Monday, August 3, 2020

Stop Ghosting And Start Apologizing

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published August 5, 2020] ©2020

Welcome to Auntie Inga’s Geriatric Curmudgeon Hour, pandemic version. 

The first topic I will whine about today is Telephone Manners and Ghosting. I regularly read in advice columns about people who meet prospective dates on various brutally-cruel, flat-out dishonest dating apps, go out on what seems like a perfect first date, then never hear from the guy again. The letter writers being women (usually), they just assume the guy is busy at work and therefore unable to answer the two or three or 25 flirty casual follow-up texts they sent.  But having given him every benefit of the doubt for three weeks, they finally concluded they’ve just been ghosted, that the guy is too much of a coward to say, “I enjoyed it but I don’t think I want to go out again.” 

I fortunately am not in the dating world as I have the teeniest tendency to be vengeful.  But I notice that variations of ghosting seem to have permeated the social stratum in general. Like failing to reply to simple direct queries, like, “are you available on this date?” or even “how are you?”  Is no answer an answer? 

There similarly seems to be a preponderance of people, particularly millennial people, who think that seeing a “missed call” on your cell phone is the equivalent of a message.  They called.  They didn’t get you. 

In Gestalt Therapy, which was popular in the 1970’s, there was a phrase, “Not to decide is to decide.”  Is the new version:  Not to leave a message is to leave a message? 

Not in my world.  A message is a voice mail. Or an email.  Or an actual second attempt at a phone call.  Auntie Inga has now told you.  So stop it already. 

Our next topic is apologizing, an ancient form of social interaction, now obsolete, in which a person who has effed up royally takes it upon his or herself to try to make amends to the person to whom they were a total jerk.

As I’ve written on several occasions, my personal motto – alas, rarely followed – is  “A closed mouth gathers no feet.”  I just don’t seem constitutionally able to keep from expressing my opinion (this column being a prime example).  Hence, my mouth has swallowed whole shoe stores. 

As such, I have had way more experience apologizing than persons who utilize at least a two second brain delay before speaking.  But I think it is really important to apologize.  If there is one lesson from my parents that really stuck, it’s taking responsibility for your idiotic actions. 

In the 1970’s there was a best-selling book and later movie called “Love Story” with the tag line,   “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”  Quite possibly the most moronic tag line of all time.

Love means getting LOTS of opportunities to say you’re sorry.

It continues to baffle me that apologies, like leaving voice mail, seems to have trended down just as ghosting has trended up. 

Why can’t some people ever apologize?  By “some people,” I am referring to men. I have lived my adult life in a male-centric world, with two husbands, two sons, two nephews (no nieces) and several male dogs.  It should be noted that the dogs don’t apologize either.  But at least they look sorry. I think it has to be a mutation in the Y chromosome, probably started back in cave times when cave wife trips over the mastodon bones that cave guy couldn’t be bothered to pick up after he’d finished gnawing on them. And all Thog could offer was a lame “gee, you should be more careful.” 

I’ve always thought that just because Certain People weren’t very good at actually apologizing, they at least knew in their hearts that they should have.  So I was totally astonished to read a Smithsonian “research” article not long ago with the title “People who never apologize are probably happier than you.”  Let me first speculate that the authors are world-class non-apologizers.

Anyway, they “tested” (can you tell how dubious I am about this whole line of scientific inquiry?) the common assumption that apologizing will make you feel better.  Their “findings”?   “When you refuse to apologize, it actually makes you feel more empowered.  That power and control seems to translate into greater feelings of self-worth. People who refuse to apologize ended up with boosted feelings of integrity.”

Inga’s findings:  If your sense of empowerment and integrity comes from failing to apologize to someone you have genuinely wronged, then you are a world class jerk and probably have tiny man parts.  I’m talking to you, “scientists.” 

We are all increasingly grumpy in these pandemic times. Me especially. (Can you tell?)  I have long felt there is nothing like a good whine, preferably accompanied by a good wine, to improve your day. So stop ghosting, leave a message, and apologize when you’re an idiot.  Inga says so.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

How To Kill Your Home's Value

[“Let Inga Tell You, La Jolla Light, published July 29, 2020] ©2020

Anyone who has been reading my column for a while knows that I’m a sucker for those internet articles about how to make yourself look 20 pounds thinner (Photoshop?) or what your car says about you (um, cheap?)  Recently I read one entitled “14 mistakes that will kill your home’s value.”  I was dismayed to see that half of them applied to my home.  Fortunately none of them were done by us. Even more fortunately, we’re not planning to move anytime soon.

I do have to say that I have occasional fantasies of being able to meet for even five minutes with the builder of my home, an edifice built by the lowest bidder after the war. I can only assume there was a scarcity of quality building materials, along with the knowledge of what constitutes a square corner.  I also wouldn’t mind a brief chat with several of the previous owners to query what possessed them to inflict what I consider this home’s most egregious flaws on it.

My house is a teeny home on a really big lot.  The house next door could be similarly described.  So why, one wonders, would the builder, despite all this land, construct these two houses practically on top of each other, ten feet apart?

At least in the original configuration, the builder had the wisdom not to put any windows in the other home’s master bedroom on the side facing us.  That all changed when a house flipper bought the place, ripped out all the gorgeous sound-barrier foliage between the two properties and installed a whole row of master bedroom windows right over our patio. 

