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.