Monday, April 27, 2020

Journal Of the Plague, Er, Covid Month

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

March 15:
Just when I thought it couldn't get worse, all the public libraries are shutting down tomorrow until further notice.  Fortunately, the La Jolla public library is open for four hours on Sundays. It was like the Luddite Fall of Saigon. My 25-book library queue is in limbo. And seven were already “in transit!”  Fortunately, they were letting people take out up to 40 books each. I grabbed 20.  I've already determined that 10 of them suck.  Going to start reading very very slowly. 

March 22:
The new “dealers” are Walmart or Costco connections.  A friend’s daughter who works at Walmart scored me a 24-roll package of toilet paper. It’s Cottonelle and waaaay better than the prison-quality stuff my market was rationing.

March 23:
My hair stylist texted that they have been shut down. In two weeks, she notes, we’ll know what everyone’s real hair color is.  My husband shrugged, “What does it matter if we have to stay home?” I said: “I want to look nice for the ventilator guy.”

March 24:
As I was filling out the census form that came in the mail, my husband suggested that given current COVID predictions we should maybe hold off a bit.  #superstitious

March 26 :
As hard as it is to get right now, I'm predicting that toilet paper is going to be the new zucchini. People will be leaving it on their neighbors' doorsteps in the dark of night just to get rid of it.

March 27:
Read recommendation that even family members in same household should maintain distance. If my husband and I have to stay six feet apart, one of us will have to sleep on the floor.  #wontbeme

March 30:  
Shelter in place has just been extended to April 30. This is why we needed a woman president. Hillary would never let the nation’s roots grow out.

March 31:
My bread-baking husband assures me that as long as we have bread, we won't have to eat the dog.  (Lily does not like this joke.)

April 1, 2020
All this flip-flopping is making me crazy.  Don’t wear masks!  Wear masks!  Wear gloves in stores!  Don’t wear gloves in stores!  Bring your own recyclable bags when you shop!  You will not be allowed in a store with your own bags!  Get food delivered! Delivery just puts other people at risk in your stead!  It mostly attacks old people! The highest group of patients is middle aged!  Don’t hoard! There will be shortages down the road so stock up! Gaaaah.

April 5:
I ordered a digital thermometer three weeks ago from Amazon but was just notified they will not be able to provide it to me in this lifetime.  Such is people’s desperation that they tend to click on anything that says “In stock – available now!”  That’s how my neighbor accidentally ended up with a meat thermometer and I barely avoided ordering one for ovulation.

April 11:  
I'm genuinely annoyed that Governor Newsom seems to be getting professional haircuts.  If the rest of us have to look like muppets, why not him? 

April 14:  
I want to get one of those tests to see if you’ve already had coronavirus so I could wave that piece of paper at the self-appointed COVID police and say, “Get outta my face, b--tch! I’ve got antibodies!” #coronafantasies

April 16:
The news is so relentlessly awful. People are starting to get mean. Some days I’m ready to tape a DNR to my back and go lick shopping carts.

April 17:
You’ve heard of the “freshman 15?”  I’ve gained the Coronavirus 6.  But that was just in the first month of “sheltering in place.”  I wish my refrigerator could shelter in a different place from me.

April 18:
Crappy news flash of the day:  Air conditioning can spread coronavirus.  Wow, just what everyone in the world wants to hear with summer approaching. Experts suggest “opening windows.” Won’t that let coronavirus IN? 100-degree heat = sweltering in place. #COVIDhumor

April 19:
I’ve cut down my news watching to five depressing minutes a day, all of it a soul-crushing variation of: (1) more people died  (2) more people are going to die  (3) 75% of the population has applied for unemployment benefits (4) we are headed for a worldwide depression that will ruin life for even our grandchildren’s kids (5) your  retirement funds are history (6) your best hope if you’re old is to die soon of something else so you aren’t hogging the respirators, and (7) the coup de grace: it’s an election year. 

April 20:  
As I walk around my neighbor in the late afternoon, I pass moms with their kids trying to have them burn off some energy before bed.  They're often carrying covered coffee cups and stage whisper from their masks, “It’s not coffee.”

April 22: I think my hair outweighs me.

