Saturday, November 26, 2022

I Have No Idea How I Did It

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published November 28, 2022] ©2022

Even though Olof and I have been married for 27 years, I still find myself locked in the mindset of the twelve years between my two marriages when I lived a truly penurious existence.

During that time, nothing got repaired unless I could fix it with duct tape, picture wire, or hair scrunchies (a grossly under-rated tool) and nothing got replaced until it absolutely disintegrated. 

Some months after Olof and I married, he put his arm around my shoulder as he was leaving for work one morning and queried plaintively, “Dear, if the market goes up another ten percent, could we get a new bath mat?” 

My younger son, Henry, now 42, recalls growing up in poverty. Yes, here in La Jolla. Upon hearing this, Olof, never one to miss an opportunity to affectionately ride me about what he felt were my marginal housekeeping skills, replied, “No, you didn’t grow up in poverty.  But you did grow up in squalor.” 

Excuse me, but there are only so many hours in the day when you’re a working single mom of two carpool-intensive kids. I managed youth sports teams and was Pack Committee Chairman of La Jolla Cub Scouts in an era where all communication was by handouts or extremely inefficient “phone trees.”  (Does anyone even know what those are anymore?) I am insanely envious of team managers who can just post maps to game locations on a website.  I, meanwhile, did quite a few Cub Scout mailings in stop-and-go traffic on Torrey Pines Road on my way home from work.

An avid journal keeper and chronicler throughout my life, I sometimes consult my journals to check recollections for columns.  Recently, I came upon this except from a conversation with Henry, almost 10, dated March 9, 1990.  Rollerblades were the new fad toy and Henry was convinced he was the only kid who didn’t own a pair. He sat glumly in the back seat as we drove home from school.   

"What's the matter, sweetheart?" I asked.

"Everybody we know is richer than we are," said Henry.

"Well, you got that right," I said. We rode silently for a while.

"Henry," I said finally, "what you need to understand is that we are not poor.  We just don't have any money." 

Henry rolled his eyes. "So what's the difference?"

"Well, we own our own home. OK, several financial institutions own our home. But that's a big deal these days.  What we don't have is cash."

"Jamie's pool is bigger than our whole house," said Henry.  "And they go to Hawaii every Christmas and skiing every Thanksgiving. And they have a phone in their car. And he get five dollars for every A." 

"Sweetheart, no matter where you go, someone is going to have more than you.  And even if Donald Trump [yes, I really wrote that!] proposed to me tomorrow, you'd still have to do chores.  Richness is relative." 

"Only poor people say that."  

"OK, then. We could move to the barrio.  Then we'd be 'rich'."

"Yeah, but they shoot at you there."

"Hey, you wanna be rich or not?" 

Everything that went wrong with the house was on me.  A friend astutely observed soon after I took over ownership, “You need a lover who likes gardening and pool maintenance.”

I had traded every asset of the marriage plus taken out a second mortgage (co-signed by my wonderful father after banks laughed in my face) to buy my ex out of our house.  It was the best financial decision I’ve ever made but my entry level job and child support didn’t begin to cover the costs of living here 

The house just got shabbier and shabbier until Olof married me and undertook some serious self-preserving improvements.  Like central heat, and an upgrade to our 50-amp fuse box.  He was tired of the kids using the toaster oven and blowing him off his computer.

I recently wrote a column about loving to sit outside on fall evenings listening to the Zen sound of crickets chirping.  I observed that communing with nature like this made up for all the years when the only thing I communed with was my watch. 

I remember nights back then when I would have gotten the laundry done and piled it on the bed at 11 p.m., only to fall asleep on top of it soon after.  I didn’t even read one book a year.  If I had ten spare minutes between car pools, I took a combat nap 

I just feel tired even thinking back on it.  I guess you just do what is required at the time.  I certainly wasn’t spending a lot of time pondering the meaning of life.

And, yes, we did get a new bath mat, although, frankly, I felt the old one still had life in it.  I could have kept its ratty self going for at least another year.



Friday, November 11, 2022

A Belated Book Club Guide To Inga's Book

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published November 13, 2022] ©2022

One of my greatest joys in retirement is to read at least three books at week, as opposed to the two pages a year I read during my 12 years of divorced working momhood.  I’ve noticed that some of the books I read have a Readers Guide at the end should it be a book club selection.

I published a book back in 2014 (Inga Tells All: A saga of single parenthood, second marriage, surly fauna, and being mistaken for a Swedish porn star) and frankly, it didn’t occur to me to write a Reader’s Guide.  So I am going to do so now.  My autobiographical book had the same characters (way too) familiar to Light readers over the last 14 years: my (second) husband Olof; my sons Rory and Henry, my granddog, Winston (now gone over the rainbow bridge), and my first husband.  

So here might be some questions that would stimulate discussion:

(1) Inga chronicles her early divorce life in her Dates From Hell series.  Which of her early dates was the biggest creep: the criminal lawyer with a cocaine habit and herpes? The commodities broker whose decrepit car required Inga to climb through the passenger side window in a short skirt? The newly-certified massage therapist whose date proposal was giving her a massage at half price? The guy who, tasked with renting a movie for the evening on her Video Library membership, rented “American Girls in Heat, Part II?”

(2) Inga maintains in her book that “Olof has always maintained that I married him for his skills with a sewer augur, but this is only partially true.”  After reading this book, do you agree that the definition of “romance” for single women with young toilet-ravaging children is more about plumbing and home repair skills?

(3) Inga and Olof met as exchange students spending their senior year of high school in Brazil.  They could have married each other the first time around.  Is there any accounting for the stupidity of youth?

