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July 31, 2008

Would you move over?

July 31. Day 31.

Today I had a perfect asking opportunity and passed it up. The owner of a coffee spot I love (the spot, that is, not the owner) made me a cafe au lait. It was abominable. A soupy, translucent something. Coffee it was not. Normally, the waitresses prepare the drinks, but today he was understaffed.

No matter. I didn't complain, because I felt kind of sorry for him. He's an older man who's always sitting at a table by himself, staring into space as tangos from bygone years fill the air. Once in a while he chats with a friend, but usually he sits alone, staring. It's an easy place to retreat into reverie, with comfortable old chairs and vintage clocks hanging from walls and cabinets and ceilings, each a few minutes off.

In any case, I wasn't really in the mood for coffee. I ordered a drink as "rent" and proceeded to work on my dissertation.

But then, from across the room, he spotted my cup -- still full two hours later -- and eased over to my corner with a sad look. "You don't like it?"

"What? No! It's good! It's just that I was working so hard, I forgot about the coffee. It's very good!" Such. A. Bad. Liar.

"But it's cold now. I will make you another one."

"Oh, no, thank you. Thank you! That's very nice of you to offer. But I like it more when it's cold, so I let it cool down. It's such a hot day outside. I'll just ask for some ice. Refreshing." Choke.

He didn't buy a word of it and left.

I could have gently asked for a different drink. But I think it would have meant too much to him, and too little to me.

What, then, did I ask for?

Earlier today, I dropped off my grandmother from a trip the doctor and then lunch, and when I pulled up to her building, an office supply truck had stopped in front of the ramp -- a ramp that she, a walker with a walker, needs to climb to get onto the sidewalk.

"Can you move?" I yelled from my car. "I need to unload my grandma!" This wasn't a time for niceties. Busy street, cars roaring by, and some truck blocks the ramp the little old ladies use to inch their way home.

At first he looked surprised. Who was this chick yelling at him? Why didn't she wait a second for God's sake? But a second later he smiled and nodded, and I pulled into his spot. "How nice of him," Grandma beamed.

Gained: Access.

July 30, 2008

Of scrabble, epiphanies, and bread pudding

July 30. Day 30.

I met a poet yesterday. A goateed gentleman who composed a poem at the very table where Mr. A and I were playing scrabble, at a very crowded Lestat's around midnight. A table, no less, which he kindly sacrificed so we'd have a place to put the board. And I didn't even have to ask.

I started with the word "rude," which Mr. A added eventually turned into "crude." As I waited my turns, I got to talking with this gentleman. Shakespeare, the balcony scene, melancholy, Romeo's restrained exuberance when he first meets Juliet, graduate school, the San Diego literary scene, and the art of poetry. After Mr. A plunked down a 45-point behemoth by adding "de-" to "flower" over a triple word square, he told the poet, in a most brazen (aka sexy) fashion, "You know, she actually has a blog. You should check it out. The address is..." And he proceeded to spill the details of this project. Blush.

Then, the poet asked me if I ever ask for "random" things. So far, no. It's been fairly controlled, fairly reasonable. But that's about to change. My mind is racing at the possibilities.

More later.

UPDATE: Later is now. I was meek today. So meek. Squeak. I simply asked, at a dessert joint I occasionally frequent (aka Extraordinary Desserts), if I could have half a portion of their bread pudding, for half price. At $9, it's also sized for two people. It made sense.

"Um, we don't do half portions here." That um, nasal and indignant, a plea to "stop wasting my time, idiots, I have some demerara sugar cubes to order." That was from the manager, summoned by the cashier who, I could tell, was ready to say okay but thought to check first with her boss. Wise cashier. Lame boss.

It was a small asking. I didn't surprise myself. I didn't risk a thing. I guess, one cannot expect to be interesting every day. Or, for that matter, every day to be interesting.

Gained: Inspiration.

July 29, 2008

Where's my freebie?

July 29. Day 29.

The earth just rattled, and I sprinted under a door. I checked the Earthquake Map, and sure enough, a 5.4-er rocked Southern California.

And then, reading Marketwatch, I spotted these comments from readers reacting:

  • They're dumping subprime foreclosures into the Pacific. --Gbaily
  • Blame the short sellers --jhunt
  • Nope. BUSH DID IT. --Gbaily
Love it!

Earlier today I called Scottrade to check in about my free trades. I was supposed to get three, for referring La Sorella, but the broker never credited them. And I needed them -- stat -- because I had some trading to do. The associate sorted it out and credited my account, so I jumped into one stock which is completely risky and (if anyone reading this happens to know anything about finance) will betray my own ignorance -- and impetuousness. MBIA (NYSE: MBI), a bond insurer. Not that I know anything about bonds or their insuring.

But here's my rationale, following the research I dutifully did (see yesterday's post for more context). The stock has lost a lot of value in the past months. Analysts are split as to whether it's a good buy or not, but I was sold on the buyers. Ok, sorry, that was bad.

Also bad is that I don't understand how to read a stock's fundamentals -- the balance sheet, various ratios, and whether or not it's a good value. All I can do is filter through other people's musings.

In any case, I only invested a few hundred bucks, so if it tanks, my loss will be minimal. And if it really does grow in the next two to three years, it will have been a morning well spent.

An hour after buying at $4.73, it's up 19 cents , or 4 percent. I'll take that! Yet there's only one thing I know for sure about the stock market: Don't invest anything you wouldn't be utterly comfortable kissing goodbye.

Gained: $21 (Three free trades, at $7 each. Perhaps this is not a "gain," so much as claiming what was promised). Also, if anyone would like a referral with three free trades, just ask!

July 28, 2008

Ipod or other? aka the great muffin debate

July 28. Day 28.

I'm sitting at Rubio's, where I've just eaten two of their new gourmet tacos. "Gourmet" being a code word for counterintuitively stuffed stuffed with bacon and way too salty.

Which makes me think of two things: ipods and english muffins. Ipods, because I think I may indulge, after years of resistance, but I'm not sure if I should let myself be seduced by Apple or look at other brands. And english muffins, because this morning I had breakfast for a change: a latte and a buttery muffin. As I chomped the thicker, more cranniful bottom half, properly separated from the top with gentle jabs of a fork and then toasted, I wondered if there's anyone out there who prefers the top. Of course there must be. Indeed, it occurred to me, this could be the subject of a great divide. PC versus Mac, vegemite versus peanut butter, muffin top versus bottom.



Believe it or not, I am going somewhere with this.