The person who purchased the flipped property – a hunky single guy with an active social life – made Sunday morning newspaper reading a whole new experience for us.  We tried to delicately convey the situation to the new neighbor by talking loudly.



One of the new neighbor’s lady friends eventually seemed to catch on to our dilemma.

Lady Friend:  Um, honey – no, don’t stop - does it seem like there are people right outside your window?

Neighbor Guy: Hrrmph?

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  When my former husband and I bought this house some four decades ago, it was a real estate boom era.  In fact, the owners made a whopping 40% on the place in the two years they’d owned it.  They probably couldn’t believe that these idiots (that would be us) were actually willing to pay that amount for a house with a dead lawn, a seriously leaking roof, hard water stalactites dripping from the faucets and a master bedroom entrance through the kitchen. (Definitely lacked feng shui.)  But we were New Yorkers. It had a palm tree and a pool.  We could have happily overlooked plutonium deposits for the palm tree alone.

Clinching the sale, they had upgraded with then-all-the-rage green shag carpeting and matching avocado appliances.  (Are you listening, granite countertops and subway tile?)

Not surprisingly, numbers 5 and 10 in the “14 Mistakes” article are “Screwing up the floor plan” and “Converting the garage.” 

Hence, it’s the 1955 owners I’d really like to chat with.  These people incomprehensibly ignored the huge potentially-view lot and decided to convert the two-car garage into a wood paneled laundry room, master bedroom, and bath. (Who panels a laundry room???) I realize that wood paneling was the hot new thing in 1955, now regularly disparaged on HGTV shows. And with good reason: it gives rooms the charm of a root cellar.

While we were away about eight years ago, our son and daughter-in-law stayed in our bedroom when they came down one weekend. Afterwards, my daughter-in-law suggested our bedroom was such a depressing cave that a bear faced with wintering there might elect not to hibernate.

Thus motivated to take action, we had the paneling painted a soft creamy white which frankly should have been done 40 years ago but has improved its livability dramatically.  But we still have to walk through the kitchen and laundry room, past the water heater, to get to it. 

It goes without saying that anyone who ends up with this house will bulldoze it and hopefully even relocate it forty feet to the west where it should have been constructed in the first place. 

So that’s my fantasy of meeting the Ghosts of Owners Past.  I’m still desperate to know what they were thinking when they made the decisions that they did. 

Now, of course, our City Council is trying to encourage people to convert the garage (or the backyard) into a rent-producing granny flat to create housing.  Not my favorite idea, frankly.  But please, skip the wood paneling.

Wood-paneled garage-conversion master bedroom, 1980
(access through laundry room)

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Test Your Coronal Comfort Zone With The Inga Index

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published July 22, 2020] ©2020

It occurred to me that one of the difficulties in these coronaviral times is that even people we think of as kindred souls have very different levels of comfort as to how much social distancing and disinfecting they require.  It would be nice if there were a scale that would give people a score that they could just pass on to their friends and relatives so you wouldn’t have to go through this whole laborious “we’re doing this but we’re not doing that” dialog.  As my contribution to pandemic living, I have created one. 

I also have to confess that I myself have had moments of Covid Psychosis. My L.A grandkids had all their summer camps cancelled and went to spend the summer with the other grandparents on the east coast.  I wanted to give them their birthday money but then started reading about the possibility that coronal cooties could live on paper bills for unknown periods of time - 2 hours to three weeks, depending on whatever Leading Authority you’re trusting that week. So after some research, I wiped the money with alcohol wipes, left it in the sun for three days, ironed the bills at the hottest setting that wouldn’t ignite them, then quarantined them for four days.  Then I looked at myself in the mirror and said, “Who ARE you?” 

Anyway, here’s my quiz:

Your general feeling about coronavirus is:
• It’s a political hoax.
• It’s all the fault of some much-maligned people far away, one of whom unfortunately decided to ingest a bat. #acaseforgoingvegan
• You are not getting on an airplane ever again.
• Four months ago you’d never even heard of Instacart.
• Are there really 400 rolls of toilet paper in the garage? 

Social gatherings with friends.  You:
• routinely attend all bar re-openings. You only have one life (and in this case, it may be a short one).
• will do Zoom happy hours only.
• will do outside happy hours if there is enough breeze to sweep away aerosols from the area (proven scientific fact).
• will do outside happy hours if the air is totally still so as not to blow aerosols on others (proven scientific fact). 
• will do outside happy hours if the hostess is clear you are ABSOLUTELY NOT comfortable consuming any food, at least until you’ve had a few drinks and eat the entire cheese platter.
• wear masks to Zoom meetings, ignoring people who make fun of you. #lastlaugh

Family interactions.  You:
• could not have imagined in your worst dreams that you saved all these years to pay $50,000 for your college student to be remotely learning at your dining room table.
• have no clue what “family groupings” actually means.
• socially distance from own children, especially if they’re teenagers.
• use home schooling time to stick pins into facsimile dolls of Zoom creator.
• will dine at the home of persons over 65 only if you stand to inherit.

