Sunday, June 13, 2021

How To Ignore Internet Wardrobe Advice

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 14, 2021] ©2021

As anyone who has been reading my column for a while knows, I’m a sucker for “listicles,” those popular website lists like “what your car/phone/plants say about you” and “12 ways to lose 30 pounds in a week.”  So it wasn’t too surprising that when I saw “10 styling tips that will instantly slim you down,” I had to go for it. Especially after the 15-month food felony that was the Covid pandemic. 

The one thing that was clear about this listicle is that it was not geared to my demographic.  I may not be in the pastel polyester pantsuit crowd just yet, but for me, it’s all about comfort.  Unless I get a spinal transplant, there is no way a pair of heels will ever grace my feet again. 

So here are the 10 listicle suggestions:

(1) “Invest in shapewear, particularly a seamless slenderizing piece that has reinforced panels to suck in your stomach, slim your thighs, boost your derriere and define your waist when wearing bodycon dresses, clingy skirts, tight pants or evening gowns.”  First, what is a “bodycon” dress?  Does Land’s End sell them? Actually, it doesn’t really matter because I’m pretty sure I don’t own one, or for that matter, any clingy skirts, tight pants, or evening gowns.  Whew! Dodged the fat-squisher bullet! 

(2)  “In terms of skirts, a knee-length pencil skirt is the most universally flattering silhouette.”  Are you kidding?  The only silhouettes that pencil skirts flatter are pencil-shaped people. The rest of us look like fermenting pork sausages.

(3) “Say ’yes’ to higher rise jeans.”  They advise “going for a rise that hits directly above your belly button.”  That’s their idea of “high rise”?  I will say no more. 

(4) “Rock out with vertical stripes.”  I will concede that vertical stripes can make a person look “longer”. But we chunkies tend to eschew stripes altogether.  For good reason.

 (5) “Cinch with skinny belts to accentuate your natural waist.” What if you have no waist?  Of course, I make up for it by having multiples of other parts, like chins. And thighs.  But it makes the whole skinny belt thing moot.

(6) “Don’t discount maxi skirts; a well-cut maxi skirt can actually give you the appearance of looking longer and leaner.”  I’d totally agree, so long as you weigh a maximum of 95 pounds.  The rest of us look like a beluga whale about to give birth.

(7) “Buy a new bra.”  I don’t know what it is about aging, but bras just keep getting more and more uncomfortable as you get older.  For me, it didn’t help that I got my chest crushed and three thoracic vertebrae permanently de-stabilized by a drunk driver a few years ago. But maybe I wouldn’t be any happier with bras even if hadn’t had this accident.  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.

(8) “Choose heels with a low-cut vamp.”  A vamp, apparently, is the portion of a shoe that cuts across your foot at the front which allegedly gives your legs a slimmer look, even as it cuts off circulation to your toes.  A high vamp shoe comes up the foot and possibly up to the ankle.  (Do Orthofeet lace-up walking shoes count?)

 (9) “Mask problem areas with dark colors and highlight assets with bright colors.”  Not a bad concept, but what if your whole body is a problem area? Do you wear all black?

(10) “Wear all black.”  You were probably waiting for me to shoot this one down just like I did the first nine but this one I could (mostly) get behind.  OK, I don’t wear ALL black which seems a tad funereal. But I’m really big on the slenderizing effect of black slacks.   When my young granddaughter was visiting one weekend, she queried, “Mormor, why do you always wear the same thing?”  As I explained to her it only looks like the same thing.  Mormor actually has eight pairs of those black slacks (and at least as many white tops the combination of which I admit make me look like a server at a trendy trattoria).  It is my personal opinion that black slacks best minimize years of abuses of chocolate and chardonnay.  I wear them with colorful tops and sweaters even if they bring attention to areas that No. (9) suggests I shouldn’t be highlighting.  But tough luck. I like color.

Unlike my college years when I wore miniskirts to sub-zero college football games (can you say “bronchitis”?), I am no longer willing to suffer for fashion. And I would also aver that all the camouflaging tricks in the world won’t help chubby folks like me look good in anything that’s tight.  Sorry, listiclist lady. That’s the word from the trenches.