Today's theme is due diligence. I came across this short article, from the farmers' market mecca that is Everett, Washington, which raises an excellent point about asking: before you plop down even 50 cents for a mango, do your due diligence. What does "organic" mean to that merchant? And when someone claims it's "locally" grown, how can you be sure? Not that I'm very OCD about my veggies, but that applies to any transaction.

I bring this up because I'm in the process of prepping for a few larger purchases, part of which may be covered by this year-long experiment. In chronological order: a second foray into the stock market, a small laptop, an ipod, an apartment (I wish) and (if mine dies and/or I land a splendiferous job after I finish my thesis next spring) a car. So I'm wondering what kind of steps I need to take in each case to make sure that I'm getting the best match for my needs and the most for my money.

As for today's asking, please check back in a bit.

UPDATE: And here it is. The brother of a cousin of a friend is trying to sell his house. Don't we all know someone like that these days. The extra difficulty, in this case, is that said house is in a mid-sized Eastern European nation where the market is even more saturated, and there's no federal housing relief bill on the horizon. As luck would have it, a few years ago I had some professional interactions with a real estate agent in said former soviet bloc state who proved to be both reliable and resourceful. This afternoon I sent email to reconnect and ask if, by the way, the agency wouldn't be interested in representing this seller.

GAINED: at best, deliverance for someone in a bind; at worst, an opportunity to network. Final results TBA.

Shave a little off those tanktops?

July 27. Day 27.

I'll skip the narrative this evening in favor of the direct, bullet point approach.

-- Purchased: 2 tanktops, one black, one teal.

-- Asked: Vaguely, if they were on sale or if I could get the second at a discount.

-- Gained: Nothing. "Sorry, those aren't on sale." Case closed.

Instant rebate?

July 26. Day 26.

I don't remember where I read that electronics stores sometimes honor mail-in rebates at the cash register. Save the hassle of mailing it, and guarantee the savings. So I asked for such a discount today at Fry's, the filthiest, most disorganized electronics store I've ever set foot in. Wires and appliances lumped together on large tables that people must sort through to find anything since there's never staff around; empty boxes and wrappers of products that are -- what, sold out? left around from last week? part of an "industrial debris chic" look? And miles of checkout stands for Fry's many, many fans.

Mr. A was purchasing a DVD writer that boasted a $20 mail-in rebate. At register 12, I asked if the store could honor the rebate instantly.

And was denied.

That's ok, Fry's. I don't like you, either.

Gained: Zip.

July 25, 2008

Could I buy some time?

July 25. Day 25.

My intention, for whatever that's worth, was to be very productive this week. I had a full to-do list that included such gems as: "write write write," "stop frowning in sunlight" and "buy boston airfare." Most things I ticked off, but by 4 p.m. today, one important item remained: UCSD books.

I needed to get to the UCSD library before the circulation desk closed Friday, since I had some books on hold that would be sent to an offsite storage facility at the end of the week. Otherwise I'd have to go in again to request the books, and return yet another day to finally consult them... I really had to make it before 5.

But. La Sorella is leaving to Seattle tomorrow, and we were spending the day together, and I didn't want to hunt for parking, not on a sunny Friday afternoon that was made for doing anything but hunting for parking.

I called and asked them to hold the books until Monday. So. Much. Easier.

Gained: one hour (which would have been wasted on Friday doing something in a rush) or one day (if you consider I'll have the whole day Monday to evaluate those books and investigate other resources at the library)

July 24, 2008

$10 off a caftan and a skirt?

July 24. Day 24.

Thanks Pikko, the very first reader to post a comment!!! Pikko, you hereby get to be a guest blogger for one day. Consider this your platform to write about anything you want. ANYTHING. Just email me, and I'll post it the next day. Kewl?

So today, I finally did it. I asked for my first retail discount since starting this experiment -- and got it!!

My Mama and I made a lunch date -- she called just before noon and I left the book I was reading open on the coffee table -- and we hightailed it for Little Italy.

At For Joseph, I received an early birthday present, a yummy dusty violet cloche dress with button detailing on the neckline. With taxes it came out to $109. On the way out, I was kicking myself. I totally should have asked for a discount.

Well, thank God it's a boutique row. My next chance came two doors down, at Rosamariposa, whose bo-bo dresses and scarves caught my eye from the street. I tried on a gorgeous tea colored caftan. Then, I spotted the skirts. Decisions, decisions...

The sales girl was chatty. Mamita mexicana, papito gringo. Recently traveled to Argentina, just like me. And she had great style.

So I went for it.

"I can't decide between these, so if I get both, could we work some sort of discount?"

"Yeah, I could do that. They're $42 and $32..." Her eyes shot up and to the right. Calculating.

"How's $10 off?"

"Ok."

Gained: $10.

July 23, 2008

Parable of the Screeching Battery

July 23. Day 23.

This has been an ugly day. Not awful. Not bad. Not depressing. Not frustrating. Not glum. Not humdrum. Just ugly.

Ugly: Waking up to a soft intermittent beeping sound that grew louder and sharper and longer and louder and sharper and louder and louder until it became the only thing I could hear or think about. It turned out to be the safety/hazard beep of an extra jump-starter battery hidden beneath the kitchen sink. I tapped a few buttons. Nothing. With the diabolical determination of a Guantanamo interrogator or a tired toddler, it kept screaming for help, attention, a soundproof trashcan, a lollipop, a severe beating with a hammer, submersion in acid, anything to make it stop -- so I finally dumped it into a trash bag and took off for the nearest certified hazardous waste facility.

Uglier: Driving around for almost an hour, from Radio Shack to AT&T to a defunct Pep Boys, all registered battery recycling centers, only to hear "We can't take that. We only take cell phone batteries." I insisted, but I knew it was a lost cause from the start: What uniformed store manager with a floor full of customers would ever accept a bright yellow, secreting music box from hell?

But then, a glimmer of hope: I realized I couldn't just leave it in a trashcan, not downtown, since it would probably be mistaken for a bomb. Come on. A loud beep coming from an electrical device furtively tossed into a trashcan near by a crazed woman, just steps away from the NBC building or a busy mall? Not risking it. So I drove to the nearest Pep Boys, which was twenty minutes away. In traffic. By now I was starting to internalize the sound. Play with it. Grow with it. If Pep Boys didn't take this screeching fiend off my hands, maybe, in a few months, I could actually stop noticing it. Maybe it would become a sort of white noise that only I could tune out, and I could use the battery to clear a path in crowds. Take it to the busiest beach on weekends and watch as a spot miraculously opened up. Shorten any line. Hmm...

