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.