Monday, November 27, 2023

Chocolates Are Good But A Hose Caddy Is Forever

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published November 27, 2023] ©2023

In December, my birth month, I can’t help but reflect that birthday gifts from spouses can be fraught with peril. 

Not to speak ill of the dead, but my first husband was notorious for getting me gifts that he wanted me to have rather than anything I actually wanted.  We moved to Colorado early in our marriage, close to weekend skiing, and he was sure that if I gave skiing a chance, I’d love it.  Because he loved it. Given that I hated both cold weather and heights, loving it was optimistic.  But this didn’t prevent him from buying me a complete set of ski equipment for my birthday, including skis, poles, and boots.  Did I mention it was all on sale, and non-returnable? And that we were really poor at the time and this was a really big investment that he knew I couldn’t let go to waste? (OK, now I’m speaking ill of the dead.)  Please, he implored, would I just go five times now that I owned all this equipment that I never wanted in the first place?  And to my credit, I did.  And the next day, it was all listed on a ski re-sale board.

Meanwhile, several years ago, when my second husband, Olof, asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I didn’t hesitate to request a top-of-the-line sewer auger.

Now, this might suggest that the romance has gone out of the relationship or worse, could be considered a dismal metaphorical condemnation of our union.

But no, I really really wanted my very own sewer auger.

We live in a house that was built by the lowest bidder after the war with all non-square corners and apparently without benefit of building materials that had become scarce during The Conflict.  It is our only explanation for the shoddy construction.  An abundance of pipe-invading trees and shrubs had kept us on speed dial to our local plumber. 

But often the problem was our kitchen sink which could be cleared ourselves (that’s the royal “ourselves”) with a good sewer auger, which just happened to belong to our neighbors.  They were very nice about lending it to us as needed but after a certain point, I began to fantasize about the luxury of having our own.

You’d think Olof (the “ourselves” mentioned above) would have been deliriously happy with this idea but was instead horrified.  He did not feel that a birthday auger augured well for our marriage. 

“Not a snowball’s chance,” he replied. “Besides, aren’t you the one who complained that your first husband got you stuff for your birthday that was really for him?” he said.

“Yup,” I said, “Skis, and box seats to a Chargers games.

“And what happened?” he continued.

“I’m now married to you,” I said.

“Exactly.  It is against the Code of Husbands to get a wife a sewer auger for her birthday,” he maintained. 

“But not if that’s what I want,” I said.  “I didn’t ski and I hated football.”

 “I don’t know,” he said, shaking his head.  “This wife birthday thing is a mine field. There’s nothing more terrifying to a guy except Valentine’s Day.”

“But I’m serious,” I said.  “It would warm my heart the next time the sink backs up on a Saturday night” – it’s always a Saturday night – “that ‘we’ could just wheel in our Ferrari-of-sewer-augers and have at it.”

“This is a second marriage for both of us,” Olof reminded me.  “I like to think I’ve learned something.  Buying a wife a sewer auger for her birthday would be a classic rookie husband mistake.  I once bought my first wife a really expensive vacuum cleaner for her birthday.”

“And what happened?” I said.

“I’m now married to you.”

“Well, I’d consider a vacuum cleaner grounds for divorce too.”

“OK,” said Olof, “I’m willing to buy you the sewer auger of your dreams but you can’t have it within even two months of your birthday.  So you’re going to have to think of something else.”

“I also really want a hose caddy.” I suggested.  “The kind that’s mounted on the house that I can just crank up.  The hose in the back is making me crazy.”

“Inga,” he said, exasperated.  “I can’t get you a hose caddy for your birthday any more than I can get you a sewer auger.”

“Well, I really do need a new salad spinner too. “

“No! NOTHING PRACTICAL!  It’s your birthday!  I have no desire to be married a third time.”

“The hose caddy could be for Christmas,” I suggested.  “Remember, it includes installation.”

“Surely there is something totally frivolous with no practical value that you want?” he implored. 

And that’s how I got a two-pound box of Godiva chocolates for my birthday.  And magically, a deluxe sewer auger, a hose caddy, and a salad spinner appeared from an anonymous donor a few weeks later.  I couldn’t have been happier. 




