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.