Monday, March 16, 2020

Building It And Getting Away With It

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published March 18, 2020] ©2020

Every time I drive by 1590 Coast Walk – the ever-burgeoning behemoth at the juncture of Prospect and Torrey Pines Road – I can only conclude that La Jolla’s motto should be “Build it and you will get away with it.” 

Of course, I’ve come to the same conclusion over a number of projects built in my own neighborhood.  When one former neighbor was queried by fellow neighbors about a massive spec home that looked nothing like the original plans, the neighbor shrugged. “Variances. And grandfathering.” As it turned out, variances are apparently not that easy to get, and certainly not the number that this multi-modified project would have required. And if this building conformed to FAR (floor-area rules, i.e. the ratio of a building's total floor area to the size of the piece of land upon which it is built.)  Alas, it wasn’t to be the last time I would encounter fuzzy FAR math – or fuzzy construction math in general.

A recent La Jolla Light article on 2/6/20 referenced another disputed project noting that “it never went through community review (La Jolla Development Review Committee and La Jolla Community Planning Association) because it didn’t need a Coastal Development Permit (CDP) due to what’s called ‘the 50-percent rule’ which classifies projects as remodels if 50 percent of the original walls are retained.” 

I’ll admit that math is not my strongest suit but over the years I’ve lived here and witnessed countless “remodels,” it always baffles me how a single standing wall constitutes 50 percent, given that the original structure was not a lean-to. 

And while I’m wondering out loud, I also keep pondering how, in this era of rights for the disabled, all these new two-story mixed-use projects are being approved with no elevators to the residential space upstairs.  The proposed project on Pearl Street (where the 76 Station was) is the latest example.  When this was queried at a meeting of a different mixed-use project, the architect maintained that only a main floor handicapped parking spot was required, no elevator.  This would assume that any handicapped person who wished to reside in that building would have to live in their car.

Now, I am aware that the people who serve on the many committees which review proposed residential and commercial properties are unpaid and work tirelessly to keep La Jolla from turning into Miami Beach. (Thank you.) But is it just my imagination that so many structures – residential and commercial – seem to end up looking a lot different than what went through – and was approved by – a local review committee?

Instead, it seems we often see another giant apartment building (and likely future AirBnB) with unaffordable studio-sized units, more vacant commercial buildings, increased traffic, fewer parking places and the loss of a public view corridor or access.

I will concede – and anyone who has been reading my column for the last 11 years knows how much I hate to concede – that all the rules for FAR, 50% of walls for a remodel, and ADA requirements are far more complicated than the general public – that would be me – understands.  An architect friend has painstakingly attempted to explain all the arcane rules of FAR – what parts of the structure are included, what parts not.  Ditto remodel and ADA rules.  Frankly, my eyes glaze over.  So, more projects are probably compliant than I might like.

Still, like many other locals, I just feel powerless about these issues. Maybe this can be an opportunity for someone in the know to explain it to a lot of inquiring minds.

As for 1590 Coast Walk, in an article in the Light from August 9, 2018, a local architect explained the changes with this example:  “If a project was approved in the Discretionary Permit process as a cake with chocolate icing, but that very same cake then goes into final drawings and remains the same cake but now with vanilla icing, this is a change that might get frowned upon by some neighbors, but would seem to certainly fit within the parameters of the City’s Substantial Conformance guidelines.” 

Frankly, to me, the 1590 Coast “cake” looks like it has evolved into a 20-foot Playdough metastasis. A letter to the Editor in the Dec. 27, 2018 issue of the Light observed, “This massive windowless blob would make the designer of a Soviet prison block blush.” 

It may be unfair, but I have come over time to a fundamental belief that most developers have the souls of garden snails and speak with forked tongues.  I absolutely do not believe that the tenants of the new mixed-use project at the old 76 station are going to be non-car-owning Uber users and that those tiny furnished apartments aren’t going to be vacation rentals.  But it’s going to be built.  And we’ll all say, “How did that happen?”

1590 Coast Walk (private home)

Monday, March 9, 2020

The Year Of The R-Word

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published March 11, 2020]  ©2020

Those who celebrated the Chinese New Year on January 25 know that this is the Year of the Rat.  I couldn’t help but reflect that in La Jolla, it is always the year of the rat.  The little buggers really like it here.

