Monday, November 28, 2016

The Year Of Living Deafeningly

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published Nov. 30, 2016] ©2016

The day after my next door neighbor’s seeming-endless remodel was finally finished recently, I took my newspaper out to the patio on a beautiful Saturday morning to celebrate, only to be greeted by chainsaws. The neighbor on the other side of him was doing an all-day tree job.

It’s just a reality at this point. La Jolla, by virtue of both climate and affluence, is simply never going to be a quiet place. We have a year-round yard maintenance season. But more to the point, our town has truly become The Land of Perpetual Construction, both home and road. In my neighborhood, there is hardly a block that does not have at least one major remodel going on; some have two or three.

Given how expensive land is in La Jolla, I can’t blame anyone for wanting to maximize the square footage of the house on their lot. What IS annoying, however, is to live through several remodels of the same house. Some years ago, a house on one side of us was bought by flippers who spent four noisy months “upgrading” it with a cheap roof and crappy finishes.  The people who bought it then spent six months removing them (including yet another roof).

The guy on the other side of us has not only been a good friend for 16 years but is the best neighbor ever. Which is good since our homes’ closest walls are15 feet apart. He’s wanted to remodel from the time he bought the house and has now expanded its space from the original 1,300 square feet to 2,500.  Being a total remodel virgin, he accepted the bid of the contractor who promised the shortest construction time – six months. That was sixteen months ago.

He said it was the worst experience of his life. One unforeseen crisis after another.

My office is on the same side as his home, not that there’s really any place in our small house that we are sheltered from the jack hammers, skill saws, nail guns, and assorted power tools. 

There was one saw that had the same pitch as a dentist drill. I could hear myself silently screaming, Stop! Stop!  I’ll talk! Or brush! Whatever you want!

For weeks, there was the constant beep of construction vehicles going in reverse. What I can’t figure out: Shouldn’t they have to be going forward at least half the time?

At various times we not only had construction noise going on at the neighbor’s, but jack hammers by a city crew in the street, never mind leaf blowers.  No, wait, those leaf blowers were in our front yard. 

Trying to sit out on our patio on beautiful summer mornings, we’d be making sign language gestures at each other to pass the coffee or the front section of the newspaper.  We couldn’t even hear our own garden fountain three feet away. 

But the worst part, at least for me, was the music. I’m trying to be politically correct here but I think I’m suffering post-traumatic stress disorder from 16 months of the Tijuana radio station.

You’d get tired of any kind of music, even Bach, if you listened to it at 120 decibels six days a week. Plus, any music with words – even opera or 50’s rock - was going to be a problem for me since I’m trying to write. 

But it wasn’t just the music itself. It was when they’d sing along. At the top of their lungs. Totally off key. I could swear there is something in the Eighth Amendment about “cruel and unusual punishment.”

I texted my neighbor at work about the music pretty much every day for the first few weeks. He’d call the contractor and the music would stop. But the next day it would be back. I really hated to annoy the neighbor about it. As I said, best neighbor ever. He was already tearing his hair out. And besides, it was only going to be “temporary.”

Music torture has been popular with the CIA for decades. If they’ll contact me, I have a play list that I think will elicit confessions in record time.

As for the construction noise itself, I kept reminding myself that I should thank my lucky stars that I don’t have to operate a jack hammer. If there is one thing this remodel convinced me of, there are a lot of really miserable jobs in the construction industry.

But now, other than the landscaping, it’s done. Our lovely neighbor is finally able to enjoy his beautiful new home.

For us, there’s no more construction vehicles semi-blocking our driveway. No 6:30 a.m. deliveries right outside our bedroom window. We could potentially take a nap again.

But now a house right across the street has been sold as a remodel/teardown.  The driveway dumpsters should be arriving anytime.  And so it goes.

