Monday, March 20, 2023

When You Think Your Parents Are Idiots

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published March 20, 2023] ©2023

Every teenager at some point ponders the question, “Just how gullible are my parents?”  The query is usually related to some activity that the teen has in mind that they’re fairly clear the folks wouldn’t approve of but which they really (like, really) want to do anyway.  So assessing the gullibility quotient of mom and dad is critical to the process.

Some close friends have finally achieved their dream of travel now that their last kid is in college. Their 19-year-old daughter, however, is prone to come home for the weekend when mom and dad are out of town and have a few close friends in for what is advertised as an intimate soirĂ©e.  But somehow, a party always seems to take place instead.  Sometimes several. 

The parents’ rule, of course, is:  absolutely NO parties.  But what defines “party,” really?  Number of people?  Noise level?  Squad cars?  It’s such a nebulous term. 

Considering the number of times she’s been caught out (a neighbor actually called her parents on their Black Sea cruise at 3 a.m. to report that the daughter’s exceedingly inebriated guests were at that very moment anointing his geraniums with bodily fluids), you think she’d get the idea that having clandestine social gatherings was more problematical than she realized. 

Before my friends left on their latest ten-day trip, they hired an elderly relative’s former care giver to come stay at the house at night while they were gone.  No way is their daughter going to party with the care giver there. Daughter had mentioned that since finals were approaching, she might come into town to have a weekend of quiet studying away from the noise of her high-density roommate venue.  Grades, she reminds her folks, are her utmost priority. 

Olof and I laughed out loud when we heard this.  But the parents had faith.  This time they had it covered. 

Imagine the parents’ dismay when they arrived home and knew fairly quickly their offspring had had a party in their absence.  Daughter was equally dismayed that they’d found out.  She’d been so careful!  She’d made everyone stay inside (those double pane windows are marvelous noise insulators).  She’d had most of the people stay over so there wasn’t a lot of 2 a.m. departing guest noise waking up the neighbors.  Absolutely no geraniums were harmed.  She’d even removed every bit of trash from the trash cans and buried, er, relocated it elsewhere.  How could this have happened? 

Well, here’s a short list:

(1) The care giver your parents paid to stay at the house?  She came by the next morning to return part of your parents’ payment saying she couldn’t take money for the three weekend days when you maintained you were preparing for a Zen meditation final which, it goes without saying, required being completely alone. 

(2) The cheapest place to shop for booze may be your parents’ Costco-stocked garage but this time they actually counted the stash before they left.  They had to admit after the fact that they admired your friends’ taste in vodka.

 (3) Making the beds was a thoughtful touch.  Washing the sheets might have been a more thoughtful touch.  Recognizing that Mom is a precision bed maker who does hospital corners and can spot a bed not made by her from thirty yards? Priceless. 

(4) Sanitizing the crime scene by disposing of incriminating evidence in both the big black trash can and the blue recycle bin might have seemed like a brilliant idea but leaving them echo-ingly empty was equivalent to installing a neon sign screaming “PART-EE!”  If you learn nothing else in your college career, it’s that subterfuge is all in the details.

(5) The scorched earth policy applied to the trash should have been used on the kitchen instead.  Cleaning lady had been there Thursday.  Parents home Sunday night.  Pushing all those Dorito crumbs behind the counter appliances hoping they’d go unnoticed until next Thursday was a loser from the get-go.  Mom, a world-class neatnik, has infrared vision for crumbs.  Alas for you, so do ants.

(6)  Having people creeping around to the back door of an allegedly unoccupied house in the dark is bound to attract attention from the neighbors.  It did.

(7)  It was, like, totally savvy of you not to post any pictures of this party on your Facebook  page.  But your friends posted them on theirs.  And tagged you.  And yes, Mom promised that if you friended her she wouldn’t rag on you for anything she saw there.  But some of those pictures might have been a little TMI, especially those lewdly creative uses of Dad’s treasured set of custom cooking utensils.  Please say you washed them afterwards. 

Next trip for parents:  two weeks from now.  Daughter will be home for spring break. Care giver has been told she is not to leave the premises at night no matter what excuses are tendered or how much money daughter offers her. 

Olof and I already have our money on the kid.



Saturday, March 11, 2023

It Was Only A Bomb

Note:  This column was inspired by recent articles in our paper about local citizens, exasperated by the city’s failure to do long overdue repairs, taking it upon themselves to make these improvements. I was reminded of a similar event back in 1996. 

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published March 13, 2023] ©2023

Sometimes the best-intentioned plans can go awry.  And in the process, create a family catchphrase that lives on forever.

It all started when a well-meaning neighbor who was an avid bicyclist decided that our neighborhood could use a small cement ramp from street to sidewalk so that he didn’t have to stop and lift his bike up on the curb when he wanted to ride through a scenic right-of-way that starts just across the street from our house. 

So, he decided he would create such a ramp, which, as you might guess, is totally illegal. The city takes a dim view of citizens making adjustments, however potentially positive, to city streets. But heck, my neighbor reasoned, who would even notice, other than other grateful bicylists.

We, of course, had no knowledge of this project.

