Monday, September 24, 2018
[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published September 26, 2018] ©2018
I can’t believe that after nine years and 300 columns I’ve never written about toilets. Well, actually I did but it was about these new high-tech ones that have no obvious flush mechanism, like, say, a handle. In my view, they should be BANNED from guest bathrooms.
But today we’re addressing low-flow toilets, a topic near and dear to all Californians’ hearts since we have the strictest flush laws in the country. All toilets sold in California have to meet low-flow efficiency standards requiring they use no more than 1.28 gallons per flush.
Of course, given California’s perennial drought problems, water conservation has almost become a religion. So, well before the plumbing police officially invaded our bathrooms, people – nice people like Olof and me – converted two of their three toilets to low-flow when they remodeled those bathrooms 15 years ago. Let me say that we have been underwhelmed with the results. As Olof points out, toilets that have to be flushed four times to “achieve clearance” are NOT water-saving. We make sure the Ferraris of plungers are standing by in both of those bathrooms. You can get a good aerobic workout from plunging. But it isn’t our preferred exercise.
Lately, however, we have learned that there is hope. Neighbors of ours remodeled their guest bath at around the same time we did and put in a low-flow toilet that, astonishingly, performed even less well their ours. Fortunately, that bathroom didn’t see much action in the way of overnight guests – just polite after-dinner pee-ers - until their young grandchildren, now six and eight, started coming more frequently for overnights. The neighbors were constantly plunging the toilet. And no, this wasn’t young kids deciding to see what would happen if they flushed toy rocket parts and stuffed animals, a phenomenon I know waaaaay too well. (A 2010 column led with the line: “My husband has always maintained that I married him for his skills with a sewer augur, but that’s only partially true.”)
But no, this was stuff that was intended to be flushed. And these kids are tiny – 50 and 60 pounds respectively. And picky eaters to boot. Seriously, how much poop could they produce?
My friends were considering posting a sign over the commode along the lines of: Please do not poop in this toilet! But it seemed a tad inhospitable. And definitely a dilemma for overnight guests since the only other commode was in the master bedroom.
They reported that they even considered a different sign, “Flush early and flush often!” But they really couldn’t count on compliance. Especially from a 6-year-old who could not yet read.
They finally decided that just as there was incentive to Build a Better Mouse Trap, there must be a sufficient mass of other unhappy low-flow toilet users that someone was inspired to build a better toilet trap. So off they went to a local plumbing fixtures emporium.
May I help you? asked the nice sales lady.
Husband: Our toilet has been outgunned by the grandkids.
Saleslady: I’m guessing you bought this toilet 10-15 years ago. [They said yes.] Well, she continues, leading the way to the sales floor, there are MUCH better options now. Far improved technology from the first ones that just used the same mechanism with less water.
She points to an American Standard toilet and says, “I sold this model to a family with three teenage water polo players whose Dad is a Navy Seal. They’re very happy with it.”
The neighbors are still trying to make the connection between water polo player kids/Seal dad and performance. But it invokes an image of athletic persons who presumably eat a lot and therefore…. Definitely not 6-year-old picky-eater poopers. Marketing is everything.
So they bought it. And couldn’t be happier. One of the reasons it apparently works better is that it simply has a bigger hole for effluvia to leave the premises. No, er, bottlenecks, so to speak.
The other improvement is that it simply has more “gusto,” as my neighbor says. You flush that handle and it clearly means business. Business with your business. No “now if you’ll all please move to the sewer pipe” politeness. This one completes a flush in 1.5 seconds (scientifically timed by the husband) versus a full four seconds by the old one. Same amount of water in the tank but definitely more velocity.
They’ve nicknamed it The Terminator. And it has improved their lives immeasurably.
We still have the original industrial-strength toilet in our master bathroom and up to now, Olof has always maintained that they will have to pry it out of his cold dead hands. (Kind of a mixed metaphor there but you get the idea.)
I’m definitely getting the name and model number of the neighbor’s new commode to replace at least our two low-performing low-flow toilets. It would be the best Christmas present ever to retire from the plunging business.
