Monday, December 9, 2019

(Trying To) Embrace The Bus

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published Dec. 11, 2019] ©2019

On May 21, 2015 a La Jolla Light article queried why 87% of people who live within a mile of public transit still drive to work.  The answer: they need to actually GET to work.

A letter to the Editor in the San Diego Union-Tribune made a related inquiry:  Do supporters of mass transit use it?  The answer:  We’re trying.

My husband and I are two of the biggest supporters of public transit but have concluded that San Diego just isn’t set up for it to be a successful mode of daily transport, unless you have endless time on your hands and don’t have to get to work by a specific time.  If you have kids or are elderly, it isn’t for you either.

My husband and I had the pleasure of spending two car-less years in Sweden on a work contract in 2005 and 2006 and became total converts to public transit.  It helped, of course, that their system – buses, subways, long distance trains – runs to the minute despite serious weather challenges. 

My husband, for whom a short work week was sixty hours, attempted to continue his love affair with buses when we returned to La Jolla even though the drive was twenty minutes door-to-door and the bus (no transfers) at least sixty.  Sometimes the bus was running so late that he just walked home and drove.  When the route changed to be too far from his office, he was back to auto travel.

Still, the San Diego MTS (Metropolitan Transit System) has much to recommend it:  the buses are clean, the drivers are unfailingly helpful, and at $23, a monthly senior pass is a steal.  Other than one trip when I thought I might be sitting next to the Unabomber’s younger brother, I’ve always felt safe.

At various local committee meetings I’ve attended, the committee members have responded to complaints that inadequate parking is being required for proposed new builds by maintaining that we are headed toward a future of not driving our own personal cars.  I genuinely hope so.  But we are waaaay off from that day. 

Unlike Sweden where bus stops are covered against inclement weather, up-to-date schedules are clearly posted, and a digital readout counts down to when the next bus is arriving, large portions of San Diego are inaccessible by public transit, and the buses are mired in the same traffic as everyone else.  Doing away with transfers a few years ago doubled bus fares, and routes are constantly being reduced, none of which has expanded ridership. 

In Stockholm, buses have a wide center door without steps for strollers and handicapped persons, and the bus itself tilts to allow them easy access to get on and off.  It’s not really fair to compare a much smaller city like Stockholm to the sprawl of San Diego, but the Swedes have made on-time-to-the-minute public transit a major societal priority, including special traffic lanes for buses. 

I’m trying to imagine the average San Diego mom trying to grocery shop, drop off and pick kids up from school, get kids to sports practices and to games all over a huge county, and manage already-tight time schedules on our current bus system.  Even Ubers and Lyfts can’t do the job because of the state-mandated car seat requirements for kids under eight.  (In some cities in the U.S., you can request a car seat at an additional cost of $10 per seat – not feasible for routine transportation.)

As for the recently-passed City Council regulation that would not require parking in new multi-family units that are “near” (1/2 mile) current or planned  public transit, I personally think they’ve lost their minds. Our public transit system doesn’t even access large sections of the city, has little or no service late at night, and limited hours on the weekends.  A half mile is a long way, and that’s even assuming the terrain is flat and you’re not hauling groceries or kids. (I never had to walk more than three blocks in Stockholm to encounter public transit.)  

An article in the La Jolla Village News on November 29 regarding the proposed development on the former 76 Unocal site on Pearl street quoted the developer as saying, “The target market tenant will live and work in the village, with 30% of tenants expected to use ride-sharing services and not own a car.”  Personally, I project that 100% of those tenants will own a car, and will park it on Eads.

San Diego will never have a system like Sweden’s. But it does seem like we need to ratchet up public transit quite a few notches before making regulations that people have to use it. Restore some of the previous routes and schedules plus add some more, especially evening and weekend hours. Some benches would be nice too.

But right now, we’re just not ready for prime time.    

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Revisiting Washers, Toilet Paper Rolls, And Good People

 ["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published Nov. 27, 2019] ©2019 

One true upside to writing Let Inga Tell You for the last ten years is the opportunity to learn from readers.

We’ll get to my recent column about toilet paper in a moment but first, I’d like to revisit my column from earlier in the year about my brand-new washing machine.  It seems I am not the only person who is exasperated by the “smart” features installed in most new washers.  “Balance” seems to be a particular problem across many brands (probably not all that surprising since one repair guy maintained they’re all made in the same factory in China).  My machine wants to self-balance but if there is anything in there heavier than underwear (God forbid you should want to wash towels), it is scientifically designed to shift everything to one side then sound like it is agitating a bowling ball.  The only person more scared of this machine than the dog is me.  I can’t leave the house when it is running as I have to be prepared to race in and stop a machine that is literally flailing around like it’s possessed before it ends up in the living room.  Multiple calls to the warranty service people have ended with them suggesting I “not wash heavy objects in it.”  These would be the same heavy objects I have been washing in its predecessors for 40 years.  I did finally find one semi-solution which is to ignore all instructions in the manual.  I now over-ride the auto water level sensor on virtually all loads  and wash everything on “deep water wash and rinse” thereby obviating all the ecological advantages this stupid, useless machine was supposed to have.