Late one Saturday afternoon, the neighbor showed up, mixed up a small batch of cement, and created a ramp about ten inches wide from street to curb, perfect for a bicycle.  But the cement was going to need to set over night. 

To make sure it would be able to dry unmolested, he took a medium-ish cardboard box, put a few bricks into it to weigh it down, and wrapped it up with duct tape.  He then placed this on the sidewalk in front of his new ramp so no one could drive over it.

Meanwhile…that night, my son Henry, then a teenager and a fairly new driver, was taking his girlfriend to her North County high school’s prom.  Now, anyone with a teenage son worries about them driving late at night, especially with a car full of compatriots whose brain judgment centers, like his, are very much in the still-developing phase.  You just can’t count on a 16-year-old boy to say, “You know, folks, I’m just too tired to drive.”  This was long before Ubers.

Had  it been a La Jolla High School prom, he would be sharing a limo with a group of friends, to the enormous relief of their collective parents. 

When we expressed our concerns about his driving home in the wee small hours, Henry was happy to agree to spend the night up in North County after the prom, then come home on Sunday. 

A little aside here: we had always been told that if your kid is in an accident, the police call you.  But if your child has been killed, the police come to your door. 

So… fast forward to Sunday morning at 6:30 a.m.  Our doorbell rings repeatedly.  We ignore it because, well, it’s Sunday morning at 6:30 a.m.  Finally we hear an insistent voice through the door: “Police.  Please open your door immediately.”  We look outside and there’s a police car in front of our house. 

My husband and I completely panic.  We already know what he’s going to say.  We are sure something terrible has happened to Henry.  I don’t even bother to grab a bathrobe, rushing to the door in my skimpy nightgown. I’m shaking so hard I can hardly turn the door knob.

But when I opened the door, the officer points to a duct-taped cardboard box in the middle of the street in front of our house and says, “Do you know anything about this box?”  And that’s when I see that there are three more police cars out there and they’ve blocked off the street. 

The officer says that a concerned citizen walking his dog had reported seeing the box in the street and since there had been a recent mail bomb incident in La Jolla and since the box looked incredibly suspicious (it did), they thought it could be a bomb.

I was so incredibly relieved I could hardly stand up.  I yelled to my husband (who had actually stopped to put on a robe), “It’s only a bomb!”  I told the officer we knew nothing about the box and had thought he was coming with bad news.  And I shut the door in this poor officer’s face and went back to bed.  I can only imagine what this guy thought. Like a bomb in front of your house isn’t “bad news”? 

Anyway…what apparently happened was that in the dark that night, somebody either ran into the box on their bike and sent it flying into the street in front of our house, or just picked it up to see what it might be and then dumped it.  Those bricks were pretty heavy.

As we learned later that day, the neighbor heard the commotion and seeing all the police cars surrounding his new ramplet, decided to investigate.  I don’t remember now whether he got in any trouble for it.  I’m guessing the police were just as happy to be able to call off the bomb squad which was already on its way. 

But the phrase, “it’s only a bomb!” has lived on in family lore ever since. Especially when one just needs a little perspective.


Saturday, March 4, 2023

Let The Composting Begin

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published March 6, 2023] ©2023

The new mandatory composting law (SB 1383) that technically went into effect on January 1 of 2022 was one of those all-too-frequent situations when the people who pass laws aren’t even remotely in sync with the people who have to implement them.  In this case Environmental Services a.k.a. the trash pick-up people.    

Let me start by saying that the concept behind SB 1383 is pretty much inarguable. Much of San Diego's waste composition is methane-producing organic material, apparently a far bigger contributor to global warming than carbon dioxide. 

Fortunately, we in my neighborhood still have a little time to get our heads around the new rules since green bin delivery for us isn't slated until June or July.  A number of areas of La Jolla have had greenery bins for yard waste for years but the composting requirements are new to them too.

As I understand it, one's food waste (all those chicken bones, egg shells, coffee grounds, greasy food paper, leftover pizza, etc. etc.) gets layered in with one's yard clippings in the new (or even old) green bins. 

The city will also be delivering counter top kitchen pails to keep your food waste from stinking up your entire kitchen (well, allegedly, anyway) until it is picked up in a new weekly (as opposed to the current bi-weekly) schedule.  Well, I didn't use my Cuisinart that much anyway.

A big issue that I don't think the state has quite worked out is what to do with all the excess food waste that won't fit into your kitchen pail between consumption and weekly trash pickup.  Remember: no plastic bags. It is being recommended that residents wrap their soggy food waste in newspapers or paper grocery bags and keep it in the refrigerator or freezer until trash day.

No offense, but this suggestion was clearly made by a guy.

At the risk of sounding his-ogynistic, if you're going to revamp the kitchen food waste system, bring in the pros. That would be women.  We're the ones who have been largely stuck with this job since figuring out what to do with those mastodon bones after Grok slew the thing and dragged it back to the cave for dinner. 

The idea of keeping a leaky paper bag in my fridge full of wet food waste frankly makes me gag. My suggestion is to put it in a Styrofoam take-out container and hope your teenage will eat it. They're fortunately pretty non-discriminating. 

