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October 31, 2008

Too old to "Trick or Treat"?

October 31. Day 123.

All-time favorite costume: Snow White, sewn by both my grandmothers when I was four. One grandma may be reading this from her celestial perch even as I type, for all I know, and the other will see it tomorrow, when she heads to the computer room of her senior home and checks her email. Hi, Grandmas!!!! Thank you again for making me such a beautiful costume!

This year, I dressed up as an angel and Mr. A was a witch. It was his second Halloween in disguise, after growing up without such merriment in Europe and then Canada.

We were invited to A&K's for a ghoulish potluck. Mr. A got there a little late, since he had a long day at work, so I left the party to help him find parking. As we walked back, we spotted them: Two trick or treaters! With bulging bags of candy. Leading the way.

"We should go trick or treating before we get to their house!" I suggested.

"No."

"It's an American tradition," I pressed. "All the kids do it. Don't you want to try it, once in your life? We're not too old!"

We ended up following the kids to the lit doorway and climbing the apartment steps with them. Only they didn't knock on the door. They opened it and walked in. And they weren't kids. They were petite adults. Headed to a party.

"Trick or treat?" I yelped behind them.

"We don't have any candy," the man said, as a few people standing around him looked out to see what the commotion was.

Mr. A turned around and bolted. I wasn't far behind.

"Holidays are way cooler in my country," he later informed me. "We go door to door singing Christmas carols and receive sweets."

"Carols? Please. In this country we get candy on Halloween just for being cute."

"Right."

Gained: A botched attempt at giving my Euro boyfriend an All-American Halloween. There's always next year. Mu ha ha ha!

October 30, 2008

Turn down the fans?

October 30. Day 122.

I'll never forget the moment I vowed to spend my life somewhere far, far away from San Diego.

I was 17, and I'd just come back from a week in New York with a group of high school friends (soon to be a college freshman and feeling sooo grown up). In the Village, we talked our way into a jazz bar with our fake or nonexistant IDs (loved it). We had dessert at midnight in Midtown (devoured it) and watched Les Mis (yawn).

My first evening back in San Diego, a Monday in early August I think it was, I stood with a friend at the intersection of 5th and University -- which is the heart of hipster/gay/chic/yuppie ville -- at 7 p.m., trying to figure out where to go, what to do, and there wasn't a place we could get a decent coffee and dessert. Hang out for the evening. Live a little. The only cafe I knew, my beloved "The Study," had closed down, and a Starbucks had recently opened a few blocks away. Every store and boutique was closed. Every venue was either dinner, family oriented, or an empty bar. I felt like screaming.

A month later, I left for 10 years, to college and then grad school, because of the repulsion I felt that night and for so many other reasons, and I moved back this summer after too many arrows in my life pointed west.

Which brings us to my first night back in San Diego, after a week in Seattle.

"Does it feel like you're coming home?" Mr. A asked.

Home? Of course. This will always be home. But this time, I was happy to be back. San Diego and I have both evolved, I dare hope.

After dinner, we headed to a new French pastry shop with a promising name, Mille Feuille (one of my favorite pastries ever!), which was at the same intersection as that fateful night: 5th and University.

At 10 p.m. it was closed, which didn't bode well for this neighborhood after all. We walked a block to the Crest Cafe, a diner I'd heard about years ago, but never tried.

The place was empty. The only waiter around was chatting with some friends and someone from the kitchen when we walked in.

"Are you closed?" Mr. A checked.

"No! A table for two?"

"We're just here for dessert. Is that okay?"

"Of course it is!" Our waiter was lovely. Even before we sat down, he brought out a tray of sweets and hinted which of the chocolate cakes to go for. We also ordered a peach cobbler.

It was a perfect homecoming.

With one exception: I've been battling a nasty cold, and the fans were on at full speed. I asked if he could turn them off.

"I don't think I can!" he said. "The fan is connected to the lights, so if I turn that down, the lights have to go, too. It's just our old wiring. The owner would kill me if I messed with the switches."

"It's ok. No problem," I said. We were leaving soon, anyway.

"But what I can do," he added, as an afterthought, "is just dim the lights! That should lower the fan's speed."

On came the mood lighting, off went the the fans, and we finished our desserts in the empty, cosy diner.

Gained: Like I said, a perfect homecoming. Beat that, NY.

October 29, 2008

White pizza, please?

October 29. Day 121.

For three days, Slick has been raving about the white pizza at The Essential Baking Company, a prime purveyor of all things baked for regional restaurants, stores and cafes. And for the past week, I've been walking by the bakery, which is two blocks from their apartment, inhaling the yeasty, wheaty smell and wishing I had time to go in.

Finally, this afternoon, we headed over for lunch. Slick ordered tomato soup and two portions of the white pizza, which is essentially an aromatic foccaccia; I ordered a cup of soup and a crepe. La Sorella went for a curried chicken sandwich.

Our food came fairly fast, and disappeared faster. Slick was in heaven, chomping on his beloved white pizza. All was essentially well.

And then, I spotted it: A slice of white pizza, on someone's soup plate. It was supposed to come with my order, but they didn't include it.

"Want me to see if it they'll give the slice they were supposed to include?" I asked.

"You don't have to -- I have enough here."

"Maybe you'll want some later?"

I went up to the counter to inquire if the soup normally comes with foccaccia, and when she said yes, I asked for a slice. She gave me two!

It was not a very gutsy asking. But even a tiny request that might make someone else happy is not, essentially, insignificant.

Gained: Two slices of white pizza.

Write me a rec letter?

October 28. Day 120.

I can't believe I forgot to include on yesterday's post that I have an official hangout in Seattle! Bauhaus. Books up and down the walls, nooks and crannies full of alterna-nerds, excellent caramel lattes and nice music. I owe it to one of the people I met at that dinner, who told me to check it out, so thank you! Discovering Bauhaus was totally worth $13 =)

Today, I asked for a recommendation letter. I absolutely hate doing this, since I generally hate promoting my own work. And, I can't imagine why anybody would ever want to take half an hour from his or her busy day to write, "Roxy rocked." How cringe worthy! With this blog, it's been an interesting opportunity to mention, here and there, "I have a blog," but I feel strange doing it.

Contrast that to: dude in a cafe who saw me looking at a Seattle event website. He came up to my table and announced, "That's a great site, isn't it? I designed it!" Really.

New recommendation system I propose: I will have a folder with a page for every job, and whenever I do something noteworthy I'll get a sticker. Then, I'll show that folder to prospective employers. No more imposing on former bosses.

Anyway, the answer came shortly thereafter: "I'd be happy to, but why didn't you ask your main boss?" Ak! Because it seemed the work I did for this supervisor was more along the lines of the job I'm aiming for.

He replied, encouraging me to ask the main boss anyway, since he knows my work better (and his word carries more weight).

Gained: career advice? a rejection? not sure if his answer was a good one or a bad one.

October 28, 2008

Don't you see we've been robbed?

October 27. Day 119.

I was robbed tonight.

I went out to dinner with a group of people La Sorella is getting to know in Seattle -- friends of a friend -- and when the bill came, I wondered if I should suggest we each pay our share (mine was $18 or so) or take one for the team and split it evenly.

Of course, as always happens when some people get trashed and others hold back, the vocal minority voted to split it, and we all put our cards down. That came to $26 a head. An $8 pseudo friendship fee? Fine.

