Monday, January 21, 2019

It's A Question of Balance

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

It’s a topic I’ve written about before, but “smart” appliances have totally run amok.  Some months ago, I wrote about a friend’s dryer that had an auto “wrinkle control” feature that fluffed up dried clothes every 30 seconds until the door was opened.  The friends went on a trip to Europe having put clothes in the dryer before they left. It was still fluffing when they returned.

I thought that was hilarious until we bought a new washer recently. Now, I know from writing on this topic previously that there are plenty of other people out there who long for the days of simple washers who let you do the thinking.  We had hung on to our previous washer for 16 years on the advice of repair persons who said the newer ones were not nearly as good as this one.  But ultimately the machine’s transmission went bad (a really expensive repair) and we sent it to the big appliance repair yard in the sky.

If I had it to do over again, I’d put in a new transmission.

Our washer options are severely limited by the fact that it has to fit into a very limited space, making even a quarter of an inch a deal breaker.  We bought the simplest washer that would fit.  It was the same brand we had before, so how different could it be?

Oh, let me count the ways.

The first time I turned it on, I knew within seconds that something was terribly wrong. The machine sounded like it was gasping for air, or at least gear engagement.  No properly working machine should ever sound like this one does.  Except, of course, that the first page of the manual, obviously dealing with this issue on a regular basis, assures you under “Normal sounds you should expect” that it does.  Our dog is terrified of it.

Every time it switches from one cycle to the next, the pipes in the whole house reverberate. 

Unlike washers of old (which is to say, good washers), you don’t distribute the items evenly around the agitator but instead drop them in polite clumps and let the washer distribute them as its own faulty idiotic sensors see fit. 
When I ran a full load, I was astonished to discover that the water level was barely five inches and hardly covered the clothes.  But the manual notes that “this is normal operation for a high efficiency washer” and “the load will not be completely under water.”  So, are we dry cleaning here?

I have to use a special detergent marked HE (High Efficiency) which apparently is low-sudsing (to go with the non-water level).  Regular detergent will apparently break the machine if used continuously.
It tangles up all my sheets into knots. 

The spin cycle is so aggressive that I fully expect the clothes to come flying out the top of the washer. 

And don't even get me going on the "Lid Lock" feature.

But worst of all: all those blankets that I have been washing for years in my old machine throw this one off balance.  And I mean, if I weren’t home to turn it off, that machine would be in our living room.  KA-THUNKA KA-THUNKA. It sounds like it’s spin-cycling a bowling ball.

No matter which cycle I used, how I distributed the blankets, or what other items (or lack of items) I put in with a heavier blanket, this machine will implode. Ultimately, I have to have Olof drag a 90-pound sodden blanket out to the patio and let it drip dry enough to put in the dryer.  Even then, we’re afraid it’s going to break the dryer. 

I read the manual numerous times before calling for a warranty call about the balance issue.  The repair guy who came did say that I should ignore the self-balance instructions with the heavier cotton blankets and drape it around the agitator.  Not that this helped when he himself tried it even using the recommended “bulky items” option. 

His conclusion: “This blanket is too heavy for this machine.”  It’s a COTTON BLANKET.

As for the ridiculously low water levels, he explained that “this is a California washer” and these very low water levels are now mandated. I’m wondering if there’s a black market for, say, Nevada washers.  

But here’s the kicker:  He put the machine through all the diagnostic tests, including checking its struts and making sure the machine is properly balanced, all of which it passed. (It should, it’s a brand-new effing machine!)  But because it passed all its tests, he is supposed to charge me for a service call - even under warranty! – because the problem is considered “customer error.”  But seeing the look on my face, he created a phony error message that he phonily fixed so the call was free. Because he would not want to be run through this machine’s spin cycle. 

This constitutes the "spin cycle" of our new washer:
24 hours dripping on our patio

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Joy Of Granddaughters

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

I wrote last week about finding the ideal Christmas gift for Olof:  a slide rule.  I’d like to report that it is being lovingly slid on a daily basis.  Who knew there were so many reasons to calculate a logarithm?