Qualities attributed to people born in the Year of the Rat (a 12-year Zodiac cycle) include intelligence, charm, ambition, quick wit, and practicality.  Good qualities all.  If you were born in 1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 198, 1996, 2008, you were born in the Year of the Rat.

 I would never dare mention this to the care givers who provide 24/7 care for a disabled friend of ours whom Olof and I have been helping.  We can’t even mention the “r” word over there or they completely freak out.  A year ago, during a torrential rainstorm, a hungry rodent found its way into the kitchen to take advantage of food left on the counter. Two of the care givers refused to enter the kitchen after 5 p.m. for six months.

Now let me just say that I can provide no corroborating evidence that this creature was, in fact, a rat and not, say, a field mouse. In every description of the sighting of this animal, his dimensions increased, gradually assuming the size of a small dog.

Hoping to defuse the situation and to allow us to discuss the situation without using the inflammatory “r” word, I named him Bruce.

The care giver thought that Bruce might have entered through a hole in a cabinet vent which she maintained should be immediately plugged up by someone other than her. She then thankfully ended her shift and fled the house. But her replacement was even more rodent phobic than she.  Not gonna work in a house with a rat.

Given that Bruce’s demise had to be hurried along, Olof and I came over and performed Emergency E-RAT-ication Services including peanut-butter-loaded spring traps strategically placed underneath shelves where they would be heard but not seen if they went off.  We advised the care givers that we did not provide Deceased Rodential Retrieval Services between 7 p.m. and 8 a.m. 

I also acquired some sealed plastic containers that could store food items that needed to be left on the counter. I failed to mention that any self-respecting rat could chew through them if sufficiently motivated.  Sometimes illusion is as important as reality.  Getting the care givers back in the kitchen was imperative. 

Days went by and no more signs of Bruce. Olof and I began to wonder if this could be a new retiree cottage industry for us. Normalcy slowly resumed.

That was until two weeks ago.  A care giver and I were standing just outside the front door chatting when a rat suddenly dropped out of the small lemon tree right next to us. The care giver immediately ran screaming down the sidewalk.

I looked at it and said, “You had to do it right then, didn’t you?”  Full-on Rodento-Phobia was back again. 

I couldn’t help but notice that the rat – whom I dubbed Son of Bruce - seemed unwell. He was lying on the ground shaking. (Maybe he was terrified of us?)

I told the care giver that it appeared to me that Son of Bruce was on his way to the great garbage heap in the sky. I promised to come back and get him if he didn’t slither away into the bushes.  Frankly, I fully expected to see his furry corpse when I returned three hours later but he was gone.

I can’t help but notice, however, that it takes the care giver  a little extra time to open the door for me when I come over.  That’s because she has to remove the kitchen towels forcibly wedged under the front door. You can never be too careful, she says.

So no, I don’t mention that it’s the Year of the Rat when I go over to our disabled friend’s house. I don’t know what his care givers would do if they found out they’d been born in the year of the you-know-what. They’d probably insist on having their birth dates legally changed. 

And I would never mention to them that all manner of adorable rat-themed items are on sale to commemorate the Year of the Rat, including a Rat Tarot iPhone case ($39.99), cute baby rat print for your d├ęcor ($93), a rat-shaped handbag ($498), and even a comforter ($119) with a big rat graphic and floral border on it so that when you wake up in the morning, the first thing you see is a five-foot white rodent.  (I’d love to know how this one is selling.)

But I hope the rest of you Year of the Rat folks are enjoying your zodiac birthday and being your charming, witty, intelligent selves. Just so long as you keep it to yourselves.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Famous Family Quotes

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

I think every family has some classic lines that everyone remembers – including and especially the person who often regrets uttering them.  Others are just shorthand for favorite family stories that can be resurrected with a single phrase.  Here’s a few from our family:

“There’s nothing to do in Europe.”  Henry, age 12, declining a trip to Europe with his father and brother. He elected to stay home and play Nintendo games. 

“If I’m lying, let lightning strike Henry.” Rory, age 7, staking his story to his five-year-old brother’s life.  (By the way, he was lying.)

“Shape up or I’ll kiss you in front of your friends.”  My ultimate threat to my young sons when they were misbehaving.

“Shape up or I’ll wear a bathing suit in front of your friends.”  Ultimate threat, teenage years. 
We had a pool, often populated by the kids and their friends, so I could easily make good on it.