(4) Inga’s older son, Rory, was adopted and turned out to be a diabolically creative child with world class skills at psychological warfare against adults, most especially his mother.  Which of Rory’s many escapades would you consider the most inventive:  the Jolly Jumper baby brother slingshot disaster? The dropping the big rock down the chimney onto the metal grate two feet from where Mom was reading prank? The spray-painting Henry silver crisis?  The Cleveland airport catastrophe? The Jack in the Box ketchup packets under the tires spraying the black sports car affair? The Philadelphia airport debacle? The 15-inch rubber penis in the guest bath during mom’s dinner party event? The Bomb Squad incident?

(5) When people adopt, they like to believe that how a child turns out is 5% nature and 95% nurture. Rory has turned into a devoted husband and father with a successful career, but still likes to keep his hand in things, as Inga chronicled in the chapter about Rory hijacking her library account when he was 32, reserving such titles as “The complete illustrated guide to lesbian sex” and “How to cope with your colitis and hemorrhoids.”  Is a person’s nature fixed at birth? 

(6) In a chapter entitled “The son also rises”, Inga writes about her younger son Henry receiving a prestigious scholar-athlete award, and, when interviewed by local papers, was asked if there was anyone he wished to thank.  He replied, “I’d like to thank my dad for teaching me how to have fun.”  Dad had never driven a single sports practice carpool or helped on a single school project. Was Inga justified in fantasizing over the next few weeks about poisoning Henry’s lunches?

(7) Inga’s chapter on how to be a good mother-in-law was summed up in two words: “Shut. Up.”  Agree or disagree?

(8) Inga’s granddog Winston was prone to mount guests’ legs under the dinner table. Why do you think dogs prefer women’s legs over men’s?

(9) In a chapter entitled “There’s more cookin’ than the food” Inga writes about Olof having an emotional affair with a southern cooking show host. Every time she said, “mah bourbon pecahn pah” Olof’s eyes would go out of focus. Can this be considered culinary adultery?

(10) Inga was dismayed to realize that all the TV shows she likes are sponsored by anti-depressants.  Should she be taking Cymbalta?

(11) Inga is an avowed technomoron and is hoping to die before she has to upgrade to another iPhone, for which everything she currently knows how to do will cease to work. Olof, an engineer, insists that the reasons that phones don’t come with nice written instruction manuals anymore is because the working of them is “intuitive.”  Is Inga justified in smiting Olof when he says that?

(12) Inga has written a chapter called “Why it takes four women eighty emails to set a lunch date.”  Is this true of book clubs too? Or is the issue there why some people show up without having read the book just to drink wine and announce, “Can someone summarize it for me?”  Should those people be permanently banished and never allowed to join a book club again? Yours especially?


Saturday, October 29, 2022

Would You Make Up Your Mind Already?

[“Let Inga Tell you,” La Jolla Light, published October 31, 2022] ©2022

You never really know how annoying people can be until you actually live with them.

Some of them can continue to be really annoying even after they don’t live with you anymore but merely visit.

I am speaking of my husband and sons. I am so over picky consumers.

As the family shopper, I do my best to stock my family’s preferred foods and beverages, only to have them change those preferences without informing me.

It’s bad enough to have a pantry or freezer full of food from your usual market that people specifically asked for but no one is eating anymore.  But if it came from another market to which you made a special trip, it makes the household shopper positively surly.

I am sure I am not alone in this.

Olof, for example, seems to go through cycles of favorite snack foods.  For a while, he preferred unsalted roasted almonds that were really only available, and not always in stock, in those bulk bins at Sprouts. 

So, when they had them, I’d buy up to ten pounds at a time and transfer them to plastic containers and store them in the modest freezer of my side-by-side refrigerator.  They’d take up a fair amount of room but usually he was eating them at a sufficient pace that there would quickly be room for actual food.

After a while, I’m noticing that there still seem to be eight pounds of almonds taking up valuable real estate in the freezer, and they aren’t moving. 

“Olof,” I say, “what’s with the almonds? You don’t seem to be eating them. 

 “I’m kind of tired of them,” Olof replies. “Would you start getting unsalted mixed nuts instead?”

Let me say that I now know pretty much every recipe you can make with eight pounds of orphaned almonds.  Pestos! Banana bread! Crusted fish! All of which I never intend to eat again!

Alas, unsalted mixed nuts went the way of roasted almonds.  Then he was on to a specific brand of tortilla chips and fresh salsa.

Two weeks ago, I couldn’t help but notice that the opened bag of tortilla chips had gone stale, and the container of fresh salsa had just expired.  I ended up dumping both.  He’s apparently moved on to sliced cheese.

“Olof, min lilla lutfisk,” I said, “would it be at all possible to indicate to the family shopper – that would be moi - when your food preferences have changed? Because the family shopper lacks clairvoyance but is finding herself increasingly aggravated at the lack of communication skills in this household of which the only other occupant is you.” 

It’s been a problem long before Olof got picky about snacks. When my sons were growing up, and even now in their adult years, keeping up with what they’d eat – and drink –has been a constantly changing script. School lunches would start coming home uneaten.

For a while, Rory would only eat sandwiches made from cold cuts from a certain deli (not, of course, the one at your local supermarket.)

And don’t even get me going on sandwich bread.

Henry was a particularly difficult kid to feed.  If he’d had his druthers, he would have subsisted entirely on Chinese food until he was ten.  I had this theory that some major cosmic accident had occurred during his conception and that there was some poor woman in Asian whose kid would only eat Hostess Ding Dongs and McNuggets.

