Recent Posts

January 31, 2009

Are you happy?

January 31. Day 215.

"Three frustrated women!!!""

These was La Divina's conclusion, to myself and a 24-year-old visitor from Germany who's in town for an internship, after we each lamented all day that we have no idea what to do with our lives. We're all at transitional points -- about to graduate or between jobs -- and we each have a selected path -- academia, biology and marketing -- which neither of us wants to pursue. Are we picky? Blessed with too many options? A trio of damn fools? Or just figuring things out, like anyone between 15 and 40 these days...

"Don't worry," I replied. "It's not like anyone else is happy. Everyone is frustrated. Who's actually happy out there?"

"Why don't you ask?!" she replied.

So I did.

***

The Security Guard

He was standing outside an art gallery in La Jolla, where we were strolling, working the Saturday night shift. He was also the first person I saw, ten seconds after we hatched this idea.

"Excuse me, can I ask you a question?"

"No."

"All righty."

"Just kidding. Sure."

"Are you happy?"

"Yes."

"Excellent. Thank you."

The working woman

Just before we got to my car, a woman walked by.

"Excuse me, can I ask you a question?"

"I'm in a rush! On my way to work. What?" she called as she bounded past us.

"Are you happy!" I called after her.

"Yes!" she bellowed back, halfway down the block.

The caricaturist

We dropped off the visitor from Germany, and on the drive home Jem called propose drinks in Old Town. Since we got there first, La Divina and I strolled around the smorgasbord of souvenirs shops and came across a youngish artist.

He was sitting on a bench, hunched over, drawing, and he looked quite happy to me.

"Can I ask you something?"

"Would you like a portrait?" he asked, in return.

"No, thank you. I was actually just wondering, are you happy?"

"Depends on the day."

"I see. Thank you."

"Why?"

"I'm doing a poll."

"I see. Well, I don't know if this is good material for your poll, but I don't think anyone is just happy, or unhappy. I don't know if I can answer so directly."

I would have liked to talk more, but it looked like a small crowd was gathering -- potential customers -- so I thanked him and wished him a nice evening.

The contractor

We took a seat at the bar of the Old Town Mexican Cafe, which is known for its margaritas. Next to us was an older man who seemed eager to talk to chat.

First he asked La Divina where she's from and decided she couldn't possibly be from Italy. When she slipped out for a cigarette I took her seat, next to him. He smiled and opened his mouth to find out where I'm from.

"And you?"

"Me? I'm from here. San Diego. And I'm wondering something..." He waited for me to continue. "Would you say you're happy?"

"Happy. What do you mean by happy? Are you sure you want to know if I'm happy, and not content?"

"I'm pretty sure I want to know if you're happy, but if you want to talk about contentment, we can do that. Which do you think describes you better?"

"I need a little more guidance. I can't just answer that."

"On a scale where this is happy, and this is content, where do you fall? Or are you off that scale?"

"What about you?"

"I'd be happy if I got and answer."

"I am happy."

"That's great!"

"Why are you asking me this?"

"I'm a missionary."

"Really. Are you in town working for Fifth Street?" He sounded disgusted. 5th street??

"No! I'm from the Vati-- I'm totally kidding. I'm just doing an informal survey. No religious affiliation. Just pleasure."

We talked more about happiness versus contentment, and he suggested I phrase my question with some context. Are you happy about your life, about the present, about your job, whatever. You can't just ask "Are you happy," since that is a meaningless statement, he said. You need to be happy about something, for a reason. You're not just, simply, happy.

I asked him what he's doing in town, and he replied he's an engineer working a short term job. Visiting from Maryland.

"So is it fun to be here? Kind of like vacation?"

"No! It's really stressful! It's a lot of work, I have a lot of material to absorb in a very short time."

"So then you're not happy?"

"I'm totally stressed out."

The gossip girls

"Excuse me," I asked two dolled up middle aged women who were dishing the dirt about their ex-boyfriends in the bathroom. "Do you mind if I ask you a question? I'm doing a poll."

They waited for me to proceed.

"Are you happy?"

"Yes, I am."

"I'm happy," they both answered.

"Who would say they're not?" the first one mused.

"I've had a mix of answers. Some people do admit they're not," I explained.

"Really? Well. I would never say I'm not happy."

"Hmm, that's good to know. Thank you. You're right, people are probably not always honest with me."

"I would be honest," her friend interjected.

"You would?" the other replied.

"I absolutely would. Until recently, I used to be miserable. I was so so unhappy. And now I'm out of that stage, and I'm very happy."

(Something to do with the ex?)

The cashier

After nursing our margaritas, we headed to Saffron, a Thai place nearby, for some shrimp salad rolls.

"Are you happy?" I asked the cashier. "I'm doing an informal poll."

Her eyes shot up, to the right, pensively. She was about my age.

"I would say that I'm..." she paused, and thought some more... "I'm content, but not happy. I don't know, I mean, contentment describes more than your current state, so in that sense yes, but happiness, I mean, I'm..."

