Monday, June 25, 2018

A Solution To Short-Term Vacation Rentals

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 27, 2018] ©2018

If you’re local, you’ve probably been following the debate as to what rules should apply to whole-house short- term vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods – particularly areas near the beach. Unfortunately, more and more investors are buying homes in quiet family neighborhoods in coastal areas (particularly La Jolla) and turning them into short-term vacation rentals, creating major problems with parking, trash, and noise until all hours of the morning.   Incongruously, our mayor is leaning toward favoring wholesale greed over the quality of life of people who find themselves suddenly living next door to revolving hordes of partying tourists.  News flash, Kev:  allowing investors to buy and rent out a non-owner-occupied residence on a nightly basis is not “home-sharing”: it is a motel in a residential neighborhood. 

If a short-term rental moved in next to me, I would hope that after a month, the reviews of this property would read something like this:

ACK, DO NOT RENT THIS HOUSE! We thought we’d be having our extended-family reunion in a nice home in La Jolla a few blocks from the beach – at least that’s how the place was advertised.  The owners made no mention of the next-door neighbors who sunbathe naked.  Did I mention they’re SEVENTY? The husband sits out there in his deck chair with a glass of Scotch playing with himself and drooling.  His wife – also naked (she could really stand to lose some weight!) – would come out from time to time and shrug apologetically at our kids who were gawking from the second-floor windows. She’d try to cover him with a towel but he just tossed it off cackling maniacally. Not in the property description!

These same people had a little white dog who was constantly pooping on our home’s front lawn although we were at a loss to figure out how such a tiny animal could be generating as much excrement as a pack of St. Bernards. But it pretty much made the front grass area unusable. 

Did I mention the dead rats?  They were all over the yard!  You’d think there was some kind of plague going on here and in point of fact, the neighbor lady (Ina or Inga or something like that) informed us that the La Jolla Chamber of Commerce is paying big bucks to keep people from knowing that those deceased rodents are carriers of Bubonic Plague, Typhus, and Hanta Virus.  She said we should sue the home owner for not telling us about it or at the very least not advising us to be inoculated for those illnesses before we came.  She insinuated that her wanker husband had been “normal” before contracting one of these diseases. (Alas, she declined to name which one.)

Another problem: Parking Control kept tagging our cars for towing insisting that neighbors had reported our six cars for overstaying a 72-hour limit. How could this be? The Inca or Helga lady said that the parking control people are total nazis and often tow cars that haven’t actually violated the statute. She recommended moving our cars every hour just to be safe. (It was a total pain.)  She also mentioned that there was an unspoken rule in the neighborhood that the space in front of one’s home is reserved for the owner’s vehicles and that that the neighbors could be very “vindictive.” This Ina or Inga person recommended parking our cars in the one-hour parking on Fay Avenue and taking Uber back and forth.  (She said the meter maids never ticket there – local secret.)

As if the rats weren’t bad enough, there was clearly an infestation of cockroaches around the base of the house that were the size of small animals. Ilsa or Erma or whatever her name is said there is a giant colony of them living right under their house and ours.  Apparently, they are a mutant strain that frequently come up from the sewer, sometimes in droves, so it would be best not to sit directly on the toilet seat or one could be risking a “nasty surprise in the nether regions.”
 We realize that we have probably been making more noise than we should, especially past the 10 p.m. noise curfew, but this IS a family reunion and we came here to party.  But our noise is nothing compared to theirs.  Their outdoor speakers seem to be pointed in the direction of our house and they seem to prefer drum solos, X-rated rap (we would NEVER let our children listen to such lyrics), and old Mantovani CDs perpetually stuck on “Jamaican Rumba” – all blasted at what seems like 120 decibels.  We went over to ask them to turn it down but the creepy husband answered – does he EVER wear clothes? – and said the speaker volume control was broken but they had a service call scheduled for next week. Then he started scratching himself and we couldn’t get out of there fast enough. 

We had rented the place for a week but escaped after two days to Alpine (no neighbors!) I think we should take Ima or Ella’s advice and sue the home owners for a refund for this “Vacation Rental By Owner.”   


