Tuesday, December 30, 2014

**Advice To The Thin Police

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published Jan. 1, 2015] ©2015

Several years ago at a holiday lunch, I was seated next to a woman who had opened her own clothing boutique in North County. She thought it was a travesty that women’s clothes were mostly targeted toward the really slender. So in addition to carrying clothes for the emaciated svelte (my term), it was her plan to design clothing for her boutique for the “larger woman.” 


“What sizes?” I inquired, suddenly taking interest. 


“8-12,” she says.  


It was all I could do not to accidentally knock her Nicoise salad (dressing on the side) into her scrawny size two lap. 


Prior to my divorce 30 years ago, I always wore a size 4, which in today’s deflationary size market is probably a 2, or even a 0. (Personally I think size 0 is what you should be after you’ve been dead a while.) Afterwards, I packed on 40 pounds eating the Post-Divorce Mrs. Fields Cookie and Chardonnay Depression Diet. Alas, I’ve been heifering, er, hovering around a size 16 ever since. I’d consider wearing sizes 8-12 really good news.  


Every year, shedding at least 30 of those pounds has been my number one New Year’s resolution. And every year on December 31, I say, “Well, next year!”


Anyone who has lived in La Jolla for any length of time knows that the Thin Police are on regular and vigilant patrol. It is their mission to make sure that anyone who displays more than a certain level of avoirdupois is (1) a regular topic of discussion, and (2) must be “helped.” When I gained so much weight, it was abundantly clear to me how much air time my weight was getting among some of the locals.


In my first few years in the oinker set, a very slender acquaintance made it her full time unsolicited project to assist my weight loss efforts, including showing up at my door one day with a package of over-the-counter diet pills that had been opened with one missing, saying she’d bought these for herself but wasn’t going to use the rest of them, and thought I might be interested. Hell no!


I’ve never understood the compelling desire to tell people how much better they would look if they were thinner.




This is what I like about writing a column; you get do-overs, at least in fantasy. I’m annoyed at myself that I didn’t take this bull by the horns then. But didn’t want people to think I was both fat AND surly. 


I’ve always been a lifelong walker, walking at least 2-3 miles a day. Somehow this never seemed to impact my weight, which I think you’ll agree is totally unfair. But for years I used to see the same uber-thin woman whose kids were the same ages as mine out jogging on my same route who would routinely jog up next to me and inquire enthusiastically, “Hey, have you lost weight?” No other topic, ever. It got hugely irritating because I was clear that in her mind, she thought she was helpfully encouraging me to shed some pounds. 


She suddenly disappeared (I rather hoped she’d been bludgeoned to death by an infuriated fatty) but a few months ago, after a 15-year absence, I was out for a walk when she jogged by, as slender as ever. As she jogged in place (some things never change) alongside me, she mentioned that she’d moved out to the desert some years ago but was now back in town being treated for osteoporosis. What struck me immediately was that between years of leathering desert sun and waaay too little flesh on her sunken face and skeletal frame, she looked 100. Seriously. I wanted to grab her by her pointy clavicle and scream, Stand still! You’ll break your little tiny bones!


“Hey,” she said, “you look great!” (If she’d said, “Have you lost weight?” I was prepared to take her skinny ass down.) I don’t know how great I looked (same weight as ever) but compared to her I felt like Cindy Crawford. OK, a fat Cindy Crawford. I didn’t point out that among the advantages of being a little chunky as you get older are that you’re your own weight bearing exercise. No osteoporosis for me!


Fortunately, the Thin Police have long since given up on me. And for this I say “thank you.”


