Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Burying Your Real Estate Woes With St. Joseph

["Let Inga Tell You", La Jolla Light, published December 30, 2010] © 2010

Looking for an appropriately warm fuzzy holiday topic for my column, it occurred to me that nothing says fuzzy like saints selling real estate. 

As anyone who lives in La Jolla knows, the real estate inventory in the million-plus range isn’t moving.  And since most of the inventory is, in fact, over a million dollars this has realtors in a serious funk.  On my block alone, some houses have languished on the market for two years.

Frankly, I’m a little surprised that everyone who is trying to get out from under a soggy mortgage isn’t aware of St. Joseph by now. 

I’m actually a big fan of Catholic saints who have been an integral part of my massively multi-religious Judeo-Catholic-Protestant family.  (No Muslims, alas, but we’d welcome some.)  If it looks like a saint can get the job done, well, we’re all for it.  Last year, I wrote about a hot tip I got about hanging my rosary beads on the clothes line (I had to sub in an orange tree since we’re zoned against clothes lines) to guarantee good weather for a family wedding.  And it worked!  I am not willing to concede for a millisecond that it was La Jolla’s statistically good weather and not the saints’ doing.

I first heard about St. Joe two years ago from a Jewish friend who said that her son had been transferred across the country and couldn’t sell his west coast home.  Two mortgages were eating him alive.  Finally his realtor advised him to buy a statue of St. Joseph, bury it upside down  in the back yard, and say a little prayer over it regarding the wish for a timely offer on the house.  For someone Jewish to buy a statue of St. Joseph was hard enough and he initially just put it in a closet hoping this would suffice.  Still no offers.  Desperate, he finally went out and buried the statue as instructed, and awkwardly mentioned to the little patch of bare earth below him that, if it were not too much trouble, it would be really nice if he could have an offer on his house.  An offer – and house sale – came hours later.

Well, maybe it was days later.  Or even weeks later.  Details schmeetails.  The house sold.

If you go on the internet and type “St. Joseph” you will find pages of hits, mostly from people who want to sell you some version of the official St. Joseph Real Estate Kit.  These generally include a plastic St. Joseph statue in either the four or eight inch size, along with instructions which are pretty much summed up in one paragraph but dragged out into booklet length with testimonials. 

Tales of miracles abound.  Unfortunately, variations on the instructions abound too.  Some insist he has to be buried in the back yard, others the front yard, yet others near the For Sale sign.  Along with property-value-crushing clothes lines, La Jolla is zoned against For Sale signs so this could be a problem locally.  There are those who insist St. Joe has to be buried exactly twelve inches deep.  A few even prefer him lying flat on his back, which would definitely be easier for those of us with clay-like soil, or anybody selling a house in winter faced with chiseling a plastic statue into the permafrost.

All of this raises burning questions.  Does the larger size St. Joe work faster?  Do you un-bury him if the house sells?  If you don’t, do the new owners find themselves inexplicably hounded by unsolicited offers? Inquiring minds want to know.

And why upside down?  One site maintains that by burying him upside down he works harder to get out.  Frankly, if I were St. Joe, I’d be working just as hard if I were right side up. 

What I like about St. Joe is that he appears to be an equal opportunity saint.  Unless, of course, you’re trying to unload a high rise condo.  For you it’s bubkes.  No soil, no sale.

But hey, if I were in Year Two of trying to sell a three million dollar La Jolla house, I might just order a St. Joseph statute and have the gardener bury him.  Or this being La Jolla, a truck load of St. Josephs and go for the carpet bombing, er burying approach.  Because at least one of those guys probably really wants to get out.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

*Sitting By The Fire Waiting For Bimbo Clause

["Let Inga Tell You", La Jolla Light, published December 16, 2010] © 2010

While most folks are happily counting down the arrival of Santa Claus, I’m eagerly awaiting Bimbo Clause.  

As I told Olof, I trust him implicitly.  Whom I don’t trust is the bimbo who marries him after my untimely death.  Such has been the level of discussion that she is now officially referred to by both us and our estate attorney as The Bimbo.  And in our impending estate documents, she has her very own Clause.

Olof tries to maintain that it could just as easily be The Pool Guy who will cash in if he goes first.  But there is no mention of The Pool Guy in our wills.

When the kids (who came from my first marriage but whom Olof feels a certain proprietary ownership of since he paid for most of their college educations) were of age, we decided we needed to update our standard A-B trust document. 

Frankly, there is no such thing as an A-B Trust that will make me happy.  There are supposed to be safeguards you can put in there, like locking up the A Trust, to make sure The Bimbo doesn’t roll in and steal the estate from the kids. But there are too many ways around it, especially if The Bimbo wants to gut the estate even before the Bimbee dies.   I don’t so much want to lock up the A trust as lock up Olof. 

We know of several cases right here in sunny La Jawla where The Bimbo (or her evil twin, the Bimbo Caretaker) has appropriated substantial portions of the estate even before the decedent crumped. Our estate lawyer said there really isn’t much you can do about that, assuming the geezer, er, pre-decedent, is more or less compos mentis.  And besides, he asks, don’t you want Olof to be happy?

“Define happy,” I said.   

It might sound like I do not trust Olof not to do something insanely stupid after I’m dead.  And that would be true.  But it isn’t personal to Olof.  Would that guys of a certain age of which Olof is fast approaching weren’t prone to start thinking exclusively with the little head.

Our estate lawyer said he’d never met someone who had so little trust in trusts.  “Can’t you have a little faith?” he said.

Not. A. Chance.  As one might guess, I have personal parental experience with bimbo home invasions.  To this day The Bimbo is dining off my mother’s Limoges, which I am now secretly hoping contains lead.

The problem with putting too many legal constraints on Olof is that he is far too nice to mention that my standard of living and that of the kids, never mind our  level of happiness, has been exponentially improved since I married him fifteen years ago.  He’s just the kindest, funniest and most generous guy on the planet. The kids adore him.   Given that an influx of cash from him upgraded this house from abject squalor, it seems a tad unfair telling him who can live in it after my premature passing.  But this hasn’t kept me from telling him anyway.

When I divorced in 1983, I gave my former husband every asset of the marriage plus took out a second mortgage to buy him out of our La Jolla home.  As a long term strategy, it was terrific.  How could La Jolla real estate ever lose value?  (OK, don’t answer that.) In the shorter term, I was perpetually destitute.  I used to lie awake nights formulating plans A-M, with A being to take in roommates and M being to sell my body on the street.  Problem was, I didn’t think I’d get much for it.

 I have lost years of my life expectancy just hanging on to this little house and The Bimbo is simply not going to get it.  

So, yes, I do want Olof to be happy.  If he is dating some minimally attractive menopausal troll over sixty with an estate of her own and no desire to remarry, he can be as happy as he wants. 

Let no one say I’m unreasonable.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

**When You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do

["Let Inga Tell You", La Jolla Light, published December 2, 2010] © 2010

There are times when you just have to lie. 

All right, I can hear my many lovely devout friends shaking their heads and saying, “No, it is NEVER okay to lie.”   So let this be my mea culpa: 

I lied. But if I hadn’t lied, I’d probably still have a dead possum in my front yard.