Community interactions. You:
• frequently check in with neighbors, offering love and paper products. #bringingoutthebestinpeople
• have appointed self Chief of Covid Police, posting regular rants on your neighborhood Next Door about perceived non-compliance. #bringingouttheworstinpeople
• get very very mad at anyone who makes the teeniest joke about Covid-19 since it is a Very Serious Matter Not To Be Joked About Ever And That Could Be YOUR Grandmother Who Gets Sick and Dies.
• have been wearing the same blue paper mask for four months, even after it fell into a dish of seafood linguine in April.
• refuse to wear mask because it is your Constitutional right not to, according to your neighbor Jerry who is very certain about this.

Contamination containment.  You:
• wear mask as mandated by law.
• wear mask to water plants in secluded back yard.
• sleep in mask.
• make dog wear mask.
• have not left bedroom since March 1, subsisting on beef jerky and tap water.

Disinfecting measures. You:
• regularly disinfect masks plus any items entering your home.
• sterilize money.  (Public Service Announcement: Microwaving paper money for more than one minute will set it on fire. Really.)
• surreptitiously spritz elevator buttons with purse-size bottle of rubbing alcohol before touching.
• tried to steal the bottle of hand sanitizer that was duct-taped to the counter at CVS last March.
• clean Lysol wipes container with Clorox wipes.

Now here’s the problem I haven’t worked out yet: exactly how to score it.  Definitely a work in progress. But I think it could be a really useful, nay, essential tool in this Covid world.  Instead of trying to assess just how strict – or lax – someone is about following Covid regulations, you could just ask, “So what’s your score on the Inga Index?”  Until there’s a vaccine, it would be a lot less stressful just to stick with people in your own comfort range. 

In the meantime, please don’t iron money.

Yes, I really did this.

Monday, July 6, 2020

The Twilight Zone

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published July 8, 2020] ©2020

I’ve had people say to me at times that unusual stuff seems to happen to me.  I have always demurred, insisting that I don’t think any weirder things occur in my life than anyone else’s.  Until now.  This was truly a Twilight Zone experience.

I recently recounted the untimely crumping of our stove in March during a time when neither repair people nor appliance installers would set foot into your home because of coronavirus.  After many stove-less weeks, we were ultimately able to prevail (it will remain a secret how) and get a new oven control panel and switch panel installed, finally reprieved from microwave and crock pot cuisine.  It was especially important for my husband whose retirement passion had become sourdough baking.  I truly began fearing for his mental health in a loafless world. 

The Thursday night before the Memorial Day weekend, a mere two weeks after we had been restored to stovedom, we were just finishing a late (8:45) dinner when I heard what sounded like the Beep of Death coming from the oven.  Uh-oh. When our stove panel shorted out in March, it beeped intermittently around the clock and drove me so crazy that I would have taken a sledge hammer to the stove if we owned one.  Unfortunately, the stove is on the same circuit breaker as other kitchen appliances, mostly notably the refrigerator, so flipping it off was not an option. 

Upon investigation, the display panel had mysteriously lit up (I know I turned the stove off) and was querying if I wanted to do a convection bake.  I have never done a convection bake, ever.  I turned off the oven but seconds later, it lit back up with  a new message:  did I want to do a timed bake with meat? (Another setting I have never ever used.)  Every time I turned off the oven, a new message would come up seconds later. Then, terrifyingly, the  broiler started to crank up to 500 degrees.  It was like poltergeist had taken possession of this machine. 

It couldn’t have been worse timing.  The grandchildren - whom we had not seen since Christmas – were coming the next day for the three day holiday weekend.  $300 of comestibles for the weekend had just been purchased that day so flipping the kitchen circuit breaker was fairly low on my list. 

Not knowing what else to do, I started taking pictures (when all else fails, take pictures) of each new message on the display panel to document this issue for either a repair person and/or an exorcist. I was in a total state of panic. 

As I was snapping pictures, I thought I detected something moving inside the electronic panel.  A flashlight determined that it was a large bug – a roach? -  running back and forth inside the glass.  All I could think of was this stupid bug was going to short out my brand new $500 oven panel - AND potentially burn down my house by keeping the oven on continuous broil. 

Who the heck could you possibly call to deal with this at 9 p.m. on the Thursday night of a three day holiday weekend during a pandemic?

Now, you’re probably wondering where my nuclear physics-trained Cal Tech-educated engineer husband was during all this. 

“Olof!” I cried, “what are we going to do?  We can’t have the oven on broil all night!”  He shrugged, poured himself an after-dinner Scotch, then went to watch sourdough English muffin videos on YouTube.  He was branching into raisin varieties.

I reflected that our 25th anniversary was the next week.  Would there be a 26th?  #notlikely

Some ten minutes and 12 messages after it had all started, the oven turn-ons stopped. I think the roach finally found its way out of the switch panel.  Or fried itself on the broil setting. 

Now, I will have to confess that in the two weeks leading up to this episode I had, for the first time ever, seen a few roachy-like creatures in my kitchen if I went in there late at night.

I did, however, have a neighbor (Neighbor A) who had had a serious roach problem a few years ago.  The city had put some irrigation pipes on the set-back on their property which somehow seemed to have created a massive creepy underground colony of roaches who were regularly invading their home.  The city finally came out and decided to clear the sewer lines (and hopefully the roaches) by blasting water at very high velocity from the manhole in front of the home of a neighbor (Neighbor B) across the street.

