Saturday, July 24, 2021

Just When You Thought Things Were Getting Back To Normal

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published July 26, 2021] ©2021

The stove gods have been pooping on our heads again.

We were enjoying a quiet post-prandial evening last month when all of a sudden we heard the ominous Three Beeps of Death.  We looked up at each other from our books, hoping against hope that this was some other appliance beeping at us. I’ve done whole columns on this, trying to determine which of our many electronic apparati is vying for our attention. If we had Alexa, our first request would be “disable all beeping.”

But these three beeps were all too familiar.  On three previous occasions they had been immediately followed by the dreaded F2 E1 error code.  The electronic panel has shorted out.

We know from past experience that there is no hope for this.  It’s going to be a whole new panel – about $500 after service calls and wait time for it to be ordered, during which time we will be relegated to microwaving and crock potting.

But the idea of not having a stove for indeterminate periods puts my sourdough-enthusiast husband into full yeast-deprived depression.  Last year when this happened, we decided to just go buy a new stove. 

Alas, it was early-on in the pandemic. In April, 2020, appliance emporiums were only accepting on-line orders – you couldn’t go into the store itself – and were not installing.  They would deliver your large kitchen appliance to your garage (we don’t have one), or alternatively “curbside” which, translated into English means “in the street.”  Where a car could hit it.  And certainly not improve the functionality of the appliance especially if it is now on the next block. 

Then there was the more-than-minor problem about getting this curbside appliance into our home which would included a long walkway and several steps. We're senior citizens.  So the two of us wrassling a heavy appliance box from the street into our house might not be an exercise we would survive.  We would, of course, instruct our children to sue the appliance place for premeditated, wrongful, elder-abusive death.  

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

So our only alternative was to get the panel replace again. A mere 13 months later - 1 month out of warranty - it shorted out again. 

But hey – the pandemic was now pretty much over. Installers would come into your house! I went on-line to look at our prospects.  It had to be a 30-inch gas slide-in, white, but other than that we were flexible.

There was exactly one option that was going to be available to us before early November (we’re not even sure they meant 2021).

Friends had mentioned that they’d had similar problems ordering large appliances. Factories were closed for months during the pandemic.  Parts were not being manufactured either.

The brand we were forced to buy had $1,000 worth of features we didn’t want and will never use.  An air fryer, for example.  We don’t even regular fry. And by the way, the no-pre-heat feature for the air fryer was an additional $200. It also had convection (never used it on my old one), and worst of all, a center griddle that takes up much of the cooking real estate on an already-narrow stove top.  But it advertised it can do six grilled cheese sandwiches at once! 

Further, the store that was carrying it had exactly one of them left in their warehouse until potentially the next millennium. But allegedly available for delivery next week.

And, in fact, it did show up despite multiple people warning us that we’d probably get a call the night before saying, “oops, don’t have it after all.  Next order expected in January.”  It’s apparently an all-too-common post-pandemic experience, along with four-hour hold times with airlines, a dearth of restaurant workers, and a national shortage of pool chlorine.

Personally, I would give anything to be able to buy a stove of the type I grew up with that exactly two dials – one for preheat-bake-broil and the other for temperature, and exactly one thing that could go wrong with it (the bake igniter at the bottom). 

But in the spirit of embracing all the features we never wanted, Olof and I made air fried onion rings on the Fourth of July which really weren’t bad. Olof can bake boules again which is a major mental health benefit.  And at least we don’t have to be on hold with an airline.

 Grilled cheese, anyone?


The dreaded F2 E1 Error Message strikes again (fourth time)


I see a lot of griddling and air frying in our future


Tuesday, July 13, 2021

A Rodential Dilemma

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published July 12, 2021]  ©2021

One of my most common topics over the years – and probably the least favorite of the local Chamber of Commerce – regards La Jolla’s rat problem.

The little varmints are insidious.  Also pervasive, prevalent, ubiquitous, widespread, epidemic, and generally everywhere. If you were a rat, you wouldn’t choose to live anywhere else.

This is because upscale areas like La Jolla offer lush foliage for high-end rodential housing, never mind a veritable cornucopia of rats’ preferred cuisine, including and especially oranges, pet food, and snails.

On your tax bill, you pay for something called Vector Control which deals with disease vectors, particularly typhus, plague, and Hanta virus, all potentially carried by our rodential residents. Rats can also be complicit in damage to the wiring in one’s home should they move into your warm cozy attic. 

When you have a prolific orange tree as we do, word gets out in Rodentia Land.  I’ve spent four decades attempting to control our rodent guests with everything from reducing their food supply (donating all the oranges to food banks) to smiting the little buggers in ways that sometimes make even me feel bad.

In my defense, I did try to start with the humane approach. A gentleman from a local pest control firm responded to my call for rat-control services and installed live-capture traps around my property with promises that he would be back daily to check on them.  It was all very humane, he explained.

“So, what do you do with them after you catch them?” I asked, immediately regretting the question. 

“Oh,” he said, “we drive them out to the country and let them go.”  He actually said this with a straight face.  Unfortunately, he looked like he’d had a supporting role in The Terminator and that the back of his truck was filled with devices I didn’t want to know about. 

Now here’s the problem: my younger granddaughter recently decided she wanted two pet rats, and persuaded her mom to take her to the local pet store to acquire some.  I told her father that there was no need for them to have wasted a single dime on this as I could have supplied as many rats – live trapped, health-screened, and overnighted – as they wanted.  I would even have felt my guilt assuaged a teeny bit, kind of like the White House pardoning a turkey every year.  (Let me tell you, that turkey should be buying lottery tickets.)