And now to toilet paper rolls. I had long thought that the country was divided into Red States and Blue States but really it all comes down to advocates of ever-larger toilet paper rolls versus saner, nicer people who think toilet paper rolls should actually fit on toilet paper spindles.  By coincidence, the day my column appeared, the Wall Street Journal had an article about how Charmin and other toilet paper companies were responding to customer clamor for ever-larger rolls so they’d have to be changed less frequently.  I was whining about Charmin’s newer Super-Mega rolls but it turns out I was already waaaaay out of date.  Charmin now has Forever Rolls that sport 2,500 sheets and come with their own starter kit including a free-standing dispenser which in my house we’d have to take out the bathtub to accommodate.  The WSJ reporter did note that no matter how many sheets of toilet paper you get on a roll, it will still be the woman of the house who ends up changing it. 

I also had not been aware that a newer ecological move in the Toilet Paper Industrial Complex is tube-less rolls.  I have read the arguments for this and about why it is just a waste to be throwing out all those cardboard tubes (unless you have grade school kids. Do away with those tubes and you’ll never get a school-made Christmas gift again). If people whine about the five seconds it takes to shove a dowel through a new roll and snap it into the dispenser, try threading a dowel through a squished mass of a toilet tissue whose alleged opening has disappeared somewhere between denuding the forests of Canada and your local market. I gather from readers there is a lot of “GAH!s” and bad words that often go on in the process. 

As for the column about finally getting a window air conditioner for our bedroom after three brutally hot summers in a row?  It was one of the coldest summers on record and we used it for exactly 10 minutes – and even that was during a brief episode of Indian Indigenous American summer in early October. 

And now an update on Charles, the wonderful security guard at the credit union in the Staples shopping center in Pacific Beach whom I wrote about in March, 2016.  We’ve become fast friends ever since he ran out in a sudden downpour and saved me from running over my iPhone which had fallen out of my purse as I hurled wet packages into my car.  He refused a reward, but when I got home, I sent a letter to the manager of the credit union extolling his character. I never go to that shopping center without stopping for a hug and chat with Charles.  At the time, I said I hoped he had at least posted the column I wrote about him in the break room and maybe shared his new-found fame with his family too.  But in a comment that has stuck with me ever since, he modestly demurred. “Nah. I was raised by my grandma. She said that if you do something nice for someone, you keep it to yourself.” 

Charles for President?

 Washing machine from hell

The wonderful Charles, rescuer of cell phones

Monday, November 18, 2019

Inga's Ultimate California Driver's Test

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published Nov. 20, 2019] ©2019

Last week I wrote about getting my driver’s license renewed and having to take the written test since I’m over 70.  After some 40 practice exams (and 56 years of keen observation at the wheel), I think I can save readers a lot of trouble and just sum it all up in one all-encompassing test.  Pass this and you’re good to go.

At a stop sign with at least a little bit of visibility on either side, you should:
(a) quickly glance both ways then increase speed and blow through it
(b) forget the glancing and just blow through it
(c) realize that STOP means “Slow To Observe Police”

You are stuck behind a total geezer driving the speed limit on a two-lane road where passing on the left is prohibited.  You:
(a) pass him on the right hoping to nudge him into oncoming traffic
(b) wait for the next ravine and make your move
(c) Old people should be put on ice floes and sent out to sea

As the light turns green, a blind person with a service dog is crossing in front of you.  You:
(a) honk and proceed (damn dog needs to learn to walk faster)
(b) assume the guy bought the cane and the dog’s vest on Amazon and is faking.
(c) should make a donation to the Humane Society in the dog’s name if you were wrong

With a Class C driver license, a person may drive:
(a) a two-axle vehicle if the Gross Vehicular Weight is less than 6,000 pounds and you are towing a horse trailer
(b) a two-axle vehicle if the Gross Vehicular Weight is more than 6,000 pounds but the horse trailer contains goats
(c) No one, including the DMV, actually knows what a “Class C” driver’s license is

You do not have to signal a left turn:
(a) if one hand is occupied with the wheel and the other with your cell phone
(b) if you drive a black SUV
(c) because it’s nobody’s business which direction you’re turning

Children who say “Are we there yet?” more than 10 times may be:
(a) left by the side of the road
(b) given phenobarbital
(c) addressed in a tone that is not our “inside voice”

Hitting a tree at 80 miles per hour while intoxicated:
(a) is most damaging to deciduous varieties and ornamentals
(b) makes a moot point of the whole 400-feet-to-stop thing
(c) may require your estate to replace the tree

The yellow light in a traffic signal:
(a) means “speed up or you’ll miss the light!”
(b) is also known as a “pink” light if the light has already turned red when you go through it
(c) All of the above

Alcohol concentration in the blood is legally described as:
(a) “a buzz”
(b) “hammered”
(c) “basted”

Just before a train hits your car that is stalled on the railroad tracks, your last words are:
(a) #@%^**^&!
(b) @(&^%$$%!!
(c) &$#@###*&%!!!