The day started out innocently enough as I hustled the kids out the door to be dropped off at school on my way to work.  I was a single working parent with two grade school kids.  Getting to my entry level university clerical job was essential to our survival. 

My nine year old, Rory, was the first to see it:  the huge dead possum lying on its back, feet in the air, in our front yard. 

“Cool!” said Rory, racing over to have a closer look.  “Can I bring it to school for Sharing?”

Henri caught up. “Neat!  Let’s name him Bob.” 

“Do NOT touch that!” I yelled, in hot pursuit.  I swear this possum looked like it was meandering happily across the yard and keeled over of a massive marsupial heart attack.  Its big eyes were wide open. 

Like most kids of divorced working mothers, my kids were latch key kids after school.  It was imperative that the possum not be still there when they returned.  Home Alone With Dead Possum Named Bob.  There were no good possibilities there.

Turns out that it is not so easy to get rid of a dead possum.  It’s against the law to put it in your trash.  I called every agency I could think of who might come get it, even Project Wildlife.  They pointed out that they don’t deal with dead wildlife.  Only live wildlife. Hence their name.   I realized I should have told them it was still breathing. Already my mind was operating in perfidy mode.

But finally I connected with the Dead Animal Recovery Bureau.  And yes, there is one.  Absolutely, they said.  We’ll come and get it.  I was massively relieved.  I gave them my address and noted that the decedent was in my front yard.

There was silence.  “Sorry, m’am.  We don’t go on private property.  We only take animals off of public property.”  And before I could say anything further, he said, “No exceptions” and hung up.

This was a dilemma.  Kids are going to be home from school in three hours. Best case, I see Bob tucked into my bed wearing my nightgown.  I told my boss I had a personal emergency and raced home.  Donning rubber gloves I went out to the front yard and surveyed the situation.  Between the yard and the street was a four feet high fence.  There was clearly only one alternative.

Who knew a dead possum could be so heavy?  But once I got a little momentum going (“and a one and a two…”) Bob was airborne. 

Back at work, I was on the phone to the Dead Animal Recovery Bureau reporting a dead possum in the street.

The guy on the phone was suspicious.  “Didn’t you just call?”

“Call?”  I said.

“Well,” he said, “someone just phoned a while ago and reported a dead possum in their yard at this address.”

“Wow, I sure hope it’s not an epidemic,” I replied.  “But this possum is definitely in the street.”  For effect I added, “You might want to report this outbreak to Vector Control.”

When I came home, the kids were distraught that the possum, for whom they had great plans, had disappeared. 

“What happened to Bob?” they asked.

“Some nice animal people came and took Bob away,” I said.  “I’m sorry.”

Well, at least the first part of that line was true.

A former co-worker, Dave, rewrote this column and entitled it "Inga Noir".  Frankly I like it better than my version:

There are times when you just gotta lie.

I can hear my mama now, smackin me upside da head an' sayin I'm gonna burn in hell, burn cuz I lied. But ya gotta know dis. If I hadn't lied, I'd still have da stiff in my yard.

It happened like dis, see. Some mornin' way too early -- and all mornins are too early when your drinkin' till closin' time, waiting for a phone that never rings to tell you you got a new case -- I pulled my hat on an' unchained the front door. Gotta go to work, no matter how many too earlys it is. Punch my timecard, make a buck and a quarter an hour for sittin behind my desk like I's supposed to.

I pushed open the screen and walked across the porch, remindin' myself to get that loose board fixed someday. Everythin' as usual.

Den the screen door kicked open and Rory and Henry come flyin' out like they'd been thrown by the bouncer at Mo's. Rory and Henry. I got dem from a missin' persons case. The missin' person was my spouse, if ya gets me.

Sos Rory jumps over da loose board and runs out to the walk and den stops all sudden. "Hey!" he hollers. "Look at dis! It's a stiff!"

"A stiff!" Henry joined him. "Who's stiff is it? Is is Bob? Did you smack 'em?" he asked, looking back at me, his eyes bulging.

"Get away from dat stiff!" I yelled, pulling Henry back by the ear. "It ain't Bob, I don't know who it is! It ain't mine, you stay away from it!"  That stiff was a sorry sight, eyes wide and starin', as if the big ticker just gave out an' he keeled over right there, all inconsiderate, on my yard.

Here's what I was thinkin'. If I got on the bus to work, see, and left Rory and Henry here with da stiff, who knows what'd happen. I might get home to find it lying on da couch with its head onna pillow and my slippers on its feet. Rory and Henry are kinda weird like dat. Strange.  Not normal.

"You reprobates get ta school," I yelled. "I'm taking care of da stiff."

Turns out it's not so easy to get rid of a stiff in your yard.

I called O'Malley down at da substation. You think he'd think better of me since I took one for him from the Spanetti brothers last February, just doin' my job and all, but it still left a hole in my shoulder and a bigger one in my wallet. But he's still pissed about what happened with that Porter Bros. heist. I kept telling him nothin' personal with dat, I'd pay him back dat reward money some day, but he ain't buying it.

He wasn't buying it today. "A stiff?!" he yelled sos I gotta hold the horn extra-far from my ear. "Is dis you Noir? I'm gonna put you away if I find a stiff in your yard!"

Lucky he can't hear what I say after I hang up. But he gives me an idea. I put on my rubber gloves, see, the ones I keep in my back pocket. You know, just in case. I go out and I grab that stiff, and with a couple of da back and forths and a big heave, I toss it right over into da alley.  Makes a funny sound when it lands. I try not to remember dat sound.

I get O'Malley on the horn again. "Is this you Noir?!" he bellows, like it's me that got the hearin' problem. "I'm sending you up dis time, got  that?? You ain't comin' back for 10 years, and that's if yer lucky!!"

I do dat little high-pitched voice I use sometimes. Usually times like dis when I'm talkin' to da cops, but I ain't sayin' when else. "Nah, I mean, no, it's ... um ... Inga. Yeah, dis ... this is Inga. I gotta stiff in the alleyway. I mean, body. Come get it, will yous guys?"

So whens Henry and Rory finally get back from delinquency school, dere all sad cuz the stiff ain't in da yard any more. "What happened to Bob?" they say. "Did ya sink him? Jersey river job?" Henry starts lookin' round like he's gonna see lead weights just lyin' there.

"Nah," I say. "Some nice people came and took it away."

Well, at least I was only lying about the "nice" part.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Letting No Good Deed Go Unpunished

["Let Inga Tell You", La Jolla Light, published November 18, 2010] © 2010

Not long ago, I'm in line at the supermarket behind a somewhat chubby young woman holding an adorable Pug puppy. Her groceries are already bagged but it quickly becomes obvious that her debit card is being declined. Cash or credit card are not forthcoming in its place. She keeps taking things out of the bags – Ore-Ida frozen hash browns, Betty Crocker biscuit mix – and asking the clerk to try it again. The clerk is apologetic: “I’m sorry,” she says, “it’s still ‘insufficient funds’”.

The young woman looks increasingly stressed as the line behind her grows. After four rounds of this, I know it won’t matter how much stuff she takes out of those bags or how often the checker re-tries it; this young woman doesn’t have any money. I’m guessing there is probably dog food in there for the puppy. And maybe – given the hash browns and the biscuit mix – a not very nutritious but at least marginally sustaining dinner for her as well.