For those of us who like to plan ahead, the Environmental Services website has an FAQ site from which I presumed I would be able to get answers to two of the most obvious questions. Puzzlingly, neither of those questions were addressed. 

Like lots of La Jollans, I have a really leafy property (lots of drought-resistant shrubs plus grass) that currently fill up eight 32-gallon rubber trash cans (per two-week pickup) so I think we need at least two, if not three, of the 95 gallon bins.  Wet greenery is insanely heavy.

My friends in the equally-leafy Muirlands tell me that back when their green bins were distributed, they merely had to request additional ones, and, of course, pay for them.

So, presumably I, too, can get more than one? Well, maybe, but no longer easily.  The FAQ says it is now a three-step process and once the first two steps have been completed, your request will go through an "eligibility process" to determine if your property warrants an additional container(s).  You will then be contacted by email regarding eligibility status and next steps.  If eligibility is approved, you will receive an email regarding purchase instructions. 

This is the city we're talking about.  I'm thinking six months (years?) minimum.  So what do I do in the meantime? And what if they don't deem that I need three of these containers, or even two? Unlike the blue and black containers which can be purchased at Home Depot, it's not like I can do purchase the green bins elsewhere.  (Buy some blue ones and paint them Environmental Services green?)  

But a far bigger question that should have been first on the FAQ list:  what do I, and every other homeowner who currently has multiple 32-gallon trash cans for their greenery, do with all those containers once they become obsolete?

I sent an email to the ES people and got a sort of answer.

The nice man (yes, it was a guy) replied that “you can either break them down and put the pieces into your recycling container, or you can take them to your closest recycling center.” 

Break them down?  Sorry, Mr. Nice Environmental Services Guy, but you can’t exactly cut these heavy duty trash cans up with kitchen shears.  I queried my local hardware store and they said it would require a honker chain saw, at the very least. 

 But while I'm sorting out getting extra green bins, I am having nightmares of my driveway turning into a mountain of decaying yard waste that won't fit into my single green bin.

Let the saga begin.  


Saturday, February 18, 2023

Against All Odds, No Felonies Were Committed

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published February 20, 2023] ©2023

Of all the fantasies one has as a new mom, one never imagines that some day that adorable blob will be a social work graduate student assigned to write a paper analyzing the psychopathology of someone he knows well.  And that he will choose you.

Let me just say up front that we couldn’t have been prouder of our older son, Rory, when he decided to get his Masters in Social Work and graduate from his somewhat limited career opportunities in Food Stamps and MediCal Eligibility.  The pay was not great in those fields and most of the time, Rory wasn’t too far removed from being on food stamps himself.

The call from our scholar started out innocently enough.

“Hi, Mom,” said Rory.  “I was wondering if you might help me out with a paper I have to write for Human Behavior in the Social Environment.  I have to analyze another person according to three different theories of psychodynamics.”

“Sounds really interesting,” I said. “So, you want me to proofread it?”

“Um, not exactly.” A tentative pause.  “I was kind of planning on you being the person.”

I would like to say that Rory was not the easiest child.  (His version is that I was not the easiest mother.)  I’ve heard it said that you have the most trouble with the child most like you.  Rory and I are both intense, highly emotional people.   Blond and blue-eyed, he even looks like me.  All of which is fairly amazing since he’s adopted. Henry, my biological child, bears no resemblance to me whatsoever.  

Rory’s special power was an exquisite sense about what would push my buttons.  He pretty much had them on speed dial. As my second husband, Olof, always said, “Rory looks for excitement.  And finds it.” 

Rory’s escapades were so numerous that they were pretty much known in family shorthand:   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.

He even hacked my library account at one point and ordered me such titles as “The book of the penis,” “The illustrated guide to lesbian sex” and “Coping with your colitis and hemorrhoids.” 

Readers may remember the homemade Mother’s Day card he made for me when he was 10 which read, “You’ve been like a mother to me.”

People have often asked if I make up the Rory stories.  No, you could never make up the Rory stories.  Even the ones where he attempted to re-enact scenes from horror movies by making scritching noises on the glass of my bedroom window in the middle of the night.  He is by far the most diabolically creative person I have ever known. But it was encouraging that now, in his early adulthood, he was showing signs of applying that exquisite psychological awareness into forces for good that did not involve terrorizing his mother. 

I’m embarrassed to say how often Rory and I got into huge screaming matches as he was growing up.  (See “buttons”, above.) Olof said more than once that we should both go to our rooms.  Meanwhile, my younger son, mild mannered Clark Kent, my biological child, would shake his head and wander off muttering, “Why am I related to these people?”

The normally placid Olof was distraught when he heard Rory’s plan about the term paper.   He pleaded with me: Against all odds Rory survived to adulthood without any felonies being committed on either side. Why, why would I risk it all now?

But Rory persisted.  As a student of behavior, it was an opportunity for him to learn more about the factors that influenced his mother’s formative years.  And to help him understand why I was potentially the worst mother in the history of the world. 

Olof finally relented, knowing the cause was lost, but insisted, “But you can’t read it, Inga.  Promise me.” 