“I’m not sure I could go to school in a cold climate.”  Rory, after his tour of the UC-Santa Cruz campus.  (He did go, and lives there to this day.)

“Dear, if the market goes up another 10%, could we get a new bath mat?” Olof’s plaintive plea a few weeks after we were married.  I had had so little money during my 12 years as a single parent that the house had gotten really shabby. And personally, I thought there was still life in that bathmat.

“I just called you in February!”  College sophomore Henry replying to our concern in April that we hadn’t heard from him in a long time.  (Friends with daughters often remarked that they spoke three times a day.)

“Your mother is taking nourishment. And Girl Scout cookies.”  Olof assuring our sons by email that I was finally recovering from a serious bout of flu. 

“Do people know you’re not funny in person?”  My sons’ query when I would be invited for speaking engagements. 

“Why can’t everyone just speak English?”  Henry, in high school, struggling with Spanish, the only B of his high school career.

“You’ve been like a mother to me.”  Rory’s (age 10) hand-made Mother’s Day card to me.  It has become a classic, with pretty much every bouquet of Mother’s Day flowers in the last 20 years accompanied by this message.  (I still have the card.)

“Well, off to kill some enemy operatives!”  Olof’s statement to my sons as he left the house every morning.  They had seen the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie “True Lies” about a terrorist-battling secret agent whose cover is a nerdy computer guy and they were convinced that this was Olof’s story as well.  It didn’t help that Olof’s college roommates told the kids that they were sure he had been a spy. 

“I’d like to thank my dad for teaching me to have fun.”  Henry, 17, upon receiving a hugely prestigious national award, when asked by an interviewing reporter if there was anyone he’d like to thank.  Dad – my former husband - had not driven a single car pool or done a trip to the library or medical visit or helped with even one school project in this kid’s entire school career.  For weeks afterwards, it was all I could do not to poison Henry’s lunches.

“You didn’t grow up in poverty, but you did grow up in squalor.” Olof commenting on both the kids’ assessment that they’d grown up in poverty (relative to their friends who often took holiday trips to Aspen or Hawaii), and on his affectionately-vicious assessment of my housekeeping skills.

“I love you higher than the sky and deeper than the pool.”  Rory’s pre-school valentine to me as transcribed literally by his teacher.  I never wanted to ask: the one-foot end or the eight-foot end?

“It’s only a desert if you think of it that way. I prefer to think of it as a very large beach with surf breaking on both sides.”  Olof, who spent an aggregate of four years working in Saudi Arabia, optimistically headed out for another month-long stint there.

“A closed mouth gathers no feet.”  My oft-uttered but rarely followed motto.  Usually heard as I’m berating myself for failing to stop talking five minutes earlier than I actually did.

To this day, Henry looks pained when someone revives the Europe quote, but both kids remember their terror that I’d present my chubby self out at our pool in a bathing suit.  (Must have been all those Girl Scout cookies.)

Monday, February 17, 2020

Trying My Best To Keep Up With The Grandkids

[”Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published Feb. 17, 2020] ©2020

As anyone who has read my column for any length of time knows, I truly believe that technology will be the death of me.  Probably literally, when I can’t figure out how to call 911 on my cell phone as I’m having a heart attack.
But I do have to admit that my iPhone has given me ways to interact with my young grandchildren that I wouldn’t have otherwise. “Interact” may be somewhat of an exaggeration in the case of the four-year-old who has on occasion FaceTimed me eight times in a single day just so I’ll appear.  As soon as I do, he chortles and hangs up.  He just loves the power.

My 9-year-old granddaughter has a story writing app on her iPad and can send me the stories she writes with it to my iPhone.  It is a testament to my love for her and to how much I want to encourage her literary efforts that I figured out how to download the app myself to be able to read her work.  I am seriously app-aversive.  But if I hadn’t, I would have missed such precious prose as a story entitled “Avery in 25 years”:

In 25 years I hope to be taller and smarter than I am now.  I will have a family of five, 2 girls, 1 boy and lots of pets.  I will have started a chocolate business. [She is definitely my granddaughter!] I will make the sweetest sweets the world has ever seen! I will be writing books about everything from things about ants to things about people. I’m going to have a huge house with my brother. We’re going to buy my other brother a ranch because he really likes horses and we think a ranch would make him happy. 