But by the time I heard about it, they had already acquired Velma and Louise, two alleged sisters. I say “alleged” because two days later, Velma (or was it Louise?) gave birth to 11 more rats.  Either Velma was getting it on with another rat after hours in the pet store, or Louise is really Louis.  Time will (quickly) tell. 

But my granddaughter is absolutely besotted with Velma and Louise and has built them an elaborate multi-tiered ratopian habitat with toys, exercise wheels, swings, and every accoutrement a rat could ever want.  Rat World should do a spread. 

When I FaceTime my granddaughter, she has Velma and Louise snuggling her neck, crawling around on her head, and otherwise being the cuddliest of pets.  She says their fur is incredibly soft.  She has even taught them tricks. Why, she asks pointedly into the phone camera, would anyone ever kill them?

Correct answer:  Because you have two and I have 500?

Still, Velma and Louise have really caused me to suffer a full-on attack of cognitive dissonance about our rat abatement efforts. 

Truth be told, Velma and Louise are not the first rats who have caused me to feel bad about this. Several years ago, the son of my dear friend, “Carol,” had an adorable white rat named Cream Puff. 

When Carol went through a horrible divorce, “Puff “ would lick the tears off her face at night as she sobbed into her pillow. One can never underestimate the power of pets to sustain people in times of sorrow.

A year later, a bereft Carol reported that Puff had been diagnosed with breast cancer. We’ll leave aside the obvious questions as to who treats pet rats (I have enough trouble finding vets for our birds) and how this diagnosis might have been made.  Routine mammogram? Self-exam?

But there were actually treatment options for Cream Puff, including surgery.  These days, if you can do it for a human, vets can do it for your pet. Carol agonized.

Some weeks later, I got a call from Carol. She weepily reported she was in the vet’s waiting room waiting to have Puff put down.  The treatment plan would likely cause Cream Puff considerable discomfort with no guarantee of appreciably extending her small furry life.

We cried over a memorial bottle of wine later that evening. And yes, it was really, really sad.

Sorry, rats. It all comes down to being invited. Velma and Louise, you should be buying lottery tickets too.

 R.I.P Cream Puff. The best of rats.


Monday, July 5, 2021

Shopping For My Next IT Guy

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published July 5, 2021] ©2021

I personally think that it’s not too much to ask that computers do what you want, not what you say.

Not long ago, I was just typing along, minding my own business, when my computer suddenly began spell checking in German, cheerfully morphing  my prose into variations of Ich bin ein Berliner.  I officially dispute my engineer husband’s allegations that I had anything to do with it. 

My husband will try to insist that I obviously “did” something as computers are, in fact, simply machines cycling ones and zeros, and not malevolent spawns of the devil as some might maintain.  But he will concede that when, for example, a tool bar suddenly disappears, I might not have done it intentionally. 

“So what exactly went away?” he’ll query patiently, knowing that this conversation is as doomed as many that have gone before it. 

“Well, there used to be a tool bar thingy and now it’s gone.”

“What was on it?”

“I don’t know.  But I know I need it.”

My techno guy presses on.  “Would you recognize the thingy bar if you saw it again?” he says patiently.  He recognizes the value of not getting overly technical with me.

Now there are those who think the Undo command fixes things like this.  But they would be wrong.  Undo fixes the text mistake you just made nanoseconds ago but the second you even breathe on the machine, it’s already moved on.  The Undo command has a very short attention span.

Ditto, on-line help.  Totally, completely useless unless you know the technical term that some eighteen-year old acned techno geek gave it.  For example, I lost an entire day of work unable to edit a document until my husband came home from work and observed, “Oh, you switched to Overstrike Mode.”  A keystroke and it was back to letting me insert text.  

“I did not switch anything!” I whined. “Why would I switch to something that keeps me from editing and whose name I don’t even know?” I can assure you that you can’t get out of Overstrike unless you know you’re in Overstrike. 

If a software company had asked me, and inexplicably they never do, I would help them design a computer that real people, especially aging non-technical but really nice people, could actually use.  The Clairvoyance Model.  Your computer would get to know you, realize that those nasty keystroke commands that are the boon of techno types, but the bane of the techno challenged, should be ignored at all costs.  The Clairvoyance Model would quickly learn that you have the frustration tolerance of a gnat.  It would sense when you are so aggravated with your computer that you are ready to drag it out to the driveway and run it over with your car. It would know that you only activated Tracking inadvertently by some accidental keystroke and that you want all those stupid red lines in the margins to go away right now.

I confess I lie awake nights wondering what am I going to do if my live-in techno guy goes to the great recycling bin in the sky before I do. Would I ever be able to find someone willing to have the conversation I described above? 

I have a standard joke with him that at his burial, I am going to throw myself on top of his coffin and let them dump dirt on me. It would be an act of kindness to all future persons who might be forced to deal with my technical difficulties.

It might not surprise you that my husband actually agrees with this. His version of heaven is someone having to deal with my computer problems who isn’t him. He says he hopes his successor drinks Scotch.

I know that there are theoretically services that will come to your house and sort out computer problems for you. But I have computer issues pretty much daily. When I accidentally hit Control Whatever and send my screen to Mars, how fast will they respond? I require service. Immediately.

I understand from friends that some of the more upscale retirement facilities actually have IT guys on staff.  But do they have the Patience of Job, er, Olof?  I fear not.

Will they let me get out my lined legal pad and wait patiently as I take down their instructions in the minutest detail so as to make the resolution of this problem potentially (operative word) replicatable in the future? I really do aspire to the “teach a person to fish” strategy even if the techno fish I’m angling for seem to go immediately extinct.

But you can be sure that if I end up in a retirement facility by myself that the top criterion I’ll have is interviewing the IT guy.  Food, schmood.  It’s all too bland and sugar-free anyhow. I just want my computer to work.  Right now.