Only, when the card came back, I saw the waiter had charged $31. I glanced at some other receipts, and they had the same amount. Apparently, someone hadn't paid.

I didnt know anyone in the group. I'm the tourist from San Diego, after all. And La Sorella was trying not to rock the boat, since some of the girls in the group are actually nice. But I couldn't say nothing.

"Was there a miscalculation? I was charged $31. Did anyone else get that?"

"Really?" They were all surprised. "It must be that they added the tip to the $26."

"No, the tip was already included. Maybe someone forgot to pay."

"I don't understand," said another girl, a pretty thing with long loose curls. By then, I had counted the receipts and saw she hadn't paid.

"It's ok," I replied. "I do."

Later, I heard that her boyfriend said he'd pay for both of them and only covered one meal. And then they both played dumb.

Lost: $13.

Gained: I didn't have the courage to explicitly say, "You didn't pay. You are robbing me. You're cheaters." Once I opened my mouth and pointed out the injustice, if everyone else at the table deemed it fair, I went along with it. The charge on my card had been made, and I decided the social cost (appearing cheap and unpleasant) would have affected my sister's chances of befriending the two nice women at the table.

But I am leaning more and more toward paying my own way at group affairs, unless they're all friends I trust. Too many brazen theives out there.

Or maybe next time that happens, I'll flat out refuse to play along.

October 27, 2008

Can we tour your sorority?

October 26. Day 118.

I am not a member of a sorority.

I have never been a member of a sorority.

I have never set foot inside a sorority.

Until last night.

***

It was 10 p.m. and I had some asking to do. La Sorella and I headed toward the university district.

"We should drive by the frat houses! They're beautiful," she told me. She was right. Stately homes with grand pianos behind grand front windows. Some were elegant and discrete. SAE, on the other hand, had a pair of lions out front. Roar!

La Sorella miraculously found a parking spot and we started wandering around. Inside, people were working at laptops or, it seemed from outside, cleaning. What to ask, what to ask. So much opulence to gape at, so little time! Inspiration, my friends, came shortly.

Stop One. Kappa Kappa Gamma!

"Hi! We're visiting Seattle, and we were wondering if we could get a tour of your house. We were just taking a walk of your neighborhood, and it's the most beautiful house on the block."

"Of course! Come in! Where are you from?" She had beautiful long blonde hair. Rumplestilskin hair. Bright blue eyes. Diamond earrings.

"San Diego."

"My roommate is from California!"

"Cool!"

"Are you also Kappas?"

"No..." Quick -- smile now.

She smiled back. "Well, I can't promise the house will be very clean on a Sunday night -- the cleaning lady comes Mondays -- but you're welcome to take a look around!"

I kept a smile on my face and waved to everyone I passed. Seemed like the nice thing to do.

Andrea, a sophomore studying communications, showed us the common areas and few bedrooms, including her own.

"Is that your bed?" I asked, noticing the green sheets decorated with little pink foxes on them. A bit more interesting than the hot pink sheets the rest of the girls seemed to prefer.

"Yes!"

The bathrooms were clean and organized, but again she apologized if things weren't very neat. Her mother had been in the sorority in the 80s, she mentioned, and her picture was on one of the class portraits hanging in the hallway.

Some of the doors were decorated with elaborate signs -- "Kappachinos!" on a huge coffee cup, for example. After we left, La Sorella and I speculated about who'd made the signs, and why.

Grade: A+. Andrea was polite. She handled an unexpected situation well. She was an enthusiastic represenative of her group. And she didn't turn us away because we were non-Greek, non-UW, or would probably never see us again.

Stop Two. Alpha Chi Omega.

From the street, we spotted two girls sitting in large couches.

"This is one of the most exclusive sororities," La Sorella informed me. "We should see if they'll be all hoity toity."

A girl with short brown hair opened the door, looking surprised.

"Hi! We're visiting Seattle, and we were wondering if we could get a tour of your house. We were just taking a walk of your neighborhood, and it's the most beautiful one on the block."

"Oh. Please, come in. We're all studying now, and I'd have to check if giving a tour is okay, but if you'd like to wait here, I'll be right back."

I looked around. A hard bench. A mirror across the hall. The floor was stone, as was her heart.

"You can come back tomorrow," she said when she returned. "The president is the one who gives tours. That's our protocol."

"Great!" I replied. "What time? Afternoon or evening? Or, is it best to drop her an email?"

"Oh, um, oh..." as she opened the door. "If you can just come back tomorrow, the president can give you a tour."

"What's her name? Or do you have her email address?"

"Keely," she spat.

I checked out their website just now. Their motto is "Real. Strong. Women." This is the featured quote:

People ask why I am in a sorority and I try to explain all the things a sorority is that they cannot see. A sorority is more than letters on a sweatshirt, I say. More than traditional songs, a gold pin, rituals, and obligation, or a way of life. A sorority is learning about people, a sorority is giving without expecting a return."

Grade: F. Learning about people? Giving without receiving? More effectve strategies for handling our visit -- even if she was busy or just indisposed, which would be totally fine -- would have been: Turning us away from the start. Not resorting to excuses or white lies about the president giving us a tour tomorrow. Limiting the use of interjections for rhetorical effect. And perhaps loosening up.

Stop three. Theta Chi.

We saw Steven outside. He was sweeping up some leaves, and it was clear we had to get involved.

"Hi!" we chimed.

"Hi," he replied.

"Would you like a hand?"

"What?"

"How about you sit back, relax, and let us sweep up those leaves for you?"

He looked uncomfortable. "I don't need any help."

"Maybe you wanted a break? I don't know. It's cold out here. If you let us do this, you can go back inside sooner. This is our good deed of the day!"

"It's my house duty. I'm the one who needs to do this," he replied. "Why don't you use your good deed on someone who needs it more?"

Grade: A. He could have been friendlier, he could have played along. Instead, he chose to abide by his organization's rules in a courteous and intelligent manner. And his instict was generous, not selfish.

Last stop: Psi Upsilon.

We spotted a few guys standing outside, but as we climbed the stairs they rushed inside. WTF?

To get inside a frat outside visiting hours or a party night, I realized, I'd have to be bold. I knocked, and a short guy with messy hair came out, holding what looked like Kool-Aid in a plastic cup.

"Hi," I said. "I'm sorry to bother you like this, but could we please use your bathroom?" (Not a lie, frankly.)

"We're from out of town and we were just taking a walk and we don't know where else to go," La Sorella added.

"I'm rushing," he answered, "so I don't want to do anything wrong. I need to check with our president."

He took out his cell phone.

"Hi... There are two ladies here and they're asking if they could our guest bathroom...They're tourists...just for a minute...No, I don't see any Actives...Sure."

He hung up and smiled.

"He says you can come in. I can't promise how clean it will be on a Sunday night."

Actives? And what is it with Sunday nights? I had many more question than answers...

"Where's the keg?" La Sorella asked, the moment we stepped in.

"We're not allowed to have kegs anymore," our host, Ben, told us.

Before leaving, a few other guys had come over to see what was going on. I glanced around -- slots for mail with envelopes falling out, average age 18, lots of sweatpants and Nikes.

"Thank you so much!" I said before we left.

On the frat's website was this tidbit: "We are a collection of brothers striving to break the negative stereotypes of the Greek Community, while emphasizing the positive social, scholastic, and financial aspects of Fraternity life." True is dat.

