Monday, October 26, 2020

Married To Spider Man

[“Let Inga Tell You,”  La Jolla Light, October 28, 2020] ©2020

 If it’s fall in La Jolla, there are spider webs everywhere.  They seem to be especially fond of my house.

 I’m not particular bug-phobic.  But I’ve never managed to make friends with spiders. 

 However, my husband, Mr. Spider, is probably their biggest fan.  The other night he went to take the garbage outside to the black bin but was back again still carrying it.  “There was a huge spider web right next to it,” he explained reverently.  “I didn’t want to disturb it.” 

 I keep several old brooms around the outside of the house for the specific purpose of disturbing spider webs.  The alternative is that I don’t see them, especially at night, and walk right into them.  Not only is the feeling of being engulfed in web one of my least favorite feelings in the world, but you have to wonder:  Where’s the spider? 

If it had been me bringing out the trash, I would have said, "Sorry, cowboy, dinner's over.  This is a loading zone."

My husband considers spiders to be fellow engineers and has only the utmost respect – almost a  veneration -  of their talent.  There is nothing he enjoys more on a fall evening than sitting outside at dusk watching the spiders go to work.  Me, I’m always rooting for the flies.

 In the decades I’ve been in my house, I know where spiders’ favorite places are:  Across our wrought iron gate to the pool area. Across the walkway to our back gate. Between our cars in the driveway.  Across the steps of our front porch. Silhouetted in the trees.  Under the house. Especially under the house.

 At various times in my 12 years of chronically-broke single momdom, I was forced to crawl under the house – a heavily-populated arthropodal Xanadu (never mind my personal vision of Hell) - to pour muriatic acid into the cleanout pipe. My list of lifetime goals includes never doing it again. 

Interestingly, spiders seem to be able to learn. If I forget to turn off our fountain before it gets dark and have to go outside to get to the switch, I wave my arms in front of me so I won’t get a spider web in my face. I notice that the next night, they build their web higher up.  (Thank you.) 

I realize that arachnids are just trying to make a living like everyone else.  I remember first being informed of this at a workshop at Esalen Institute at Big Sur years ago when I breathlessly reported that our room had black widow spiders. The front desk counter-culture kid replied with barely disguised ennui that the spiders had just as much right to life as I did.  (I chose to squash them.)

I’ve spotted both black widows and brown recluses on my property at times.  Fortunately not often.  The preponderance of our fall spider population are (alleged) non-biters. 

It goes without saying that any spider that has the nerve to actually enter my home is considered to have a death wish which I am happy to accommodate.

My arachnophiliac husband points out that spiders are good for the environment, eating disease-carrying and crop-destroying insects, among others.  I have pointed out to him that our little chunk of La Jolla heaven is minimally agricultural-intensive, although if spiders were willing to consume whatever pest chomps on my basil plants, my opinion of them could change considerably.

Olof, meanwhile, loves to wax awestruck about spiders. Who, he marvels, programmed the brains of these amazing creatures with such sophistication as to be able to create such complicated webs night after night?  How could anyone not be impressed, nay, dazzled?

Every web begins with a single thread, he explains, which are a silk produced from the spinneret glands located in the spider's stomach. The spider climbs to a suitable starting point (my porch light, for example, which has the added benefit of enticing light-attracted insects) and released a length of thread into the wind. With any luck, the free end of the thread will catch on to something else, like my hanging vinca basket. And then he's off and running. Or, in this case, spinning.

If there were a product called Arachnid Death, I wouldn't mind spraying it around outside the house when my husband wasn't looking.  but Olof would be bereft.  Olof is aware that this time of year, I'm offing spiders pretty regularly. It's one of those marital "don't ask, don't tell" things.

He, however, would never slay a fellow engineer. 

After all these years of his influence, I'm surprised to admit that I am actually developing empathy for spiders.  Well, to a point. Just before I whacked a web across my front porch, I said to the spider: "See that tan house across the street with the gray Suburu in the driveway?  I think they're friendlier."  It was the best I could do. 


Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Dogs With Bad Knees

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published October 21, 2020] ©2020

 It’s been my observation over 11 years and nearly 400 columns that I always get the most response when I write about dogs or my husband, Olof. Olof is trying not take this personally.

 The dog sagas have spanned our gradual acquisition of our granddog, Winston, who came to stay with us for longer and longer times until he never went back home again. We were utterly bereft (and still are) when he died suddenly of a heart attack in our living room at age eight but not before we had invested some $10,000 in his well-chronicled multitude of medical maladies.

 Such was our heartbreak about Winston that we vowed to never have another dog.  Then a cunning rescue agency, recognizing mushballs when they saw them, persuaded us to take a “one-week” emergency foster, Lily, our dog today. She’s a 19-pound bichon-poodle mix, a breed Olof always disparagingly referred to as a “foo-foo dog,” 

 “I would never be seen in public with one of those dogs,” he once scoffed, in Winston days. 

 That 6’3” former Air Force pilot that you see around town with the little white fluffy dog?  That’s Olof.  It took Lily all of three days to worm her way into Olof’s anti-foo-foo heart. He is besotted over this animal.

 When Olof and I adopted Lily, it was clear she was going to need extensive dental work. She had actually been relinquished to the County shelter for this reason.  The County’s medical in-take report was all of four words: “Nice dog. Terrible teeth.” 

 But by this time, after Winston, we already had come to grips with being a canine social service agency. So we alerted our vet that she could go ahead and put a down payment on that new Mercedes as we were adopting another dog. 

 Now you’d think that anybody who has spent this much money on canine medical care would have pet insurance. In fact, we originally did for Winston.  I don’t know if it was just a terrible company but they never paid for anything, insisting that the insurance didn’t cover issues that were endemic to the breed.  With English bulldogs, everything is endemic to the breed.  They are the unhealthiest dogs on the planet. In fact, our vet said that in veterinary school they used to have a bumper sticker that read, “Buy a bulldog.  Support a vet.”

 But maybe we should have revisited the possibility of pet insurance for Lily.  Hindsight is 20-20.  So is stupidity.  Other than allergies and bad teeth, Lily, now 11, has been a pretty healthy dog.  That was until she was running around our front yard in early May chasing an imaginary squirrel and ruptured her cruciate ligament.  She basically blew out her knee. 

 Given all the restrictions of Covid at the time, orthopedic vets were only taking emergency cases. The earliest surgery date we could get for her was weeks away, on June 1, and we were lucky to get it. But her emergency after-hours vet visit, a new knee, x-rays, medications, reactions to the medication, and follow-up care ran to $5,000.

 We were told that once you rupture one knee, there is a 60% chance you will rupture the other.  So maybe time to revisit pet insurance.

 There are cautionary tales out there.  We have friends whose dog has now had THREE of these ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) surgeries. First the dog blew out the left rear knee, then six months later the right one.  Just as the dog was almost recovered from the second surgery, she decided to jump up on a bed, fell off, and had to have the surgery all over again followed by in-home canine physical therapy. The poor animal had by this time become addicted to pain killers requiring the equivalent of Doggie Betty Ford as well. 

We have been very clear that we did not want this scenario for Lily. Our vet said not to let her reinjure herself. But try reasoning with a dog.

Alas, all my calls to pet insurance companies yielded a version of "Do we look like we were born yesterday?"  ACL problems are considered bilateral and it is not a secret to pet insurers that if you do this once, you can easily do it again - in fact, will likely do it again - on the other leg. And this time, they said, you want us to pay? Dream on, sister!

So future ACL surgeries are permanently excluded from coverage for her. 

Ditto her allergy treatments (her immunotherapy shots and Apoquel) which were variously excluded as "pre-existing conditions" or "incurable."  They only cover curable conditions. Well, that are not knees.

And alas, none of the pet insurance companies pay for psychotherapy for the owners after the dog needs ACL surgery. For that alone, I'd sign up. It was really stressful. For maybe time to start a health savings account for the dog. 