It was an epic fail. Fortunately no one was sitting on a commode in Neighbor B’s house when a geyser of high pressure water blew through their toilets all the way up to the ceiling creating, besides utter life-altering terror in the residents, a giant sewer-eal mess.  The city was very nice about cleaning it all up but these neighbors now require that they be notified if city water crews do anything in that manhole involving sewer maintenance. 

When I called Neighbor A on May 22, they had been seeing some roaches recently themselves, but fortunately only outside.  We collectively engaged a pest control service to smite the little buggers in both abodes.

So I guess I haven’t been the only person to experience poltergeist-level domestic terror episodes. Just the thought of a billion roaches living under your house would keep me up at night.  That toilet episode most definitely took years off Neighbor B’s life expectancies, as did the saga I wrote about last year of a different neighbor who had a colony of raccoons living in her crawl space who were trying to claw their way through the floor in the middle of the night.  If that wouldn’t scare the s—t out of you, I don’t know what would. 

But at this point, I am suffering from stove-related PTSD.  I’ve already Googled sledge hammers. It better be listening.

 I have never ever used "convection roast"

 Didn't even know there was a convection meat option

 Uh-oh - now it wants to broil?

Turned the oven off yet again but it still wants to broil

The English muffins came out great. 
Husband's reputation in the household not so much. 

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Passing The Time In A Pandemic

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published July 1, 2020] ©2020

February 2020 almost seems like a lifetime ago.  I will look back on it as a time when you could have a preferred brand of paper towels, when reaching for your mask when you got out of your car wasn’t second nature, and popping the trunk for your re-usable grocery bags was. I’ve mastered smiling with my eyes now, not that anyone can see them through my fogged glasses.

In early March, after reading an article predicting that 85% of seniors would contract COVID-19 and 30% would die, I emailed our kids telling them to not even consider coming here if either Olof or I succumbed to coronavirus.  You couldn’t have funerals now anyway.  I advised them to wait until things calmed down then to have a little service in the front yard at sunset with suitable adult beverages and hurl our ashes around.  Important to be safe.

Given my family’s fondness for gallows humor, I should have known better.  Henry replied that if that many seniors expired there wouldn’t be individual cremations anyway.  They'd do us in big batches so he and Rory wouldn't even know which ashes were ours hence he might as well just bring some from their fireplace.  At least he’d know where they came from.

Actually, the subject of cremation has come up before.  My sons had long been threatening to cremate me after my untimely unspecified death with the 65 photo albums – an entire bookcase - that I have amassed over the years.  I just love taking pictures, and might possibly have been (over)compensating for the fact that my parents probably took a total of 20 out-of-focus off-center black-and-white box camera photos of me before I was 18.  My children’s lives would be documented. 

But the kids had a point about the albums.  So I decided to make culling my photo collection my Official Pandemic Project.  I’ve tossed a lot of photos but have regularly been mailing off padded envelopes to unsuspecting friends and relatives with the stated hope that they will enjoy re-living the moments that were captured here after which they were free to do with them whatever they wished (other than send them back). 

At the mailing place, the clerk would look at my packages and say, “Let me guess.  Photos.”  Adding, “we’re getting a lot of these.”  I’m guessing that before the pandemic is over, the nation’s photo albums will have all shifted one house counterclockwise. 

When I brought in two envelopes containing some 500 photos all going to the same address, I asked when she thought they might be delivered.  “I need to know when to stop answering my phone,” I said.

I was always the (self-designated) family photographer, the absolutely most thankless job in the world.  With every picture I looked at in my albums, I could replay the sound track of whining that went into getting everyone to pose for it.  The irony, of course, is that years later, friends and family would look at these pictures and ooh and aah over them with delight.  

My younger son just turned 40 and managed to squeak in the last birthday party in America in March before everything shut down.  I provided a selection of photos of him and various high school friends who were attending that I had taken over the years and got back rave reviews from the guests (and even Henry).  So it made up for my about-to-be daughter-in-law’s comment in 2007 when she wanted some photos of Henry growing up to use for a wedding slide slow and I pointed to the bookcase.  “I hope this isn’t hereditary,” she said.

Olof, meanwhile, continues in his own pre-pandemic project, a frenzy of sourdough baking, now branching into crackers, naan bread, and raisin varieties.  But he has now also decided to re-live his Air Force pilot days by acquiring an actual flight simulator with 42-inch screen, instrument panel, joy stick and head set, only just delivered.  Where all this is going to go in our tiny house I’m not sure, but it will allow him to fly pretty much any kind of plane anywhere.  Presumably, if he’s flying a 747 to Paris, he’ll have to put it on autopilot over Greenland to go flip the English muffins.

Meanwhile, the aloe vera gel I ordered in March to make my own then-unavailable hand sanitizer has finally arrived by slow boat from China. Not needing it for hand sanitizing, I looked at the label, clearly translated using a 1995-era auto-translator, for other suggestions for its use and was advised it was good for repair the skin after basking and then to promote healthy and smooth.  First take proper amount and then paint the harmony with right massage action until the nutrient absorbed good for common use. 

Actually, I can’t think of better advice for our times than that. We all need to paint the harmony with right massage action. 