You must stop at railroad tracks when the bell sounds and the gate goes down:
(a) if you actually have time to wait for a whole frigging freight train to go by
(b) unless you think there is room to get around the gate before the train gets there
(c) This question should have been before the last one

If you park your vehicle in an area not usually used for parking:
(a) it usually means it is a primo make-out area
(b) you have no memory after that 10th Jello shot how you got your car ended up on top of that storage shed
(c) think the parking control people are too rigid in their definition of “sidewalk”

State law requires children to be restrained in an approved car seat until:
(a) the square root of their age plus the reciprocal of their weight
(b) the square root of their weight minus the reciprocal of their height
(c) they whine so loud that you can’t stand it

When using a roundabout, drivers should:
(a) be prepared to get sucked into a vortex from which they’ll never escape
(b) petition your Congress person to outlaw roundabouts which are confusing and terrifying to just about everyone
(c) just drive over the median on the smaller ones

It is OK to smoke in a car with passengers under 16 if:
(a) the kids are not coughing violently
(b) you can still see out the windshield
(c) it really depends on what you’re smoking (wink wink)

You can make a U-turn in the middle of a block when:
(a) you see a prime parking spot on the other side of the street
(b) you spot a Taco Bell advertising a two-for-one Chalupa special
(c) Police officers pursuing you have put up a road block ahead

The best mindset toward other drivers when navigating California’s roadways is:
(a) It’s all about me
(b) It’s only about me
(c) Move over

Sunday, November 10, 2019

The DMV, Real ID, and Me

[“Let Inga Tell You, La Jolla Light, published November 13, 2019] ©2019

DMV, how do I hate thee?  Let me count the ways.

The first time your license expires after you turn 70, you have to show up in person at the DMV regardless of how good a driving record you have. I guess they want to make sure you haven’t gone blind and that you still have enough synapses firing to pass the written test.  I decided to get my Real ID at the same time.

Frankly, I’d rather clean the restroom floors at Grand Central Station with my tongue than go to the DMV.  No wait, that’s get a new iPhone.  But the DMV is a close second on my aversion list.

To even get an appointment at my preferred location, I had to register on-line with and create an account that required choosing FIVE utterly stupid security questions, the least bad of which included: “What is the name of a college you applied to but didn’t attend?”  (They have to remind me about all the places that didn’t accept me 55 years ago?)  And: “On what street is your grocery store?”  (Is this the 1950s?  Do they mean Sprouts? Trader Joe’s? Gelsons? P.B. Vons? La Jolla Vons?)  Plus: “What is the name of the doctor who delivered your first child?” (How the hell would I know? He’s adopted!) They clearly get their security questions from the same place as United.

The DMV site advises that to “save time,” one should fill out the required Driver’s License Application form, the DL 44, on-line.  Believe me, I could have saved a lot of time filling it out there.  I thought I could just sign into my account at and access it. But no, the DMV has apparently “partnered” with something called which required another whole registration process including a “two factor authentication process” that sent me a code – good for only 15 minutes - that I had to input to a window that I’d accidentally clicked out of.

Given all the horror stories I’d heard from people who were turned away at the Real ID desk for failing to have the proper documents, I tried to bring five of everything.  Puzzlingly, a California Driver’s license is not acceptable as one of the proofs of ID for a Real ID.  (So is ours an UnReal ID? An Ersatz ID? A Wannabe ID?)  It basically has to be a passport or a birth certificate.  But not so fast. The name on the birth certificate has to be the same one that will be on your Real ID which means it works for 99.9% of men and about two percent of women.  Otherwise your stack of documents need to include an original copy of your marriage certificate. Probably just as well in my case. My birth certificate, after 72 years moldering in various safety deposit boxes, had the consistency of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Handing it over to the DMV lady would have been its last hurrah.

BTW, while you can download the 132-page Driver’s Handbook on-line, actual copies of it reside in public libraries (the College Room at the La Jolla Riford Library, in our case.) This is the best kept secret in California.

So I read the manual, carefully underlining all the number stuff (speed limits, how tall a kid has to be not to have to ride in a car seat, etc. etc.)  I took eight practice tests on-line and aced them, even learning a few things like you can no longer smoke in a car with kids under 16.  When I was growing up in the 50s, it was amazing parents could see out the windshield.

One question I kept getting wrong: that it is illegal to park in an "unmarked crosswalk."  Inquiring minds wanted to know how you know its a crosswalk if it's unmarked.  Turns out an unmarked crosswalk is the portion of the roadway at an intersection 10-feet wide that would connect opposite sides of the street.  (My second PSA of this column.)

I have to say that some of the questions on the practice tests were freebies, like what does a "No U-Turn" sign mean? In fact, there ought to be a few key questions on each test that are automatic fails, like under what circumstances you can mow down pedestrians and blind people.

Two days before my appointment at the DMV, I decided to take a few more practice tests - and failed 14 out of 18.  These questions were exponentially harder: What is a crossbuck sign? (It's the X-shaped railroad crossing sign.)  How many classes of mopeds are there? (Three.)  What does a pentagonal sign mean? (School.)  The average California driver would know "pentagonal" means five-sided? 