                       Extremely unhappy post-op dog

Monday, October 12, 2020

Living On Through The Master List

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published October 14, 2020] ©2020

 My sons have teased me for years that I’ve spent my life “rehearsing for death.” But just wait til I’m actually dead and they need to get the streetlight out front fixed.  Actually, it won’t be the kids’ problem since they no longer live in town but my husband Olof is clear that all he’ll ever need after my untimely demise is a file on my desktop (and a copy printed by the phone) called Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About This House.

 This document has been my (adult) life’s work.  As much as I’ve complained about technology, this information all used to be kept on 3x5 cards in a little metal box.  It was a laborious way to keep – or find – information.

 As for that phantom streetlight, which I’ve written about before not only in my Light column but in a story for San Diego Magazine, both SD G&E and the City insist that there IS no streetlight in front of our home. It doesn’t show on their maps and therefore isn’t their problem if the light is broken.  You can only imagine how hard it is to get a non-existent streetlight fixed. 

 But this saga and its resolution is now saved for posterity in my EYEWTKATH document.

 For years, I had probably the best collection of San Diego City phone numbers in the entire county: Numbers related to trash problems, tree roots, tree trimming, postal issues, water meters, rat control, parking problems, sidewalk repairs, and yes, dead streetlights.  These were numbers that people actually answered as opposed to the ones that were listed in the phone book for such services which rang in perpetuity and never picked up.  In fact, I fantasied that those city numbers actually forwarded to a deserted bunker in Montana. 

 You knew you had a good number when someone answered with “HOW DID YOU GET THIS NUMBER?” But getting those numbers required considerable guile and cunning, never mind Herculean persistence. I possessed all of those.

 Decades of complaints from the populace about the failure of anyone in the city entrusted with fixing city problems ever answering city phones (never mind fixing any problems) has finally led to the admirable Get It Done app on the city’s website which, remarkably, often really does get it done.  So my list of actual city service numbers is becoming obsolete.

 But my desktop file is so much more.  It lists info you rarely need until you do, like your SD G&E Circuit and Block numbers. Your postal route number. Endless customer codes and security codes that on-line customer service people hope to stump you with and therefore use as an excuse to not help you.  Medical record numbers for multiple institutions.  Our interior and exterior paint colors. The name of pretty much every doctor we’ve seen in the last 20 years. Newspaper account numbers and the personal cell number of our newspaper delivery guy.  Never ever throw out a phone number.

 One of the longer sections of my document lists vendors we’ve used for every possible service. Writing down who you used before saves a lot of time wracking your brain trying to remember the name of that great carpet cleaner or hardwood floor repairer or HVAC person you used three years ago. I often add people recommended on Next Door for services I don’t need now but may well in the future. 

 I will fully admit that this file could be a lot shorter if I could avoid the editorial comments that as a writer I feel compelled to add.  In fact, am incapable of not adding. So instead of just noting: “use again” or “don’t use again,” my file reads:

 About a recent locksmith: “Very competent.  Also very chatty. Is a conspiracy theorist and insisted on giving me literature about (a) The Rapture (it’s imminent) and (b) the government is planning to use the Covid vaccine as a ruse to implant microchips to control people’s minds. Didn’t ask how they get the microchip in that little tiny needle. But front door lock now works perfectly!”

 Painter: “After he painted bathroom and laundry room – great job! – he re-hooked up the washer but switched the water lines which boiled my cold-wash-only stuff into munchkin size. Definitely use again but leave the rest to a plumber.”

 City Dead Animal Recovery: “They will NOT remove a dead possum from private property! Don rubber gloves and get enough momentum to heave possum over fence into street.  Call back and deny being previous caller about dead possum in that location.” 

 So kids (and Olof), long after I’m gone, you’ll never have to wonder who we use – and especially don’t use – for dozens of services. So if you hire that pool filter-cleaning guy who left the filter apart overnight allowing heavily chlorinated water to pump out and kill an entire lawn, it’s on you.  