Keeping up with Henry’s beer preferences in his adult years has been a losing battle.  Since you have to buy a whole six-pack at a time, I could open my own Farmer’s Market concession stand of formerly-preferred IPAs. 

I have to admit, even the dog does it.  No, not change beer preferences.  She’s a confirmed teetotaler. She’ll suddenly refuse to eat whatever she’d been eating, so I’ll try different foods until I find something else she’s willing to consume.  Then I go ahead and order a case of it on Chewy which she decides she doesn’t like when we are halfway through it.

Maybe I can add all that dog food to my IPA stand? I could even invite other local moms to consign their own family’s rejectables to the table.  I’m thinking this could be a whole new cottage industry among terminally testy household shoppers nationwide. We could ever donate the proceeds to some good cause, which I’m thinking should be a weekly happy hour.

Now, one might suggest buying in smaller quantities but that would assume that my time is only important to me, not to the uncommunicative fellow residents.

OK, I admit I’m an enabler.  But like most moms, it’s built into our ego systems to want to take care of our families, including the pathologically picky dog, and have their preferred sustenance on hand.

But from now on, Henry can bring his own damn beer.



Saturday, October 22, 2022

Inga's Guide To Acing Your Driver's Test

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published October 24, 2022] ©2022

Despite five decades of clean driving records, Olof and I were required to take a written test to renew our driver’s licenses since we’re over 70.  Lifelong Type A students, we took some 40 practice exams just to make sure we didn’t fail by missing one of those trick questions the DMV is famous for. I think I can save readers a lot of trouble and just sum it all up in one all-encompassing test.  Pass this and you’re good to go.

At a stop sign with at least a little bit of visibility on either side, you should:

(a) quickly glance both ways then increase speed and blow through it

(b) forget the glancing and just blow through it

(c) realize that STOP means “Slow To Observe Police”

You are stuck behind a total geezer driving the speed limit on a two-lane road where passing on the left is prohibited.  You:

(a) pass him on the right hoping to nudge him into oncoming traffic

(b) wait for the next ravine and make your move

(c) Old people should be put on ice floes and sent out to sea

As the light turns green, a blind person with a service dog is crossing in front of you.  You:

(a) honk and proceed (damn dog needs to learn to walk faster)

(b) assume the guy bought the cane and the dog’s vest on Amazon and is faking.

(c) should make a donation to the Humane Society in the dog’s name if you were wrong

With a Class C driver license, a person may drive:

(a) a two-axle vehicle if the Gross Vehicular Weight is less than 6,000 pounds and you are towing a horse trailer

(b) a two-axle vehicle if the Gross Vehicular Weight is more than 6,000 pounds but the horse trailer contains goats

(c) No one, including the DMV, actually knows what a “Class C” driver’s license is

You do not have to signal a left turn:

(a) if one hand is occupied with the wheel and the other with your cell phone

(b) if you drive a black SUV

(c) because it’s nobody’s business which direction you’re turning

Children who say “Are we there yet?” more than 10 times may be:

(a) left by the side of the road

(b) given phenobarbital

(c) addressed in a tone that is not our “inside voice” 

Hitting a tree at 80 miles per hour while intoxicated:

(a) is most damaging to deciduous varieties and ornamentals

(b) makes a moot point of the whole 400-feet-to-stop thing

(c) may require your estate to replace the tree

The yellow light in a traffic signal:

(a) means “speed up or you’ll miss the light!”

(b) is also known as a “pink” light if the light has already turned red when you go through it

(c) All of the above

Alcohol concentration in the blood is legally described as:

(a) “a buzz”

(b) “hammered”

(c) “basted” 

Just before a train hits your car that is stalled on the railroad tracks, your last words are:

(a) #@%^**^&!

(b) @(&^%$$%!!

(c) &$#@###*&%!!!

You must stop at railroad tracks when the bell sounds and the gate goes down:

(a) if you actually have time to wait for a whole frigging freight train to go by

(b) unless you think there is room to get around the gate before the train gets there

(c) This question should have been before the last one 

If you park your vehicle in an area not usually used for parking:

(a) it usually means it is a primo make-out area

(b) you have no memory after that 10th Jell-o shot how you got your car ended up on top of that storage shed

(c) think the parking control people are too rigid in their definition of “sidewalk”

State law requires children to be restrained in an approved car seat until:

(a) the square root of their age plus the reciprocal of their weight

(b) the square root of their weight minus the reciprocal of their height

(c) they whine so loud that you can’t stand it

When using a roundabout, drivers should:

(a) be prepared to get sucked into a vortex from which they’ll never escape

(b) petition your Congress person to outlaw roundabouts which are confusing and terrifying to just about everyone

(c) just drive over the median on the smaller ones

It is OK to smoke in a car with passengers under 16 if:

(a) the kids are not coughing violently

(b) you can still see out the windshield

(c) it really depends on what you’re smoking (wink wink)

You can make a U-turn in the middle of a block when:

(a) you see a prime parking spot on the other side of the street

(b) you spot a Taco Bell advertising a two-for-one Chalupa special

(c) Police officers pursuing you have put up a road block ahead

The best mindset toward other drivers when navigating California’s roadways is:

(a) It’s all about me

(b) It’s only about me

(c) Move over



Saturday, October 15, 2022

It's Crickets For Me

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published October 17, 2022] ©2022  

While my husband Olof and I have many common interests, we will be the first to admit we suffer from insect incompatibility.  He’s a spider guy and I’m a cricket person. 

