Tuesday, April 17, 2012

**Please Don't Send Anything to Everyone You Know

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published April 19, 2012] © 2012

Last week, an otherwise-intelligent acquaintance from La Jolla sent me (and about a hundred other of his closest friends) an email entitled “REFUSE NEW COINS!”  The all-caps subject line is usually a good tip off that it’s either an urban legend or some mass hysteria among the wingnut set, which was only confirmed by the three-inch-high exhortation to “SEND THIS TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW!!!!”  That always seals the diagnosis for me.
In this particular screed, “true Americans” (Strike 3) were implored not to accept the “new” dollar coins that were intentionally missing the words “In God We Trust”.  In doing so, the email rants on, “Together we can force them out of circulation!” 
Actually, that won’t be necessary.  They’re already out of circulation since they constituted some 50,000 incorrectly imprinted coins out of a batch of three million that the U.S. Mint struck in early 2007, and instantly became collectibles.  I ascertained this in approximately three seconds by typing the words “US coins without in god we trust” into my browser and getting pages of articles about the error – and the ongoing annoyance of the U.S. Mint plagued by the dingdongs who have persisted in circulating this story over the past five years. 
It’s just so easy to check this stuff.  So why don’t more thinking people do it?  The election hasn’t even started to get as ugly as it’s going to but every day, both sides throw out quotes allegedly made by the other side which range from gross distortions to patent lies.  When Rick Santorum, for example, quoted President Obama as saying that everyone should go to college (and calling him a “snob”), it was easy to type in “Obama speech on higher education” and instantly get both the text of Obama’s speech AND the actual video which not surprisingly showed he didn’t say that at all. 
But both parties are equally guilty of this.   At this point, politicians seem to be confident that they are preaching to a nation of sheep – and I say that with apologies to ovines everywhere. 
As for internet rumors, there are a number of easy ways to check their validity (snopes.com, for example).   Still, I’ve received so many disheartening internet rants – political and otherwise – from people whose intelligence I would hardly impugn but who seem inexorably committed to believe – and pass on - whatever shows up in their in-baskets.  It just baffles me.  Is curiosity dead? 
In the coming months especially, it just seems like the entire nation needs to get a Ph.D. in skepticism.  If the first four months of this election year have been any indication, the next six are going to be a bottomless slough of disingenuous, invidious, dissembling, specious, obfuscating, fallacious perfidy and prevarication.   On top of that, I think there’s going to be a lot of lying.              
We don’t have to believe any of it.  We can fact-check it ourselves.  So the next time someone sends you an urgent internet message exhorting you to spread the word that Medicare regulations now require doctors to ask if you keep guns in your home, that KFC can’t use the word “chicken” anymore since those paper buckets actually contain mutant bio-engineered organisms, that Bill Gates will send you $1,000 for forwarding a specific email to 1,000 people, that al-Qaida plans to blow up Fashion Valley Shopping Center on a certain date,  or if someone sends you a loony screed mis-attributed to a famous person or the “secret” recipe for Mrs. Fields Cookies or wacky health tips alleged to have come from the Mayo Clinic – all emails that have ended up my in-box – PLEASE DON’T FORWARD IT.
But in the meantime, SEND THIS TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW!!!!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

An Ode to Olof

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

My adult sons would disagree with me on many points but I think the one issue they wouldn’t dispute is that the best thing that ever happened to the three of us was my second husband, Olof.  This is not to discredit their  dad who has been a hugely active and loving participant in their lives (and with whom Olof has miraculously managed not to compete).   As for Mom, parenthood fortunately seems to be dissipating the kids’ litany of complaints regarding my performance. (For their complete list, email me specifying alphabetical or chronological.)  In my defense, I was a single working parent for twelve years from the time they were three and five.  Let me tell you:  it’s a tough gig.

Considering what a bad rep stepparents have, it is a paean to both Olof and to my ex’s second wife that the kids occasionally mused aloud that their ideal parents would be their two stepparents.  If only they could get rid of Mom and Dad!

This might suggest that the stepparents were pushovers.  Not so.  In fact, neither of them tolerated any grief from the kids and yet were adored.  It was a lesson that Mom and Dad, too busy competing with each other for children’s time and affection during those years, should have learned from. 

Olof (who commuted down from the Bay area for eight years before we married when the when the kids were in high school) would step off the plane on Friday nights carrying a single red rose for me.  On the way home one night, eight-year-old Henri’s voice piped up from the back seat.  “Mom, why does Olof only bring you one rose?  Why doesn’t he bring you a whole bunch?”  I turned to Henri and said, “Because sometimes less is more.”  Years later, at sixteen, when Henri first had a girlfriend, I happened to talk to her mother who said, “You have raised the most romantic young man!  Every time he comes to pick up my daughter, he brings her a single red rose.”  “Wow!” I said.  “What a great idea!”

Olof always managed to cut to the core of any issue with the kids.  I remember him clarifying the definition of manners to them as grade schoolers by explaining that “anything you do that feels natural is unmannerly.”  This they could understand.

He introduced a lexicon of Air Force and engineering jargon to the household, from “Tango Uniform” (it’s seriously broken), Z.B. (zero balance, meaning we were out of something), and the acquisition of new skills in terms of “capability.”  (One became “times table-capable,”  “laundry-capable,” “left turn-capable” etc.)  Every time we pulled into the driveway, Olof lead a chorus of “Cheated death again!”

When the kids were in college, Olof explained that our investment in their education meant that they needed to be prepared to support themselves when they were done, even if it meant double shifts flipping burgers.  (Having spent college summers cleaning toilets at the US Steel plant in Pittsburg, CA (union wages) and roofing in the East Bay’s brutal 100-degree heat, Olof was fairly impervious to complaints about labor.)  But as always, he gave financial emancipation a positive spin:  “Gentlemen,” he said (he always referred to them as gentlemen even when they were ten), “pay your own way and you’re free!  You’re out from under our thumbs forever!”  It was a concept greatly appealing to young men of their ages.    Neither of them has ever asked for a dime since the day they graduated.  Both now support families.

Mom and Dad were hardly crooks but Olof is truly the most honest and ethical man I have ever known.  Not a religious man, he just always does what he feels in his heart to be right, down to obeying traffic laws (annoyingly, he’s never had a single citation), pointing out errors in our favor on restaurant checks, and not so much as taking a pencil from the office.  (After I had to go to traffic school for a rolling stop, he affectionately referred to me as “the felon.”)   When Henri applied to MBA programs, he answered an essay question about how he’d handle ethical situations in his future business life by citing the incomparable benefit of Olof as a role model.   

In an era when stepparents get such bad press, I think it’s important to call out one who for twenty-five years has been revered by the stepees.   Olof, of course, would demur, insisting he simply treats them with respect (and love) and is treated with respect (and love) back. What I still can’t figure out is how he makes it look so easy.