Saturday, October 12, 2019

Toilet Paper Roll Inflation: Stop The Madness!

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published October 16, 2019] ©2019

I hope you’re paying attention because this is a serious subject.  I’m talking toilet paper roll inflation. 

There was a time, and I’m talking like five years ago, that toilet paper rolls were pretty standard.  This, of course, was because the toilet paper dispensers in most bathrooms were pretty standard too.  But then Double Rolls came along – twice as much toilet paper in one roll so you presumably only had to change it half as often, unless you had a toddler who liked to grab the end and run through the house with it.  (I once had such a toddler.)  Or in a moment of temporary insanity, you went for the street food in Tijuana.  (No amount of toilet paper in the world will cover that.) 

Fortunately, the Double Rolls still fit on the toilet paper-dispensing spindles in my 1947 house.  But then Mega Rolls suddenly appeared which purported to be equivalent to four regular rolls, or two double rolls.  As a senior citizen, I do not need to annoy my few remaining synapses with toilet paper math. 

Of course, none of this matters since the Mega Rolls don’t fit in my toilet paper dispensers anyway.  If you need an industrial-sized shoe horn to wedge it in there, it doesn’t roll, which is, after all, the point of the thing. I have accidentally bought Mega Rolls several times when I was in a hurry because increasingly, that’s what’s on the shelf. 

But just when you think it can’t get any crazier, now there are Super Mega Rolls, which purport to be the equivalent of 36 regular rolls (or 18 Double Rolls or nine Mega Rolls) crammed into six giganto wads for which I’d have to buy a free standing dispenser that I’d have to set in the bathtub of my tiny little bathroom. 


I’m sure you’ll agree that Feature Inflation has already consumed our country in the form of consumer goods that have increasing numbers of idiotic features added to them for no other reason than manufacturers seem to think that people want them. For example, alarm clocks that have a choice of six revolving glow-at-night colors all of which make it impossible to find the controls that actually set the alarm.  (I was gifted with one. I hate it.) 

Major appliances are even worse.  It is my personal view that any appliance for which you need a manual is poorly designed.  My husband might rephrase that as any appliance I can’t work without consulting a manual is not only poorly designed but, if small enough, should be hauled out to the driveway and run over with my car.  I have a very low frustration tolerance for electronics. 

Feature Creep truly terrifies me.  This is why I will ultimately end up in Assisted Living.  Not because of my health but because I can’t fix the remote on my TV after I’ve accidentally pushed one of the dozens of useless buttons on the damn thing. I will need to live in a place where they have people who do that. 

(This is the career of the future, millennials.  House calls to help us oldies override all the features on our Smart appliances.  You could make a living.)

I realize it’s a bit of a stretch from toilet paper inflation to feature creep to grade inflation, but it’s really all part of the same scary mind set. When I was reading articles this spring about high school valedictorians, I was amazed to read that some had Grade Point Averages over 6 – on a 4-point scale.  When my sons went to high school, the only classes that were weighted to 5 were actual Advanced Placement courses since they were considered college level and counted as college credit. If you took every AP class the school offered, the maximum GPA you could achieve was 4.3.  Now it appears that you can get GPAs of 5 or even 6.  If toilet paper roll inflation is any indication, will there be 10-point GPAs on a 4-point scale?

OK, time to take my nitroglycerin pill.

I maintain that toilet paper rolls are symptomatic of our society’s constant desire for bigger, better (I’d dispute better), more. 

There’s nothing I can do about grade inflation or feature creep. Sometimes you just have to pick your battles. This is why I implore you all to write to your Congress person and implore them to pass legislation about toilet paper roll inflation.  What’s after “Super Mega”?  Super-Duper Mega? Super-Duper-Ultra-Wowie-Zowie Mega?  Will toilet paper rolls become the size of basketballs?  Will you need special dispensers mounted on your ceiling that could fall on your head in an earthquake and knock you unconscious? (If you live in California, you can’t be too careful.) This is a real threat unless we fight the Toilet Paper Industrial Complex now!

Meanwhile, start hoarding those Double Rolls.  They’re a vanishing breed. 

