Sunday, December 23, 2012

Winston The Wonder Dog Returns: The Script We Know Too Well

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published December 27, 2012]  © 2012 
Winston, our beloved but massively high maintenance grand dog, is back in residence again for one of his prolonged visits to Camp Grammy and Grampy.   My younger son, Henri, and his wife, Erica (Winston’s owners) and my husband, Olof, and I are all besotted with Winston. But we are especially besotted with him when he’s at the other party’s house. 
Winston, I should note up front, is wonderfully affectionate (if overly enthusiastic) around people, and is a breed recommended for young families.  In fact, we have not a moment’s concern about him with our young grandchildren.  But he is definitely leash aggressive and has a tendency to charge our front gate when other dogs come by looking not unlike a pit bull on steroids. 

I’ve read on numerous occasions that there are no bad dogs, only bad owners.  How about bad trainers?  Winston has been failed by more alleged animal experts than you can count.  During one of Winston’s lengthier sojourns at our home, I chronicled the saga of our finally hiring a trainer advertised as the Cesar Milan of San Diego who, to my horror, showed up with a shock collar.  (

Over four months, I spent three hours a day dedicated to training Winston and by the time he went back home, he was vastly improved.  But for $200 per hour of dog training and hundreds of hours of my time, I thought he should be at minimum a candidate for canine canonization.  You know:  Lassie,  Rin Tin Tin, Winston.  Alas, even with his behavior collar turned up to Defcon One, nothing will dissuade Winston if a big black dog or small white fluffy one (Winston is a specialist) should cross his path.  Of course, he can’t actually get to them (leash, gate), but he’s willing to die (and/or hurl Grandma face first to the pavement) trying. 

As soon as Olof and I learned that the kids were going back east for Christmas with the other grandparents this year, it was a foregone conclusion we’d end up with Winston for another of his Holidays in La Jolla.  Given Winston’s unpredictable behavior around other dogs, he is not kennel material, unless the fellow guests are all Chihuahuas whom he mysteriously loves.  Olof and I even discussed whether to take the heroic route and just volunteer. I mean, it wasn’t as though we didn’t know the script well. Sure enough:

Act I, Scene 1:   As the kids are about to leave at the end of the Thanksgiving weekend, Henri asks, as if an afterthought:  Oh, by the way, could we take Winston for the week when they are away at Christmas?   One of them (read Erica) could bring Winston down just before they go and another of them (read Erica again) could come down and get him as soon as they return.  It would be ten days max.

Act I, Scene 2: Henri says he knows we know how miserable Winston is if left home alone with merely a dog sitter service to check on him twice a day; he’s such a social animal. (He really is.) 

Act II, Scene 1: Since we’ve said yes (we could swear that neither of us has said yes), if it wasn’t too much of an inconvenience, while they (read Erica) are more than willing to make the (massively inconvenient with two tiny kids) trip down here from L.A. in all that nasty traffic for drop off and another for pick up, six hours each time (we’d genuinely hate to do this to Erica, whom we adore),  it would help them more than we can even fathom if they could just leave Winston here now until After the New Year. (Note indeterminate pickup date.)

Act II, Scene 2:  They’d be our best friends forever. (OK, maybe he didn’t say that.)

Act III, Scene 1:  Going in for the close, Henri goes on to say that they were waiting to see how Olof looked (Olof had some unexpected surgery that went terribly wrong this fall), and they are thrilled to see that he looks absolutely GREAT!   So much better than they could have imagined given his harrowing saga! 

Act III, Scene 2:  Henri and family drive off a short time later leaving us standing in the front yard clutching Winston’s leash and bowl.  “You know, Olof,” I say, “It really wouldn’t have hurt you to act a little more frail and incapacitated.” 

Final Act: Winston, meanwhile, licks my hand. Then takes off like a shot for the gate.


Monday, December 10, 2012

*Olof Swears Off Medical Care Forever

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published December 13, 2012]  © 2012

The older we get, the harder it is for me to get Olof to medical appointments.

Olof maintains this is because at our age, there’s just no good news to be had.  Do they ever say, “Wow, you look so much younger!” he queries?   Or, “You really should be drinking more Scotch?”  No, he says, they just take pains to remind you that you’re one day closer to decrepitude and death.  

I’ve previously written about our primary care doctor, whom we affectionately refer to as Dr. No.  As in no bread, no pasta, no rice, no potatoes, no fun. Dr. No has a personal vendetta against high-glycemic carbs.   It’s the potatoes that are hardest for Olof who is a serious spud man. 

It’s not, of course, that we religiously adhere to this regimen, but it sure sucks the enjoyment out of eating something your doctor insists will kill you. 
“Shouldn’t have eaten that,” Olof will mutter glumly after a rare meal of pasta.  “It’s got troglodytes in it.” 

“Triglycerides, Olof,” I’ll say. He’s got the concept if not the details. 
At this point, Olof refers to a week without white carbs as being “clean and sober.”   Not coincidentally, he has developed what he calls a “food porn” habit.  He closes the door to the bedroom to watch Rachel Ray make baked potatoes with butter and sour cream although he admits he always feels dirty afterwards. 