People were behind us, within earshot, and I suddenly felt intrusive. "So you're content, but not happy happy! Got it. Thanks."

"Sure," she smiled.

Over dinner, Jem offered her opinion: "Being happy is a decision you make. It's an attitude, it doesn't just happen."

She related a story about a work retreat she just had. Her department convened at the beach to deal with some sticky management issues. At the end of the day, when everyone was completely bored and disgusted with the whole process, the leader asked them to go around in a circle and talk about how they felt about the day.

People replied cautiously but honestly that they weren't too thrilled to be there. Then, one woman said, "I'm actually thinking about what's on the other side of the horizon [that would be China, fyi]... just how different things are over there, how much people work, for so little, and here we are on the beach, with jobs in this economy, complaining about how bad we have it."

No one said anything, but their eyes lit up with a flashes of recognition, gratitude, guilt.

It kind of reminded me of a proverb: Happiness is wanting what you have, not having what you want.

The tango pro

Our evening continued at Tango Del Rey, my favorite tango venue in San Diego.

After a dance -- or was it before? -- I asked one of the pillars of the tango community what he thinks. Is he happy?

However, by that time, I'd had some wine and swirled around the dance floor a few times. I wasn't concentrating anymore... and I've forgotten what he said! I do remember we talked at some length about tango moves and pretzles and bagels... and I remember he was making some compelling arguments for (or against) happiness... but darn that cabernet and seductive music!

The high school chompers

We rounded out the evening with burgers and shakes at In-n-Out.

It was almost 1 a.m. -- exactly seven hours since this quest began.

We were about to head out the door, when I thought of asking someone in the restaurant for a finale. Everywhere, groups of teenagers were chomping and slurping in fancy clothes. School dance? Or just a Saturday night?

I approached a table with three girls and a guy. They caught my eye because the girls, who walked in 10 minutes earlier, rolled their eyes and mumbled about some people in front of them.

"Can I ask you guys a question?"

"Sure," the guy replied.

"Are you happy?" They stared at me for a second. "I'm doing a poll. Asking around, you know?"

That was enough to mobilize them.

"Yeah." "Yes." "Yeah!" "Yeah. When it's not finals," a girl said.

"Is it finals now?"

"No! When it's not finals, we don't have to study anything," she said, smiling now. "That's how we're here."

"And so you're happy?"

"Eating In-n-Out after midnight. Of course I'm happy," the guy said.

Gained: Seven hours thinking about happiness. No conclusions...

January 30, 2009

Can I return this without a receipt?

January 30. Day 214.

Today I asked something quick and practical.

Thus my blog entry shall be quick and practical.

1. I called Radio Shack to inquire if I could return a hard disk enclosure, which I bought in the throes of my Hawaiian laptop misadventure and ended up not needing.

2. The man said yes. Ten minutes later, I found the receipt.

3. Gained: Permission to do the unnecessary.

January 29, 2009

A Glorious Day for Equal Pay!

January 29. Day 213.

If you're a working woman... if you're reading this at your desk, or at home after a long day's toil...

Read this post. Then stop.

Stop reading.

Stop browsing.

And make a plan, immediately, for how you will find out what your male colleagues are earning. Because while statistics say women are paid 77 cents for every dollar men earn, the law finally says THAT'S ILLEGAL.

You've probably heard the big news today for working women: Obama Signs Equal-Pay Legislation

For those who have not, here is the background: After working in a Goodyear factory for 19 years, Ledbetter discovered she was being paid a lot less than her male colleagues doing the same job. Someone tipped her off with an anonymous note listing salaries of 3 male coworkers. She successfully sued in Alamaba, citing the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act, but the Supreme Court ruled she shouldn't have gone to trial because it was too late. People must report unequal pay 6 months after the first paycheck, it said.

Well, for years she has fought to change that law, and Obama signed the Equal Pay Act today!

Long live Lilly!

Her quote in today's NYT: “Goodyear will never have to pay me what it cheated me out of. In fact, I will never see a cent. But with the president’s signature today I have an even richer reward.”

And here's her advice from an earlier interview:

How did you know your rights? What led you to sue?
There's a lot of publicity about EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] and your rights, and I knew I was a lone female in a male-dominated factory. When I saw that note, it just floored me. I was so shocked at the amount of difference in our pay for doing the same exact job. When we got into the case, I was more shocked to see what all the other people were making, too. They all had much greater pay than I, and most had less seniority, less experience. And I worked there for 20 years. I was a good employee, and I worked hard; there was nothing I couldn't do.

What advice would you give working women when it comes to getting the wages they deserve?
It's a very difficult thing to do anything about. For one thing, if you're one of very few women working in a job, if you rock the boat or ask a question, they say you're a troublemaker. I'd been in meetings where higher people in my plant would say, "We don't need women in this factory," but they knew the law required them to have some. I sat through those meetings, and I was discriminated against because I did my job and I liked my job, and I was good at it.