But I do have some advice for people who are tempted to “help” other people lose weight:  


Shut up and go away.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

**The Ghosts Of Christmas Trees Past

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published December 18, 2014]  © 2014 
A few days ago I went to buy my Christmas tree and couldn’t help but reflect on the ghosts of Christmas trees past.
My first husband always insisted we get a small live tree which we would then plant in the yard in what he considered a charming post-Christmas tradition. Folks: do NOT try this at home!  Little did we realize how much those suckers would grow - one to 40 feet! By the time my husband and I divorced ten years (and Christmas trees) later, anyone driving by would think our place was a tree farm with a driveway.  Meanwhile, the interior of the house descended into a barn-esque gloom since the tree tops had created a rain forest canopy effect. The tree roots made for constant plumbing problems and grass wouldn’t grow under pine needles. Ultimately, it cost me $4,000 to have ten originally-$20 trees removed from the property.  (I knew I should have had a Christmas tree removal reimbursement clause in the divorce decree!)
Now single with two little kids, I went for the six-foot Douglas fir simply because they were the cheapest. I’d be on my stomach trying to screw the trunk into the stand while six-year-old Rory was holding up the tree. Three-year-old Henry was supposed to tell me when it was straight.  I crawled out from under the tree to discover that it was listing 45 degrees. Irrefutably demonstrating the principle of gravitational vector forces, it promptly fell over.
It was several more years at least until we had a Christmas tree that wasn’t leaning precariously. In a brilliant Single Mom Home Repair School solution, I tied a rope midway up the trunk and tethered the other end to a ceiling plant hook.  Miraculously (since I guarantee that butterfly bolts are not rated for Christmas tree stabilization), it stayed vertical.
Some years later, Henry, who was about 11 at the time, and I brought home a bargain supermarket tree. Our tree, alas, had lots of branches right at the base of the trunk which we were attempting to amputate with a rusty jigsaw (left over from Pinewood Derby days) - in the dark in the front yard via flashlight - so that we could get the trunk into the stand.  What’s amazing is that we didn’t sever any digits in the process. I finally ended up calling a neighbor who came over with the appropriate tools and did the job for us. Decision for next year: better saw, or a tree from a Christmas tree lot.
Since I wasn’t all that interested in replicating the experience even with good tools, the next year I did indeed go to a tree lot and got full service branch trimming. The tree lot guys mentioned that they could probably get the tree on top of my little Toyota if I wanted to save the delivery fee. (I think they sensed a cheap tipper.)  I was dubious but they did indeed get the tree tied securely on top of the car by having me open the two front windows and running the rope through the car and around the tree, knotting it on top.
IQ test: What’s wrong with this picture?
Off I went in the early evening darkness driving as slowly as possible through back streets.  I was terrified that a sudden stop would put this tree on the hood of my car, or worse, through the windshield of the car behind me. With enormous relief, I pulled up in front of my darkened house. It was the kids’ night at their dad’s, and Olof was not yet living in San Diego. My plan was to untie the tree, drag it onto the front porch and have the kids help me set it up the following night.
Obviously over-focused on saving the delivery fee and failing to engage even a single synapse, I had not stopped to realize that with the rope threaded through the car windows, the doors couldn’t open. I was trapped in my car. It was well before cell phones. I sat in my car thinking, “Geesh, Inga, it’s amazing you’re allowed to leave the house without a conservator.”  (And also: Would it have killed those tree guys to ask if there would be anybody at home???)
I sat there shivering in my open-windowed car and pondering my options. I didn’t really want to have to go all the way back to the tree lot. But it would probably take all evening to cut through the rope with my car keys. (Note to self: Keep 9-inch bowie knife in the glove compartment!)
As luck would have it, a neighbor arrived home from work shortly after, and, graciously avoiding voicing what must surely have been his assessment of the situation, extricated me from the car. Why all of my neighbors were not hiding from me after the first year I was single is still a mystery.
But ultimately, I married Olof and we could afford to have not only the Noble fir I had always coveted but have the nice Christmas tree lot people deliver it and set it up to my satisfaction. Personally, I think I’ve earned it.