 Re-purposing desperately-needed haircut into all-natural face mask

 Revised schedule for week of March 30

 They wouldn't accept my hair version (above)

New legal tender

Monday, April 13, 2020

The Good Old Days - Part 3

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

My last two columns have been about the early days of my relationship with my first husband, Fred.  We divorced in 1983, and now that he is ailing (not covid-19), we have found ourselves reconnecting on a more positive plane and reviewing our marriage with a different eye. I’m actually glad to have the opportunity. 

Marriage, I learned long ago, gives you not so much a helpmate as a scapegoat. I actually got my first exposure to this concept before I even married Fred but I was too enamored of his handsome body, quick mind, and potential earning power to pay attention.

During our engagement Fred was living in a medical school dormitory on a sub-subsistence budget and one of the ways he economized was to do all of his laundry – darks, whites, and in-betweens – in one load.  Part of the problem was that even standing on the machine lid, it’s tough to get an entire months’ laundry in one small machine. I lived in my own college dorm some 60 miles away.

“Fred,” I used to say at the time, “there is no room in there for the water.  And the stuff that is sticking out of the top if not going to get clean.”

‘Nonsense,” said Fred, the perennial optimist.  “As soon as the lower stuff gets wet, it’ll sink down, and with a little brute force…” He’d then unhook a dispenser of that nasty green liquid hand soap that was hanging on the wall next to the sink and pour it in. 

Every month, Fred’s wardrobe descended into deeper shades of gray until he heard about an inexpensive laundry nearby where a little old man would run the clothes through the machine for you and even fold them up afterward.  (Fred was never much on folding.)  He decided to try it.

When the little old man dumped out Fred’s clothes on the counter, his face registered disbelief.  “Who does your laundry?”  he asked finally.

Fred didn’t bat an eyelash.  “She does,” he said, pointing to me.

The next day when we went back to pick it up, the little old man shook his head at Fred.  “If you haven’t married this girl yet, I wouldn’t,” he said.  “It took me three washes to get it clean and in the process, all the staples fell out.  Did you know that’s how she mends your clothes?” 

“Staples?” I said in disbelief.

“Fortunately, she has a nice personality,” said Fred.

If there is one universal truth about brides-to-be, it is their ability to ignore all warning signs about a future spouse.  The laundry saga should have been a hint. Ultimately Fred moved from his dorm with a roommate to a tiny apartment that I don’t think was ever cleaned once.

The night before Fred had to be out of that apartment the May that he graduated from medical school, I stopped by and noticed that he hadn’t even started to pack, never mind that there were piles of dirty dishes and pots in the sink –two weeks’ worth at least.  And I said, “Fred, how are you going to be out of here by tomorrow?”  And he told me not to worry.

And sure enough, the next morning, he showed up at my parent’s home in New Jersey with a carload of boxes to store in our very damp airless basement for the summer until our marriage in the fall. The whole summer, every time my father went down to the basement he said, “What’s that funny smell?” And when we get married in September and loaded all his boxes in the station wagon, the terrible odor followed us for three hundred miles up the New York Thruway. 

When we got to our newlywed apartment near the hospital where Fred was doing his internship, I started unpacking the boxes. Inside were all the dirty dishes and pots and pans, still unwashed!  The mold was so thick I was at first unable to even identify the contents, such was the growth of fungi on three-month-old tomato sauce.  I confronted Fred with the evidence. 

“Wow,” said Fred, “You really shouldn’t store stuff in your basement.  Way too humid down there.” 

Probably we married each other for all the wrong reasons.  At the time, I was attracted to Fred for his cool composure under pressure and his assertiveness, not to mention a myriad of other qualities.  He said he was initially attracted to me for my warmth and vulnerability.  Describing those same characteristics when we separated, I called Fred “cold and controlling” and he called me a “neurotic psycho.”  I’ve also heard it said that if people stay married, it is for different reasons than they originally married one another for.  At the time of our divorce, Fred and I agreed that he’d had enough of my vulnerability and I’d had enough of his assertiveness to last a lifetime.

I can't say I didn't have plenty of warning.  The photos below were taken for the 1981 TV show "Hour Magazine" hosted by Gary Collins for a segment called "How to live with a slob."  