Grade: A+. Friendly, adroitly negotiated between the present situation -- girls at the door! -- and his house management. Quick thinker. Problem solver. And social (see below).

UPDATE: La Sorella gave out her phone to Ben, since she tutors math and he mentioned he was studying that. She just got a text from him: Spooky Blackout Halloween Party! Wednesday Night! You guys should come!

Years out of college, I've been officially invited to my first frat party.

October 26, 2008

Elemental shopathon! And, free movie rental?

October 25. Day 117.

"I hope she knows this is just going to be a regular, boring shopping trip..."

This is what Phred, half of the force behind Elemental, told Laurie, the other half, before we met Saturday morning.

From the moment they showed up, Laurie holding a thick notebook of ideas and ingredients and Phred in a pinstripe suit and dark orange pocket square, at 8 a.m. on a Saturday, I knew it would be anything but. (On Wednesday, if you recall, I had asked her if I could tag along on a food shopping trip, after one of the most amazing restaurant experiences I've ever had. We decided to meet at Whole Foods on 64th and Roosevelt, where they do their daily run. They were going to be catering a wedding for 75 that night.)

We started in the cafe, where they devised the menu as they downed a pair of Americanos. Their catering, like the restaurant itself, is all or nothing: Laurie and Phred decide everything, from the champagne to the type of bread under the salmon toasts.

As they were going over the list of ingredients, I was a little confused. One pomegranate? A bag of endives? That's how much I'd buy for dinner for four!!

But slowly, slowly, it registered: when you're making such a huge variety of dishes, you don't need loads of every ingredient. You make just enough of each item to tease the palate, set a couple such dishes on the counter, stand back, and watch it get devoured.

Yum. Repeat. Yum. Repeat. Yum. Repeat. Yum. Repeat. Yum. Repeat. Yum.

In the produce section, I followed them around asking questions. They shop here five days a week because it keeps their menu offerings fresh and flexible. They live in a houseboat. Before Elemental, he was the sommelier at Union League, another Seattle restaurant, and she was a server there. She's a self-taught chef. Spent her formative years in Colorado. He loves Paris. Nothing like Paris. She just went to Grammercy Tavern in NY for the first time and adored it. They never advertise their restaurant.

When we got to the dried fruit aisle, I started feeling restless. Useless, actually. I was being nosy. They were rushing around, preparing to feed a small army.

"Please put me to work," I begged. Laurie asked me to bag some dried dates. A few aisles later, they added a second cart and split up to be more efficient. Phred -- white pepper. Laurie -- cheese. I took turns pushing each cart or grabbing items from the shelves.

The menu, if you're curious: roasted suckling pig, butternut squash lasagna, halibut with bacon, asian pear crab cakes under a persimmon chutney, a dried fruit mostarda, tuna tartare, salmon on rye, a bone marrow confection, stuffed piquillos, escargot crostini, chicken liver mousse profiteroles, endive salad, onion tarts, suppli, saffron risotto, and I'm sure I'm missing some things, but that's the general idea.

One hour, two brimming shopping carts and $983 later, we were off to the next destination: Pig pickup from a seafood and butcher shop a few blocks away. It arrived in a long, narrow white box. Like a really large bouquet of flowers. Edible, juicy, fall off the bone tender flowers.

Jacques, their black poodle, who'd been waiting in the car, was in a tizzy at the prospect of sharing a ride with Piglet, so Laurie rode back to the restaurant with me.

Back at Elemental. Two other chefs arrived to help Laurie start cooking. Phred made us coffees with Baileys and Whiskey. One chef, who works at local restaurant and trained with Laurie, made risotto while the other chopped onions and plopped them into a huge pot with butter. Laurie set me up at a table, where I sliced up some Manchego-like cheese and stuffed the piquillo peppers, which would eventually be deep fried.

"We don't try to do too much to the food. We don't fuck with it," Laurie told me before I started stuffing. Simple, good ingredients. A few steps from start to finish. "It's not precious food."

Soon, the smell of sauteed onions filled the place. It was time for me to leave. The time I normally wake up on a Saturday. Time to meet La Sorella for a drive to photograph fall leaves (her first autumn in leaf country).

As for Saturday's asking:

That night, I went to Hollywood video and requested a free movie rental. No real reason. Just: "Is there any way you could let me rent one, get one free, please? I'm trying to get one cool discount today for a project, and I haven't gotten anything yet!"

Jesse looked behind the counter.

"We don't have any coupons," he announced.

But when I looked at the receipt, our second movie was free. Sneaky Jesse! Playing it safe for the security cameras? Or just trying to surprise me?

Thanks!

Gained: A dose of nostalgia, f-r-e-e. (We rented Return to Oz, a freaky 1985 flick La Sorella and I used to obsess over.) And, a priceless morning with team Elemental.

Teach me your coffee making secrets?

October 24. Day 116.

Two days behind. No internet and a cold have made it hard to keep up. But I'm back now!

(As for internet, the guy promising a wifi password never came back, and I'm not about to harass him about it and make him hate my sister, who's his neighbor.)

My asking Friday was a classic for Seattle: How do you make good coffee?

I spent the evening at Espresso Vivace, the second time in a day. The place was fairly calm for a weekend night, and I started talking with the barista. He seemed bored and chatty. Just the type I was looking for.

"Do you think it's possible to make coffee close to this at home?" I started.

No, since their espresso machine is unrivaled.

"But when you do make coffee at home, do you even try to make it like this?" I pressed.

Nah. He gets free coffee there. Why bother with anything else?

He started explaining why their machines are so great and how hard it was for him to master latte art. The most seasoned employees train the staff once a month, to make sure everyone's skills are up to standard. For some the wrist movements come naturally, for others it takes years. There's a book written by the owner with info about making the perfect espresso, in case I was interested in reading about it.

Lots of info. Just, not the info I was looking for.

I could have asked him to teach me how to make latte art, I could have hopped behind the counter to watch how he packs in the grounds and adjusts the temperatures.

But honestly, I was fighting a cold. I had an 8 a.m. shopping date. And I was over it.

Gained: some vague, useless info about making coffee.

October 24, 2008

Borrow or share your wifi?

October 23. Day 115.

Not getting internet at home in order to increase productivity and social contact is the second biggest lie I've ever told myself. (The biggest being that those orange plaid pants I bought sophomore year in high school were funky instead of fugly.) (The third biggest, by the way, is the refrain "I won't get a ticket" while parking in Boston.)

In 2003 to 2004, I shared an apartment with an American kleptomaniac and a Belgian postdoc. The postdoc had internet and I didn't. At first I stayed away, but eventually I threw courtesy to the wind and asked if I could use his internet occasionally. Which turned into every day. (I have him rides and cooked and stuff, so it wasn't like I totally abused his generosity. If you're reading this, geule en terre, bleu!)

In 2004 to 2005, I lived in Paris and had a very old laptop with no wifi card, nicknamed "the brick." I ended up mooching off of another friend, which led to hours spent in her bedroom plotting how she could seduce our tango instructor.

Well, my sister and her boyfriend haven't gotten internet yet, since it's been hard to coordinate with the cable company and they're both busy. So I thought I'd ask one of the neighbors if they'd be willing to share their password and split the monthly bill.