Regular, Double, Mega, and Super Mega Rolls

Even un-rolling a third of this Mega Roll, it is too
tight for the dispenser

 Original size toilet paper roll: Virtually extinct

Double Rolls: still roll-able

 Too big for toilet paper dispensers in my house


Monday, September 30, 2019

Memory Lane - Part III

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published October 2, 2019] ©2019

In honor of the tenth anniversary of Let Inga Tell You, and having run out of pretty much anything else to say (not that this will stop me from writing the column), I have been mining my memories of Pleasantville High School Class of ’65 and our subsequent reunions in my last two columns.  Try to contain your excitement.  In order to get people to read past the first paragraph, I’ve been intentionally inserting the name of my Pulitzer-prize-winning classmate, Dave Barry. 

While my husband, Olof, had accompanied me back east for my 50th reunion, he had elected to forego the reunion itself and decided that it would be an upper instead to tour the battlefields in Gettysburg. Fortunately for me, the huge storm that was about to hit the Northeast held off long enough for my tiny toy plane to fly into the Westchester County Airport. Olof observed later that the Gettysburg battlefields probably show better when not under water.

In his various books, Dave Barry has written frequently about his high school hair style which I think he describes using the word “ferret.” Or maybe it was a weasel.  But definitely something in the fur-bearing carnivorous mammalian family of creatures with (I learned this while Googling “weasel genus”) well-developed anal scent glands. I just know Dave could make some exquisitely trenchant observation about high school life with that information. And to borrow from Dave, “Weasel Genus” would make a great name for a band. 

Anyway, he should go back and look at the girls’ yearbook photos.  We all look like we’re wearing helmets, which essentially we are, lacquered into submission by prodigious quantities of AquaNet. A flip at the bottom was a common variation. The main requirement was that your hair moved in solidarity with your head. Actually, I could really have used that look (and the AquaNet) at the 40th reunion during Tropical Storm Tammy.  Is it coincidental that our reunions always seem to be accompanied by Category 3 weather events? 

While PHS’s standard Friday night reunion event had always been a pizza party at the American Legion Hall, at the 50th, the reunion committee opted instead for an exciting upgrade which was walking in the high school’s graduation ceremonies ahead of the graduates followed by dinner at the school cafeteria. When I heard that my classmates had voted for this event, I could only wonder: Were they all on food stamps? Further, I thought this was a rotten thing to do to the new graduates: like, if they work hard their whole lives and don't die of cancer, WE'RE what they have to look forward to?  Third, I avoided that cafeteria like the plague in high school so flying across the country to eat there wasn’t really high on my list. As it was later disclosed, the vote for the graduation/cafeteria event was 12-10, the other 150 classmates having failed to vote one way or the other. 

Fortunately, the Saturday night event stayed with tradition: a dinner dance at the Pleasantville County Club which, due to Pleasantville’s draconian zoning, is still pretty much the only game in town.  Seriously, you can come back to Pleasantville, New York 50 years later and it hasn’t changed. Our Famous Classmate, Dave Barry, came to the Saturday night event with his wife and their 15-year-old daughter who bore up bravely but could be seen tapping away on her phone. I would have killed to see the hashtags: #geezerfest  #worstnightofmylife  #sincewhenisthismusic  #Illneverbebadagain #oyveyYMCA?

Since we were all 67-68 at the 50th reunion, there was, not surprisingly, a lot of health and diet talk. One of my classmates appeared to have been dropped into a vat of new age elixir: everything was “meant to be,” all choices were OK. But what was truly lovely was how unfiltered conversations were. Maybe it’s because we’ve finally dropped all the pretenses. Or maybe we’re borderline senile. Regardless, the dialog was all refreshingly honest. Then again, maybe in high school you don’t want conversations to be that honest.

As with the 40th, I got the award for coming the farthest although not before a challenge by somebody from Washington state was settled by MapQuest on our iPhones.

Emails have been coming in recently about proposed dates for the 55th next year..  We’ll all be 72.  Well, those of us who aren’t dead. And that was one of the sobering things about the 50th: about a third of the class had died.  And that was just the ones we knew about. About ten minutes into a somber memorial reading of the list, I thought, “We’re only on ‘G’?”