I was in full-scale panic mode the morning of the test.  Fortunately, the questions were of the type on my first set of practice tests and I got a perfect score.  (What I couldn't do was work the test machine.)

Well, theoretically, I have a Real ID on its way to me and I will hopefully be dead (or not driving) the next time my license expires.  It's all I can hope for. 

Monday, October 28, 2019

Inquiring Minds Want To Know

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published October 30, 2019]  ©2019

From time to time, my husband has observed, “it must be really hard living inside your head.”  Alas, this is often true.  I wish brains could have a turn off switch where you could say, “OK, we’re done for today! Do not even think of contacting me again until at least 7 a.m.”  But my brain just never wants to quit.  Around 2 a.m. I wake up and start pondering both ponderables and imponderables.  They just won’t go away no matter what tricks I use to get them to shut up.

Now, both the good news and the bad news is that a lot of these issues can be answered without even getting out of bed if you have your Smart Phone plugged in on the bedside table.  But looking things up in the middle of the night is a slippery slope.  Once your phone has seduced you to turn it on, you suddenly need to check the weather, email, your favorite advice column, the latest news.  Then you’re truly never going back to sleep. 

Here are a few things I have recently pondered late at night:

(1) What is the difference between flotsam and jetsam?
(2) Why don’t Eskimos have scurvy?
(3) What did the appendix used to do before it became an obsolete organ?
(4) When TV commercials get cut off in the middle, which they often do, does the advertiser still have to pay?
(5) Why do international political conflicts among countries always seem reminiscent of youth soccer teams? 
(6) What percentage of the bandwith is taken up with selfies?
(7) Numerous books have been written by people who purport to have come back from heaven.  Why hasn’t anyone come back from hell?
(8)  What does the dog think when it sees you naked?
(9)  Is it truly darkest before dawn?
(10) Why can’t a woodchuck chuck wood?
(11) What IS a woodchuck, anyway?
(12) How can there be fat-free Half & Half?
(13) How many angels CAN dance on the end of a pin and why exactly do we care?
 (14)  How can so many writers all  be “New York Times No. 1 Bestselling Authors”? 
(15) If you really like Couple A and you really like Couple B, why do Couples A and B never hit it off at your dinner party?
(16) Can you have two colds at once?  If you already have a cold then someone you know has a cold too but with different rhinoviri, can you get their cold as well?
(17) Why do dogs sleep so much?
(18) How did early man keep from freezing to death in cold climates, even with fire?
(19) Are clams really happy?
(20) Why is the plural of moose “moose” and not mooses or meese?  (Think tooth/teeth, goose/geese)
And most puzzling of all:
(21) Why does melted cheese taste so much better than the same cheese at room temperature?

I think you’ll agree that no one could sleep with all that circulating among their circuits. There is not room to answer even all the answerables on this list, but here is the result of my (daylight hours) research on a few:

 Jetsam is debris deliberately thrown in the water; flotsam was not.

There is enough Vitamin C in raw meat and fish to prevent scurvy.

The appendix’ possible function was to help early humans digest plant cellulose, like tree bark.

Most dogs that sleep 22 hours a day have nothing else to do.

Woodchucks are actually the same as groundhogs and are herbivores who have no interest in chucking wood. 

The phrase is actually “happy as a clam in high water,” i.e. high tide where it is protected from hungry humans. Clams’ actual mental state has never been scientifically assessed, even by NIH.

Moose is likely derived from an Algonquin language that didn’t have plurals; also, the English language just has tons of annoying exceptions designed to annoy foreigners learning our language and native speakers as well. 

It is only darkest before dawn in the human psyche; scientifically, it is darkest at the midpoint between dusk (sundown) and dawn (sunrise).

 As for Hell, it probably has those tire shredder things so that once you’re in, you can’t back out.

Yes, you can have two colds at once; it’s called “co-infection. The “fat” half of Half & Half was replaced with corn syrup. 

That Couple A and Couple B didn’t hit it off at your dinner party is truly one of life’s imponderables. 

International political conflicts have exactly the same dynamics as youth soccer teams: constantly changing teams and alliances.  

Humans have evolved to prefer smoothness, gooeyness and warmth in food, the essence of melted cheese.

You don’t want to know what the dog thinks when it sees you naked.
Now go to sleep already.

Monday, October 21, 2019

The Power Of Dogs

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published October 23, 2019] ©2019

After our beloved English bulldog Winston died suddenly of a heart attack in our living room in 2016, Olof and I were so flattened that we swore we’d never have another dog.  But a local rescue agency with radar for mushballs asked us to foster several dogs “just for a week,” and before we knew it, we were suddenly the adoptive parents of Lily, a 7-year-old 15-pound bichon-poodle with rotten teeth and breath so bad it could scorch your eyebrows.  This was apparently why she had been relinquished by her former owner.

Like Winston, she also turned out to have pretty serious allergies. I informed our vet that we were adopting another allergy-afflicted dog who also had serious dental issues, so she could go ahead and put down the deposit on that Mercedes. We consider Lily’s medical care our new 401k. 