La Sorella and I knocked on the door of the apartment across the hall, where we could hear a lively conversation around 11 p.m. A guy about my age opened the door.

"Hi! Hope we didn't wake you up!"

"No, no problem."

I explained that I'm in town for a week, looking to use the internet while I'm here -- just for gmail and reading the news -- and by the way, my sister and her boyfriend are their neighbors and looking to split internet with someone. Was he interested?

He said he'll check with his wife and let us know.

Ten minutes later, he knocked and told us their password, saying a week is cool, but nothing long term. "Liability," he said, apologetically.

No prob. Thanks, neighbor!

Gained: access -- but not access! I entered the password in front of him, and it didn't work. He said he'll check the encryption of his network, double check the password and get back to me. Maybe this can serve as a trial run, and once the neighbors all get to know one another, they won't be averse to sharing.

October 23, 2008

Tale of the Twelve Course Meal (Or, the asking that almost wasn't)

October 22. Day 114.

"So what are you going to do with La Sorella in Seattle?" Mr. A asked before I left.

"Guess."

"Sisterly bonding?"

"No..."

"Hanging out? Shopping?"

"No! Come on, what's the only thing we do when we're together. Our one and only passion. Our obsession."

"Gossip?"

"Food!!!"

***

Ten minutes after I set foot in Slick and La Sorella's apartment, we were out the door and headed for Elemental, a discreet, petit restaurant one block away. They offer a prix fixe menu where the eater must totally relinquish control. The owner/waiter asks if there's anything you can't eat, and then his parner and chef whips up stuff depending on what they found at the market that day. The whole process unfolds over 3 1/2 hours, dish after dish after dish after exquisite dish.

"They kill you slowly," La Sorella explained with a glowing smile.

"There's a chance we won't be able to eat there tonight," Slick warned as we crossed the street. "They don't take reservations and it's usually packed."

Actually, there was just one couple there -- Canadians, we soon found out -- and we grabbed the corner table.

We started with a shot of brandy or fire water or something tiny, strong and transparent. Or was it sake?

Then, cocktails and a bowl of popcorn tossed in truffle oil.

Then, a loaf of steaming bread.

Then, a bowl of gooey artichoke and melted Italian cheese -- had the zing of a very aged parmesan -- surrounded by slices of toasted baguette.

Every time the owner, Phred, came back to take our plates or bring something new, he paused to join our conversation. I told him to pull up a chair, but he couldn't stay that long. We were talking about Sarah Palin and how she discriminated against her sons by only taking her daughters along on state business trips. Such rampant sexism, coming from such a maverick? We were all deeply disappointed. We talked about the electoral process, and whether a candidate can ever be clear of special interests under the current campaign finance system. We talked about corruption in Canada versus the U.S.

Then, crab ravioli came in a very gentle, creamy white sauce. Another white wine.

"You have to eat fast," La Sorella cautioned me now. "If he comes back and there's food on your plate, he will literally grab it from you. The wine, too." She had already cleared her plate. I was only halfway there.

"You guys," I said with a start. "I haven't asked for anything today. I have to think of something here."

"Ask if we can eat for free," Slick said.

"It has to be something they might agree to," I replied.

I started eating faster.

I started drinking faster.

I started panicking about what I could request. Something from the restaurant owners? A fellow diner? Another Craigslist cop out? What did I need or want???

The chef, who had been working silently at the open kitchen a few feet away, approached our table.

"If I can make a suggestion," she began with a conspiratorial tone. "Don't actually finish everything on your plate, because you're just getting started. And if you really like what you're eating, just consider that you'll probably really like the next one too."

Easier said than done. She wasn't the one confronted with plate after plate of delights.

When the sauteed gnocchi with garlic greens (I believe) arrived, I finished every bite and used the bread to drink up the sauce. Defiantly.

The other owner came back now to remove our plates.

"Can I ask you a question?" I said, before he could get away.

"Beside that one?"

Touchee.

"If someone were to ask you for something risque, edgy, ambitious, but something you wouldn't refuse, what would that be?"

He stared at me blankly, then turned around and left.

"There! You asked," Slick offered.

"That didn't count," I countered.

Meanwhile, the restaurant was getting busier and our table was getting louder.

By the time the fish with greens (chard, perhaps?) and coconut rice arrived, I strained my ears to hear what any of our neighbors were saying. I couldn't.

"Are we the rowdy table in the corner?" I yelled.

"What's wrong with that?" Slick yelled back.

"You don't like being at the rowdy table? Ma na na na na na na na," La Sorella added, for emphasis.

Then, grilled haloumi wrapped in grape leaves under a dollop of sweet tomato chutney.

Then, escargo with crostini.

Then, liver on toast.

Then, a pair of dishes at once: sliced duck breast with mushrooms and a rice and pumpkin concoction, paired with both a red and a white wine.

Two dishes at once? Were we so noisy, by chance? they were hurrying us?

"Excuse me. Are we the totally rowdy table in the corner?" I asked the owner, this time, as he dropped off these dishes.

He just chuckled and walked away.

My sister was now repeating a refrain from Empire Records, "Damn the man, save the empire. Damn the empire, save the man," to anyone who would or wouldn't listen.

"I haven't asked for anything!" I wailed.

"Ma na na na na," my sister replied.

How much longer would this meal last? What time was it? How many plates had I eaten? It was all starting to become a blur... I reached inside my purse to check my cell phone and missed. How many glasses of wine had I had? Wait, I wasn't counting...

Dessert came. A slice of soft cheesecake and a chocolate panna cotta, impeccably firm.

And like that, it was over. The bill came. We put on our coats.

Honestly, I was terrified I'd blown it. We had been the rowdy table in the corner. Obnoxious revellers in this coccoon of soft music, genteel murmurs and candelight, where only the food and drink should stand out. And there was so much I wanted ask now. The recipe for the artichoke or gnocchi, how they come up with the menu every night, if I could go shopping with them at the farmer's market -- but they'd never agree. Not now.

But their house was a block a away... bedtime around the corner... this was my only chance.

I pattered to the bar, where the chef was hard at work.

I leaned against the counter for support. "I've had an amazing meal. It's been one of the most delicious evenings of my life," I started, trying to hold my voice steady and look her straight in the eye.

"Thank you!" she replied.

"I've been asking for something every day, and today I'd like to ask if I could come along on one of your food shopping trips. I'm only in town for a week. I'm from San Diego. Everything was so delicious."

"Sure." SURE??? "I go every morning. I'm wondering what day would be most interesting for you... Would Saturday work?"

"That's perfect!"

"We're catering a wedding too, so I'll have to pick up a pig to roast."

"Wow!"

I left her my number. I hope she'll actually call.

Gained: A potential gourmet shopping trip with the chef of this twelve course coup.

October 21, 2008

Cancel the split plate fee?

October 21. Day 113.

Warning Number One: I'm drunk.

Wwarning Numebr Two: I'm very drunk.

Tonight was date night. Mr. A and I headed out to San Diegp's Gaslamp district, to have an official date -- dinner and dancing -- before I take off for a week. We landed at The Strip Club, a place where you grill your own steaks. Nothing too raunchy or declasse, I pomise.

We were promised a 15 minute wait. 30 minutes later, no table. I was definitely annoyed, and plotting an asking to make up for it -- free dessert? a drink while we wait? -- when our beeper finally flashed red.

