Saturday, December 17, 2022

A Slide Rule Finally Finds A Loving Home

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

It becomes harder and harder to find really special gifts for Olof at Christmas, especially when he has everything he wants, buys it himself if he doesn’t, and we’re always trying to downsize.  But in 2018, I hit the jackpot: a slide rule.

Let me be clear that there aren’t that many people left who even know what a slide rule is, much less covet one.  Or know how to use one.  Or wouldn’t rather just calculate on their Apple Watch 8. 

Olof remembers hovering over the slide rule case in the Cal Tech bookstore orgasmically ogling the higher end models.  It was as close to sex, he recalls, as he was likely to get in that era.

In Olof’s and my youth (see “Mesolithic era”) there were, astonishingly, no handheld electronic calculators.  The really geeky guys (they were always guys) had slide rules which are mechanical analog computers, a phrase that I’m sure helps you as little as it did me.  (By “computers”, we mean a device that helps you make computations rather than something you plug into a power circuit.)  Sliding the little bar thingey (not its technical name) back and forth, you could do multiplication and division and also functions such as exponents, roots, logarithms, and trigonometry if you knew or cared what those were.  Olof informs me it was accurate to three places. 

Now, one would think that there would be a ton of cheap slide rules available out there for the mathematically sentimental, until you then realize that those two terms are mutually exclusive.  What was astonishing as I began my search was that searching “slide rule” on Amazon usually just got you pictures of slide rules on coffee mugs, T-shirts, and even wall paper. 

Suffice to say, the better source was eBay, and not surprisingly, every option was labeled “pre-owned.”  If you own stock in a company that claims to make new slide rules, you should sell.   A technologically-savvy neighbor helped me weed through the choices and ultimately found one that, while pre-owned, appeared to be new.  The seller apologetically noted that the case was engraved in gold with the name “William G. Vande Logt” presumably making it less valuable (unless your name was William G. Vande Logt). 

I was sold the second I saw it.  A slide rule with a back story! Does life get better than that? 

When it came, the leather case and carry strap (if you wanted to wear it on your belt to look super-geeky), were still in its original box. The documentation underneath it was literally crumbling and didn’t appear to have ever been removed.

William Vande Logt appeared to have been underwhelmed with this gift. 

I immediately Googled his obligingly-unusual name and found the obituary notice of his death on May 10, 2012 at the age of 81.  He had been employed for 50 years in the Chicago area, was an avid golfer, had no children, was pre-deceased by his wife, beloved by nieces and nephews, and greatly mourned by his dog Breezy. 

But apparently not a slide rule guy. 

So, I’m thinking a slide rule like this was likely given as a high school graduation present, which in Mr. Vande Logt’s case would have been 1949.  But who gave it to him? And was there a message there?  A father who dreamed of his son going into some prestigious engineering career?  Was this a sore subject?

One thing for sure:  this slide rule had never been slid.

It took a certain amount of brute force to move the middle bar which Olof notes will require an overdue application of lube, or at least some occasional use. 

I’m imagining Bill Van de Logt eagerly opening what he thinks is going to be whatever the hot new gadget was in 1949 and finding…a slide rule.  I can see the long face even now.  But why didn’t it end up in the nearest Salvation Army bin? OK, maybe because it had his name on it. 

So, what has this slide rule been up to since it was presented to Mr. Vande Logt?  Well, besides nothing for at least 63 years until his passing in 2012.  Mr. Vande Logt had no children to whom he could inflict this long-ago excoriated gift.  And what about the next six years after that until it was apologetically (given the personalization on the case) put on the eBay auction block? 

Inquiring minds would love to know. 

Our grandkids were quickly bored with Olof’s Christmas morning gift since it didn’t actually do anything.  We explained to them that a slide rule was not the same as an abacus (one of them had heard of this) which pre-dated us by at least a decade. Our then-four-year-old grandson asked if we could put it down and help him sync his new remote-controlled tank to his iPad. 

Well, Bill, your slide rule has waited a long time for the loving home it has always deserved.  And if that’s not a warm fuzzy spirit-of-Christmas story, I don’t know what is. 

