an on-line repair request with SD G&E (I included photos) on their own version of Let s Never Get It Done called We Can t Do It Either.

To do this, information including the pole number was required. At least now there are pole numbers posted on the poles (a definite boost to my previous efforts.) But there was no place to explain the actual problem. I could predict that they would come back with either it was the city s light fixture (it is) or that their maps showed no street light in this location (they don t).

Fearing this report was just going into a black hole (it did), I decided to try calling SD G&E to see if I could explain this situation to an actual human. (See pathological persistence above). Let us in no way suggest that one calls SD G&E and gets quickly connected to a helpful human. No, one gets sucked into the root structure of their phone tree system where you will languish like a decaying morel.

But ultimately I got connected with a Customer Service rep. He was very nice and listened to my convoluted saga. What needed to be done, I explained, was for SD G&E to come out and hopefully find this pole number and plug in the city's new light bulb to a power source which happens to be right there. After consulting with his supervisor (I wasn't allowed to talk to a supervisor myself), he said he was going to do an escalation for us and it should be fixed in 10-15 business days.

My husband rolled his eyes and said, "like that will happen."  He was prescient. Two weeks later I received an email from SD G&E in response to the repair request I had submitted on their app:

Good morning/afternoon, Unfortunately, this streetlight located at your address is maintained and owned by the City of San Diego, and therefore does not fall under SDGE's streetlighting department. I went ahead and reported this issue on your behalf on the City of San Diego Get it Done website: Here is your Report Tracking Number.

It's probably a good thing one can't send photon torpedoes through email. 

Meanwhile, the city's Get It Done app sent me a confirmation of my new service request. I was now in a continuous futile perpetual loop. 

I fired off Gah!-grams to both SD G&E and to Get It Done but didn't hear back (and didn't expect to).  So, I called SD G&E again and finally got an actual human to discuss my streetlight dilemma.  He had all the previous notes from previous calls and on-line service requests and did concede that this was a puzzling and frustrating situation.  I will say that SD G&E is very good at note taking. Just not good at resolution.

I asked: is there truly no mechanism for a human from SD G&E to talk (as in using English language) to a human from the city?  Answer: Nope, there isn't!  Their communication  apparently can solely be done by dumping jobs on each other's apps.  But he said he would put in an escalated request to send someone out to turn on our light bulb which would happen in "10 to 15 business days."

Three weeks later, of course, still no light. I called SD G&E back yet again and got another of their genuinely helpful Customer Care reps who looked at the case file and said the previous request had been closed because "the work had been completed." But she was going to put in a new expedited request directly to the "streetlight department"  which should happen within you guessed it "10 to 15 business days."

You are probably shocked by now to learn that no one ever showed up. So I called back yet again and got yet another genuinely helpful Customer Care rep. But this kid is my hero. After reviewing what was at this point the War and Peace of case notes (how much money did SD G&E spend not turning on a light bulb?) and putting me on hold for considerable time, he came back and reported that he had tried to directly contact the streetlight escalation person and was puzzled to find that this person is no longer in the employee database. Doesn't work there anymore. Who knows how long he's been gone? So all those escalation requests were going into a black hole. He agreed that this situation had gone on long enough and that he was going to send this request directly to his own boss. I said, "do we know for a fact that he actually exists?"  OK, I was getting jaded. But the kid laughed and yes, he knew this person was real and actually worked there.

The next day, my lawn maintenance service was outside mowing so I almost missed hearing my doorbell ring. Deciding to check, I opened the door to see someone leaving my front gate - an SD G&E guy! I ran out after him and said, Are you here about the streetlight? And he said he had no idea. He was just told to come to this address and was assuming it must be some issue inside. He hadn't been given any information. If I hadn't answered the door, we would have been back to square one.

So you re probably thinking, problem solved! But you would be wrong. Oh, so wrong.

I will say that this guy turned out to be Hero #2 (after the Customer Care Rep). I have his name and if I could find him I'd like to send him and his wife for a really nice dinner. He went up to my streetlight in the bucket thing on his truck but when he came down, I wasn't seeing the happy face I hoped for. "I connected it,"  he says, "but the problem is that the wiring is bad. They really shouldn't put aluminum wiring this close to the ocean."   So it would all have to be re-wired with copper wiring to the two nearest poles, each about 90 feet away. (Copper wiring apparently corrodes too, but not as fast.) He would put in a repair request.

