Friday, October 30, 2015

Thinking Outside the Wall

Inga blog - Huffington Post - posted Friday, October 30, 2015  and "Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, posted Nov. 11, 2015 (slightly modified from Huffington Post version)   © 2015

I don’t usually write about political topics because it just isn’t my area of expertise, but this whole immigration thing has prompted me to weigh in where my husband assures me I shouldn’t. I should mention that my husband is a Republican and I am not, so you might imagine that dinner table conversation on this topic is spirited. 

It just seems to me that the Republican presidential candidates are not thinking outside the wall. We who live in San Diego have an obvious interest in immigration issues since we are (a) on the Mexican border, and (b) have a high population of the very individuals that the Republican candidates wish to evict.

The current crop of GOP candidates seem really fixated on building a Great Big Wall along the U.S. border with Mexico similar to the one in China only with more barbed wire. This will allegedly put a stop to the entry of rapist-drugdealer-criminals. Then the only problem is to repatriate the undocumented folks who are already here. VoilĂ ! America will be great again!

Since the office seekers don’t live on the border, or even in California, I feel compelled to point out some issues they should be considering, and even some alternatives.

First:  San Diego, and California in general, is known as a place that not only has a high population of undocumented persons, but shamelessly employs them as well. There’s a long-standing joke in San Diego that nobody in the county could run for a high public office because we’ve all hired undocumented workers. Except, of course, that it’s not a joke. We really can’t. It was no accident that on the podium at the Republican presidential debates, every state in the union was represented except California.

Even when you hire an “American” company, the people who are dropped off at your home are often undocumented, especially if a part of the job is particularly nasty. As it turns out, the home owner is in violation of the law even if they didn’t hire the illegals themselves. This means that there no lack of of U.S. citizen miscreant-scofflaw-malfeasants in San Diego who will need to be harshly dealt with as well.

The current plan, as espoused by one of the Republican candidates, is to deport the undocumenti at a rate of some 500,000 a month, assuming a figure of 11 million illegal aliens in the country.  But now certain office seekers are saying the number could be as high as 34 million.  Seriously, folks, could we pin this down? It’s going to be tough nut to meet your quota if you don’t even know how many you have in the first place.

This could be a new question on the California State high school exit exam:  If the President wishes to deport undocumented aliens, including their annoying anchor baby offspring, at rate of 11 to 34 million in 18 to 24 months, how many INS helicopters will he need in the sky before it looks like the Ride of the Valkyries scene in "Apocalypse Now"?

The next issue is one they haven’t thought out at all:  Beware of what you wish for. Once the wall is up and the undocumented are gone, the only produce the U.S. is going to be eating will be from Guadalajara, at least until all those unemployed Americans who have been pining for careers as tomato pickers come up to speed. It will be a YOOGE boon to the Mexican economy.

And here’s another short term issue the Republicans haven’t thought through: one Republican contender claims he will force Mexico to pay for the Great Wall by imposing sanctions.  Good luck with that! The Mexicans can just withhold the veggies. Sort of a guns-for-cauliflower thing. The average American doesn’t care about NAFTA worker visas but it would be a serious mistake to mess with the availability of organic kale.

This whole deportation scheme will be tremendously time consuming and expensive, no matter how you look at it.  So if I were a Republican president, I’d just cede the entire county of San Diego back to Mexico, thereby deporting the undocumenteds and punishing the employer-felons who hired them, all in one fell swoop.

Heck, while you’re at it, let Mexico have the whole state. Trying to clear the undocumenteds out the Central Valley agricultural areas is going to be onerous at best.  It doesn’t matter if Mexico even wants us.  If you can make Mexico build a wall, you can make them take California. Surely some legal hotshot can find a loophole that will void the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo by which the U.S. acquired California. Then: all yours, Mexico!  Not to worry: it was a blue state anyway.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Psychological Warfare

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published Oct. 22, 2015] ©2015 

 It’s Halloween time and the season for scary stories. I just happen to have a few. 