These are hard economic times. The holidays are coming. Helping one another out is the least we can do.

Meanwhile the puppy – a born closer - turns and looks at me with its big doe-y brown eyes.

I whisper to the checker: “How much is it?” She whispers back, “$11.73”. I think, “How often do I have an opportunity to really help someone for $11.73?” I tell the checker I’ll pay for it. I slide my card and type in my pin while the young woman stands by. I get a kind of terse, “um, thanks” as she grabs her two bags and departs with the dog.

I go out to my car with that warm fuzzy feeling that you get when you’ve made someone’s life just a little brighter, even if only for a day. I imagine them eating their modest meal together that evening. I know I will feel more grateful tonight for my own dinner thinking of her.

And then I glance down at the receipt for the Pug owner’s groceries that the clerk had handed to me along with my own:

HE miniatures: $3.99
Oreo mint cookies: $1.99
Pop Tarts: $2.59
Snickers bar: $.50
Dove Milk Chocolate bar: $.50
Dr. Pepper: $1.89
CRV for the Dr. Pepper: $.10.
With tax: $11.73.

I wasn’t sure what the HE miniatures were. Hoping against hope that this could be something at least minimally nutritious for either human or canine - tiny crackers? little kibbly bits? - I went back into the store and showed the receipt to the checker.

“Please tell me this item is real food,” I said.

“Sorry” she said, “that was a bag of Hershey’s miniature chocolate bars.”

OK, I confess I was a little disheartened. Still, as I drove home, I tried to keep sight of the essential issue here: I sure hope dogs like Oreos.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

**It's All Lies - I Was Framed!

["Let Inga Tell You", La Jolla Light, published Nov. 4, 2010] © 2010

Of all the fantasies one has as a new mom, one never imagines that some day that adorable blob will be a social work graduate student assigned to write a paper analyzing the psychopathology of someone he knows well. And choose you.

Let me just say up front that we couldn’t have been prouder of our older son, Rory, when he decided to get his Masters in Social Work and graduate from his somewhat limited career opportunities in Food Stamps and MediCal Eligibility. The pay was not great and most of the time, Rory wasn’t too far removed from being on food stamps himself.

The call from our scholar started out innocently enough.

“Hi, Mom,” said Rory. “I was wondering if you might help me out with a paper I have to write for Human Behavior in the Social Environment. I have to analyze another person according to three different theories of psychodynamics.”

“Sounds really interesting,” I said. “So you want me to proofread it?”

“Um, not exactly.” A tentative pause. “I was kind of planning on you being the person.”

I would like to say that Rory was not the easiest child. (His version is that I was not the easiest mother.) I’ve heard it said that you have the most trouble with the child most like you. Rory and I are both intense, highly emotional people. He even looks like me. All of which is fairly amazing since he’s adopted. But he had an exquisite sense about what would push my buttons and pretty much had them on speed dial.

I’m embarrassed to say how often Rory and I got into huge screaming matches. (Olof said more than once that we should BOTH go to our rooms.) Meanwhile, my younger son, mild mannered Clark Kent, my biological child, would shake his head and wander off muttering, “Why am I related to these people?”

The normally placid Olof was distraught when he heard Rory’s plan. He pleaded with me: Against all odds Rory survived to adulthood without any felonies being committed on either side. Why, WHY would I risk it all now?

But Rory persisted. As a student of behavior, it was an opportunity for him to learn more about the factors that influenced my formative years. And to help him understand why I was potentially the worst mother in the history of the world.

Olof finally relented, knowing the cause was lost, but insisted, “But you can’t read it, Inga. Promise me.”

Shortly thereafter, a long list of questions arrived, and numerous email and telephone conversations ensued. The great and small triumphs and tragedies of my life were reviewed. And in the end, I ignored Olof’s express wishes and read the final product: Seventeen typed pages on the psychodynamics of Mom.

And I have to say, it was a strikingly sympathetic portrait. I really came out of this okay. Even Rory said he had an entirely different view of me after he finished it than when he started.

“So,” I said, “what kind of grade did you get?

“A for the paper,” he replied.

But an all-too-familiar I-just-can’t-help myself smile suddenly appeared.

“But C for my Mom’s personality.”

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Case for Courtesy

This piece appeared in The Foghorn, the newsletter of the San Diego Press Club.

The Case for Courtesy

I used to lament to friends that I could wallpaper my home in rejections slips. 

Come back, rejection slips.  All is forgiven.

Now, of course, I just want a reply, any sign from the ether that my submission was indeed considered even if it doesn’t meet their present needs.

Some publications avoid the reply issue by saying that if you haven’t heard in X days, they’re not interested.  They’ll insist all submissions are read.   Not that we believe that for a nanosecond.

We who write fear in our hearts that at the other end of the Send button is a minimum wage recent journalism school graduate who spends his or her latte-fueled day on Facebook and hits Select All and Delete on the submission in-basket on a pretty much hourly basis.  

The guest column I submitted per the guidelines to Editor & Publisher went ignored until a writer friend gave me the private email of an editor there who bought it within an hour.  Ditto a piece for San Diego Magazine.

A timely humor piece went to our local daily last year that I felt was perfect for them.  I submitted it weekly for eight weeks, including follow-ups to the editor who was supposed to get it, and resubmissions to editors who weren’t.  Not a word.  On the eighth week, I got a call from None of the Above saying he’d just received my wonderfully timely very funny piece and was running it that weekend. 


“Just out of curiosity,” I said, “do you remember seeing this piece before?”

“No,” he says.  “Why?”

I really try to target my work to specific publications.  So I wouldn’t mind my piece being rejected (oh, all right, yes I would) if a sentient editorial human really thought it wasn’t right for them.

My technogeek husband maintains that the excuse about their being so swamped with submissions as to be unable to reply individually is nonsense.  For the same amount of energy our entry-level ennuied Instant Messager expends hitting Delete before heading for the Mojitos, he could be hitting Control N, as in No, and sending an automated message of regret.  It would at least give the illusion of courtesy.   

Fortunately, I now have a column in the La Jolla Light which has largely removed me from marketing.  It’s a sure sell every time, well, except maybe for my April 8 column called “I was a mistress of both Tiger AND Jesse” which was deemed unsuitable for a family newspaper although I swear it was totally G-rated.  (In retrospect, it was probably a mistake to submit it Easter week when there was a lot of coverage of chicks and bunnies.) 

But the freelance work and my book project are uphill.  My completed book manuscript sits ready for adulation while queries to prospective agents go unanswered or at best get a snooty “We only deal with authors who have published at least ten best sellers even though you’ve never heard of a single title on our list.”  Last time I published a book, in aught five the year of the big snow, it really wasn’t hard to get an agent.  Now I think you need an agent to get an agent.

I don’t think any of my fellow writers would argue that we deserve better.  But above all, we deserve an answer. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mastering CSL: Coffee As A Second Language

["Let Inga Tell You", La Jolla Light, published October 21, 2010] © 2010

This year I’ve made it my goal to master CSL – Coffee as a Second Language.