Monday, September 17, 2018
[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published September 19, 2018] ©2018
You can always test whether someone is a serious cruciverbalist (crossword puzzle person) if they know the answer to the clue “Bambi’s aunt.” Also if they do the puzzle in ink.
Of course there is a huge practice effect with crosswords. I initially started doing them because they were touted to ward off brain decline. Then I read an article in the Wall Street Journal that maintained that the only effect crosswords have on your brain is to make you better at crosswords. I was crushed. But by that time, also hooked.
Sudoku just makes my head hurt but there is nothing more relaxing to me than a nice hard puzzle. (OK, chardonnay works too. Chardonnay in combination with a puzzle is even better.) It can’t be so hard that I can’t do it but if it’s too easy, it just annoys me.
I have to say if I had a preference, there would be a NYT puzzle version that was sports-free. If the answer is three letters, I know it has to be Els, Orr, or Ott, but I can never remember which one is the hockey player.
I fortunately have my nuclear-physics-trained husband to help me with the physics clues, of which there are a surprising number. He’s pretty good on those annoying Tolkien answers too which you’d think I’d know having been subjected to all three deadly Lord of the Rings movies, but which I’ve totally suppressed.
I would also ban puzzles that have obscure foreign names as both down and across clues so you never know if you got it right.
Just like recipe ingredients in the New York Times Sunday magazine, there seem to be words in the English language that are never used except in New York Times puzzles.
Quaint, British expressions that I don’t think even the British use any more are regular answers, particularly the word “egad(s).” The clue will be “By Jove!” or “Good gravy!” or “Heavens to Murgatroyd.” (Who the heck is Murgatroyd?)
Other annoyingly-antiquated Britishism clues and their answers are “nifty!” (neato), “fiddlesticks!” (pooh), “tommyrot” (bah), “toodle-o” (cheerio), “dagnabbit” (nerts), “balderdash” (horsehockey), “Did you see that?” (ohsnap), “I declare” (gracious me), and “oh nonsense!” (pish). I don’t think I have used any of those words in my 70 years. Seriously, “pish”?
Alleged British slang tends to creep in regularly as well, as in “rough bed” (doss), “play hob with” (do mischief to), and “simpletons” (geese).
It was early in my crossword puzzle career that I was totally stymied by the clue “Philadelphia sewer.” Now, I read this as referring to a series of plumbing pipes under the city of Philadelphia and couldn’t get it at all, only to discover that the answer was “Ross” (as in Betsy) who sewed our first flag.
But once on to them, I wasn’t fooled by “Castle with famous steps” (Irene), “Flying Solo” (Han), and “Field work” (Norma Rae).
The NYT puzzle just loves those sneaky clues and I have been brought down by more than few, for example, “One whose 60-something” (Dstudent), “sticky foods” (kebabs), “iPhone8” (TUV), “Jolly ‘Roger’” (Ihearya), “snaky character” (ess), “heat shields” (badges), “homey” (dawgs), “something the Netherlands has but Belgium does not” (capitaln), “maker of thousands of cars annually” (Otis), “very basic things” (lyes), and “took out the junk” (sailed).
They also got me with “appropriate game” (poach), “spend time on-line” (dries), “evening result” (tie), and “baby shower” (sonogram). Groaners all.
OK, I admit I have a fairly concrete mind. But sometimes I think that the NYT just makes up words. For example: “Visibly stunned” (agasp), “really angry” (ireful), “running slowly” (seepy), “visibly embarrassed” (ablush), “mounted” (ahorse), “one who avoids being touched” (epeeist), “like paradise” (edenic), “venomous biting” (aspish), “echo” (revoice), “board near a gate” (enplane), “embiggen” (enlarge), “making bubbles as an ocean wave” (spumed), “treat as a saint” (enhalo), and “uhhhhh…” (erm). Erm?
There are some clues I find ridiculously obscure and that’s when I start writing really vicious letters in my head to the NYT puzzle editor, Will Short. For example, “peddler of religious literature” (colporteur), Korean War soldier” (ROK – Republic of Korea), “PV=k” (Boyles Law), “gladly, old style” (life, as in “he would as life eat rocks as….), “gloss” (annotate), “fancify” (doup), “waterfall” (cataract), “enlightened sort” (arhat), “cabbage or kale” (doremi - apparently a slang and somewhat dated term for money), “Spartan serf” (helot), and “what a mobius strip lacks” (end). Like, regular human beings would know these?