 

 

Sunday, June 6, 2021

I Ate The Dog's Cupcake

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 7, 2021] ©2021

Over the twelve years I’ve been writing this column, chocolate has been a frequent topic, most recently as a health food, which, by the way, it has finally been determined to be.  I was definitely born too soon.

Of course, I recognized the health properties of chocolate long before science figured it out.  Some years ago, I discovered that, unknown to any but the most dedicated wrapper-reading chocoholics, one can supply ONE HUNDRED PERCENT of one’s daily calcium, riboflavin, protein AND fiber requirements (never mind a whopping 50% of your daily iron) with only twenty-five vending machine-size packages of M&Ms – all with no trans-fats and staying WELL within your daily sodium and cholesterol allotments.  

Not surprisingly, chocolate lovers tend to gravitate toward each other, partners in cocoa-buttered crime.  I have a wonderful neighbor named Jill who is always up for a field trip to what we call the The Cupcake Place. Annoying construction delays and impossible parking have never deterred us. Where there’s a cupcake, there’s a way. 

During the pandemic, Jill discovered that with a minimum order of $25, Cupcake Place will deliver. I’m kind of sorry she told me. But Jill’s deliveries usually translate into more cupcakes than even she wants to eat in one sitting, so she often brings two over, allegedly for Olof and me. 

She knows, of course, that Olof will never eat his cupcake, partly because he just isn’t a sweets kind of guy. But mostly because I always eat his first, the non-chocolate one, just in case that changes. While my preferred flavor is chocolate, anything with two inches of gooey frosting has my vote. 

Cupcake Place understands that cupcakes are a vehicle food.  Hotdogs, for examples are vehicles for mustard. Cupcakes are vehicles for frosting.  The cake part (or the hotdog) are mere delivery mechanisms.  Alas, most cupcakes are all-too-frequently mostly cake and not much frosting, missing the point entirely. 

When Jill made her most recent drug drop, er, delivery, I wasn’t home so she handed them off to Olof.  This included two regular-size cupcakes (chocolate and red velvet) plus a cute little sample one with white icing. The next day, I texted Jill with my thanks.

“Great cupcakes! You are the best friend ever!”

She replied, “So Lily liked hers too?”

Pause.

Me: “Lily?”

Jill: “Yes, the little one was a dog cupcake.”

Inga: “Ha ha!” What a kidder, that Jill.

Jill: “Seriously. I told Olof.” 

Inga: “Oy. I thought it was just a sample.  But it was great!” 

Or was it? I tried to think back: Did it have an under taste of kibble? And was that why the dog was glaring at me the whole time I was eating it?  Should the little orange dog bone on the top been a clue? Hey, the orange thing could have been a bow tie. And who was paying attention anyway? It was a cupcake!

Sorry, Lily. Next time. 

Cupcake Place describes their canine confections on their website as “a sugar-free cupcake with yogurt ‘frosting’.” Hmmm, why the quotes?  And no further ingredient list.  This made me the teeniest bit concerned.

After all, I recently wrote a column about why some dogs (that would be ours) like to roll in their own poop.  Research indicated that dogs are primally attracted to odors that humans find repugnant. There is also the evolutionary theory that smelling bad would help protect them from predators even though dogs have been domesticated for, like, 40,000 years.   

One of the wonderful things about writing this column is the things I’ve learned from readers.  And right after that column, a reader sent me an article about the difficulties pet food makers have in making pet foods that smell disgusting enough to appeal to dogs but not so bad that it will repel their owners.  Among the “palatants” added to dog food can be such colorless flavorings as “putrescine” and “cadaverine.”  Yum-mo.

Let me say right here that I am not suggesting in any way that Cupcake Place adds either of these to their doggie treats. But you do have to wonder what they did put in it to make it attractive to dogs. And given that I ate it, I am at least mildly curious. Thus far, no one has accused me of having doggie breath.