Like many dogs, Lily considers it her personal duty to defend us from faunish peril, including and especially tiny lizards.  Our back doors are open pretty much year-round to let air in and Lily out, so it is not surprising that occasionally a small reptile makes a wrong turn and ends up in the house.  Recently Lily saw one scurry from the hallway into the guest bath.  An alien life form had breached the barricades and invaded her personal territory! Totally unacceptable!  When I came to investigate her hysterical barking, I found her she standing at alert just outside the open bathroom door, one foot up in pointer position.  This would make more sense if she were actually a pointer, rather than a bichon-poodle mix.  But she wanted me to be clear that the intruder was still in there. “You will not go in there on my watch!”  she seemed to be saying. 

But go in there and rout it out herself?  Hell no. 

And while we’re on the subject of bathrooms, it is not surprising that dogs would consider bathroom activities to be social events.  From Lily’s perspective, every time she makes a shadoobie, we’re always standing right there, opaque bag at the ready.  The fact that we don’t seem to need bags ourselves is irrelevant; it’s still a communal activity.  If the bathroom door is not closed tightly, Lily will nose it open and join the occupant. In fact, she’s fairly annoyed if you exclude her and will park herself just outside the door where you can easily trip over her and do a face plant into the armoire which would serve you right for being so anti-social.

Once inside the bathroom, she will join Olof as he stands in front of the commode. She assesses the proceedings with the laser focus of an Olympic Figure Skating judge.  Artistic presentation? Meh. But given the added difficulty elements inherent in Olof being 72, she is more than willing to bump up the score for technical merit.

Once Lily’s dental problems had been ameliorated to the tune of $1,500, she began eating voraciously and quickly packed on four more pounds.  You don’t have to be a mathematician to realize that four pounds on a 15-pound dog is not a desirable percentage of weight gain.  Every month when she goes in for her CADI shot (immunotherapy allergy shot) she gets a weigh-in as well. 

“Lily, you little porker!” we admonish her in front of the vet if she’s over 20 pounds.  We swear that she has somehow figured out how to get into the refrigerator after we’re asleep despite the lack of teeth marks in the cheddar. “It’s middle-aged spread, Lily,” I say sympathetically on our way out.  ‘Happens to the best of us.”

While Lily has become fast friends with our pool guy, she regards our lawn maintenance man as her mortal enemy.  The second he shows up on Wednesdays with his lawn mower, 19.9 pounds of enraged white fluff is hurling itself at our French doors.  “He’s stealing our grass!  Again! And you let him!”  She is eager to sink her three remaining teeth into the side of his mower. Despite her lack of bravura in the face of small reptiles, she is unafraid of machinery. 

We really have no idea what Lily’s first seven years were like other than that she was obviously abused by male persons. We learned this after Olof returned home shortly after the foster agency had dropped off Lily for her “one week stay” and she sank her teeth into Olof’s leg.  But she has gotten over that, and is utterly devoted to Olof. In the morning, Lily likes to wake up Olof for her morning walk by standing on his chest and engaging in what he calls “nuclear kissy face” – a full-on doggie saliva facial guaranteed to make sure she cannot be ignored.

From being adamant that we would never have another dog after Winston, we can only ask ourselves:  how would we ever live without one?

 Lily visiting the grandkids in Los Angeles

Lily and Olof on Lily's 10th birthday Oct. 11, 2019

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Toilet Paper Roll Inflation: Stop The Madness!

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published October 16, 2019] ©2019

I hope you’re paying attention because this is a serious subject.  I’m talking toilet paper roll inflation. 

There was a time, and I’m talking like five years ago, that toilet paper rolls were pretty standard.  This, of course, was because the toilet paper dispensers in most bathrooms were pretty standard too.  But then Double Rolls came along – twice as much toilet paper in one roll so you presumably only had to change it half as often, unless you had a toddler who liked to grab the end and run through the house with it.  (I once had such a toddler.)  Or in a moment of temporary insanity, you went for the street food in Tijuana.  (No amount of toilet paper in the world will cover that.) 

Fortunately, the Double Rolls still fit on the toilet paper-dispensing spindles in my 1947 house.  But then Mega Rolls suddenly appeared which purported to be equivalent to four regular rolls, or two double rolls.  As a senior citizen, I do not need to annoy my few remaining synapses with toilet paper math. 

Of course, none of this matters since the Mega Rolls don’t fit in my toilet paper dispensers anyway.  If you need an industrial-sized shoe horn to wedge it in there, it doesn’t roll, which is, after all, the point of the thing. I have accidentally bought Mega Rolls several times when I was in a hurry because increasingly, that’s what’s on the shelf. 

But just when you think it can’t get any crazier, now there are Super Mega Rolls, which purport to be the equivalent of 36 regular rolls (or 18 Double Rolls or nine Mega Rolls) crammed into six giganto wads for which I’d have to buy a free standing dispenser that I’d have to set in the bathtub of my tiny little bathroom. 


