Monday, August 22, 2016

Tormenting The Descendants

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published August 24, 2016] ©2016
The oil portrait that my father commissioned of me in July, 1966 when I was 18 had been embalmed in bubble wrap for more than four decades in the back of a closet, the downside of my not having moved in 43 years. But when I realized last month that it was the 50th anniversary of this work, I decided it was time to either hang it, dump it, or inflict it on the kids.
The question as I unwrapped it was: would I still dislike it as much I had when I first saw it? The last time this thing had seen light was when the Navy movers packed it up in our house in Denver in 1973.
The verdict: still couldn’t bear to hang it. It’s not as though it wasn’t a good likeness of me at the time. I was incredibly slender, the result of having, against all advice, consumed a glass of local tap water when Olof and I first arrived in Brazil for our senior year of high school as exchange students. (Instant 30 pound weight loss. Eat your heart out, Hydroxycut!) Unlike now where my cheekbones are hidden under years of food felonies, my cheekbones were my most prominent feature then, and my eyes in my much thinner face really looked that large.
It was the expression that I hated.
I showed the portrait to Olof who, of course, knew me at that age. “Wow,” he commented, “somebody looks a little grumpy.” I would have said “sullen” myself.  I’ve always been a smiler and I’m sorry the artist insisted on a more somber pose, as he also did in the portraits my father commissioned of my sister and mother. We all three look like we’re having a really, really bad day.
Not to disparage the artist, but I’m kind of wondering if he just wasn’t very good at painting teeth.
In a moment of diabolical genius, I decided I would wrap the portrait up and bestow it on my six-year-old granddaughter for Christmas. I would emphasize what a precious heirloom it was and how honored I was for her to have it.  Marketing is everything.
Or not. Was it worth compromising my excellent relationship with my wonderful daughter-in-law? She would not be happy to have this opus unloaded on her.
I finally decided to take a picture of the portrait and send it to both sons, commenting that I was probably going to throw it out. To my surprise, both quickly responded that it should be saved as a family heirloom.
Please note, however, that neither of them offered to take possession of it.
So what exactly do you do with a portrait that you don’t like and nobody wants?
One of my objections to the portrait was that it looked a tad caricature-y, a trait my older son Rory picked up on also:  “It almost looks like those big-eyed waifs from the 60's.  Please don’t give this away. It’s a family heirloom. Personally, I don’t want it. But how about a T-shirt version for Christmas?”
My younger son Henry had a different slant:  “Obviously, you cannot throw it away.  It is something you have to inflict on our kids by passing it down!”
Let’s be clear he meant the grandchildren generation, currently too young to protest, not himself and Rory.
But then I thought, maybe that’s not a bad idea. And it could follow a family tradition as well.  When I was growing up, our family had an 18-inch-tall plastic Santa, lit up on the underside by 4-watt bulbs, hanging over the mantle every Christmas. Part of its charm was its utter tackiness, and when the family moved to New Jersey in 1968, my two siblings and I were adamant that it couldn’t be thrown away.  Not that any of us actually wanted it, mind you, but it had history.
(In Olof’s family, it was the pollywog pan, a cheap aluminum vessel that he and his siblings used to catch pollywogs in in the creek behind their house. There is no accounting for the taste and emotional attachments of kids.)
What we finally decided to do with Plastic Santa was share him: whoever had him in their possession ambushed, er, gifted it, usually in cleverly-disguised wrapping, to another sibling at random times. Sometimes a sibling attempted pre-emptive interference.  “Looking forward to seeing you next week but please do NOT bring Plastic Santa if you were planning to. We’re moving soon and have no place to store it! I’m SERIOUS!”  But invariably the Santa would show up.
So maybe that will be my legacy to the five grandkids: the round robin infliction of the portrait of Grumpy Grandma. They could even re-purpose it as an heirloom dartboard. Unless, of course, one of them lives near a dumpster.
Inga: July, 1966

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Living In The Twilight Zone

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published August 17, 2016] ©2016 
I’ve written before about living in a house in the twilight zone. I’m still trying to figure out if we’d have to disclose this if we ever sell. The house was built in 1947 so you’d think that the city would have caught on by now that it’s here. But several city databases – Environmental Services (trash pickup) and Transportation Services (public transit) still maintain there is no such address.  I could accept this except that the San Diego County Tax Assessor’s Office knows exactly where we are.
It’s a quirky address. I get it. The next door neighbor to the south has a different street name. The houses directly to the east and north of me have yet another street name. For a while last year, the Post Office had the five houses on my street that have the same street name on three different postal routes.  (The only reason our water hasn’t been turned off is that we can now pay most bills on line.) But I’ll save the Post Office issues for a ten-part series in the future.
One thing that has become clear to me over the 43 years I’ve lived in this house: every city or county agency has its own database that does not communicate with any other city or county database.
Why would some databases have our address and others not? My husband Olof thinks he has cracked the code.  Agencies that want money from us know where we live. Agencies providing services to us don’t.
What’s even more annoying is that agencies who do not have your address in their database will not add it just on your say-so. The order has to come from Above. (Note: Sending them a copy of your property tax bill does not count as Above.)
For the Transportation Services database, I don’t even bother fighting with them.  If I want to know a bus schedule, I just plug in a neighbor’s address. But Environmental Services (garbage pickup) is another ball of trash, er, wax, especially in the summer time when they have relief crews doing pickups. For one whole summer, they missed our trash every single week.
I really thought we had that sorted out until our trash pickup was missed again recently. Calling them is at least a half hour on hold. The recording advises you to make your missed trash pickup complaint on their website.  So imagine my dismay when I typed in our address only to get the following:
Your address was not found in our database. You may return to the previous page using the back button on your browser to modify your address and then re-submit the form.
What is an even bigger mystery is that for most of the 43 years I’ve lived here, they’ve been picking up our trash at an address they say doesn’t exist. How does that happen?  Are they just driving by and say, “Look, Joe, a trash can. We probably ought to empty it.”  The summer sub crews, however, might be following an address map.  So when they see our trash bin sitting out at the curb they say, “Nope, not on our list! Sorry!”
Miraculously they picked up our trash again the next week. But efforts to get a reply to numerous emails from the Environmental Services people have been for naught.
Of course, what really concerned me after the most recent trash non-pickup episode was whether the emergency people had our address in their database. I called the police department’s non-emergency line.
Inga: I want to make sure that my address is listed in the city’s emergency database.
Operator: Why wouldn’t it be?
Inga: Well, even though the house has been here for almost 70 years, the trash people don’t have it listed in theirs.
Operator (annoyed): We’re not associated with the trash people.
Inga: I just don’t want to have an emergency and find out that our address is not in your database.  Could you confirm that you have this address?
Operator: You’d have to call 911 to be sure.
Inga:  I don’t really want to call 911 if I don’t have an actual emergency. Could you check to see if the police department has this address in its database?
Operator: Um, yup, we have it.
Inga: So that means that 911 will have it too, right?
Operator: Not necessarily. 
I truly am not exaggerating about this twilight zone thing. We have a rogue streetlight on our corner, for example, that both SD G&E and the city claim no knowledge of. Not on any of their maps, both parties say.
So, real estate agent readers, is the admission that your house only exists on some dimensional planes a required disclosable? That trash pickup doesn’t happen when Mercury is in retrograde? Inquiring minds want to know.