Anyone who knows Olof knows that he has a strict Do Not Feed the Lions philosophy about medical care.  In his experience, comments of any kind to a medical professional only engender tests or more drugs, or more commonly both.
Hence, Olof goes into Total Deaf-Mute Mode in a doctor’s office.  He’s only there because I’ve bludgeoned him into it.  Dr. No and I talk while Olof sits there looking like he’d rather be watching a twelve hour marathon of feminine hygiene product commercials.  Never have I known a person with a more world-class aversion to medical care.

But sending him alone to a medical appointment is an exercise in futility.  I carefully write out a list of his medications (he has no idea what he’s taking) and a list of questions which I admit are mostly mine.  OK, totally mine.  Both usually evaporate into the ether between our home and the doctor’s office.  And when he gets home we end up having conversations like this:
Inga:  So what was your blood pressure? 

Olof:  How would I know?
Inga:  Um, you were there when she took it?

Olof:  I didn’t ask.  She wants me to take some drug.
Inga:  For what?

Olof:  I don’t know.  She called it into CVS.
Inga:  Well, did you ask about side effects?

Olof:  She said something about calling her if something happened but I can’t remember what.
Still, I have to admit Olof may have a point about medical care.  Recently I strong-armed him into a physical which, just as he feared, showed something that required further tests.  And then more tests.  Followed by, well, more tests.  (Olof’s theory is that our top-of-the-line medical insurance is just a little TOO good.)  Olof missed a ton of work over this and became increasingly surly about it.  Ultimately, it was determined that although he had nothing symptomatic, and in the end, nothing imminently wrong, that given his international business travel schedule to places with questionable medical care, it was strongly recommended that he undergo a minimally-invasive preventative one-hour surgery so pathetically routine that a child could practically do it.  He could even have dinner the same day!  Back to work in two days!  Then he wouldn’t have to worry about ending up in a (statistically unlikely but possible) crisis in some far away country.

I am definitely adding “it’s a simple outpatient procedure” to my list of cautionary phrases, right after “packed flat for easy assembly.”  Through nobody’s fault, including and especially Olof’s, the one-hour procedure deteriorated catastrophically into five, and Olof spent most of the next week at Scripps Memorial sucking ice chips, pushing his on-demand pain pump button and muttering through clenched teeth, “But I wasn’t even sick!”  I think if he hadn’t been tethered to a lot of machinery, he would have fed me into a wood chipper.  Really really slowly.  Suffice to say, I am not currently his favorite person.  This is EXACTLY, he grumbled, 25 painfully-lost pounds and weeks of lost work later, why he avoids medical care. 
But in all things, there is a silver lining.  When he was finally paroled from Scripps, the surgeon recommended a “surgical soft” diet including – yes! oh, yes! - mashed potatoes.  For the first time in a week, Olof actually perked up from the dead.  He looked at me and whispered, “You will never tell Dr. No.”

Monday, November 26, 2012

Game On!

[Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published Nov. 29, 2012© 2012

This column was a collaborative effort between the Light’s Inga, and Laura Walcher, humor columnist at the Presidio Sentinel.  It is running concurrently in both papers.

Inga:  At the San Diego Press Club Journalism Awards in 2010, the first year that my column in the La Jolla Light was eligible, I won second place in the Humor division after Laura Walcher, who writes for the Presidio Sentinel.  Sensing (correctly) that she would continue to be my chief competition, I hunted her down looked her up, and invited her for coffee.  Annoyingly, she was incredibly nice, and as she had been in the column biz a lot longer than I had, even shared some hot tips. 

Laura: Uh-oh.  I was only “nice” to disguise my cut-throat competitive nature.  I’m hoping she really embraces my long-discarded tips.   

Inga:  We put each other on our distribution lists.  This was not altogether a great idea.  One of Laura’s pieces would show up in my In-box and I’d laugh myself silly, followed by a sober realization:  Dang!  I just lost again!  And sure enough, in 2011, she was again first and I was (again) second.  Was I simply going to have to outlive her to ever get first?   Now, I suppose I should have been happy with second, but I’m a veteran of many years of youth sports.  Second is the first loser. 

Laura:  “First” is SO my favorite!   If you’re going to win first, best that you boot some super contender - that’s so satisfying!

Inga: Our awards are judged by a press club in another city to avoid all the ugly politics that are rampant in, well, politics.  Laura’s style couldn’t be more different than mine, definitely more highbrow.  I feared that some stuffy press club with pretentions, like San Francisco, was probably judging ours (I don’t think they even HAVE a Humor category) and I was doomed in perpetuity.  The awards committee won’t reveal which club does the judging, probably to avoid the potential of mail bombs from people who come in second (not mentioning any names).  But surely Arkansas has a press club?  I could totally take Laura down.