Monday, June 18, 2018

Another World

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 20, 2018] ©2018

Recently, my husband Olof and I made our first official foray out of town since his heart attack in January to attend Grandparents Day at our grandson’s school. 

Let me say that Grandparents Day is a phenomenon totally new to me.  Olof and I and the kids all attended public schools so we were unfamiliar with the rituals of private education. My son and daughter-in-law had been profoundly underwhelmed by their local public school and finally decided to make the financial sacrifice to go private. If they lived in La Jolla, they said, it would definitely be public school.

I have to say that Olof and I initially assumed that the purpose of this event was to hit up the grandparents for money. This is our grandson’s first year at this school and we were solicited for donations three times before Thanksgiving. After the third, I emailed my son, Henry: “Did you sell our address to these people?”  He replied, tongue-in-cheek, “They offer a 25% discount to any student with grandparents in an upscale zip code.” 

Unlike public schools, who would be thrilled with a donation of $500, the bottom of six tiers of donations for this school was “Under $1,500” which would merely identify us as embarrassingly cheap. We never received a fourth request.  We were genuinely expecting that the topic of money might be revisited when captive physical bodies were on campus.

But nope, it was all about giving the grandparents a nice experience. Upon getting our pre-printed name tags, we were ushered to table upon table of amazing pastries (next year I’m bringing a large handbag to stuff with those fabulous chocolate croissants) from a high-end L.A. bakery.  I texted Henry a picture of one of the tables with the caption: “Not in public school anymore, Toto!” 

Among the entertainments was a musical program in the auditorium.  The performance was truly outstanding, but then, it is one of the school’s signature programs.  Usually with a grade school orchestra, you think they’re doing well if you can actually identify the piece of music. But these kids were dazzling. The fourth graders were singing in three-part harmony.  There was choreography. Not much resemblance to the charmingly off-key Spring Sings I remembered. But it doesn’t come free.

Not surprisingly, all the songs were “message” music with themes from saving the environment, to championing the equality of humans of all races and creeds, and ending with a rousing rendition of “Circle of Life” by the school’s stunningly talented choir.  Let me just say that they were themes that can’t be emphasized enough these days. 

We got to visit our grandson’s kindergarten classroom and let him take us on a tour of the gorgeous grounds. A catered lunch was served. Olof shared my feeling that we had been transported to an alternate but very lovely universe.

Speaking of alternate universes, I have to confess that sometimes L.A. seems like a foreign country to me. Back at the house after Grandparents Day concluded, I asked our three-year-old grandson if that was E-damame he was eating.  He looked at me said, “ED-amame, Mormor.” OK, looked like soybeans to me and I was pretty dazzled that his mother got him to eat it.  But he was chowing it down like it was MacDonald’s chicken fingers, which I might add, was pretty much the only thing his father would eat until he was ten. 

Another new phenomenon for us: our son’s house has all manner of electronic stuff like Alexa, the Amazon robot thing that does everything but… no, I think she really does everything.   One thing Amazon might not have thought through, however, was the problem of Alexa Abuse by three-year-olds. Most preschoolers aren’t used to having much power over anything and our grandson delighted in relentlessly ordering Alexa around then cackling hysterically as she attempted to keep up with his commands. 

“Awexa! Pway “Baa baa bwack sheep!”  Poor Alexa wouldn’t even get to as far as “Have you any wool?’ before our grandson commanded her, “Awexa! Pway “Twinkle twinkle widdle star!”  Unfortunately, Alexa 1.0 doesn’t isn’t programmed to respond to the command from his mother, “Alexa! Ignore voices of persons under five!” - clearly a needed upgrade in 2.0 – but she will respond to mom’s command, “Alexa! Stop playing music!”

I can’t even imagine the chaos if someone in the family is actually named Alexa.  (Can you get one named Bob?)

I tried telling Alexa to play Vivaldi’s Four Seasons but the three-year-old cut it off seconds later. Just like those GPS robots that start to sound positively surly if you keep ignoring their directions, I could swear Alexa wanted to say, “Would you guys make up your effing minds?”

But altogether a very successful trip.  Glad to be back out into the world again.  And our grandson’s school didn’t ask us for dime.  Or maybe our reputations had preceded us.