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

My husband, however, is probably their biggest fan. Hence, fall is his favorite season. The other night he went outside to put the garbage bag in 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, meanwhile, keep several old brooms around the outside of the house for the specific purpose of disturbing spider webs. 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.

Olof 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 and after? How could anyone not be impressed, nay, dazzled? 

 My arachnophiliac husband points out that spiders are good for the environment, eating disease-carrying and crop-destroying insects among them others. I have pointed out to him that our little chunk of La Jolla heaven is minimally agriculture-intensive, although if spiders were willing to consume whatever pest chomps on my basil plants, my opinion of them could change considerably. In the decades I’ve been in my house, I know where spiders’ favorite places are:  Across the steps of our front porch. Between our cars in the driveway.  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 Hell - to pour muriatic acid into the cleanout pipe. My list of lifetime goals includes never doing it again. 

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.) 

If there were a product called Arachnid Death, I wouldn't mind spraying it around the outside of 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 "don't ask, don't tell" things.  Olof would never squash a fellow engineer.

 Meanwhile, while Olof is enraptured watching spiders spin their webs, I’m sitting in my lawn chair waiting for the crickets to start their nightly orgy. Nocturnal creatures, they sleep off last night’s bacchanalia during the day and come to crepuscular life ready to look for a late lunch and a hot female cricket.  It’s the male crickets who are rubbing their wings together to create a vibration called stridulation, Latin for “hey, baby, wanna see my etchings?”. No actually, it means “harsh sound” but neither lady crickets nor I would agree with that description. 

I just find there’s something very Zen about cricket chirping. I love listening to them, communing with nature.  It makes up for all the years that I didn’t commune with anything but my watch. 

It’s not that Olof dislikes crickets. He just thinks their eat-sleep-mate repertoire is a little limited. Although he fully admits that there was a time when this would have been his ideal life.

Sometimes crickets will find their way into our bedroom which is fine with me.  A few years ago, around New Years, Olof and I were lying in bed late one night, he reading, and I enjoying a cricket concert.  I commented to Olof how late the cricket season seemed to be this year.  And after a pause, Olof says, “Um, Inga, I don’t hear any crickets.” 

Turns out Inga had developed a form of tinnitus (ringing in the ears) that mimics the sounds of crickets chirping.  As opposed to the other common tinnitus sounds (ringing, clicking, buzzing, and roaring), this was fortuitous indeed. The other ones would make me nuts. But hallucinating cricket sounds off-season was pure pleasure, until it disappeared as quickly as it had come. 

After all these years of Olof's influence, I am trying to develop empathy for spiders.  Still, just before I whacked a web across our front porch, I said to the spider, "See that tan house across the street with the Ford Explorer in the driveway? I hear they're friendlier."  It was the best I could do. 




Sunday, October 2, 2022

Planning Ahead

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published October 3, 2022] [Blog version] ©2022

Recently I’ve been writing about some heavy-duty topics.  Trolls on neighborhood social media. Polio. Crime. The evil Franchise Tax Board.  So now it’s time to go with something lighter.  Like death.

A friend and I were recently discussing the fact that women who are dying often magnanimously tell the husband to marry again.  They want him to be happy.  They also know he’s completely helpless and even if she purchases a freezer for the garage and leaves ten years of frozen meals, he doesn’t know how to turn on the microwave. 

Yes, I know that’s an incredibly sexist statement.  But why is it that widowed men tend to re-marry so quickly? 

And why is it that you rarely (never?)  hear of dying men telling the wife that he wants her to remarry?  Well, partly because he knows there isn’t a snowball’s chance that this would happen. No need to waste his (dying) breath.

The odds just aren’t in her favor.  Guys his age are marrying women at least twenty years younger.  Like, he really really loves her but no offense, what guy is going to want his wife’s sagging menopausal body?  Fortunately, when he married her all those decades ago, she looked a whole lot, well, firmer. Nobody warns you.  Guys, alas, definitely age better.

My friend “Natalie” who lives in a very high-end local retirement facility says that when a single man comes into their community, either alone or because the wife he came in with dies, he is inundated with women bearing casseroles.  At the end of a year, observes Natalie, he marries the best casserole.  She has hardcore statistical data on this.

Personally, I wouldn’t want to remarry.  (Does this have a ring of that old saying, “If one of us dies, I shall go to Paris?”)  I’ve had two very fine men as husbands in my life, one who was really high maintenance, and one who is Olof.  And even I don’t want my sagging, etc. etc. body so why should somebody else?

But frankly, if I get electrocuted by that mortal coil thing, I do not want Olof to remarry either. Ten years after my mother passed away, my father married a woman, “Fang,” who was younger than any of his kids. She ultimately ended up with his estate.  

To this day Fang is dining off my mother’s Limoges, which I am secretly hoping is leaching lead.

As I told Olof, I trust him implicitly.  Whom I don’t trust is the bimbo he marries after my untimely death.  Such has been the level of discussion that this individual is now officially referred to by both us and our estate attorney as The Bimbo.  She even has a clause in our trust.

I’m not alone.  We know of several cases right here in town where The Bimbo (or her evil twin, the Bimbo Caregiver) has appropriated substantial portions of the estate even before the decedent crumped. It’s a major growth industry.  Our estate lawyer said there really isn’t much you can do about that, assuming the geezer, er, pre-decedent, is at least sorta, marginally compos mentis at the time.  It’s his money to recklessly squander as he sees fit. #thinkingwiththelittlehead

But more to the point, he asks, don’t you want Olof to be happy?

“Define happy,” I said.   

Olof tries to maintain that it could just as easily be The Pool Guy who will cash in if he goes first.  But there is no mention of The Pool Guy in our wills.

