Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Proof Of Life

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published May 22, 2014] © 2014 

I’ve written before about my neighbor Bob’s cat, Tiger.  Or actually, former cat Tiger.  This wonderful kitty passed away last summer despite heroic treatments to save him.  Bob was devastated.  But a new and happy feline chapter has begun. 

The irony is that for the first few years we knew Bob, he not only didn’t have pets but was clear he didn’t want them.  The first column I wrote about Tiger chronicled the story of the cat  showing up nightly outside Bob’s French doors, meowing piteously, as Bob watched ESPN.  Bob would patiently return the cat to its rightful owners, two ladies who lived a block away.  Bob had a demanding job, a robust social life, and as his hunky physique attested (brief pause while Inga splashes water on her face) logged serious gym time.  No interest in a cat.
But the cat was undeterred, and after a few hundred dollars’ worth of consultations with a kitty psychic (commissioned by the two ladies, not Bob), the feline Freud announced that while Tiger was grateful to his current owners, he would prefer the male bonding and continuous ESPN coverage on two large screen TVs offered at Bob’s.  And thus Tiger officially relocated, and like Bob, became an inveterate Yankees fan.  There was some conjecture that Tiger was in it for the premium sports channels all along. 

It was hard to say exactly when, but over the course of a lot of stolen bases, Tiger stole Bob’s heart as well.  It took a few months after Tiger’s passing, but Bob decided that a house without a sports-watching cat was not a home.  Girlfriends came and went but it had not been lost on Bob that a cat loved you unconditionally, and more to the point, never complained about the ridiculous number of athletic events you might be simultaneously viewing.  It helped that the cat was a serious sports fan himself.
When Bob went to look for a new cat four months after Tiger’s demise, I don’t think there was a marmalade tabby in this county that was not thoroughly vetted.  We suggested to Bob that he show prospective kitties his iPad tuned to ESPN and see how they reacted.  My husband Olof observed that as long as the cat knew the infield fly rule, he’d work out fine. 

One day on a website of a north county animal shelter, up popped a orange tabby named, fortuitously, Tiger.  It was meant to be.
There were some initial speed bumps.  Tiger II was already eight years old and needed at least $300 worth of dental work.   Further, the cat’s skittishness and scrawny physique suggested substantial time on the streets.  When Bob first took him home, the kitty refused to come out from under the pillows on the guest bed for a week.  But Bob was patient and before long, this cat was a lap-hugging sports fanatic as well.  It knew on which side its fur was rubbed.

Recently Bob had to be away for four days and needed someone to give Tiger II the care to which he had become accustomed, nay, now demanded. We’d do anything for Bob who has helped us out more times than we can count.  So I was summoned over to an hour of what my husband called “Tiger U”: detailed instructions on the kitty’s dietary and recreational preferences. 
As the days before Bob’s trip approached, regular text messages would appear on my phone.  “I forgot to tell you…  Did I mention…” 

Now I adore animals in general and this kitty in particular.  So I expected to spend a lengthy period twice a day with El Tigre Dos on my lap stroking his dentally-enhanced and more filled-out furry self. 
Even after Bob left, anxious texts arrived.  Cat OK?  So I started bringing my cell phone over and texting Bob photos of Tiger contently parked on my lap titled “Proof of Life” or even “Proof of Lap.”  Exhausting that, we launched into cat selfies.  Ultimately the kitty and I collaborated on cell phone videos entitled “Proof of Purring.” 

So I think I did a pretty good job except on the sports front.  The cat was pretty nice about it but he kept looking up at the two blank big screen TVs and seeming to say, “Isn’t it Derby Day?  Do you not know how to turn on a remote?”

But Bob is back and I can hear the TVs on again, pretty much non-stop.   All is once again right in Bob-and-Tiger Land.  And best of all, it’s Yankee season.

Cat selfie:

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

**The Family Photographer

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published May 15, 2014] © 2014 

Now that the holidays are well over, I think it’s appropriate to discuss the role of the family photographer which is about as unappreciated a job as there is.  Year after year, occasion after occasion, there is nothing but complaining as the (self-appointed) family archivist attempts to herd the surly assemblage into some kind of order and snap a few pics for posterity. 

Does anyone say thank you?  I think not.  Years later, of course, everyone loves looking at those pictures, pointing out hair and clothing styles, but more often than not, focusing on what’s in the background.  Remember that sofa we got from Goodwill?  Oh, look, there’s that Chevy Vega that rusted through in two years.  Wow, the trees were so much smaller.  Did that guy you were dating then ever make parole?  The family photographer basks in a few rare moments of adulation, which will evaporate in a nanosecond as soon as a camera appears.  Photography is the ultimate delayed gratification hobby.  Total abuse in real time.
I think one of the reasons I became such a devoted documenter of my family is that my own parents took so few photos of me.  I’m trying not to take this personally. Partly, it was the era: at the time, color photos were a rarity and most people only had crummy black and white Brownie cameras that took abysmal pictures.

I would also have to say that as much as I loved my parents, they were inept camera people. Virtually all our family photos are blurry black and whites taken from waaaayyy too far away or totally off center.  There’s lots of sky. Mom, Dad, that thing called a viewfinder?  That’s why they call it that.