But another advantage of writing this column is that people don’t only send me links to interesting articles.  For the first time ever in the 12 years I’ve been writing, someone replied to my recent column on chocolate as a health food by sending me actual chocolate. And no, not M&Ms!  It’s called Volo and let me tell you, this stuff really is insanely good. And yes, healthy! One of the types even has chunks of candied orange peel which in Inga Land technically makes it a fruit, and no one can argue that Vitamin C isn’t good for you.

But from now on, I’m going to let Lily have the cupcakes with the little orange bones on them.

 


 

Sunday, May 30, 2021

In Memoriam: Post-It Note Inventor

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 31, 2021] ©2021

I was genuinely dismayed to read recently in the New York Times of the death of a man who has had a profound impact on my life.  He was Spencer Silver, inventor of the glue that makes Post-it Notes stick. 

I would have gone to the memorial if I’d known.  

Anyone who has spent any time at all in my home knows that from the instant I first encountered a Post-it Note in 1980, my entire mental organization has centered around them.

Truly, I think Uber and yellow sticky notes are the greatest innovations of modern times.  I’m not sure what I did without either.

In 1968, the aforementioned Mr. Silver, was a scientist at 3M working on “pressure-sensitive adhesives.”  When I hear stories like this, I always wonder: did his high school guidance counselor bring him in and say “Your Myers Briggs test indicates that you would be ideally suited to a career in the glue industry”? 

Actually, Mr. Silver was attempting to create a pressure-sensitive glue strong enough to be used in aircraft construction when he inadvertently created one most definitely not suited for that use. You do not want to be able to pull the wings off the aircraft, even if you could quickly reattach them. 

But what to do with this amazing new product, this “solution without a problem.” It was another ten years before a potential application was found. The story, which sounds suspiciously apocryphal, alleges that one of the scientist’s colleagues discovered that the adhesive helped him to anchor his bookmarks in his hymnal. If you say so.

Post-it Notes are now produced in multiple sizes and colors, different strengths of adhesion for non-smooth surfaces, and even with lines on them.  We purists, however, only use the original canary yellow.

Personally, I’m only willing to try to keep so much information in my head at once.  This is why my computer monitor is ringed with sticky notes reminding me of all manner of info such as short cuts I use during word processing, passwords I use frequently but not quite often enough to remember them, what sequence of commands to use when my computer freezes up, and how to stop print jobs when I accidentally specified 100 pages instead of 10.

 

Sticky notes on my bathroom mirror remind me of the day’s appointments now that I am a senior.

 

There is no machine in our home that is not adorned with sticky notes advising me of its operational requirements. Some current and former residents of this house still need to be reminded to push the dial of the washing machine IN before turning it. 


At one point, my older son Rory sent me a birthday card depicting an old person holding a remote up to her ear and waiting for a dial tone. Rory noted: “Mom - I’m sure there is a sticky note in your house that addresses this.”  

Post-it Notes on the fridge remind me to thaw chicken or put the lasagna in the oven at 6:00.

I just have a Post-it note mind. Or, as it has been suggested by mean-spirited persons in my family whom I will not personally name, a mind not sufficiently memory-capable to avoid needing Post-it Notes. Take my Post-it Notes away and you’d have to put me in a Home.


A few times my Post-it note habit has had unintended consequences.  In 2009, during a weekend visit, my prankster older son Rory appropriated my 14-digit library card number sticky-noted to my computer and ordered me up a long list of books including The Book of the Penis (it came with an 8-inch ruler along the binding); The whole lesbian sex book: a passionate guide for all of us; Coping with Your Colitis, Hemorrhoids and Related Disorders; and The Rear View: A Brief and Elegant History of Bottoms Through the Ages.  He was aided and abetted by the public library website’s then-policy of announcing “your password is the last four digits of your phone number,” a policy now changed, presumably at the behest of other mothers with creatively-minded sons.

It’s comforting to know that after I’m gone, I’ll live on through Post-it Notes.

If Post-it Notes are to be my legacy, I think it would only be appropriate that when I die, the assorted assemblage should be issued with pads of sticky notes on which they could write farewell messages and stick them to my coffin. This could be in lieu of flowers. It would be especially appropriate since yellow is my favorite color.  The messages could run the gamut of, “I’m sorry I never returned your blender!” Or: “I hope those chocolates won’t melt where you’re going, ha ha!  Or even: “Inga – you really should have had that checked.”