Monday, September 21, 2020

The Little Ficus That Could - And Did

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

 Over the nearly 12 years I’ve been writing “Let Inga Tell You,” the many trees on my property have been an ongoing topic. It is well known to readers that I have a tendency to anthropomorphize trees so having to dispense with one, even a 40-foot kaffir plum that is so dead it is imminently about to crash through my roof in a strong wind killing all within, causes me acute pain.  In my defense, that kaffir plum had lovingly supported innumerable tree forts and rope bridges over the years and was probably the back drop for every family picture ever taken.  So saying goodbye to it was heartbreaking.

 There was, however, the time I came home from work to find that a new friend of my then-13-year-old son Rory had managed to fall out of that tree and break his leg.  The friend – first time ever at our house – had similar instructions from his teacher-mother that Rory had from me: you don’t call Mom at work unless someone has lost a pint of blood or is not breathing. Those instructions had to be modified afterwards to include compound fractures and severe pain when I learned that the boys had splinted the kid’s leg with his skateboard and carefully counted down the 62 minutes until school was out. #lawsuitwaitingtohappen

 Olof (my second husband) and I decided after the kaffir plum’s sad demise that our front yard really needed a new tree in that spot, and replaced it with a 15-foot Chinese Elm, fondly named Alma (meaning “soul”).  We won’t live to see the tree be 40 feet like its predecessor but it’s not for my lack of verbally encouraging her, er, it.

 My on-going efforts to keep the local rat population from turning my orange tree into a citrus Shangri-La are familiar to many readers. 

 That same orange tree, however, was used as a clothes line substitute on which I hung rosaries in hopes of ensuring good weather for Rory’s wedding in 2001. A co-worker who grew up in Michigan swore that hanging a rosary on a clothesline before nuptials ensured sunny skies. Since the weather forecast for the day was dismal and the wedding was outside, I was desperate.  My collection of rosaries from my semi-Catholic childhood (one set of grandparents were Catholic) included ones dedicated to various saints but since I wasn’t sure who had the best connections, I hung them all.  The gardening guys who were just arriving looked at me a little nervously.  But they did adhere to my admonitions to PLEASE watch the leaf blowers! And by the way, the weather was gorgeous.

 My sons at the ages of 8 and 10 had their first entrepreneurial experience wholesaling the organic lemons from our then-prolific lemon tree to a local health food store. They learned quality control and invoicing, supply and demand, and also that people will cheat little kids. Ultimately, the lemon tree died (the victim of a new irrigation system) and the health food store (deservedly) went under.  Which is when they learned another valuable concept of fledgling businesses:  don’t quit the day job.

 As I’ve covered before, my first husband always liked to get a small live $10 tree for Christmas then plant it after Christmas  in our front yard.  By the time we divorced ten years later, our yard looked like a Christmas tree farm. The house now felt like a cave, and the constant plumbing bills for tree root problems cost a fortune, but nothing close to the nearly $4,000 it ran me to have all those $10 trees – one of them 30 feet high - removed.  Revenge against your ex-wife comes in all forms.

 I’ve written several times about my often-exasperating efforts to set up a Christmas tree in my first years post-divorce. Single with two little kids, I went for the six-foot Douglas fir simply because they were the cheapest. I’d be on my stomach trying to screw the trunk into the stand while six-year-old Rory was holding up the tree. Three-year-old Henry was supposed to tell me when it was straight.  I crawled out from under the tree to discover that it was listing 45 degrees. Irrefutably demonstrating the principle of gravitational vector forces, it promptly fell over.

 And now for my latest tree saga, the Ficus.  For years it was a struggling house plant trying to hold on to its two leaves. Finally realizing that it just wasn’t going to make it, and hating to just throw it in the trash (I can anthropomorphize house plants too),  I took it outside and planted it in my back yard, wishing it luck.  It is now 25 feet tall and uprooting my back gate and destroying my irrigation system.  This $5 Ficus will probably put me back $2,000 in fence and sprinkler repairs.  And this is one, alas, where the rosaries aren’t going to fix it. (But if anyone knows who the patron saint of tree roots is…)


Location, location, location: Now 25 feet

The Ficus never flourished in my living room and when it was down to 2 leaves it was planted in the back yard to live out what I thought were it's last days in nature


Monday, September 14, 2020

Never Taking Anything For Granted Again

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published September 16, 2020] ©2020

It’s commonly known that we often don’t appreciate what we have until we don’t have it.  By the time the pandemic crisis is over, we’ll all have a list a mile long.  I, for example, would never have believed that the highlight of my week would be access to a shampoo bowl at a hair salon.  For the first time in months, I didn’t have to show up with pre-washed hair and sit in a deck chair in a parking spot breathing car fumes just to have my hair cut.