I don’t have to tell you what a social disadvantage it has been to live in a place with so many good coffee houses and not speak Coffee.

Of course, the main reason I haven’t learned it is that I don’t drink coffee. I love the taste and aroma but the family caffeine sensitivity has my hands shaking before I’ve taken a second sip. However, as I am often reminded, you can get decaf versions of pretty much everything the menu. Although a triple shot espresso decaf would probably defeat the purpose.

While I certainly agree with my friends that coffee houses are an ideal place to meet, I’ve never frequented them enough to really master spoken Coffee. That’s because the menu scares the daylights out of me. The French may not be very tolerant of people who massacre their language but they sound like Barney the happy dinosaur compared to coffee drinkers stuck in line behind someone who does not speak Coffee. The caffeine fiends are ten minutes past needing a fix, the tremors have set in, and anyone who holds them up is in critical danger of being fed into the bean grinder.

Would that I was kidding.

Attempting to avoid becoming a new instant coffee drink if the clientele behind me seems unusually hostile, I tend to smile brightly at the barista and chirp, “I’ll have what that person just had in a decaf.”

Unfortunately, this doesn’t keep them from asking you more questions. Lots more questions. The milk options alone are terrifying. In fact, I think that if you factored all the possible combinations and permutations of coffee drinks, the number would be in the bazillions.

But the problem with spoken Coffee is that it is a language with an unbelievable number of dialects. For example, there’s the Frappuccino-Macchiato dialect from the Sucrose region of Italy. Only serious linguists and/or pre-diabetics really understand it.

And just when Coffee was already an incredibly complicated language, they’ve thrown in Fair Trade, i.e. that the farmers who grew the beans were paid a fair price. Was I born yesterday? I’m sure there are standards for this but the cynic in me still wants to see sworn testimonials from the farmers. Better yet, can I call them in person?

And of course, we now have the option of “organic”. I kind of hate it when they bring up that word because it immediately raises the specter of what’s in the non-organic. Should we be thinking egg farms in Iowa? One thing is clear: if it’s fair traded and organic, we’re going to pay more for it. So I’d just like to know for sure those South American coffee farmers have 401ks and I’m not drinking chicken doots.

But just when you think you’ve miraculously gotten out of the ordering process alive, you discover that when your drink is ready, they sometimes don’t call you by name but by what you ordered. The short hand name of what you ordered. I have no idea what I ordered. I just hope it really IS decaf. And preferably has whipped cream on it. I have let my coffee order get stone cold for fear of taking someone else’s drink by mistake. Because if you think coffee drinkers are cranky being in line behind a non-Coffee speaker, don’t even think what would happen if you accidentally took their vente grande small cap no foam dolce.

My friend Amy’s mother, Toni, has been lobbying her local Starbucks to introduce a new drink, the mocha valium vodka latte. Now this is a drink I could get my head around. I wouldn’t even need this drink in a decaf. A nice simultaneous upper and downer, it just falls off your tongue when you say it. Of course, you might fall on your head after you drink it. But it has the added advantage that within minutes, you don’t care if you speak Coffee or not.

Yielding To The Temptation To Ignore Traffic Signs

["Let Inga Tell You", La Jolla Light, published October 7, 2010] © 2010

Three years ago, La Jolla’s southern suburb of Bird Rock completed a series of five roundabouts designed to calm traffic and even more, to increase the survival rate for crossing La Jolla Boulevard.

The latter has definitely been achieved. Businesses on the east and west sides of the street are no longer separated by an asphalt obstacle course of kamikaze motorists. Like never before, Bird Rock has cohesed into a happy little village with attractive new landscaping and blinky crosswalks so eager to serve that they frequently blink even when no one is crossing. You have to love the crosswalks’ enthusiasm although they could probably use a little voltaic Valium.

The traffic calming aspect has been a little more problematical. In fairness, Americans are not all that familiar with roundabouts as evidenced by the pickup trucks that routinely drove over the center of them until the landscaping was planted. The biggest problem with the traffic calming aspect, however, is a basic failure of understanding of the word “yield”, one of those adorably antiquarian traffic concepts that disappeared from usage around the same time as “signaling”.

What the Yield signs are supposed to indicate, of course, is that vehicles already in the roundabout have the right of way and you have to (all together now) YIELD. It’s counterintuitive for some of us to believe that a car turning left in front of us has the right of way. And for others, over their cold dead body are they conceding the right of way no matter what the d**n sign says.

The Bird Rock roundabouts are actually roundaboutlets, embryonic versions of the big scary British variety, so you have about .2 nanoseconds to figure out if the vehicle already in the roundabout is coming around it or proceeding straight ahead.

There are some who would conclude that one should SLOW DOWN just in case one is going to have to YIELD. It would, of course, help if the vehicle in the roundabout would signal its intention of going left but that is somewhere in the same statistical likelihood as SLOW DOWN.

The whole excitement level ratchets up even a few more notches with the advent of summer visitors who have no experience of roundaboutlets and/or who come from places where they don’t yield either.

Now I can understand why Bird Rock would not want to despoil the new found esthetics of the community with excessive signage. But the Yield thing remains a problem. If it were up to me, I would implement a crash (you should excuse the expression) course, Roundabouts 101, a series of Burma Shave-inspired educational signs starting at Nautilus Street. For example:



Playa Del Norte: NO, WE’RE SERIOUS.



Kolmar: WHY?









Forward: NOPE, IT WAS YOU.




*Getting To Know The REAL College Applicant

["Let Inga Tell You", La Jolla Light, published September 23, 2010] © 2010

Friends whose son has already started on his college applications were bemoaning the process to us, knowing we have lived through it ourselves. It’s been a few years since our sons applied and I was curious to know if the essay topics had improved in the interim.

In a word: no.

Colleges always maintain that they want to know the “real” candidate but then hit them up with eye-glazing topics that are pretty much guaranteed to produce prose like "Team sports has taught me self-discipline and how to work with others" and "My trip to Europe made me realize that we are all one."

I remember my younger son, Henri, who applied to a lot of essay-intensive schools, approaching his step-father, a reactor physics graduate from Cal Tech, hoping someone of Olof’s erudite background could provide some retrospective insights into "What do you hope to achieve in your four years of college?" My husband pondered the question for a moment before offering, "Grow facial hair and get laid?" Henri perked up immediately at the prospect. But didn’t dare use it.