Laura: I am SO excited.  “Highbrow” is just not a word that normally describes me.  Must be my New York City origins?  Or, Inga just has more courage: she sends up her neighbors, friends, family, pets SO high. Mine would stop talking to me altogether.  Besides, mine provide less “material” all the time; now that my grand-children are teenagers, they’re just NOT THAT FUNNY ANYMORE. 

Inga:  Fortunately, the kids live out of town and Olof is simply resigned to being fodder.  The neighbor whose sex life I wrote about used it to pimp dates.  The pets have retained counsel.

Laura:  The thing we have in common, though, is that we never write fiction.  Life provides. What worries me, though, is that, one of these days, she could have better material - I mean, just TAKE Olof, her husband; he’s such a source.  (“Olof” - ?  Hmm, to preserve the marriage, that name might be “fiction.”)

Inga:  October 23 was the 2012 Press Club awards, and Laura was one of the first people I saw when I got there. I thought I had some strong contenders (the Humor category awards go to individual columns) but so did she.  This year, I got first and she got second.  I figured that if I couldn’t be a gracious loser, I could at least be a gracious winner.  I gave her my heartiest (nyeh nyeh) congratulations.

Laura:  Well, per chronology, she could outlive me.  Then, she can try all my tricks?  But now, she’s finally made a serious impression on journalism judges, probably because this year’s judging panels have no sense of humor. 

Inga:  As for the 2013 Press Club awards?  Game on!



Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Best Neighbor In The World

["Let Inga Tell You,"  La Jolla Light, published Nov. 15, 2012] © 2012 

It’s a good thing we adore our next door neighbor, Bert, because for all practical purposes, he and Olof and I live together. 

Sixty-five years ago, an obviously inebriated architect chose to ignore the collective 19,000 square feet of our two lots and build two houses a mere ten feet from each other.  Worse, the houses are oriented so that rather than being parallel, our houses face right into each other.  I’m trying to even imagine how any of this worked before 1955 when a six foot fence and a Japanese privet hedge were installed that created at least the illusion of any privacy.

Fortunately for us, the neighbors who have inhabited this house, have, bar one, been wonderful – a PSA pilot and his white go-go-booted flight attendant wife, then for 25 years a lovely spinster school teacher who was either hard of hearing or driven to defensive deafness by the 150 decibel activities of our kids directly under her TV room window. 

The next folks (see “bar one,” above) turned out to be drum-playing house flippers.  (I keep thinking that if I just changed the first letters of that phrase I could make it sound really obscene).  There was nothing they liked better than having the family over on a Sunday afternoon and playing drums for seven straight homicide-inducing hours.  They might as well have been playing in our living room, as among the many stupid things they did in their brief (but still over-stayed) tenure was remove all the sound-blocking foliage between our two homes, and also put in master bedroom windows on the side of the house facing us. 

There was a good reason no windows were put in on that side originally.  Suddenly there was no conversation in that bedroom, never mind other activities, that we were not fully, completely, and occasionally vomitously privy to. 

When they flipped the house to the hunky, wonderful, single Bert, he wasn’t initially aware of the lack of auditory privacy between his bedroom and our home.  But we were ultimately able to subtly, if unorthodoxly, communicate this to him.  (I even won a Press Club award for that column!)
Our houses are truly in such close proximity that in the summer when everyone’s windows are open, if Bert sneezes, we say “Gesundheit.”  I always know when the Yankees are on, and on a play by play basis, how they’re doing. 

Being a hunky (I really can’t emphasize this enough) 6’4” athletic guy, we often get strange sound effects from the other side of the fence, the origin of which provide Olof and me with many hours of cheerful conjecture in our otherwise dull and boring lives.  One Sunday morning as we read the paper out on the patio, we could hear the sound mere feet away of something (someone?) being horrifically beaten.  Hopefully not his lovely girlfriend, Diane?  Should we be taking notes for our subsequent interviews on Dateline? 
“Well, Lester, we first suspected that Diane was buried under the house after…”
Turns out it was just Bert working out with a golf impact bag.  More recently, we were eating dinner when we were seriously alarmed to hear Bert desperately gasping for air.  We looked at each other.

Olof:  New workout regimen?

Inga:  Accidentally hung himself with the phone cord?

Fortunately, the answer was (a).  No wonder Bert is so hunk-, er, fit!

When all of the power went out in Southern California last September, I chatted with Bert through the fence as he cooked on his grill (he prefers fish) and I sat out in the moonlight with my glass of wine. 

Last fall, the 1955 hedge and fence between our houses precipitously died/fell down obliterating any privacy between our homes for a month. I sat at my desk in my nightgown answering email and watching Bert watch sports recaps in his living room until he went to bed at 11:05.  A rebuilt fence restored some privacy to us both but until the new hedge grows up, I now stare into Bert’s shower from my kitchen window.  Bert is 6’4” and hunky (sorry, I know I said that already) and my husband, Olof, accuses me of topping the new hedge every time it threatens to obliterate the view. 

A base canard, of course.  Bert recently told me through the fence that he had cut back the hedge because the new motion lights outside his window seemed to be going off and on all night.  OK by me!