SD G&E shows up to look at streetlight 

That's when I truly thought it was game over. A non-emergency repair request for total rewiring for a single streetlight? This probably wouldn't be fixed in my children's lifetimes. Doing my best not to literally break down sobbing in frustration (and flat out rage), I explained that this situation had been going on for more than a year, that I had spent many, many dozens of hours being bounced back between the city and SD G&E and I feared it would never ever get done. He said he would try to expedite it. I wasn't hopeful. Been there, heard that.

I asked if the city wouldn't have checked the wiring when they put in the new bulb in December, 2023? And he said, Well, they should have. (But clearly didn't.)

So, I said, is it possible that there was nothing wrong with the light fixture itself from the get-go but has always been a wiring issue? He said that was entirely possible.

About fifteen minutes later, I was leaving my house en route to Bevmo to buy the adult beverages that this situation clearly warranted, and noticed the SD G&E truck was still there. My Hero gets out and says, "I've arranged for them to come out today." Was I hallucinating? Oh my gosh, I said. Can I hug you? He didn't seem comfortable with that but I hugged him anyway.

But at 4:30, no sign of them. Have I been stood up yet again? At 4:35, however, an SD G&E crew showed up including two guys to manage traffic on our busy corner. More heroes. I am so incredibly grateful to them.

So now you re thinking we're really finally done. As I m standing out there with the SD G&E crews, one them offers that they aren't sure which bulb the city put in which they need to know for the wiring. I said, well, if it's the wrong one, I assume you have extra bulbs that you can put in? He says no, the city is very proprietary about their bulbs and don t share them with SD G&E. But if the light doesn't come on after they've re-wired, they can put in a request with the city on Get It Done to come out and change it.

Did you ever feel like your head was going to explode?

Uh-oh! SD G&E isn't sure the city installed the right lightbulb for the streetlight

It took over three hours to disconnect the old aluminum wiring and reconnect the copper stuff. When the truck and the work lights were working at the other pole, the two guys directing traffic kept saying, "Geesh, it is so dark out here! And this traffic is going sooo fast!" They were waving their Stop signs frantically at approaching cars to keep from being mown down in this pitch black intersection. Welcome to my world.

But then at 8 p.m., they plug it all in, everybody holds their breath, and there is light! Yes, my streetlight is back in action! Neighbors, dog walkers, restaurant walkers, and even us are able to cross the street safely again.

I consider this article a public service. Mine is not the only city-owned streetlight fixture mounted on an SD G&E wooden telephone pole. There are, in fact, tons of them.

An SD G&E person explained that, long ago and far away, SD G&E owned the streetlights on their poles but that at some point, the city decided to take over streetlight management. And thus you have the situation that I have now dealt with three times: one entity owns the streetlight fixture itself while the other one controls the power to it. So the city will replace the streetlight bulb, but only SD G&E can come out and actually turn it on.

And yes, this is completely insane.

Instead, each of them keeps denying it s their problem and referring the home owner back to the other via their automated repair apps in an infinite futile loop. Honestly, you begin to suspect you're dealing with dealing with robots missing essential wiring.

As I noted earlier, this is the third time since I've lived in my home that I've had to fight it out with the city and SD G&E to get that streetlight fixed.

So now, for the third time, against all odds, I have had my non-existent, unacknowledged, dually-owned streetlight restored to service.

There are a number of take aways here:

When I consider all the interchanges I had with both the city and SD G&E, I can t even imagine what fixing this one streetlight cost both of them.

But all of it could have been accomplished if there was any communication between the city and SD G&E. Apps are great for routine things but only humans are ever going to sort out issues like this.

I've tried to add up the hours I've put into this project - filing repair reports, sitting endlessly on hold, documenting phone calls, exhorting (unsuccessfully) help from both my city councilman and local TV stations to break this infrastructure log jam. I will also probably remember that SD G&E pole number (P833485) long after I've forgotten my Social Security number.

The irony is, I would have happily paid out of pocket for this repair to be done.

I'm so incredibly grateful to my three heroes, the SD G&E Customer Service kid who managed to finally get this request to an actual human who would actually do something about it, the SD G&E repair guy who prevailed on someone to get a crew out here to re-wire the corroded cables, and for the crew who came out and did it. It has made such a huge difference having this streetlight working again.