Monday, November 14, 2016

How To Be A Professional Listiclist

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published November 16, 2016] ©2016
This is going to sound like sour grapes, but it seems more and more that on-line media has jettisoned articles requiring actual writing skills in favor of “listicles” or articles that begin with a number:  7 steps to better cardiac health.  5 reasons your daughter-in-law hates you.  10 ways to improve your sex life.  15 signs he’s cheating. 12 best stew recipes ever.
Even television has largely foresworn well-scripted shows for reality TV fare scraping an ever deepening barrel (Pervy Guys Who Spawn Large Families, Dancing with Forgotten Child Stars, Survivor 57: Fresno.) 
For those of us in the writing world, trying to sell material that doesn’t start with a number is getting ever more problematical. While listicles are prime fodder for Internet sites, even print media has jumped on this bandwagon. This, of course, is because people read them, and therefore advertisers place ads near them. 
OK, I confess that I read some of them too. The titles are just too enticing not to. But I can’t help but notice that listicles are usually just some really basic information that is already well known, or far more dismaying, sometimes just plain wrong.
For example, I couldn’t resist a listcle entitled  7 kitchen hacks that will change your life.”  First of all, may I note that seven seems to be a particularly favorite number for listicles. I guess three would hardly be worth your time, and 12 might be more energy than you want to invest.  Hack #2 of the 7 Kitchen Hacks was that if you put a wooden spoon over a pot, it will not boil over.
That was an idea that truly could change my life, and also my cleaning lady’s.  So that night, I put my pasta in a pot of boiling water, set the wooden spoon across it as directed, and went to check my email. I came back five minutes later to find that the pot had boiled over all over my stove (AND the wooden spoon.) 
So popular are listicles, you (generic you, not me) can actually make a living writing them. All you need is a catchy title (anything involving sex and relationships is a sure winner), add recycled and/or bogus content and voila! You are now a professional listiclist.
While waiting in line at the pharmacy the other day, I was trying to think up some listicles I would write if my column gig falls through.  Here are some I think would be quick sells:
30 surprising facts about celebrities you’ve never heard of
10 signs that you’re getting older (aside from the fact you just celebrated your 80th birthday)
3 facts about birth control you should have told your teenage son before he became a father
7 cat breeds most likely to cough up fur balls
10 ways to retire with a million dollars (that are mostly legal)
20 delicious recipes using ingredients not found in the Western Hemisphere but listed in New York Times Magazine recipes anyway
15 facts about entitlement that will serve you well as a state or federal government employee
The six most annoying people you’ll ever meet, and why five of them are parents on your son’s soccer team
10 reasons relationships fail (other than that they were doomed from the start)
7 ways to substitute chocolate for kale in vegetarian recipes [no assertions are being made for taste]
6 tips for finding the best fares to Cleveland
15 Halloween costumes perfect for super kinky adults who are totally over the naughty nurse thing
8 reasons why grief makes you sad
9 reasons why texting and tweeting should be allowed during class time, especially if the class is like, totally lame
5 hot sex tips for homo sapiens, and also older people
12 facts about cockroach infestations that everyone who lives over a restaurant should know
4 myths about root canal surgery
11 creative uses for dust bunnies
15 benefits of Vitamin E recycled from questionable internet sites and not substantiated by medical science but which you will believe anyway.
9 hints to becoming a Nobel Laureate even if you haven’t gone to high school
8 health tips from your grandmother that are actually terrible
6 secrets only pet dentists know
30 ways to lose 20 pounds in ten days
5 facts about topics that no one really cares about
7 kitchen hacks that only sorta work
Speaking of which, turns out that the wooden spoon hack does work up to a point – so long as the surface of your wooden spoon remains under 100 degrees (C). Let it get too hot (or use a metal spoon) and you’ll get what I got. A giganto mess.
As successful as I think I could be as a listiclist, I think I’m going to stick with my column job. And watching my pasta as it boils.
Oops – the spoon thing didn’t quite work