I’ve had a glimpse into the dating world of widows from several friends, including “Eleanor” who is 80 and who has a stronger back and clearer mind than I do.  She has very much missed an intimate life since her husband passed away and besides, isn’t 80 the new 50?  Okay, 60. (Final offer.)

Eleanor does admit that suitable romantic male companions in her dating range (which she considers to be 75-90) are limited. So, she was delighted to be introduced at a fund raiser to a fellow octogenarian.  The spark was instantaneous between them. 

They are very compatible, she reports, and he checks off every box on her list including and especially “still drives at night.” (After “doesn’t have dementia” and isn’t imminently dying,” that’s a strong third.)

She and the gentleman have gone out several times now and she’s thinking it might be heading in a more romantic direction.  Her body isn’t bad for someone who is 80, she says.  In fact, she’s probably in the top 2% of hot 80-year-old bodies.  She’s taken good care of herself. But, she confesses, the top 2% of terrible probably won’t win her any points.  Despite what 20-year-olds think, the spirit can still be willing even if the flesh is weak.

Will pharmaceuticals of the hot tub variety be required, she wonders? Since they must be taken in advance of romantic episodes, how is this broached?  This is all so definitely not in the acceptable parlance of her youth.

One could, Eleanor allows, have a more intimate relationship without going “all the way” as it was termed in both her and my generation.  “In fact,” she mused aloud, “at my age, penetration is probably overrated.”  (One can hear everyone under thirty charging for the nearest bathroom. Get over yourselves, kids, OK?)

She’s not looking to remarry at this point. She’s financially well set. He is too. So hopefully there won’t be too much blowback from their collective “kids” (who are in their 50’s).

I truly applaud Eleanor for her indomitable can-do spirit.  But frankly, if I end up in her situation, I’m going to Paris.  Alone.


Saturday, September 24, 2022

Stratospheric Water Bills

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published September 26, 2022] ©2022

It’s never good news when your refrigerator suddenly starts sounding like a fountain. We actually have a small recirculating outdoor fountain that we turn on when we’re reading the paper on our patio in the morning. (Lighten up, water zealots: it takes like a gallon.)

For several weeks, for hours at a time, I’d hear the familiar fountain burble and think we’d accidentally left it on until I realized the sound was coming from the refrigerator. Suffice it to say, this was an eventuality not covered by the fridge’s owner’s manual.

I called our usual appliance repair place. Been in business 40 years, they said. Never heard of a refrigerator sounding like a fountain. Was it working? Yes, I said. No water on floor. Everything’s cold. Still makes ice. Then no point in coming out, they said, probably making a note to ignore future calls from this number.

Then we got a water bill that was double the last one. I nearly fell out of my chair when I opened it. At that rate, per annum, we could get two first class tickets to Maui. Which, of course, we’d much rather do than pay the water trolls whom we suspect of unduly profiting at the taxpayer’s expense 

Of course, one possibility was that they’d mis-read the meter, a way-too-common  experience in  my neighborhood and a common post on our local social media network. The folks to one side of us have had their meter mis-read twice, receiving bills for over $2,000 for their very modest lot. But the real whopper was the neighbor on the other side of us who received a water bill for $41,065.20 for a 600 square foot rental property on a postage stamp-size lot in Pacific Beach with a customary water bill of $80. Good thing they didn’t have Automatic Bill Pay!

As for $24,078.89 of that amount being for “Sewer Usage”…no, we won’t even go there.

My neighbor called the water department expecting they would immediately agree with the unlikelihood of a 36,326.5% (I love the .5) increase in usage from the last bill.  Instead, the water lady replied, “Sounds like you have a leak.” 3.4 MILLION GALLONS WORTH???? My neighbor, who was quietly having a heart attack, replied, “For that much water, there’d be a sink hole the size of Qualcomm!” It was her husband who immediately suspected – and confirmed – the mis-read meter. 2742 was recorded as 7242. (Apology from water folks? Nope!)

So that was our first thought: The Myopic Meter Reader Strikes Again! What was especially puzzling was that a year ago, we’d paid $2,800 to have our sprinkler system revamped and upgraded with low-flow heads, and our water bills had dropped considerably. Until now.

I called the refrigerator folks back and $81 later, they confirmed that nothing was wrong with the fridge which had remained maliciously silent while the repair guy was there but started burbling 10 minutes after he left. He didn’t think the bill and the phantom fountain noise were related. But on his way out he said, “You know, you might want to check under your house.”

It is a testament to how much both Olof and I hate going under our house that we managed to ignore this suggestion for another five days. I’ve written previously about crawling under the house – as nasty a rat and spider-filled place as you can imagine, never mind my personal vision of Hell - as a chronically broke single mom dragging two gallons of muriatic acid to pour into the cleanout pipe. My list of lifetime goals included never doing it again.

A leaflet had come with our humongo water bill suggesting we check our meter. Instructions: (1) Make sure no water is running. (2) Open lid to the sidewalk water meter and be stung by black widow spiders who live in there. No, seriously, they do (live there). Actually, what it says is: “Check the area around the meter to make sure there are no harmful insects or other animals.” (What, gophers?) Even before I took a reading we could see the meter moving. Bad news.

So that’s how Olof ended up under the house. (I don’t want him to think that that’s why I married him, but truthfully, it was a factor.) As soon as he pulled off the door to the claustrophobic crawl space, we could clearly hear water running. Flashlight in hand, Olof had to army-crawl the entire length of the house risking rodential and arachnic assaults until he got to – surprise! – the area under the refrigerator where a 1/8 hole in a main pipe was gushing water.