I’m sure you’ll agree that Feature Inflation has already consumed our country in the form of consumer goods that have increasing numbers of idiotic features added to them for no other reason than manufacturers seem to think that people want them. For example, alarm clocks that have a choice of six revolving glow-at-night colors all of which make it impossible to find the controls that actually set the alarm.  (I was gifted with one. I hate it.) 

Major appliances are even worse.  It is my personal view that any appliance for which you need a manual is poorly designed.  My husband might rephrase that as any appliance I can’t work without consulting a manual is not only poorly designed but, if small enough, should be hauled out to the driveway and run over with my car.  I have a very low frustration tolerance for electronics. 

Feature Creep truly terrifies me.  This is why I will ultimately end up in Assisted Living.  Not because of my health but because I can’t fix the remote on my TV after I’ve accidentally pushed one of the dozens of useless buttons on the damn thing. I will need to live in a place where they have people who do that. 

(This is the career of the future, millennials.  House calls to help us oldies override all the features on our Smart appliances.  You could make a living.)

I realize it’s a bit of a stretch from toilet paper inflation to feature creep to grade inflation, but it’s really all part of the same scary mind set. When I was reading articles this spring about high school valedictorians, I was amazed to read that some had Grade Point Averages over 6 – on a 4-point scale.  When my sons went to high school, the only classes that were weighted to 5 were actual Advanced Placement courses since they were considered college level and counted as college credit. If you took every AP class the school offered, the maximum GPA you could achieve was 4.3.  Now it appears that you can get GPAs of 5 or even 6.  If toilet paper roll inflation is any indication, will there be 10-point GPAs on a 4-point scale?

OK, time to take my nitroglycerin pill.

I maintain that toilet paper rolls are symptomatic of our society’s constant desire for bigger, better (I’d dispute better), more. 

There’s nothing I can do about grade inflation or feature creep. Sometimes you just have to pick your battles. This is why I implore you all to write to your Congress person and implore them to pass legislation about toilet paper roll inflation.  What’s after “Super Mega”?  Super-Duper Mega? Super-Duper-Ultra-Wowie-Zowie Mega?  Will toilet paper rolls become the size of basketballs?  Will you need special dispensers mounted on your ceiling that could fall on your head in an earthquake and knock you unconscious? (If you live in California, you can’t be too careful.) This is a real threat unless we fight the Toilet Paper Industrial Complex now!

Meanwhile, start hoarding those Double Rolls.  They’re a vanishing breed. 

Regular, Double, Mega, and Super Mega Rolls

Even un-rolling a third of this Mega Roll, it is too
tight for the dispenser

 Original size toilet paper roll: Virtually extinct

Double Rolls: still roll-able

 Too big for toilet paper dispensers in my house


Monday, September 30, 2019

Memory Lane - Part III

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published October 2, 2019] ©2019

In honor of the tenth anniversary of Let Inga Tell You, and having run out of pretty much anything else to say (not that this will stop me from writing the column), I have been mining my memories of Pleasantville High School Class of ’65 and our subsequent reunions in my last two columns.  Try to contain your excitement.  In order to get people to read past the first paragraph, I’ve been intentionally inserting the name of my Pulitzer-prize-winning classmate, Dave Barry. 

While my husband, Olof, had accompanied me back east for my 50th reunion, he had elected to forego the reunion itself and decided that it would be an upper instead to tour the battlefields in Gettysburg. Fortunately for me, the huge storm that was about to hit the Northeast held off long enough for my tiny toy plane to fly into the Westchester County Airport. Olof observed later that the Gettysburg battlefields probably show better when not under water.

In his various books, Dave Barry has written frequently about his high school hair style which I think he describes using the word “ferret.” Or maybe it was a weasel.  But definitely something in the fur-bearing carnivorous mammalian family of creatures with (I learned this while Googling “weasel genus”) well-developed anal scent glands. I just know Dave could make some exquisitely trenchant observation about high school life with that information. And to borrow from Dave, “Weasel Genus” would make a great name for a band. 

Anyway, he should go back and look at the girls’ yearbook photos.  We all look like we’re wearing helmets, which essentially we are, lacquered into submission by prodigious quantities of AquaNet. A flip at the bottom was a common variation. The main requirement was that your hair moved in solidarity with your head. Actually, I could really have used that look (and the AquaNet) at the 40th reunion during Tropical Storm Tammy.  Is it coincidental that our reunions always seem to be accompanied by Category 3 weather events? 

While PHS’s standard Friday night reunion event had always been a pizza party at the American Legion Hall, at the 50th, the reunion committee opted instead for an exciting upgrade which was walking in the high school’s graduation ceremonies ahead of the graduates followed by dinner at the school cafeteria. When I heard that my classmates had voted for this event, I could only wonder: Were they all on food stamps? Further, I thought this was a rotten thing to do to the new graduates: like, if they work hard their whole lives and don't die of cancer, WE'RE what they have to look forward to?  Third, I avoided that cafeteria like the plague in high school so flying across the country to eat there wasn’t really high on my list. As it was later disclosed, the vote for the graduation/cafeteria event was 12-10, the other 150 classmates having failed to vote one way or the other. 