I confess I’m puzzled as to why hair salons weren’t allowed to have, say, one customer inside at a time just to get their hair washed. The lack of shampooing capability precluded every kind of color or chemical services for months. By the time you got home to wash out chemicals yourself your hair would have either turned orange or fallen out. Probably both.

One aspect of covid control I will appreciate not having to do anymore are constant temperature checks, a good idea that often fails in the execution. Four different times I’ve been told “75 – you’re good!” 

“Um,” I’ve replied, not sure I really want to feed the lions but feeling morally obligated to speak up, “I think the batteries in that thing may be dead.” 

They look at their unit with puzzlement. “Hmm.  I have had a lot of people with temperatures of 75 this week.”

“Not to put too fine a point on it,” I feel compelled to add, “but if your temperature is actually 75, you’d have a lot worse problems than Covid-19.”

Then, of course, there’s the public library, a beloved institution that I will never take for granted again.  I always have my reserve queue maxed out so when they closed down on March 16, it was like a Luddite Fall of Saigon as we non-e-readers stormed the local branches to stock up for what we naively thought was two weeks.  Now, of course, some of the local branch libraries have opened up with a system that has set library science back 200 years. 

You still can’t go inside, but if a book on your reserve list becomes available – rather of a miracle since it’s been only recently that you could actually return any of the 40 allowed tomes from March 15 that had been joy riding around in your trunk for four months – you need to call the library from your car, read them your FOURTEEN DIGIT library card number, tell them the books you’re picking up, and then wait for someone to bring them outside and put them on a table on the patio in front of the library which your masked self then collects.  It often takes a week for the books you return (through a book drop) to go through quarantine and be available again. 

The irony of all this is that the previous system to check out books was virtually touchless.  You put your books in a single pile on the scanner and waved your library card in front of it. The only time you ever touched the machine was to tap the screen with your pinkie if you wanted a receipt. 

Meanwhile, I thought that The Current Thinking was that covid doesn’t really hang out much on surfaces.  Even more exciting than communing with a shampoo bowl will be the thrill of actually browsing library books inside again.

While I have yet to succumb to being an e-reader, I have been forced, against my will, to up my techno skills.  If you want to eat at most local restaurants, the menu is only accessible via a 3-D barcode taped to the table.  I had my third restaurant lunch in six months recently and was hoping to look at the menu while waiting for my friend. 

“We made it really easy,” said the nice server who seated me. “Anybody can do it.”

 He had to come back five times.

“Yes, I see you have your phone on but it has to be on camera mode.”

“Um, you need to actually point the phone at the bar code.”

“No, you’re in selfie mode.”

“You have to tap that bar at the top of the screen.”

“No, in the middle of the bar.”

But when my friend showed up for lunch, however, I forgot all my problems listening to her saga of sorting out her son’s schedule at his private school. The kids are sorted into the Red Team and the Gold Team as to which days they go to school and for which hours, which has also messed royally with the school’s bus schedule. Meanwhile the parents are all on the Psychosis Team along with the Start Drinking at 3 p.m. Team.  

So I guess I should just be grateful that I don’t have kids at home, I can at least get some access to my library books again, and my temperature isn’t really 75.