No, not the Forest Primeval. Inga's front yard 16 years after planting the first of 10 years of live Christmas trees. Never do this!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Hanging It Up

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published December 11, 2014] © 2014 

My first and second husbands probably only have two things in common: First, in perhaps ill-considered moments, they married me. Second, they both prefer to hang their clothes on a wooden clothes valet.
You might be forgiven for not having a clear vision of the item I'm talking about. If you Google "men's valet," you find an assortment of polished wood stands generally meant to hold a single suit jacket, a pair of suit pants, a shirt, and a tie. From the last quarter of the 1800s to the middle of the last century - a more formal era of men's clothing - the middle to upper class dapper dresser employed a valet to set out his clothes for the following day.

Earth to Inga husbands: It was not meant to hold 90% of your wardrobe.

My first husband's valet stand was a beautiful antique made of mahogany. At least that's how I remember it during the two brief occasions when I actually saw it which were the day we married and the day we divorced. Possibly the secret to its unblemished sheen was that it did not see daylight during the 17 years in between.

At the time, it seemed to me that my husband was engaged in some perverse sartorial challenge to see how many items of apparel he could hang on this thing before it suffered catastrophic structural failure. Alas, it never did. (Damn that mahogany!) In the years since we divorced, however, I've come  to suspect a different motive.

"Have you seen my green shirt?" first husband would inquire casually. I'd shrug in the direction of the valet, which generally resembled a headless 300-pound homeless person. "Gotta be in there somewhere."

Of course, what he was really asking was that I perform an archaeological excavation for the green shirt which I usually found embedded in an early Mesolithic layer. Then, of course, I'd be stuck hanging up - in the closet - the two months of clothes that had been on top of it and were now piled on the bed. I was such a slow learner.

I have no hesitation about saying that I was extremely glad to see the valet go when we divorced. For 12 years I got a reprieve until Olof and I married. The contents of his 2,500 square foot home in San Jose weren't going to fit into my tiny La Jolla cottage so he was very selective about what he brought down. So imagine my distress when the moving guys showed up and carted into our bedroom another wooden valet stand. I still remember the scream that rose in my throat when I saw it: NOOOOOOO!I confess I momentarily contemplated paying the movers to have it inexplicably end up under the wheels of the truck. But running over one's brand new husband's furniture didn't seem like an auspicious start to a marriage.

And thus another wooden valet stand has been in residence in our bedroom for the last 20 years looking astonishingly similar to its predecessor. However, unlike my ex whose entire wardrobe generally lived in onion-esque layers on the valet, Olof only uses his for "home" clothes - jeans, sweatpants, T-shirts, sweatshirts. But the hooks on Olof's are such that after a certain point, things just start falling off on the floor. I am forever picking them up, only to have them fall off again minutes later.

Of course, putting up with such petty annoyances in a spouse is just part of marriage. And in Olof's defense, it might be pointed out that he has a disproportionally small amount of space in our armoire which he never points out is the armoire he himself brought from San Jose. Further, the two tiny closets in our 1947 cottage are only 36 inches wide. He might also mention that there is a chair in our bedroom that is frequently draped with whatever I was wearing earlier that day.

The valet, he maintains, is his equivalent of the chair. No, I parry, I would have to be employing the seating of a small boutique movie theater to even begin to approximate the number of items on the valet.

After two decades in the company of Valet From Hell II, I confess I'm fantasizing more and more about having it suffer a tragic accident, but realize it is so well padded that should it inadvertently fall it not only wouldn't break but would probably bounce up and hit the ceiling.

But I may have a better plan. Two weeks ago I wrote about the termites that had eaten the baseboards in our bedroom. Hey, guys, have I got a treat for you!

Just launched my FACEBOOK PAGE

Thanks for joining my facebook community!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Wacky World Of Amazon

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published December 4, 2014] © 2014 

Hundreds of hours and a year of angst later, my book, Inga Tells All: A saga of single parenthood, second marriage, surly fauna, and being mistaken for a Swedish porn star, is finally out! It’s available on Amazon, Kindle, and most importantly, at Warwick’s Bookstore.