 Slowly working my way through dozens of photo albums

 Typical example of my parents' non-existent photography skills
(me at top, sister on bottom)

Olof decides to relive his pilot days by acquiring a flight simulator
(cheaper than buying an airplane, but not by much)

Monday, June 22, 2020

OCD Nation

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published, June 23, 2020] ©2020

I have to confess that I wasn’t initially all that worried about coronavirus.  After all, I’ve lived through scares for SARS, MERS, avian flu, and swine flu.  I even contracted polio when I was a child. 

In early March I watched with amusement news clips of people waiting three hours outside a Costco for it to open then running – running! – with their over-sized carts to hurl mega-packs of toilet paper and bottled water into them.

The laugh was on us non-hoarders. Supermarket shelves, overnight, were stripped bare of pretty much everything. (Why were people hoarding celery?) In fact, this was the ultimate market research for grocery store chains.  If a product was still on your shelves on March 15, stop carrying it. Turns out people would rather go hungry than eat gluten-free rice pasta, chocolate hummus, cauliflower pizza, and carrot spirals.

One thing is clear: COVID-19 has been responsible for seismic shifts in people's behavior toward one another even in mundane ways. Dr. Fauci says society should "just forget about shaking hands."  I'm just trying to imagine Americans in the Mid-West substituting "Namaste" with a little bow like Prince Charles did.  And not just because he caught COVID-19 anyway.

The country’s newest pastime is playing COVID Chicken, i.e. who steps off into the street first when parties approach each other on the sidewalk.  (The one who gets hit by a car loses.)

Despite massive hits to the economy, one business that isn’t going to fail during the coronapocalypse is mental health services. This is as much a panic-demic as a viral affliction.

The headlines, updated every five minutes, are consistently terrifying: Pandemic will cause starvation of biblical proportions; Virus pushes U.S. unemployment toward highest since depression; Coronavirus may never go away even with a vaccine; Why a second shutdown may be worse than the first; and even this cheery predictor: Millennials don’t stand a chance.

Netflix, anyone?

But the headline that took the top prize was from the U.S. Surgeon General, Jerome Adams, on April 5 who direly predicted that the upcoming week was going to be the "hardest and saddest" of most Americans' lives, describing the upcoming grim period of the coronavirus pandemic as "our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment."

Geesh, talk about scaring the bejesus out of everyone.  Those are some pretty big moments he referenced, clearly imprinted on everyone's minds.  Next year, ask people what they were doing the week of April 5, 2020 and I think they're going to scratch their heads and say, "Um, I dunno. Playing the 100th consecutive game of Candyland with my kids?  Was I supposed to remember it?"  Shame on him for terrifying millions of people. I've been alive for 3,770 weeks and this didn't even make the top 500 worst ones.

When this is over (please say it will someday be over), the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders) is going to have at least 50 new categories related to coronavirus, including anxiety disorders like Toilet Paper Scarcity Syndrome or my personal affliction, Fear of the 24-hour News Cycle.

But foremost, we have become an OCD Nation.  No one wants to touch anything. Or breath any air that anyone else has recently breathed.   

I have a friend who wouldn’t even touch the bottle of hand sanitizer I offered without first cleaning it with Clorox wipes.  I am hoping she did not see the June 17 Union-Tribune article alleging that flushing a toilet can release a cloud of aerosol droplets three feet into the air.  Will the CDC now be advocating for the return of the outhouse? Will this be the subtitle for the Covid-19 pandemic: Just when you didn’t think it could get any worse, it always did?

It goes without saying that we are all going to need to undergo Grocery Shopping Retraining. (Will Medicare cover it?)  Systematic Desensitization will be required to be able to go past a display of paper products and not grab a pack, no matter how much we have at home. 

Ditto for touching a grocery item then putting it back. Will we ever be able to fondle avocados again without feeling like a coronal criminal?  

The country is already suffering massively from new depressive disorders like Seasonal Sports Deprivation, Golf Tournament Redux, and Basketball Re-run Psychosis. My neighbor Bob, until the pandemic, always had three big screen TVs simultaneously running sports. We really worried about Bob, especially when he started to call us just to chat.  Say hi.  Ask about the dog.  If Bob is not on medication by now, I’m going to be really surprised. Please let NFL resume in the fall. Do it for Bob.

Me, I just want the libraries to open again so I can actually go inside and visit the books.  I guess that will be one more DSM-5 category: People Who Will Just Not Use E-Readers. (There is no vaccine for this.) 

Fortunately, however, there IS a cure for Fear of the 24-Hour News Cycle.  Stop. Watching.

My car trunk in the pandemic era:  40 library books I 
can't return, printer cartridges I can't recycle, and 
re-usable shopping bags I can't use

Monday, June 8, 2020

Mourning The New Normal

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 10, 2020] ©2020

A common question that I hear people pose is: what’s going to be the new “normal”?  Actually, it’s only ever going to be “normal” to people who never knew the old normal because the changes are just too vast.

I already envision telling my grandchildren, "You guys were too young to remember, but there used to be these open bins of veggies and stuff called 'salad bars' where people could choose their own food that wasn't shrink wrapped!  I know, sounds crazy! You could take as much as you wanted of just the stuff you liked!  No snow peas or broccoli! You could even pick your dressing!"