Unlike either of my sons who were never pleasure readers, this young lady has been a voracious reader from the moment she learned to read, including all the Harry Potter books.  Recently she tried to engage me in a game on my iPhone where I had to guess the title of a book based on a series of emojis.  Here’s how it went:

Avery: OK, this is a game called name that book.  You have to guess the book from the omojis [sic].

The emoji string was a fairy, three kids, a basket, a bus, a mall, and a diamond. 

Me: “OMG. This is hard!  How about “fairy kids take a basket by bus to the mall to buy jewelry?”

Avery: You have to guess the TITLE.

Me: That was a title.

Avery: It’s “Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone.”  Try this one:

This emoji string looked like another fairy, one kid, the bus, the mall, a bunch of spider webs, 14 spider emojis, and some green creature.  A duck? A coiled up snake?  I figured it had to be another Harry Potter book so I guessed the only one I could think of (since I haven’t read any of them):

Me: How about “Harry Potter and the prisoner of Azkaban.”

Avery: Nope!  It’s “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”.

Me:  Oh.  I couldn’t figure out the spiders.  What’s with them?

Avery: Its when Hagrid says “follow the spiders.”

Me:  You should have asked Baba [Olof] to do this.  He’s read all the Harry Potter books three times!

She quickly concluded that I was neither well-read enough nor sufficiently emoji-capable to play this game.  And she was totally correct.

While I am extremely loathe to admit that there are any advantages to technology, another way I’ve been able communicate with the grandkids is sitting together on the sofa with their iPads (which they know how to use and I don’t). researching charitable contributions that I will donate to in their names.. While I was initially concerned that the grandkids (and their parents) would refer to me behind my back as Grammy Tax Deduction (OK, they do), I did want to encourage them to help the world be a better place.

My youngest grandson really loves "horsies" so one of his was wild mustang protection.  He’s also really into “fishies” (he has a tropical fish tank) and one of his picks ended up being vaquitas – a type of porpoise endemic to the Gulf of California.  Only 30 left on earth!  Bettas and Tetras are still in ample supply so my grandson was happy to have the vaquitas be his “fishie” pick. 

Avery was big on banning puppy mills and protecting elephants. (She’s been big on elephants ever since the adoption of Shirley several years ago – my all-time most successful Christmas gift ever. Well, that and the lava lamp and weed to the other grandparents).  My other grandson went for lowland gorillas and snow leopards.

OK, I admit it. This is all made a lot easier with an iPad.  But that’s as much as I’m willing to concede.

Monday, February 10, 2020

10 Rules To (Try To) Live By

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published Feb. 12, 2020] ©2020

I’ve long since given up on New Year’s Resolutions but for years I’ve kept a somewhat varying list of Ten Rules to Live By.  At the end of the year, I look at it and give myself a grade.  Some stuff just should just get dropped from the list because I get an ‘F’ every time.  But where it’s health-oriented, I feel morally obligated to at least pretend I’m going to do better next year. 

Here’s the 2019 list:

(1) Never pass a kid’s lemonade stand without stopping.  (A+)

It’s always good to have goals at which you’re guaranteed to succeed.  My kids loved having lemonade stands although I’ve noticed somewhat usurious inflation since their era.  $1.00 for a small paper cup of frozen lemonade concentrate mix?  But it doesn’t matter. It’s just really fun to watch the kiddies pour and make change.  Plus, I still owe the universe for all those passers-by who bought cherry tomatoes for $.16 each from my young grandchildren two years ago.  BTW, a corollary to this goal is “Never turn away a Girl Scout bearing cookies.”

(2) Do some sort of exercise every day. (A)

I’ve been a life-long walker probably thanks to my mother cancelling school bus service when we were in elementary school and paying us the money instead.  Aside from the exercise, I think she was motivated by the fact that bus kids were excused on snow days but non-bus kids weren’t. She was so averse to the three of us ricocheting off the walls for whole days at a time that she was willing to ship us out the door even in some pretty major blizzards. I think there were times when she hoped they wouldn’t find us until spring.   In her defense, she did always call the school and make sure we got there eventually.  To this day, however, I love the calming introspective effect of walking (maybe not in blizzards) and have written previously about the concept of solvitur ambulando – Latin for “it is solved by walking.”  Yup, it really is. 

(3) Do some really challenging exercise at least twice a week.   (C-)

Other than walking, I seriously hate exercise.  Fortunately, childhood polio and an auto accident give me plenty of excuses not to do it.

