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.