But somewhere in the program, there should be an important announcement: Given Inga’s demise, go short on your 3M stock.

 

 Some members of my family continue to need reminding

Could not operate computer without sticky notes

Monday, May 17, 2021

'Prevailing Medical Advice" Doesn't Seem To Prevail Very Long

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 19, 2021] ©2021

The jig is up, medical science.  I don’t believe a word you say anymore. 

The one thing about being in 70 is that I have had the opportunity to watch “prevailing medical advice” (the ultimate oxymoron, in my view), flip flop back and forth multiple times. 

When my sons were infants, babies had to sleep on their stomachs to avoid crib death; now they have to be on their backs.  Our friends with ulcers who spent 30 years avoiding spicy foods are now being treated for a bacterial infection.  People with diverticulosis were once relegated to soft diets; now they’re filling up on roughage.  Olof and I have dutifully switched back and forth from butter to margarine several times in the last 30 years (but frankly preferred the butter years). The New York Times recently reported that even 50 years ago, exercise used to be considered dangerous for people over 40, and for heart disease, bed rest was prescribed. In my youth, teenage acne was treated with radiation.   I spent twenty years limiting myself to two eggs a week and then suddenly eggs were OK again.  (I demand a cholesterol refund!) 

Remember Sam-E, chondroitin, tryptophan, and Airborn?  Actually, probably not. They were the miracle cures of their time.  Now even the current darling – Vitamin D - is getting bad press.  Medicare just denied a lab test for Olof’s Vitamin D level saying that no longer think testing for it is “routinely medically necessary.”

People in my advanced age group are really having a hard time embracing the  now-popularity of foods like coconut oil, its 14 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon always considered a fast track to premature death.  Now it’s a health food.  I decided to add a jar to my supermarket basket but only got five steps before the chest pains started and I put it back.  It’s like Mao waking up one morning and exhorting the Chinese to embrace democracy. 

And don’t even get me going on hormone replacement. Or calcium supplements, for decades the sacred cow of medical advice for women, now thought to cause heart disease in supplemental form. (You’re supposed to get it from your diet.)  If that’s true, what took medical research so long to figure it out?  I’ve been taking supplemental calcium for at least 40 years.  Aside from a big fat refund, I also want an extended warranty on my heart from you guys. 

Ambiguity fatigue has taken its toll on me.  In my heart of hearts, I’ve begun to think of medical researchers as the Enron executives of health care.  What happened to all those studies, for example, showing HRT was good?  If those studies were all flawed, how do we know the new ones aren’t too?  Before I completely change my life again, they’re going to have to convince me. And I’m going to be a really hard sell.

When one reads about medical treatments through the ages, one is frequently horrified at the amount of suffering that was inflicted upon people by what passed for the gold standard of medical science in their day.  (Before long, I predict they will be saying that about colonoscopies.) Of course, you say to yourself, they didn’t know what we do now. 

C’mon, admit it: Is “now” just as flawed as it was 50 – or 100 - years ago?

All you can really do, I’ve decided, is go with what feels right, knowing that whatever you’re doing is bound to come back into favor again at some point. It’s kind of like riding out a down market.  In fact, I like to think of it in terms of medical research ``futures”:  I personally plan to go short on Lipitor (my pick as the next pariah of health care) and go long – very long – on chocolate. A person, after all, has to live.

Sorry, medical science. It's over between us. You've lied to me one too many times. No, the constant volte faces are a level of perfidy that cannot be countenanced.  I'm done with you changing the rules! 

And speaking of which, there is nothing that irritates Olof and me more than finally hitting the cholesterol and blood pressure targets our doctors have set only to have them announce that new research has found that these numbers should be yet lower.  We’re in a loop of perpetual medical fail. Is this a plot?

I’ve concluded that my husband, Olof, is right:  Since medical science doesn’t really have clue, that you can pick what you want  to die from.  Neither of us are willing to die from tofu since we don’t like tofu.  But I’m willing to die from chocolate.  He’s willing to die from single malt Scotch. 