So who knows whether we’ll even be able to muster a quorum.  Is the Pleasantville Country Club wheelchair accessible? Alas, I doubt I’ll make the 55th.  It’s a long way to go.  I’ve also got YMCA on my iPhone playlist so I can hear it whenever I want.  

50 years later, the Pleasantville Diner has a new
facade but pretty much the same menu 

Monday, September 23, 2019

Memory Lane - Part II

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published September 25, 2019] ©2019

Well, after last week’s column I haven’t heard from my high school classmate Dave Barry’s lawyer asking me to cease and desist writing about him, so I’m going to continue taking advantage of our extremely distant association to reminisce about the Pleasantville High School class of 65’s 40th and 50th reunions. 

I would reminisce about the 10th, 20th, and 30th too but I didn’t go to them.  Too far to go to suburban New York City from San Diego.  But I was persuaded by a pathologically-persistent classmate to come to the 40th all the way from Sweden where we were living at the time.  

If I could change one thing about the 40th reunion it would be to magically remove all photographic evidence of me.  The afternoon before I left Stockholm, a stylist at a Swedish salon misunderstood my instructions for a “trim” and, a mere twelve hours before I was leaving for New York, transformed my shoulder length hair into a short, layered pixie haircut that I had no idea how to style.  (I have to take off my glasses while they do my hair.) I tried to convince myself it was not as bad as I feared, until Olof came home and said, “Hey - Sandra Dee haircut.  Great idea for your reunion!”  I hadn’t lost any weight but had hoped that at least my hair was going to look nice.  Now I was going to my reunion as a fat Sandra Dee. (And by the way, wasn’t she dead?)  I do NOT embrace change – and especially the night before my fortieth high school reunion to see people who I have not seen in four decades.  To make matters worse, Tropical Storm Tammy was due to wash through the New York City area that weekend.

Pleasantville High School reunions have a predictable itinerary.  There is the pizza party at the Armonk American Legion Hall on Friday night followed by a dinner dance at the Pleasantville Country Club whose heyday was in the 1940s.

By the time the pizza party started at the American Legion Hall, Tropical Storm Tammy had created a deluge. The humidity was about 150%, and my now-short hair, the ultimate humidity barometer, looked like my head been plugged into an electrical socket.

There was plenty of pizza, beer, wine, and soft drinks.  But no name tags, which everyone agreed was a massive oversight on the reunion committee’s part.  Instead it was kind of like a surreal Halloween party where you were trying to guess who was inside the “costume” that was their much older self.  You know there is someone you once knew in there but you’re really not sure whom. 
“Who did you come as?”
“Oh, I came as the pot-bellied gray-haired balding version of the former seventeen-year-old Joe Smith.  What about you?”
 “I’m dressed as the overweight crepe-necked three-chinned version of Home Coming princess Muffy Minton.” 
“You look great!”
“So do you!”

OK, so it didn’t quite go like that.  And for the record, I thought that as a group, we had held up extremely well. But it was like meeting all new people.  And of course, some were spouses, just to confuse the issue. Ja, really, really needed name tags. (Large print would have been even better.)

One person who didn’t need a name tag (and talk about holding up REALLY well) was our Pulitzer Prize winning classmate, Dave Barry, who attended the pizza party the first night.  Of course, we all wanted a photo with him, preferably signed “to my best friend from high school, Dave.”  He was incredibly accommodating. I, in fact, have such a photo (minus the inscription) but unless I could photoshop my hair, it will never be seen. 

What was absolutely delightful about the reunion was that nobody was trying to impress anyone; people were just being their most down-to-earth and unpretentious selves.  Whatever they may have needed to prove in the past, they seemed to have proven - or given up on. What people did for a living rarely came up. People seemed most interested in connecting with each other on a personal level.  Very refreshing indeed.  Oh, if only high school could have been like that.