Plumber on a Sunday? Don’t ask. But definitely cheaper than letting it run.

After the plumber left, we tested the meter again. Fifteen minutes and the meter didn’t budge. Phew! But you can believe I’m going to be on that sucker at least weekly from now on. Because I would have much rather gone to Maui.


Sunday, September 18, 2022

Trolls Among Us

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published September 19, 2022] ©2022

It was the best of ideas.  It was the worst of ideas.  Yes, we’re talking about neighborhood social media networks.

On the “best” side, there is no better or faster way to reunite lost or found pets with their owners than these networks.  Often the owner is simultaneously posting a photo of the lost pet while someone else is posting a “found” message.  So much better than stapling photos on utility poles.

Sharing recommendations for vendors, contractors, cleaners, and repair people is another huge benefit.  So many people I’ve hired in recent years have come from these recommendations.  

Bids for help for refugees or people needing special assistance are often met with heartwarming generosity 

I personally think I live in a wonderful neighborhood. My immediately neighbors are all close friends so I tend to assume that everyone in this neighborhood is as lovely as they are.  Hence, it’s always discouraging to realize when reading our local social media posts that there are Trolls Among Us.

The crime alerts were one of the main reasons I subscribed to our area social media network but I confess that one has been a mixed bag.  Most of my neighbors have outdoor security cameras so there are regular posts of miscreants stealing bikes and power tools out of crowbarred garages, swiping the packages off front porches, vandalizing cars, and committing acts that we all hoped those security cameras would discourage. It's our own too-personal version of Crime TV. 

Alerts will often go out on the network about some suspect person going door-to-door allegedly selling pest control. Like we’d fall for a dodgy pretense like that. Nosiree! Such persons are presumed to be, at the very least, a house caser (and at times have been) but equally likely an ax murderer.

Unfortunately, sometimes people actually are selling pest control.  But within minutes, their Ring-generated criminal-in-action headshot is in every in-box in the network, and probably also on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.  I have to say, I’m really not sure I’d want to sell anything door-to-door in my neighborhood. I’d be afraid someone would shoot me before I could even mention the comprehensive roach-and-rodent package.

I should note that other than this network, I am not on any social media.  No Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.  For me, Facebook has always seemed too fraught with peril.

It always seems that no matter how innocuous a post someone makes, there has to be at least one person who posts a truly toxic totally-unhelpful response.  Then everyone piles on.  It sometimes gets so incredibly ugly. When I see a post with 78 comments, I don’t read it.  It will only make me sad. 

There was one a while back that started with a post about homeless people and devolved into housing issues in general, short-term rentals in particular, the general lack of police response, Governor Newsom, Governor Newsom’s mother (who produced Governor Newsom), why Republicans are bad people, why liberal Democrats are destroying democracy, climate change, the last election, and seals at the Children’s pool. I think the mayor and his mother got in there somewhere too.

Dog Poop Wars are another continuing theme on the network although this one I kind of get.  While the majority of dog owners are responsible people, there are those who seem to decide to take out their hostility on the world by letting their very, very big dog poop on the sidewalk.  Preferably right in front of one of those little signs that people stick in their flower bed saying “Please clean up after your dog.”  (Inquiring minds want to know: how do they get them to do it in that exact spot?)  Explicit photographic coprological evidence is provided. 

During the pandemic, there were those who appointing themselves Chief of Covid Police, posting regular rants on neighborhood network about perceived non-compliance.

Alas, there are also those folks who think this forum is a good place to post their personal political views.  I wish the moderator of this network would tag it with a yellow warning message like “! This is a forum for lost pets and crime reports! Stop this now!” (Where is the virtual photon torpedo when you need it?)

Not long ago, someone posted video from their Ring camera of a truck hitting both their car and their neighbor’s, then taking off.  The poster was hoping someone would recognize the truck and its owner could be compelled to make restitution.  A perfect application for this app.  There was lots of sympathy, but some troll just had to post “Your fault for parking on the street. Should have parked in your driveway.”

Gah. There it was, the gratuitous snark. Too bad we can’t vote these people off the island, er, neighborhood. Or subject them to an endless loop of Bambi re-runs where Thumper says, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”



Sunday, September 4, 2022

Thanks For The No Thanks

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published September 5, 2022] ©2022

Welcome to Auntie Inga’s Curmudgeon Hour, Thank You Note edition. 

OK, so I’m getting old.  And grumpy. But apparently, I’m not alone. An exceedingly common gripe from readers to advice columnists, including Miss Manners, Dear Prudence, Ask Amy, and Dear Abby, is the failure of young relatives (nieces, nephews, grandchildren) to even acknowledge receipt of a gift, never mind thank them for it. 

Generally, the advice columnist gives them permission to stop sending gifts to the little ingrates.  But this isn’t a very satisfactory solution on either side.  Generally the sender has genuine affection for the giftee and wishes to make them happy.  Not to mention, it’s truly fun to buy gifts for kids so it deprives the aunties and grandmas of the pleasure of doing so. And stopping sending gifts at all just makes the oldies look petty.

According to the advice column mail, parents (we’re not letting dads off the hook here) of the non-thankees will defensively respond that if a relative wants to send a gift to their kid, send it. Demanding a thank-you note, they insist, makes the gift about the giver rather than the recipient.  And by the way, they’ve got “a lot going on” at their house and thank you notes are waaaay at the bottom of their list. 

So, the senders will counter, “OK, but could you at least acknowledge receipt of the gift so I know it got there? “

But the parents of non-thank-you-note writers claim this ploy is merely a not-so-subtle dig that no thanks have been forthcoming. Even the US Postal Service doesn’t lose packages that often, they maintain. (Debatable point.)