Shortly thereafter, a long list of questions arrived, and numerous email and telephone conversations ensued.  The great and small triumphs and tragedies of my life were reviewed.  And in the end, I ignored Olof’s express wishes and read the final product:  Seventeen typed pages on the psychodynamics of Mom. 

And I have to say, it was a strikingly sympathetic portrait.  I really came out of this okay.  Even Rory said he had an entirely different view of me after he finished it than when he started. 

“So,” I said, “what kind of grade did you get?

 “‘A’ for the paper,” he replied. 

But an all-too-familiar I-just-can’t-help myself smile suddenly appeared.   

“And ‘C’ for my mom’s personality.” 

 Here are two of the books Rory reserved for me when he hacked my public library account. Actually, both turned out to be incredibly educational reads. 

(Please note 8 inch ruler on the binding)



Sunday, February 12, 2023

A Jaywalking Free-For-All

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published February 13, 2023] 2023  

Every once in a while, I truly despair of law makers.  The new law decriminalization jaywalking that went into effect on January 1 comes under that category. 

On January 2, as I was driving through downtown La Jolla, people were literally walking in front of my car. It was like, “Woo-hee! We don’t even have to look both ways anymore!” It seemed as if they were going to jaywalk just because they could. 

If those people knew how old I was and that my reflexes are failing, never mind that my 2005 Corolla doesn’t have one of those automatic stop features, they might have reconsidered.  News flash:  there are no lack of us oldies in La Jolla.  Running over people is very high on seniors’ Worst Fear list, just below going to a dementia facility, and just above learning your husband has absconded to the Caymans with the 21-year-old care giver. 

This new law, called the the Freedom to Walk Act allows a “reasonably careful person” (is that an oxymoron?) to cross without being in a crosswalk. If there are any reasonably careful persons crossing the street in San Diego, especially in the summer months when we’re chock full of tourists, I don’t know who they are.   One can’t help but notice even before this law that summer tourists at a beach resort seem to have beamed themselves to a parallel universe where traffic laws do not apply.

At the Shores, for example, beach chair-laden visitors wander at will across busy streets against the light in front of oncoming cars.  They look stunned to hear the screech of tires, a blank look crossing a puzzled face as they attempt to process what that annoying sound might have been. (Their imminent death.)  

Curious to know what inspired a law that to me seems like a massive threat to public safety, I learned that the new freedom-to-jaywalk legislation was sponsored by California assembly member Phil Ting on the basis that jaywalking tickets were disproportionately given to lower-income individuals and people of color who cannot afford to pay the jaywalking fine. His data came from the California Racial and Identity Profiling Act, which showed that black individuals in California were four and a half times more likely than white Californians to be stopped by law enforcement officials for jaywalking. 

I agree that’s a bad thing. 

As Mr. Ting puts it – “It should not be a criminal offense to safely cross the street.” Couldn’t agree more with that too.  It’s the “safely” part I’m having trouble with. As of January 1, the only time law enforcement officials will be able to write a ticket for jaywalking is when the individual causes an "immediate danger of a collision." There was nothing “safely” about the people walking in front of my car on January 2.  Collisions were very much imminent. Seriously, I was terrified. 

Will pedestrian deaths skyrocket with this new law? Actually, that's exactly what happened when automobiles became prominent in New York City in the 1920s, the victims disproportionately old folks and kids. The term jaywalker, originally considered an offensive term and allegedly promoted by the then-fledgling auto industry, referred to someone from the sticks who didn’t know how to walk in a city. The auto industry wanted control of the streets. 

Still, it wasn't until 1958 that a New York anti-jaywalking law was finally introduced which as those of us who are former New Yorkers can attest, was instantly and roundly ignored.

 In 2020, a Queens (NY) councilman attempted to introduce a bill decriminalizing jaywalking changing the law's language to "advise" pedestrians to use crosswalks and wait for the light when crossing the street. I nearly fell out of my chair laughing.

 Like Prop 47, will this be a law that fixes one problem only to create a bigger one? Prop 47 increased the dollar amount from $400 to $950 by which theft can be prosecuted as a felony. It's not true that thefts under $950 (now misdemeanors) are no longer prosecuted. It just seems that way. Certainly the people looting Walmarts and CVSs in broad daylight seem to think so. 

Laws preventing pedestrian free-for-alls were huge safety protections in my view. Sometimes people have to be protected from their own idiocy, which is to say, walking out in the middle of the street glued to a cell phone.  

Privately, I like to think of this Freedom-to-be-Mown-Down-in-the-Middle-of-the-Street legislation as a kind of natural selection.  The Serengeti has its way of culling its population. This may be ours. 

Prior to Jan. 1, the big money was in getting hit in a crosswalk by a Mercedes.  Your kids would be set for life.  (You, not so much.)  But what happens when you knock over, mid-block, one of those “reasonably careful” people who were jaywalking at least theoretically “safely”?  And if there’s a cell phone next to the body?  Nope, no money in it.

 It's too early yet to know the full ramifications of allowing people to wander at will across streets. I would have liked to see other solutions (assuming there were some) to harassing minorities who jaywalked. But henceforth, I'm driving 5 miles per hour in La Jolla.  