It was 9:00 October night and I was processing Cub Scout badges at the dining room table while my 10-year-old, Henry, sat opposite doing homework. My irrepressible adopted older son, Rory, age 12, was presumably asleep after being banished earlier for a now-forgotten but at the time tragically common act of misbehavior.

Henry and I heard it at the same time: someone was on the front porch. We looked at each other with alarm. As a single parent, I was fortunately religious about keeping the doors locked.  

“Who’s there?” I inquired, trying to sound calm.  No answer. Instead, the person was trying the doorknob. We could see it moving back and forth. Henry and I both froze.

A few seconds later a flashlight beam came from the porch through the closed shutters. They couldn’t see anything but it was disturbing that they were trying. 
“Henry,” I said loudly, trying to control my quaking voice, “tell your father to get the gun while I call the police.” We obviously had no gun. (Short on men too.) This was also when everyone still had land lines that were firmly attached to land, er, a phone cord. In another room.

Instead of departing, we heard the intruder come down the porch steps and go around to the living room side, rustling through the bushes. The flashlight beam came through the closed shutters on that side as well. And then to our horror, we could hear someone trying to pry open the window. About ten years of my life expectancy evaporated on the spot.  Henry and I were both shaking in terror. All I could think of was: must protect the kids. I pointed toward Rory’s room and whispered urgently, “Wake up Rory and go out the back door to the neighbors!” Henry was gone like a shot while I ran for the phone.

A moment later Henry was back. “Mom!” he cried. “Rory’s gone! And his window is open!”

Oh, no! This was even worse than I thought. They’ve already got one of the kids!

But then a moment of clarity in all that panic. I walked to the front door and threw it open to find Rory tapping ominously on the living room windows with the barrel of the flashlight, happily starring in his own personal Halloween horror movie. I honestly think I would have been acquitted of justifiable homicide at that moment.

“Darn!” he said with a big smile, disappointed that the jig was up. “How did you figure out it was me?” He had loads more stuff planned. As I wrote about in some detail in my book, Rory looked for excitement.  And found it. There was nothing he enjoyed more than terrorizing adults, with a particular fondness for scaring the bejeezus out of Mom.

On another occasion, Henry and I were watching TV around 8 p.m. on a November night; Rory was due home from a school function at 9:00. I thought I detected a moving shadow out on our patio but when I looked again it was gone. To get into the patio, one would have to have a key or scale a six foot tall locked gate. Must have been a reflection from the TV, I decided with some relief.  But then suddenly a figure appeared at the glass door to the patio and stood there, silhouetted in the dark, not moving, just staring at us. Henry and I both stopped breathing. “Mommmm,” wailed Henry. But then something looked vaguely familiar about that silhouette.  I got up and walked over to the door and snapped on the patio light. Rory.
“Geez, Rory, why did you do that?” I said. I don’t know why I bothered to ask.  His school function had let out early and rather than just walk in the front door with his key, why waste a perfectly good opportunity to terrify Mom?

On yet another occasion, after multiple threats (Rory could push any limit), I ejected the wretchedly-behaving 14-year-old Rory from the Boy Scout car pool on the sidewalk a half a mile from home at 8:30 p.m. He needed to know I meant it when I said cut it out. But punishing Rory had always been an uphill battle. Sent to his room for a time-out as a child, he would open his windows, pound on his bed with a tennis racket, and yell “Please stop beating me, Mommy!”  Or worse: “No, no, don’t touch me there!”

When Rory hadn’t arrived home at 9, then 9:30, then 10, I started to panic. Henry and I drove the route he should have walked and every other street parallel.  At 10:30, as we walked up the front steps, I said “I’m going to call the police.” That’s when Rory popped out of the bushes where he’d been all along, listening to me freak out for the last two hours. He was more than a little annoyed that I hadn’t called the police sooner. It would have been like, totally cool to watch the police come and take me away in handcuffs for child endangerment. Two hours in the bushes for nothing! Not even Miranda rights! He may never have gotten the police to come with all those tennis racket incidents, but it was never too late to try. It had been fun, but time for bed.