If you’re going to live in this kind of proximity to a neighbor, it helps that they’re the best neighbor in the world. When we were out of the country for two years on a work contract a few years ago, Bert saved our landscaping and aviary birds more times than we could count when the people who were supposed to do it didn’t.   We’re destined to be friends forever if for no other reason than we have waaaaay too much on each other at this point. 

The only thing that worries me is wondering what HIS version of this column would be.  Name your price, Bert.

Monday, October 29, 2012

*Please Just Keep It To Words Of One Syllable

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published November 1, 2012]  © 2012 

Before my engineer husband tries to explain anything technical to me, he says, “I think you might want to get the yellow pad.”  He, of course, means an 8x11 lined legal pad which we buy by the kilo, since he also asserts that when I die he’s going to insert a multi-pack of them into my coffin for my use in the hereafter. 

In his dream of the hereafter, somebody else is helping me with my technical problems besides him. 

I have a multitude of really good skills in a number of areas.   But techno stuff?  The synapses just don’t fire in sequence. Interestingly, I’m reasonably good with cameras which Olof insists is because I actually like cameras and photography, unlike virtually any other technical gismo, all of whom I have a total hate-hate relationship with.  I did master my new iPhone, but only after I spent the first twelve mornings of ownership at the AT&T store on Pearl, yellow pad in hand.  (I refuse to allow that the rapid turnover of employees that week had anything to do with me.) 
While I’ve never had learning disabilities per se, I think I’ve always suffered from technical dyslexia.  Or maybe that’s dys-technia? 

Fortunately, I’m trainable.  But I need the yellow pad and laboriously detailed instructions. There are no givens in Inga Land.  Olof, along with my long-suffering former co-worker, Dave, have tried to maintain that most techno gadgets are designed to be intuitive.  You play with it, you figure it out, you don’t need a manual.  Hah! Let me rephrase that.  HAH!  For some of us, there IS no intuitive. 

As for my computer, Olof insists I can’t break it.  Maybe not, but I can get it to the point where I can’t get it to work again either.  In my world, that’s called “broken.”  You’re typing along, minding your own business, and suddenly everything on the screen looks different.  Sweat breaks out on my forehead.

Olof would also insist that computers are made up of ones and zeros and operate by logical rules, but I know differently.   Technical gadgets sense fear and take advantage of it.   Sometimes you just have to get the upper hand by threatening the machine into submission.  Windows Live Mail only shaped up when it knew I was going to replace it with Outlook.

Olof also maintains that the biggest problem I have with electronics is that I have the frustration tolerance of a gnat.  I am forever vowing that whatever gadget is giving me trouble is simply going to end up in the pool.  It’s kind of become a code phrase.  “So, is it in the pool?”,  Olof will inquire when he comes home from work knowing I’ve been thwarted all day by my computer.   Olof says I have to learn to stay calm when frustrated.  Why?  What’s the point?  I think hurling epithets at mechanical devices is a perfectly reasonable and healthy reaction. 
Of course, a third reason I hate technical apparati is that I hate being dependent on other people to help me fix them.   Olof, bless him, is endlessly patient but I know that when he pours his third Scotch that he’s getting testy.  This is especially true when he’s trying to teach me something for the first time and has to wait while I painstakingly record instructions like this:

Turn on power strip on top of desk. 

Turn on power button* on computer.  The computer is the black box with the white top on the floor to the left of my desk chair and says “Dell” on it.  [No snickers please.  We also have another box that is called a “firewall” that is NOT the computer, or at least the one that will make my monitor come to life.]

*The power button is on the top of the Dell box on the right side.  If the light comes on, it’s on.  No light and you probably didn’t turn on the power strip.  Or it was already on and you accidentally turned it off.  [I always include trouble shooting instructions in my notes.]
At the bottom left of the monitor screen is a blue ball with an orange and green and blue and yellow checked flag.  It’s really important because it is also how you turn the machine off again.  Well, correctly anyway.

No sound on speakers?   Make sure the little green light on the speakers is on and that the Iomega thing isn’t plugged into the power strip instead.  Still no sound?  The kids may have turned off the volume using the speaker icon-y thing at the very bottom right of my screen . Click on it and slide it back up to the middle of the scale.  [Make note to tell kids:  don’t ever ever do that to me again!  I had no speakers for a week while Olof was out of town! ]

How to open the disk drive:  Could they have hidden it any better????  Right below the little slot thingeys (WHAT ARE THEY?) is the disk drive.  On its right side, totally un-obviously, is a thing that you push and out pops the disk drive.  Would a label have killed them? Unmarked panels that open secret compartments should be left to Nancy Drew books!

I can only hope the hereafter is more user-friendly.  Or that they sell yellow legal pads. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Trick or Treat or Trash Your House

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published Oct. 18, 2012] © 2012 

Halloween is approaching again – one of my most and least favorite holidays.  But before we go further, let me make one thing clear:  no matter what your teenager says he or she did on Halloween, they’re lying.