Fortunately, the Saturday night event stayed with tradition: a dinner dance at the Pleasantville County Club which, due to Pleasantville’s draconian zoning, is still pretty much the only game in town.  Seriously, you can come back to Pleasantville, New York 50 years later and it hasn’t changed. Our Famous Classmate, Dave Barry, came to the Saturday night event with his wife and their 15-year-old daughter who bore up bravely but could be seen tapping away on her phone. I would have killed to see the hashtags: #geezerfest  #worstnightofmylife  #sincewhenisthismusic  #Illneverbebadagain #oyveyYMCA?

Since we were all 67-68 at the 50th reunion, there was, not surprisingly, a lot of health and diet talk. One of my classmates appeared to have been dropped into a vat of new age elixir: everything was “meant to be,” all choices were OK. But what was truly lovely was how unfiltered conversations were. Maybe it’s because we’ve finally dropped all the pretenses. Or maybe we’re borderline senile. Regardless, the dialog was all refreshingly honest. Then again, maybe in high school you don’t want conversations to be that honest.

As with the 40th, I got the award for coming the farthest although not before a challenge by somebody from Washington state was settled by MapQuest on our iPhones.

Emails have been coming in recently about proposed dates for the 55th next year..  We’ll all be 72.  Well, those of us who aren’t dead. And that was one of the sobering things about the 50th: about a third of the class had died.  And that was just the ones we knew about. About ten minutes into a somber memorial reading of the list, I thought, “We’re only on ‘G’?”

So who knows whether we’ll even be able to muster a quorum.  Is the Pleasantville Country Club wheelchair accessible? Alas, I doubt I’ll make the 55th.  It’s a long way to go.  I’ve also got YMCA on my iPhone playlist so I can hear it whenever I want.  

50 years later, the Pleasantville Diner has a new
facade but pretty much the same menu 

Monday, September 23, 2019

Memory Lane - Part II

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published September 25, 2019] ©2019

Well, after last week’s column I haven’t heard from my high school classmate Dave Barry’s lawyer asking me to cease and desist writing about him, so I’m going to continue taking advantage of our extremely distant association to reminisce about the Pleasantville High School class of 65’s 40th and 50th reunions. 

I would reminisce about the 10th, 20th, and 30th too but I didn’t go to them.  Too far to go to suburban New York City from San Diego.  But I was persuaded by a pathologically-persistent classmate to come to the 40th all the way from Sweden where we were living at the time.  

If I could change one thing about the 40th reunion it would be to magically remove all photographic evidence of me.  The afternoon before I left Stockholm, a stylist at a Swedish salon misunderstood my instructions for a “trim” and, a mere twelve hours before I was leaving for New York, transformed my shoulder length hair into a short, layered pixie haircut that I had no idea how to style.  (I have to take off my glasses while they do my hair.) I tried to convince myself it was not as bad as I feared, until Olof came home and said, “Hey - Sandra Dee haircut.  Great idea for your reunion!”  I hadn’t lost any weight but had hoped that at least my hair was going to look nice.  Now I was going to my reunion as a fat Sandra Dee. (And by the way, wasn’t she dead?)  I do NOT embrace change – and especially the night before my fortieth high school reunion to see people who I have not seen in four decades.  To make matters worse, Tropical Storm Tammy was due to wash through the New York City area that weekend.

Pleasantville High School reunions have a predictable itinerary.  There is the pizza party at the Armonk American Legion Hall on Friday night followed by a dinner dance at the Pleasantville Country Club whose heyday was in the 1940s.

By the time the pizza party started at the American Legion Hall, Tropical Storm Tammy had created a deluge. The humidity was about 150%, and my now-short hair, the ultimate humidity barometer, looked like my head been plugged into an electrical socket.

There was plenty of pizza, beer, wine, and soft drinks.  But no name tags, which everyone agreed was a massive oversight on the reunion committee’s part.  Instead it was kind of like a surreal Halloween party where you were trying to guess who was inside the “costume” that was their much older self.  You know there is someone you once knew in there but you’re really not sure whom. 
“Who did you come as?”
“Oh, I came as the pot-bellied gray-haired balding version of the former seventeen-year-old Joe Smith.  What about you?”
 “I’m dressed as the overweight crepe-necked three-chinned version of Home Coming princess Muffy Minton.” 
“You look great!”
“So do you!”

OK, so it didn’t quite go like that.  And for the record, I thought that as a group, we had held up extremely well. But it was like meeting all new people.  And of course, some were spouses, just to confuse the issue. Ja, really, really needed name tags. (Large print would have been even better.)

One person who didn’t need a name tag (and talk about holding up REALLY well) was our Pulitzer Prize winning classmate, Dave Barry, who attended the pizza party the first night.  Of course, we all wanted a photo with him, preferably signed “to my best friend from high school, Dave.”  He was incredibly accommodating. I, in fact, have such a photo (minus the inscription) but unless I could photoshop my hair, it will never be seen. 