It being a high school reunion, we also had to have embarrassing impromptu musical performances.  At the dinner dance at the Pleasantville County Club the second night, our table did the Supreme’s “STOP – in the name of love”. The four women from our table did the arm movements and we all sang the lyrics.  Unfortunately, we only had three copies of the lyrics for the eight of us and as we were moving, so were the lyrics. Very hard for people with bifocals to keep up, especially in such low light.  But we had fun and occasionally even got the choreography in sequence.

Stay tuned next week for the 50th reunion!

Thanks to Pleasantville's draconian zoning laws, my old street
looked exactly the same 40 years later (OK, a little leafier)

Monday, September 16, 2019

Memory Lane, Part 1

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published September 18, 2019] ©2019

Astonishingly, I am approaching the 10th anniversary of writing Let Inga Tell You, a gig I thought might last three months. But here we are.  And that is why, having written about everything I could think about writing about in my non-life, I am going to mine my high school years at Pleasantville (NY) High School and my famous classmate, whom I confess I barely know, Dave Barry. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Other than the Reader’s Digest, which wasn’t actually in Pleasantville but used the address, Dave truly is Pleasantville’s claim to fame.  In fact, probably the one enduring question of all of the alumni of PHS’s class of ’65 was, “Why wasn’t I better friends with Dave Barry?” 

One possibility is that Dave wasn’t actually from Pleasantville. He grew up in nearby Armonk that had no high school of its own at the time, so starting in 10th grade, the Armonk kids were bused to Pleasantville. Two alien populations with long established social orders who had each been together since kindergarten were suddenly inflicted upon each other. They never really entirely meshed. 

I actually remember Dave Barry as being really kind and really funny even then.  These were not qualities that were often ascribed to high school students.

I know I was in Monsieur Bombardier’s French class with him, and especially Mr. Wittern’s junior year Honors English. Mr. Wittern was a major positive influence in my writing life. I remember him telling me that he had several students, including me, for whom he was saving room on his bookshelf for our future work. Dave Barry was another.  Of course, he would have needed an entire bookcase for Dave’s. 

I’ve probably read all of Dave’s work, including his brand new book, “Lessons from Lucy,” not only because they’re hilarious but because he often writes about people and places I know well including his years at PHS. The depressing part is that while I try to write a column with two really good lines, every word he writes is hilarious. I have no idea how he does that.

I’m pretty sure I recall that homerooms were alphabetical so we would have been in the same one.  In that era, the homeroom teacher read the morning bulletin.  I wasn’t a cheerleader-popular kind of teenager, but I was very social and a good student. As a high school sophomore, however, my only elected office was secretary of the Organ Club (music, not donors).  I think it will be obvious that there was not a lot of cachet in this.

When club meetings were read, the creepo who sat next to me (definitely not Dave) would lean over and leer. “Hey, Inga, wanna play MY organ?” My husband, Olof, was fascinated by this story.  “You should have said, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t play lesser instruments,’” Olof opined.

There is one Armonkian I’m still close with to this day. I had been active in the school paper, The Green Lantern (green and white being our school colors) and was thrilled to be named Chief Editor my senior year.  So imagine my surprise at the paper’s first fall meeting when this guy I’ll call “Tom,” who had never worked a nano-second on the paper, shows up and announces he is co-Chief Editor. Turns out he was applying to Yale and his guidance counselor thought he needed at least one extracurricular activity.  Preferably a prestigious one. So she arranged with the paper’s faculty advisor for Tom to be Co-Chief Editor. My first experience with graft and corruption.

Tom and I ended up bonding over my doing absolutely everything and him doing absolutely nothing.  We are in regular contact to this day.  He still sends me affectionate messages alluding to our time together on the yearbook. “Tom, you effing moron,” I always reply, “it was the newspaper!”

BTW, admissions crime does pay.  Tom did go to Yale and on to a highly prestigious career. Presumably all based on his faux credential of being Co-Chief Editor of the Green Lantern.