In celebration of this event, my husband Olof and I are having a Meet & Greet at the La Jolla Public Library this Saturday (December 6) from 2-4 in the Community Room. In honor of my recent Press Club win for the column “How an engineer makes cookies” (think spreadsheets, flow charts),  Olof is going to reprise his first and only effort at baking by making cookies for the occasion.

Olof is taking this cookie thing very seriously now that he has a reputation to uphold. In fact, I think I may get a second column out of this titled “How an engineer vets 75 oatmeal raisin recipes before overnighting a $400 stand mixer from Amazon.”

I couldn’t help but point out to him that the cookies I wrote about previously – his family’s Christmas cookie recipes – were more than adequately accomplished with my small hand-held mixer. Sniffed Olof: “To a real man, size matters.” Besides, no self-respecting engineer would pass up an excuse to acquire a new gadget.

“So, Olof,” I said, “why did you pick this one?”

“Well,” he said, having analyzed the mixer market as if they were Hadron Colliders, “it has an 800 watt motor, 12 speeds, flat mixing paddle for cookies, and an optional meat grinder attachment. ” Meat grinder attachment? So basically, lots of power and a bunch of superfluous peripherals. Sounds about right. Further, it came in a suitably guy-ish brushed chrome finish that he wouldn’t be embarrassed to stand in front of. No decorator-color mixers for him! 

Meanwhile, I’ve been getting the cram course in how Amazon rankings work. The book appeared on Amazon two weeks before the Kindle version would be up so I initially only told a few friends it was there. After 10 books had sold, I noted that my book ranking among Amazon’s voluminous number of books was 160,257. I decided to make it my goal to ultimately move up to 140,000. I would check it every day and it would be like my own personal stock market.

The next morning I was horrified to discover that I had dropped to 320,405. By nightfall to 366,349. This was the most volatile stock market ever!

The next day I was in the cellar at 439,660. Plans to wait until Kindle came out to announce the book were quickly abandoned. 200 of my closest friends got notification of my book.

By that afternoon, I had rocketed up to 56,614. This would suggest that all 200 friends bought 50 books but in fact, my total was only up to…20. This had to be the weirdest metric ever!

But the fun was only beginning. I discovered that my book was now the “Number One Hot New Release” in the “Scandinavian Biographies” category. (Isn’t that an oxymoron?) I never listed Scandinavian Biographies as a search term so I was a little puzzled as to how I got there but I think I can safely say that there are not too many  “hot new releases” in this category, largely, I think, because most of the contenders are dead. 

Over the next two weeks, my ranking jumped all over the place but thankfully stayed mostly under 100,000, and anywhere from #3 to #22 in the obviously sparsely-populated Scandinavian Biographies division. It seemed to have nothing to do with how many books I sold (or in my case, didn’t sell). Then suddenly, on November 21, I suddenly tanked to number 222,917. Did Leif Erikson suddenly publish a posthumous Kindle bio?

The next morning, a friend notified me that he had searched my book on Amazon only to get two hits for Inga Tells All: my book and one entitled "Secret Pleasures: Four Asian films about love, longing, and fishhooks." The first of the two reviews read "The movie compilations ‘Secret Pleasures’ is one of the more bizarre collections that I've ever encountered.”

What I couldn’t figure out was that none of the four Asian movies had a character named Inga. Amazon has one screwy algorithm!

I can only assume it’s the words “Swedish porn” in my subtitle that have somehow linked me with the “Secret Pleasures” book. Olof says I should be concerned that my email account is going to be spammed by horny Latvians.

I’ve started to read up on how it all works, and can now say after considerable research that… I have absolutely no clue. But as of today, my book listing on Amazon is not only “#1 New Release in Scandinavian Biographies” but the words are now highlighted in a decorative orange banner as well. But wait – it’s no longer a hot new release? Those Amazon folks are so fickle.