Fortunately for me, there are plenty of opportunities with chocolate to get enough calcium from one’s diet.  As a first step, I’m going to drastically up my intake of chocolate mint chip ice cream.  Strictly medicinal.

 

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Too Much Of A Good Thing

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 10, 2021] ©2021

There’s a lot of hoarders in my family.  Fortunately, I’m not one. Well, except for photos. But I personally think of photos as “artistic curation.” 

As I’ve visited various relatives over the years, it’s become clear to me that the tendency to accumulate what could politely be referred to as an excessive number of possessions – particularly  books and National Geographics - clearly runs in the family.  What is it about National Geographics that make people hang on to them forever?   I know people who have moved twelve times and while the dining room set didn’t always make the cut, the National Geographics invariably end up on the truck. 

The most egregious example of mass accumulation in my own genetic network is the ancestral home in Hard-To-Get-There, Ohio, which has been continuously in the family since 1865.  Let me just say that you can acquire a lot of stuff in 155 years.  The last surviving occupant, my favorite aunt, died 12 years ago but left the hoard, er house, in a trust.  My aunt encompassed the Hoarder Big 3:  child of the Depression, ardent conservationist, and OCD packrat (maybe that’s four).

It was a hoarder perfect storm.  The place was an absolute treasure trove of wonderful old stuff – Ladies Home Journals from the 1880s, gorgeous oil lamps, ornate ewers - intermixed, alas, with multiple cases of 40-year-old Jell-O, cartons of ratty underwear preserved in 1962 newspaper, and a huge freezer that was a veritable biohazard. Then there were the 10,000+ books, three-deep in the bookcases.  

I have to confess that when I went to visit her over the years, the first thing I did was to check the latch on the upstairs bedroom window to make sure I could get out onto the roof and jump in case of fire.  Because with the piles of old newspapers (which she intended to use for mulch for her gardens) and magazines (you can guess which kind) stacked up in every hallway, I figured I’d have approximately seven seconds to hurl myself out the window.  I simply refused to have my Cause of Death be listed as “National Geographics.”

Little did I know what a fire trap the place really was.  After my aunt died, we ordered up several 35-foot dumpsters and started dumping all the flattened cardboard boxes that had been on the back veranda in ever-increasing piles for as long as anyone could remember.  I suddenly saw the color drain out of my husband’s face.  Underneath it all was coal.  Eight hundred pounds of coal.  The old coal burning stove, unused for decades, was still in the living room.  I suddenly realized that the seven seconds of escape time I always thought I’d had was actually two.

You may have noticed that I am carefully avoiding addressing my photo habit which, as noted, I genuinely consider to be in a different category.  My sons disagree.

The kids had long been threatening to cremate me after my untimely death with the 65+ photo albums – an entire bookcase - that I had amassed over the years. It would be a two-fer; get rid of Mom and the albums all at once.  

I am proud to say that my pandemic project last year was to cull the 65 albums to 32. For me it is heartbreaking to part with a single photo. It’s like erasing history.

I just love taking pictures, and might possibly have been (over)compensating for the fact that my parents probably took a total of 20 out-of-focus off-center black-and-white box camera photos of me before I was 18.  My children’s lives would be documented. 

When my younger son and then-fiancĂ©e wanted to do a slide show for their wedding, I hauled some 40 albums out to the dining room table.  I swear my daughter-in-law said under her breath, “I hope this isn’t hereditary.” 

I was always the (self-designated) family photographer, the absolutely most thankless job in the world.  With every picture I looked at in my albums, I could replay the sound track of whining that went into getting everyone to pose for it.  The irony, of course, is that years later, friends and family would look at these pictures and ooh and aah over them with delight. 

Three years ago, I put together a 400-slide show of Olof and me to mark a milestone birthday. Afterwards, there were wonderful toasts made - Henry gave a 4-hanky tribute to both of us. I gave a toast to Olof, commenting on how different this evening would have been had Olof not come into our lives. Both kids simultaneously chimed, "200 fewer slides?