Some clues just come under the heading of just plain stupid such as “Improved place to hang a hat” (antler).
As much practice as I’ve had at the New York Times puzzle at this point, I can safely say I will never achieve the status of people who do them in ink.
Monday, September 10, 2018
[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published September 12, 2018] ©2018
If it’s early fall in La Jolla, there are spider webs everywhere. They seem to be especially fond of my house.
I’m not particularly bug-phobic. But I’ve never managed to make friends with spiders.
However, my husband, Mr. Spider, is probably their biggest fan. The other night he went to take the garbage bag outside to the black bin but was back again still carrying it. “There was a huge spider web right next to it,” he explained reverently. “I didn’t want to disturb it.”
I keep several old brooms around the outside of the house for the specific purpose of disturbing spider webs. The alternative is that I don’t see them, especially at night, and walk right into them. Not only is the feeling of being engulfed in web one of my least favorite feelings in the world, but you have to wonder: Where the spider?
If it had been me bringing out the trash, I would have said, “Sorry, cowboy, dinner’s over. This is a loading zone.”
My husband considers spiders to be fellow engineers and has only the utmost respect – almost a veneration – of their talent. There is nothing he enjoys more on an early fall evening than sitting outside at dusk watching the spiders go to work. Me, I’m always rooting for the flies.
In the 45 years I’ve been in my house, I know where spiders’ favorite places are: Across our wrought iron gate to the pool area. Across the walkway to our back gate. Between our cars in the driveway. Across the steps of our front porch. Silhouetted in the trees. Under the house. Especially under the house.
At various times in my 12 years of chronically-broke single momdom, I was forced to crawl under the house – a heavily-populated arthropodal Xanadu (never mind my personal vision of Hell) – to pour muriatic acid in the cleanout pipe. My list of lifetime goals includes never doing it again.
Interestingly, spiers seem to be able to learn. If I forget to turn off our small garden fountain before it gets dark and have to go out the wrought iron gate to the back yard to turn off the switch, I wave my warms in front of me so I won’t get a spider web in my face. I notice that the next night, they build their web higher up. (Thank you.)
I realize that arachnids are just trying to make a living like everyone else. I remember first being informed of this at a workshop at Esalen Institute in the Big Sur years ago when I breathlessly reported that our room had black widow spiders. The front desk counter-culturalist replied with barely disguised ennui that the spiders had just as much right to live as I did. (I chose to squash them.)
I’ve spotted both black widows and brown recluses on my property at times. Fortunately, not often. The preponderance of our fall spider population are (alleged) non-biters.
It goes without saying that any spider that has the nerve to actually enter my home is considered to have a death wish which I am happy to accommodate.
My arachnophiliac husband points out that spiders are good for the environment, eating disease-carrying and crop-destroying insects among others. I have pointed out to him that our little chunk of La Jolla heaven is probably really low on those, although if they were willing to consume whatever pest chomps on my basil plants, I could reconsider.
Who, he continues, waxing awestruck, programmed the brains of the little marvels with such sophistication as to be able to create these complicated webs night after night? How could anyone not be impressed, nay, dazzled?
Every web begins with a single thread, he explains, which are silk produced from the spinneret glands located in the spider’s stomach. The spider climbs to a suitable starting point (my porch light, for example, which has the added benefit of enticing light-attracted insects) and releases a length of thread into the wind. With any luck, the free end of the thread will catch onto something else, like my hanging vinca basket. And then he’s off and running. Or in this case, spinning.
If there were a product called Arachnid Death, I wouldn’t mind spraying it around outside the house when my husband wasn’t looking. But Olof would be bereft. Olof is aware that this time of year, I’m offing spiders pretty regularly. It’s one of those marital “don’t ask, don’t tell” things.
He, however, would never slay a fellow engineer.
After all these years of his influence, I’m surprised to admit that I am actually developing empathy for spiders. Well, to a point. Just before I whacked a web across my front porch, I said to the spider, “See that tan house across the street with the gold Subaru in the driveway? I think they’re friendlier.” It was the best I could do.