But back to Dave. What I really want to thank him for is my colonoscopy.  Some years back, my gastro guy recommended one to me and, noting my lack of enthusiasm, proceeded to hand me Dave’s hilarious column on the subject from a stack on his desk. So in awe was the gastro that I had actually gone to high school with the guy who had written the Definitively Funny Essay on Colonoscopies that he lost all interest in discussing my large intestine, as astonishing as that may seem. Still, I like to think that on the day of the procedure, my colon got deferential, if not reverential, treatment because of Dave. 

Interesting, my next colonoscopy eight years later, when I didn’t mention Dave, was a disaster. I therefore recommend that people tell their gastroenterologist that they went to high school with Dave Barry whether they did or not.

OK, just warming up!  Coming weeks: More Pleasantville memories!

Pleasantville High School, June, 2015

Monday, September 2, 2019

Home Alone

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published September 4, 2019] ©2019

While I feel that my engineer husband, Olof, and I are hugely compatible, the Venn diagram of our marriage often doesn’t have a lot of overlapping travel circles.  I wrote previously about a trip he took last year with four fellow-physics-major college roommates that was basically a geek fest tour of the Pacific Northwest.  They took in the Boeing factory, then Reactor B, and apparently got positively misty-eyed at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory in Hanford.  The only people who had more fun than they did were their wives who didn't have to go. 

Another trip on Olof’s bucket list has been the annual air show (AirVenture) in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. A former Air Force pilot, Olof loves all things aviation.  Some months ago, Olof and two local friends devised a plan to take the train (Olof loves long-distance train travel as well) across the country to Chicago and drive up to Oshkosh for the festivities.  The air show itself actually sounded pretty cool to me but three days in a train across the Midwest was about two and a half days more than I was enthused about.  I’ve driven it.  A little bit of prairie goes a long way in my view. 

It amazes me that you can actually get Wi-Fi much of the time on a train even in long stretches through Nebraska, so we were able to talk regularly. I think Wi-Fi would have really improved the trip for all those folks who trekked across the country in covered wagons. Probably a lot less “are we there yet?” whining from the pioneer kids. And don’t even get me going on how it could have helped the Donners.

I’ve written before about how Olof has always been underwhelmed with my kitchen cleanup standards which, seriously, are not that bad. Since he retired, he’s been the official dishwasher. He even sweeps the kitchen floor every single night to get the five crumbs the dog didn’t get to first.  Why one would want to spend one’s golden years sweeping is beyond me.

But when he’s traveling, he enjoys engaging me in affectionate if savage banter about how the household is faring without him. I don’t usually do a whole lot of cooking (translation: none) while Olof is gone which really cuts down on dishes.  If I may say so, I’ve done a whole more dishes in my lifetime than he has and frankly, I’m over them.  And if they accumulate in the sink for a few days, I can live with it.  It’s my own version of the Law of the Conservation of Energy.  I conserve energy by not doing it. 

I still have an email exchange from Olof’s trip last year.  I had texted Olof a photo of the kitchen with nothing on the counters.

Inga: This is a quiz. What’s wrong with this picture?
Olof: You’ve eaten out every single meal?
Inga: No, I ran the dishwasher! 
Olof: You know how?
Inga: Ooooo, I never knew you had this vicious side when I married you! 
Olof: I figured you’d just open the dishwasher and let Lily lick the dishes.
Inga:  Dang! You’ve discovered my secret. I usually let her lick the counters when she’s done. Oops! Shouldn’t have said that!

I do have to say that Lily was distressed to have her usual routine disrupted, and Olof was concerned on her behalf.  He was especially concerned about Lily not getting her usual 6:45 a.m. walk, their daily ritual. Sure enough, while Olof was gone, at precisely 6:45 a.m. (still the night before, in my view), she’d be batting my head with her paw breathing doggy breath in my face.  “Time to get up! Let’s go for a walk!” Fortunately, I only needed to get up, open the back door to the patio and point Lily in the direction of the back yard to fulfill any pressing early morning needs she may have. I texted Olof a photo of Lily plodding out to the backyard and hash tagged it #self service.  He texted back: “So sad! And hungry too!” He tacked on a teary emoji.  Let me be clear that this dog was well fed and exercised in Olof’s absence.  She just didn’t get it on his timetable.

