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