But this Christmas was special for another milestone: For the first time ever,  I finally got to buy a grandchild a pair of earrings, in this case some sapphire-ish studs, her birthstone, to adorn her newly-pieced eight-year-old ears.

My adult life has included two husbands (I’m still married to one of them), two sons, two nephews, and a dog named Winston.  Nary a girl in sight until two lovely young women deigned to marry my sons (truthfully, we thought the ladies could do better) and produced two granddaughters (as well as three grandsons).  

I adore all five more than life itself.  But boys?  Been there, done that.  My sons were never all that interested in lunch and shopping.  And maybe that’s the good news. 

Hours after my first granddaughter’s birth, my fantasies went wild about all the things that we would do. I fervently hoped she would join a long line of proud feminists and enjoy learning about how her great-great, and great-great-greatgrandmothers were passionate suffragists, dedicated to the right of women to vote. 

It was clear to me when my sons were young that boys and girls were very different beings.  We would be at the home of a friend who had only girls, and my sons would be tearing around the house while the daughters were sitting on the floor dressing Barbies.  Clearly annoyed, the friend would say, “Could you please ask your sons to play quietly?”  And I’d think, “Sure, I can ask, but good luck with that.”  It’s not that they couldn’t be controlled or even compelled to sit, but “playing quietly” was an oxymoron.  It didn’t take too long until we pretty much didn’t have friends who only had girls. Not that girls can’t be holy terrors themselves. 

My two granddaughters (my other son produced a daughter 18 months after his brother did) are polar opposites.  Yet when they come together, they bond like long-lost siblings, perhaps because neither has a sister or even female cousin of her own.  Although both are theoretically Californians, I think they regard each other as exotic foreign exchange students,  each marveling at the dramatically different life of the other.

My older granddaughter lives in the uber-competitive world of West L.A.  She and her brothers all play multiple sports (both of their parents did in their youths as well) starting with Soccer Skills class at 18 months. It’s a rare holiday weekend that doesn’t include at least one tournament.

In a galaxy far far away, my younger granddaughter spends her weekends in Santa Cruz hiking public lands (for which they have annual passes) with her older brother and her parents, and invited friends, picking berries with which they make pies or jams when they get home. They raise chickens in the back yard for fresh eggs, and otherwise lead an unfrenetic life of wholesome organic-ness. 

When both granddaughters were here in July of 2017 for Olof’s and my joint 70th birthday celebration, I regularly fielded queries from one about the other.  West L.A. granddaughter observed in total astonishment, “Mormor, did you know that Molly doesn’t play a single sport?”  West L.A. granddaughter could not even fathom that there were children who didn’t have assorted athletic bags piled up by the front door.

Santa Cruz granddaughter was equally puzzled.  “So, you have to go somewhere after school every single day?”  She could not imagine that this would be a chosen life.

One afternoon when all the grandkids were in the pool, Santa Cruz granddaughter announced that she had to go to the bathroom.  So she jumped out of the pool, went behind the nearest semi-camouflaging philodendron, pulled down her suit, went, pulled it back up, and was back in the pool all within a matter of 30 seconds. 

West L.A. granddaughter was dumbstruck.  “Mormor,” she asked me later, “is that allowed?”
“Well,” I said, “it sort of depends on who your parents are.  And where you live.”  I explained that in her cousin’s world, she spends a lot of time hiking around park lands where there are not actual bathrooms, so that’s what you do. 

But the young ladies were a solidly united front hawking cherry tomatoes from our plants at our front gate at exorbitant prices to generous passers-by.  Farmer’s markets were a language they both understood.

When I learned that my older granddaughter had recently had her ears pierced, I was thrilled at the opportunity of a first-ever purchase of earrings for a child or grandchild.  I don’t know who got more pleasure from it, me shopping for them or her wearing them.  But it’s a whole new era. And I’m loving it. 