When we placed our order, Mr. A and I both were eying a 20 oz. porterhouse steak. That, with side dishes, a salad and dessert, would be plenty, so I asked if we could share it.

The server told is there's a $5 fee.

"Is there any chance you could waive that?" I asked.

"They just started this policy, so they're being really strict." She was totally enthusiastic, and made me feel like she'd actually want to be my friend if she weren't so busy rejecting epople's special requests.

After dinner, we wandered around downtown as we contemplated our next move -- to dance, or not? And then I got an idea. Basilio!!!

Basilio, you see, is Bacchus incarnate. Fifty-something, with soft ringlets and a wine drinker's paunch, ready to break out into dance whenever the moment strikes him. Basilio.

He opened a new bar a few months ago, and we'd never made it over. Tonight was the night.

When we got to the door, the hostess's eyes lit up. "Come in! Have a seat anywhere!"

And then I saw him. Basiiiiilio. Sitting at the bar, serving absinthe, on the house, to everyone who was still around at this late our. We did the Euro kiss kiss and took a seat next to him.

He served us some absinthe, made a martini on the house with some promotional vodka for some guys from Vegas who were visiting. (Basilio saw them walking past his bar, went outside and called him in. Four hours earlier, they were still there.)

We all danced flamenco.

Mr. A and I danced the tango.

We ate a chocolate cake layered with mousse, sponge and homemade whipped cream.

We talked about orchids in Belize with a guy who builds bookcases.

At one point, Basilio asked Mr. A if I like to be spanked.

I almost slapped him, then asked him if he likes men.

My fingers feel like mush now. I can't believe there haven't been more typos. Damn, I am coherent. What a disappointment.

Gained: Not the split plate I asked for, but it's been a magnificcent evening.

Several updates, and... New project?

October 20. Day 112.

The day of updates:

For a few months, I've been trying to cancel my second car insurance, since I stayed registered in Boston and California this summer due to the Boston RMV's incompetence. Finally, phone call after phone call, Boston cancelled my registration and I got a refund for the overlap in insurance. Minor victory, definitely what was my due, and lost so many hours dealing with it, but I do have $40 back in my pocket. Which I might have given up on, before this project.

I had asked Chase to fix a poor mark on my credit report because of some fraudulent activity on a dormant Visa, and today I received a letter that they are reversing the claim, erasing any "past due" notices in my account and thus restoring my credit! WOOHOO!!

I had asked JetBlue for a free or discounted ticket to Seattle, but I got rejected by the Customer Care Manager:
I wish we had some special vouchers or discount to offer you, but, unfortunately, we don't. My best suggestion is to continue to watch our website for sale prices. We're still in a generally slow time of the year for air travel (until the Thanksgiving holiday arrives) and you might be able to find better than 'normal' fares to many of our destinations (including San Diego).

I hope that you can find a way to visit your sister and help her out and hope that you'll continue to be a loyal JetBlue Customer!
I have no choice. They're still the cheapest. So I put the fare on my credit card and I'm taking off tomorrow. So be it.

I had asked someone on Craigslist to help me with a present. The idea was to frame two large paintings. I have since decided to do only one, since there's limited wall space. It was as a present for Mr. A, whose brother painted them, so I couldn't spill the beans on this blog. Today, I met a graphic designer who's looking for work, and we traded skills. I edited her cover letter and resume, and she helped me stretch the painting over wooden bars. It was instructive, fun, and cheap. Aaron Brothers was charging $190 for the service that cost me $40 in materials and an afternoon of bartered services. I also bought her lunch, since she drove south to meet me, and it felt right. So, a price difference of $130.

I had asked, in turn, Mr. A's friend for some software for my dad, who's also out of a job. Engineering and home design software, since he's an architect. The friend found them with lightning speed, and I'm about to go mail him the CD's.

My asking today was career-oriented. Not for a raise or perk, but about taking initiative. I proposed a new type of project to my boss, something totally different from anything I or the company has worked on. I hesitated -- it wasn't up their alley, they're in the middle of so many changes they don't want another one -- but I figured that if I don't ask, the answer will definitely be no. It would still be part time, between writing the dissertation and this blog, but it would be a lot of fun to work on, and I think it could help the company's bottom line. I'll let you know how it turns out.

October 20, 2008

May I butt in? (Part II)

October 19. Day 111.

Maybe I felt bolder after yesterday's invitation, or maybe it's hard to find bargains or ask for a raise on a lazy Sunday. So I decided I'd ask for something with a social twist.

After stopping for a mid-afternoon caffeine jolt with some friends, I headed over to D.G. Wills, one of the coolest independent bookstores in America. On par with Shakespeare & Co, Powell's and Raven Books in terms of stock and mood, but with a great string of readings -- Gore Vidal, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, Derek Walcott -- and in a few minutes, Billy Collins.

People had filled the store, the driveway, the entire sidewalk for half a block, and were starting to stand in the street by the time I arrived. Dennis, the store's owner, sets up speakers, so it's no problem. I found a comfortable spot leaning against a clean white van, with an unobstructed view of Collins through the window.

In front of me, a woman dressed in black was talking to a younger couple. They had arrived separately and started chatting before the reading, the way people do at these things.

"...genius. Really, a genius. There's not a subject he doesn't know about. You know, he's acerbic and terribly funny. He's British, but he came to America in his youth. His most polemical views are on torture, atheism --"

"Christopher Hitchens?" I asked.

They all turned to look at me and she gave a quick nod. Then, turned back to one another.

"And he writes these extraordinary pieces in which he uses himself as a guinea pig. Got all the hair waxed from his back. And then he tried waterboarding. It was for that magazine he writes for..." she paused there, searching for the name it seemed.

"Vanity Fair?" I offered. "Those were great articles." I subscribe to VF and had read those very pieces. How lovely to find someone at a poetry reading who reads the same wacky articles you do!

And then she turned back to the couple.

These people, about my age, were listening with polite smiles and nodding once in a while. Just not that into her.

Why?? Why did she want to talk at them, instead of with me?

Anyway, I was quickly delivered from my feeble attempt at inserting myself into that conversation by the reading, which was phenomenal.

Gained: One more opportunity to be a social parasite, with nothing truly gained and nothing truly lost.

October 19, 2008

Crash your party?

October 18. Day 110.

Standing in the checkout line at Henry's, to buy: a bottle of wine, some mushrooms and a bag of peanuts.

In front of me, the woman unloads a similar mix of goods: a bottle of liquor (didn't catch the label), ten limes, a fistful of mint, a bag of veggies.

"Are you making mohitos?" the cashier asks her.

"Cucumber martinis."

"Sounds good."

"It is."

Time to butt in. "Can I come to your party?" I say.

"Sure! I'll tell my friends I'm making my friends now at the corner store."

"Perfect! 'Cause I really might show up!"

"5555 Mississippi."

Gained: an invitation to drink cucumber martinis in the most shameless self-invitation maneuver I've ever pulled. Sure, there were sleepovers in junior high and random dinner outings in college when I tagged along or blatantly but silently channeled "invite meeeee!" But nothing like this.

Perhaps it comes with age. The assumed right to rudely butt in and speak your mind, that is.

Either you stop caring what people think, or you start meekly, giving an opinion here, a verdict there, and realize that people don't care what you think. Or maybe it's nothing as ennobling, as liberating, and you do just it because people allow (or expect?) you to.