If college admissions officers want to get to know the “real” candidate, they’ve got to ask the right questions. Topics that kids can really become impassioned about and which might also give college essay readers a reason to live. Here’s a few I might suggest:

(1) Analyze the debris field on your bedroom floor. How does it reveal the real you?
(2) Agree or disagree: There is absolutely nothing new anyone can say about The Great Gatsby.
(3) Why texting, tweeting and other electronic communication should be allowed during class time, especially if the class is like, totally lame.
(4) My night in a Tijuana jail: A lesson in diversity.
(5) What things do you do that drive your parents craziest? Describe how you've fine-tuned them over the years.
(6) Relate an incident where you were blamed for something that was so not your fault.
(7) Influences that shaped your life: were there any?
(8) Describe an evening with your favorite non-porn-star fictional character.
(9) The top three excuses parents are likely to believe.
(10) In 250 words or less, agree or disagree with this statement: people over 40 should not be allowed on Facebook.
(11) Curfew: why I am so over it.
(12) How ADHD explains my transcript, and that felony egging incident.
(13) College: Is it over-rated?
(14) Legalizing marijuana: like totally overdue, man.
(15) What are the nicknames you and your siblings have for each other when no grownups are around? Regale us with the symbolism behind them.
(16) How to survive a totally bad hair day.
(17) iPhone apps I’d REALLY like to see.
(18) Why I will totally be a better parent than mine are.
(19) Party buses: the best thing to ever happen to under-age drinking.
(20) Pole dancing as a varsity sport? Make your best case.
(21) Should watching the movie be an acceptable alternative to reading the assigned book so long as the ending is kind of the same?
(22) My favorite pharmaceutical and why.
(23) Compare and contrast your favorite awards shows.
(24 ) Like, whatever.
(25) Despite what they say, my parents really WERE born yesterday.

Olof, however, points out that like everyone else, college admission folks have to be careful what they wish for. Because if they ask any of these questions, they will surely get it.

*The Cat Who Came In From The Cold

["Let Inga Tell You", La Jolla Light, published September 9, 2010] © 2010

Not long ago we were invited to the 10th birthday party of a favorite neighbor. Party hats, champagne, and elegant hors d’oeuvres were in evidence for the adults, and the guest of honor gamely posed for the requisite cake photo. But most of the time he was curled up in a ball under the coffee table, nose buried in a new catnip toy in abject feline heaven.

We’ve actually known Tiger, né Caramel, from his earliest kittenhood when he used to hang out under our bird feeders hoping to get lucky. It was with no little horror a year or so later that I discovered his owners had moved and left him behind. Tracked down, they said they “thought” someone else might also be feeding him so they’d felt OK departing without him.

We couldn’t keep him as our younger son is anaphylatically allergic to cats but Caramel showed up like clockwork at our doorstep every night meowing piteously until I came out to the front porch with a can of people tuna. Meanwhile I posted his photo on “Do you know me?” fliers around the neighborhood.

A day or so later, two women called. “Yes, that’s our cat Tiger” they said. “He adopted us a few months ago but disappears for days at a time.” I could believe it.

When Tiger/Caramel showed up at my doorstep that night doing his starving homeless cat act, I stared him down and said, “I’m on to you, you kitty con artist. Just how many homes do you have???”

Several, as it turned out. Once the tuna train ended at my house, he began frequenting the master bed of another neighbor, Bob, whose French doors were often open. Bob had no interest in a cat but Tiger was not to be dissuaded.

I connected Bob up with the two ladies on the next street. As often as Bob returned Tiger to their house, Tiger would be back to Bob’s an hour later. The two women were distraught at Tiger’s rejection and finally concluded there was only one thing to be done.

They called in the cat whisperer.

The kitty psychic ($150 hour) closeted herself with her furry client for a private consultation. Tiger, the cat shrink reported when she emerged, was distraught that there was now another male cat on the women’s block who was more dominant than he. His male ego bruised, he had sought refuge at Bob’s where there was less competition, not to mention gratuitous male bonding. (The cat whisperer didn’t specifically mention it, but I’m sure Tiger told her that he, like Bob, was a rabid Yankees fan.) While Tiger didn’t want to appear ungrateful for the ladies’ many kindnesses, at this stage in his life, he needed a more guy-centric environment.

Well, said Bob, who didn’t want to admit just how attached he and his girlfriend were to the cat at this point, if it’s really what Tiger wants…

Easter Sunday some eight years ago was to be the official changeover day. Bob made a nice brunch and the two tearful ladies showed up, Tiger in tow, for the official handover of distemper shot records. They surveyed Tiger’s new home, and approved. Food was served. But when it came time for the relinquishment to become final, the ladies had a sudden change of heart. What if the Feline Freud had misunderstood Tiger’s wishes?

Tiger was put on the phone during an emergency call to the cat psychic whose skills fortunately included aural communication over optical fiber. The ladies were assured that Tiger had re-asserted his wishes to live with Bob.

And that was that. Bob, fairly clear that he was now the proud owner of a kitty bigamist, soon after decided that Tiger’s cat-about-town days were over. Tiger became a quite content house cat. He made a break for it once but was back as soon as his sofa-softened paws hit cold earth. Whatever memories he has of his earlier days weren’t obvious at his tenth birthday gig as he positively exuded marmalade tabby happiness. Or maybe it was just the catnip talking.

Looking For A Cure For Medical Billing

["Let Inga Tell You", La Jolla Light, published August 26, 2010] © 2010

This is the story of a woman who tried to be an informed medical consumer. And failed.

My inspiration was an MSN article last year about people walking out of emergency rooms fearing they would get bills beyond their ability to pay. Which, of course, shows that they have excellent reality testing. It specifically profiled a young temporarily-uninsured magazine editor who had been knocked unconscious in a bicycle accident, and who asked for an estimate of charges. The ER physician said “Do I look like an accountant?” upon which the guy left, untreated.

Probably the smartest move he ever made. Unless, of course, he ended up dying of a subdural hematoma three days later in which case that pricey but statistically unnecessary MRI would have been worth it.

But really: who in their right mind would willingly agree to a financial obligation for which they have no idea of the ultimate cost and likely no ability to pay? Well, maybe thirty million people who bought homes prior to the mortgage meltdown, but look how well THAT turned out.

Having been clobbered by a drunk driver three years ago, I have been a regular guest of orthopedists and physical therapy people. It continues to baffle me that doctors, unlike any other profession, seem to have no clue as to what their services cost. One doctor recommended a home physical therapy device that upon my query he thought cost $300 if not covered by insurance, and $50 if it were. Correct answer: $740 and virtually no insurance company will get near it.

But physical therapy is different. My insurance company charges me a percentage of PT, not a flat co-pay, and it seemed to me that some of the treatments I was getting were less useful than others or could just as easily be done at home. Like taping my foot, for example. Or icing. Here, at least, was a situation where I could choose if I thought a particular procedure was worth the cost to me and save some money by declining it.

Each treatment, of course, has a billing code. I asked the PT guy for a price list of my assorted treatments and he said sorry, he only treats and codes. (I guess everybody’s a specialist these days). The receptionist said she had no way of knowing either. She merely beams the codes the PT guy gives her to a galaxy far, far away. Certainly one out of earthling telephone range because as many times as I called them, I was never able to reach a sentient being.

Of course, I’m aware that in the current system, there is technically no set charge for a procedure; it’s whatever your insurance company has contracted for. Or if uninsured, the contracted price times five. But someone, somewhere, was billing my insurance company and subsequently me. So why were they harder to find than Dick Cheney?

The Explanation of Benefits from my insurance company was equally murky; I’d get lump sum charges for each of the days I was there underneath a computation that only a rocket scientist could decipher. Nothing friendly and English-y like “Your co-pay for gimpy foot taping: $25.”

The insurance folks, interestingly, didn’t seem to have any better idea what I was being billed for than I did. No translations of the billing codes could be produced in any Germano-centric language.

I ultimately concluded that I was just going to have to accept that prior knowledge of medical charges was simply one of life’s unknowable mysteries, like what REALLY happened to the other black sock in the dryer.