Saturday, February 4, 2023

Upselling Run Amok

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published February 6, 2023] ©2023

Is it just me, or is upselling reaching new heights?  There were certain places you always expected it, for example, at auto repair places.  I couldn’t go into the dealership for windshield wipers or a tire place for new tires without them doing a “courtesy inspection” – a phrase third on my list of scary expressions after “packed flat for easy assembly” and “it’s a simple outpatient procedure.”

My dealership (a place I avoid like the plague) has what I call “The Rule of 1,000.”  Dollars, that is.  They are sure I will want to get these things taken care of pre-emptively, for my own safety.  They will even concede, upon questioning, that there isn’t anything actually wrong with these parts right now.  But it’s always good to get things replaced before they break.

A year or two ago, I went to my tire place, and while waiting for the balancing to be finished, a mechanic approached me with an expression of deep concern.  They have done a “courtesy inspection,” he reports, and found that there are “holes” in some of the hoses under my hood.  But fortunately, they have the capability to replace these hoses for an additional $300 and could do it right now!  Good thing they caught it in time!

I asked to be shown these holes. As we peer under the hood, the mechanic points vaguely in the direction of various hoses.

“I don’t see any holes,” I say. 

“They’re very hard to see,” says the mechanic/upseller.  “You have to be trained.” 

Yup, I’m sure you have to be trained – to sell repairs of non-existent problems.  My car is regularly maintained by an independent shop whose eyesight I trust far more than these guys.

Now, whenever I go to a dealership or tire place for a specific reason (airbag recall, new tires) I am clear to them.  “I do not want a courtesy inspection.  Do not open the hood of my car for any reason. Are we absolutely clear?”

But the auto repair folks have nothing on what seems to have happened to the veterinary and dental industries.  The turnover of longtime family dental or veterinary practices to corporate ownership or even just to high profit models has become alarming. We’re fine with them making a profit but the problem is we don’t trust their recommendations anymore.  When both your pet and your teeth are involved, this is a serious problem.

The veterinary practice we had frequented for many years is now owned by a corporation. We did anything our old vet (no longer there) recommended.  You may have read a recent column about the $17,000 we spent on veterinary care last year. A chunk of it was a new knee for the dog, followed by her sudden refusal to eat. 

Lots of those tests were absolutely necessary.  But honestly, lots of them, in our view, weren’t. We were constantly declining pricey procedures or that bill would have been waaaay higher.

Meanwhile, our beloved dentist of 35 years retired several years ago, and finding a replacement has been arduous indeed.  The practice is now owned by an investor who, as far as we can tell, puts in salaried dentists with some rigorous profit targets.  If our old dentist recommended something, we pretty much always did it.  But if we declined, he was totally fine about it.

In the new model, by the time the hygienist is finished cleaning your teeth, the closer has already printed out an estimate of the work needed to be done (which always seems to be replacing perfectly good crowns plus a “deep cleaning” laser treatment which sounds totally miserable) and wants to schedule it right then.  If you demur, they insist you sign a document that you are refusing recommended care. 

So we decided to move on.  But with no more success.  One dentist tried to talk my 70+ year old husband into $11,000 worth of Invisalign (clear braces) in conjunction with a crown or two.  As for me, they were adamant that I needed $7,200 worth of veneers. 

The next dental practice – highly recommended to me – had just had a turnover due to health problems of the original dentist. The new dentist and the hygienist basically tried to tag team me into agreeing to prophylactic dental work.  I pointed out that my teeth weren’t hurting and that I truly hated dental work so I was declining.

But they weren’t taking no for an answer.  Finally, the hygienist huffed, “Well, I don’t think we can continue to have you as a patient here if you are not going to follow recommendations. 

“Works for me!” I chirped.  I already knew I was never setting foot in this place again. 

I am happy to report that Olof and I did finally land at a new dentist who had all the warm fuzzy non-pressured demeanor of our old dentist.  One problem solved!

Then last week we got a letter from our lovely new dentist.  He has sold the practice.


Saturday, January 21, 2023

Saving The House From A Toddler Attack

[”Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published January 23, 2023] ©2023

In previous years, it was always our hope to have the company of our four preschool grandchildren over the holidays. And after they left, it was always our hope to someday get all of our electronics working again.  For all of you who had tiny grandchildren visiting at Christmas, this is for you.

There is something about tiny persons and LCD panels that is just irresistible. In our home, alas, the electronics all seemed to be located at perfect toddler eye level.  I always taped covers over the CD player, amplifier, and DVD player (don’t judge; we’re old) but for the tots this just acted like a flashing neon beacon that there was something Really Neat underneath.  Pretty much everything we listened to on our CD player for weeks after they left was really heavy on the bass. 

As for the remotes, even Olof, who is an engineer, was sometimes hard put to get them to ever operate a TV again if they’d been left unattended. (So many buttons!  So little time!)  The living room light timer was perpetually ten hours off when the tots were in residence casting us into darkness at inopportune times and lighting up the house like a Christmas tree at 3 a.m.