Olof and new toy

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

*Little House Of Horrors

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published November 20, 2014] © 2014 

This time of year, we start hearing a rat family scurrying around our attic crawl space searching for warmth as San Diego’s version of winter begins. Honestly, these rats are such wusses. It’s San Diego you guys. It’s 60 degrees. They’d never make it as Detroit rats, let me tell you. Unfortunately, our wood shake roof is basically defenseless against them. All we can do is lob packets of rat poison up there and hope they don’t die in our walls on their thirsty way out.

But as we recently discovered, we’ve got way worse things to worry about. At least the rats have the good manners to stay in the attic. We had no idea we’d been sleeping in our own little house of horrors.
In 1955, the owners of our home incomprehensibly ignored the nice big lot and decided to convert the two car garage into a wood paneled laundry room, master bedroom, and bath. (Who panels a laundry room???) I realize that wood paneling was the hot new thing in 1955, now regularly disparaged on HG-TV shows. And with good reason: it gives rooms the charm of a root cellar.

While the rest of our house has been beautifully upgraded over the years, we never did much with the master bedroom other than skylights, shutters, and several replacements of carpeting over the cement slab. We just couldn’t see spending a lot of money on what was basically a garage room since any sane person would put a second story on the house and re-convert the room to a garage. Somehow, we were never those sane people.
Frankly, I had always craved a bedroom oasis. But I feared that no matter what I did to this  room, it was still always going to exude “garage.”  Besides the dark paneling, it was north facing which meant it got sunlight like never.

While we were away a few months ago, our son and daughter-in-law stayed in our bedroom when they came down with the kids one weekend. Afterwards, my daughter-in-law suggested our bedroom was such a depressing cave that a bear faced with wintering there might elect not to hibernate.
It had been Olof’s and my observation that if  we left the paneling long enough, it might go away on its own. That’s because our wood-walled bedroom is the termite version of the 72 virgins. Some nights I could swear I heard gnawing. We’ve tented the house but think our termites have developed a mutational fondness for poison gas.

But given our son and daughter-in-law’s vicious assessment of our sleeping quarters, we decided after three decades to paint the wood paneling a nice creamy white.
“Don’t rush into anything,” my son cautioned drily. 

As everything was moved out of the bedroom, bath, and laundry room, there were only more surprises of the really bad kind. Although our house is regularly cleaned, a hefty case of mildew covered the walls behind the heavy bookcases (bolted to the wall so they won’t crush us in an earthquake) while the termites had pretty much devoured the baseboards back there in their own happily secluded arthropodal Xanadu. A creepy netherworld of spider webs resided behind the armoire.
This is, I have to say, the downside of living in the same place for decades. Maybe everyone should be required to move at least every ten years if for no other reason than to find out what’s living behind your furniture.

In our defense, everything had been moved 12 years before when we’d replaced the bedroom carpeting. Maybe we need to start scheduling pre-emptive pestilence services every six.
The mildew (the peril of living 260 steps from the Pacific) was bleached into oblivion, while the termites (and any residual arachnids) were dispatched in heartlessly cruel ways. Painting was the easy part. Of course, that might be because we didn’t do it ourselves.

Home improvement projects are nothing if not a case of dominoes. Not to mention that everything you improve makes something else look suddenly shabby.
And that’s exactly what happened with our lovely white shutters, probably one of the few charming features of our bedroom. Was it my imagination or did they suddenly look yellowish next to the off-white paint? But they don’t call Olof and me the Bobbsey Twins of Collective Denial for nothing. “Do the shutters look yellow to you?” I queried Olof. “Nope!” he replied, knowing where this conversation was going. “Me neither!” I said. Anyone who could live with gnawing for three decades could probably live with yellowish shutters.