Meanwhile I’m taping my own foot now and saving…I have absolutely no idea.

The Summer The Lemon Biz Went Sour

["Let Inga Tell You", La Jolla Light, published August 12, 2010] © 2010

Watching all the neighborhood kids with their lemonade stands this week, I was reminded of the summer my eight and eleven year old sons decided to turn our prolific lemon tree into a wholesale lemon business. It was probably the best entrepreneurial experience either of them has ever had.

They, of course, had had plenty of lemonade stands of their own. But it didn’t take too much mathematical genius to realize that their goal of owning their own Nintendo store wasn’t happening with such paltry proceeds.

A survey of the back 40 (feet) had quickly revealed that we had only one cash crop: lemons. The tree, sporadically watered and never fertilized, had thrived on benign neglect and produced a seemingly inexhaustible supply of grapefruit-sized lemons. The kids hatched a plan.

The next afternoon, standing outside a now-defunct La Jolla health food store that market research had been shown to be selling Sunkist, the kids and I reviewed their pitch. Mom lectured on some of the finer points of salesmanship, such as Why We Wear Shoes During a Sales Presentation. This is not immediately obvious to a Southern California child and turned out to be wasted anyway since the manager/surfer dude who ran the place was unshod himself. At the appointed time, we presented ourselves, made introductions all around, and as rehearsed, explained why our product was one the House of Organicity shouldn’t be without. The manager duly tasted The Product (we held our breaths) and pronounced it “good”. Or maybe that was “gnarly”.

My younger son, Henri didn’t miss a beat. “$2.00 a pound,” he announced firmly, “and that’s our final offer!” (This was not part of the script.)

The manager rolled his eyes. “Sorry, kid, but I can’t get more than $.29 a pound for these.”

“So how about a 50-50 split?” I jumped in, also not part of the script. (Henri maintained after that I was a “weenie wimp” who had negotiated us out of any serious profits before he was even warmed up. I should mention he is now an MBA.)

Seventy pounds of lemons were ordered, deliverable immediately.

We rushed home to process the first order. As Rory picked and Henri washed, dried and polished, I gave them the crash course on quality control, about how even one overly green or rotten lemon could (excuse the expression) sour the whole deal. An hour and a half later, the first order from the Pumphouse Lemon Company was on the store’s counter.

“Do you have an invoice?” the manager dude asked. While I explained that the, er, invoices were still, ah, at the printer, the kids were ecstatic to receive $10.50 for a mere hour’s work.

“Wow,” said Rory, “why would anyone get a regular job when you can go into business?”

The next day, we not only had invoices, but a logo (a lemon) and even a slogan (“A lemon from PLC is grown with TLC.”) We were impressed with ourselves.

Until I dropped into the store a few days later to check supply and discovered our lemons being sold for $.49 a pound, not $.29.

“A terrible oversight,” the dude explained. “These are just such great organic lemons that we quickly realized we were underselling them. And I couldn’t find your phone number.”

I fixed him with my steeliest gaze. “It’s one thing to cheat another adult,” I said, feeling like I was getting the quickie Harvard Business School education, “but you will NOT cheat my kids.” Additional funds were immediately forthcoming without my ever having to mention the two resident heroin addicts at Wind n’ Sea Beach who, it was rumored, would break anyone’s kneecaps for $500.

But while the young entrepreneurs thought they had found the perfect merger of supply and demand, the vagaries of both concepts hit them squarely between the eyes several months later. The seemingly endless supply of lemons dried up, and before another crop could be produced, the tree crumped (a casualty of a new sprinkler system) and the health food store went under.

Which is when they learned another valuable concept of fledgling businesses: don’t quit the day job.

The Mysteries Of Elder Think Are Explained

["Let Inga Tell You", La Jolla Light, published July 29, 2010] © 2010

Recently, I received this email from my late-twenties son, Henri:

For your next column, I think you should write about the backwards logic of the elderly. Your recent comment that you are “too old for near-death experiences” (i.e. things that scare you) is paradoxical to me. Since you are already old [62], it seems to me that you should be more willing to risk death since you have less to lose? I, on the other hand, have forty to fifty great years ahead of me, so I shouldn’t ever risk death. If I were really old, I would be in a rush to try to get in as many things as I could since time is running out. Go figure.

Dear Henri:

Go figure indeed. You do raise some intriguing questions. But I think the simple answer as to why old people are not willing to risk death is that we are not, unlike a core group of people your age (but fortunately not you), judgment-challenged idiots. Your mother was definitely one in her earlier years. While we ossifying oldies remember well the sense of invulnerability that characterizes youth, the reason we are still here is that we have recovered from it. Or at least lived to tell about it. Olof, as you know, was an Air Force pilot in his younger years and did some very high-risk flying. When asked why he didn’t remain a pilot, he likes to quote the saying, “There are old pilots and bold pilots, but no old bold pilots.”

I must also take issue with your suggestion that we in the senectitude set have “less to lose”. I’d like to live long enough so that my currently-infant grandchildren could pick me out of a lineup. (Well, hopefully not literally, but that all depends on how Social Security holds up.) Never having them know me and remember me would be a lot to lose indeed.

As for you kids, when Olof and I were on work assignment in Sweden in 2006, I concluded that the key to a loving relationship between a mother and her adult sons was 7,000 miles. I’ve worked hard since then to continue the close bond I have with you and Rory, and enjoy basking in the warm glow of my efforts, a plan which would be seriously thwarted by my untimely death.

 I also cannot imagine being separated from the much-adored Olof. And not just because it would irk the hell out of me to crump and have Olof – and my estate – succumb to the charms of a twenty-two- year-old pole dancer.

As for “rushing to get as many things in as I could”, I am rushed out. I spent my 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s rushing. If I haven’t gone there and done that, I’m either not interested or will rent the video.

I know you think sixty-two is a little early to be hanging around smelling the roses. But I’m just happy that most of my senses and a quorum of my body parts are still in operation. In the last issue of my college alumni news, it seemed like everyone had had a knee replacement. Except for the ones who had a double knee replacement.

While your mother is hardly a financial genius, she does recognize that when one has a shorter term to invest, the return has to be better. So I’m fairly picky about what I want to invest my time in. It had better be really fun. And not involve the 405, O’Hare, or anything made with Jell-O. I don’t want to have my life be a to-do list, a bucket list, or in fact, ANY kind of list.

At your age, I wanted the nineteen countries in twenty-one days see-it-all, do-it-all trip. I now aspire to the Italian philosophy of l’arte di far niente – the art of doing nothing. And preferably, as slowly as possible.


*The Art Of Driving The Waiter Wacko

["Let Inga Tell You", La Jolla Light, published July 15, 2010]  © 2010

A local waiter I know says that no matter how much women tip, it isn’t worth the pain and suffering of dealing with them.

A co-ed group is fine, he insists, but a group of six or eight women out for lunch or dinner is a waiter’s worst nightmare.

Why, he begs to know, can’t women just order their own meal? But no, he fumes, everybody has to share a salad and an entrée with someone else. And that someone is invariably at the other end of the table.

Negotiations are prolonged and interminable. His imitation is brutal:

Waiter (third time over): Ready to order now?

