Monday, June 26, 2017

A Small Car Driver In A Big Car Town

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 29, 2017] ©2017
I used to be fairly certain that my end would come in a Bird Rock roundabout. But now I’m pretty sure that my last moments will be backing out of a parking spot between two SUVS in front of the public library. 
Or maybe it will be backing out of a spot on the Fay Avenue Speedway. People definitely seem to channel their inner NASCAR driver on that street. 
The problem, of course, is that I’m a small car person in a big car town. Even though I always look for a place next to a car my own size, anyone who has lived here for more than week knows that you grab – gratefully - what you can get.  And even if I’m parked next to what I am convinced is the only other little car in La Jolla, it invariably seems to be gone by the time I come back, replaced by a large black sport utility vehicle.
The first two feet that I back out are always totally blind. I inch out as slowly as I can ready to slam on my brakes as a car comes flying past. I brace myself for the sound of breaking glass and crumpling metal, two sounds that I really, really hate, especially when I’m encased in that glass and metal.  It is not good for my increasingly frail nervous system.
But I really don’t want a big car myself. My car pool days are mercifully over. No more cleat marks in my dashboard! (You know who you are.) In fact, I’d like an even smaller car than my little Toyota, maybe a Smart Car. Parking places aren’t getting any bigger. A tiny car would be especially useful at Gelson’s where despite the ample slots, the big cars hog one and a half parking places. I could still wedge my little Smart Car into the remaining half spot.
But if backing out blind on a busy street isn’t scary enough, pedestrians in local parking lots bring it to a whole new level.  Short of a deep-seated death wish (and the knowledge that those Beemer and Lexus drivers are well insured and will amply compensate your loved ones), I can’t for the life of me imagine what sort of brain activity, if any, is being registered by people who are obliviously texting – or not even texting - as they walk right behind backing cars.  One can only sigh wistfully and wish this lot were in the Serengeti, where natural selection could take its course.
We’re into the summer season now, of course, where traffic and parking and backing up issues all become exponentially worse. I think all of us year-round residents of La Jolla feel incredibly lucky to live in this beautiful ocean-side community.  But one can’t help but notice that summer tourists at a beach resort seem to have beamed themselves to a parallel universe where traffic laws do not apply. Fair enough; it’s what people do when on vacation. Still, it’s amazing so many survive their visit here.
At the Shores, for example, beach chair-laden visitors wander at will across busy streets against the light in front of oncoming cars.  They look stunned to hear the screech of tires, a blank look appearing across a puzzled face as they attempt to process what that annoying sound might have been. I fantasize having a neon blinking sign on the top of my car that I could broadcast “Look both ways!”  “The light is RED!” or even “AIIEEEE!” 
I used to tell myself that soon enough, it will be Labor Day again and life in La Jolla will return to its normally congested self.  But in the last few years, I can’t help but notice that Labor Day doesn’t even make much difference in parking or traffic congestion. We’re now in Full Tourist Season All Year Round. My go-to parking places are gone. In January!
But as for backing my little car out of parking places between the inevitable two big ones, I actually have a solution. It was inspired by World War II submarine movies and is so simple I can’t believe auto makers haven’t invented it. When I’m ready to back out of my spot in front of the library, I would say, “Up periscope, Siri!” and up through the roof of my car would come a 360 degree tube that would allow me to see speeding vehicles and death-wishing pedestrians. And Siri would say, “Safe to proceed! No Indy cars in sight!”  And for once I’d appreciate Siri with whom I’ve have an otherwise problematic relationship.  A vehicle periscope would truly improve my life more than any invention I could possibly imagine, even my long-time fantasy, a clairvoyant computer that would do what I want, not what I say.
As for the periscope, I’d just have to make sure it was down at the car wash.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Dells And Vales And Dales