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Celebrating A Millstone, er, Milestone Birthday

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published December 12, 2022] ©2022

I had a milestone birthday last week and I’m trying not to feel downright old.  The problem is, I am downright old. I was lunching with a friend to celebrate this occasion and we were both commenting that the bar on our concept of “old” kept sliding forward as we approached the ages we formerly thought of as ancient. 

I can’t help but notice that a lot of people in the obits are younger than me. And worse, I actually know, er, knew some of them. I even wrote one of those obits.

Olof and I are five months apart in age, so for five months a year, I get to be a trophy wife.  When we have milestone birthdays, we tend to celebrate them together on Olof’s July birthday with barbecues and outdoor festivities.  Otherwise, my birthday would hardly be recognized at all. 

That’s because anyone with a December birthday will tell you, it’s a total rip-off.  Babies just shouldn’t be allowed to be born between November 30 and January 1. Family and friends are already swamped during December so a birthday that month is just another obligation, and the weather is usually too sucky no matter where you live to do some nice al fresco event. And need I mention that there is a special place in hell for the people who give you what they call a “combined birthday and Christmas gift.” 

We aren’t fooled.  And just so you know, we keep track.  When your May birthday rolls around, we’re so tempted to give you a combined Christmas and birthday gift.  I’ve never actually done it but the fantasy is delicious.

As it turns out, by the time my actual birthday rolled around last week, I’d already had two birthday cakes with my name (along with Olof’s) on them from celebrations last July. But I still insisted on getting my own cake with just my name for my birthday last week. (I bought it myself.)

Milestone birthdays are often marked by rites of passage.  At 21 you can finally drink without a one of those two-left-eared fake IDs. At 30, you have to rethink all that stuff about never trusting someone over 30. At 40, it’s time for a serious mid-life crisis.

On your 50th birthday, you open your mailbox to find an AARP card and an appointment for a screening colonoscopy.  Congratulations! You’re old! And you may have cancer of the pooper!

As my 60th birthday approached, both sons wanted to know what I might like.  Seizing the opportunity, I said that what would make me happiest would be if they would each write a short letter relating three happy memories they had of me.  I hated to beg, but I wasn’t getting any younger.  Rory, predictably, quickly negotiated down to one.  For his part, Henry replied, “Can’t I just buy you something?”

On your 65th birthday – as soon as that Medicare card is laminated and tucked into your wallet -  the dementia anxiety attacks – and jokes – begin. We laugh, of course, to hide the fact that we’re completely terrified. Watching the 11 o’clock news about the elderly person who has wandered off from his facility truly puts fear in your heart. You can’t help but super-impose your face on the screen. And you just know your hair would look like hell.

It didn’t help that soon after my 65th birthday, my older son, the perpetual prankster Rory, saw an ad on TV for a placement service for the severely memory-impaired. Several days later, a very sympathetic woman called and asked for my husband Olof, and when told he was at work, was dismayed to learn that I had been left unattended. She seemed to have a great deal of information about me and when I adamantly insisted “I do not need institutional care!” soothed, “You seem to be having one of your good days, dear.” 

As part of our joint 70th birthday festivities, I put together a 400-slide show of Olof and me to show during a celebratory dinner with the kids. Afterwards, there were wonderful toasts made - Henry gave a four-hanky tribute to both of us.  I gave a toast to Olof, commenting on how different this evening would have been had Olof not come into our lives.  Both kids simultaneously chimed, "200 fewer slides?" 

 The kids, of course, accuse both of us of spending too much time doing what they call “rehearsing for death.” But Olof is the first man in his family to ever live to 65 (brutal familial cancer gene, fortunately diagnosed in time for him to be treated) while my mother died at 54 and my grandmother at 48. Actuarial tables? Bwahahahaha. It’s hard not to feel like we’re on borrowed time. Every birthday, we do our little happy dance around the table singing “Woo-hoo! Against all odds! We’re still here!” We honestly can’t believe we are still here.

We just really wish the cremation people would stop sending us mail.