Monday, September 23, 2013

**It's All In How You (Don't) Say It

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published September 26, 2013]  © 2013 

We know couples who contend they can talk to each other about “anything.”  My husband Olof agrees that’s the way relationships ought to be, so long as you never actually do it. 

Olof is strictly a “don’t ask, don’t tell” kind of guy, although it has nothing to do with the military.  As far as he’s concerned, a lot of those “anything” conversations could quickly careen into the dreaded to-be-avoided-at-all-costs category of Too Much Information.   
I won a Press Club award, for example, for a previous column about Olof’s massive aversion to feminine hygiene commercials on TV which he maintains have gangrenously pervaded channels that could formerly be counted on to be guy-friendly.  When shouting at the TV fails to work, he is forced to retreat to the kitchen for a snack until it’s safe to return.  He maintains he’s put on eight pounds on the Seasonique birth control ads alone. 

As far as Olof is concerned, my TMI filter was broken at birth.  But actually, it just runs in completely different directions than his.  I can’t watch violence or gore of any kind.  My former movie group used to end up seeing a lot of three hour black-and-white dubbed-from-the-Hungarian documentary-style prison camp movies since we couldn’t see anything any of us had already seen or had promised to a spouse.  I usually had my jacket over my head and my hands in my ears muttering lalalalala, to the annoyance of the people behind me (never mind my movie group).  During the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan (which we watched at home on DVD for precisely that reason), I was on far side of the house with a pillow over my head. 
Olof has a hard time seeing this aversion to video violence as actual TMI.  An engineer and a former Air Force pilot, most of his areas of TMI tend to exist in the murky underworld of “feelings.”  If it’s an engineering or aviation issue, Olof is all guts and glory, no detail too difficult to confront openly and with full disclosure.  But a sentence that starts with “I feel” is not going to come out of this man’s mouth.  Ever.

Now, keep in mind that Olof is hardly a curmudgeonly undemonstrative kind of guy.  He’s out-going, universally liked (which I find very annoying), incredibly kind, and has a great sense of humor. Actions, he maintains, speak louder than words.  OK, but as I’ve pointed out to him on more than a few occasions, sometimes words would come in really handy.

Whole industries involved with the world of psychology completely baffle him.  It’s not that he is against psychotherapy per se; he’s just puzzled why anyone would do it.  In his personal view, if one has a problem, one mulls.  One ponders.  One might even create a flow chart.  No, one especially creates a flow chart.   One certainly doesn’t pay after-tax dollars to some charlatan with a pseudo degree in what he refers to as the squishy sciences to engage in – we’ve come full circle now – sharing of Too Much Information.

After we had a devastating encounter with a drunk driver on I-5 a few years ago and I recovered from injuries enough to begin driving in my replacement car, I could barely bring myself to drive down the street.  It didn’t help that seconds into my first actual foray around town, some jerk coming the other way on La Jolla Boulevard made a sudden U-turn in front of me barely avoiding a major collision.  (Where is one’s 9 millimeter Glock when one needs it?)  Some people, when they fall off a horse, climb right back on.  Others of us develop a life-long fear of equines.

So I did the only reasonable thing.  I hired a cognitive therapist who actually drove around with me in spite of my absolute 100% conviction that we were both going to die.  Now, Olof was certainly aware of my difficulties driving.  I got a lot of extra hugs in that era.  But in Olof Land, one looks fear in the face and refuses to be defeated by it.  And one certainly STOPS TALKING ABOUT IT.  I had landed firmly on the wrong side of Olof’s TMI line. 

I didn’t mention my new driving companion to Olof although he must have known.  (See “after-tax dollars,” above.) If he had asked, I certainly would have been happy to discuss it.  Which, of course, is exactly what he was trying to avoid at all costs.  I know he wouldn’t have begrudged me any help that the quacks could explicably provide although I am sure that he thought if I would just get in the damn car and drive, we could cut the witch doctor out of the equation. 