Tragically for us, the electronic touch screen panel on our KitchenAid range was on the front rather than the top.  Exquisitely accessible to someone of the pre-school persuasion was the Options button, which when combined with any single digit between one and seven suddenly made something that worked before cease to.  For example, Option + 2 turned off the timer bell so that one could, for example, discover that they’ve had one of the back yard sprinkler valves running for seven hours 

Option + 4, which turned off the Cooking Completion Time bell, was a serious bummer as well. 

Fortunately, you could put the oven control panel in Child Lock mode so that they couldn’t use it. But you couldn’t either.  More problematic was the fact that two Thanksgivings in a row, a grandchild took it upon herself to turn off the oven while the turkey was cooking. You walked into the kitchen and instead of the comforting hum of the oven there is an eerie silence and the heart-stopping Black Screen of Death on the touch screen panel.  Had the oven taken this extremely inopportune time to crump?  Or was it a stealth toddler operation?  I pressed the On button and the panel (and oven) blessedly sprang to life.  But how long had it been off?  Ten minutes?  Oy, an hour?

Deciding the dishwasher was suddenly on the fritz, I discovered that tiny fingers had simply re-set it to “Rinse and hold.” 

The really odd thing is that we never actually saw them do it.  And it’s not like they’re roaming around our small house unattended.   But toddlers seem to have radar for Unattended Electronics upon which they engage in covert attacks.  The Navy Seals could take lessons. 

One year, realizing three days after the Toddler Invasion had decamped that we had no phone service, we discovered with our phone company’s help that we didn’t have three phones but four:  the last one was the small handset on our little-used fax machine that was ever so slightly off the hook.

My computer was in the guest room and should I accidentally leave it up after I’d checked email, I’d find that all my desktop icons have been rearranged, my font settings mysteriously microscopic (I’d love to know how they did this since I couldn’t change my desktop fonts if I tried) and the speakers had been cranked up to 150 decibels.  I could only wonder what they’d ordered on Amazon.  

My desk and desk chair, meanwhile, were elaborately reupholstered with an entire package of Post-It Notes, some with personal “wuv” messages (the author informed me) in the form of Hi-Liter scribbles.  All electronic transgressions were immediately forgiven. 

Ironically, all the grandkids over a year old could actually operate iPhones (to watch videos) and phone cameras.   At four, our budding-portraitist grandson would shoot away, review his photos, and delete the ones he didn’t want.  Given his size, it is not surprising that most of his shots were of people’s nether regions. 

Fortunately, we don’t have to tape anything over any more.  The kids have all moved on to iPads.  And they continue to leave us in the technological dust. 

During one visit, the grandkids were anticipating a Wild Animal Park excursion and were debating whether a lion could eat a giraffe.  The three-year-old, a giraffe devotee, was horrified. “Lions ‘non’t eat ‘raffes!” he insisted.  So I said, “well, let's look it up.”  I hadn’t taken two steps toward my computer before my eight-year-old granddaughter picked up her iPad and said to it, "Do lions eat giraffes?" and it replied, "The only animal that would eat a giraffe is a lion." 

Who knew typing was so last decade. 






Saturday, January 14, 2023

When The Dog Becomes A Part Time Job

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published January 16, 2023] 2023

It was not auspicious that 11 hours into the new year in 2022, our dog blew out her right knee. 

When she blew out the left one in 2020, we were told that there was a 60% chance that it would happen with the other.  We were desperately hoping to be in the lucky 40% but that does not seem to be God’s plan for us. God’s plan for us is to be a canine social service agency.

Unfortunately, both knees (ACLs) were ruptures that could only be fixed with surgery.

I’ve written before about our beloved dog who came into our home in 2016 as a “one-week  foster.”  Utterly heartbroken, we had insisted that we would never have another dog after the sudden demise of our equally beloved English bulldog Winston, who, after generating over $10,000 in medical bills for his multitude of bulldog-related afflictions, had a heart attack in our living room. 

But of course, within three days we had fallen totally in love with the foster dog, even after being warned that her rotten mouth (the reason for her relinquishment to the pound) was likely to set us back $2,000.  (It did.)  We just had “mushballs” written all over us. 

The doggy orthopedist had warned us after the dog’s surgery in February that if she re-injured the knee while it was healing that we’d have to start all over – including payment – and the second repair never heals as well as the first.

We had a friend whose dog injured a healing knee after they forgot to put the gate across their stairs to the second floor.  A whole new surgery, in-home PT, and pain medicines ensued.  The dog became addicted to the pain meds and ended up doing doggie Betty Ford. We elected to have custom padded ramps built in every room of our house and even on the front steps to preclude this scenario.

But only a month or two after our dog’s plastic knee seemed to be finally healed, she suddenly stopped eating.  As I set her bowl down in the morning, she was now sniffing it and walking away. 

We changed her diet and even tempted her with foods that she would normally inhale: tuna, ground beef, shredded chicken, cheddar cheese, canned post-surgical food.  Not interested.

There is no test or procedure for a human that you can’t also do for a dog.  In this case, minus any insurance. After the first ACL surgery, I looked into pet insurance.  But it excluded ACL surgeries and pretty much most of the care she ended up having this year. 