Halloween itself has always been so tame in comparison.  


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

It's In The Bag

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published October 15, 2015] © 2015 
Dear grocery store bagger guys:

Could we talk? I mean, this conversation is way overdue. Here’s the problem:  You guys are young and strong. I am not young, and, after having my chest broken by a drunk driver, not strong. It doesn’t matter whether I bring my own re-usable bags or you bag it in the store’s plastic ones, you guys put ALL the heaviest stuff – like both half gallons of milk AND the half gallon of juice – in the same bag. Then instead of putting that bag in the child seat where I might have a fighting chance of wrestling it into the trunk of my car, you stash it under the child seat where I’d need a forklift to haul it out. 

Now, I know the word “heavy” is really subjective. So when I say, “Would you put the heavy bags on top?” I realize that to you, none of them are heavy. Which is why all the heaviest stuff seems to end up in the bottom, or worse, in the rack UNDER the cart.  I really really hate when you do that because I really really can’t get it out of there.

An avid recycler, I initially purchased a bunch of your store’s re-usable bags. But seriously, I could never lift a single one of them by the time you’d finished stuffing the contents of my entire grocery cart into just two of them. Fortunately, I happened to make a donation to the World Wildlife Fund and they sent me four smaller recyclable bags. But it’s still amazing how much stuff you guys can get into even those. Yes, I know you're willing to put the bags into my trunk for me, but I still need to be able to carry them into my house.

I really hate to complain, because you guys are generally adorable. And really trying hard to please. And having to deal with the general public who are going to whine no matter what you do. I’d shoot myself after one day of working in retail. Which is why I’m trying to be really nice about this.

I actually have more sympathy for your job than you know. For two years starting in 2005, my husband and I lived in Sweden. There, you not only bring your own recyclable bags to the supermarket, you bag your groceries yourself.  I didn’t understand that at first, and stood there smiling at the grocery clerk who wasn’t smiling back. Neither was anyone standing in line behind me who were shooting the equivalent of rabid moose darts into the back of my head.

Even after I caught on, I squished a whole lot of groceries in those early weeks.  You really had to be bagging your stuff fast so you wouldn’t hold up the line. Really important not to let the tomatoes get under the laundry detergent. Or the herring either. Really hard to get that herring smell out of your bags. 

But bagging was only the first step. There were still plenty of opportunities to make fruit salad out of your produce before you even got it home. After you bagged, you had to pack it all into your Swedish shopping trolley and wheel it home. Loading your shopping trolley for optimal food survival was an art all in itself.

When we first got to Sweden, I noticed that everyone left their shopping trolleys in the front of the store by the checkout stands while they shopped and but I didn’t want to leave my shiny new one there since I was sure someone would steal it. You just don’t leave anything of value unattended in my neighborhood in La Jolla if you ever want to see it again.

It soon became apparent that the Swedish national ethic frowns on stealing shopping trolleys. I should have known. When we were at a wedding in northern Minnesota (serious Swede country) some time back, Olof and I were aghast to see people leaving expensive fishing gear and bicycles in the parking lot of the motel where we were staying.  Finally we said to the owners of this stuff, “Aren’t you afraid someone will steal it?” And they looked at each other and shrugged, “City folk.” 

But I did become a pro in the field of grocery bagging while we lived in Sweden.  It was a comforting feeling to know that if my boss laid me off while I was gone, I’d be a shoo in to work at Vons.

So I’m way more empathetic to the tribulations of your job than you might realize. So when I ask you to not make any of the bags “too heavy,” I mean no more than one half gallon of any beverage (adult or otherwise) in any bag. And could we spread out the canned goods too?  Maybe give that box of laundry detergent a room, er bag, of its own? 

Or, maybe I should quit whining and bag it myself since I actually know how. Duh.