Thunderstorms in the Mid-West caused the train to arrive in Chicago 13 hours late, which is even worse than our typical experience on United. So after three days on the train, the guys were fairly glad to finally get off and drive to Oshkosh.  One of the chief attractions for Olof at the air show was the opportunity to ride on vintage planes, including the Ford Tri-Motor of which only eight airworthy aircraft still exist.  I have to say it sounded really cool. But I have to sign off now. He’s coming home tomorrow and I have ten days’ worth of dishes to do. 

 Olof and friends riding Ford Tri-Motor

#Self service, 6:45 a.m. 

Monday, August 26, 2019

Letting No Good Deed Go Unpunished (Part II)

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published August 28, 2019] ©2019

Last week I wrote about helping my neighbors rescue a young cat that had planted itself outside their sliding glass doors and meowed piteously for two days.  They already had a cat and didn’t want another one, but compassionate pet owners that they are, they did make a bed for it on their patio that night, and gave it some dinner. The cat allowed them to pet it and clearly seemed to be asking them to take it in.  Fearing leaving it out a second night given coyote sightings in the neighborhood, they decided to bring it to the Humane Society the next afternoon.

But the cat was spooked by the sight of their cat carrier and fled into my yard, where my efforts to sneak it in to a back bedroom were met with an encounter of the worst kind with 19 pounds of angry white fluff (our bichon-poodle mix). Lily tried to eat the cat who responded by sinking its exceedingly sharp fangs into my hands seven times before I concluded, OK, I get it, you want to fend for yourself.  Lily only has three teeth but they can be used for harm.

Since there was no history on the animal and no tag or chip, the animal had to be quarantined for ten days before being evaluated for the adoption pool, especially given all the bites. I assured the Humane Society that the cat had merely been defending itself from our Cujo-wannabe dog.  

Just a few weeks ago I wrote a column about people not tagging and chipping their dogs and cats.  It would make it so easy for me and my many animal-loving neighbors to get them quickly back to their owners when they escape their homes or yards. 

One of the focuses of my column last week was my engineer husband’s calculation of my odds of infection if cat bites have a 40% risk and I had sustained seven. Ask an engineer a question and you will get a full report. Fortunately, all my bites healed with aggressive home care.

The Humane Society did indeed call me (I was genuinely impressed) after 10 days of cat quarantine to report that since the cat and I were both still topside, it would likely be put up for adoption.

As I was taking a walk several days later, imagine my surprise to see a newly-posted flier for a cat that I knew instantly was The Cat. I’d know those teeth anywhere.  OK, the photo didn’t show teeth but the markings and coloring were very distinctive. 

But the woman who answered the number on the flier insisted that the kitty we had rescued two weeks earlier couldn't possibly be hers because her pet sitter, who was caring for the cat during the two weeks that she and her family had just been away on vacation, had insisted their cat had only been missing "a few days."  I’m thinking the pet sitter is a lying weasel.  The cat showed up at my neighbors’ the day after this family left town. And it was hungry.

I gave her the Humane Society intake number and reiterated I was really sure from the cat's distinctive markings that this was her cat. I even texted her photos I'd taken of it.  I also mentioned that the cat had gone into the adoption pool four days earlier so they should get down there quickly since it was a young, very sweet cat. 

The next day, I got a brief text message from her that they'd gone to the Humane Society that morning and it was indeed their cat, and that her kids were thrilled. She never asked my name or gave me hers. 

Did I mention the flier had offered a reward? Not a word from her about it. I'd never take a reward for returning someone's pet or phone or wallet to them. But I would have asked that she donate the money to the Humane Society who had just spent two weeks caring for this kitty, medically and behaviorally assessing it, and keeping it under quarantine for ten days. Never mind that my neighbors devoted most of their weekend two weeks earlier to caring for the cat and driving it down to the Humane Society, not known for their speedy intakes. I texted this lady the neighbor’s names so she could thank them. She didn’t. (I never mentioned the bites to the cat’s owner since they were my fault.) 