Of course, there was that initial big expense for the new knee. In the quest to find out what was ailing our beloved pet, she underwent scans, every lab test known to canine, a virtual pharmacy of meds, and pricey special diets at $6 per teeny weeny can. With physical therapy and ramps, our dog-related expenses for the year came to $17,000. 

Tumors, cancer, stomach blockages, metabolic disorders (like diabetes), heart issues and parasites were slowly eliminated.  The one thing that did become apparent – and we were sure this was going to cure it – was that she had a massive infection in her mouth and sinuses. But even after we were $1,600 poorer and she had eight fewer teeth, she still wasn’t eating.

Multiple appetite stimulants, antacids, antibiotics, Chinese herbs, probiotics, pain meds, and even steroids were introduced but failed. 

Ultimately, it was concluded that as a now-13-year-old dog, she seems to have mild chronic gastritis and some chronic hepatitis (somewhat elevated liver enzymes).  But she is still uninterested in eating. 

Getting food into her is literally a part time job for both Olof and me.  If you just put it out there and leave it, it will sit there forever. 

The few items she will even consider eating need to be warmed to a specific temperature and hand fed to her off our fingers. 

At one point the vet staff suggested a thought that had occurred even to us:  Do you think your dog is working you?  But no, a dog that rejects hamburger and tuna is a dog with issues.

My personal theory at this point, now that we’ve eliminated everything else, is that she has lost her sense of smell.  For dogs, smell is everything.  It’s how they understand their world, and certainly decide whether they want to eat something or not. 

But the good news is:  she’s still with us, something we seriously doubted even three months ago.

And other than the eating issues, she’s mostly her same old self, chasing her squeaky pups and doing her Cujo act at the front gate when other dogs come by.  But it’s pretty clear to us at this point that the current feeding regimen is how it’s going to be.

As we’ve alerted friends, every visitor is required to take one stint feeding the dog.  Allow 30 minutes and bring an apron.

Building ramps in every room for Lily to get up and down was waay cheaper...
than having to repeat the surgery if she re-injured herself...
and waaaay preferable to a stint at Doggie Betty Ford (and yes, there is one)



Saturday, January 7, 2023

Thinking Of Never Flying Again

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published January 9, 2023] ☺2023

Thank you, Southwest Airlines.  You have convinced me to never travel by air again.

No, I wasn’t even flying during the Christmas holidays (fortunately).  But merely watching the debacle unfolding inside Lindbergh Field and at the airport’s rental car counter was so stressful that I think I have PTSD by proxy. 

I cannot even imagine the reality of actually being there.  Especially for people traveling with infants and young kids. 

I’ve been plagued with plantar fasciitis for some months now so the possibility of standing in those long lines would have been, well, an impossibility.  But worse, my head would have just exploded with the stress of it all.  As I’ve gotten older, my tolerance for chaos and ineptitude has dwindled to pretty much zero. 

I couldn’t help but reflect while watching these poor people be held hostage by Southwest that if their captors were terrorists, there would at least be someone negotiating for their release. And there would be food.

The CEO of Southwest appeared on the evening news saying he was “sorry.”  Sorry???? 

If it were up to me, the CEO of Southwest would be sentenced to …what? No, there really isn’t enough punishment to compensate for the level of misery – and expense - Southwest inflicted on thousands upon thousands of people.  Awarding cancelled passengers 25,000 frequent flier points toward future travel doesn’t cut it – unless it’s for another airline.

My grandchildren will never know what it was like for airline travel to be fun. But we oldies do.  Below is Auntie Inga’s unapologetically jaded review of How Airline Travel has Devolved into the Prisoner of War Model.  This is how I remember it, anyway.

In the golden days before airline fare deregulation in 1978, airlines actually wanted to make you happy. If your airplane left late, the airline felt so bad about it that they insisted on serving free champagne for the entire flight.  If your flight was late or cancelled, you could run over to a different airline and they were deliriously happy to take your ticket. No change fees, no hassle, and plenty of seats.   In fact, you could often have an empty seat next to you. 

When prices were set (and yes, they used to be), the way the airlines could compete was by providing service, like fluffy pillows, full meals, and actually being really nice to the passengers.  But once prices were not set, the airlines competed only by fares. 

I think everyone thought that deregulation would mean everything would be the same, only cheaper.  Never has the phrase “there is no free lunch” been truer.  Those fluffy pillows were now inflatables and cost $8, a “sandwich” consisting of two thick slices of stale bread and a thin sliver of turkey cost $10, and the airline personnel, who used to be so nice, had been replaced by graduates of the Evil Troll Travel School.

Airlines now think nothing of leaving passengers sitting on the tarmac for nine hours without food, water, or working bathrooms.  It’s OK to drag people off airplanes by their feet or eject families who couldn’t make a two-year-old wear a mask.