(4) Take good care of your teeth.  (A-)

About 30 years ago, I read an article that interviewed 100 elderly people asking them what they would do differently in their lives.  And the number one answer was “take better care of my teeth.”  I’m listening.

(5) Maintain a normal body weight. (F)

Why why why do I even bother to add this?  For years, I blamed it on a “temporary” weight gain after my divorce (40 pounds on the Mrs. Fields Chocolate Chip Cookie and Chardonnay Depression Diet.)  But the fiction is getting harder of maintain when I remember that I was divorced in 1983.

(6) While it would be nice to be able to save the world, there are a dozen opportunities every day for big or small kindnesses. Try to avail yourself of as many of them as possible.  (A-)
This one is a legacy of my parents and it’s nice to do not only in their memory but because it’s just a good idea.  And on a purely selfish level, it makes me happy.  I kind of have a contest with myself to see how early in the day I can log my first good deed. Sometimes it’s really small stuff – letting the person with one item go ahead of you in the grocery line, or saying something nice to the bagger who’s just been abused by a crabby shopper.  Or smiling at people you pass as you’re walking (although in some countries I’ve lived, they’d throw a net over you for this.)

(7) Challenge bigotry – in yourself and others. (B+)

This is truly my biggest legacy from my parents.  They were as flawed as any parents but their biggest gift to their children was that they didn’t hate.  I never once heard them refer negatively to anyone by race or religion.  My mother taught ESL and we always had a houseful of immigrants she was helping, on her own time, to get driver’s licenses, jobs, and simply navigate a new land. My mother always said, “What you accept, you teach.” Amen.

(8) Go barefoot and watch sunsets (not necessarily at the same time). (A)

Yup, this is my other easy “A” besides the lemonade stand and the Girl Scout cookies.  I have literally watched thousands of sunsets from either my front yard or a park nearby. 

(9) Apologize when you screw up. (A)

I simply get so much practice so it’s another easy “A”.  My motto for decades has been “A closed mouth gathers no feet.” 

(10) Stop screwing up so much.  (D)

Not so good at following the motto.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Really Bad Timing

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

As a dog owner, it turns out there are worse things than your dog rolling in poop.  And that’s your pet contracting a truly nasty bug or eating something in your yard that she really, really shouldn’t have, and inflicting massive intestinal mayhem all over your beds, furnishings and floors for two weeks. 

On the third night of this, at 3:30 a.m., I thought I heard Lily running toward the front door and in racing after her to let her out, I slipped in a slurry of fecal miasma and landed on my back. That meant that for the next week, I had to delegate all cleanup of subsequent ordurous deposits to my initially-skeptical husband. But seriously, I’d much rather clean up dog diarrhea than be in as much pain as I was in. 

In a show of solidarity (we really wished her stool had had more solidarity), and to make it up to Olof,  I began setting my alarm for every hour all night, every night, so I could hobble to the front door with the dog and let her out.  When you watch your dog poop literally 15 times in five minutes, you’re not all that sure you want to let her back in.

The onset of this episode could not have been worse.  We were due in two weeks to go for Christmas to our younger son’s home in Los Angeles.  It was our older son’s turn to join us with his family plus our daughter-in-law’s extended family would be joining us from far-flung locales as well.  We bring Lily every year and she revels in all the attention.

Our wonderful vet, hoping to have Lily cured by Christmas, brought out the heavy artillery when the rice-chicken-pumpkin diet plus a week of Metronidazole failed to resolve this issue.  She added more antibiotics plus Canin Gastrointestinal kibble, Tylan antibiotic powder, and Proviable Forte digestive health supplements in both paste and sprinklable form.  The thick paste came in the form of an injection syringe the plunger of which actually requires some force to use and hence it was completely understandable how the first time it ended up in the face of the husband holding the dog rather than in the dog’s exceedingly reluctant mouth. 

It goes without saying that Lily should have had the healthiest intestinal tract in America after two weeks of this regimen.  And indeed, she did finally start to get better.  But as we had no idea what caused this event, we were concerned for its sudden reoccurrence given that the house in L.A. would be populated by seven young food felons whose priors included leaving trails of food particles in their paths and feeding Lily comestibles of the non-dog-food persuasion under the table which could compromise her fragile digestive motility. Beef tenderloin and garlic mashed potatoes were probably not the foods of choice for this dog at this point. My daughter-in-law was hosting 25 people for the better part of three days, and a dog emitting hourly metabolic effluvia on her premises would cause a rift from which our relationship would never recover. 