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 14, 2017] ©2017
When Olof and I lived in Sweden and had the opportunity to take a trip above the Arctic Circle, we were not surprised to learn that the Sami (formerly known as Lapplanders) had some 1,000 words related to reindeer.  (The word tundra, by the way, is Sami.)
The Sami traditionally lived by following the reindeer herds but now lead a more settled existence with reindeer farming, hunting, fishing, and craft-making.  Having pondered reindeer at a Sami farm, I confess I was at a loss to imagine 1,000 different descriptors of them.  Years ago, my friend Linda Morefield and I, co-chairing the Pine Wood Derby for our Cub Scout troop, decided in true Mom fashion that “everybody is a winner” and set out one evening to create sixty different awards.  There’s really only so much you can say about a five inch block of pine whittled into a car shape, and the kids quickly figured out that “The Batmobile Award” was the only one with any real cachet. So a thousand words for reindeer impresses me greatly.
I’m guessing the Sami didn’t start out with more than ten, but those winters are really long, cold, and dark, and probably by the end of each winter, they had acquired five more.  It was probably what the Sami Moms did to keep from strangling the kids who were racing around the tent and driving her nuts.  “OK, kids.  Here’s an idea.  Let’s sit quietly and think of new names for reindeer!”  It’s what I would have done.
I got to thinking recently, what do Americans have a lot of terms for?  OK, we maybe don’t have 1,000 different terms for it, but I’ve noted for some time that English seems to have an inordinate number of words for topographical depressions, i.e. valleys.  This first came to my attention when my parents moved to suburban  New Jersey when I was in college to a secluded home that the realtor described as featuring a “bosky dell.” It was seriously clever marketing because my mother, who liked the house anyway, fell absolutely in love with the idea of living in a bosky dell, even though none of us quite knew what it meant.  The bosky part seemed pretty clear from the Spanish “bosque”, or forest (and the lot was indeed nicely wooded). But what the hell was a dell?
One immediately thinks of the children’s song “The Farmer in the Dell” but that doesn’t make much sense either. As it turns out the song came over from Europe and one theory is that the “dell” is a corruption of the Dutch “deel,” which can mean a workspace in a farmer's barn.
As it turns out, a dell in English is a small valley, usually among trees.  So, OK that little in the area behind the house could, if you were a realtor in a slow housing market, qualify as a dell. (We suspected she was a college English major which, like my major in psychology, had left her uniquely qualified for a lifetime of low-paying jobs.)
But over the years, I would wonder:  Why wasn’t it a bosky glade? Or a bosky glen? A bosky ravine? Or even a bosky vale or dale? (I’ve never understood the difference between the two of them even though they come up on crossword puzzles a LOT.)  So I have taken it upon myself to educate both you and myself on all those topographic holes our landscape seems so replete with.
Vale - a valley (used in place names or as a poetic term).
Dale - a valley, especially a broad one.
Dell - a small valley, usually among trees   
Glen - a narrow valley
Glade - an open space in a forest (no valley required)
Hollow - a small valley or basin
Trough - any long depression or hollow
Ravine - a deep, narrow gorge with steep sides
Gorge - a narrow valley between hills or mountains, typically with steep rocky walls and a stream running through it.
Canyon - a deep gorge, typically one with a river flowing through it
Coulee - a deep ravine.
Gully -  a water-worn ravine.
Couloir - a steep, narrow gully on a mountainside.
OK, so pretty wimpy in comparison to the Sami who even have a word for a bull reindeer with a single whopper-sized testicle (busat).  I guess if you’re walking behind them for a few hundred miles on the otherwise-sceneryless tundra, you’d have plenty of opportunity to notice.  (Inquiring minds want to know: what happened to the other one?)
But I’m willing to concede after this research that my parents did legitimately live in a bosky dell.  And by the way, they’ll be a quiz.


Monday, June 5, 2017

Please Listen Carefully

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 7, 2017] ©2017
I continue to be puzzled that no matter what business number I call, the recording advises me to “Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed.”
Inquiring minds want to know:  what is it about business phones that they feel compelled to constantly change their menu options?
Even more to the point, the new options sound suspiciously like the old ones. One of these days I’m going to catch one of these places out on this and write a column showing that in point of fact, their menu options HAVE NOT CHANGED ONE BIT.
And while we’re on this subject, I’m SICK of listening carefully.  I’m even more sickof being TOLD to listen carefully. What, they think I have the IQ of an amoeba?  That if I’m not reminded to listen carefully I’ll listen carelessly and select the wrong option?  Hell, I’m likely to do that anyway since the whole purpose of these options is to make sure you never get to an actual person.  The option that you really want – speaking to a human – is NEVER on the first menu, no matter how carefully you listen. And believe me, at this point I am a very, very careful listener.
My friend Bill has always maintained that you should never select any of the options and ultimately they’ll give up and send you to a person. After all, some people have rotary phones  andcan’t opt. But that doesn’t work as well anymore. They’re perfectly willing to disconnect you as punishment for not selecting one of the changed menu options, not listening carefully, but most of all for having a rotary phone.
My long-time preferred method, after listening to the first round of allegedly-changed menu options, is to just keep repeating “agent” or “representative.”  But some businesses – and we’re especially talking about medical insurance companies, and particularly YOU, Blue Shield - refuse to consider connecting you to a person until you have chosen one of their 10 options. And then, of course, you’ve been sucked down a rabbit hole that you’ll never get out of. 
And don’t even get me going on the part about how your call is very important to them.  My call is NOT important to you, you lying bags of dung!  If it were, you’d have someone answering your phone. On the rare occasions someone actually does, I’m so grateful I forget why I called.
Okay, I realize I’m sounding a little testy.  But I’ve had way too many opportunities to be implored to listen carefully to changed menu options in recent months.
Late last fall, I – and hundreds of others – were inadvertently dis-enrolled from Medicare.  My former employer, who provides my secondary insurance (Blue Shield), swears it was a Medicare snafu. Medicare maintained it was the fault of the benefits office folks of my former employer whom I would agree have the intelligence of corn meal. Unfortunately I was in the middle of a huge medical crisis and 22 claims were denied in the process. I was suddenly deemed uninsured.
The benefits office never ever responded to voice mail messages or emails. Of course, I probably wouldn’t either if several hundred irate people were calling me.
So I tried calling Medicare. The good news is that you ultimately get a person if you persevere on hold long enough. The bad news is that they are incapable of actually fixing anything. 
The Medicare lady confirmed that their computers showed that indeed, I was no longer enrolled in Medicare. In a cruel infinite loop, Blue Shield, being the secondary, won’t pay until Medicare has paid their part first.
The Medicare lady said that maybe I dis-enrolled myself during the recent Open Enrollment and I don’t remember.  Seriously?  I realize we’re dealing with an older population here but it’s really a shame the Uzi-through-the-phone app is still in its infancy.  Yup, I totally forgot that I spent an hour on hold to dis-enroll myself from Medicare, a procedure only slightly less complicated than a Middle East Peace Accord. It’s not like there is a “Press 3 to dis-enroll from Medicare” option that you can accidentally select. 
Then the Medicare lady offers:  maybe your husband did it. Yeah, like someone can just call and dis-enroll another from Medicare. I reminded her that every time I’ve called Medicare about a claim for him, they’ve insisted I put him on the phone personally.  So, she says, maybe I don’t remember that my husband called Medicare and put me on the phone and I told them I didn’t want to be enrolled any more.
You probably think you can imagine how many months it takes to get 22 claims resubmitted and how many times you are implored to listen carefully to changed options from people who truly care about your call. But no, you really can’t.