And so it is finally done. Oasis? Probably not. But no longer a Little House of Horrors either. All three rooms are exponentially lighter. Our bedroom is probably the most termite- and mold-free room in San Diego at the moment. Except for rats, mold, and termites (and maybe earthquakes and fires), San Diego really IS paradise.
And as for the rats: you’re next.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

**El Niño: The Movie

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published November 13, 2014] © 2014 

Well, it looks like the much-hoped-for El Niño is going to be a no-show, and I couldn’t be more disappointed. I don’t think there is a single Californian who wouldn’t like to see the end of this really scary drought. I was really hoping we could get a good El Niño-produced soaking à la 1982-83 or 1997-98 and be done not only with empty reservoirs and declining snowpack, but the stringent new watering rules that took place November 1. My husband says that pretty soon, if we want a shower, we’re going to have to be standing in our front yard sprinklers during our seven minutes of alternate-day watering time.

While pondering our absentee El Niño, I couldn’t help but reflect that despite all the eco-disaster flicks that have come out over the last decade, there’s never been one specifically about El Niños. How this is even possible baffles me. I’d therefore like to propose:

El Niño: The Movie

Now, if we're going to stay true to the genre of disaster flicks, we’d need a studly youngish (now that I'm over 50, youngish could be 40) scientist who has eschewed financial gain throughout his career in his quest for Truth. We also need a totally miscast famous actress to play the dishy post-doc. Pamela Anderson would be good for this role as she could spend the better part of this movie out in the drenching torrential El Niño rain in a very wet T-shirt. Once we've got Pam, we wouldn't need any more plot as no one would be paying attention to it anyway. But I'd feel morally compelled, for science and art’s sake, to provide one anyway.

The nice thing about El Niños is that rather than have just one big disaster (like an earthquake or tornado), we could have multiple, increasingly devastating storms. Pam and The Scientist have to figure out how to stop this weather pattern before Tampa sinks like Atlantis. The equatorial Pacific waters are getting warmer and warmer, the storms bigger and bigger. But why? Pam, whose character at 23 is already a world famous marine biologist specializing in whale sounds, knows that the whales are trying to tell us something. But what? Well, duh: Eco-terrorism of some type is obviously at work. None other than the Most Unpopular World Figure du Jour has been conducting evil underwater experiments heating up vast quantities of the ocean's water with world-wide repercussions. When this El Niño is over, Las Vegas and Cleveland will be coastal cities. (We'd need the obligatory shots of the President being evacuated just before White House sinks beneath the waves.) I see a series of montage shots of different countries around the world succumbing to whatever it is El Niño does to their particular climate since, annoyingly, not every climate is affected by El Niño in the same way.

We'd also need the idiot insensitive bureaucrats from Washington refusing to believe Pam and The Scientist, even though Pam testifies passionately before both houses of Congress that the whales have no reason to lie. (Unfortunately, she was in such a hurry she didn't have time to change out of the wet T-shirt so nobody listens.) So Pam and The Scientist have to come up with Evidence on their own. I kind of envision Pam doing a deep sea version of those Shamu show dives on the back of a whale; she takes pictures that finally convince the Washington Bureaucrat/Idiots that what she is saying is true. At this point, we can call in the Marines, the Seals, run up the flag, etc. to wipe out Most Unpopular World Figure du Jour and his evil experiments.

But what about all this still-incredibly-warm water? Another monsoon is about to clobber the U.S. (the only really important country when you get right down to it). The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) suggests dumping huge quantities of ice cubes into the equatorial Pacific to try to quickly cool it down but our Scientist comes up with a much more brilliant - but of course highly risky - solution to the problem (which I don't know yet because I'm not a scientist but can guarantee will be ridiculously implausible) which he and Pam single-handedly execute and save not only the U.S. but what’s left of the world! Early on, we'd learned that The Scientist had been plagued by some major, but vague, trauma from his formative years. In the process of saving Mankind (except for those dispensable countries we’d already seen float off in the direction of Antarctica), he has a personal epiphany, and in the last scene is getting nominated for the Nobel Prize, and even better, getting it on with Pam (well, just in our imaginations; that R rating is fiscal death).

My only request is that they let me write the screenplay.