Ugliness again: On the way to Pep Boys, I get yelled at by two women sitting on a bench in front of a liquor store. I had sprayed my windshield and ran the wipers when one of them spat, "Just wash your car." I was tempted to say something, but they looked ready to knife me.

Uglier still: Getting the kiss-kiss from a bloated guy in a blue van when we both pulled up to the same red light. "Hi. Hiiii!!! [mua mua mua]." Fortunately: My trusty Nissan, though filthy, has 200 horses, so I grazed the accelerator and let him kiss my ass.

Ugliest : Finally, finally, a kind and gracious Pep Boys employee agreed to take it. He ever so gingerly took the battery out of the bag, fumbled with a few switches and buttons I had also pressed and MADE THE SCREECHING STOP.

Moral 1: If you really really want help, never stop screaming.
Moral 2: Before you ask others, make sure it's not simpler to help yourself.

Gained: return to the status quo.

July 22, 2008

Talk to me!

July 22. Day 22.

My request, today, is to you, gentle reader. Please, please pretty please... say something. Tell me... Ask me... What have you asked for lately? What are you dying to ask but not sure how? Do you usually get what you want? Do you usually have to ask for it? Any hints, tips, tricks, ideas, rants or raves? Just hit the "comment" link, below.

I've been at this for three weeks, and I'm thinking now is a good time to share a little context.

Before this experiment, I'd say I was a middle of the road asker. I noticed some opportunities, but not as many as I could. Two recent examples: Last year I subscribed to a greeting card company, purchased only because I really needed to give someone a card last minute, and it was too late to mail it, and the one I had chosen was for members only. I've used the membership about 5 times this year. It was up for automatic renewal, but I called and said I wanted to cancel. This was not my intention, but I wanted to see what I could get out of the retention team. Why am I canceling? Too expensive. "Well, I see you're not a frequent user, so here's what I can do. I'll extend your current contract for six more months, free, and then you're eligible to renew next year for $10." That's $5 off. Barely a tank of gas. But, it's 50 percent of the new price. In 30 seconds. Just for calling.

I'm not always on the ball, though. When I subscribed to the New Yorker, I called and explained I received a professional rate coupon. "How much is it for?" the rep asked. "$25." "$25? Ok." As if I were proposing that price. What if I'd said $20 or "What's the best price you can offer me?" What are the perils, ethical and practical, of bluffing? Anyway. Notes to self, for later askings...

Thanks to anyone who's reading and, I add with preemptive optimism, responding.

xo,

La Roxy

July 20, 2008

Quality wine for el-cheapo price?

July 21. Day 21.

My sister, aka La Sorella, is about to move to Seattle. We have four days left together in the same city, and we're makin' the most of them. Today we opened her very first Roth IRA, using the entire proceeds of an insurance payout from a fender bender. Wise little sis!

Then we headed to Cafe Chloe, a darling corner bistro downtown, where I was delivered to a higher state of bliss upon biting into their pancetta mac and cheese. To complement that, I selected a glass of 2003 St. Emilion, which was $10. A minute later, the waitress returned to inform me they were out of that wine. I said I'd glance over the list again.

Here, I realized, was a chance. I'd read on FMF about an interesting little trick: asking to sub an expensive item for a cheaper one when something sells out. Ensuing thoughts:

1. They're out of my wine, so maybe I could get a slightly more expensive one for the same price. Is it fair to ask for that? Sure, why not?

2. I guess I'll go for the other glass of French wine, for $10.75. Not that it's a very tempting wine, but that seems like a fair upgrade. I don't want to exploit them or anything.

3. But wait! There is one wine I'd like to try, the 2005 Valpolicella. But it's $12.25. The most expensive glass on the list. Isn't that a little brazen? Well, what the hell!

When waitress came back, I smiled and asked, "Would it be possible to get another wine for the same price? I think the Valpolicella is closest thing on the list."

She said she'll check with the manager. Three minutes later I was drinking some very smooth wine, rendered even tastier by this opportunity. To top it off, it was happy hour, so she charged me the discounted price -- of the first wine -- or $8.50. And to top that off, six hours later I'm still thinking about that mac and cheese.

Cheers, Chloe!

(One more note: These days I'm trying to get my footing in the blogosphere. Here's my first interaction with one of the biggies of the establishment: Technorati Profile. Hint: If you click on the little green "Technorati" button, on the left, and make me a fave, I'll get some sort of boost in rankings or visibility, and move up from blog number 4,978,471. Woohoo!)

Gained: $3.75.

Replace my broken flowers?

July 20. Day 20.

Farmer's Market in Hillcrest. Hundreds of potential askings -- end of the day discount on zucchini? Eight peaches for the price of seven? But I'm an old hand at haggling, so I decided to take the day off. Purchases: aged gouda, a basket of tomatoes, some white nectarines and yellow peaches. And one bouquet of colorful cosmoses.

After paying for the bouquet, as I was walking away, I noticed that two of the flowers's stems had snapped. So I went back and asked them to exchange the bouquet. They agreed, and it was no big deal. But it was an asking, nevertheless.

Gained: One bouquet of flowers, intact.

I'm ditching the ditch, cool?

July 19. Day 19.

This morning I stopped by a consignment shop where I bought a painting, but it was already an insanely good deal ($5 for a small still life with flowers) and I didn't feel like asking for a dollar off, just to ask.

Later, I blew an opportunity at dinner. I ordered nachos without beans for the table and -- oh, gasp! -- the order came with beans. Send them back? However, by the time I spotted the beans, a pasty mess spread across the bottom of the plate beneath the nachos (interesting approach), everyone had devoured almost everything, and I'd also had my fill. So the kitchen messed up. We all mess up. And they were yummy, so who cares?

Most of the rest of the day was at the beach, and there's not much more I could ask for there. "Excuse me, sun, would you mind setting an hour later since I'm having such an awesome time? And waves, why don't you lap at my toes at a slightly more obtuse angle. There we go. Ahh."

Nah.

Could it be that I spent an entire day without asking?

But now, as I hear the clicking of the keyboard as I assemble this procrastinatory, throat-clearing introduction, I realize what it is I asked for. I asked for a break.

For between the antique shop and the beach, I went for a bike ride in Tecolote Canyon. For those who have never been there, this is San Diego's equivalent of [insert ugliest natural landmark in your city here]. A narrow ditch running between arid, gnarly knolls on one side and a golf course and various large fenced electrical apparati on the other. Occasional dog poop peppers the route. It was the first time I'd ventured there, and definitely not my ideal locale for a picturesque hike or bike ride. The scenery, coupled with the headache I got from riding over the rough terrain, was enough to make me want to stop.