Monday, May 29, 2017

The Case For Letting Yourself Go

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 1, 2017] ©2017
When my young granddaughter was visiting one weekend, she queried, “Mormor, why do you always wear the same thing?” I turned to my husband, Olof.  “I think I’ve just been fashion-shamed by a five-year-old.”
As I explained to her it only looks like the same thing. I actually have eight pairs of those black slacks and at least as many of the white tops, the combination of which make me look like a server at a trendy trattoria. I do actually have slacks in other hues but it is my personal opinion that black best minimizes years of food felonies. In my defense, I do possess a wide selection of colorful sweaters and shirts. Sometimes I even wear them.
Both sons cheerfully insist that Olof and I dress like bag persons. And we assure them that this is intentional. I think this comes under the heading of "letting oneself go,” a philosophy we think is underrated.
Of course, we’re both retired so we can dress any way we want. In college, I was seriously into fashion, owning at least 40 pairs of shoes, the blue Pappagallos with the green trim, the green Pappagallos with the blue trim. I was also really slender. 
But in 1983, the year I was divorced, two major factors impacted my sartorial life. I packed on 30 pounds on the post-divorce Mrs. Fields Cookie and Chardonnay Acute-Depression Diet©. I was also suddenly poor.
In my post-divorce working years, I was wearing makeup and skirts so I was probably in the top one percent sartorially in my department.  That’s because I worked in an uber-casual male-centric office where if a guy was wearing shoes and long pants, somebody would call security.  Or think he was a Dell salesman. This environment was ideal for the retail-challenged.
One might think that it is just since we retired that we’ve let ourselves go. But we told the travel agent who was booking our honeymoon in 1995 that she could immediately eliminate any place where Olof was required to wear a jacket at dinner.  We’ve just been achieving a higher level of goneness since retirement. 
Frankly, I might try a little harder if clothes that I could actually try on in a store were a little easier to acquire. Finding apparel at any price in my size in most shopping centers is an exercise in futility.  I would chat it up with the personal shopper at Nordstrom who would inform me that they usually only order one size 16 in any particular style and those are so in demand that she immediately pulls them for her regular customers.  Now, I’m not in retail, but if I had a size that was instantly selling out, I’d order, well, more. But I’d be missing the point. Once you get past a certain size, department stores don’t want you waddling around in there among the osteoporotic svelte. 
Chunker departments, where they even exist, are invariably hidden in a corner of the third floor which you can spot from fifty yards: racks of nasty brown, navy, and black polyester slacks, and skirts with hideous floral prints in colors not found in nature. We chunkies just HATE wearing this stuff – a point that I routinely note in the feedback box at Nordstrom Oinker. (It’s actually Nordstrom Encore, but if you say it fast it comes out sounding like Oinker, which, in fact,  I am convinced is the subliminal meaning in that choice of word. What, after all, does “encore” have to do with fat people?)
It quickly became apparent that for any reasonable selection, I would be relegated to catalogs from the Talbots Butterball Collection or Lands’ End-Porcine.  Logging on to Lands’ End in search of attire for the adiposely-amplified, I was happy to discover a feature called Virtual Model.  You type in your assorted measurements, hair color, age, and voila, there is a virtual you standing there in your undies ready to try on clothes.  You can fine-tune the virtual you to a certain extent, but I did notice that “modify My Model” did NOT include such features as “add cellulite” or “increase sag”.  In fact, the My Model of me with my weight and measurements wasn’t half bad – because of course, I had the flabless thighs of an Olympic speed skater.  Given this, I enjoyed trying on bikinis and even making myself different races. Alas, clothes that looked great on the virtual me rarely looked good on the real me. Fortunately I know exactly what size black slacks and white tops fit me on Lands’ End.
And hence, my patented orphan look.
In recent years we’ve only dressed up for weddings, funerals, or our office Christmas parties. And now since we’re both retired, we don’t even have those. Hopefully no one will die any time soon. We’d have nothing to wear.