As far as he was concerned, we absolutely adhered to the “we can talk about anything” philosophy.  But he’s just really glad we didn’t.  Sometimes illusion is everything.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Step AWAY from the bin

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published September 18, 2013] © 2013 

You know you’re turning into a curmudgeon when you can’t decide whether to write about dog poop or leaf blowers. 

The anti-leaf blower lobby is already gaining traction in the Letters section of the Light.  Personally, I’m fine with whatever construction noise, leaf blowing and tree trimmer chain sawing goes on during the week, but on the weekends, I’d love to give all of those guys mandatory time off.  Fire up that leaf blower on a Sunday morning while people are outside reading the paper and the Noise Police would come and stuff you into a metal trash can which the neighbors could pound on with aluminum rakes until you promised never to do it again.

Ah, I feel better already.

OK, now that we’ve covered that, let’s whine about dog poop.  Now, we don’t technically own a dog although we seem to be habitually harboring our grand dog, Winston the Wonder Dog.  We genuinely love dogs, and in particular, the perpetually-recalcitrant Winston.    

But if you opened our trash can on any given day, you’d think we were running a kennel for digestively-compromised canines.  This is because our city-mandated-and-dispensed black trash receptacle lives at the far end of our driveway nestled next to our house, its unfortunate accessibility making it the neighborhood poop dump of choice.   In the pre-city-dispensed receptacle days, our trash cans lived safely inside our back gate away from excretory-abandoning miscreants.   But the required new bins are too big for that space. 

I do not exaggerate when I say that opening the lid of a trash bin with a week’s worth of neighborhood pooch poop is a veritable biohazard, a fetid feculence, a mephitic miasma, a noisome nose full.  It could drop a goat from ten yards.

Our neighborhood is truly Dog Central.  You can’t go five minutes without seeing someone walking a dog. I can understand that dog owners don’t want to walk for a half hour clutching a bag of steamy effluvium.  But so plentiful is the canine population in our area that there are a number of strategically-located dog poop bag dispensing stations which include a convenient bin to deposit their odiferously-amplified  contents.  I often see two guys driving up in their city truck to empty these bins and replenish the bag supply.  I’m not sure what they pay them.  But given our own experience, I’m guessing it’s not enough. 

Despite the city’s uncharacteristic prescience in providing these bins, we would hear the lid of our trash can opening and closing all day long and the gentle thud of bags of leaden dog leavings hitting the bottom.  So we decide to importune the offenders with a polite entreaty on the top:  “Please - No dog poop in the trash bin!” 

Like that worked.

I was telling my friend Lorraine about this and she said, “Well, geesh, Inga.  You totally DARED the dog people with that sign.  I’m surprised they haven’t tweeted your address!”   Even  I agree that people who leave jars of water on their grass (which are supposed to, but don’t actually, keep animal ordure off your lawn) or who post curt “Curb your dog!” signs positively beg dog owners to do the opposite.  After their dog dumps on your sidewalk, a photo of the offending egesta is probably posted on their Facebook page within minutes.

But as I explained to Lorraine, in our case, the sign (written on about half of an 8x11 piece of paper) is discreetly taped to the top of the can. You have to actually walk up to the trash bin at the end of our driveway to see it and then you can’t miss it.  I agree that if it were on the side of the bin and visible from the street, I would be declaring open season on myself.  (“Let’s fill @trashcan with #dogpoop LOL!”)

Interestingly, a neighborhood friend said that when the sanitation truck missed her trash one week and the receptacle sat on the street for four days, it acquired at least two dozen bags of puppy putrescence.  Puzzling, she said, since there was a city doo-disposal bin exactly sixteen feet away.

Despite the sign, I still hear the lid of my trash can being raised during the day, but more quietly now, and I will have to say, much less often than before.  I confess that I sometimes entertain delicious fantasies of rigging it in some excretorially vengeful way.  But forget to disarm it even once and the garbage men would never pick up our trash again.

No, I think the real solution lies in wheeling our bin to the middle of our front yard and letting the ever-unpredictable Winston chase the baggers around the front yard doing his crazed pit bull imitation.  On one of those laps, they’d see that the sign on the top now read “Make My Day.” 