Monday, January 7, 2019

A Slide Rule Finds Its Forever Home

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published January 9, 2019] ©2018

It becomes harder and harder to find really special gifts for Olof at Christmas, especially when he has everything he wants, buys it himself if he doesn’t, and we’re always trying to downsize.  But this year I hit the jackpot: a slide rule.

Let me be clear that there aren’t that many people left who even know what a slide rule is, much less covet one.  Or know how to use one.  Or wouldn’t rather just calculate on their Apple Watch 4. 

In Olof’s and my youth (see “Mesolithic era”) there were, astonishingly, no handheld electronic calculators.  The really geeky guys (they were always guys) had slide rules which are mechanical analog computers, a phrase that I’m sure helps you as little as it did me.  (By “computers”, we mean a device that helps you compute rather than something you plug into a power circuit.)  Sliding the little bar thingey (not its technical name) back and forth you could do multiplication and division and also functions such as exponents, roots, logarithms, and trigonometry if you knew or cared what those were.  Olof informs me it was accurate to three places. 

Now, one would think that there would be a ton of cheap slide rules available out there for the mathematically sentimental, until you then realize that those two terms are mutually exclusive.  What was astonishing as I began my search was that searching “slide rule” on Amazon usually just got you pictures of slide rules on coffee mugs, T-shirts, and even wall paper. 

Suffice to say, the better source was eBay, and not surprisingly, every option was labeled “pre-owned.”  If you own stock in a company that claims to make new slide rules, you should sell.   A technologically-savvy neighbor helped me weed through the choices and ultimately found one that, while pre-owned, appeared to be new.  The seller apologetically noted that the case was engraved in gold with the name “William G. Vande Logt” presumably making it less valuable (unless your name was William G. Vande Logt). 

I was sold the second I saw it.  A slide rule with a back story! Does life get better than that? 

When it came, the leather case and carry strap (if you wanted to wear it on your belt to look super-geeky), were still in its original box. The documentation underneath it was literally crumbling and didn’t appear to have ever been removed.

William Vande Logt appeared to have been underwhelmed with this gift. 

I immediately Googled his obligingly-unusual name and found the obituary notice of his death on May 10, 2012 at the age of 81.  He had been employed by Zenith Electronics Corporation for 50 years in the Chicago area, was an avid golfer, had no children, was pre-deceased by his wife, beloved by nieces and nephews, and greatly mourned by his dog Breezy. 

But apparently not a slide rule guy. 

So I’m thinking a slide rule like this was likely given as a high school graduation present, which in Mr. Vande Logt’s case would have been 1949.  But who gave it to him? And was there a message there?  A father who dreamed of his son going into some prestigious engineering career?  Was this a sore subject?

One thing for sure:  this slide rule had never been slid.

It took a certain amount of brute force to move the middle bar which Olof notes will require an overdue application of lube, or at least some occasional use. 

I’m imagining Bill Van de Logt eagerly opening what he thinks is going to be whatever the hot new gadget was in 1949 and finding…a slide rule.  I can see the long face even now.  But why didn’t it end up in the nearest Salvation Army bin? OK, maybe because it had his name on it. 

So, what has this slide rule been up to since it was presented to Mr. Vande Logt?  Well, besides nothing for at least 63 years until his passing in 2012.  Mr. Vande Logt had no children to whom he could inflict this long-ago excoriated gift.  And what about the last six years until it was apologetically (given the personalization on the case) put on the eBay auction block? 

Inquiring minds would love to know. 

Our grandkids were quickly bored with Olof’s Christmas morning gift since it didn’t actually DO anything.  We explained to them that a slide rule was not the same as an abacus (one of them had heard of this) which pre-dated us by at least a decade. Our four-year-old grandson asked if we could put it down and help him sync his new remote-controlled tank to his iPad. 

Well, Bill, your slide rule has waited a long time for the loving home it has always deserved.  And if that’s not a warm fuzzy spirit-of-Christmas story, I don’t know what is.