Right now I'm far from shy, but there's still a filter between my brain and mouth. I so look forward to the day when I'm old and wrinkled enough that I can speak the god awful truth. People may hate me for it, but they'll never turn me away or stop inviting me over for Christmas, because that would be heartless!

Or, I could start speaking my mind from now, so that I'm never bitter and repressed enough I need to take it out on the young'uns.

Any votes?

(In case you're wondering, I ended up going to a different party. The same group of friends from last night, the Italian contingent, was eating caramelized onion pizza and watching Sarah Palin on SNL. Couldn't miss that.)

October 17, 2008

Wine without an ID?

October 17. Day 109.

Three words that entered my consciousness, INPO:

I. Career day, 1988. Third grade. Lunch tables, over by the fence. Between the fire-fighters and nurses, one of my friends is carrying a clipboard and wearing a blue suit. I'm stumped.

"What are you, a secretary?" I ask.

"I'm a lawyer!" she exclaims.

Lawyer? What's that?

II. Karate class, 1991. One of my favorite moments is storytime. And sparring. Yarrrr!

Sensei tells us a parable about a special bird flying next to each of us: "You all have an eagle. For some, and you know who you are, this eagle is very big. It's way up here, bigger than you are, and that can cause some problems. Others have small eagles. You keep them in check. You help others. You say thank you. That's what I want to see: tiny eagles, everywhere."

For years, I envision a bird hovering over my shoulder. Then I realize he was talking about my ego.

III. Second grade. A girl reads a poem about a pair of bunnies in a forest.

"The gay little bunnies hopped and hopped," she says. And two boys start snickering. "They're gay!" one says, and more boys laugh.

Sr. Mary Lou tells them to be quiet, so I conclude that interrupting a poem with my own reaction is not acceptable.

All this to say: My asking today is paltry, so I've decided to regale you with miscellaneous facts about myself. I'm sure you care.

I ended up at TGIF for dinner with a group of friends, where I noticed a wine I actually like on the menu. Ménage à Trois, fruity and round, in a style I find immensely drinkable.

My turn came to place a drink order, and the waitress asked for my ID before I could open my mouth.

I didn't have my driver's license on me, so I made this pitch: "I'm almost 30. I forgot my ID. Can I have a glass of wine?"

Honey, so much sympathetic, empathetic, you're-pathetic honey, oozed out of every pore, every hair follicle, from the very core of her soul.

"I'm sooooooo sorry. Not without an ID."

I know, it's not her, it's her boss. It's not her boss, it's the owner. It's not the owner, it's the liquor license. It's not the license, it's the lawmakers. It's not the lawmakers, it's the lobbyists. It's not the lobbyists, it's the drunk drivers.

Cry me a river.

Maybe my tender ego should be flattered she carded me, maybe I should become a lawyer to argue the drinking age away, but I just think that's so...

Gained: A glass of water, which I had to ask twice for. Yuck.

October 16, 2008

Can you do the same job for less?

October 16. Day 108.

I don't have a very happy asking today, I'm afraid.

I turned to Craigslist, as I occasionally do on days I'm desperate and not sure what to ask for, and inquired if someone could help me obtain something that would normally cost a few hundred dollars. It's for a present, so I can't disclose it (yet), and when I checked in stores, I got quotes that were far above my current budget.

So, I asked if anyone could beat that price or accept a barter for dinner and/or resume editing and/or language lessons.

Sadly, I got many answers. So many people out of work, looking for cash and an updated resume.

Lesson: If you want a great deal on any projects or services -- crafting a custom suit? marketing materials? financial advice? upgrading your deck? -- this is definitely the moment to turn to the legions of the unemployed. Win-win.

Gained: Not sure yet which offer to accept, but don't worry, I won't take anyone for granted. Still, I estimate it will probably be around $200 in savings. Results TBA.

Let me ride in your top-secret batmobile van?

October 15. Day 107.

From the outside, it looks like any other van. White, a little bigger than average, but otherwise totally nondescript. The only giveway that it might be tfc (totally fucking cool) are the deeply tinted windows.

Inside: millions dollars of technology that's so new it's still just a possibility. There's nothing else like this van on the planet. And I was about to go for a joyride.

As it happens, Mr. A has a friend who knows a friend who drives such a van. So one asking led to another, and yesterday morning at 9:25, I found myself on an empty driveway behind an industrial complex, where the van was waiting. I took a seat in the soft leather seat behind the driver and glanced out the darkened window, feeling invisible.

A few minutes later, the specialist stepped in -- one of a handful of people on the planet who know how to operate the van's controls. He fired up a panel of computers and sensors and gadgets, and we were off.

We circled around the neighborhood and hit the highway, collecting data and testing its features. He explained what was going on using some acronyms I didn't know, and eventually I started vaguely processing the streaming data on the various screens.

The industry? I can't say if it's part of a nonprofit research institute, commercial enterprise or government agency.

The project? I am sworn to secrecy, but it's something that will help people one day.

Gained: Access, baby!

October 14, 2008

A shout-out to the boys

October 14. Day 106.

I just came across this newsflash on CNN:
About one in seven men has a combination of genes -- one new and one first discovered in 2001 -- that increases his risk of male pattern baldness sevenfold, compared to men without the combination.

It's a scientific finding that won't grow hair on your head. But it could lead to better testing for a susceptibility to male pattern baldness, a problem that affects 40 million men in the United States. (Continue reading.)
There we go again. The syndrom-ization of a normal physical attribute. Turn it into a "risky" ailment that "affects" people and suddenly, it's marketable! Diagnosable!

Profitable.

Don't get me wrong: I have nothing against people, male or female, who decide to curtail or counteract hairloss. And the research itself is worthwhile. But the reporter's wording is so... well, let me put it this way. Would this headline fly? "Researchers identify gene responsible for [fat ankles/big butts/thin lips/a-cups], a problem that affects 40 million women"

Incidentally, here's a hello to all the men out there.

One friend, a researcher living in Paris, recently dashed off this note when I mentioned the Salon story: "very interesting--has lots of applications for men as well, no?"

I know what I think, but what do you think, oh reader?

This project may be by a woman who asks, but there's no reason it can't be about, and for, men too. No? Sure, we're socialized differently. Sure, men are statistically more likely to ask. But perhaps some men feel they are implicitly or explicitly pressured to ask, even if they'd rather not. So maybe that's a downer. And for every woman who asks, there's probably a man who doesn't. And for every man who asks, there's might be a woman sitting next to him at work, or sleeping next to him in bed, or snoring in the crib down the hall, who might not. So of course I'm glad if they're interested in these questions -- both the daily askings and larger issues.

I'd love to hear from readers of either gender (or both...): What's your take on men and negotiation? Do they experience a different set of pressures that come with the freedom (read: expectation) to negotiate? Is there a version of the pushover/bitch dichotomy in the male sphere -- that is, any double standards for what we allow women to ask about while deriding men for the same questions? And, besides directions (whatever -- every man I know asks for directions, even those with GPS's), what questions would men dare not ask? Just a few thoughts I've had recently. Or, share your own!

Speaking of asking, today I wrote a much more compelling and focused email to JetBlue's upper echelons. After no answer the first round, by now I suspect this will also fall on deaf ears, but it's a much better shot. Must. Persevere.