Woman1: “Who wants to split a pasta and a Nicoise salad with me?”

Woman2: “I will, if we leave out the green beans. My trainer says they’re not good for my blood type.”

Waiter (fifth trip over, teeth clenched in forced smile): “Have we decided yet, ladies?”

Women: “Yes, I think we’re ready. Muffy and Babs are going to split an order of ravioli but Babs wants the lemon cream sauce on hers and Muffy wants the marinara. Oops, that’s the other way around. They also want to split a house salad, one with balsamic vinaigrette on the side, and the other tossed with the honey mustard, if that’s not too much trouble. ZsuZsu and Topper are going to split the goat cheese pizza but hold the red onion on one half, and a small house salad with no feta, and no tomatoes unless they’re organic. Bitsy and I will have the Greek sampler plate but since she doesn’t like falafel, could you put her falafel on my plate, and my lamb kabob on hers? If there’s only one of something, just cut it in half.” (Smiles.) “We don’t want to make this complicated.”

Several minutes later: “Is it too late to change the ravioli to linguine?”

Several minutes after that: “Bitsy has just reminded us to confirm with your chef that none of your food products come from China.”

The food comes. No one can remember what they ordered.

It’s even worse, he says, if the restaurant serves anything even remotely ethnic.
“What’s in it?” [Answer: the ingredients listed on the menu.]
“Is it spicy?” [Well, yeah. It’s SUPPOSED to be spicy.]
“Can you make it not spicy?” [What’s your definition of “not spicy”? And if you don’t like spicy, order the ravioli!]

And don’t even get him started on the wine. It doesn’t matter that every time they come in he tells them that there are approximately five glasses in a bottle. They still have to ask how many glasses in a bottle. And then first round negotiations begin: who wants red and who wants white followed by an extensive cost analysis of ordering a bottle of red plus three glasses of white versus a bottle of each. Preferences for Pinot Grigio vs. Chardonnay, Cabernet vs. Merlot are tallied. The waiter’s recommendations on the wine list will be solicited, he says, but universally ignored.

But the coup de grace is the check. This, he maintains, makes everything before it look like a day at the Shores. It’s when the waiter decides it’s really time to go back and get his B.A. Or a gun license. The cell phone calculators come out. Who had what, or more specifically, half of what, must be ascertained before figuring in tax and tip. Two people have invariably realized they have no cash and want to either write a check for their portion or put just their part on a credit card. If guys were there, he maintains, they’d divide the check by eight. No calculators would be seen. They would never hand you eight credit cards. And then ask you to put a different amount on each.

As far as he’s concerned, a 70% tip would be reasonable. But still not enough. What he really wants is a table full of guys.

Inga Explains The Mathematics Of Chocolate

["Let Inga Tell You", La Jolla Light, published July 1, 2010] © 2010

Inga was deliciously, er, deliriously happy to begin seeing TV commercials for Nutella, a chocolate hazelnut heroin popular in Europe and even more popular with Inga.  This stuff was a mainstay of her diet during the two years she and Olof lived in Sweden. 

Nutella has actually been available for quite a while in the U.S. in the peanut butter aisle.  It’s most common application is as a spread on white bread, the breakfast of non-champions.  Even the commercial doesn’t try to sell you on the health benefits of Nutella itself, but as a vehicle to get your kids to eat something that is. 

But here’s where Inga thinks you have to view nutrition creatively. 

For example, 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.   It is unclear how there can actually be any fiber in M&Ms but the label says there is and surely they wouldn’t lie about it.  Must be the cornstarch?   (Source:  Nutrition Through Candy:  Eating Your Way to Better Health With Sugar and Red Dye #2, by Inga.)

So all those healthy hazelnuts floating in their cocoa-based fat suspension are a dietary slam dunk in comparison.  Nutella makes a sinfully oozy filling for a crepe.  (The crepe is also supposed to have fruit but Inga regards this as a distracting contaminant.)  It’s equally great on ice cream.  Or rubbed on Olof and… oops, getting carried away here. 

Sadly, someone of Inga’s age and avoirdupois does have to show some restraint.   Inga long ago concluded that putting Nutella on bread only dilutes its rich chocolately gooeyness; it should ideally be mainlined, er, consumed in its purest right-out-of the-jar form.  But she pledged to restrict herself to a tablespoon per day – 100 calories, 6 grams of fat, no worse than peanut butter.

It turns out, however, that if you use a soup spoon (the equivalent of a tablespoon) and you buy the large economy size jar of Nutella, you can get the spoon buried into the Nutella jar about five inches up the handle.  Then with dedicated practice (it’s all in the wrist), one twists the spoon until a giganto glob of Nutella at least three inches in diameter is wrapped around it.  A power drill may be employed if necessary. 

Of course, to get full immersion of the spoon into the Nutella, one’s fingers often inadvertently end up in the contents of the jar, sometimes one’s entire thumb!  And if one is not careful, the index and middle fingers as well!  Which must be licked!  And which is the only explanation as to why a large economy size jar of Nutella has at best three tablespoons.  And is also how Inga lived in Stockholm for two years with no car, walked five miles a day, and gained twelve pounds. 

No, despite the new TV ads and those wonderful Swedish memories, she’s going to have to give the Nutella aisle a wide berth.  At least that’s what her Nutella Anonymous group has advised.

Fighting Back Against The Robo Callers

["Let Inga Tell You", La Jolla Light, published June 17, 2010]
© 2010

I’m thinking of running for public office on a platform of outlawing automated phone calls from candidates for public office.

Olof and I are registered to different political parties so we not only hear from everyone, whole forests lose their lives just on the mailers.

The irony is, it’s all wasted on us. The fliers go straight to the recycle bin, and the automated calls get quick hang-ups. Unless, of course, it’s some survey person from Olof’s registered party who expects a kindred response and instead gets me.

“Do you believe that marriage should be between one man and one woman?” the caller queries, ready to segue into a bid for cash. “HELL NO!” I exclaim before hanging up. I have a clear conscience doing this as I know that this is Olof’s sentiment as well, even if he is technically registered to the Other Party.

If truth be known, Olof and I are really independents as we both regularly vote across party lines. But it makes dinner table conversation far more fun to debate the other person’s official party plank which is, by definition, whacko.

I couldn’t help but notice that some 90% of the up to twenty-five political calls we were getting daily were from Olof’s affiliation. “Your party must be DESPERATE”, I opined one night.

“Or,” parried Olof, “the Democrats have already given up,” smirking, “Wise of them.”

Being a registered Democrat in La Jolla has actually gotten a little easier over the thirty-some years I’ve lived here. But it used to be that the La Jolla Democratic Club would call me every year asking me to be an officer, having already been turned down by the other three Democrats in town.

And I do have to confess that 2008 was interminable. The only thing lonelier than the Maytag man is a La Jolla Democrat in an election year. But it was not a total loss. I’d long struggled to understand what the term “Family Values” meant and by the end of that year happily announced to Olof that I’d finally got it:

Family Values (noun, pl.) : common human mistakes worthy of compassion, understanding and support unless committed by those outside one’s political and social circle, and/or smarmy Democrats. (See also righteous indignation, flip-flop)

“You Dems are such cynics,” said Olof, whom I might add didn’t argue it.