I'm definitely going to leave instructions in my estate documents so that whomever ends up with this house is aware of what it takes to restore this streetlight to service the next time it goes out. I would hate to take such critical information to my grave. And I truly do want it mentioned in my obituary.

OK, so now you think this year of infrastructure repair ping pong is truly, finally over. Not quite.

About a week after the light was finally fixed, I suddenly woke up in the middle of the night with a terrifying thought. In the process of pingponging responsibility for this streetlight's repair back and forth from the city to SD G&E, SD G&E had put in a new Get It Done request to the city which was still in effect. Gah! Noooooo! The last thing we needed was for the city to show up and start messing with a streetlight that was fixed. If they unplugged the fixture to check the bulb, SD G&E would have to come plug it in again. Back to square one!

So I looked up the Get It Done report number and tried to close it but couldn't since we hadn't originated it. But I sent Get It Done an email saying the problem was fixed and to please close this report. Step away from the light! It took five requests. But they finally have.

Could this really, finally, be done? I almost don t know what I'll do with my free time.

I began some time back by invoking the "How many people does it take to change a (street)light bulb" joke. Between the city and SD G&E, my count is 33.

                                                       Let there (finally) be light!



Saturday, February 24, 2024

Waiting It Out

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published February 26, 2024] ©2024

I get that sons need to separate from their mothers. But do they have to be so mean about it?

I’m a nice person. So I wasn’t prepared for the fact that as my sons approached their senior years of high school they would suddenly turn on me.

My younger son, especially, became positively surly.  My mere existence annoyed him.  I think Henry saw me as the embodiment of all that stood between him and a future of happy mother-free manhood.  His spirit had already left home but his body had been forced to stay behind.  I don’t know who suffered more.

My husband, Olof, said that this was all part of the natural order of things.  It’s far less traumatic to let your kids go off to college if you hate them. 

But as they made their bumpy way to self-supporting non-mother-needing maturity, they were regularly sticking it to Mom.  Now, I realize that if you’re looking for gratitude, parenthood is the wrong business for you. 

Still, when my younger son was a high school senior, he was awarded a prestigious national honor for which the local media came to interview him.  The kids had always referred to their Dad’s house (my ex) as “the fun house” (it was) and my house as “the boring house” (it was).  I had done every library run (pre-internet) including schlepping the kids to the downtown San Diego Library in rush hour traffic, had driven every carpool (even on my ex-husband’s custody days because he totally screwed it up), used up a year’s vacation time one year taking one of them to physical therapy after a serious sports injury, managed countless youth sports teams, and ran multiple Cub Scout dens– all while working. Every medical appointment and school project was done on my watch.  Multiplication tables? Check. Spanish flash cards? Check.  My ex used to tell the kids not to expect to do homework on his custody nights because he had really cool things planned for them. 

So the newspaper reporter arrives, and at the end of the interview, he asks Henry: is there anyone he wants to thank?  Yes, he says, his Dad for teaching him how to have fun.  I’m sitting off in the corner waiting for him to add, “But the person I really want to thank is my mom who has never missed a game and who has been there for me every step of the way.”  Reporter: Anyone else?  He is practically begging Henry to thank me. 

Henry ponders a moment.  No, no one that he can think of.  (OK, you miserable runt, kill your mother.)

But another newspaper sees this story and Henry gets interviewed again.  Anyone he wants to thank?  Two people, he says.  “My Dad, for teaching me how to have fun.”  I modestly lower my eyes.   “And Mr. Litchfield, my English teacher.”   For days afterwards, I had to fight impulses to poison his lunches.

I was crushed.  And more than a little annoyed.  I didn’t say anything for a week as I contemplated the situation.  Demanding that someone express thanks is no thanks at all.  But finally one night at dinner, I thought I’d bring it up casually.  “WOULD IT HAVE KILLED YOU TO THANK ME?????” I said.

Apparently yes.  But more recently, giving a genuinely touching toast to Olof and me on a milestone occasion, Henry’s voice actually cracked with emotion as he thanked us for all we had done for him.  But not happening at 17.