Yeah, you can put photos on CDs but honestly, you'd never look at them.  Photos are meant to be shared in albums over a cup of cocoa, or depending on your haircut in that era, several bottles of wine. Besides, in ten years, no one will be able to read the current CDs. So maybe CDs are the ultimate solution: self-expiring photo storage. 

There's hope, kids!



 

 

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

The Sounds Of Silence

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 3, 2021] ©2021

You know that life around you has become too perpetually noisy when you hear a sound that you can’t quite place but seems familiar. Then you realize it’s birds chirping.  In fact, it’s your own aviary birds.

The eerie quiet is unsettling.  What happened to the leaf blowers and chain saws and jack hammers? Has the city been evacuated and you weren’t notified? 

For a while, I used to think that my nice residential neighborhood has always been really noisy but I didn’t realize it since I was at work all day. Or, that once the current construction projects were finished, the serenity I think I remember (but could have hallucinated) will return. 

But nope, I’ve been retired for a while. This is the new reality.

One obvious source of noise is lawn mowers, tree trimmers, and leaf blowers.  San Diego’s year-round growing season blesses us with perpetually lush greenery.  Which needs to be trimmed.  Constantly.

I grew up in the Northeast where lawn mowers (generally teenager-powered, and very quiet, except for the complaining) were strictly a summer event and leaf blowers didn’t exist. No snow-blowers then either, just kids shoved out the front door with shovels at 6 a.m. to clear the driveway so we could get to school (kids) and commuter train (Dad).  There was nothing my mother feared more than a snow day.

It would only be fair to note that on Wednesday mornings, the mowing and leaf blower noise comes from my house (and my next-door neighbors’ whose lawn service comes at the same time, creating a cacophonous mind-numbing stereo). And I have to cop to a half day of really noisy tree trimming recently too.

I realize that leaf blowers save lawn guys a lot of time. But I really hate the noise, and even more the fact that these machines are blowers not vacuums.  At my house, they simply relocate all the leaves and dust from point A to Point B, the latter being all over the lawn chairs stored on my back porch. 

We used to have a local kid doing lawn maintenance who was a holy terror with a leaf blower.  I’d be puzzled as to why my kitchen was full of leaves and dirt.  With his iPod turned up full blast, “Bentley” failed to notice that he was blowing all the detritus from the patio through my kitchen window.  One had to admire the technical skill that got so much lift in those leaves that he could get them up and over a four-foot high pass-through.  The stuff that failed to achieve altitude settled like Mt St. Helens ash on the plants. 

But it’s the on-going construction noise, both residential and commercial, that is really doing me in. By 7 a.m. six days a week, there are jack hammers, nail guns, cement mixers, skill saws, thundering lumber deliveries, and assorted power tools going on in seeming Surround Sound.  

Our (truly lovely) next door neighbors did a 2.5 year remodel a few years ago, having been promised by their contractor, “Ralph,” that it would be “six months maximum.”  (I stuck a lot of pins into Ralph dolls during that time.) My husband and I maintained that the noise was at least offset by our gaining a second language from the Tijuana radio station the construction guys boomed some seven days a week.  (But did they have to sing along?)

The average spec McMansion remodel seems to take at least two years (really). Then whoever buys it remodels it again to customize it and “make it their own.”  If I were mayor, I’d make it a law forbidding any house from being remodeled less than three years from the last remodel.  And I’d also make the those spec house/house flipper contractors live in the house for one year after the project was finished to give the neighbors on both sides opportunity to exact revenge. Lots of revenge. The Flipper Pay Back Act would allow anything short of arson, and only because then you’d have to start building again.

It isn’t just a multitude of construction and gardening noise.  There are at least six different kinds of helicopters that buzz regularly over our home: military, police, news, Coast Guard, tourist, and INS. Some days it sounds like the Ride of the Valkyries scene in Apocalypse Now.

The changing flight path from Lindbergh Field seems to be adding to the aerial pollution although I have to confess, I’ve been pretty good at tuning that out. 

And that’s the issue.  Tuning it out.  There’s only so much noise you can tune out. The batteries seem to have permanently crumped on my inner tuner-outer.

The (truly lovely) next door neighbors have just alerted us that they need to do an “upgrade” to correct some problems with the remodel they finished two years ago.  Three months max, they promise.