A friend in my age group sends all her young relatives a gingerbread house every Christmas.  The ones who thank her get one next year. She is unapologetic about this. Retired from a successful business career, she maintains that expressing appreciation is a skill put to good use later on in acknowledging client referrals or thanking someone for a job interview 

The irony is that thanking someone is easier than ever. In even my own sons’ youth, pen, paper and stamp were required.  Now, all you have to do is send a text. (“Thx 4 gft.”)  Minimalist but gets the job done. And yet, as it has all gotten easier, it seems to be a habit that has fallen out of practice.

I gave my sons until midnight on New Year’s Eve to write Christmas thank you notes, after which life as they knew it was over.  The notes had to be hand written, at least three lines long, and say what they liked about the gift even they didn’t like anything about it.

I saved copies of some of Rory’s oeuvre.

Dear Uncl Peter and ant lucy -  thank you for the telescope. I will use it to hit henry with. love, rory. (Draws picture of himself hitting Henry with telescope and adds:  ha ha Not really! I think that was supposed to qualify as the required third sentence.)

Dear aunt elizbeth, thank you for the chemistry set. I like it. I am trying to make a pocion to turn henry into a frog. Love rory

Dear grandpa henry, thank you for the dire straits tape. And the pencil sharpener and the jeepers creepers thing. I like the pencil sharpener so I can sharpen henry’s head. (Draws picture of Henry’s head labeled “before” and a pointy head labeled “after”)

I am happy to say that both of my sons still thank people for gifts.

I tend to give one group of grandkids gifts in person so I’m not sure how good their thank you note skills still are. The other group’s efforts have become…sporadic.

So is it selfish to want to share in the joy of giving a gift? Especially if you’ve put in a lot of time and energy and money to select it and send it? 

Fortunately, most of the gifts I give my grandkids anymore are charitable donations of their choosing made in their names, a custom started when each kid was around three.

As preschoolers they were largely interested in fishies and horsies (also ‘phants).  The problem, initially, was that the kids wanted to take physical possession of their adopted animal, not quite understanding virtual adoption.  One year, my 5-year-old grandson opted to adopt a humpback whale named Mars from Whale and Dolphin Conservation. I sent the contribution and notified my son and daughter-in-law to have a 50,000-gallon tank ready on their patio by Wednesday.

The kids have gradually been branching more into people: food banks, desks for kids in Malawi, cleft palate surgeries in third world countries, potable water.

The nice thing about gifting charitable contributions is that it is its own reward.  Thank you notes not required.  I know the gift got there.  I’m pretty sure they call me Grammy Tax Deduction behind my back.  But I’m OK with that.  And the whales couldn’t thank me more.


Sunday, August 28, 2022

Even Polio Had Anti-Vaxxers

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published August 29, 2022] 2022

I was more than a little dismayed to read recently that the polio virus has been detected in New York City waste water since May. The United States had been polio-free since 1979.  Not anymore

This is a topic close to my heart as my siblings and I all contracted polio in August, 1955, four months after Jonas Salk's triumphant announcement of a successful vaccine.  I have repercussions of polio to this day.  

Not surprisingly, I can’t even be civil to anti-vaxxers. Not even minimally polite. I think they are ignorant idiots. 

Poliomyelitis, a warm weather virus especially targeting children, was the second greatest fear in post-WWII America after nuclear war. In the 1952 outbreak, 57,628 cases were reported, 3,145 died, and 21,269 experienced paralysis.

 The vast majority of Americans couldn’t line up fast enough to get the vaccine for their kids in the mid-1950’s. But even then, the vaccine had a vocal opponent in the form of a cosmetics magnate, Duon H. Miller, who made his fortune on a first-ever cream shampoo called Vita-fluff. Mr. Miller was convinced the vaccine was dangerous, and more to the point, that polio could be prevented by avoiding soft drink consumption.  He wasn’t too keen on bleached flour either.

 As far as Duon H. Miller was concerned, polio was not an infectious disease (it’s a highly contagious virus) but a state of malnutrition.  Ironically, he wasn’t totally wrong about the perils of a high sugar, refined food diet. It just wasn’t applicable to polio.  

There was no internet then so he was forced to use the U.S. Postal Service to get the word out, ultimately getting shut down by the federal government.  But he still railed against sugar, “processed bread”, and even pasteurized milk for years to come.

While polio particularly targeted children, adults could contract the virus as well.  When teens and young adults remained woefully under-vaccinated, Elvis Presley agreed to be vaccinated on the Ed Sullivan show in 1956 after which vaccination rates in those age groups sky rocketed. Never underestimate a celebrity endorsement.

In truly unlucky timing, given that a vaccine to prevent polio was likely going to be available within months in our small New York state town, my siblings and I contracted polio during a trip to rural Ohio to see my dying grandfather. Most likely cause: we kids spending the week cooling off behind the house in a contaminated creek with a polio outbreak upstream.  Sewage in that era fed into the creek and polio (unknown at the time) is caused by fecal contamination. 

When we returned from that trip, all three of us became seriously ill, the dread polio diagnosis clinched by a painful spinal tap.  There had been no cases of polio in our area, and wishing to keep it that way, the local Board of Health quickly quarantined us.  Let me say, it’s no fun being a pariah. 

For a long time afterwards, none of the neighbors wanted their kids to play at our house. It wasn’t clear at that time how polio was transmitted (even bananas and mosquitos were suspect), and no one was taking any chances.   