I’m not trying to cast aspersions on your particular kid but after nearly four decades in a very Halloween-centric neighborhood (we get around 400 Trick or Treaters every year), I can attest that this is a night when kids who would normally never commit major vandalism are happily sucked into the vortex of group stupidity. 
The first part of the Halloween evening is always pure fun:  non-stop gremlins, princesses, and whoever the iconic figure of the moment is.  We just stand on the front porch shoveling candy into pillow cases and plastic pumpkins as fast as we can and basically trying to act as traffic cops as one horde moves out and another moves in.   

A friend who didn’t grow up in the U.S. visited us one year asked why I wasn’t spending more time chatting up the kids’ costumes with them.  Well, for one, you can’t really do that if you’re servicing twenty kids a minute.  But more importantly, I told him, he needs to understand that from an American kid’s point of view, Halloween is a business:  maximum candy accrued in minimum time.  More talk, less candy. 
Inga:  “Great Red Ranger Samurai costume!

Kid: (already half way down the steps):  “Whatever.”
But after eight p.m., the fun stops when the little kids go home and the teenagers come out.  The police would usually get called to our block at least six times when the egg and paint and shaving cream wars got out of control.  Finally the police got the message and just moved in en masse at 5 p.m. and set up a counter-offensive.

Seriously, we’ve had such a major police presence in our neighborhood on Halloween for the last several years that if Mitt Romney drove by on the way to his La Jolla digs, he’d wonder why he doesn’t get that kind of attention.  But in the thirty-some years before that, it was pretty insane.
One year, a group of local teens thought it would be wildly good fun to break into a neighbor’s house being remodeled and spray paint the new custom kitchen cabinets with black graffiti.  Vandalizing cars, knocking over brick retaining walls, dumping trash cans out into the street, and breaking the occasional car window were all part of the merriment.

Another year the police barely saved the lives of five high schoolers who were being beaten to a pulp by a bunch of drunk college kids who caught them defacing their cars.  And yet another year, some irate teens retaliated against some egg-throwing counterparts by using 2x4s to smash in the windshield of the pelters’ car – with them in it.  But hey, it’s Halloween! It’s just kids being vandals kids!
The police would invariably round up a group of miscreants, some of whom I would recognize since they were either neighborhood kids or classmates of my sons.  (And let me make no insinuations that my kids were saints.)  The officer would admonish the assembled reprobates that if he saw them again that evening, they were going to the substation.  I guess you can’t blame the police for not wanting to do the paperwork. But the second the police were gone, the barbarian invasions began anew.

Sometimes I would see a parent of one of these kids in the next few days and say, “So what did Joey do for Halloween?”  And Dad would say, “Oh, he just went over to a friend’s house and they watched TV.”  Of course, that was back in the days when you could actually call over to someone’s house and check on them.  Not that anyone ever did, of course, because as Dad quickly added, he trusted the kid implicitly. 

Trust your kid implicitly the other 364 days a year.  Sometimes I’d mention that actually, the police had rounded up Joey and a bunch of other kids for vandalizing my neighborhood.  Invariably – and we really are talking 100% of the time – I’d get a call back in a day or two that Dad had talked to Joey and Joey admitted that yes, he was there but he “wasn’t doing anything, just watching.”  And Dad wanted to assure me that he trusts Joey’s version of this implicitly.

No point in telling Dad that Joey, the lying little weasel, was actually one of the ringleaders of this operation.  (As you can tell, I get testy when people vandalize my property.)  But more to the point, it always stunned me that (a) I heard this excuse so often and (b) that parents would actually accept it.

I made so many mistakes with my children that they keep lists both alphabetically and chronologically.  But the felony murder rule always applied:  you were there, you were guilty.  I would have laughed in their little faces if they’d ever tried to pull that excuse on me.  

So folks, it’s Halloween time again.  I hope your teen has fun.  But whatever he or she says she did, don’t believe a word of it. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

**Scraping the bottom of the airline barrel

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, October 5, 2012] © 2012 

Now that coach travel on airlines has deteriorated into abject misery, everyone is looking for a way to raise themselves above the fray, however briefly.  The airlines, recognizing that we all want to feel special (and since they have absolutely no intention of making us feel special once we’re in the air) are throwing us crumbs in the form of opportunities to go through the First Class security line, or to get priority boarding.  An aisle seat has become a coveted prize, and boarding early is not only a status symbol but a way to up the chances one’s bag will fly free in an overhead space and better, arrive at your destination when you do.

But as my husband, Olof, and I found when we took a recent trip on an airline we rarely fly (they had a non-stop to our destination), the new system may have run amok.
It was at boarding time that things got really loony.   As always, the Grand Poobah million mile fliers, First Class folks, and the elderly, infirm, and child-encumbered had priority, followed in turns by the Gold, Silver, and Semi-Precious Metals mileage club members.  (We actually have frequent flier accounts for this airline but somehow – expiring miles, I think – seem perpetually mired at the Cubic Zirconium level.) 