Inga's kids taking a swim in the yard after 11 days of torrential
rains during the winter 82-83 El Niño event

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Ruining One's Whole Day

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published Nov. 6, 2014] © 2014 

There are two phrases that always strike fear in my heart: “packed flat for easy assembly” and “it’s a simple outpatient procedure.” I’m adding a third: “diverting to LAX for emergency landing.”

Let me tell you, those are words that really ruin your day. But as my younger son later observed, “There are worse things than making an emergency landing. Like not making an emergency landing.” 

We’d had a lovely five day reunion with Olof’s college roommates in a remote scenic location doing, among other things, blind taste tests of expensive Scotch. Or maybe that was taste tests until you went blind. Hard to remember. Our plane to San Diego was due to leave at 6 p.m. but the retired Olof had unwisely agreed to a last-minute consulting job in St. Louis for which he would need to be at the airport in San Diego the next morning at 5:30 a.m. All the earlier flights to San Diego were overbooked but we finally got standby status on a mid-afternoon flight. Having a few extra hours to repack seemed worth the standby fees and giving up our upgraded seats.

As luck (or in this case bad luck) would have it, Olof and I got on the mid-afternoon flight, but seated well apart. I prefer sitting next to Olof, the ultimate Airplane Whisperer. Want that airplane noise identified? A former Air Force pilot and frequent business traveler, he’s your guy. I’m not afraid of flying but it always give me an added feeling of security knowing that Olof could probably land many aircraft in an emergency. Well, if he remembered to bring his reading glasses into the cockpit anyway. Otherwise he’d be asking the flight attendant, “Does that say ‘up’ or ‘down’?”

When we were about 45 minutes from San Diego, cruising along around 30,000 feet, I realized I was actually going to be home in time to watch Dancing with the Stars - in real time! Back where I was sitting, the businessman next to me was reporting to the flight attendant that all the overhead air vents had stopped working. A few minutes later, he turned to me and asked if I felt the weird vibration. I had barely nodded my head when it seemed when the plane seemed to slam on its speed brakes, did a “nose over” and began losing altitude - what Olof later called “the emergency descent thrill ride.” The pilot came on the intercom and announced – in its entirety - “We are diverting to LAX for an emergency landing.” Those of us with window seats couldn’t help but notice that we were over water. I was envisioning us being the next Malaysia Airlines flight, although probably somewhat easier to find.
Whenever a plane goes down, they always interview the one or two people who at the last minute, through some quirk of fate, didn't board the plane. Well, we were going to be the schmoes who took their place.

But ultimately we leveled off again, around, I’m guessing, 10,000 feet. The businessman next to me was sweating bullets. “You know,” he said ruefully, “I just put in for retirement last week.” The plane was eerily quiet. Dancing with the Stars was looking problematical.

Olof said in the taxi home later that night that he knew even before the pilot said anything that the aircraft was having pressurization problems. Not a good thing at 30,000 feet.

A few minutes later, the pilot announced we were diverting to a different airport. I was starting to feel more sanguine about the whole thing until the plane arced around and I could see the yellow emergency vehicles with their flashing lights on the runway. Just hate that. But the plane actually landed in one piece. Nobody toasted on the tarmac. Still, a fire truck right outside your airplane window is never a sight you want to see.

A set of portable stairs was pushed up to the door and several emergency guys leapt aboard and asked if anyone had lost consciousness. But everyone seemed OK. Well, physically that is. (See “drink cart” below.)

We were all repatriated with the terminal where Olof and I watched our original 6:00 p.m. flight leave, our seats long since given away. When the airline ultimately provided a new plane, a number of the original passengers didn’t re-board. And every last passenger who did asked the same question: “This isn’t the same plane, right?”

The airline made a fortune on liquor sales on the second flight. (Would a free round been out of the question???) My businessman seat mate, Chuck (we were now best friends) who had had a cranberry juice on the first flight, was drinking double Dewars. Next to him, the guy who had ordered a Blood Mary cocktail mix on the first flight ordered three Bloody Mary’s at once.