But I’m digressing. The number of phone calls we received should be an actionable offense. And where, inquiring minds want to know, is the research that shows that harassing people into homicidal rage makes them more likely to vote for you? Inga can only lament that the “Send bazooka to caller” phone option is in its infancy.

In my worst fantasies, I see someone in a voting booth staring at their ballot for the first time. “Well, let’s see. That nice Meg Whitman called us 500 times, so I’ll vote for her!”

Unfortunately, I think Meg Whitman DID call us 500 times. When, of course, Steve Poizner wasn’t calling us. We’d place bets on which one it was with the end result that I think even Olof was sticking pins into the Meg and Steve dolls by the phone.

We recently – alas, too late - heard about a web site where one can opt out of political calls for a year at a time. But they’re going to give our phone number to all the political agencies who might call us and tell them not to do it. We fear that the two agencies that do not now have our phone number will now have it.

Olof and I lived in Sweden in 2005 and 2006 where there can be no campaigning or signage until thirty days before the election. It was so civilized, ja. We’re not likely to get that here but I’m serious about running on an opt-IN program where no political agencies can call you unless you flat-out beg them.

So vote for that nice Inga, the candidate you’ll never hear from. If elected, she promises to let you know if, after all those months of campaign mudslinging, anything actually changes.

*When There's Too Much Of A Good Thing

["Let Inga Tell You", La Jolla Light, published June 3, 2010]

I realize we’re talking La Jolla here, but I’ve concluded it’s possible for a home to be over-amenitized.

Friends of ours were able to get a great deal on a 4,000 square foot showplace that had risen out of the proverbial ashes of a former fixer. A spec house started before the real estate market went bust, it boasted “every amenity”.

Ironically, our friends were less interested in amenities than in the great location, the spaciousness of the house, and the proximity to schools. What they are finding is that there is a fine line between a builder who installs “every amenity” and one who has had a psychotic break. They spend pretty much all their time reading amenity manuals.

When I visited the new digs after they moved in, my friend asked if I might consult on her refrigerator. Near as I can tell, this refrigerator would also do her laundry if she asked it to but its digital thermometer was reading 50 degrees. Did I agree, she asked, that this seemed a tad warm? I did, and the repair service that she called moments later agreed as well, but alas, it being a Friday, they could not possibly come until Monday afternoon.

Not to worry, I told her. I was sure I could find enough space in my own fridge for her perishables over the weekend.

“You know,” she replied somewhat sheepishly, “that’s incredibly nice of you. But I think there may actually be some more refrigerators around here.”

I was stopped dead in my tracks. The mere idea that there could be refrigerators lying around that one didn’t know about put my imagination into overdrive. I fantasized Olof coming home from work to our 1,600 square foot cottage one night and saying, “So how was your day?” and my replying, “Well, I was looking for my set of Jane Austen’s and guess what I found – a refrigerator!”

Now, the friends hadn’t lived there very long at the time, but lo and behold, a brief search turned up a second refrigerator in the pasta cooking station and even another fridge – with freezer - in the wet bar. There was probably at least a fridgelet tucked into the master bath for those champagne bubble bath occasions and undoubtedly one on the grill patio. One would certainly be required on the roof deck. And in a pinch, one could always appropriate the wine fridge.

So thanks, she said, but it appeared she had alternate cooling resources. In fact, probably enough to back up Vons.

The downside of amenities, of course, is that they break – even brand-new allegedly still under warranty amenities. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before the garbage disposal in the auxiliary prep sink stopped working as well. My friend had a repairman out to look at it and he agreed it was under warranty and also that the same problem was likely to recur. However, he added, it was more economical for the warrantors to keep fixing it than replacing it. Huh? I said, as my friend related the story. Every disposal I’ve ever had cost $100. No, she said, turns out that this is the Lamborghini of disposals. According to the repair guy, it could “do a small dog”. Olof heard this and said if it were him, he’d upgrade to one that does a medium dog. I’m guessing you could probably also do a husband if you cut him in dog-sized pieces first. (See imagination overdrive, above.) In fact, I was about to suggest to the friend that this house could be the site of the perfect crime. The industrial-grade mega-hertz central vac system would easily suck up even the minutest husband fragments and the disposal would make sure he was thoroughly chummed long before he hit the treatment plant. CSI wouldn’t stand a chance.

But then it occurred to me that those husband fragments could be friend fragments. Note to self: keep mouth shut.

*When A Little Knowledge Is Too Much Information

["Let Inga Tell You", La Jolla Light, published May 20, 2010] © 2010

Now that Olof no longer requires a high security clearance for his job, I can safely divulge that all anyone ever needed to do to get him to spill every secret he knew was tie him to a chair in front of a continuous loop of feminine hygiene commercials.

It wouldn’t even matter if he actually knew any secrets. By the time he listened to the fourth rendition of the Seasonique birth control ladies chirping “Who says that time of the month has to be EVERY month?”, he’d be making them up.

Olof truly lives in fear that in his life time, the commercial where they pour the blue dye on the product is going to be red dye. Or worse.

A former Air Force pilot, Olof was trained to survive behind enemy lines, withstand torture, and eat bugs. All of which he would rather do than be subjected to the virtues of patented LeakGuard Protection.

It used to be that if you avoided Woman’s Entertainment TV and Dancing with the Stars, you were safe. But now, he maintains, the ubiquitous feminine hygiene commercials have infiltrated everything but major sporting events, the only place where a guy can still be assured advertising of manly stuff, like beer, cars, big screen TVs and erectile dysfunction.

Olof grew up in a household with two sisters, no brothers, and is now on his second wife. So you’d think by now that he might be desensitized to the whole issue. But no. The second the words “gentle glide insertion” come up on the screen, Olof has made a beeline for the refrigerator hoping to avoid details of what might be gliding where. He’s clear on the concept, he insists. But do they have to be so graphic?

He is also dismayed that today’s guys are supposed to be cool with this stuff when he personally knows they are faking it. They all want to run screaming in the other direction, insists Olof. And only return when the recreational facilities are once again open for business.

A male friend of ours has his own complaint. Being sent out to buy products that may or may not have wings, that come in fifty different possibilities of length, width, and thickness, and that all seem to have names that end in “tex”, should be a felony. By definition, a guy is going to have to stand in front of a six tier display of products for like hours with no hope he’s going to get it right. (“No, dear, I specifically said ultra-thin extra-coverage liners for THONGS.”) And he is NOT about to ask for help either. In his worst nightmare, the PA system at the CVS booms, “available associate to aisle 5 to assist guy in maxi-pads.” He’d never recover.

Yes, concurs Olof, the country has been hit by a full frontal assault of female TMI. The feminine mysteries have become tragically unmysterious.

Erectile dysfunction commercials, he notes by example, are deliberately vague. If you just arrived from the planet Klingon and had no idea what erectile dysfunction was, you’d think they were advertising hot tubs. This, Olof says, is how it should be. Not even a clever metaphor of jets soaring into flight or hydraulic lifts. Hot tubs.

To join Olof in this quest, log on to Before there’s a Playtex ad on the Super Bowl.