Sunday, November 6, 2016

It Takes A Village: Saving Moo

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published November 9, 2016] ©2016
On August 15, as I was picking up allergy medication for our foster dog at La Jolla Veterinary Hospital on Fay, I couldn’t help but notice the flier for a found Shih Tzu on their bulletin board. He looked like the identical twin of our previous foster dog, Percy, who, freshly rehabbed, was now living an idyllic life as the adored companion of a senior citizen. 
The vet’s staff explained that the dog had been found the day before with a collar and leash, panting in the heat, on Prospect Street near the Rec Center. The woman who found him waited an hour with the dog, fearful he would run into the street, expecting a frantic owner would appear. When none did, she brought him into their office hoping he might be microchipped.  He wasn’t.
Because her own dogs weren’t friendly with smaller breeds, the woman then brought the dog to the County shelter hoping an owner would claim him. Or, maybe hoping an owner wouldn’t claim him. The dog’s hair was so overgrown and matted that it was hard initially to tell whether he was a male or female. His toenails were so long they curled around making it difficult for him to walk. It seemed obvious to me that this dog, like Percy, had been dumped. Wasn’t going to be claimed.
I asked the veterinary staff if I could be in touch with the woman who found the dog as I hoped that the same small private rescue organization that had rescued Percy from the County shelter could save this dog as well.
The vet tech called me back an hour later. “She says she knows you. Her name is Eloise.”
My jaw dropped. Eloise had been the pet sitter who was taking care of our beloved Winston when he died suddenly of a heart attack in March. A true animal whisperer, she was devastated. We, meanwhile, were tremendously comforted that Winston’s last moments had been in her gentle hands.
I said to Olof that night that if God had put this dog in Eloise’s path, it was meant to be saved.
I called Eloise and told her about the rescue organization. She was thrilled.
But the rescue organization was swamped; no more foster homes available. In fact, we were already doing an emergency foster of a second one of their dogs ourselves. But the rescue was able to get me the dog’s medical intake records from the County, four long pages of heartbreaking neglect. There was no part of this animal that wasn’t suffering from massive infection – ears, eyes, skin. Even his anal gland was ruptured. Eight to nine years old, he had never been neutered.
The news only got worse. The County subsequently determined that he was blind.
If this dog thought life might finally be looking up, he was sadly mistaken.  His very first night at the County shelter, the other two dogs in his kennel beat him up, his fur found all over the cage the next morning.
Eloise visited the dog several times over the next 12 days at the County shelter as we pondered possibilities for him. Our hand was forced when we got a tip that the dog was going to be euthanized if not quickly adopted. He wasn’t eating and had lost substantial weight. Totally shaved because of his infections, he looked more rodent than Shih Tzu. His skin infections were still healing. In real estate parlance, he lacked curb appeal.
The phrase in the medical report that had truly broken our hearts noted that when approached by shelter staff, the little guy exhibited a “low tail wag.” That this poor dog could still find anything to wag his tail about, however minimally, was a testament to the resilient spirit of animals. Eloise and I decided that no matter what, this dog was not dying at the County.
Neither of us could keep him long term but we agreed that if this dog had genuine issues that would require him to be put down, it would be in our arms after being showered with the love for which he was so overdue.
After an afternoon of frantic phone calls, Eloise went down the next morning and officially adopted him, to buy him time. Olof and I said we would share medical expenses.
Eloise named him Moo, because his coloring, when shaved, strongly resembled a Guernsey cow. The two big dogs in Eloise’s house were decidedly unthrilled about the interloper. Moo took up residence in a bubble wrapped spare room to keep him safe both from bumping into things and from the other dogs, one of whom, a Rottweiler, would have happily eaten Moo.
Dr. Julie Breher at La Jolla Veterinary Hospital generously gave Moo a complimentary full exam the next day, determining that in the 17 days since Moo had been found, he had recovered almost completely from his County-treated neglect-related infections. While we were there, she called an animal rescue she thought might be able to help find a home for Moo. Alas, they couldn’t take a blind dog.
Dr. Breher also recommended a consultation with a top animal ophthalmologist just to see if there was anything – surgery or eye drops - to be done for Moo’s eyes.  Even an improvement of 10-20% would improve the quality of his life immeasurably, not to mention make him more adoptable.
However, even without sight, she added, blind dogs compensate well because of their acute senses of hearing and smell. “Just don’t move the furniture,” she smiled. 
Eloise soon noted this adaptation as well. Moo would chase her around her back yard, tracking her voice. Moo’s mellow, affectionate Shih Tzu personality began to shine through as he slowly relaxed into his temporary new household. He began eating again and regained the 22% of his body weight he’d lost at the County. Eloise’s vet, Dr. Bruce Lindsey, took over Moo’s care at a discounted rate.
I contacted every senior dog rescue I could find that specializes in finding homes for senior or special needs dogs. Most never replied. The two that did said they only rescue animals from shelters, not from private parties.  Meanwhile, Eloise’s family’s Rottweiler was making Moo’s life increasingly perilous. We had just finished adopting our own foster dog, Lily, who had issues of her own. Options for Moo seemed to be rapidly diminishing.
Eloise called one night in tears: “We really have to find a home for Moo. It’s not working here.” My husband predicted we were going to become owners of a second dog.
The canine ophthalmologist diagnosed Moo as having retinal degeneration.  Nothing to be done.
By sheer chance, when Eloise took Moo to Green Paw Grooming in the village that afternoon, one of the groomers, Ashli Shore, suggested contacting the Rancho Santa Fe-based Scratch My Belly (, one of many small private rescues in the county.  Eloise did, and the woman who runs it, Frederica Ginsburg, not only posted Moo’s photo and story on her site’s Facebook page but arranged for him to be featured on Channel 6 News ‘Animal House’ segment for special pets seeking homes. 
Five well-intentioned people applied to adopt Moo but alas, none was a suitable placement. One applicant had toddlers ages one and two which Eloise and I privately agreed was the equivalent of two more blind Shih Tzus. Moo needed a heavily supervised environment. We still hoped for the perfect home.
More weeks went by. If dogs have a signature talent, it’s for worming their way into humans’ hearts. Eloise’s immediate and extended family, originally hesitant about taking on Moo for even the shortest term, started falling in love with him. Eloise’s mother bought him a doggie stroller so he could go to the grandchildren’s soccer games, and smuggled him his treat of choice, street tacos from the Rubios on Fay. Most importantly, the Rottweiler seemed willing to consider a doggie d├ętente.
And so, nearly three months later, Moo now has a forever home with Eloise. As my husband observed watching Moo happily snoozing in Eloise’s arms, “this dog has fallen into a vat of warm butter.”  But while Eloise deserves the lion’s share of the credit for staying with him that first day and for her heroic care of Moo, she’d agree it took a village to save him.
Moo couldn’t be more grateful.
August 14: Moo pants in the heat near the La Jolla Rec Center
where he was found abandoned

August 31: Dr. Julie Breher at La Jolla Veterinary Hospital
gives an underweight Moo an exam the day after Eloise
adopts him from the County shelter
September:  Eloise and Moo
Moo makes himself at home on my neighbor Jill’s chest
En route to the doggie ophthalmologist
Moo is featured on Channel 6’s Animal House segment
Moo gets better at finding his way around Eloise’s back yard
Moo today in his happiest position
(being held by Eloise)