So I did. "Guess what," I told Mr. A. "I have a headache. I want to head back, slowly. Why don't we meet at the car in an hour?"

May not seem like a big deal. So I cut out early. Big whoop. But the truth is, Mr. A's fitness puts me to shame. I practically pant up the six steps that lead to the intercom gate. He zooms up all three flights, holding six bags of groceries in one hand, and my hand in the other. An eight hour hike is exhausting for me. For him, it's just the warm up. And, coup de grace, I recently asked him to check out my bicep. He wrapped his fingers around my arm, and I beamed at him proudly. "Ok, you can flex now," he encouraged. "I am flexing!" I wailed.

When we starting dating, I would have charged onward, redfaced, heaving, in the spirit of "keeping up." Even now I push myself to keep up, basically because without his prodding I'd be a complete sloth and, I'm afraid, two dress sizes bigger. Not to mention that it can be fun. But there's a line between healthy discomfort and pain, and I've learned to discern it.

Gained: Two extra strength Tylenols from the glove compartment. A great afternoon at the beach, post bike ride.

Can you be any dumber?

July 18. Day 18.

Two askings, with very different results.

Number one. After moving back to California from Boston, I sent in a Lost Plate affidavit to cancel my registration. A few weeks later, I received a confirmation receipt, mailed to my new address -- but with another woman's name (Rosilyn) and vehicle (Toyota) listed on it. I called the Massachusetts RMV to untangle everything.

First, I explained the situation to the clerk in the Titles division of the RMV and asked her what needed to happen so I could get my own receipt and the other woman got hers. "I can't do anything. If that woman put your address on her form, it's not my problem."

"No. Maybe I'm not explaining myself very clearly. I have never met this woman before. She doesn't know I exist. Her name and paperwork were mistakenly sent to my house. Meanwhile, I never got my receipt. There's no reason for her to put my address on her form."

"But it's her name sent to your address, right?"

"Yes."

"Then the only way that would happen is if she put your address on her form. That's the only explanation."

"Do you mean to tell me that it's more likely that a woman who I've never met before, who doesn't even know my street or house number in a completely different state, magically conjured my address -- or maybe dug around in my trash and somehow got that address--and sent me her receipt, versus the possibility that someone in your office made a mistake and sent her form to my address?"

"Well, clearly, if it's her name and your address, then she put your address on her form."

"But she doesn't know my address. I've never met this woman before. My home is in California. Maybe I'm not being clear. Your office has misread our forms, or sent her receipt to me and vice versa. Can you please sort this out?"

"There's nothing I can do."

"Okay. Thank you very much."

GRRR. I would have slammed the phone shut, but it's a cell.

Second. Extraordinary Desserts, a lovely pastry shop a dangerously short drive away. I was there with my sister and cousin, who discovered, halfway into her white chocolate linzer torte, a minuscule gnat in her water. I said I'll ask for a new water, but she'd managed to fish it out with her teaspoon. "That's okay," she said.

But, as I'd just told her about the blog, she smiled and said, "Of course, please do ask for a new water."

Gained: incontrovertible proof that the Boston DMV is staffed by first class morons; and clean water for my cousin.

July 17, 2008

Want to trade links?

July 17. Day 17.

jamjar/flickr


I found a cool blog post today about... asking!

Here's a snippet:

Growing up I was a very shy little guy. I was so shy that I rarely put myself out there in situations that I was unfamiliar with and never asked other people for favors unless I was either in desperate need or very familiar with the other person.
I remember my mum telling me on numerous occasions when I was too shy to ask people things – ‘you’ll never know unless you ask’.
It struck me today that while I’m still pretty shy that I wouldn’t be where I am today if I’d not overcome my inability to put myself ‘out there’ and had I not learned to ‘ask’ others for help.
It focuses on asking in the blogosphere -- asking for interviews, attention, publicity. 

The author, Darren Rowse, continues:

This post might make it sound like I never do any work for myself and am constantly living off the generosity of others - but this isn’t the case. The key that I’ve found with ‘getting’ things off other bloggers is to ‘give’ them something in return. Win/Win interactions are key.
This reminds me of an earlier takeaway, learned when I asked a friend for tea and offered twizzlers in return: Leverage the concept of quid pro quo. If you offer something when you're asking, the other side sees it has something to gain and you don't come off as selfish.

In that vein, how about I ask for something blog related? I'll email a blogger whose work I particularly respect and ask if he would mind posting a link or trading postings. Win-win.

Results: TBD.

July 16, 2008

Spare some quarters for my parking meter, Mr. Gelato?

July 16. Day 16.

San Diego Reader

Be warned. This is a pseudo-post.

This is not about asking. There was no negotiation. There will be no revelations or takeaways.

This is, I admit, nothing more than an excuse to write about Pappalecco, the divine new gelateria that opened downtown.

I stopped by this morning, after two rounds of gelato this week, to try their coffee, and realized I only had one quarter for the parking meter. 

And I would clearly need more.

So I asked the stubbly signore behind the counter if he could spare some change. He could indeed, so he simply added the $2 in quarters to my total bill.

Grazie!

It was, by the way, the most exquisite cappuccino I may have had west of the the Appaian Way. Or in San Diego, at least. There used to be this place in Cambridge called Paradiso, which shut down and will always hold a special place in my memory... 

Gained: 6 whole airline miles, since my credit card gives me 3 miles for every $1 I spend at Pappalecco. Miam! On tomorrow's to-do list: more gelato. Or coffee. Or both.

July 15, 2008

Stop e-harassing me? And sell me your ridiculously cheap table?

July 15. Day 15.

ladymixy-uk/flickr

I made today's request within 30 minutes of waking up. A few months ago I landed on about a dozen marketing lists, some more interesting than others (ranging from zero interest to negative five). So this morning, I excised my least favorite.

"Would you mind removing me from your mailing list? Many thanks." Send.

Short, to the point, and, best of all, no explanations or apologies. Love it!

Gained: 1 second per day (formerly dedicated to hitting delete). In a year, that's 6 whole minutes!

Second ask today:

An hour later, I've just asked for something else!

I saw an awesome little table on Craigslist, antique, $10 -- way underpriced.

I called to see when I could pick it up, and the woman said to come by after 12:15, since someone else was coming at noon "to see it." I agreed. But then, a pang of angst. I needed that table.

It was already 11:45, and the other buyer would be arriving any minute. Would she leave with the table as I rang the doorbell? Or worse, would I get there ten seconds after her, would we both enter the house together and would watch as she made up her mind to -- of course -- buy it since she had called first? Because one thing was clear: no one who spotted a table like that on Craigslist, and drove all the way to L Street, would pass it up.