Ditto our hotel. The Kimpton Palomar in Westwood allows dogs to stay for free. More specifically, continent, non-barking dogs.  But as the days before Christmas approached, Olof and I would examine Lily’s stool and ask ourselves: could this deposit be picked up from the floor of a hotel elevator?  Or was it just a lake that would require holiday housekeeping services, a $100 tip, and a red line across our faces for future reservations?

My efforts to find someone to stay with Lily at any price for December 24 and 25 were for naught.  When our dear friend Jim heard of our dilemma, he heroically offered to help. That Jim volunteered to stay with Lily when her alimentary canal was still channeling the Colorado River rapids is an act I doubt we’ll ever be able to repay.

Meanwhile I researched doggie diapers and ordered some off Amazon.  On the same day I also ordered male incontinence supplies for the disabled friend we are helping and the Barbie stroller which my granddaughter coveted for Christmas. You can’t believe what my “Recommended Just For You” list looks like now.

It was frankly a huge relief not to have Lily with us in L.A.  We knew that if we brought her and there was a single mephitic emission at either the house or hotel, we’d have to just pack up and precipitously leave, Lily anointing Olof’s car all the way home. 

Well, it’s the new year, the carpet and upholstery people have done their magic, and all the comforters have been sent for professional cleaning. (Given that this had gone on for two weeks, we considered just burning down the house.)  Now if we could just figure out what she ate because it would be totally eradicated from our property.

Our vet pulled out the heavy artillery to make Lily better

Monday, January 20, 2020

How Did Life Get So Complicated?

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

Welcome to Auntie Inga’s Curmudgeon Hour

Grab your preferred beverage and sit down while I whine again about why life has just gotten too perplexing for me. 

Recently, for example, I wanted to attend a fundraiser only to discover when I went to buy a ticket on-line that the only type of payment accepted was PayPal.  I emailed the agency in charge of the fundraiser whose solution was that they would help me set up a PayPal account. This was not what I had in mind.

I emailed back: “Your offer is very kind but I've lasted 72 years without a PayPal account and am not planning on ruining my status as Techno-Moronic Senile Luddite of the Year.  One last option: can one pay at the door in, say, cash?  It's the green stuff made of paper that comes in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 units that boasts portraits of past presidents and is still considered legal tender, however obsolete.  Anyway, thought it was worth asking.”

Ultimately we worked out a payment solution but I couldn’t help but reflect that stuff that didn’t used to be so hard is sucking up way too much time and increasingly limited mental capacity.

For example, parking your car didn’t used to be rocket science.  You either got X minutes for free or had to stuff coins in a meter, or pay some nice person in a little booth.  You did not need to download an app, assuming of course, you even knew how to download an app, not that you  actually kept any financial information on your stupid phone anyway. You just wanted to run in and get some Damp-Rid at Manley’s!

Reading the Sunday New York Times travel section, I have learned that besides using your phone as a boarding pass, one can now track one’s bags with it, and subscribe to services that will upgrade your airplane seat if a better one becomes available.  I fear I’m destined to have the worst seat on any plane, and be the last one out of the continent after the blizzard.  And definitely the only one who truly has no idea where her bags are. 

It just seems like there are techno road blocks being thrown in my way every single day. It would never occur to me to clap my hands to turn on a room light or wave my hands under a faucet to turn it on, unless I was in a movie theater restroom and they had very specific signs.  I don’t even want to get into the ever-increasingly list of friends I will never visit again because I can’t work their high-tech Japanese toilets.  And if I have to clap to turn on their bathroom light to even GET to the high-tech toilet, I’d fantasize about wetting their pricey sofa.

Recently, I needed to give information stored on my iPhone to a customer service agent. In Inga Land, my usual protocol is to call on the land line so I can access information on the cell phone if I have to.  But in this case, I was talking on the cell away from home. I’d been on hold for 45 minutes to get to get this lady in the first place so I didn’t want to disconnect the call.  Fortunately, a 20-something person overheard this and showed me how to do it. Yes, you can get info from your Contacts list without disconnecting your call!  But could I ever replicate it?  Not a chance.

I’m terrified of my TV remote.  One accidental push of a wrong button and the TV is unworkable.  Where’s the “revert to previous settings” button?  In fact, EVERY appliance or gadget should have one!  The “Save me!” button.  (Are you listening, 18-year-old techno-nerd designers?)