The person I felt sorriest for (well, besides the pilot) was Olof who got all of four hours sleep before heading back to the airport. He is such a trooper.

This airline usually asks you to review your flight experience. Curiously, they didn’t ask us to review this one but did offer miles or a voucher for future travel to thank us for our patience in this “precautionary event.” I think I’m adding “precautionary event” to my list too.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Have You Heard The One About...

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published October 23, 2014] © 2014 

There’s just something about six-year-olds and jokes. My grandson was visiting recently and I couldn’t help but notice that he was really into the joke and riddle phase. What I also couldn’t help but notice was that the jokes haven’t changed since his dad, Rory, was six, or even when I was.

Actually, the worst culprit was Rory’s younger brother, Henry, who pretty much made all of us insane for his entire first grade year with his passion for jokes. 

A typical interchange over breakfast:

Henry:  “Know what time it is?”

Rory:  “Don’t encourage him, Mom. He’ll stop if we ignore him.”

Henry (hardly able to contain himself):  “It’s the same time as it was yesterday!”

Henry had acquired several kiddie joke and riddle books and regaled us at every meal with an endless litany of awful jokes until Rory finally turned to me one night and said, “Can I hurt him, Mom?” (I was actually tempted to say yes.)

But even at the time, I couldn’t help but wonder if this were not my father exacting karmic revenge on me. The summer between my freshman and sophomore years in college, I worked in New York City as summer fill-in at Scholastic Magazines which also published youth market books and magazines. One of their kiddie magazines (I think it was My Weekly Reader) had a joke column theoretically written by this cute little dinosaur named “Funny Bones” to whom children could submit jokes for publication. Old FB had gotten quite backlogged and they needed someone to come in and read his mail then write back to these kids.  Well, as opposed to typing manuscripts with eight carbons, this sounded really fun. I still think back on it as My Summer as a Male Dinosaur.

What they didn’t tell me when I sat down at the Funny Bones’ desk and confronted a literally three-foot-high pile of mail that I was tasked to answer was that 75% of the kids sent in the same three jokes:  (1) Why did the chicken cross the road? (You know the answer.) (2) Why did the moron throw the clock? (Yawn. To see time fly.) (3) What’s black and white and re(a)d all over? (A newspaper.) 

At least ten percent more were jokes that the kids had made up that you apparently had to be under nine to get:  Q: “What did the cat say?” A: “I am a silly milly.”  Or, “What did the oatmeal cookie say to the cake?” Answer: “Hi cake.” Lots and lots of jokes like that. Some of them were even kind of cute: “What has eight wheels and goes ding dong?” A: “The Avon lady on roller skates.” Or, “What do you call Batman and Robin when they get runned [sic] over?” A: “Flatman and Ribbon.” 

Then there were the “trick ya” varieties but I caught on pretty quick. I wasn’t going to an Ivy League school for nothing.  (Q: “Name five animals that live in the Arctic.” A: “Four polar bears and a walrus.”)  Some of them sent in jokes they’d heard Daddy tell that Penthouse wouldn’t have printed. I would write back and thank little Joey for his jokes and inquire how all the boys and girls in Mrs. Holtzer’s room were doing. No computers then, so every response had to be individually composed.

After about a week on this job, the jokes these kids sent in actually started to sound funny. I would sit at my desk and laugh myself silly, while other personnel cast me worried glances. (They didn't say where the person who normally had this job was; I was guessing Bellevue.) By the end of the second week, I was absolutely punchy. I used to sit on the commuter train with my father at night regaling him with these inane jokes and laughing hysterically. Finally my father said, "I am not going to sit with you if you tell me even one more Funny Bones joke."

"But Dad," I said, "you're gonna love this one. What's red on the outside and gray on the inside? Dad? Dad?" And thus I found myself alone. Dad never did find out that it was Campbell's Cream of Elephant Soup.