My car trunk, June, 2020:  Library books I can't return, printer cartridges I can't recycle, and shopping bags I can't use

Monday, August 31, 2020

Don't Try These At Home Either

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published Sept. 2, 2020] ©2020

Last week I wrote about my son Rory’s penchant for re-enacting scenes from horror movies with the objective of scaring the bejesus out of his (adoptive) mother and younger brother.  The most successful – from his point of view – was the incident I wrote about last week where he taped some of the sound track of roaring chain saws and screaming people from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre off the TV onto an audio tape, then plugged it into the timer in his 7-year-old brother’s room and set it to play at 4 a.m.  As a divorced mom living alone with two children, I already felt physically vulnerable, so the idea of there being a chain-saw wielding psycho in my house took years off my life expectancy. 

One evening some two years later, almost-12-year-old Rory had gone to bed, while 9-year-old Henry and I worked at the dining room table. All of a sudden we heard the ominous sound of heavy feet methodically clomping up our front steps and stopping outside the door.

“Who is it?” I called trying to sound calm.  No answer. The (locked) door knob was being turned. “I’m calling the police so leave now!” I announced.  Instead, a flashlight beam appeared between the closed shutter slats. Henry and I, terrified, jumped back so we couldn’t be seen. Now the person was trying to push up the dining room window. I prayed I had locked it.

Hoping to suggest that there was an (armed) male person in the house, I said to Henry, loudly, “Go tell Dad to get the gun!” 

Henry, confused: “We have a gun?” (We didn’t have a Dad either but that was beside the point.)

At first it appeared that the intruder was leaving but instead he clomped down the steps and went to the window on the other side, beaming the flashlight through the shutters there, and trying that window as well. This was serious.

“Quick,” I whispered to Henry,  “wake up Rory, go out the back, and run next door!” Henry was gone in a flash.

But he was back in a flash too.  “Mom,” he cried in horror, “they already got Rory!  He’s gone!”

I ran down the hall and sure enough, Rory’s bed was empty and one of his windows was wide open. 

And then a lightbulb went off in my bed.  I stormed to the front door and threw it open, only to find Rory in clunky hiking boots now making eerie scritching noises on the window pane with his camping flashlight.

“Aw,” he said, disappointed, “how’d you figure out it was me?”

He’d seen some version of this in a horror movie on TV at his Dad’s and thought it would be really cool to try it.  On Mom. 

Just when you think he’d finally outgrown all this, two years later, 14-year-old Rory had gone off to Boy Scouts on a winter Monday night. It wasn’t my turn to drive the car pool so Henry and I were sitting on the floor eating take-out in front of the TV.  All of a sudden I thought I detected movement in the dark patio outside. But the patio was quite secure.  Must have been a reflection off the TV set. Then, however, I distinctly heard someone trying to open up Rory’s bedroom window. Eleven-year-old Henry heard it too. We both looked at each other with alarm.  Rory was not due back until 9 and it was only 7:30.  There was clearly someone out there. 

Before we could even move, the silhouette of a figure appeared at the back door.  It was a glass-paned door but had a screen door on the other side so it was impossible to identify anyone in the dark.  The person just stood there, not moving, staring in at us. It was utterly heart stopping.

“Mom!” cried Henry, in terror. My heart was pounding as well. 

But then there was something about that silhouette that seemed familiar. To Henry’s horror, I stood up, walked over to the door and flipped on the patio light.  And there, of course, was Rory, disappointed once again that he hadn’t been able to carry out his full plan of terror.

It turned out that when they had gotten to the church, they learned that that the Troop meeting had been cancelled.  So the dad who had driven just dropped everyone back home. This was long before cell phones.

In Rory’s world, this was a wonderful and totally unexpected opportunity to terrorize Mom at a time when she would be least expecting it.  It had required scaling the patio fence in the dark but all good plans require sacrifice. Since we hadn’t reacted to shadowy movement on the patio, he was forced to improvise by rattling his window to alert us (all good horror movies require this feature) that Evil Was Lurking. 

I reiterate my question from last week:  Why don’t I have a heart condition?

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Don't Try This At Home

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published August 26, 2020] ©2020

Every parent I know would agree that they would sacrifice their lives in a heartbeat to save their child. Of course, we hope we never have to do it.  On spring morning in 1987, however, I was put to the actual test and look back at this incident more than a little awed at my bravery.  But two lingering questions have persisted.