What was absolutely delightful about the reunion was that nobody was trying to impress anyone; people were just being their most down-to-earth and unpretentious selves.  Whatever they may have needed to prove in the past, they seemed to have proven - or given up on. What people did for a living rarely came up. People seemed most interested in connecting with each other on a personal level.  Very refreshing indeed.  Oh, if only high school could have been like that.

It being a high school reunion, we also had to have embarrassing impromptu musical performances.  At the dinner dance at the Pleasantville County Club the second night, our table did the Supreme’s “STOP – in the name of love”. The four women from our table did the arm movements and we all sang the lyrics.  Unfortunately, we only had three copies of the lyrics for the eight of us and as we were moving, so were the lyrics. Very hard for people with bifocals to keep up, especially in such low light.  But we had fun and occasionally even got the choreography in sequence.

Stay tuned next week for the 50th reunion!

Thanks to Pleasantville's draconian zoning laws, my old street
looked exactly the same 40 years later (OK, a little leafier)

Monday, September 16, 2019

Memory Lane, Part 1

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published September 18, 2019] ©2019

Astonishingly, I am approaching the 10th anniversary of writing Let Inga Tell You, a gig I thought might last three months. But here we are.  And that is why, having written about everything I could think about writing about in my non-life, I am going to mine my high school years at Pleasantville (NY) High School and my famous classmate, whom I confess I barely know, Dave Barry. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Other than the Reader’s Digest, which wasn’t actually in Pleasantville but used the address, Dave truly is Pleasantville’s claim to fame.  In fact, probably the one enduring question of all of the alumni of PHS’s class of ’65 was, “Why wasn’t I better friends with Dave Barry?” 

One possibility is that Dave wasn’t actually from Pleasantville. He grew up in nearby Armonk that had no high school of its own at the time, so starting in 10th grade, the Armonk kids were bused to Pleasantville. Two alien populations with long established social orders who had each been together since kindergarten were suddenly inflicted upon each other. They never really entirely meshed. 

I actually remember Dave Barry as being really kind and really funny even then.  These were not qualities that were often ascribed to high school students.

I know I was in Monsieur Bombardier’s French class with him, and especially Mr. Wittern’s junior year Honors English. Mr. Wittern was a major positive influence in my writing life. I remember him telling me that he had several students, including me, for whom he was saving room on his bookshelf for our future work. Dave Barry was another.  Of course, he would have needed an entire bookcase for Dave’s. 

I’ve probably read all of Dave’s work, including his brand new book, “Lessons from Lucy,” not only because they’re hilarious but because he often writes about people and places I know well including his years at PHS. The depressing part is that while I try to write a column with two really good lines, every word he writes is hilarious. I have no idea how he does that.

I’m pretty sure I recall that homerooms were alphabetical so we would have been in the same one.  In that era, the homeroom teacher read the morning bulletin.  I wasn’t a cheerleader-popular kind of teenager, but I was very social and a good student. As a high school sophomore, however, my only elected office was secretary of the Organ Club (music, not donors).  I think it will be obvious that there was not a lot of cachet in this.

When club meetings were read, the creepo who sat next to me (definitely not Dave) would lean over and leer. “Hey, Inga, wanna play MY organ?” My husband, Olof, was fascinated by this story.  “You should have said, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t play lesser instruments,’” Olof opined.

There is one Armonkian I’m still close with to this day. I had been active in the school paper, The Green Lantern (green and white being our school colors) and was thrilled to be named Chief Editor my senior year.  So imagine my surprise at the paper’s first fall meeting when this guy I’ll call “Tom,” who had never worked a nano-second on the paper, shows up and announces he is co-Chief Editor. Turns out he was applying to Yale and his guidance counselor thought he needed at least one extracurricular activity.  Preferably a prestigious one. So she arranged with the paper’s faculty advisor for Tom to be Co-Chief Editor. My first experience with graft and corruption.

Tom and I ended up bonding over my doing absolutely everything and him doing absolutely nothing.  We are in regular contact to this day.  He still sends me affectionate messages alluding to our time together on the yearbook. “Tom, you effing moron,” I always reply, “it was the newspaper!”

BTW, admissions crime does pay.  Tom did go to Yale and on to a highly prestigious career. Presumably all based on his faux credential of being Co-Chief Editor of the Green Lantern.

But back to Dave. What I really want to thank him for is my colonoscopy.  Some years back, my gastro guy recommended one to me and, noting my lack of enthusiasm, proceeded to hand me Dave’s hilarious column on the subject from a stack on his desk. So in awe was the gastro that I had actually gone to high school with the guy who had written the Definitively Funny Essay on Colonoscopies that he lost all interest in discussing my large intestine, as astonishing as that may seem. Still, I like to think that on the day of the procedure, my colon got deferential, if not reverential, treatment because of Dave. 

Interesting, my next colonoscopy eight years later, when I didn’t mention Dave, was a disaster. I therefore recommend that people tell their gastroenterologist that they went to high school with Dave Barry whether they did or not.

OK, just warming up!  Coming weeks: More Pleasantville memories!

Pleasantville High School, June, 2015