Meanwhile, my older son, Rory, wrote his college abnormal psychology term paper about me, 18 pages worth of Mom-analysis.  That one actually had a surprisingly positive outcome when, after interviewing me at length for the project, Rory concluded that there were extenuating circumstances as to why I was the worst mother in the history of the world. 

 When Henry graduated from college and got his first job, he invited Olof and me to dinner. Historically, that would have been a cheap ploy for a free meal. But the bill comes, kid goes to get it.  I knew money was really tight for him with all the housing start-up costs so I immediately grabbed it and handed it to Olof.  Olof, to my surprise, whispered “Let him pay.” I did.

When we got home, Olof said, “You almost deprived your son of one of the greatest moments a guy can have – finally being able to take his parents to dinner.  He’s telling you he’s an adult who can take care of himself – and in this case, us.  Sometimes moms just miss this stuff completely.”  

How did Olof know?  Y chromosome communication?  (Is there, in fact, any?) 

So for all you moms out there with surly high school seniors, remember this:  you’ll like them again some day.  They’ll like you too.  Sometimes you just have to live long enough.



Saturday, February 17, 2024

The Weather-Averse Life Of The Southern California Dog

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light,, published February 19, 2024] ©2024

The recent rains have highlighted the unique habits of a breed of canine known as The Southern California Dog.  Our bichon-poodle mix, Lily, is in this category.

The Southern California Dog is characterized by a total aversion to getting his or her tiny paws wet. Forget their actual fur.

“Averse” is actually too mild a term.  Lily, for example, is absolutely offended by wet grass or pavement. If it is so much as sprinkling, she will walk out to the end of the front porch, sniff the air, and go back inside with a “Sorry, don’t need to go that badly” look.

The problem, of course, is when it gets to the point that she does need to go out that badly. 

With rain in the forecast, Olof and I study the radar maps with the express mission of scheduling Lily walks.  On more than one occasion, I have gotten up at 5 a.m. to wake up the dog and haul her fluffy reluctant bum outside for a stroll around our front yard in advance of a morning storm.  In addition to hating rain, the Southern California Dog does not wish to be woken from slumber.

Lily does have a doggie raincoat, the mere sight of which causes her to hide under the most inaccessible place in the house she can find.  Extracting her from under there is a two-person chore, never mind wrassling her resistant self into the raincoat.  If she could use a cell phone, she’d be calling the SPCA to report us for infliction of sartorial cruelty. 

I can’t even imagine what we’d do if we lived in a climate that might require booties.

If it’s actually raining without a break in sight, as happened recently, and it’s clear we are going to have to take Lily out against her will, I do my best to stick Olof with this chore.  Unlike me, he doesn’t have a coif or wear glasses.  I would, of course, be happy to use an umbrella but both Lily and our previous dog, English bulldog Winston, had a puzzling but abiding fear of them.  Maybe because they don’t see them that often. I’m guessing the Pacific Northwest Dog overcomes its fear of umbrellas pretty quickly.

But taking The Southern California Dog out while you’re holding an umbrella simply results in the animal pulling away in fear so hard on its leash that you can’t get them to focus on the task at hand. 

We really do our best to keep Lily from getting wet.  Her bichon-poodle fur seems to be a non-dryable water-absorbent sponge, especially the fur on her head.  Seriously, if anyone needs to invent a product that will never, ever dry, start with poodle hair.  If we try to blow her dry, she’s not having that either, even with the hair dryer on the lowest barely-warm setting.  To her, there’s a time and place for everything, and the place to her for a blow dry is at the groomers.  She will let them blow dry her.  Must be all in the wrist. 

A further compelling reason to keep Lily from getting wet is that her preferred drying method is to race around the house at warp speed, stopping for a quick wet-dog-smell-dispensing roll on every bed, upholstered chair, and sofa, before tucking herself in for a final dry and nap on Olof’s pillow.

Which brings us to an important question.  Even people who don’t own pets will recognize “wet dog smell,” a highly distinctive odor that can make the trip back from an excursion to Fiesta Island with your wet dog in the car seem like several lifetimes.

Inquiring minds want to know: what exactly makes a wet dog smell so, well, miasmic?

It turns out that eau de chien mouillé isn’t actually the fault of the dog at all. 