I owe it all to Slick, who is La Sorella's boyfriend and a master negotiator. He told me what I need to say, how to say it, who to say it to. Even suggested a few tricks for getting a hold of the CEO, as a last ditch effort. (I may have to get over my fear of cold calling, if I'm serious about becoming a better asker...)

When I'm in Seattle, I hope to interview Slick about his secrets for: getting the best available hotel room upgrade every time, snagging free stuff at restaurants, and negotiating one's way to better pay and perks. Stay tuned.

October 13, 2008

Are those free? And, JetBlue quest continues...

October 13. Day 105.

I was sitting at Influx, a cafe in the up-and-coming Golden Hill neighborhood, doodling while vaguely listening to a group of women talking as they knit hats. It was time for a break, after a full day of dissertation research.

But instead of relaxing, I was getting more antsy. It was 9, I was about to head home, and I hadn't asked for anything yet. I'd been to dinner (my first visit to the legendary Chicken Pie Shop, which was moderately tasty but nothing to write home about, let alone promote in a blog. Oops). Nothing jumped out at me there to ask for. And before that, I was on my computer all day, thinking about French literature instead of hidden bargains and interesting opportunities.

In a blink, a cashier announced they were closing and I took my cup to the counter.

And there, I spotted them.

Two cookies, two lone chewy looking cookies of the chocolate chip and ginger variety, sitting on a plate on top of the pastry case. They had been inside before (I know this, because I had eyed them earlier but decided to be good). And now they were outside. Waiting. For what?

For me!

"Are those free?" I asked the woman who was tidying up the register area.

I know it was kind of brash. But so many cafes put out baked goods before they close. This was my first time at Influx, and the place was empty, and the cookies did seem to be looking for a loving home...

She smiled.

"Sure."

The way she said it made me wonder if she was sacrificing her midnight snack.

"Are you sure? Were you going to eat them?"

"I'm going to be back here at 6 tomorrow," she reassured me. "We make them every morning."

Gained: 2 giant cookies, aka supper snack and/or breakfast tomorrow.

Earlier today, I wrote to JetBlue again to ask if they got my first message, but I realize I'm going about it the wrong way. An email to the generic "corporate communications" address? Come on. I'm digging around now for human contacts. Anyone in management, anyone with some decision making powers. (If you, kind reader, happen to have such contacts, please don't hesitate to spill the beans!) And then I'll state my case again. If that doesn't work, I'll buy my ticket tomorrow at full price -- but I have to try one more time.

Good night.

October 12, 2008

Skip the sushi?

October 12. Day 104.

I'll just come out and say it.

I don't like sushi.

[Deep breath. A bit of fidgetting. Checkin' my watch. Smiling and shaking my head at my own folly. Ingratiating shrug.]

Ok, are you done pointing and snickering?

With few exceptions (sweetwater eel and rare nibbles of certain pseudo-rolls), I just find it hard to enjoy. I tried, believe me. I wanted to like it. But sushi, martinis and caviar are three things I've written off, no matter how much I'd like to be that kind of woman.

For years, I dutifully downed my fair share. I managed to sound excited when friends, cool international friends, gushed about Sushi Obi, or whatever new place recently opened. I even frequented all-you-can-eat sushi bars, which struck me as an insane idea even then (isn't that like all-you-can-eat truffles or turducken? A rich delicacy better savored?), but I played along. In fact, I almost had myself convinced. Mind over matter, I guess.

Finally, four years ago, when I was in Paris for a year, I ventured to a sushi place in the 5eme arrondissement and ended up getting very sick. The empty store and dim lights (dare I make the leap to skimping on the electric bill, cheapness, and, hence, mediocre refrigeration?) should have tipped me off. A few months later, I made a new friend who's a biologist, and she confirmed: Unless the preparation is meticulous, you're eating a lot more than what's listed on the menu.

Tonight, some friends called and suggested dinner. YES!

At a sushi restaurant. OK!

Then, I swallowed my pride.

"Can we actually do something else? I don't eat sushi."

There. I said it.

"How's Thai?" she asked, in return.

Yôt yîam! (That's "perfect"in Thai, according to thai2english.com.)

Gained: A plateful of pad-see-ew.

On another note, earlier today I was biking along the boardwalk of Oceanside, an interesting and mixed community north of San Diego where vacation homes, military housing and gang neighborhoods come within a few feet of one another. As I pedaled against the wind, the sun about to disappear behind the Pacific, I noticed all the "for rent" and "vrbo.com" signs. So many empty houses.

And I wondered: If you added up all the mattress real estate in America -- every hotel and motel bed, every pull-out couch, guestroom daybed, hospital bed, empty bunk bed while the twins are at college, campground cabin rows of twin mattresses, plus the selection at every mattress store, every Macy's display, plus the bed at every second home and time share, plus every pair of queen or king sized mattresses occupied by solo individuals -- would there be more or less bed spaces than the total population? How many extra beds are there, compared to the number of homeless people? Just wondering.

Tennis, tentatively... and internet discount please?

October 11. Day 103.

I've never been particularly athletic. Every few weeks or so, I go through waves of feeling invigorated or quite bored by the wholesome concept of "fitness." Most recently I've been really trying to learn tennis, since there are courts everywhere in San Diego and I'm starting to sense how fun it could be if I actually returned the ball at 100 mph.

Today I tried on my very first pair of real tennis shoes at Ray's Tennis. They were comfortable -- super comfy -- and in about three minutes I knew I wanted them. That's a major first. Usually, Roxy and shoe stores don't part ways so easily.

It occurred to me to try to get the price down, but I quickly decided not to. Lowering their profits would have been a disservice to them and myself. This is a small store with personalized service. The kind of place that I want to thrive. The old man I chatted with was knowledgeable and helpful, and gave me advice as I embark on this new sport: Stay low, bend your knees. Thanks!

Thirty minutes into my tennis session with Mr. A, who's been teaching me for the past year or so, I started wondering if I might have some sort of rare, degenerative, neurological disorder. Why else had I swung wildly at the last three balls and missed? Why were my serves ending up in the net? Why else was I so dramatically out of breath, having hallucinations of Papa John's spinach alfredo pizza?

I asked him if he thought I might be ill.

"It's called laziness," he replied.

Hmm. Really? Well, that's a relief.

I confessed I was staaaarving and that I wanted to order a pizza from Papa John's and pick it up in an hour. That would give us enough time to play (or in my case, technically, flail pathetically as I pretend to run after the ball), and some hope for immediate nourshment after our workout.

When I placed the order, I asked what promotions they had.

"Nothing if you order on the phone."

"What about all your internet discounts and the coupons you mail out? You really can't apply a discount, just because I'm calling?" If I was getting their junkmail, at least once it should pay off.

"Hold on... let me look aroud the store and see if I find a coupon... Ok, I found one that will save you $3.50."

Bingo!

As for the rest of my time on the court: I think ordering the pizza was a turnaround moment, since I actually played decently after that. Focus, focus, focus.

Gained: $3.50.

October 10, 2008

Can I mooch your mix? And... named one kitten, still waiting on a baby

October 10. Day 102.

And the winner is... Daffodil!
Two days ago, I posted four Craigslist messages around the country, asking if any expecting parents would let me name their baby.

I got one answer, from H, in Chicago, who said that instead of a baby, she'd like me to name her kitten.