Saturday, November 18, 2023

500th Column: Inga vs. Chatgpt. Will AI Put Me Out Of Business?

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published November 20, 2023] 2023

For my 500th Let Inga Tell You column (yes, it really is), I had to ask myself: could I have saved a lot of time if the AI bot Chatgpt had come out sooner? Inquiring minds (mine) really wanted to know.

So I thought I'd give us the same topic - in this case, being the family worrier - and ask Chatgpt to write 300 words on being the family worrier in the style of Let Inga Tell You. I mean, Chat only had 490+ examples of my style to work from including one on this exact topic.

So here s Chat's version of me:

Oh, let me tell you all about being the family worrier. You see, I was born with the uncanny ability to take any situation and twist it into a potential catastrophe. It's not a title I asked for, mind you, but it's one I wear with a certain degree of pride. You might call me Inga, but around these parts, they call me the Worrier-in-Chief.

From the moment I wake up to the moment I close my eyes at night, my mind is a whirlwind of anxious thoughts and fretful pondering.

My family, bless their hearts, has learned to take my worrisome tendencies in stride. They've developed a sort of Worrier-to-English dictionary to decipher my cryptic statements. When I say, "I heard a strange noise outside," they know it means, "The apocalypse is imminent, and we should start stockpiling canned goods." And when I ask, "Do you think the dog looks a little lethargic today?" they understand that it translates to, "We must rush Fido to the vet immediately before he contracts a rare and deadly canine disease."

In many ways, being the family worrier is a heavy burden to bear. My sleepless nights and racing thoughts can be exhausting, and I often feel like a one-woman anxiety factory. But there's a silver lining in all of this, you know. My penchant for worrying has made me the most prepared person you'll ever meet. I've got a first-aid kit that could rival a small hospital, a pantry stocked to survive the next ice age, and a network of emergency contacts that would put a superhero's rolodex to shame.

So, while my family might roll their eyes and chuckle at my constant state of worry, they also know that when the chips are down, I'll be the one with a plan, a flashlight, and a stash of chocolate bars to get us through any crisis. And for that, they're grateful even if they have to endure my never-ending fretting along the way.

Here, meanwhile, is a segment from my June 15, 2023 Let Inga Tell You column entitled "The family worrier":

Anxiety disorders run in my family. That's why I was interested in an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune a while back entitled "Mulling the worst: One therapist's anxiety fix."  Her solution for combating anxiety is to imagine the worst that could happen and then, she's decided in her inexplicably delusional way, you will realize that even the worst isn't that bad.

Um, seriously?

I'm sure this therapist is a very nice lady but I can only assume she s been out of graduate school for a matter of days. We worriers are world-class catastrophic thinkers. In all modesty, it's where we excel.

For example, she says, if your kid is anxious about missing the soccer ball during a game, you should sit down with him and ask, would that so terrible?

Hell yes! The other kids on the team will probably never let him forget it, teasing him about it in perpetuity. If they lose the game, it will be his fault. His teammates will nickname him Klutzoid, a moniker that will stick with him into his octogenarian years. The coach will stop playing him, and any hope he will ever have at playing up to the next level is permanently shot. Someone will post it on Facebook where it will be immortalized forever and played at his wedding. So, not so bad ? Hah! I don t think so!

From time to time my husband Olof has tried to convince me that the worrying itself was not the reason an event went well but my thorough planning. But then, what does he know?

OK, there s some admittedly catchy phrases in Chat s version. But seriously, this is how Chatgpt thinks I sound? I'm a tad offended. Chat's version seemed a tad bland. Sort of like, well, a bot wrote it.

And in the 400,000 words of my oeuvre that Chat had to model me from, did I ever once use the word fret ? I do not fret. I whine. There is a big difference.

So, am I in danger of being put out of business by Chatgpt? You tell me.

 My own conclusion: Find your own voice, AI. This one s mine.