The thing is, I’m just not interested in learning most of this stuff.  It takes up too much bandwidth in an already failing brain.  I’ve slowly mastered my cell phone, or at least the parts of it that I really use (texting, photos, or calling an Uber).  If I want to chat with someone, I call them up.  OK, OK, I probably should at least master that thing on my phone that lets me access my Contacts list while talking to someone on the phone.  But it’s my final offer.

Some of us Boomers have really mastered, nay, embraced all the new technology.  But there are plenty of us who have been left in the dust.  Who likes to feel incompetent, like you can’t work a basic appliance or a TV or listen to a voice mail or figure out how to pay for your parking space?  All stuff that you never gave a thought to for the first 60 years of your life.  Have I outlived my time? Probably.

But I’m drawing the line at the toilet seats.

I don't know how to do this.  And I don't want to learn.

Monday, January 13, 2020

The Curse Of The Intermittent Technical Problem

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published January 15, 2020] ©2020

Is it just my imagination, or do I spend an inordinate amount of time getting stuff fixed?  Something is always broken, whether it’s a computer problem, a funny noise the car is making, a broken sprinkler head, or an ice maker that isn’t making ice.  Even our security cameras decided to fog up for no known reason. 

Of course, I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of the stuff I’m getting fixed wouldn’t have needed fixing in my youth because it didn’t yet exist (like computers).  Or didn’t exist at my house (like ice makers, sprinkler heads, and security cameras).  There was a lot to be said for the era of manual typewriters, hand-washed dishes, ice cube trays, and a climate where it actually rains.

But the true insanity-making problem to fix is the intermittent one. Just as intermittent reinforcement is the quickest way to strengthen a desired behavior, an intermittent technical problem that absolutely refuses to manifest itself in the presence of an entity actually qualified to fix it is the fastest way to make people bats--t crazy.  

Cars, of course, are notorious for this. I am sure if you are the auto repair biz there is nothing you hate more than a person such as me bringing in a vehicle that is making a “funny noise.”  What kind of ‘funny noise’? they ask patiently.  Is it more like a knocking, or a squeaking, or a clunking?  OK, clunking. 

They take the car out for a test drive. Does it clunk?  Not a chance.  Cars are designed to never clunk on command. They only clunk again on your way home.

Our heating system has developed a whine.  It is annoying beyond belief.  But the alternative is being cold.  The heating guy has been out twice and the system purrs like a happy kitten when he is on the premises.

So that brings us to the problem of the pictures on both of our TVs “tiling” (also known as “pixelating.”) The picture will suddenly break up and get totally fuzzy and unwatchable, always, maliciously, at some critically important point in a program or sports event. The fact that it happens on both our TVs which have two different cable boxes suggests that it is not the TVs or the cable boxes but something to do with the cable itself. We allowed it could always be transmission issues from the channels themselves. But surely our cable company could troubleshoot this for us?

Our cable provider sent out a gentleman named George who had the social skills of a sock.  Unfortunately, the technical skills of one too.

Let me just say that we have actually had some very good people come out over the years to deal with the various cable problems at our house.  We have also had a fair share of ones who wish to get out of your home with the greatest possible expedience and least possible service.  I really wish you could give Yelp ratings to cable guys.  There’s a bunch I’d like to see re-employed in trash pickup.

George showed up during our early afternoon appointment window and turned on the TV sets.  No pixelating or tiling was occurring.  He tested the signal on our cable box and pronounced it “fine.”  But, of course, as we noted, the problem was intermittent. Olof mentioned that our cable installation had been done some years ago so we wondered aloud if the wiring was getting a little corroded at this point, especially being so close to the ocean. 

George, however, insisted that he can’t send a “maintenance technician” out to look at a problem that he can’t see on the TV.  He suggests – and we were a tad incredulous – that we reschedule for a service call for an evening time when this problem was occurring. 

Olof, who is a far nicer person than I, reiterated that we notice this problem in the evenings because that is the only time that either of us ever watches TV.  Could very well be happening at other times too.

I, a far less nice person than Olof, queried if the technician would be joining us on the couch for the evening hoping the screen would break up. (I offered to make popcorn.)

But George just shrugged. He left. And our TVs continue to sporadically pixelate.