Monday, May 15, 2017

When More Is Not More

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 17, 2017] ©2017
Being defeated by an alarm clock was definitely a new low in my ever-deteriorating relationship with technology.
The iHome Color Changing FM Dual Alarm Clock Radio + USB Charger was actually a Christmas gift from my younger son and his wife. Message to kids: I don’t know how to say this nicely, but henceforth, please do not give me any techno Christmas gifts. Seriously, if it so much as has a plug, I don’t want it.  
And about the Roku you gave me last year. Frankly, I still don’t really understand what a Roku IS. Olof got it set up for me and wrote out the directions in words of one syllable.  I really intended to use it. But by the time I get out the instructions and the Roku remote and start trying to follow them, I usually feel so stressed that I require a glass of chardonnay. Unfortunately, the chardonnay does not make my Roku-instruction-following skills better. So after a certain number of really bad words, I pour myself a second (this time medicinal, to recover from the stress of Roku-induced failure) glass and switch on HGTV.
I often debate whether the loss of whatever meager techno skills I ever had is the result of incipient cognitive decline (well, duh) or that the world has simply gotten to be too technical a place for vast parts of its populace, i.e. anyone over 40. It’s clear to me that I am a word person marooned in a world of icons.  I can never even figure out what the icon is supposed to represent so it’s not exactly helpful in making me operate the gadget.
But about my new iHome Color Changing FM Dual Alarm Clock Radio + USB Charger.  This clock is definitely an over-achiever. Fortunately, you kids intended it for the guest room where you sleep.  What, that nice $10 CVS alarm clock wasn’t good enough for you? OK, apparently not. But I’d like to point out that anyone with the IQ of an amoeba could set the time or the alarm on the CVS thing. It’s a truly intuitive appliance. News flash, techno-designing geeks: more isn’t always more.
First of all, no alarm clock should ever come with THREE cords. That alone just about broke me. OK, so it turns out that one of them is the FM antenna. (Why? Why?) Another is apparently an “aux audio cable” which will allow you to connect an audio device (an MP3 player, I think?)  The third is apparently an actual power source. How mere mortals are ever supposed to figure this out is beyond me. 
I concede that the USB port in the back could be useful in charging your iPhone or “any other USB-chargeable device” (no idea what that would be). If I could figure out the settings, I suspect this clock would do my taxes.
The FM radio sports six “pre-sets” and the clock display can be personalized with adjustable brightness levels.  Personally, I never had trouble adjusting to the non-adjustable brightness level of my CVS alarm clock (which you will have to pry out of my cold dead hands, by the way).
But the truly baffling, over-the-top feature is that the clock itself changes colors. This would frankly drive me bat-s--t crazy. There are six color choices. If you had an engineering degree, you could set it to Fade mode (colors slowly fade in and out continually from one color to the next), Fast mode (colors change quickly from one to another through the color spectrum), or One Color Mode (just choose one color). I can only assume that the first two options are meant to be selected while smoking a lot of now-quasi-legal pharmaceuticals. Is this the new generation of lava lamp?
The different alarm options?  You don’t want to know. At least, I don’t want to know. I can’t even understand them never mind want to rely on them to wake me up for an early morning flight.
I spent an entire evening with the manual trying to get so far as setting the time on the iHome-from-Hell alarm clock before consigning it in exasperation to Olof. My Cal Tech-nuclear physics-trained husband finally got it set up.  When I queried how he had achieved this, he replied dryly, “You read the instructions.”  (Sometimes I really, really hate him.) But he agreed that we should (a) leave the manual underneath the clock on the night stand for consultation, and (b) break out the CVS alarm clock for guests in our own demographic.
There is a part of me that hopes this clock drives the kids nuts when they come down. This could motivate me to figure out how to do the thing that makes it keep changing colors. Hah! Teach YOU to disparage my perfectly good, totally user-friendly CVS alarm clock! Revenge would be so sweet.
CVS alarm clock – intuitive even to lower life forms