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.