The culprits are microorganisms like yeasts and bacteria that take up residence on your pet, leaving behind "micro excreta" in the form of organic compounds.  The signature scent comes from moisture evaporation that carries some of these compounds with it.  

The odor of wet dog has been characterized as "a mixture of scents, including almond, fruit, honey, and mushroom, with hints of sulfur and feces."  Sounds like a diner lunch special gone waaaay wrong. 

Obviously dogs in other climates, which is to say pretty much everywhere in the U.S. except Southern California, have to adapt to weather. Here's my theory as to why The Southern California Dog is so reluctant to do so. 

People move to Southern California with the expectation that it will never be too hot or too cold, that rain will occur at night while they're sleeping and have dried up by the time they awaken, and that climatological elements should not be an inconvenience to their non-weather-afflicted existence.  I guess we shouldn't be too surprised that our dogs think so too.  

 Lily, absolutely miserable in her raincoat

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Suffering For The Sake Of Beauty

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published February 12, 2024] ©2024

As much as I enjoy the late-19th century show The Gilded Age, I can’t help but be preoccupied by what had to be the sheer discomfort of those corset- and bustle-afflicted dresses. Taking a deep breath seems like it would be problematical, using a restroom even more so.  In fact, when you think of bathroom stalls now, you’d need two to even get the whole dress in there, never mind actually, er, perform.

It was probably not too surprising, then, that in 1913 when 19-year-old Mary Phelps Jacob patented the first modern bra (short for brassière) composed of two handkerchiefs and some ribbon, the idea was an instant success. 

Well, not quite instant.  After attempting to manufacture her design in what amounted to a two-woman sweatshop in Boston, she sold her patent to Warner Brothers Corset Company who were already manufacturing “comfort corsets” (an oxymoron if there ever was one).  Dr. Lucien Warner, the physician-founder of the company, had been concerned about the ill effects on a woman’s health of having her internal organs essentially relocated to parts of her body where they were not intended. 

Warner Brothers Corset Company apparently made $12.8 million off Mary Phelps Jacob’s patent. (Why is there not a commemorative coin with Mary’s picture on it?).  During the flapper movement and Jazz Age in the 1920’s, however, women largely lost interest in both corsets and their partner-in-undergarments, pantaloons. 

But ways to sartorially torture women were simply morphing.  The corset was replaced by the panty girdle, a garment I remember way too well from my teenage years.  Girdles often had garters on which to attach one’s nylon stockings in the pre-pantyhose era.  Panty hose were one of the greatest inventions ever, in my view, in times when going bare-legged in a dress or skirt was simply not done.  Once there were pantyhose, it was also a great excuse to jettison the girdle too.  And best yet, being bare legged in a dress is now perfectly acceptable, unless you’re in the British Royal Family.  The late Queen apparently had a strict rule against it.

Of course, there are plenty of “shape wear” brands still out there, often alleging to be “comfortable” (ha!) while re-distributing one’s unwanted adipose into a more flattering configuration.  I remember shopping for a mother-of-the-groom outfit for my younger son’s wedding and the sales lady opining, “Of course, you’ll want shape wear with this.”  And I looked at her and said, “Hell no!  I plan to enjoy this event in full comfort!” 

Right as I was starting college, the other biggest boon to my life besides pantyhose was just making its debut.  We’re talking hot rollers.  I had spent my entire teenage life being crucified nightly on brush rollers, hair curlers with brush spikes (like a bottle brush) that you rolled up your entire head of hair in so that it would become curly while you theoretically slept but actually didn’t because you were in too much pain. 

My voluminous quantities of hair, alas, if left un-abused by brush rollers, looked like I had a mattress on my head.

With hot rollers, you could actually get a good night’s sleep and then wake up, plug in the set, roll up your hair, wait ten minutes, and voilà!  Seriously, it revolutionized my college life.   And decades thereafter. 

I should mention that there are still salons somewhere out there who do what is called a “wet set” where they roll your wet hair up with curlers, and fry you under a bonnet hair dryer for an hour after which your coif is combed out and lacquered into what is called “helmet hair.” Move your head and your hair moves in a single unit with it.   

Now, of course, there’s an even better option avoiding rollers altogether, the “blow out.” I hope to have seen my last hot (or even cold) hair roller. 