On the night in question, I was already well into my fourth year as a divorced working mom, and the household members – Rory (almost 10), Henry (7) and me - were sound asleep.  All of a sudden I was awakened by the roar of a chain saw clearly coming from somewhere in the house accompanied by hysterical screams of indeterminate persons.  But the loudest screams of all were from my 7-year-old.  My heart beat went from 70 to 300 in a nanosecond.

I never even thought about calling 911.  Here’s why:

911: What is your emergency?

Inga:  Um, there’s someone in my house with a chainsaw hacking my child to bits! There’s also a bunch of other screaming people whose identity I’m unclear on.  So, could you come, like, quick?

No, my child was screaming for help and needed me now.

I’ve written recently that the master bedroom in our house was actually the former garage converted in a you-should-never-do-this conversion before we bought the house.  So to get to Henry’s bedroom, I needed to traverse the laundry room, kitchen, dining room, living room and hallway. I was aware that some sort of defensive weapon would probably be good even if not specifically designed for combat with a chainsaw and as I raced through the dining room, I grabbed a bat out of the sports bin by the front door.  (It was T-ball season.) I threw open Henry’s door and flipped on the light fully prepared to do physical battle with a crazed chainsaw-wielding psycho. 

Let me just repeat that line again.  I full believed I would be doing physical battle with chainsaw-wielding lunatic.  With a T-ball bat.

In fact, let me repeat that a third time, just in case you’re not getting it. I was fully willing to die trying to (probably futilely) save my child’s life.

I didn’t even want to guess how many limbs were still attached to Henry’s little body. But when I flipped on the light switch, the room was empty, except for Henry sitting up in bed screaming in terror.  A few feet away, however, was a boom box-style tape recorder plugged into the light timer and set for 4 a.m. blasting at full volume the sound track from what I presume was the Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

As you might imagine, my relief was indescribably profound. Even though they were already doing wonders with prosthetics, single parenthood was hard enough even with limbs.  I dropped the bat on the floor and furiously ripped the cord out of the timer. Poor Henry was still sobbing hysterically even after the chainsaw soundtrack and his fellow screamers were suddenly silenced. 

There was not a doubt in my mind who was behind this demonic scheme.  I stomped down the hallway to Rory’s room and literally hauled his astonishingly-soundly-sleeping form out of bed.  This kid was the heaviest sleeper in America.  We always had not one, but two, Wake-the-Dead alarm clocks in his room for school.

Seeing my enraged face, he immediately expressed dismay. “Oh, darn!  Did I miss it?”

Actually, he missed a lot of things over the next two weeks when he was completely grounded -  no TV (especially no TV), no friends, no nothing.  He thought this was entirely unfair since he had slept through the whole thing.  Should have set his own (2) alarm(s) for 4 a.m.  Next time!

I’ve written about Rory many times over the course of this column. Rory was adopted and pretty much my mantra of his life was “Who spawned this child????” His biological mother, when I finally met her in 2009, was mysteriously normal.

From the get-go, Rory was just diabolically creative, but particularly enjoyed terrorizing his mother and younger brother.  He especially loved re-enacting parts of horror movies.  Since I never let him watch those movies at my house, I could only assume he was being allowed to watch them on my ex-husband’s custody time.  And if I may say, in that era his father wouldn’t have minded lowering my life expectancy.

I mentioned at the beginning that this incident has left two lingering questions.

 First: where’s the gratitude???  I mean, seriously, Henry.  I was ready to die for you!

And secondly:  why don’t I have a heart condition?

While this was probably the most egregious horror movie re-enactment Rory ever pulled on me, it was hardly the only one.  Stay tuned next week for The Flashlight-Wielding Heavy-Footed Window-Scritching Intruder and The Ominous Silhouette at the Back Door.   They both still get my heart racing.

Monday, August 17, 2020

The Power Of Love

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published August 19, 2020] ©2020

One advantage of writing a local newspaper column is that you get the opportunity to connect with people you’d otherwise never meet.  Such was the case in early 2018 when I wrote about my husband’s sudden heart attack and how lucky we were that I had just come home when it happened. The fire department arrived four minutes later, the paramedic subsequently noting, “if you hadn’t been here, this would have had a different outcome.” 

