Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Loo-less In La Jolla

["Let Inga Tell You", La Jolla Light, published April 21, 2011] © 2011

There are certain things you never really appreciate until you don’t have them.  Like water, for example.

Now I know there are folks out there who go camping in the wilderness and bathe in streams and do all that nature-y stuff.  But Olof and I are not among them.  We are strictly running-water people. 

So it was with no little dismay that I returned home from errands recently to find a bevy of San Diego Water Department trucks on my street and our house without water.  Turns out a section of the street just north of us had caved in.  But this was not what broke the water main.  It was the Bobcat that they’d sent out to investigate the sagging street that fell through it that broke the water main.

Most optimistic guess for water:  seven hours. 

But sure enough, at 5 p.m., after a certain amount of sputtering, water once again coursed through our pipes. 

A mere ten minutes later, I turned on the kitchen faucet, basking in renewed thanks that we live in a land of potable water.  Nothing.  Nada.  Not so much as a drip. This was not a good sign.  I wandered out to chat it up with the water department guys who were by this time my new best friends.  Terrible thing, they said.  The fittings on the pipes in my neighborhood are so old that it didn’t take much pressure to blow the main again a few hundred feet south of the first break as soon as they turned the water back on.  No idea when the water will be back up again. 

Olof wandered in a little after 7:00.  He’d been gone since 4:30 a.m., and he’s not terribly excited about going out.  He wanted a Scotch and dinner and a prone surface, in that order.  And water for a shower.   As if by magic, we hear rumblings in the water heater.  Is Olof the Water Whisperer?  The water has come back on!

For exactly two minutes. 

NOOOOOOOO!!!! I’m just kicking myself.  Why didn’t I use that time to run around and flush toilets, rinse dishes, wash salad greens?  After a whole day without water, the house is starting to smell like an F-rated restaurant.

I chat it up with the water guys again.  Another ancient fitting has blown yet further down the line.  But this one looks really really bad.  Gotta dig up the street.  He hopes we’ll have water by morning. 

I improvise a water-free dinner.  Olof plotzes.  An hour later, those dinner dishes and pots are smelling particularly ripe in the unseasonably warm weather.  I’m tempted to put them outside in trash bags (we don’t have a garage) but fear hosting a rodent bacchanalia. 

All night long we are serenaded by the sounds of jack hammers, beeping trucks and lots of clunking.  Of course, we’re massively grateful they’re out there.  But the person who could make a soundless jack hammer would get our vote for the Nobel Prize. 

Olof has left several faucets in the “on” position.  Because this time we have A Plan.  We also have No Confidence.  We envision the water mains on our street being repaired ten feet at a time, while we go waterless for weeks. 

At 5:11 a.m. we awake to the sound of water gushing from the faucets.  We bolt from bed and by predetermined arrangement, race around flushing toilets, speed washing rancid dishes, filling up buckets, leaping into showers.  We have no idea how many minutes, or even seconds, we will have water.  But we will not be fooled again!

At 5:16 a.m. we’re finished.  We did it!  Our own little Quadrathlon.  It occurs to us that this is more cardio than we’ve had in years. 

This time, the water actually stays on.  But we are no longer naïfs.  We have peered into the holes in the street and now know just how decrepit the infrastructure really is.  We have seen the future, and it is seriously rusty and corroded. 

But for the moment, we have showers.  And more appreciation of water than we have had in years. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Why Internet Posters Don't Spell Too Good

["Let Inga Tell You", La Jolla Light, published April 7, 2011]  © 2011

There’s probably nothing I enjoy more than misspelled moral outrage. 

Years ago, before the Internet, I used to walk on WindanSea beach where surfers had spray painted “Turist Go Home!” on a sea wall.  They might have succeeded in ways they never envisioned.  That sign was a terrific incentive for visitors not to consider staying here and raising their kids in the same public school system that produced the writers. 

The Internet has brought moral outrage to a whole new level.  Now you don’t even need the spray paint.  Or even the literacy level of a third grader.  Reading the commentary on an article about protests being banned in Saudi Arabia (a place my engineer husband goes often), a reader had posted:  “I dont see Obama and Hilery criticising the Saudi gov like they did with the Iranain gov. HOPOCRISY IS OUR MATTO.”  Um, OK.  Phonetically, it’s not bad.  But I don’t think even Spell Check is going to save this guy on a job application.

During their careers in La Jolla’s public schools, my sons had some terrific and inspiring English teachers but also a few who pretty much abdicated the position.  Rory’s eighth grade English teacher at Muirlands, for example, never corrected spelling or grammar on assignments, maintaining the important thing was to “get your message across”.  One day I looked at a paper Rory was about to hand in and observed, “Unfortunately, the message here is that you’re illiterate.”  I tried to convey to both kids that poor grammar, spelling and punctuation totally distract from the message, never mind undermine your credibility.  Unfortunately, by the end of the year, the teacher was allowing – nay, encouraging - students to do a video or art project in lieu of writing.

Obviously, Twitter, texting, and Internet comment posts have changed the entire scope of the English language, eliminating that pesky punctuation and reducing spelling to a modern day Morse code.  And where once those public comments had to pass through the filter of a newspaper editor, misspelled vitriol goes straight from brain to public post without passing through reflection and/or on-line thesaurus (which would probably throw up its digital hands in despair anyway).  One can’t help but notice that there is an inverse correlation between vehemence and grammatical skills. 

In my worst nightmares, my grandchildren are getting foreign language credit for Late 20th Century English.

It isn’t so far-fetched.  When my kids were growing up here, virtually all of their teachers –elementary, middle school, high school - would say, "You did good”.  It made me crazy – especially when the kids said it themselves. 

“Kids,” I said, “while I’m alive you have to say, ‘I did well.’  You did not ‘do good’.  Once I’m dead, you can say anything you want, although I promise to rise up out of my grave and haunt you.”

Henri looked at his brother.  “Sounds like we better have her cremated.”

Endlessly I went over about ‘good’ being an adjective which had to modify a noun, as in ‘the good boy’.  Actually, their eyes had usually glazed over by the word “adjective”, already in their era a charmingly antiquated concept. Not long ago, one of them sent me an article on evolving language (and I admit, it IS always evolving) noting that ‘you did good’ is in such popular usage that it can be considered ‘correct’.  The attached note read: “Mom - sorry this had to happen in your life time.”

So given that, maybe the Turist Go Home message wasn’t so bad.  Two out of the three words were correctly spelled.  Pretty good percentage by today’s standards. 

Still, it  made my heart sink even if my lips smiled to read a recent Internet post:  “Yuo peepl ar so igmorent yuo down no ENNYTHIN!!!!!!”  I should ask Rory if he remembers this guy from eighth grade English.