When all those folks were safely seated, they called for people who bought early boarding rights by virtue of purchasing the airline’s pricey credit card, then summoned the people who had responded to their announcement of a pre-board if they allowed their roller bag to be gate checked.  Somewhere in there, Star Alliance members also made the cut, followed by military members in uniform, and then members of a special club that one could join if one lived in the airline’s ancestral state (some kind of quaint local pride thing, I think).  Then – finally! -  the folks in rows 20-35!  Actual civilians!  The crowd had really thinned out by then and we, in row 15, were poised to step forward when they announced that anyone left who did not intend to use the overhead bin space was now free to board.

This was a new one on us.  Now, we applauded this idea in theory, since on Southwest, if you’re not in the first boarding group, your bag isn’t going to make it into the overhead.  However, at this point, a lot of people began boarding who had roller bags that clearly weren’t going to fit under the seats.  Now, some of them could have been people who qualified for boarding in the previous 30 categories but inexplicably didn’t.  The gate agent wasn’t even checking at this point – just scanning the boarding passes as fast as she could. 

I looked at Olof with my WTF look – and the implied message that we should be doing this too.  We had a fairly short connection to a small commuter flight from a local airfield to a wedding in a remote location in the Pacific Northwest, and having our bags lost even temporarily would mean we would be wearing the same clothes all weekend. But I am married to Honest Abe Lincoln, Mr. Integrity of this century and last.  The look he gave me was “Do not even THINK of getting in that line.  I would sooner attend this wedding naked but for down gleaned from native geese than board before being called.”  He can be so annoying this way.
But finally all the no-bin-intendeds had seated their sociopathic reprobate selves.  Rows one through five were First Class, but with six seats across on the rest of the plane, that still left a theoretical 84 passengers in our totally full aircraft for the yet-to-be-boarded rows six through nineteen.

I looked around.  There were exactly NINE of us left.  I was agog to hear what the next category was going to be.  People wearing the airline’s logo colors?  Still, both Olof and I were fairly impressed that the gate agent could keep straight the list of who was slightly better than whom, a system that seemed more complicated than the IRS tax code.
The gate agent eyed our little group and seemed to decide against further categories.  She picked up her microphone: “All rows may now slither aboard.” 

OK, so those might not have been her exact words.  Two hundred passengers, 191 pre-boards and us.  And thus we began our walk of shame, the last dregs of humanity to be allowed aboard this aircraft, the ones who had insufficient miles, no affiliations, the wrong credit cards, and certainly no class.  We were the chaff separated from the wheat, the adult versions of the kids picked last for the dodge ball team in elementary school, the new caste of airline Untouchables. “I’m not feeling loved,” I whispered to Olof as we slunk aboard with our reviled roller bags that we’d been too cheap to check. 

I guess you can’t give people a feeling of superiority without giving them someone to feel superior to.  And this time we were the inferiors.  Or maybe that should be posteriors.  It’s a lousy job, but someone’s got to do it.  But having done it, I think we might just stick with United who loves us.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Spending the Night in Vampire Land

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published Sept. 20, 2012] © 2012 

I’ve never been wild about night time in remote areas and all these vampire movies aren’t helping. 

Normally, of course, it’s not an issue because I live in the nice safe crime-ridden city.  If this hesitation about rural living sounds unreasonable, I would like to point out that with a few exceptions like King Kong (who was a reluctant city dweller), four out of five monsters, UFO’s, vampires, amorphous masses, psychos and parapsychological phenomena on your movie screen prefer isolated country settings.

Whether such creatures exist in fact is immaterial.  In the middle of the night in a woodsy setting they are alive and well in my imagination. 

We recently spent a long weekend in the state of Washington at a stunning but seriously remote address I will call One Forest Primeval.   Walking around in the surrounding woods, I half expected to see a coven of Twilight Saga Volturi materialize from the edge of the forest and size me up for lunch.

I do have to say that the Twilight series movies don’t move me the way the old school monster flicks did.  Maybe it’s a generational thing, but Godzilla will always be my guy.  And maybe it’s because the Twilight series is far less about vampires and werewolves than about lust.  For the record, I am not against lust.  In fact, some of the best moments of my life have involved lust.  But I’m generally only attracted to creatures of my own species.

Anyway, come dusk, I would look out onto the grassy clearing outside our window and realize that it was the perfect UFO movie landing strip.  If you’ve watched any sci-fi flicks at all, you know that UFOs have a penchant for landing in just such places and scaring the poor locals excretionless.   

Around 2 a.m., with the wind brushing tree branches ominously against the windows, I’d develop this sudden conviction that I was in the place that The Blob (Giant Ants, Mighty Behemoth, Boston Strangler, little green men with ray guns, Andromeda Strain, Ghost of Christmas Past, Edward Cullen) had singled out to first do its thing.

I guess what bothers me most about being one of the first victims is that in horror movies, it’s always a bit part.  Chomp, slosh, swallow, and you’re forgotten.  It would seriously annoy me to be relegated to a list of “also-eatens”. 