One of the emails I received after that column was from a woman named Ingrid whose longtime boyfriend (we seniors need a better name for this), Mike, had suffered a heart attack that same week.  Ingrid lived in an apartment complex in the far southern end of La Jolla; Mike and Ingy, the adored 9-year-old yellow lab the two had adopted as a puppy, resided in a home nearby in Pacific Beach.  The three had taken many road trips together over the years, with more than a few jokes from people about the similarity of Ingrid’s and Ingy’s names.

The difference in our stories was that Mike was home alone when he suffered his cardiac event, missing the “golden hour” that saved Olof. Mike could not be revived.  Ingrid described being in the emergency room with him at Scripps Memorial – a place I knew too well – and being given the news.  She asked the ER nurse if Mike, still connected to life support, could hear her and was advised that hearing is the last thing to go. Ingrid leaned in and told Mike how much she loved him, and promised to take care of Ingy. 

An obstacle to this promise was that Ingrid’s apartment complex didn’t allow dogs. Fortunately, Mike’s son moved into his father’s home and Ingrid would arrive every morning to take Ingy on a long walk around Pacific Beach, the popular duo becoming a familiar sight to treat-bearing shop owners and residents alike.  The exercise and the companionship were sustaining for them both. Ingrid often said that now, without Mike, Ingy was her source of “joy, happiness, and comfort.”

I continued to get regular updates of the two of them, and we finally decide to meet for lunch – the oddly-alliterative trio of Ingy, Ingrid, and Inga – at the Fig Tree in Pacific Beach which allows dogs.  The quintessentially mellow Ingy slept at our feet, oblivious to the noise and to the presence of her fellow canines.

When Ingrid first contacted me, she also mentioned how touched she had been by my column entitled “Inconsolable” in the spring of 2016 about the death from (ironically) a heart attack of our 8-year-old English bulldog, Winston.  I’m sure there were plenty of world events going on that spring but my husband and I didn’t notice them, so flattened were we with grief over the loss of our beloved family member.  I still cry when I think of Olof standing in the doorway of our bedroom, red-rimmed eyes staring at the now-empty space on the floor where Winston’s bed had always been. 

People who do not have pets are often hard pressed to understand the depth of heartbreak and despondence that animal owners experience.  I heard from hundreds of people after that column, mostly dog owners, but cat owners too, and even a woman crushed by the demise of her beloved iguana, Ziggy Marley. Unconditional love is a profoundly powerful emotion – even from an iguana.

I continued to receive photos of Ingy pretty much weekly – she was a hugely photogenic and expressive animal – including her adorably mopey expression as she was sidelined for several weeks with a torn ligament last year.  If misery had a face, this was it.  Even when they couldn’t go out walking together, Ingrid would come over every day while Mike’s son was at work to visit with Ingy. They were such a pair that they were often referred to as a single entity: Ingrid-and-Ingy.

Last month, Ingrid reported that 11-year-old Ingy had been ill with both pneumonia and pancreatitis but was finally bouncing back.  Mike’s son took Ingy to the vet for a final blood test to clear her for walks.  While there, the unthinkable happened. Ingy suffered a seizure and died.

For Ingrid, it was like having her heart torn from her chest. For the first day, she did nothing but throw up. I remembered too well that feeling of life telescoping inward, where one’s desolation is so deep and painful that nothing else matters. 

A week after Ingy’s death, Ingrid and Ingy made their final walk together, Ingrid clutching the box of ashes close to her heart as she walked the mile home. She says she cried the entire way.

A friend on their route gave Ingrid a photo she had taken of the two of them on the boardwalk framed with this poem: 

You came into my life one day
So beautiful and smart
My dear and sweet companion
I loved you from the start
Although we knew the time would come
When we would have to part
You’ll never be forgotten.
You left your paw prints on my heart.

R.I.P. Ingy
 Ingrid and Ingy on the Pacific Beach boardwalk

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.