Saturday, November 11, 2023

They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To

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

In 1999 we remodeled our tiny 1947 kitchen. It was a huge boon to have more than a single 100-watt light bulb, to have a dishwasher that you didn't have to roll over to the sink, and to be forever rid of gray Formica.

What we didn't realize is that whatever appliances we installed in that space would forever determine the ones we could replace them with. Now, 24 years later, the last of those appliances has crumped, and we were once again faced with the reality that few of the world s now-preferred appliances will fit in our allowable space. You can't shave a half-inch off a granite counter top.

It has not helped that the quality of appliances seems to have really tanked in the intervening years. And in its place, they're loaded with annoying features that we don't even want.

Our new microwave, for example, is the exact same manufacturer and size as its predecessor but weighs only half as much and literally slides around when you push its cheap little buttons. (We had to anchor it down.) Its flimsy glass plate keeps falling off the rotation wheels. But worst is its Perpetual Perseveration feature, tragically common in new appliances, that will beep in perpetuity once that cup of instant coffee is heated up. It's like it's having a giant snit: "You made me nuke this and now I'm going to annoy the sh-t out of you until you come and get it!"

I wrote a while back about our friends dryer that had an auto "wrinkle control" feature that fluffed up a load of dried clothes every 30 seconds until the door was opened. The friends went on vacation to Europe having put clothes in the dryer before they left. It was still fluffing when they returned six weeks later. My new-ish dryer, alas, does that too.

And then there s my three-year-old washing machine which made it into its allotted space in our small garage-less house by literally an eighth of an inch. Over-zealous sensors that have proliferated on washing machines are in a category all their own. My machine wants to self-balance (unlike my previous machines whose self-balancer was me) but if there is anything in there heavier than underwear, it is scientifically designed to shift everything to one side then sound like it is agitating a bowling ball. The machine literally flails around like a mechanical bull with a broken speed control. Unsupervised, the machine could end up in our bedroom. Seriously, the only individual more scared of this machine than the dog is me. 

Additionally, if you wash sheets in it, it has a built-in Self-Tangle feature that knots them up into a tight poly-cotton rope requiring serious untangling before you can move them to the dryer.

The dryer, meanwhile, has its own feature, Auto-Clump, that will wrap every individually-separated item in a load of bedding into in a large ball inside the bottom sheet. The bottom sheet itself will be dry but its entire contents will be completely sodden. I had the same dryer for 44 years and it never did that once.

When our kitchen range failed during the pandemic, we were stuck with the only 30-inch white slide-in gas range available west of the Mississippi (maybe east of it too). It had a thousand dollars of features we didn't want and would never use, including consuming most of the cooktop real estate with a grill that advertised that it could hold "six grilled cheese sandwiches!"  Which is six more than we'd ever make. 

Right before Labor Day weekend, in keeping with the Universal Perversity Postulate that states that critical appliances only break right before major holiday weekends when you have guests coming, our 24-year refrigerator, the last of our 1999 remodel appliances, crossed the chill-chest rainbow bridge. It turned out there were exactly three choices for a white "counter-depth" refrigerator that would fit in our very defined space. Mysteriously, the new fridge has only half the freezer space as its identically-sized predecessor, but only partly because of a door dispenser that we didn't want but were stuck with. On the fridge side, there is a single dim light at the very top, which, alas, cannot be upgraded to something with actual wattage, and which blocks light to everything below it as soon as you put something on the top shelf. Nobody should need a flashlight to find the mayo. And did I mention that I have managed to live into my golden years without a door alarm that won't shut up before you've even put half your groceries away?

With every one of our replacement appliances, you need to close them ever so gently so their entire tinny selves won't shake. You're afraid the doors will fall off their chintzy chassis.

So here s the career that I'd like to see: an appliance person who specializes in disabling all the stupid features on appliances. Bowling Ball-rebalancing and Malicious Snits. Forever Fluff and Robo-Beep. Self-Tangle and Auto-Clump. Underwhelming Wattage and Door Alarm Dingers.

They wouldn't be able to keep up with demand.

Our dryer's Auto-Clump feature stuffs an entire load of bedding inside the bottom sheet where it remains wet