Of course, I’m aware that the demise of the first few victims is just a little dramatic intro designed to hold the audience until the plot thickens The Next Day.  That’s when the unwitting neighbor shows up to borrow a cup of sugar and wonders vaguely why the front door is (a) radioactive (b) splintered, or (c) full of giant teeth marks; investigates further (what are neighbors for?); comes upon the Scene of Horror (which even if the acting is really bad can usually be identified by the G-flat tremolo chord); and drops her cup, which shatters but miraculously never severs her anterior tibial vein, unless it’s one of those reality medical shows. 

 Laugh if you will, but I have a friend who didn’t take a shower for seven years after seeing “Psycho,” and I know at least a dozen “Jaws” viewers who never swam in the ocean again.  As for the Twilight Saga trilogy, I can’t imagine this is doing anything for Washington state tourism, except for teenage girls hoping to run into Robert Pattinson at the Forks Mini-Mart.

 My husband, meanwhile, maintains that he loves the stillness, the lack of so much as a cricket chirping, the trees whispering in the breeze.  He doesn’t know they always get the unsuspecting ones first.


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Time Warner Cable: Determined To Be The Worst

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published Sept. 6, 2012]   © 2012 

I can’t tell you the depths of depression I felt when Olof announced that he wished to add additional service to our Time Warner Cable Internet and TV accounts.
“Olof,” I pleaded. “Do not feed the lions.”

I have say in fairness to TW that our internet service has performed almost flawlessly (except, of course, when their cable TV technicians disconnect it while trying to fix our endless TV problems).   They even repaired the cable for free when Winston the Wonder Dog chewed through it during one of his early visits.
One of our fundamental problems is that the TV cable installation (done separately from the internet installation) was totally botched to begin with, requiring some dozen follow-up service calls, endless replacement boxes, and still has sound that cuts out and a picture that breaks up.  We rent an On Demand movie, pay for it, then get a message saying, “That movie is not available at this time.”  (Do they only have one copy?)

Time Warner Cable (their motto:  “We can’t fix anything”) has consistently earned its national bottom ten customer satisfaction ranking year after year. Every time I have to deal with them, I think nostalgically of the ever-reliable rotating antenna I used to have on my roof which actually produced a picture and sound.
So I told Olof that if he wanted additional service, he was ordering it and taking the day off to wait for the TW Cable guy. I even gave him the whole script:  They probably won’t show up when they’re supposed to.  They will not achieve what they are there for.  But when they leave, you discover they’ve broken something else.  They have this down to a science.

Olof, an innocent, says, “It’s a really straight-forward installation.  I don’t see how they can mess this up.”
I was intentionally out during the appointment time.  When I came home, Olof was looking very unhappy.  He’d told them when he made the appointment that all our TW Cable wiring had been run under the house because of our fragile plaster walls. But the guy who shows up says he doesn’t go under the houses.  Plaster walls or nothing.  He leaves. 

Olof, a TW Cable virgin, has forgotten to make sure that everything else works before letting the cable guy escape.  Sure enough, our TV service is out.
I call and get Clint. Clint promises 100% absolutely that someone will come back by 7 p.m. to do the new installation and restore our cable TV service.  It is currently 11 a.m.

We call throughout the day.  Not to worry, they say.  We’re on the schedule.
At 7:00 p.m. I get Brandy but ask for a supervisor.  Brandy promises that if I will hang up, a supervisor will call me back “in ten minutes.”  Like I was born yesterday?  “No, thanks,” I say, “I’ll hold.”  Twenty-five minutes later Brandy is back on the line.  Sorry, she says, all the dispatchers, technicians and supervisors have gone home.  They’ll need to reschedule installation and repair.  First available is Sunday, three days hence.

The next morning I am on the phone at 7 a.m. and get Jason, an alleged supervisor.  Jason promises me that a technician will be out between 5-7 that day to restore the TV service.  The new installation will have to wait until Sunday.  I ask why no one called us when they weren’t going to come.  He says their records show that the scheduled technician (hereafter known as “The Lying Bag of Sheep Dung”) cryptically noted that he was “unable to access area under house” and hence cancelled the call without ever coming here.

At 6:55 p.m., just as we are about to give up, a TW Cable guy named Avery shows up.  He agrees our TV cable service is out but is puzzled as to how that could be since the first guy never went under the house.  We are sure he is going to shrug his shoulders – it is, after all, Friday night - and leave in TW’s inimitable way but he is determined to fix this for us.  We are so dazzled we are speechless.  Is this really a TW Cable guy?  He finally dons his hazmat suit and crawls under the house in the now-pitch blackness and discovers that when the first guy had been tugging on the cable from the outside of the house, he had pulled it out from the splitter underneath the house.  Avery fixes this and voila.

Avery fesses up, however, to tripping over one of our above-ground sprinkler heads in the dark thus disabling our sprinkler system. He offers to pay for it.  We decline.  He’s honest to boot! If only we could just get Avery on retainer.