What to do, what to do?

Pre-Daily Asker La Roxy would have driven to her house as fast as possible, hoping she'd get there before the other buyer. Hoping against hope the other buyer would hit traffic, or would decide not to take it. But hope is not for the asker.

I called her back a few seconds later, from the car. "Can I actually ask you to cancel the other appointment? Would you mind? Becuase I reeeeally want that table. I'm on my way now."

"Oh, sure! No problem."

Click. WOW. That was so easy.

Gained II: Adorable, highly solicited little table. Photo coming soon.

Takeaway: If you want something, ask for it!

Oh, and two asks today!? On fay-ya.

Can I return these pants despite your incompetence?

July 14: Day 14.
Details
I hope this is the last time I stand line to return something for a long, long time.

Today, it was pants, which I purchased as a gift for my boyfriend, aka Mr. A., but didn't fit him right. I had the receipt, it wasn't past the deadline, and the pants were unworn. Seems like a simple return?

"I don't know if I can take these back."

"'Scuse me?" I asked the cashier in disbelief.

"I can't see the u-line number, which means there's no way to tell which item it is on the receipt," he explained.

Before I had given both pairs of identically priced pants to Mr. A, I'd cut off the part of their tags, so he couldn't see how much they cost. Apparently, I cut too much of the tag off. The cashier protested he could not see the item's "u-line" code on the tag anymore and he couldn't process the return.

Even though I had a receipt. And the tag, clearly showing the store's name, was still attached. And they were unworn. And the 30-day deadline hadn't passed.

"Both pants cost the same. Here they are on the receipt," I said and placed the receipt on the counter, which he picked up and closely inspected. Indeed, it had two identically priced pants on it, one which Mr. A kept and one which I was now returning. I continued: "Do you need my credit card, or should I slide it here?"

"It's just that, I need the number."

"I have the receipt and the tag, and we know how much they cost, so shouldn't that be enough?"

"Hold on." He huffed in protest and pranced to the men's department, and I waited almost ten minutes for him to return with another employee -- who told him to ring up either item, since they cost the same. Brilliant.

Gained: Technically, I gained the value of those pants, since apparently the return was in jeopardy. More importantly I refused to put up with someone's incompetence or attitude. This shouldn't have been my ask for the day, I would like to shift gears from returning things to stores and into more interesting territory, but that's what the cards dealt again, I'll take it.

Revealing the Daily Asker project to Mr. A

Tonight I mentioned this project to Mr. A, who immediately started reading the first two weeks of posts on his smartphone as we drank wine at Bondi, an urban/outback Aussie bar in the Gaslamp district. He said I should give myself more credit when it comes to the male psyche (re: showering in Sequoia).

"If I hadn't been there, come on, you know he would have let you." Blush. But if he hadn't been there, I wouldn't have asked. Creepy!

He also asked me why I decided to start a blog, rather than simply asking every day and not writing, or keeping a personal journal. The original impulse to ask and blog was spontaneous, and instantly connected in my mind. For not good reason other than to just do it.

But now that I've been at this for Two Whole Weeks (!!) I'm finding that a blog keeps me accountable. It's easy to skip a journal entry. A blog forces me to form a habit.

July 14, 2008

Can I return this defective product without a receipt, CVS? (And a note on self-criticism.)

July 13. Day 13.

mobilene/flickr
Emboldened by the Target experience, today I decided to help Mr. A with a similar predicament. The return without a receipt predicament.

A few weeks ago he bought a soft shell cooler from Rite Aid, which tore an hour or so after he started using it. He, too, had misplaced the receipt. Runs in the relationship.

The cashier couldn't do anything, so he called the assistant manager, who explained that without a receipt, the policy was to refund only the clearance price. Mr. A was about to hand him his credit card, when I intervened.

"Just a second," I started. "Couldn't he come back with a credit card bill, or you can check his transaction history? We shop here all the time."

"Sorry, that's against our policy. He needs a receipt."

"I understand that. But, just so you know, many other stores have policies that require a receipt, and they're actually more flexible. Target, CVS, all of them."

"That's not our policy."

"Isn't there someone else around? a manager?" I pressed.

"No. Our policy requires a receipt as proof of purchase."

"Do you seriously think it's appropriate to refund half his money, when your product broke half an hour after he started using it? He can bring you proof of purchase."

"I'm sorry, that's just our policy," he stammered.

"Well, that's an unacceptable policy. Where's your manager?" I asked again.

Mr. A's uncomfortable gaze ricocheted between the manager and me. He doesn't know yet about my daily asking experiment or this blog -- no one does! -- so it must have looked pretty weird to him to see me argue with a manager like that over a cheap piece of plastic.

I backed down.

Gained: Nothing.

Takeaways:

First, a revelation -- I think I need to shift my strategy.

The main accomplishment of this project so far appears to be transforming me into a pushy be-yatch. What if I add a new guideline: Asking should escalate. Initially, make the request in a way that makes giving a pleasure. If that doesn't work, then up the ante in terms of aggression. Because I promise, I'm not actually a harpie. I don't enjoy harassing assistant managers at Rite Aid. But here's the deal: You need to practice asking for little things, so when the time comes, you're ready for the major leagues.

Hence these lame "return without receipt" asks.

But wait. Addendum five minutes after posting. Do I need to shift my strategy?

What's wrong with being a pushy, under the right circumstances? Why do I dub myself a bitch, when I'm just asking for what I think is fair and reasonable? And why did I apologize three paragraphs above?

I started off amicably as possible with that manager, and it was reasonable to expect a refund for a defective item, especially with proof of purchase (even if it wasn't a receipt). And then, I simply held my ground. That's it.

So maybe I need to hold off on the self-doubt and recriminations. As the authors of Women Don't Ask point out, those are, typically, female attributes.

Onward...

Can I return this without a receipt, Target?

July 12: Day 12.

outofideas/flickr
The writing on the wall at Target was black, bold, and all caps: ALL RETURNS AND EXCHANGES REQUIRE A RECEIPT.

From where I was standing in line, I checked out the cashier, who seemed like she was in a bad mood. (An earlier lesson: Asking is easier when the target is receptive.)

Here's what I was hoping to return: a basket, a measly $2.50 made-in-China-especially-for-Target beach basket, whose handle had snapped the second time I used it.

And who knows what I did with the receipt.

My turn came. I plopped the basket on the counter and explained the handle broke ("and, by the way, I didn't keep the receipt").

"Silly to ask for such a tiny refund," I mumbled.

"Every penny counts," she answered, smiled, and credited my card.