I truly wish I’d taken a photo of Gelson’s magnificent salad bar to remember it by; it was my go-to lunch at least five days a week. Now I’m making salads at home but the whole point of a salad bar was to have an instant lunch, totally fresh, no chopping, custom-made to your bizarre tastes. Now you pick from a pre-wrapped selection that has the fewest number of ingredients you don’t like.  But that’s the way it has to be.

I was able to have three of my young grandchildren for the Memorial Day weekend – the first time I’d seen them since Christmas.  Given that I’d missed all their birthdays, I made (OK, Gelson’s made) a big chocolate cake but when it came time to blow out the candles, my daughter-in-law quickly intervened.  In the Pandemic Era, nobody releases aerosols on the cake, even if it’s family.  Maybe especially if it’s family.  We had to wave our hands over the candles until they went out.  Surprisingly this works.  But you have to get it just right – low enough to extinguish the candles but high enough to avoid third degree burns which would take the fun out of the occasion. And we did it with five token candles. I can’t imagine trying this technique for someone’s 70th birthday. May I say, it definitely lacks photo op-ness. But I have to agree it’s the right thing for these times and the times to come.

Still, I’m allowed to feel nostalgic for an era when people could actually blow out candles. All those puffy-cheeked pictures of candle-extinguishing I’ve amassed of my children over the years are now anachronisms. I can see my great-grandchildren looking at them and inquiring with puzzled expressions, “So what was grandpa Henry doing in this picture? And why wasn’t there a plastic shield between him and the cake?”

I predict Amazon will soon be selling self-extinguishing birthday candles instead of the trick ones you can’t blow out.

The great-grands will also be puzzled by photos of people shaking hands.  “Why are those people touching each other?”  And I’ll say, “a man named Anthony Fauci said we had to stop it right now.”

It goes without saying that health care is forever changed.  Pretty much all of our doctors have gone to Tele-Health, even Olof’s cardiologist. I am seriously ambivalent about it.  I really wish someone were listening to Olof’s heart and not assessing his health from a tiny Android cell phone screen.  The problem is, Olof lies. It’s not that he can’t lie in the office but those cardiology people are pretty cunning and they are actually going to take his blood pressure rather than believe Olof’s report of it.  Olof has always had a “do not feed the lions” approach to health care and Tele-Health only enables him. 

In April, our dermatologist texted us that they were now doing Tele-Health examinations. Does that include Tele-biopsies?  Do they instruct you how to excise that suspicious mole with a kitchen utensil? As in: “Dip sharpest kitchen knife into bottle of vodka to sterilize. Bite down on frozen bagel and excise mole.  Drink rest of bottle of vodka.” 

When I got a message from our dentist, I half expected them to say they’d gone to Tele-teeth cleanings but they just cancelled instead. 

Meanwhile, it goes without saying that the make-up industry is histoire.  This whole mask thing can’t be good for lipstick sales.  Not only could no one see what color you’re wearing, but it would get all over the inside of your mask.  By the time you took it off, it would have spread Cherry Passion all over your face, like a toddler who got into your makeup bag.  And it would certainly make the mask non-reusable. I’m thinking the mouthwash people aren’t doing so great either.  Even eye makeup is probably taking a pretty big hit despite the fact that we now have to communicate with our eyes. A friend says that her mask makes her face sweat which causes her mascara to run into her contacts rendering her legally blind. It definitely does not improve her driving

Overnight, it’s become a strange new world to which we’re all going to have to adjust. The candles I’ll get used to but I’m never going to stop mourning that salad bar.

 The new normal: Practicing safe socializing

Is this man headed out for his daily walk,
or the Unabomber's brother about to rob a 7-Eleven?

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Mysterious Habits Of Dogs

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 4, 2020] ©2020

Our dog, Lily, is definitely an emotional support animal even if she doesn’t have a diploma.  Fortunately, I also have an emotional support husband.  My kids, not so much.  But isn’t that why you have a dog? (And a husband?)

Like all people who have adopted a dog in its later years, you almost wish it could talk for five minutes and answer some of your most pressing questions about its behavior.  But then when you think about it more, you realize it’s probably best you don’t know how this dog came to be abandoned at the pound with a mouthful of rotten teeth and an abiding fear of male persons.

Lily was seven when she came to us as a “one week” emergency foster dog who had been rescued from the pound by a local agency.  It took her exactly three days to work her way into our hearts even though we had agreed that we would never (ever ever) have another dog after our devastation at losing our English bulldog Winston.  I think the foster agency saw us for the mushballs that we were.  They have great instincts that way.

$1,500 worth of dental work later, we bought Lily a basket of toys suitable for a 15-pound dog with three remaining teeth.  But we couldn’t get her interested in any of the them.  It’s like she didn’t know what they were and what she was supposed to do with them. She always just sniffed them and walked away.

Finally, I found her some small round rubber squeaky balls that did pique her interest but not as toys.  She would gather them up protectively in a group close to her chest, her paws around them, and lick them affectionately as if they were her pups.  She hadn’t been spayed when we got her, and we began to wonder if this adorable bichon-poodle mix had been a breeder. 

From time to time visitors to the house, not realizing that these squeaky balls were offspring and not play things, would pick one up and throw it for her.  Lily would be enraged, chasing after it but immediately returning it to the rest of her litter and glowering at the guest.

“You just threw her child,” we’d explain to them.  “She’s very sensitive about it.”  They were always hugely apologetic.