Sunday, September 8, 2013

**For Better Or Worse But Not For Lunch

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published Sept. 12, 2013] © 2013  

After three straight years of 7-day 80-hour weeks punctuated by frequent international travel to the U.K. and the Middle East, my husband, Olof, decided to retire. In the last four blissful weeks, it feels like I’ve reconnected with someone who’s been brought back from the dead, or at least United. 

Surprisingly, most of my friends greeted the news of his retirement with genuine condolences, confiding that their ultimate nightmare was a husband not only under foot but requiring entertainment.  For better or worse, they said, but not for lunch.

Everyone who knows Olof was shocked to the core at his decision to retire as his well-known four word retirement plan has always been “Die at my desk.”  Speaking of that desk, it has always puzzled me that Olof’s work desk looked like a Staples office furniture ad but his home office resembled a paper recycling plant that had suffered a power outage. So I was delighted when one of his first retirement projects was to consolidate the work and home offices into a model of efficiency.  “It turns out that you CAN reduce entropy,” Mr. Engineer observed at my gratitude for this.  “But you have to apply energy.”

It is, of course, important to have plans for retirement.  (A recently-retired social worker friend maintains her goal is to “never help anyone again.”)  High on Olof’s list is his version of pleasure reading, and faster than you can say “40 pound techno tome,” boxes arrived from Amazon with snorer (well, to me) titles like “Introduction to Queueing Theory” and “Professional ASP.Net.”  After breakfast, he parks himself out on the patio, metal clipboard and mechanical pencil in hand suitable for diagramming and note taking, and happily wallows in technology.  You can take the guy out of the office, but you can’t take the office out of the guy.

I swear I didn’t ask, but he has taken on some of the household chores he used to do, like the dishes.  It’s reminds me of when my younger son first got his driver’s license and we heard the sound of the car backing out of the driveway for pre-dawn Saturday crew practice and we weren’t in it.  It was heaven.  I have the same feeling about hearing dishes going into a dishwasher that I’m not loading.

Olof picked after-dinner clean-up, he said, partly because he read that, in recorded history, no man has ever been shot by his wife while doing the dishes.  But though he’s too nice to say so out loud, I’ve sensed he’s never been all that happy with the job I do on the stove and counters and sink which the dishwasher, maliciously, refuses to clean.  (We can put people on the moon but someone can’t invent this?)  I am not the worst housekeeper in the world.  But I AM a contender.

Olof, on the other hand, spends at least a half hour doing the dishes just for the two of us.  He would never have made it as a single mother, let me tell you.  The stove top is spotless, the granite counter tops positively sparkle, you could be blinded by the shine in our stainless steel sink.  The cleaning lady showed up the first week after Olof retired, took one look at the kitchen and stopped dead in her tracks with a barely disguised “WTF?” look.  Olof is her new best friend. 

Like military wives who find it hard to let returning husbands do things their own way, I have definitely had to get in touch with my inner control freak since Olof retired.  In my defense, much has changed in Dishwasher Land since Olof deployed to the office three years ago.

As I wrote in a previous column, we inherited a set of sterling silver flatware from one of his relatives.  It has Rules, including not putting the sterling next to the stainless in the silverware bins.  Even I ignore the caveat about hand washing the knives, having concluded that the glue attaching the handles to the blades has a longer life expectancy that I do.  But the first night, I saw Olof mixing the sterling and the stainless.

I didn’t say anything.  Husband doing dishes is not an event to be messed with.  But then I noticed he ran the dishwasher half full.  Now, to be fair, I think the Bosch people would probably consider it correctly loaded.  But seriously, I could have crammed three more days’ dishes in there, easy. 

“Inga,” I said to myself.  “Step AWAY from the dishwasher!  The man is DOING THE DISHES.  If he wants to run it with two friggin’ forks, let him!”  But it’s been hard. Very hard.

So despite a couple little adjustments, so far so good.  Just love having the big guy around.  But my friends are already placing bets for December.