I couldn’t help but reflect that in my youth, TV picture problems were solved by adjusting the rabbit ears on top of the set.  It helped, or it didn’t help.  But it was vastly less aggravating.

So now I’ll take the route I should have taken in the first place: crowdsourcing.  Anybody out there having this problem too? Were you able to fix it? Olof is hoping to find out before our TV screen disintegrates during the last five minutes of the Super Bowl.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Refrigerator Wars

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

I am lucky enough to have the legacy of parents who were truly kind people and never missed an opportunity to jump in where needed.  So when Olof and I realized that a disabled friend with no local family desperately required assistance, we volunteered to help. And thus began the saga I call will Refrigerator Wars. It could easily be five columns but here’s the abridged version. 

Our friend has 24/7 caregivers.  His refrigerator stopped working. An ancient behemoth, it was ultimately deemed not repairable, despite multiple part replacements over several days.

This was the news I dreaded.  Every appliance repair person who has ever looked at that refrigerator has said, “How on earth did that thing ever get in here?”  My husband wryly opined that it must have been manufactured on site.  It was a commercial-grade built-in refrigerator that wasn’t actually built in.  I’m sure our friend got a great deal on it. 

While lots of places have removal services for an old appliance when you buy a new one, there was no way any delivery service was going to tackle getting this massive fridge out of there.  So I hired multiple handy persons who each worked considerable hours, said they’d be back the next day to finish the job, and were never seen again. One, I learned later from the caregivers, actually used a sledge hammer.

There was fortunately a kitchen door on this 1929 house. Unfortunately it was 28 inches wide and had not only been painted shut but the lock mechanism broken in the lock position.  All other avenues to remove this refrigerator were even more impossible than the kitchen door.

The final set of handy persons succeeded in dismantling this refrigerator and removed it in 26 component pieces to the porch through the newly-unstuck re-locksmithed kitchen door.

I’d pre-selected a replacement at Home Depot only to find that any fridge I wanted was on three-week back order and one-week delivery delay. However, a nearby outlet store said they could indeed deliver the next day and provide take-away service for $90. They wouldn’t let me use my friend’s credit card (probably good news) so I had to buy it.

The next morning I was over there at our friend’s house at 7:15 a.m.  waiting for the delivery guys. 

At 8:40 a.m., a truck pulled up and three teenagers who seemed at most 15 jumped out. I asked them to confirm that they were taking away the refrigerator (pieces) that were on the porch.  Head Teenager says his paperwork doesn’t say anything about taking away the old refrigerator so he can’t do it. Do I want the new one or not?  I am really tempted to say just take it back but the caregiver is looking at me imploringly.  They’ve been without a refrigerator for over a week.

Head Teenager calls Customer Service who tell me that “someone will contact me later in the week” about picking up the old fridge.  Translation: I will never hear from them again. 

Not surprisingly, getting the new fridge in the 28-inch kitchen door requires heroic measures but to the Head Teenager’s credit, he ultimately gets it done.  Caregivers are ecstatic.

11 a.m.  Once home, I call the outlet place and ultimately get Mark, the manager, who promises someone will be out to pick up the old refrigerator tomorrow “at the latest.” 

11:30:  Mark calls back.  A problem. I didn’t tell the salesman that my old refrigerator was a built-in (even if it wasn’t actually built-in).  They don’t pick up built-ins.  I need to call a company who will send out a four-man crew which I would have to pay for.  I tell him I have already had it removed from the house onto the porch and that its component pieces need to be moved all of ten feet onto a truck. 

Mark also says the delivery kids told him there were “six steps” up to the porch.  I reply that the delivery kids are obviously products of San Diego public education and that there are actually two. Mark suggests that the best solution would be that they refund my $90 removal fee and I find some other [clueless idiot] individual to take it away for me.  Would that be acceptable to me?  Me: Hell no.  You guys are going to come get this refrigerator. 

1 p.m. Mark calls and says he is sending a crew later that day to pick up the refrigerator. 

8 p.m. Pick-up crew never shows up. 

9 a.m. Day 9: I go over to the house first thing with 26 strips of paper on which I have printed “refrigerator part” and tape them to all the assorted parts so there can be no mistake.

11:30 a.m. Caregiver calls:  Truck has come and taken away the refrigerator including all its component pieces! 

Day 10: Caregiver calls to report dishwasher isn’t working.  I say, “Tough!”