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

Monday, September 2, 2019

Home Alone

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published September 4, 2019] ©2019

While I feel that my engineer husband, Olof, and I are hugely compatible, the Venn diagram of our marriage often doesn’t have a lot of overlapping travel circles.  I wrote previously about a trip he took last year with four fellow-physics-major college roommates that was basically a geek fest tour of the Pacific Northwest.  They took in the Boeing factory, then Reactor B, and apparently got positively misty-eyed at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory in Hanford.  The only people who had more fun than they did were their wives who didn't have to go. 

Another trip on Olof’s bucket list has been the annual air show (AirVenture) in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. A former Air Force pilot, Olof loves all things aviation.  Some months ago, Olof and two local friends devised a plan to take the train (Olof loves long-distance train travel as well) across the country to Chicago and drive up to Oshkosh for the festivities.  The air show itself actually sounded pretty cool to me but three days in a train across the Midwest was about two and a half days more than I was enthused about.  I’ve driven it.  A little bit of prairie goes a long way in my view. 

It amazes me that you can actually get Wi-Fi much of the time on a train even in long stretches through Nebraska, so we were able to talk regularly. I think Wi-Fi would have really improved the trip for all those folks who trekked across the country in covered wagons. Probably a lot less “are we there yet?” whining from the pioneer kids. And don’t even get me going on how it could have helped the Donners.

I’ve written before about how Olof has always been underwhelmed with my kitchen cleanup standards which, seriously, are not that bad. Since he retired, he’s been the official dishwasher. He even sweeps the kitchen floor every single night to get the five crumbs the dog didn’t get to first.  Why one would want to spend one’s golden years sweeping is beyond me.

But when he’s traveling, he enjoys engaging me in affectionate if savage banter about how the household is faring without him. I don’t usually do a whole lot of cooking (translation: none) while Olof is gone which really cuts down on dishes.  If I may say so, I’ve done a whole more dishes in my lifetime than he has and frankly, I’m over them.  And if they accumulate in the sink for a few days, I can live with it.  It’s my own version of the Law of the Conservation of Energy.  I conserve energy by not doing it. 

I still have an email exchange from Olof’s trip last year.  I had texted Olof a photo of the kitchen with nothing on the counters.

Inga: This is a quiz. What’s wrong with this picture?
Olof: You’ve eaten out every single meal?
Inga: No, I ran the dishwasher! 
Olof: You know how?
Inga: Ooooo, I never knew you had this vicious side when I married you! 
Olof: I figured you’d just open the dishwasher and let Lily lick the dishes.
Inga:  Dang! You’ve discovered my secret. I usually let her lick the counters when she’s done. Oops! Shouldn’t have said that!

I do have to say that Lily was distressed to have her usual routine disrupted, and Olof was concerned on her behalf.  He was especially concerned about Lily not getting her usual 6:45 a.m. walk, their daily ritual. Sure enough, while Olof was gone, at precisely 6:45 a.m. (still the night before, in my view), she’d be batting my head with her paw breathing doggy breath in my face.  “Time to get up! Let’s go for a walk!” Fortunately, I only needed to get up, open the back door to the patio and point Lily in the direction of the back yard to fulfill any pressing early morning needs she may have. I texted Olof a photo of Lily plodding out to the backyard and hash tagged it #self service.  He texted back: “So sad! And hungry too!” He tacked on a teary emoji.  Let me be clear that this dog was well fed and exercised in Olof’s absence.  She just didn’t get it on his timetable.

Thunderstorms in the Mid-West caused the train to arrive in Chicago 13 hours late, which is even worse than our typical experience on United. So after three days on the train, the guys were fairly glad to finally get off and drive to Oshkosh.  One of the chief attractions for Olof at the air show was the opportunity to ride on vintage planes, including the Ford Tri-Motor of which only eight airworthy aircraft still exist.  I have to say it sounded really cool. But I have to sign off now. He’s coming home tomorrow and I have ten days’ worth of dishes to do. 

 Olof and friends riding Ford Tri-Motor

#Self service, 6:45 a.m.