But over time, we would notice that Lily would place one of her squeaky “pups”, as we called them, right in the middle of a doorway where we would invariably step on it. Seriously, it scared the s—t out of us every time.  She’d then come racing over and claim it. But the next thing we knew, another one would be in another door way ready to be squashed.  She’d obviously had some very ambivalent experiences with mothering. I can remember a few like that myself.

But after we’d had her for two years, it was almost as if she’d lost any maternal memories whatsoever.  This was a relief for us as no one wants to step on anyone else’s kid. Never mind that our aging hearts just weren’t up to sudden stoppages. She began dropping a pup in front of us and seemingly wanting us to throw it for her so she could retrieve it and bring it back.  It was like some other dog on the bike path had clued her in on how it was supposed to be done.  The game was called “fetch” and was built into the code of dogs.

Now, I have read that dogs don’t see color but I can attest that this is not so.  Lily has a full set of six Squeaky Pups in different colors but her favorite child is definitely the green one.  In fact, one could almost call doggie social services for the lack of attention the other five pups get these days.  They’re strewn around the house, ignored.  At this point, Lily refuses to come to bed at night until Green Squeaky Pup has been located and is prominently placed on her blanket on our bed.

If it is not immediately locatable, she runs around the house looking on top of – or under - sofas and beds in a frantic search to find it.  Fortunately, I have one of those grabber gismos so I can fish it out from otherwise inaccessible places because Lily is willing to whine – and alert - for hours if Green Squeaky Pup is marooned where she can’t reach it. Attachment is attachment. 

We’ve accepted that even though Lily is our emotional support animal, we are second to Green Squeaky Pup in her feelings.  Fortunately, Muttropolis keeps them in stock as the balls do eventually lose their squeak and need to be replaced by Son of Green Squeaky Pup.  Would that my children’s favorite blankets and stuffed animals had been so replaceable. 

Lily and Green Squeaky Pup

Green Squeaky Pup mysteriously keeps ending up 
in doorways where we step on it

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Time For The Powers-That-Be To Live Like The Rest Of Us

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 27, 2020] ©2020

Pandemics have always been a part of my family story.  While a lot of people are hearing about the 1918 “Spanish Flu” for the first time, my grandmother, gravely ill with it, gave birth to my mother on November 1, 1918, the week of the highest number of deaths worldwide: 55,000.  Yes, in a week. Miraculously, my grandmother was not one of them. But she was so debilitated by the flu that she was unable to care for her new baby for the first few months of my mother’s life.

I’ve already written several times about my siblings and I contracting polio in August of 1955 – four months after Jonas Salk’s jubilant April 12 announcement of a vaccine that would prevent it. It took a while for enough vaccine to be manufactured - there were some serious glitches along the way - and to reach the populace. Not soon enough for those of us in our small town, alas. So imagine getting COVID-19 vaccine to 327 million people who all wanted it yesterday.

Now, I realize that this pandemic situation basically caught the world off-guard but now, several months into it, but I continue to be puzzled at some of the inherently non-sensical ideas that those in positions of authority inflict on – or propose to inflict on - the general public. 

Let’s start with hair salons.  First off, where’s Anthony Fauci’s pony tail?  Why doesn’t Gavin Newsom resemble a scruffy wombat?  Because someone is cutting their hair.  (Don’t even try to suggest it’s their wives.)  Meanwhile, the word “Roots” will no longer evoke the saga of Kunte Kinte but that of women’s hair during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

I have read some truly idiotic proposals about the reopening of hair salons including that they should not be opened again “until there is a vaccine.” (See paragraph two, above.) By that time, everyone except top government officials will look like extras from “Planet of the Apes.”

Suggestions for reopening hair salons assert that blow drying will have to be a thing of the past.  Only a guy would say this.  Do they think that women’s coifs just dry naturally looking like that?  Allegedly, the blow dryer could blast corona cooties into the air around the salon where customers would start dropping like IRA balances. My stylist washes my hair twice for more than two minutes each time - way more than the 20 seconds recommended for hands.  My hair is so clean you could eat off it.  Not that I’d want you to, since then I’d need to wash it again.  So it’s hard to imagine how many COVID critters could really be flying around. 

And if we’re going to get on the subject of blasting air, what about all those blow dryers for barely-washed hands in windowless public restrooms?  Given this logic, you’d be lucky to escape a bathroom visit with your instantly-contaminated life.

Moving right along in the Stupidity Sweepstakes was the CDC’s April 27 pronouncement that people should “avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food or bedding.”  Sure, and explain that to Mr. Barkles. Pets were probably the single most positive factor in keeping people from total despair in recent months, yet based on pretty much zero cases of kitty-to-human infection, the CDC recommended people shun their beloved animals.  Even dogs are supposed to keep social distance from other dogs.  Fortunately, not much more has been said about this.  Just as there is a waiting period for people to buy guns, persons in positions of health or governmental authority should have a required three-day speech delay while their synapses catch up with them.  

And then there was this whole business with one-way shopping aisles. It's like the COVID Police meet nightly and say, "How else can we provoke the general public, never mind grocery store managers, with rules that are unlikely to help but will just annoy the sh-t out of everyone?”  But then, I’m just mad because I accidentally walked past the spaghetti sauce and we had to have pasta with plain parmesan cheese on it.  It made me very grumpy.