Oy. Just so long as they don’t hire Ralph. 

 


 

 

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Fearing I've Become A Pandemic Pariah

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published April 19, 2021] ©2021

The pandemic has changed all of our lives since it took hold in earnest in March of 2020.

It hasn’t always brought out the best in us. Unable to socially distance myself from both my refrigerator and the bakery counter at Gelson’s, I, like many others, have put on the Covid 19.  Which now, alas, has become the Covid 22.

While it pales in comparison to the losses so many other people have experienced, I have truly, desperately, missed social contact.

Olof and I are both really social people.  It’s actually fairly amazing for him since he’s an engineer.  Not to promote stereotypes (OK, I’m doing exactly that), when Olof went to Cal Tech in the early 1970s, some incredible percentage of his then-classmates would now be diagnosed as having Asperger’s.  (The rest would be simply be considered socially maladroit.) 

But in the last year, Olof has somehow managed to channel his social needs into sour dough baking and writing code for esoteric engineering projects. Sometimes at the same time. (Those were some pretty weird English muffins.) 

Me, I’ve just been lonely. Miserably, horribly lonely.

I even mastered Zoom (well, how to click on a link if someone else set it up which even then stretched my abysmal techno skills) but it’s not the same.

On Thursdays, I planned my non-day around the pool guy’s visit.  Most weeks he was my only human contact. Fortunately, Scott is a really friendly, fun guy.  I was always secretly a little glad when it had been windy and there were lots of extra leaves in the pool for him to clean.

I’d probably have been harassing the lawn maintenance guy too but it’s too hard for him to hear me over the mower and the leaf blower. I think he is secretly glad for this.

Now, if I’m being perfectly honest, I think I probably always talked too much even before the pandemic.  But in recent months, I’ve been noticing that if I’m in my front yard doing gardening work or playing with the dog that neighbors out walking are crossing the street before they get to my house.  In this way, they can simply manage a cheery wave and keep going.

And no, I don’t think it’s a Covid issue.

I can’t avoid the fact that I’m being avoided. Friends and neighbors are living in fear of being entrapped in conversation from which they cannot escape.

I asked my close friend and neighbor Jill if I were imagining this.  Was my desperation for human contact doing the opposite – driving people away?  Was I just plain talking too much?  Have I always been talking too much?

“Well, yes,” said Jill, without hesitation. “But it’s part of your charm.” 

Part of my charm?  Please note there was no refuting or assuaging of my fears. This, however, is one of the reasons I love Jill; she’s always honest without ever being mean.  But sometimes I hear her closing her garage door very, very quietly so as not to attract my attention.

Ironically, I myself avoid compulsive talkers.  In my husband’s college roommate group, which still has a reunion almost every year, one of the wives, Lucy, literally never shuts up.  Most of these folks have known her since their college days and affectionately tolerate her.  Well, to a point. 

During one of the group’s reunions, we all met in Toronto and were taking a day trip to Niagara Falls.  I suddenly realized that the other women had all made a beeline for the other two cars, leaving me in a backseat with Lucy for the two-hour ride.  A half hour in, I was literally contemplating opening the car door and hurling myself out onto the highway at 70 mph.  I pretended to be asleep but she kept poking me on the shoulder.  When we stopped for lunch, she followed me to the restroom and talked to me through the stall.  She literally did not stop talking for a microsecond the entire day.  Fortunately, when we were on the boat tour, the roar of the falls drowned her out.  But I could still see her mouth moving.

Have I become Lucy?  Or has the pandemic simply Lucified a natural tendency to talk too much? I do think I, at least, let other people get a word in edgewise.  (I mean, I do, don’t I?  Must ask Jill.)

I’ve actually spent a great deal of time pondering this.  Partly, of course, because we have had absolutely no social life whatsoever in more than a year and I have plenty of time to do so.  But I really don’t want people to fantasize stepping into traffic just to get away from me.  Maybe I need to keep one of those one-minute timers in my pocket so that if a neighbor comes by, it will alert me to let them escape.

Or maybe just learn to shut up?