Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What I Wouldn't Give for a Rat's Patootie

["Let Inga Tell You", La Jolla Light, published July 26, 2012]  © 2012

If you’ve noticed you have fewer rats at your place this year, it’s because they all moved to my house.  In the several decades I’ve lived here, there are years when we don’t see even one, and others, like this year, when they’re making their pestilent presence really obvious. 

Unfortunately (at least as far as the rodential population is concerned), we have a prolific orange tree, a rat’s food of choice.  Walking outside in the morning, our brick walkway was littered with hollowed out orange rinds, the remnants of the previous night’s rat-chanalia.   And this, by the way, is one of my biggest issues with them:  how hard would it be to just roll the rinds into the bushes and let them quietly biodegrade?  I’m not an unreasonable person. 

Eating dinner on our patio in the evening, Olof and I watched the rats scurrying back and forth along the top of our six-foot wrought-iron pool fence and escaping into the orange tree.  At one point, it occurred to us that it could actually be the same three rats running around in an endless circle just to annoy us while their buddies filmed it for rat reality TV. 

But this is our outdoor entertaining season.  You’re trying to have a classy dinner party and one of your guests says, “Um, I think I just saw a rat.”  It’s tempting to deny it with a breezy “No more wine for you!” but in the end we just had to admit defeat and turn our furry friends into a party game.  “Person who sees the most rats gets an extra dessert!”  After a couple more glasses of wine, everybody kind of got into it.  Or maybe they’re just drinking more because they can’t believe they’re at a La Jolla dinner party counting rats.

Over the years, we’ve tried pretty much every rat-ridding tactic out there, from the pricey Pest Control folks who trap them humanely and maintain that they drive the rats out to the country and let them go, to the finger-breaking steel spring traps (I’m way too much of a klutz, never mind pet danger) to the inhumane rat poison that we use now.  I admit that on the Judgment day, there will be a lot of beady-eyed creatures squeaking “Yes, that’s her!”  But I did ask them nicely to go away.

Of course, our fundamental problem is that we have a rat-topia lot, not only the orange tree but a lot of lush foliage that we’re genuinely attached to.  But this year, for the first time, we are thinking of actually removing all the oranges from the tree.  The rat invasion has gotten totally out of hand.

In a previous Bad Rat Year (a term that will never cross the lips of the La Jolla Chamber of Commerce), I was on a first name basis with the Vector Control folks who taught me how to fill the centers of 18-inch-long 4-inch diameter sections of PVC pipe with rat poison (so the neighborhood cats can’t get to it), and secret them around the yard. 

In recent years this has become problematical in itself.  We are frequently visited by tiny grandchildren and the ever-inquisitive Winston the Wonder Dog for whom contact with rat poison would be a very bad thing.  Because Winston was here for five weeks in May and early June, I didn’t get a chance to do my Spring Rat Offensive.  The rats maliciously took advantage.

A complicating factor is that Winston has recently been dropped off for another of his indeterminate visits.  (We always fear that our son and daughter-in-law have moved and left (a) Winston here and (b) no forwarding address.)  Normally I would never have rat baits out when Winston is around but this is such a crisis that we’ve just put the baited PVC pipes up higher. 

While most of the rats die their cruel deaths out of our sight, some get their ultimate revenge on us by succumbing on our patio.

My son, Henri, sent me an email the other day:  “Mom – please be careful that Winston is not eating dead rats.”

Mom to Henri:  “Believe me, I am incredibly careful that Winston is not consuming deceased rodentia. There is nothing less appetizing than bagging up dead rats before breakfast.  When you come back to get Winston (hint hint), I will give you rat duty for the weekend.” 

Meanwhile, Winston, self-appointed Vanquisher of the Furry Peril, likes to hang out near the orange tree and bark at it, scurrying rats along the pool fence.  Alas, it doesn’t actually get rid of them, but it’s very entertaining to watch.

We’d really like to be more humane in our e-rat-ication efforts but there would not be enough alcohol on the planet to make up for spending our weekends driving rats out into the country.  But what else would we do with them?  (Well, there IS that one neighbor…)  In the meantime, we’ve staged a major anti-rat campaign:  extensive pruning, more baits, carpet tack strips on top of the pool fence, removal of bird feeders. 