There are so many candidates for this column that it's hard to choose.  But our Vice President, named to lead the U.S. response to the coronavirus outbreak, was apparently the only person in America who didn't know you need a mask to enter a hospital. Was he worried, "Does this mask make me look fat?" He then maintained that because he is regularly tested, he didn't think he needed one.  Yeah, just try getting past Gelson's cart kid with that one!

When the people who are allegedly managing this crisis are showing up perfectly coiffed, aren't staying home, and don't want to annoy themselves with uncomfortable masks, they undermine their credibility.  I'm still complying, but in spite of them, not because of them. 

Meanwhile, next week:  With everyone having to wear masks, where is the bailout for the lipstick industry??? Inquiring minds want to know.

 This table actually used to be used for mail.

 Five-year-old grandson getting ready for a walk

Ten-year-old granddaughter communing with nature

Monday, May 11, 2020

It Was Such Bad Timing

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 13, 2020] ©2020

Last year, I wrote about my husband, Olof, taking up sourdough bread making as a retirement project.  So when pandemic incarceration hit, Olof wasn’t all that distressed to have yet more excuses to wallow in yeastdom. Nightly he was glued to YouTube videos for sourdough English muffins, crackers, and even naan besides his usual boules and ciabattas.

But then disaster struck. In late March, the control panel on our stove suddenly, without warning, exhibited the Black Screen of Death, followed by “Error message F2 E1”. We flipped the circuit breaker to no avail. Olof advised letting it sit overnight to see if it “fixed itself.”  I was stunned.  I’m usually the one who maintains that electronics have an emotional life and can be cajoled into functionality if properly entreated, while Olof, whose degree in reactor physics is from Cal Tech, rolls his eyes and expounds on the certainties of circuitry.  “Olof,” I said, “I think you’ve been married to me for too long.”

The next morning, the stove was still as dead as the night before, but worse, had developed a truly annoying intermittent beep. Honestly, in the middle of the night I wanted to take a sledge hammer to it.  Fortunately for it, we do not own a sledge hammer. Unfortunately, the circuit breaker is also attached to fridge so we couldn’t just flip it off.

Now, we have several appliance repair people that we’ve used over the years but none would come to the house. I mean, you’d think this was an essential service.  It is, but not essential enough for the essentialees to want to risk coronavirus. I was pretty sure the problem was the oven control panel since we’d had this problem once before but it turns out the Whirlpool factory, from whence oven control panels come, was closed until further notice. 

Fortunately, we own both a crockpot and a microwave so there would be sources of warm food.  But the idea of not having a stove for potentially months put Olof into full yeast-deprivation depression.  We decided to just go buy a new stove. 

Alas, Home Depot’s options were back-ordered into the next millennium. 

Our other usual appliance emporium was now only accepting on-line orders – you couldn’t go into the store itself – and were not installing.  They would deliver your large kitchen appliance to your garage (we don’t have one), or alternatively  “curbside” which, translated into English means “in the street.”  Where a car could hit it.  And certainly not improving the functionality of the appliance especially if it is now on the next block. 

Then there's the more-than-minor problem about getting this curbside appliance into our home which includes a long walkway and several steps.  We're both pushing 73. My husband had a heart attack two years ago. So the two of us wrassling a heavy appliance box from the street into our house might not be an exercise that we would survive. We would, of course, instruct our children to sue the appliance place for premeditated wrongful, elder-abusive death.

OK, so let's assume that we were actually able to get the new stove into our house and into our kitchen. It's a gas stove. Gas stoves are connected by means of something called "gas lines."  I can just see getting the whole thing installed only to turn it on and blow up the house.  And ourselves. It just seems that the appliance company ought to be a tad more concerned about the liability in expecting people to install their own major appliances.  COVID-19 will eventually go away but personal injury lawyers are forever.

But then my pool guy (it is a testament to the times when your pool guy is telling you how to get your stove fixed) Scott told me that any part I needed for anything was available on the internet if I had the model number. He cautioned me to make sure I wasn't buying an aftermarket or "refurbished" part, but a new one. 

$400 and expedited shipping later, a brand-new oven control panel arrived at our home from a non-Amazon site, and I had actually incentivized someone to come and install it.  But when he did, it turned out that while it was the correct control panel for our stove, that wasn’t what the problem was.  

The repair guy said he would to see if he could find the required part for us. But who knew how long that would take. However, he was able to disconnect the homicidally-annoying beep.  I spent 1.5 hours on hold with the company I got the control panel from trying to get approval to return it. At the mailing place, they were only allowing one person in the store at a time even though it was pouring.  Does weather-related pneumonia count as a COVID-collateral death?

Two slow cooker weeks later, the appliance guy came back with the part.  Our stove came back to life after more than a month. Five minutes later, Olof was baking garlic rosemary crackers.  

It’s given us perspective. Our worst fear is no longer coronavirus.  It’s our appliances breaking. 


Our daughter-in-law presciently gave us a slow cooker
several Christmases ago.  It saw a LOT of action.

After almost five weeks, Olof's Artisanal Boule Bakery was back in action.

 In a frenzy of newly-functioning-stove baking, he made his first ever 
sourdough English muffins

Garlic rosemary crackers were in progress before
the repair guy even reached his truck