When you’re quarantined in a small town, you end eating lot of canned food.  Even if there had been Instacart, they wouldn’t have delivered to us.  I remember literally gagging on Chun King canned chow mein and chop suey, determined I’d never ever eat that cuisine again. When a meal is so awful that you remember it for the rest of your life, you know it was pretty terrible. 

Years later, when I was dating my first husband in New York City, it took him a full year to convince me to go to China Town and try non-canned Chinese food, which I instantly loved.

In those hot humid August days in 1955, I remember being as sick as I’ve ever been.  Probably we kids recovered better than our poor terrified parents. The little boy in the polio ward bed next to my sister’s was suddenly, the next day, in an iron lung, a behemoth ventilator of the era used when polio has caused respiratory paralysis.  

I wish every parent who doesn’t vaccinate their child could time travel back to the 1950s to see how children suffered from now-preventable diseases. I don’t remember mumps, measles, and rubella being any picnic either.

The fact that the polio virus is detectable in NYC waste water is a clear indication that polio is circulating in the city. The New York Times has reported that a Rockland County, NY, man has recently been diagnosed with polio and left paralyzed.  Unlike Covid, polio is totally preventable with vaccination 

I recently read an interview of a woman who said that in lieu of vaccinations, she was feeding her children a totally organic regimen so their immune systems would be able to resist infection. Sounds an awful lot like shampoo guy Duon H. Miller. 

Sorry, lady.  A healthy diet and wishful thinking just aren’t going to do it.

Brochure from Duon H. Miller, anti-polio vaccine crusader

Iron lung for patients who suffered respiratory failure from polio 

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Home Alone

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published August 22, 2022]

Recently my husband Olof went on an 18-day Trains, Planes, and Automobiles trip combining all the travel he had cancelled during the pandemic.  I stayed Home Alone.

Well, not totally alone.  I had our faithful bichon-poodle watch/attack dog, Lily.  She takes the job seriously.  Try to break into our house and she will sink her three remaining teeth into you.

Of course, you could offer her a bit of raw hamburger, and she will happily let you take whatever you want. The offer of a tummy rub would work as well.

Still, the illusion of protection, even if only an illusion, is nice in this era of increasingly-brazen burglaries.  I think all of us who installed exterior cameras thought we were adding a layer of security.  As it turns out, we just get to watch our stuff being stolen in real time.  Some of the boldest of the bike thieves have probably starred in more videos than the Kardashians.

I confess that at first I felt a little creeped out by being alone.  Olof, however, feels compelled to point out that his presence is the merest illusion of safety and did I really think he could defend me against a knife-wielding intruder?  But upon seeing the look on my face, he hastily added that he would, of course, breathe his last breath trying.  (Correct answer.)

In his career, Olof often traveled on business for over a month at a time to foreign places.  We would Skype on ridiculously disparate time zones, generally requiring one or the other of us to be awake at 3 a.m.   But eighteen days was longer than we’d been separated for quite some time.

Now, I’ll confess there were some genuine upsides. Every day, I awoke and asked myself: what shall I have to eat today that will be made by someone other than me?  I never so much as turned on a stove burner.  I rekindled my love for Mexican food and a local bread bakery’s phenomenal sandwiches.  Definitely not a weight loss regime.

I also have to confess that I kind of liked having an entire king size bed to myself.  I alternated sleeping on Olof’s side, my side, and even right in the middle.  I even tried the diagonals, just because I could. 

Lily, meanwhile, quickly commandeered Olof’s pillow.  I don’t think he’s getting it back.  It’s amazing how fast your dog can forget you.

My biggest fear was that my computer would develop some glitch while Olof was gone. There are infinite numbers of things that can go wrong with your computer. And Microsoft thinks of new ones every day.

But miraculously, when I turned on my machine every morning, it not only came up but I had email. I figured that everything else that happened that day was just gravy.  If you are a techno-moron and Home Alone, you have to keep your expectations low.

Still, regardless of some genuine upsides, I was very relieved when Tech Support, er, Olof pulled up to the house after his 18-day sojourn.  He had had three different extended train trips, two flights that actually left on time and didn’t lose his luggage, and assorted rental cars.  And the pi├Ęce de resistance, he didn’t get Covid.

He got to re-une with his college roommates after two pandemic cancellations, to go see our older son’s now-not-so-new home in Santa Cruz, and even commune with his sister in Eugene. The purpose of that visit was to try to get her on email which she has steadfastly resisted all these years, her preferred media being snail mail and tarot cards.   How the same parents spawned these two people remains a mystery to me. 

Before he left San Diego, Olof was able to show me how to track his travels (or actually the location of his Android phone) from my iPhone.  This was truly fun, especially when he was on the train from Minneapolis to Seattle. Turns out that there is actually a Joplin, Montana in addition to a Joplin, Missouri.  Olof has now been there. 

I, meanwhile, took over aviary duties, normally Olof’s domain. Every once in awhile, I’d hear a massive frantic flapping which I know from experience means either a hawk is trying to tear into the cage in hopes of an easy lunch, or there will be an earthquake in about 30 seconds. If you could just get the birds to lengthen that time to, say, two minutes, they’d be a fantastic early warning system.

In fact, for the next stronger quake, I’m going to see whether our birds beat the Shake Alert I recently installed on my phone. 

Meanwhile, Lily and the now-returned Olof continue to battle out who owns his pillow. In her view, it was abandoned property, and Olof is the one who should be sleeping at the foot of the bed.  Bets being taken.

I felt safer knowing I had my attack/guard dog Lily in the house with me

Lily took over Olof's pillow in his absence and is refusing to give it back.