Monday, June 4, 2018

To Hell And Back?

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 6, 2018] ©2018

My perversely-curious mind has often pondered why there are loads of books by people who have had near-death (or actual death) experiences and were sure that they had glimpsed heaven, but none by anyone who has come back from hell.  I mean that would truly be a best seller, never mind a compelling cautionary tale. 

All the heaven books I’ve read seem to have a reassuring commonality:  the patient describes a white light, being transported through a tunnel, and a feeling of pure peace. So, is the tunnel to hell one-way only?  Or is it because that tunnel is actually the 405 freeway in L.A. and the decedent decided that staying in hell was far less of a hassle than trying to get back?

Since no one has ever made the round-trip journey, we don't truly know what hell is like, other than
Biblical references like “the lake of fire” in Revelations 20:13-15 or the Matthew 5:22: description of “hell fire”.   

This after-life issue all came up recently after my 8-year-old granddaughter, who is a voracious reader, was reading a book about what the possibilities are after you die, including reincarnation.   I am guessing she did not get it out of the library at the Catholic school she attends.  Her partial Catholic heritage qualified her for admission to this school although a number of her classmates, refugees of substandard public schools, are not Catholic at all. One advantage of growing up in a multi-ethnic multi-religious family like she does is that we’re happy to have her learn about all religions, and she is thriving at this school.  But reincarnation might not have been on the First Holy Communion curriculum. 

So, she wanted to know after reading this book, can she choose reincarnation instead of heaven vs hell if she wants? She liked the idea of coming back over and over as different people – or even animals – as her soul evolved. Can we choose what we want to believe, she wanted to know?  If different religions say different things about the afterlife, how do we know who is right?  Is anyone right?  Heavy duty stuff for age eight. 

Telling this story at a subsequent dinner party inspired dialogue as to what our own concepts of heaven and hell were.  Hell for me immediately conjured up a snow storm at O'Hare, a neighbor kid who plays drums, and the non-appointments line at the DMV. Root canals, leaf blowers, and a job in data processing could be added to that.  Being trapped in any of those situations in perpetuity would be pretty grim. 

A childhood friend from the East Coast, when posed this question, replied, “I’d say that hell is the forced endurance, repetition, tolerance of painful or unpleasant situations. Could be in life, could be otherwise (if there is any otherwise). For example, the twelve years I spent at Germantown Friends School: Hell. My seventh semester at Cornell: Hell. Summers at Camp Blue Bell and Kamp Kewanee: Hell. Summer courses at Southern Regional High School in New Jersey: Hell. (There is a special area of Hell that pertains to New Jersey. You gotta problem wit’ dat?) And so forth.”

He continued:  “Outliving the sanctimonious ****s that took delight in torturing, hectoring and bullying me: Heaven. Seeing those same people plump up, declare personal bankruptcy, get divorced and impoverished, get indicted and/or convicted, Heaven. Doing well myself: Heaven. Having a few good ears of corn on the cob: Heaven. Waking up after quadruple bypass surgery and realizing that my surgeon was right . . . my odds of survival were 99+%: Absolutely Pure 100% Unmitigated Heaven.”  

Having had a Protestant mother, Catholic father, and Jewish first husband, I’ve logged a lot of time in houses of worship and had both lovely and miserable experiences with religion.  Probably low on the list were those big scary ruler-wielding nuns who looked like human Shamus as they bore down on their hapless terrified charges ready to inflict knuckular damage on those not knowing their Catechism.  I confess when I first learned that my granddaughter would be going to Catholic school, I developed a facial tic.

But Catholic school appears to be a whole new ballgame.  Classes at her school are taught by non-ruler-wielding lay people who encourage positivity.  It just seems like a genuinely happy place and her experience there has been a corrective emotional experience for me.  Olof and I are convinced that her constant prayers for him after his heart attack genuinely helped his recovery.  Ultimately, she’ll have to decide for herself what she believes about religion and afterlife, just like the rest of us. 

But I’ll tell you: I’d definitely buy the book from the moribund miscreant who briefly had a glimpse of hell but got to come back and tell us all about it.  I’d be especially interested in the parking.