Gained: $2.69 (including tax), and more courage to work around policies in the future, even when they're written in all caps bold.

July 11, 2008

Indigent grad student discount?

July 11. Day 11.

Ok, this is getting pathetic. All I'm doing is asking for discounts. That's not really in keeping with the "spirit" of this project.

I just made a hotel reservation for a wedding I'll be attending in the fall. Already sure of the answer, I asked nevertheless, "Do you have an AAA discount, or any other kind of discounts?" In his kindest voice, the receptionist told me I'm already getting the wedding rate. So I just looked cheap. Great.

Gained: An ounce of humility.

July 10, 2008

Sprint customer service rep, can I have a $50 credit?

July 10: Day 10.

emilybean/flickr

Paris tea update today! But first, today's ask:

Sprint has owed me $50 since I switched to them from T-Mobile last November. I signed up online using a promo code, which I verbally confirmed with a customer service rep as I typed it in and clicked to become a member. I was promised a $25 credit one each of my first two bills. Well, the money never appeared, and after a few attempts at bringing it up, I was ready to write it off.

According to the forums I read, the promo codes are applied haphazardly at best. Especially for people with my type of plan.

But today, motivated by this experiment, I decided to claim my credit.

I called and reached a guy who was completely uncooperative, saying there was no code listed in my file. He also said I already had a credit, for $100. But that was for the handset. Totally different. I wanted the monthly service credit I was promised when I switched over.

I hung up and called again. This time, I reached Diane.

I made my case, I asked her about Indianapolis and if she's having a nice day, and basically I tried to be as sweet and patient as possible. It took about half an hour, but eventually she took me off hold and announced, "Well, I want to let you know that I did credit you $50." I love that "did," calm and emphatic and cozily midwestern, confirming what should have been confirmed long ago.

So I didn't actually "earn" $50, but I did get the money that was owed to me. And that's more than so many people get.

Gained: $50.

And the second coup:

E, my friend living in paris, quickly replied to my query yesterday asking for my favorite tea.

Her answer:
as for your craving...i've never tried the caramel tea at MF but i can send you some, for sure. i work near galleries lafayette and they have a MF counter in the home store. i can easily send you 200 or so grams in the mail. i know this is gross, but i am currently obsessed with pull-n-peel twizzlers (cherry flavor) and my stash is dwindling. so i may ask for a package from california.
Voilà! A quid pro quo. The basis of many a fair exchange. (And don't fret, E, there's no "gross" when it comes to expat obsessions. I was desperate for Lowry's taco seasoning [I know, WTF!?] in Rome, so I can totally relate.)

Gained: 200 grams of intoxicating MF tea. Merci, E!

Takeaways:

Lesson 1: If you don't get the right customer service rep, get off the phone and try again. The results depend on who you encounter, their mood, their know how. So

Lesson 2: Be nice. I sincerely think that my being sweet and human made Diane want to help me, instead of want to get off the phone asap with a refusal.

Lesson 3:  Leverage the concept of quid pro quo. If you offer something when you're asking, the other side sees it has something to gain and you don't come off as selfish. I was't so calculating with my friend, but in retrospect I realize this can be a good strategy for other situations.

July 09, 2008

What to ask for when you're totally satisfied: Improve the status quo!

July 9. Day 9.

lottalotte/flickr
It's 10:31, and I need to post an update. I don't know what to ask for today!!

I think that may be because I'm perfectly satisfied in this moment. I have, before me, a cup of Vanilla Caramel Tea, which I seasoned with four cubes of sugar and a splash of half and half. Sinful, I know. And therefore, délicieux.

Creamy.

Fragrant.

And almost (only almost, alas) as good as the caramel tea at Mariage Frères, my Parisian elixir.

What else could I possibly desire?

Ding ding ding! Mariage Frères tea. Hmm. Who's in Paris? Wait, I know exactly who's in Paris, I have a close college friend there, E! But what could I offer in return? Maybe I can send her some oreos and peanut butter, or whatever American concoction she's been craving?

As you can see, I've run across a major impediment to this asking project. Many situations in which I could ask for a discount or better deal involve financial transactions. Not all (see yesterday), but certainly many. Trouble with this is, I'm not working, not negotiating salaries for myself or contracts for my employer. I'm not even buying something every day.

I could negotiate some things on the phone, like my credit card interest rate, but those would run out fast.

So, hmm, drumming my fingers against the table pensively, what can I ask for? Yes, today I will ask for tea.

Here it is. The ask:
So, you may think I'm a junkie, or at least a very profiteering friend, but can I tell you the idea I had today? I have been craving the caramel from mariage freres, and it occurred to me that maybe, next time you come to the states, you could bring some back? I haven't found it in any stores here. Or, if there's anything you were craving from the states (magazines? oreos?) we could exchange some care packages. What do you think?
Gained: TBD

Be more gentle.

July 8. Day 8.

exéquia/tumblr

This will be short and not so sweet.

My grandmother ended up in the hospital today -- nothing serious, I hope, but she was having blurred vision and a racing heart rate. She had to get everything checked out.

Everyone was lovely, with the exception of one RN, who rudely grabbed my grandmother's tender arms when she tried to get the hospital gown on, pressed down on her IV where the connection was sensitive, pushed and pulled her to change her position rather than guiding her smoothly and patiently.

My grandma said it hurt and the RN replied, "It's okay," with the dismissive and demeaning treble lilt people use on toddlers, in front of their parents, when they're trying to show they're not totally disgusted -- before blundering on.

My grandmother had four words for her.

"No, it's not okay."

Yet the nurse kept blundering on.

So I didn't ask, this time. I just told her.

"You need to be more gentle. She told you you're hurting her. There's no reason for that. Please take your time."

She continued working, more calmly, and then avoided our room for the rest of the evening. Good riddance.


Sigh. Avoiding gratuitous pain is something one should never have to ask for. This was a total no-brainer. It wasn't in any way difficult to express that need. But I need to include it on this list, because in healthcare settings, I think it can be tempting to defer to the experts, try to not complain, and be a "good" patient. And it makes me think about what the experience might have been like for someone old and frail, with a foreign accent, asking for help or mercy without the advocacy of a loudmouthed family member.


I'm glad my grandmother spoke up, and that I'm learning from her. I'm glad I was there.

Gained: Comfort for my grandmother.

July 08, 2008

Free sample of your lemonade?

July 7. Day 7.

darwinbell/flickr

I'm starting to have trouble coming up with material.

I spend most of my days indoors, alone, working on my thesis, and then at night I see either my family or my friends. I don't feel like I lack the courage to express my wants or needs in this context. I am discovering, however, that this commitment to ask for something everyday is forcing me to think about what I could ask for in the first place.