 Fred's armoire, 1981

 Fred's closet, 1981

Bottom of Fred's closet, 1981

Monday, April 6, 2020

The Good Old Days - Part 2

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

 Last week I wrote about meeting my first husband, Fred, when I was in college and he was a student at Albert Einstein Medical School in the Bronx.  After six months or so, he decided to risk introducing me to his parents even though they would be disappointed that I wasn’t the nice Jewish girl of their dreams. 

“Disappointed” may be a little bit of an understatement.  The gist of that meeting, as I recall, was “Are you trying to kill your mother????” 

Even after it was clear that I was there to stay, Fred’s mother only ever referred to me in the third person and without conjunctions, as in:  “Ask the shiksa she wants dessert.”  These in-laws escaped from Russia in the dead of night with the clothes on their backs, enduring incredible hardships in their new land all so that their son the doctor, their phoenix rising out of immigrant ashes, could marry…me?    SO not part of the plan. 

Ironically, with the passage of time (and the raising of two sons), I have tremendous empathy for her position.  Now that I have adult sons, I know I would be devastated if either of them married someone I truly thought was wrong for him, regardless of the reason.  I wish she were alive today so I could tell her. (She’d still probably tell me to drop dead, but I’d feel better saying it.)

When Fred and I divorced after 14 years of marriage, people would tell me that inter-religious marriages don’t work.  I couldn’t disagree more. I absolutely loved learning about Judaism, and Jewish traditions.  I made a Seder (Passover) dinner for 20 every year, learned all the holiday blessings in Hebrew (after our divorce I wrote them out phonetically for Fred), and gave programs on Passover and Hanukkah at my kids’ schools. After ordering a ham sandwich in Albert Einstein’s kosher cafeteria early on, I boned up on kosher law.

The one thing I hold against Judaism is Manischewitz, a ceremonial wine that tastes like prune juice laced with antifreeze.  Four thousand years and this is the best you can do?  I am sure that there used to be a lot better stuff out there in the (much) olden days.

I especially loved Yiddish. You don’t even have to know what it means to know you’ve been insulted. One time Fred and I went with his folks to visit Aunt Rose in the nursing home. When we walked in, the orderly said, “What does ‘schmendrick’ mean?” Our hearts sank. It’s about as complimentary as it sounds.  Maybe less. “It means she likes you,” said Fred’s mother. She could be very diplomatic to persons other than her sons’ wives.

In the years after Fred and I married, we would bring Fred’s parents out for a two week visit every year.  They were not the easiest visitors.  His father, aka Pop, would not change his watch to our time persisting on spending an entire two weeks visit maintaining an eating and sleeping schedule three hours different from ours.  No point in changing it if you’re just going to have to change it back, he maintained. This was not a hostess’ dream.

Pop naturally got up three hours earlier than the rest of the household but kindly made a large pot of coffee for everyone.  Unfortunately it was always much too weak. An easily correctable problem, however.

Inga:  Pop, I know you’re not used to our coffee maker, everyone’s is different and all, but you need to put in more coffee.  It’s a little weak.

Pop: The problem is you’re using the wrong grind. 

Inga: Actually, Pop, this is the right grind for a drip coffee maker. 

Pop: It’s probably this foreign coffee you’re using.  By the way, the Ipso Facto wants out.

Inga:  The dog is a Lhasa Apso, Pop, and you know it.  We like this brand and it works just fine.  You’re just not using enough of it. 

Pop: So maybe it gets weaker by the time you late risers get up.

Inga: It does not get weaker and we get up at seven a.m.   You just need one more scoop of coffee.  You’ll do that? 

Pop: (Glances at watch.)  Looks like it’s getting to be time for lunch.

Inga:  IT IS EIGHT-THIRTY IN THE MORNING AND IT IS NOT TIME FOR LUNCH.  Look, Pop why don’t you just change your watch to our time, get up when we get up, and I’ll make the coffee.  Will you do that?  Just say yes or no.

Pop: I think the problem is your coffee maker’s no good. 


Fred (entering): Is there a problem here?

Pop: I was just telling Inga she’s got some problems with her coffee maker and she got hysterical.  By the way, the Ipso Facto wants in.

Boris, our "Ipso Facto," 1979