While bras were intended to be a much more comfortable option to corsets, fashion dictates that that whatever item of apparel is designed for women has to have a version that is pure pain.  We’re talking push-up bras, stiletto heels, skin-tight jeans, false eye lashes, and new versions of “shape wear” that probably aren’t any more comfortable than girdles or corsets. 

I don’t know what it is about aging, but bras just keep getting more and more uncomfortable as you get older.  I was telling a friend that the first thing I do when I get home is take off my bra.  She said she usually takes hers off in the car. 

Back when I was in college, I didn’t mind being tortured by apparel.  At this point in my life, I just want to be comfortable. I feel like I’ve done my time. 

Advice columnists in women’s magazines will implore their older readers not to “let yourself go.”  Sorry, advice lady, but I’m already gone.


Saturday, January 27, 2024

Ice(cube) Capades

[ Let Inga Tell You, La Jolla Light, published January 29, 2024] 2024

When you find yourself writing about ice cubes, is it time to hang it up?

I m aware I've written about appliances a lot lately because, well, failing appliances have been sucking up an ordinate amount of our time and money in recent months.

Sorry, folks: here comes another one.

A few months ago, I chronicled, among our various appliance challenges, the acquisition of a new refrigerator that had to fit into a very tight space and left us with exactly two choices. We re talking two choices of any brand in any price range. Fridges have gotten a lot deeper since the last time we bought one for our 1999 kitchen remodel.

We loved our previous sadly-deceased fridge and were hoping to reincarnate it. The fridge we ended up with was the same brand and exactly the same exterior dimensions as its predecessor, with, oddly, a lot less interior space. We can only assume its walls now have five inches of eco-excessive insulation.

The replacement, while hardly an inexpensive appliance, is a far (far) inferior version in every possible way. Even the door shelves on the refrigerator side are a thin, flimsy plastic. (Are they even actually plastic or something created by a hobby-level 3D printer?) It's like the designers sat down and said, How we can re-design this interior space to make it smaller, darker, chintzier, and guaranteed to annoy the s--t out of the owner?

One of the features that we didn't want but were forced to buy was a door ice dispenser. To us, it just screamed repair.

As it turns out, it s screaming a lot of other things too. And so are we.

This door dispenser takes up almost all the interior door real estate of our freezer so we have half as much freezer storage as we had before. Personally, we'd prefer to use our freezer for, say, freezing stuff.

But worse, it s really hard to get just the number of ice cubes you want from the door dispenser. Of course, with our old refrigerator, we just opened the freezer door and stuck our little hands into the heavy-duty ice bin and took as many as we needed. Theoretically, the door dispensers are more environmentally friendly because you are opening your freezer door less often. We aren't convinced.

Having never had a freezer door ice dispenser before, we've found there s a definite learning curve. Lesson one: It s all in the wrist.

You press your beverage glass against the sensor and ice starts to come out. You pull back quickly before too many come out. But you don't have quite enough so you press your glass against the sensor hoping for another two cubes. Next thing you know, there's ice cubes all over the floor. These are usually accompanied by bad words.

It's become a predictable script: ice can be heard filling a glass. Then: Wait! Stop! No! Fuck! (Sound of ice cubes hitting the floor).

So we've tried to make a friendly competition of the new ice dispenser as to who can dispense ice with the least number of cubes on the floor. Score is being kept.

When you get to our age, fun is where you find it. It also means your kids will roll their eyes and insist, "you guys need a life."

We have a life. It just happens to involve ice cube wars. So far, the ice cube dispenser is winning. And it knows it.

At Christmas, I tried to fill up a Ziplock bag with ice cubes to transport some perishable food on our trip to L.A. I held the open bag under the door spout and pressed, just as I would with a drinking glass. A few cubes came out but then stopped. I kept pressing. Was it jammed? I finally opened the freezer door to check and was greeted with a veritable avalanche of ice cubes which skittered all over the kitchen floor. Why this shouldn't have worked, I don t know. But note to self: next time fill the Ziplock bag with single glassfuls of ice.

Alternatively, one could remove the entire ice bin from the freezer to access ice to fill the Ziplock bag but its thin cheap plastic-esque material resists sliding out or back in. Best to let sleeping ice bins lie.

Maybe other ice dispensers work better than this one. But now I keep a separate glass in our tiny useless freezer filled with ice cubes from which I can then take as many as I need. Sometimes you just have to admit defeat.