What's on my to-ask list? What could be better in my life? Are there opportunities I didn't notice before? How could someone else help me get there? What could I offer in exchange?

What I discovered I needed today was actually free. But it was hard to ask for it. I went to Starbucks with my aunt, who's in town for a few weeks from Europe. We wanted to get a coffee, and San Diego is tragic when it comes to coffeehouse options. So I took her to Starbucks.

My aunt, who claims she rarely drinks coffee (I say 'claims' because my family is from a country where people drink so much coffee they probably fund half the GDP of Ethiopia; which is not a lot, granted, but then my country happens to be a small country. Basically, you never hear of someone turn down coffee. But if she says so...) noticed the lemonade on their menu and was curious what it's like.

So I asked the cashier for a sample.

This was hard to do, because the cashier was already looking incurably bored as we inspected the menu.

Once I asked, she stared blankly at me.

I rephrased the question more bluntly.

"Could you please make us a smaller version of the lemonade, for free, so we can see what it tastes like?" 

The girl scowled and slithered to the lemonade processing station, and returned with two little cups of icy sweetness.

My aunt ordered a lemonade, and I went for a coffee beverage.

Gained: about $.60 worth of lemonade.

And, a takeaway: Asking is easier when the target is receptive. Sounds obvious, but now I guess the trick is identifying the receptive targets, or making unwilling ones more compliant. (Drums fingers together in a sinister manner.)

Update from Day 3 of asking, the dry cleaning discount: The total was $71, so I saved $7. That's basically a free lunch. Just by asking!?!

July 06, 2008

Can we use your shower?

July 6. Day 6.

sovietuk/flickr

On our last day in Sequoia, we decided to forsake the mountain crests and relax by the pool. (I say we, but ok, it was me. Mr. A would have loved another day of hiking, but two out of three was enough for me, and I didn't even have to ask for a change of pace, he gently acquiesced.)

But as I lay on the threadbare hotel towel, airdrying my hair, I decided I'd really like to shower before the six-hour drive home. So when the manager walked up to the pool area, I knew it was my chance.

"Hi. Can I ask you a question?"

"Sure." He was smiling. Good sign?

"We checked out at 11, and I realize that after swimming I'd love to take a shower before the drive back. If the next guests aren't here yet, could we use the shower in one of the empty rooms? Really quick?"

He made a slightly pitying face, like, "Please don't ask that. You know what I'm going to have to say."

And then he said it. "I can't let you do that. All the cabins have been cleared out, and they're almost done cleaning the last one. I can't ask them the stay late and clean another bathroom."

I nodded. Fair enough.

Then he had this suggestion. "But, what I could do, well, there's this spot in the river that's almost like a little waterfall, and I could show you where that is. It's really refreshing, I love going down there. Much better than a shower. Just come to the office when you're done with the pool."

I nodded and thanked him. Mr. A. was sitting next to me, and when the man left we conferred. Icy streams are not my cup of tea, and he wanted to start the long drive home, so we passed.

Gained: Zilch.

Lost: confidence that my bikini-clad body has any persuasive powers over the male psyche.

A takeaway: This is for when I'm on the receiving end of an ask: There's a friendly and an unfriendly way to refuse a request. Terse versus apologetic. Bristly versus sympathetic. Each has its place.

Another takeaway: Instead of flatly refusing, he offered something in exchange, something I didn't want -- so he ultimately let me be the one to refuse. Maybe this wasn't his intention and he really wanted to show us the stream; but maybe it was an elegant way to get out of his refusal. No bad blood, no negative reviews from his customers. It was a genteel -- and smart -- move.



July 05, 2008

Hello awkwardness. Pay $40 extra, friends?

July 5: Day 5.

flatworldsedge/flickr
Mr. A had managed to reserve a cabin in late June -- a coup, since it's typically very hard to find anything in Sequoia around the Fourth of July, not to mention a long weekend. He talked to his friends, a pair of academics from Stanford, and I talked to mine, a pair of academics from Berkeley, and all four agreed to join us.

Here's the problem: I told my friends it would cost roughly $100 per couple per night, i.e. slightly more than $300, divided by three. I called the hotel and found out they have a AAA discount, so that dropped the price further.

What I found out once we got there: The AAA discount doesn't apply for holiday weekends. (Is this even legit?) And the base price was $360, not $300!!

Dilemma: Do I bring it up? Do I shut up and pay the difference?

Thoughts: If the situation were reversed, I'd wouldn't want my friend to have to pay extra for a mistake, as long as the difference between what she quoted and the actual price wasn't very big. I'd want to pay the same rate as the other people in the group.

But that's a cop out. Because the situation isn't reversed. I should have clarified before they got there, so they didn't feel obligated after the fact. And I should keep my word.

Argh!!

I thought about it, and at the end of the day, I decided I'd try sort-of asking. I explained I had misunderstood the price, and that the AAA discount doesn't apply, so the cost is actually $120 per night. Then, I told them to give Mr. A the check for whatever amount makes sense to them, and to please not feel at all obligated to pay the higher rate. I just wanted to let them know.

They graciously agreed to pay the difference. And I still feel guilty about the mixup and, honestly, about asking.

Gained: $40 (not $60, since they only stayed two nights). More crucial: learned to be sure about a price before quoting it.

July 04, 2008

Deliverance from these mosquitoes?

July 4. Day 4.

arne-halvorsen/flickr

I spent the Fourth hiking the Sierras with friends. Our first hike, a 12-mile romp along narrow ledges toward a cluster of high mountain lakes (aka The Lakes Hike), culminated with a wimper, not a bang. For I was expecting pristine views, perhaps a gentle lakeside slope studded with sunwarmed boulders where we could sit and eat lunch. But the lakes weren't particularly beautiful, at least compared to the other mountain lakes I'd seen. And I was also not counting on being devoured by mosquitoes.

When I went hiking in Peru in May, I had the right equipment: a hat with a net, several tubes of mosquito creams and sprays, anti-itch spray, malaria medicine and clothes I'd pretreated with pesticide. I ended up not needing any of it.

"You'll look like the American," my local guides told me.

"What about malaria?"

"It's not in this area, it's downriver. Seriously, no worries. Just use your sleeping net and you'll be fine."

They were right. My skin and I stayed largely unscathed. Sure, a few of them buzzed around the camplight and I got bitten a few times. But cloud? Swarm? Amorphous mass of human-bound, airborne, itchy venom? It was 100 times better than I'd feared.

