Saturday, September 30, 2023

Floating Away

[ Let Inga Tell You, La Jolla Light, published October 2, 2023] 2023

I remember reading in some long-ago anthropology class that some Eskimo cultures, not wishing to waste precious food resources on non-productive elders, set them adrift on an ice floe, and waved bye-bye.

Inquiring minds, particularly retired, aged minds, wanted to know: did this really happen? Did the oldies actually end up as polar bear brunch? Froze to death? Landed in Tahiti and started a new life? Regardless, it would have been two more places at Christmas dinner for the folks back home.

The ice floe thing obviously worked better in cold climates than, say, the Kalahari Desert, where the equivalent was probably tying a tying a slab of raw meat around mom and dad and leaving them on the savannah. Depending on the folks mobility, they didn't even need the slab of meat.

Those same retired aged minds are asking: am I in danger?

Well, not of ice floes specifically which are fortuitously scarce in this area, but certainly their symbolic version. I'll be genuinely worried if my husband, Olof, goes first. My sons and daughters-in-law have demanding careers and don't even live anywhere close to me. Most of the nursing homes I researched for a relative a few years ago made the whole ice floe thing (or even the slab of meat) sound like the better deal. Well, maybe not immediately but at least somebody would be having a good day. 

As it turns out, the dispensing of what were known as "useless eaters"  (i.e., elderly folks who were no longer able to physically contribute to the economy of a society) weren't unheard of, especially in times of famine. The ancient Keians, for example, attempting to preserve a dwindling food supply, decided to vote everyone over 60 off the island. One suspects that the people over 60 didn't get a vote. You can see it now: "All in favor of dispensing with the sexagenarian set say 'aye'. Oh, look, it s unanimous! See ya, folks!"  The geezers apparently got a hemlock mojito for dinner.

There are a worrisome number of terms to describe deleting the oldies from the family circle: senicide, senilicide, geronticide, senio-euthenasia, and even the ever-popular modern version, "granny dumping". How the "useless eaters"  were dispatched was, of course, largely dependent on the geography involved. In one alleged method among long-ago Eskimos, the whole village would pick up and move during the night while the oldies slept. (The origin of "ghosting". )

Grandpa wakes up and says, "Hey, where did everybody go? I could swear there was a village here yesterday."   Apparently, this method allowed the abandonee to either find his way back to the group thus proving his continued value, or succumb back at home when he realizes they also took his walker. Frankly, this method seems particularly low to me. You may need the food but you don t have to be mean about it.

I guess there's no nice way to say, "Sorry Mom and dad, but you've had your last meal. In fact, you're about to be one."   And the folks are thinking, "Just as I always feared. There is no gratitude."

While some societies have traditionally revered their elders (well, at least while there was plenty of food on the table), recent articles have suggested that modern societies are questioning the value of the old. This is not news to the old.

In January of 2011, the first Baby Boomers turned 65, and have added another 10,000 per day to these ranks every since. By 2030, at least 18% of the population will be in that group. So this whole ice floe thing is a pretty big topic, at least among those of us in the ice floe demographic. 

(BTW, will global warming reduce the number of available ice floes? Somebody needs to be looking into this.  In this one more thing we oldies will have to compete for - the ice floe that doesn't melt underneath you before the polar bear even shows up?) 

 For us boomers, it might not be so much an issue of food insecurity, but care giving shortages.  Diapers are much cuter on infants.  Having been heavily involved in the final years of a close relative who was both physically and mentally disabled, I can attest that they're not all that fun to be around, not to mention seriously labor-intensive.  And did I mention expensive?  

Increasingly, among people I know, it's the oldies looking for the ice floe opportunities themselves rather than waiting for the kids to set them adrift. No one wants to be a burden, financially or otherwise.  And maybe those old folks are/were ready to go. I fantasize them floating off to sea saying the equivalent of, "Don't tell the kids but we just so sick of trying to get reliable Wi-fi in the igloo. They couldn't upgrade to a better cable provider? Hey - is that a polar bear over there?"



Saturday, September 23, 2023

Taking Your Own Advice

[ Let Inga Tell You, La Jolla Light, published September 25, 2023] 2023

I've often reflected while reading the morning paper that it's a good thing I have my current gig with the La Jolla Light because I would make an absolutely terrible advice columnist. My answer to about 95% of the letters would be, all caps, IS THIS EVEN A QUESTION???

I'd be fired the first day.

I mean, I like to think I m a compassionate person (unless we re talking about my former stepmother, Fang, for whom I wish nothing but the worst possible suffering). But you have to wonder whether the folks who submit these even read their own letters because the answer would - should -  is often abundantly obvious. In fact, I've often found it a useful tactic in solving my own problems. Write yourself a letter.

Alas, a disproportionate number of letters to syndicated advice columnists seem to be written by women who are in abysmal relationships. This makes me incredibly sad.

A common denominator in so many of the most despairing epistles is that they are written by women who seem to have a profound deficit of self-worth. As my friend Jill has often observed, "If it weren't for women with low self-esteem, there s a lot of guys who'd never get laid."   I couldn t agree more.

Alas, a lack of economic resources often seems to be playing a role in many a letter writer's dilemmas as well. Hence, the question they re posing at the end of a truly depressing tale is not the one you'd hope for, like "help me get out of this horrible situation" but "how do I get him to marry me?"   Gah! More gah! Very (very) disheartening indeed.

Here are some composites of letters I've saved in recent years and how I would reply to them were they written to me.