Of course, we're slowly getting better with practice. But a day without a single ice cube on our floor would be a rare day indeed. The dog knows better than to stand anywhere near the fridge as ice is being dispensed lest she be in the line of fire. When even the dog has it figured out, pay attention. 


Saturday, January 20, 2024

Uber For The Elderly

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published January 22, 2024] ©2024

Rideshares have enjoyed mixed reputations in recent years but compared to the olden days when the only other options were taxis, they’ve been a huge boon to the elderly. 

I can’t even count the number of rides home I gave over the years to seniors who were relegated to a folding chair in front of a supermarket, a cart full of melting groceries next to them, waiting for a taxi that never came.  These were women who would normally never get in a car with a stranger but after an hour in a folding chair in a grocery store parking lot, being murdered didn’t sound too bad.

Now a senior myself, I’ve been thinking about all the other applications ride shares might be used for with the elderly. On your 65th birthday – as soon as that Medicare card is laminated and tucked into your wallet, the dementia anxiety attacks – and jokes – begin. We laugh, of course, to hide the fact that we’re completely terrified. Watching the 11 o’clock news about the elderly person who has wandered off from her facility truly puts fear in your heart. You can’t help but super-impose your face on the screen. And you just know your hair would look like hell.

I read an article a while back that said if you can’t find your car keys, that’s getting older. If you don’t remember you have a car, it’s dementia. Every time I’m searching in my mind for a word for a column or crossword, I find myself muttering a refrain in the background, “I have a car, I have a car.” Probably if I stopped doing that, I’d remember the word a lot sooner.

It didn’t help that soon after my 65th birthday, my older son, the perpetual prankster Rory, saw an ad on TV for a placement service for the severely memory-impaired. Several days later, a very sympathetic woman called and asked for my husband Olof, and when told he was at work, was dismayed to learn that I had been left unattended. She seemed to have a great deal of information about me and when I adamantly insisted “I do not need institutional care!” soothed, “You seem to be having one of your good days, dear.”

But back to Uber. I think ride shares have huge possibilities for the senility set. There could be a special app that pops up as soon as you pick up your phone showing a photo of your house with your address underneath and the words “You live here.” If you still couldn’t find your house, you’d just press the icon’s Save Me! option and a ride share would show up and take you home. That, of course, is assuming you can remember to push the button but that seems inherently easier than remembering your address – especially here.

Addresses in La Jolla are basically permutations of the same ten Spanish words.  You could be forgiven even before you’re senile for not remembering whether you live on Vista Playa Bonita or Playa Bonita Vista.

I had some even better ideas after my younger son told me that over the holidays one year, they sent a ride share to their house for the chocolate soufflé they’d inadvertently left home. The sitter handed off the soufflé to the Uber driver, who delivered it to the dinner party. (For the record, the soufflé rated the driver very highly.)

So, I’m thinking, if soufflés, why not Mom?

Letting my ever-overamped imagination run wild, I was thinking that Uber could develop an application called “Find My Mother.” Mom wanders away from The Home and son is alerted by the Escape Alarm on his phone that she is no longer tied to her bed. Son presses his new GoGetHer app which immediately gives a GPS location on Mom who presumably has her phone in a little velvet carry bag around her neck. (OK, you may have to microchip her.) The Uber driver swoops in, puts mom in the car (hopefully she goes quietly) and returns me, er, her to The Facility, courtesy of the “If found, please return to” app on Mom’s phone. Avoids that whole embarrassing evening news thing. Never mind that son didn’t even have to blink during his office Power Point presentation.

Now, as a senior, I think these Uber applications should go both ways. Don’t like the nursing home your kids have stashed you in? Before you make a break for it, you install an override app on your phone with special instructions to the rideshare driver: DON’T TAKE ME BACK TO THAT PLACE! LEAVE ME AT THE DOWNTOWN TRAIN STATION AND CHARGE A ONE-WAY TICKET TO SAN FRANCISCO ON MY CREDIT CARD. THEN THROW THE PHONE IN THE BAY. Like, we have rights too.

Now that I’m on Medicare, issues of aging occupy a lot of my brain cells. Olof thinks they would probably be better spent on memory exercises. The important thing is, I’m pretty sure I have a car.