Like many people who feel they were deprived of something in their formative years, I may have overcompensated with my own kids.  When my younger son and then-fiancĂ©e wanted to do a slide show for their wedding, I hauled some 40 albums out to the dining room table.  I swear my daughter-in-law said under her breath, “I hope this isn’t hereditary.”
Last year I put together a 400-slide show of Olof and me to mark a milestone birthday.  Afterwards, there were wonderful toasts made – Henry gave a 4-hanky tribute to both of us. I gave a toast to Olof, commenting on how different this evening would have been had Olof not come into our lives. Both kids simultaneously chimed, “200 less slides?”
I suppose if everyone who knows you well tells you have a problem, you should probably pay attention.  My first husband accused me of choosing to photograph life to the exclusion of living it.  My second husband, Olof, mid-way through our two-year work assignment in Europe several years ago, maintained that the vows in his third marriage would include capping his bride to 25 digital images per day, pro rata, as long as they both shall live.   Even my younger son refused to allow me to have a camera in my hands on his wedding day.  I kept nudging the photographer:  you’ll really want to get a shot of that, I said.   My first grandson referred to me as “Grammy Camera.” 

Maybe it’s just as well my parents never took many pictures. I guard that tiny handful of pathetic pics carefully in one small thin album.  But I am leaving my kids with (now) 45 photo albums and some 6000 digital images, never mind hundreds of slides.  Every time they walk into my bedroom and see that six-foot bookcase, you can see the sweat break out on their brows.  Yeah, you can put photos on CDs but honestly, you’d never look at them.  Photos are meant to be shared in albums over a cup of cocoa, or depending on your haircut in that era, several bottles of wine.  Besides in ten years, no one will be able to read the current CDs.  So maybe CDs ARE the ultimate solution:  self-expiring photo storage.

At this point, I’ve handed over the mantle of family photography to the kids although I still take a few snaps of the grandtots when they visit.  It’s sort of like my own methadone program.  I’ve sorted through the slides and picked the ones I want to keep but even I am not sure what to do with all those photos.  I really don’t want to burden the kids after my demise.  Fortunately, neither of them is as pathologically sentimental as I am and are maybe just not wanting to utter the word “dumpster” while I’m still breathing. 

Better yet, they could simply sell the house “as is.”

   One of our better family photos (that's me on top)

 My sister (the likeness is staggering)
This is actually meant to be a picture of my mother (can you find her?)

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Supermarket Tiny Terrors

["Let Inga Tell You,"  La Jolla Light, May 8, 2014] © 2014 

The day before Easter, I was at the supermarket which was crowded with ham and chocolate bunny shoppers.  Among the other customers was a mom who had a three-year girl in the cart’s seat and a five-year-old boy riding in the basket.  Every ten seconds or so, the boy reached up and poked his sister in the back causing her to emit a soul-piercing shriek at the top of her considerable lungs.  Mom, who was presumably suffering from adaptive catatonia, or alternatively had just undergone an elective lobotomy, never said a single word. Dead-faced, she plodded on.

Every time that little girl shrieked, you could feel the entire market suffer a collective seizure.  If she were doing that at home too, no wonder Mom went for the lobotomy.  The older brother, meanwhile, snickered deliciously every time his sister sent nerve-shattering 100-decibel shock waves through the store. I don’t think there was a single patron in there who didn’t fantasize grabbing the five-year-old by the shoulders and yelling “LEAVE HER ALONE!!” followed by leaning into the face of the little girl and bellowing, “AND YOU! SHUT THE F UP!” 

However, if anyone should cut this woman some slack, it should be me.   I remember only too well what a holy terror my older son was in a supermarket. 

Rory loved the supermarket.  So many possibilities!  So little time!  Even as a toddler, Rory somehow managed to maneuver a half-gallon glass container of apple juice over the edge of the cart,  thrilling at the CRASH! SPLOOSH! it made as glass and apple juice went everywhere. 

When Henry was born, having two kids in the cart didn’t leave a whole lot of room for groceries. Like the five-year-old at Easter, Rory lost no opportunities to harass Henry, especially delighting in creating landslides of canned goods that would hopefully crush Henry to death in his little infant seat and return us to what Rory considered the halcyon days of a single child family. 

One day, Rory just wouldn’t stop tormenting Henry.  There’s not a whole lot of time-out opportunities in a grocery cart.  Fed up, I finally grabbed him, whacked him once on his little tush and said, “I believe I said LEAVE HIM ALONE.”  An 60-ish woman in the produce aisle saw this and went berserk, insisting on following me around the store proclaiming loudly, “Did you see what the woman did?  She STRUCK her child!  That woman has no business being a mother!  Someone should take those kids away from her!”

At that moment, I would have been happy to hand her Rory with the written proviso that she’d never bring him back, as I saw a definite Ransom of Red Chief plot in this scenario.  I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.  So maybe the catatonic Mom had the right idea, even if it was excruciating for the rest of us.

Rory didn’t stop his reign of retail terror on supermarket employees and his mother, however.  At seven, he managed to bury Henry in a six foot floor display of stuffing mix.  At eight, he poked holes in an entire display of pricey vine-ripened tomatoes with a caramel apple stick, relegating us to weeks of tomato sauce-inspired menus. 

When he was nine, I couldn’t help but notice one day that everyone in the market was smiling at me.  I thought, “Why have I never noticed what a friendly place this is!”  I smiled back.  I subsequently discovered – but not nearly soon enough - that Rory had stuck a bunch of “100% real beef” stickers from hamburger packages on my rear. 

The irony, of course, was that BK (Before Kids) I’d always had these lovely fantasies about taking my children to the supermarket, how I’d teach them about nutrition as I subtly guided them to choose the healthier breakfast cereals, how I’d let them pick between two vegetables for dinner, how they’d help load up the cart with cans of soup on special and we’d get cupcakes as treats with the savings, an early education in economics.  It would be so much fun!

 But like the Mom at Easter pushing the cart with Lungs and the Mini Marquis de Sade, my mantra changed:  Just get the damn food in the cart and get out of there.  Preferably before everyone hates you.