Them Sequoia varmin were nothing like their kindler, gentler Amazon cousins. All we did on that hike was step and swat. Two people put on long sleeve shirts. I'd sprayed myself, but that didn't do much. Short sleeves in July never seemed like a worse idea.

No one was taking in the views.

So, in a moment of desperation, I yelled, "I wish I had a long sleeve shirt!"

One of the women in our group started digging into her backpack. "Here."

I had just used half a bottle of anti-mosquito spray and spritzed sunscreen onto my bare arms. I was slimy and sweaty. I asked if she was sure.

"No problem. Take it."

"Thank you!!!"

Gained: Deliverance from venom. Ended the day with just a single bite, behind my right ear!

July 03, 2008

Special Price?


July 3. Day 3.
A few days ago I did some spring cleaning and discovered a few boxes of clothes I forgot I owned. A shopping trip in my own closet! So I ended up with some cute new-old dresses, and a huge trashbag of clothes for dry cleaning. That could cost over $100, with prices these days, so I decided to ask around. This morning, I looked up 10 dry cleaners online and inquired about discounts for bulk orders.

Seven out of ten gave the same answer: "Sorry."

I attribute this rejection to three reasons. 
1. It's easier to say no to someone on the phone. Maybe I should have asked in person, when I was in the area anyway; but, it would have dragged on and on.  
2. When I said, "I'm looking to save some money," one woman said, "Aren't we all?"  So yes, times are tough. This can work for or against me, since small merchants need both my business and maximum profits. 
3. I discovered that how I framed the question made a marked difference in how willing people were to help. Vague and impersonal was not good. Specific and in person was much much better.
Here's how it played out:

At first I called a few dry cleaners and asked, vaguely, "Hi. I have a lot of clothes I'm looking to clean, and I'm wondering if you could offer some sort of discount." It was easy to say no to that.

Then, I called and asked about the items I was interested in. "What's the price of a dress? ... Oh, really? Because, I've been calling a few places, and I'm trying to see who can give me the best price. Do you have any discounts?"

People seemed more willing to help me when I got more specific.

"We have one coupon, and we honor other cleaner's coupons," one woman told me.

"Come Monday and talk to the manager," another said.

But I didn't want coupons. Anyone can get a coupon for their neighborhood dry cleaners. I want to ask for a deep, customized discount and get it. Even if it only saves enough money to pay for the gas there and back, dammit. Talking to the manager at that one place was an idea, but those prices were already more expensive than others so it wasn't worth the drive.

Refining my search, I zoomed in to places in Kearny Mesa, a neighborhood with many Asian merchants and restaurants. There I found H&R Cleaners, which had one good review on a website I don't particularly trust, but it was something. This time, I asked explicitly for what I wanted. I gave the same intro as above, and concluded, "So, since there are so many items, could we arrange a special price?" The woman offered $5.25 instead of $5.50 for a dress. I did the math -- about 5% off.

"I'd like 10 percent," I said.

Silence.

"I could become a long term customer," I pushed.

She started laughing. "Ok, ok!"

Gained: For 6 dresses, $3.30. For a whole bag of clothes, TBD.

Lost: 10 minutes of phone calls.

July 02, 2008

Could you call that in?

July 2. Day 2.

















"Could you call that in?" 

This, I asked the woman at working counter at my grandma's doctor's office, where I was escorting her this morning for a checkup. If she called the prescription in advance, we wouldn't have to wait there together or, more likely, she wouldn't have to wait by herself in the car while I waited in the pharmacy by myself.

I asked after a split second of deliberation. It happened after the appointment, as I was shuffling loose papers, her purse and mine, her walker and my cell phone, and as I was waiting for the check-out nurse to give me a card with the next appointment on it, the thought occurred to me.

I've never asked for this service before, though I'm not sure why.

Maybe it never occurred to me that a doctor's office could be helpful in that way. Usually I wait in line at the pharmacy no matter how sick I am. Or, in the old days, my mom waited for me.

But this was for my grandma, and I'll ask anything for her.

She shouldn't have to wait around at RiteAid, and actually, neither should I. So I asked.

"Of course! What pharmacy?" she answered.

Fifteen minutes later, I pulled up to the pharmacy, picked up the meds, and we headed to lunch.

Gained: 15 minutes.

Two for one?

July 1: Day 1.

Here it is, my first asking.

Site: Lestat's Coffee House.

Time: 9:42 p.m.

The comedy show was starting at 9:30. I got the call from a friend -- "Want to come to a comedy show?" -- just after 9:15, so I hustled out the door and got there as fast as I could.

By then, all the seats were taken. The opening act was underway. The audience was crowding the aisles, spilling out of the performance area and almost into the sidewalk, so Mr. A and I had to push our way to the counter to ask for tickets.

The guy working the entry mumbled something about $3, but it was impossible to hear over all the noise.

I gave it a shot. "There's no room to sit. Could we get in two for one?"

"What?" he yelled back.

"Three?" I asked, my finger wagging between both of us like a windshield wiper. "For both?"

"I said, it's free!" he repeated.

Was that a smirk?

Gained: Nothing.

Can I ask for something everyday for a year?

I've just signed up for 365 days of asking.

Prompted by a book I started reading today, Women Don't Ask, about how women's reluctance to negotiate costs them millions of dollars individually -- not to mention the collective losses -- I decided, quite spontaneously when I got to the bottom of page 7, to try asking.

Perks. Discounts. Upgrades. 2 for 1. 3 for 2. A better restaurant seat. Application of an expired 20 percent coupon. Salary boost. Access to discretionary funds. Lower insurance rate.

The point of this exercise is not to get stuff for free. I will not beg or ask for unilateral favors. I will never bring up that I'm blogging before or while asking. Anything I get should be part of a transaction in which I'm also providing something: money, time, expertise. Or, part of a transaction in which I'm undoing or counteracting an inconvenience or loss. Ideally, it has to be an exchange in which I leverage my position to my advantage.

The point is to simplify my life by and boost my financial situation by asking. The point is to try to benefit from the type of situation where "it can't hurt to ask." The point is to start thinking about asking in the first place. The point is to become a better asker over time: identify opportunities, identify my needs and desires, develop strategies, maximize savings and earnings. The point is to use asking as a springboard for becoming a negotiator who can be cutthroat or cajoling, as needed.

Also, for something to count as an asking, it has to be explicit. The benefit won't count, for the purposes of this exercise, if I hinted at it, or got a lucky break, or would have gotten it anyway.

Well. A long-winded and rather dry beginning, which I reserve the right to edit for linguistic clarity, but not intent. That's what I'm signing up for. No questions asked.