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Keeping It Fresh

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published October 8, 2015] © 2015 

When you look at our idea of excitement now, it’s hard to believe that Olof and I met 50 years ago as intrepid 17-year-old adventure junkies spending our senior year of high school in the Amazon.

How times change. This summer, the celebrations we had for both our 20th wedding anniversary and Olof’s 68th birthday caused our younger son Henry to drily observe: “Now don’t get too crazy.” 

Henry had tried to talk us into doing something special for our 20th anniversary. Maybe a trip to Europe, he said. Actually, our celebration stayed a little closer to home. We sat outside in our Adirondack chairs drinking a really nice bottle of champagne, watching the sunset, and reviewing all those betters and worses that we so naively agreed to two decades ago. Then we had an extra-large anchovy pizza delivered to the front yard. It was the best anniversary ever.

The evening satisfied all of our current criteria for a successful celebration:  (1) we didn’t have to get dressed up (2) we didn’t get in the car, and (3) somebody else cooked it. We’re SO easy to please.

Not that this celebration did take at least a little planning. Annoyingly, fewer and fewer places make anchovy pizza anymore. Half the time, it comes with artichokes instead because they didn’t really believe you really wanted what is uncharitably referred to as a “bait pizza.”

Anchovies get no respect. People won’t even let you have anchovies on your half of a pizza, insisting the anchovies will contaminate theirs.  When we order Caesar salad at a restaurant, the waitress will ask if we want anchovies, already noting “no” when we respond “heck yes!” (Somebody has to eat up all those dusty cans of fish that restaurants keep around just in case.) Finding – and even better, marrying – a fellow anchovy lover has been one more plus in a long list of compatibilities.

A few weeks after our anniversary was Olof’s 68th birthday.  When asked what he wanted to do for the occasion, he replied "bake a cake,” something that has been on his bucket list for a while. Mostly I think he wanted to haul out the Lamborghini of stand mixers (it even grinds meat!) he bought to make cookies for my book launch last December. Olof has baked exactly twice in his life: the first time two years ago to try to recreate his family’s Christmas cookie recipes from his childhood, and the second time to make cookies for my book event.

The Christmas cookies resulted in a column called “How an engineer makes cookies” that won a first place at the Press Club awards. Olof baking has to be seen to be believed. The spreadsheets! The flow charts! A re-formulation of the recipe into engineer-speak with headings like “Integration of Components.”  Who knew a degree in nuclear physics could have such practical applications?

Of course, his other motivation in baking a cake was that he wanted a chocolate cake that included raisins – impossible to find unless you bake it yourself. My dear friend Susan perfectly expressed my sentiments about raisins in chocolate cake:

As much as I am a "live and let live", freewheeling kind of gal, I'm afraid I too must draw the line at chocolate cake with raisins.  My position is that the raisins are taking up valuable real estate better served by, say, more chocolate.  Replace the raisins with chocolate chips and we've got a date.  

After considerable research, Olof modified an Ina Garten recipe to his specifications which in this case included the addition of TWO CUPS of raisins. I thought it came out beautifully (if seriously raisin-y).  I always take a photo of Olof holding his birthday cake that indicates how old he is. This year, just to add a little hilarity, we switched the candles around for some of the photos to say 86 instead of 68. We’re such cut-ups. Laughed ourselves silly. This is where the kids start rolling their eyes. Sorry kids: fun is where you find it.  We all have to keep it fresh in whatever pathetic ways we can.

Amazingly, Olof made this first-ever cake totally on his own with only a couple of minor assists from me, like How to Turn On The Oven. Nuclear reactors are a cinch compared to the controls on our massively-nonintuitive stove. The only person who can figure it is our tiny granddaughter, who turned off the Thanksgiving turkey two Thanksgivings in a row. 

It’s still a few months until my 68th birthday where we’ll probably have a celebration of a similar type. Maybe go wild and crazy and order in Chinese food. But as far as our anniversary and Olof’s birthday celebrations are concerned, for the moment we’ve had all the excitement we can stand.

Seriously raisin-y cake