We traded a few emails, I did a sort of consultation to learn what she named her previous pets, and what hopes and dreams she has for this feline.

She'd like it to be "playful, as we are getting her to provide a friend (not a breeding friend) for Drexel [their current cat]. So this new kitty will represent hope and companionship." She likes feminine names, but a little off-beat or interesting. Based on that, I wrote back with a few ideas, including: Colette, Celeste, Trina, Daffodil, Daphne, Esme, Smaranda, Vivienne, Nazrina, Belina, Gigi, Annabel and Sydney.

She loved Daffodil, and her husband agreed! (The picture above is of a random kitten sniffing flowers, but I'll put a picture of the real Daffodil as soon as they send me one.)

Gained: I named a kitten, and a kitten gained a name.

I'm heading out now to work on my dissertation in a cafe. (Wow, just reread that, and I am the living cliche of a literature grad student. So be it!) I'll write about today's asking once it happens... ciao.

UPDATE: I'm sitting at Wired Cafe and Bistro, awaiting a grilled salmon sandwich. To my right, a jazzy trio with a flat alto singer. To my left, Mr. A, reading the NYT online. A halfnote away from a lovely Friday night.

When I got here, however, an hour or so before the band started, the cafe was playing some very cool French music. I didn't recognize anything, which isn't saying much, but it was the kind of stuff I'd love to get my hands on. Combine that with my recent iPod purchase, and you can guess what I asked for.

"Hi."

"Hi," the spindly man behind the cash register crooned. Definitely French.

"Was the music playing before from an iPod, or a CD?"

"A CD," he intoned.

"I really liked it. Is there any way I could borrow it for a minute? I'd love to take the name down, or maybe even copy it to my laptop?"

"It's a mix I made," he whispered.

"Oh! Do you mind if I made a copy, or at least saw what the songs are? It's just that I haven't heard such cool music in a long time."

"I don't mind making you a copy."

"Really!? But if it's easier, I can just do it now, so it's not an imposition." I pointed the laptop on my table. I seriously didn't mean to make him waste his time. I was just thinking of borrowing it for 30 seconds, to copy the title and/or songs, with is permission.

"No, I'll make you a copy. Just give me your name, and come back next week." Maybe it was his only CD with the music, or he had other stuff on the CD. Either way, I am grateful!

Gained: un tres cool mix, next week, I hope.

October 09, 2008

Airfare discount? And, need a hand?

October 9. Day 101.

Continued from this morning:

For a few weeks I've been planning a trip to Seattle, whenever airfare dropped and the timing was right with La Sorella and her boyfriend. They moved up there a few months ago and needed some time to settle in. I'll be there for a week, maybe 10 days, reading materials for my next chapter by day, cooking up a storm by night, and making a pilgrimage to my beloved Espresso Vivace.

I checked tickets on ITA Software, and as I was preparing to buy something on JetBlue, I got an idea. What if I tried to get a customized discount? I mean, airlines are struggling right now as much as consumers are, so maybe they'd be willing to cut a deal? Something beyond Priceline, which stopped being a bargain destination years ago. I emailed the corporate communications department and made my case. An excerpt:
I'm writing today with a question. I was wondering if you ever have any leeway on prices, or if you could lower your prices by even a small amount, for an upcoming trip I have to make. I would like to travel to Seattle from San Diego to be with my younger sister, who just graduated from college, and help her out as she looks for a job. I'm a grad student living in California, and my budget is very tight.

I realize that asking for a personal discount is highly unorthodox, and I think you have wonderful prices based on the excellent service you provide! But, I just thought I would ask, since given the economy and my own financial situation, I need to be careful with every penny I spend. Yet I also don't want to miss seeing my sister.

If there is any way the $219 ticket on your website can be lowered, by any amount, I would be very grateful.
If it works, that would beyond cool, and I think JetBlue is just open minded enough to consider my request.

On a final note tonight, I bring you an example where offering help rather than asking for it ended up can bring unanticipated benefits. I parked a few blocks from my house, for lack of a closer spot, and walked back past a couple standing next to a car that had one headlight flashing. Odd.

"Do you need any help? Do you need to use my cell phone?" I asked from across the street. Normally, I don't accost people when I'm alone, by a bunch of bushes, at night, but it's a generally safe neighborhood.

Or so I thought.

"No, it's not our car," the woman replied. "We just called the police, since it looks like someone broke into this car."

It was a Honda Civic. The man told me his car, also a Civic, was burglarized on the same street two nights ago. And the car I parked a few feet away (it's Mr. A's, since we traded cars today) is also a Civic.

I moved it immediately.

Gained: Perhaps an airfare discount, and critical info about my neighborhood these days.

The Daily Asker on Salon!!

October 9. Day 101.

Oh. My. Bejeezus.

I woke up this morning, checked my email and noticed I had a few more comments than usual. The most recent one started, "I heard about your blog from today's post on Salon.com's Broadsheet..."

What???? Seriously???

I ran to my computer, to see this!!


You can check out the rest of the story here.

Today's asking cleary hasn't happened yet, since I'm still answering comments and emails and acting generally silly and giddy, but what a way to start the day.

Thank you, Salon.

October 08, 2008

Can I name your baby? (plus, my craziest venture so far)

October 8. Day 100!!!

New feature, in honor of hitting triple digits: I've added ratings. I'd love to hear which askings have appeal to you, gentle reader. Bring it on!

But 100 is just the start, and so today I am asking for something that's all about new beginnings. I'm extremely curious to see how it will pan out.

I posted this message on Craigslist in Chicago, NY, San Francisco and LA.

HINT: Click on the blurry picture and it will pop up in a new window.


Gained: Don't know yet, but wouldn't it be amazing?

In other news, I'm contemplating an asking that's so convoluted and outrageous I don't know if I can pull it off. It struck me a few weeks ago that one thing I don't have, but really want, is stocks. I currently have a few paltry holdings in MBI, and one emerging market mutual fund, both of which have tanked recently. Naturally.

But I've been studying the market casually, as one does between graduate school and part time work and full time blogging, and I thought, "Wouldn't it be nice if I wrote to the CEOs of a bunch of companies and asked them to give me one stock?"

I could make two pitches. The first is cocky and risky, and one I'm not crazy about: that it's a mutual investment, since once I get a PhD and start making lots of money, I'll keep investing and become their advocate. Tell people in fifty years, "Yes, long before Google turned the moon into a web browser, it has always been an intrepid, outside the box company. Back in 2008, they actually gifted me one stock, as part of an experiment I was doing." The problem is that I'd be forever beholden, both privately and in the public eye. Say I want to work for their competitor, or want to write an article about a certain bank one day. It would be a major conflict of interest. Also, would anyone just give me a stock?

The second approach is much more tempting: receiving while giving. What I'd do is ask for a stock, but with the following arrangemenet: In five years (perhaps; exact span TBD), I will cash in the stock, keep half to pay off my student loans and give half to a charity.

A few problems arise there, as well: how easy is it for a company to gift stock to an individual? Do I need to set up a charity for that initial step? how do I choose the final destination charity? What if the company I ask don't approve of the Gates Foundation because its CEO happens to like malaria?

Any ideas? thoughts? suggestions?

Would you do it? How would you do it?

Would you see me doing it?

What about the logistics??

Do you think comes across as opportunism masquerading as philanthropy, or is it actually a cool way to give and get?