Meanwhile, Olof decides against the new installation.  He is no longer a virgin.  In fact, he’s feeling like he’s been violated by a horde of surly ninjas.  Even though we’ve kept TW Cable because they’re the evil that we know, we conclude it’s time for the evil that we don’t know.

Neither of us feels inclined to spend yet more time on hold with TW Cable to cancel the new installation call that was rescheduled for Sunday.  When they come, we’ll tell them we’ve changed our minds.  Take THAT, Time Warner Cable!

They never show up.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Inga's Guide to Internet Idiocies

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published August 23, 2012© 2012

The misinformation superhighway seems to be traveling at warp speed this year.  Several months ago I wrote a column called “Please don’t send anything to everyone you know” about the internet screeds that the wingnuts of the world forward to everyone in their address book without passing them through even the most rudimentary filter of  credibility.

Ironically, two days after that column appeared, our county’s major daily printed a Letter to the Editor that had alarm bells going off in my head, and those of a host of other readers as well.  Normally these things take about four seconds to track down on, but this one took almost thirty.  It appears that as part of its budget cuts, the county rag has done away with fact checkers, a point that was made in a second Letter to the Editor by a reader who documented that not a single “fact” in the first letter writer’s missive was even remotely true.  But the paper had already given legitimacy and credibility to an ugly urban legend. 

As the oft-quoted saying goes, We are entitled to our own opinions, but not to our own facts.  Why did so many people miss that memo? 

What baffles me is that urban legends, mythical stories, and general folklore are so astonishingly easy to spot if the brain is switched on at even Energy Saving levels.  These stories are more formulaic than romance novels:   Start out with a much distorted statement, pad with patent delusions, cite bogus page numbers and dates, misquote a prominent citizen to give it credence, and send to one’s entire distribution list with the subject line in all caps.   Voila! 

 Last week, for example, I received an internet communication from an otherwise intelligent well-educated La Jollan that had been sent to, apparently, everyone he knew;  the previous distribution lists were stacked up below it, none of which had fewer than eighty names on them.  The topic – a current favorite in the world of internet hysteria – was Obamacare, and more specifically, the Ethics Panels (a.k.a Death Squads) that Obama has allegedly created to alleviate the country’s burden of that cumbersome group, old people. 

Of course, the first thing that made me the taddiest bit suspicious was that the originator was illiterate.  You may not be there yet, but what comes next [sic] our children? If your [sic] are handy capped [oy sic]?  This effects [sic] everyone we know.” 

OK, so not everyone has access to them new fangled spell checkers.  The article goes on to quote a woman doctor in Tennessee (I’m guessing by now she’s moved to an unlisted country and changed professions) noting that she is a “real person” and giving a link to her medical group’s on-line listing.  As with most such internet info-mationals, a whole lot of material having nothing to do with anything she actually said is then inserted, including the telltale internet idiocy nebulous statement:  “If you needed a lifesaving operation, Medicare will not provide coverage anymore after 2013 if you are 75 or over.”

Another popular Obamacare rant I’ve received from several curiously uninquisitive towns folk this year maintains that Obamacare will require the microchipping of all Americans with their medical and bank information and even a tracking device by March 23, 2013. (Alarm bell #1: Like the federal government could ever be that efficient?  Alarm bells 2-50 to follow.)

So here’s Inga’s short guide on how to recognize internet – or Letter to the Editor - insanity:

(1)  Did the writer finish third grade?

(2)  If the bells going off in your head sound like klaxons, maybe it’s not true.

(3)  If there is even a single phrase in capital letters accompanied by more than one exclamation mark (“TOGETHER WE CAN STOP THIS!!!!!!”), YOU ARE BEING SCAMMED!!!!!

(4)  Does the sender sent it to 150 people of his or her closest friends?

(5)  The only thing a photo proves is that the sender has Photoshop.  For example, a heavily circulated photo shows Romney standing in front of an American flag with five children whose T-shirts spell out the word “Money”.  It was actually a digitally altered Associated Press photo; the kids’ shirts actually spelled Romney with the “R” being the Romney campaign logo and the letters “o” and “m” on the kids’ shirts reversed. 

(6)  Just because a “real” person is quoted doesn’t mean they actually said anything attributed to them.  Check it out yourself on  (Yes, YOU.)

(7)  While celebrities – and particularly politicians - say all manner of ill-considered things, consider the source.  The text of a hilariously clueless speech by Romney that has made the rounds quotes him as saying that he could relate to black people because his ancestors once owned slaves.  (They didn’t.)  The “speech” was from a spoof article on the satirical web site, which, incidentally, proclaims prominently that it is a satirical web site and they are just funning you.  (Another recent post:  “Romney to supporters at rally:  ‘Everyone here gets a car!’”)

As for the chronically-overused and abused Forward button, I think it should be programmed to give you three sequential prompts before it will actually allow your screed to contaminate the ether.  As in:

(1) C’mon, really? 

(2) “Are you SURE some yahoo didn’t send you this? 

(3) “Do you want people to think you’re a yahoo too?” 

Of course, it won’t help.  But I’ve done my best.