Dear Inga,

I met a man on line who, after a week, invited me to move across country to where he lives. I do believe in love at first sight, and no man has ever made me feel this way before. At first everything was really cool, but lately he keeps having to go on these extended business trips for weeks on end, leaving me along at his rural house to care for his six dogs, five goats, and two donkeys. They are a lot more work than you might think, especially the donkeys. I am starting to get suspicious that these business trips might include more than business although he denies it and maintains that that s why is first six marriages didn t work, because his wives were these total b----s who always thought the worst. But he leaves so little money for me when he goes out of town that I have been reduced to eating dog food which I don't particularly like but is tastier than the donkey food. I am tempted to give him an ultimatum: either he marries me the next time he comes home or I'm moving into the barn. Is this the right plan? Signed, YOLO in Idaho

Inga replies: Next time he's out of town, sell the livestock and buy yourself a one-way ticket out of town leaving no forwarding address. Take the dogs. They deserve better.

Dear Inga,

I ve divorced my husband twice because he cheated on me constantly, and also beat me. Now he says he has gone to anger management and wants us to get married a third time. He is currently living with another woman (my 17-year-old sister, actually) but says he will break up with her and move back in with me if I say yes. I am concerned that he doesn't have a job and is also very racist. I have always loved him with all my heart even during the time he was in prison. Should I remarry him if he promises for sure to quit beating me and stops his promiscuous behavior? Signed, Love conquers all?

Inga replies: Sweetheart, you need a lobotomy. At minimum. If you are even considering this, you need to be under conservatorship.

I m thinking the Dear Abbys and Ask Carolines of the world must need a really stiff drink at the end of the day. As a fourth-generation feminist, I just can't bear reading about women making incredibly bad relationship choices. Not, of course, that I haven t edged up on some questionable choices myself which were delineated in the post-divorce Dates from Hell section of my book. For example, going out with the criminal lawyer with a cocaine habit and herpes. Such a learning curve! He seemed so nice! But was such a creep! Fortunately, he was just one (really really) bad date, not a long-term life choice.

But that date was a Dear Inga moment. My future dating choices were faaaar more selective. Oftentimes the best advice you'll ever get is not from someone else, but the advice that's already circulating in your own head. Listen to it.



Monday, September 4, 2023

Why Letting Your Kids Suffer The Consequences Is A Really Good Idea

[ Let Inga Tell You, La Jolla Light, published September 4, 2023] 2023

I failed in a hundred ways with my kids. If you asked them what my worst mistakes were, they d reply, "Alphabetically or chronologically?" But the one thing I feel I did right a legacy of my own parents was to make them take responsibility and consequences for their actions.

The felony murder rule applied in my house: if you were there, you were guilty. No I was there but I was just watching defense that I heard endlessly the day after Halloween from kids who I recognized who had vandalized my street. Their parents assured me that they believed the kid's version of events, and if he wasn't actually doing anything, (believe me, he was), he was innocent. It still makes me incredulous.

For years, I could count on having to wash the egg off my car (no garage) before going to work (it really messes with the paint job), sweeping up my dumped-out trash from the street, and hoping the paint from paint pellet guns would eventually wear off my siding.

I know: it s just kids being kids. And I m fine with kids being kids on Halloween if they or their parents want to come clean it up afterwards. But intrinsic in that phrase, someone other than the fun-loving kid gets to deal with it.

I always felt really lucky that, unlike other neighbors, my car windows weren't broken, my brick retaining wall hadn't been pushed over, and nobody had spray-painted black graffiti on $40,000 worth of custom cabinets recently installed on a nearby house being remodeled. Such little devils!

I confess that my childhood sense of justice was honed on a steady diet of Nancy Drew books. The whole River Heights Police Department sprang into action when Nancy s rosebushes were stolen. When she called the authorities, not only did they quickly apprehend the bad guys, but they locked them up forever. No habeas corpus, but you can t have everything.

But damage or theft or outright aggressive behavior from teens seems to be happening not only daily, but becoming increasingly egregious.

I am finding it truly dismaying to see kids who are still minors having no consequences for their actions. On my neighborhood social media, people with Ring cameras post pictures of kids who have actually broken into homes and aren't even trying to hide their faces. (Adorable!)

A recent social media post showed teens pulling green bins out into the middle of the street at 1:30 in the morning where they could easily be hit by cars. (What fun!)

Then there was the group of teens who were skateboarding (one of the most grating noises on the planet) on the garage ramp of a local condo complex at midnight night after night right under someone s unit and who simply flipped off the residents when asked to leave. (Those little scamps!)

Another recent post reported tweens throwing rocks at a homeless person behind Rite Aid.

In the early days of the pandemic, I was dismayed to witness on several occasions groups of local teens rushing into my local CVS, grabbing all the alcohol they could carry, and rushing out again. (Those imps!) People wanted to say that those kids must have been from out of the area, but unless that area was Rancho Santa Fe, I m guessing that the late-model Range Rover they climbed into at the curb probably came from La Jolla.

What dismays me is that the comments posted under these stories always include way too many comments along the lines of Oh, stop being such a curmudgeon. It's just kids being kids.

Even worse, when clear photos are shown of the kids faces (usually from homeowners wanting the miscreants to be identified so the kids themselves or their parents can be held accountable), they ll be a backlash of people insisting that minors should not be identified on social media.

Um, excuse me. They were committing a crime. Please identify them. Let there be at least some hope that their parents will care enough.

That's the thing. No one s looking to incarcerate these kids. But before your 18th birthday is a really good time to learn that laws (at least theoretically) apply to you. Not learning this, as some kids on my block later learned, means you might do some serious time in an adult penal institution, where kids are not being kids.

Please, if your teen gets apprehended for some infraction, don't make your first step be to call a lawyer. Let them do community service. Hopefully a lot of community service. It s the biggest gift you can give them.

Halloween is approaching. Fortunately, our neighborhood now has a strong police presence on that night so the outright destruction is way down. But it still happens. So if you're going to send me an email insisting it s just kids being kids, could you include your phone number so my neighbors and I can call you to come clean up?