In order to assess our success, we have posted a chart on our refrigerator documenting the dramatically lessening numbers (yesterday none!) of hollowed-out orange rinds on the bricks each morning.  It’s all very scientific.  Fewer rinds, fewer rats.  Unless, of course, they’re hiding the rinds just to toy with us. 

We wouldn’t put it past them.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Where's the Prozac for Techno-Depression?

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published July 12, 2012]  © 2012

It’s official:  I’m suffering from Techno-Depression.  Last week I went to get my hair done and when the customer before me handed her credit card to the stylist, Angie inserted this tiny white gismo into the top of her phone, swiped the card, and had the customer sign by writing her name with her finger on the screen.

I’ve been left in the digital dust.

I’m still trying to figure out how to answer my cell phone.  My younger son does a truly vicious imitation of me using mine.  Because I use it so rarely, I never remember what you’re supposed to do when it rings. Hence I tend to randomly push buttons and yell “HELLO?  HELLO?” at it.  Henri swears that when he calls me on my phone, he automatically holds his own phone at least a foot from his ear.

But just for the record, how intuitive is it to push END when you want to START?  Huh?  Huh?  How hard would it be to label that button On/Off?  (This could be my next career: designing electronics for the technically challenged.) 

Hair stylist Angie has been my cell phone tech support for quite a while now.  It used to be that I had to drive the phone over to Radio Shack in downtown La Jolla and have the kid behind the counter erase text messages for me.  He’d always say, “Don’t you want to read them first?”  I’d reply, “Nope.  It’s always some guy name Luis who thinks I want to hook up.” 

I am perfectly fine not texting although when I got the phone, T-Mobile proceeded to send me my password via text message.  I proceeded to bury them in execrative invective by email, pointing out that just because one has a phone doesn’t mean one knows how to text.  They need to understand that some of their customers are seriously techno-impaired.

Angie insists that cell phones, even Smart Phones, are not as complicated as they look. Even her Mom has one, she says, and she’s almost SIXTY. 

“I’m surprised she can still tie her shoes,” I said drily.

“They have classes, you know,” Angie persisted.  “No,” I said, “unless you can get the app where some fifteen-year-old follows you around and works the phone for you, it’s too hard for me.”

I first began to get the feeling I was being left behind in the digital Pleistocene when one of my kids moved a few years back.  “Let me know when you get your new number,” I said.

“Mom,” he said, “nobody but you has a land line anymore.  In fact, are they still legal?”

Now my worst nightmare has become a reality:  all the electronics I already have trouble operating have been consolidated into one I can’t operate at all: a Smart Phone.    My-two-year old granddaughter watches downloaded TV shows and videos on her iPhone (her parents’ old one).  All the photos I get now have been taken by someone’s cell phone instead of their digital one.  I’m still trying to work myself into the iPod generation but Angie says she downloaded (uploaded?) all her music on to the phone too.  Ipods are so last decade, she says.

Reading the Sunday New York Times travel section, I have learned that besides using your phone as a boarding pass, one can now track one’s bags with one’s phone, and subscribe to services that will upgrade your airplane seat to a better as soon as one becomes available.  I fear I’m destined to have the worst seat on any plane, and be the last one out of the continent after the blizzard.  And definitely the only one who truly has no idea where her bags are. 

Those commercials on TV where the kid tells his fawning phone servant to call him Rock God or find places that deliver tomato soup really drive home in the most depressing way possible that I’ve outlived my technical skills. Ironically, in college, I was pretty much my dorm’s tech support.  Such was my renown with Smith-Corona electric typewriters  (the cutting edge technology of their day) that everybody came to me for help changing the ribbons.

My younger son thinks the cure for techno depression is techno skill acquisition.  Could I at least try to embrace cell phones?  If you can breeze through the New York Times crossword puzzle 365 days a year, he says, (well, 313 days really; the Monday puzzle is too easy to be worth doing), surely you can learn to operate a cell phone?

“Of course,” added Henri, “you will have to turn it on.”

“But,” I said, “I don’t want anyone to actually reach me.” 

I guess I could just ignore it when it rings and just use its other features.  Because I really do want to know where my bags are.