In recent years, airlines seem to be cancelling lots of flights citing “weather.”  Global warming aside, there suddenly appeared to be a lot more weather than there used to be.  All the airplanes are flying full so that if your airplane gets cancelled due to “weather,” or its evil and often imaginary siblings “mechanical problems,” techno difficulties” or “air traffic control glitches” there are no seats for three days unless you camp at the airline gate with your bags and try (usually futilely) for standby.   I think my business traveler husband Olof got Marriott Gold status on Houston strandings alone.

Of course, it would make sense to go non-stop so you wouldn’t have to spend three days in Houston but the airline people also implemented the “hub and spoke” model not coincidentally styled after a torture device popular in the Middle Ages.  

Trying to reach an airline during the pandemic got you a recording like this: “You have reached Lying Weasel Airlines. No one works here at the moment, except Fred.  He’s on his lunch break. Till tomorrow. Rather than remain on hold, you can leave your number for a callback by Fred.  In 2024. Please be prepared for the fact that if you ever reach Fred to reschedule your flight, you can expect that it will be cancelled yet again. Which means you’ll have to call back and start this process all over. The next available agent has 450 people ahead of you.”

Now, when friends return from a trip, the first question is not about their destination but how their flights went. Awe is expressed if they actually went without a hitch.

 You’ve convinced me, Southwest.  I’m too old and too decrepit. And too nostalgic for the era – there actually used to be one – when your call really was important to a business and airlines actually had the slightest concern for the passengers.



Monday, January 2, 2023

I Just Want To Write A Check

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published January 2, 2023] ☺2023 

In my perfect world, there would be no bill that could not be paid by check. 

Unfortunately for us check-writing Luddites, the check option has run into obstacles in the form of the post-pandemic paucity of people on the other end to actually process that check once it arrives.  The US Postal Service’s new (slower) delivery estimates aren’t helping.

I have written on several occasions about the dozens (feels like hundreds) of hours it has taken to straighten out the mess earlier this year when the Franchise Tax Board failed to cash our 2021-year tax check even four weeks after it was mailed.  It sat in a pile somewhere uncredited well after the tax deadline.

A similar thing happened with our automobile insurance check, which was mailed May 30 but still hadn’t been processed by its due date on July 1 generating a letter of cancellation for non-payment.  I immediately called and paid it again on a credit card only to have the original check cashed on July 15 – six weeks after it was mailed.  It was another two months to get a refund from them. (They cited “staffing problems.”)

Those same companies that are lacking people to actually work in their offices still manage to have computers that are fully capable of cancelling insurance or making you a tax deadbeat. 

On-line bill paying through our bank’s website works well for bills that can be paid that way. But for sites where I can’t, they make you change your password to some never-previously-used password every idiotic 90 days. 

Don’t even get me going on some of those “I am not a robot” things that are completely indecipherable and clearly created by robots. 

The dual-verification thing where they have to send a text to your phone with a code is very effective in keeping people out of your account.  Those people would be us.  Invariably, the person with that phone is not home when you need to get the code 

But you can often use your email address instead.  Better idea, yes?  Well, no. Those codes are only good for 10 minutes and they sometimes don’t show up in our in-box until hours later. 

We techno-challenged people are now being thwarted at every turn.  When I last had to renew my driver’s license, pre-pandemic, they required people of a certain age to show up in person to take the written driver’s exam.  Personally, I think they just wanted Proof of Life.  To my dismay, they sent me over to a bank of computer terminals where I was forced to take the test on a computer screen that would only give me the test in Vietnamese. 

Fortunately, there was a nice helper guy who was busy trying to assist the techno-frustrated persons in my demographic. I had to wait a half hour for him.  I could have finished a written test in 15 minutes.

I have often said in this column that no technology should be released onto the general public without being tested on me and a selection of my techno-disabled peers.  Every time my engineer husband mentions the word “intuitive,” I want to smite him.

Which brings me to another harder-with-technology innovation: the self-service supermarket scanner.  I don’t shop frequently at the market that has them but their lines are long so if I have just a few items, I try to use the self-check scanner.  I really am trying to embrace technology even though I think it is mostly evil except for FaceTime with the grandkids, which is truly a great invention.

One of the three items I was buying that day, besides a custom birthday cake, was a single bakery kaiser roll. (Just shut up. This is how the elderly shop.) So the scanner directions said that for stuff without a scanner label thingy to type in the name of the product.  So I type in “kaiser roll” and it says there’s no such thing.  Just like the DMV, there was a helper person on site to help the techno-stymied. This lady was beyond burnt out on this job and fed up with people who were complete morons who could not, in her obvious opinion, follow simple directions. 

She rolled her eyes. “You have to type in “roll” then the types of rolls come up and you select the picture labeled “kaiser roll” and then how many you want. In your case, one. Then “enter”.” She was trying very hard not to say, “Like, duh! And who buys a single frickin’ kaiser roll???” She was just so annoyed.

Sorry, lady. If you tell people to type in the name of the item, they are going to type in the name of the item.  (See “beta testing on seniors” and “smiting people who use the word ‘intuitive’” above).

But for everything else, I would just like to write a check – two minutes max! – plunk it in a mailbox and have the Post Office actually deliver it to people who are sitting at their desks waiting to credit it to my account. 

And see if I’ll ever buy another kaiser roll again.