We’re truly glad the cat is home safe, that it didn’t get eaten by a coyote or squashed by fast-moving traffic.  But seriously folks.  All it would have taken was for a tag with a phone number or a scannable chip for this to have been resolved in ten minutes. Are you listening?  Alas, don’t think so.

 How is this not their cat? 

Friday, August 16, 2019

Letting No Good Deed Go Unpunished, Part I

[Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published August 21, 2019] ©2019

I’ve written recently at how dismaying it is to see so many dogs and cats loose in my neighborhood without  collars and tags – and as it turns out, without chips either. 

A few weeks ago, I kept hearing a cat meowing piteously at my neighbor’s house and queried if their house cat had gotten out by mistake. They texted back that an un-collared cat had shown up and parked itself on their patio furniture clearly wanting food and attention. 

The next day, when the cat was still there and still meowing, they concluded it was lost or abandoned, and not wanting to leave it outside for a second night due to a frightening number of coyote sightings and resultant cat deaths in our neighborhood, decided to take it down to the Humane Society.  Except that as soon as they approached it with the cat carrier, it disappeared through the fence into my yard.  We tried to find it to no avail.

A few hours later I noticed the kitty in my patio. It came right over, allowing me to pick it up.  Clearly someone’s pet and not a feral cat.  I knew our dog was zonked out in the living room so I decided to tiptoe in the house with the cat and put it in my office then text my neighbors to come over with the cat carrier.

Great plan. Utterly failed execution. 

I had barely closed the back door behind me when our 19-pound bichon-poodle mix, Lily, woke out of the Sleep of the Canine Dead sensing an intruder in her midst and came charging into the room. I didn’t want to drop the cat right in front of Lily who, despite only having three remaining teeth, seemed determined to use them for harm.  The cat, terrified, alerted me to her wish to be released by sinking her razor-sharp incisors into my hand, then repeating this six more times until I finally got the message.

Lily and the kitty chased each other around the house until I was finally able to corral Lily in a bedroom.  My wonderful neighbors came with the cat carrier and lots of Neosporin and took the cat down to the Humane Society. The Humane Society said they would be putting the cat in quarantine for 10 days, for both my and their other cats’ protection. I or my estate was to call them if I succumbed from feline-related afflictions before then.  (OK, that wasn’t exactly the way they put it.)

Searching the internet, I learned that cat bites have a 40% chance of infection and tend to be far more serious than dog bites.  I decided that at the slightest sign of infection I would head to Urgent Care but would keep my multitude of wounds well cleaned, slathered with Neosporin, and wrapped in the meantime.

My husband, Olof, was out of town at the air show in Oshkosh. That night, I emailed him:  If a cat bite has a 40% chance of infection, do seven cat bites have a 280% chance?   Shortly thereafter, an reply arrived back entitled in pure Olof engineer-ese:  “Cat Bite Calculation.”

Dear –

You reported earlier that the probability of a cat bite becoming infected was 40% (i.e. 40/100 or 2/5).  Therefore the probability that the bite will NOT become infected is 1 – 2/5, or 3/5. But you didn't have one bite.  You reported 7. 

The probability that two bites won’t become infected is the probability that the second won’t, times the probability that the first won’t, or 3/5 x 3/5 = (3/5)2

The probability that three bites won’t become infected is the probability that the first two didn’t, times the probability that the third didn’t (i.e. (3/5)2 x 3/5 = (3/5)3).

I’m hoping that by now you’re seeing a pattern.  The probability that n bites won’t become infected is (3/5)n; and when n = 7, the reported number of bites you have, the probability is (3/5)7.

(3/5)7 is approximately 2.8%, which is the probability of no infection if the probability of infection of each bite is independent and equal to 40%.  Alas, this means that the probability of getting an infection is 1 - .028, or about 97%.

Fortunately for you, this logic applies only if the chance that one bite will become infected is independent of the chance that any of the others will become infected, which is certainly not the case.  If the cat's mouth is pure, the chance that any will be infected is much much less than 40%, and the chance that none will be much higher than 3%.  Conversely if the cat has a potty mouth, no math in the world will save you.  You're doomed.


[To be continued next week]

The perp