Women need to observe, pay attention, be alert. And if possible, have a mentor to help them along the way. If they get any written proof of discrimination, they need to hold onto it. But it's difficult if a corporation goes into it knowing they're going to discriminate.

Today, I truly am asking you, fair reader, to investigate. How much are the guys sitting next to you or the workers from the next shift earning? What's fair for your industry, your level of experience, your rank?

Gossip. Dig. Poke around. Check sites like the excellent glassdoor.com, or the more general indeed.com and salaryexpert.com. The WSJ suggests this trick: find out your colleagues tax rebates and work backward.

If you find a disparity, let us all know. A discrimination lawyer could be reading this... or someone else who didn't have the courage or motivation to ask around... or maybe even your boss...

If your pay is fair and equitable, I'd be just as thrilled to hear from you.

I'm also happy to try to help you investigate your peers' salaries. Email me your situation and I'll see what I can do. I'm thedailyasker [at] gmail.

I typically close comments older posts (to block spammers), but I'll keep this one open for good. Please... let us know what you find out!!

Gained: 23 cents on the dollar.

January 28, 2009

Asked for [bleeeeeeeeep]

January 28. Day 212.

Today, I buckled down and asked for something from someone I know personally, and I'm not going to broadcast the details here. Since this project is dubbed the Daily Asker, and not the Daily Blogger, let's leave it at that, k?

I have an update, though.

A few days ago, I asked my department to help fund my voyage back to Boston. The answer was no. Here is the email I received:
Regarding your question of fund for travels back to Cambridge to meet with your advisors, unfortunately the department will not be able to fund these travels. The funds we have are specifically for attending conferences or the MLA.

Sorry.
Thanks anyway! In any case, my dept has always been generous -- funding my final year of study, granting two years of fellowships to start out, plus so many resources offered to students as they try to investigate the most obscure and fascinating topics... So I give it a big thumbs up, with or without that extra boost.

Gained: Nothing extra.

January 27, 2009

Cancel my subscription, for real?

January 27. Day 211.

My first indulgence when I moved back to San Diego was two magazine subscriptions: The New Yorker and Vanity Fair.

I still read both, but last month I got a coupon for six months free of a Conde Naste mag, so I cancelled my VF on their website when I got the renewal email.

A few weeks later, in late December, I noticed a charge for $18 on my card for... VF!

I called this morning and asked the agent to cancel my subscription.

"Let me take a look at your account."

Fine, whatever makes you happy. Just cancel it! I mean, "Sure!"

"Ok, I see here we charged your card for the next year on December 4, you canceled, and we refunded that charge on December 28."

"Oh. Wow, ok thanks. I must have only seen the refund and read it as a charge. Guess I'll read my bill more carefully next time."

"Would you like a gift subscription for $18?"

"No, thank you."

They always end their calls like that, inviting you to purchase a gift subscription. Personally, I think it's kind of pointless since I never say yes (and I wonder if anyone ever does)... but I can't blame them for asking. =)

Gained: External confirmation that I need more sleep.

January 26, 2009

Substitute pricer item for cheaper one that's out of stock?

January 26. Day 210.

Back to San Diego. Back to real life.

Back to... IKEA.

Since we moved on Jan 9, I haven't time to do much around the house. We've unpacked 90 percent, but there are the little details that still need to come together. Duvet. Yada yada.

Last week I picked up a sheet at IKEA, only discovered it was flat, rather than fitted. I wanted to put it over the boxspring, so it looks all cute and cottony, rather than plastic and mattressy.

Today I went back to exchange it, only they didn't have it in queen. I picked up a queen fitted sheet that was from a more expensive line -- $10 more -- and brought it down to the exchange booth.

"I wanted to buy the Lebik fitted sheet, but I didn't see any. Do you have any in stock?"

(Product name invented. I always get them confused, anyway.)

"Lemme see.... no, looks like what we have is out there."

"Well, do you think I could get this sheet for that price?"

"I don't think so..."

"Basically, just do an even exchange, since you're out of stock?"

"I can't."

Gained: Inget. (That's "nothing" in Swedish.)

January 25, 2009

Can I try on your head?

January 25. Day 209.

And so it came to pass that our ribald trio ended up in the land of Hollywood.

They took pictures of the Hollywood sign and had a very hung over breakfast at 101 Coffee. They miraculously found parking on a side street and walked into all the glitzy/trashy souvenir shops on Hollywood Blvd, where they bought 2 overpriced AAA batteries. And they made their way to the Chinese Theater, where they inspected the new and ancient writings in the cement and photographed smiling mascots.

Things were exactly as they should be.

On the way back to the car, where they would commense their long trek homeward, our plucky narrator spotted him: A man getting out of his car, wearing a big blue outfit. A mascot in the making.

"Let's go!" she commandeered.

They ran up to his car and said hello. Aaron, as was his name, was about to become Stitch. In a minute, he would put on the big blue head head and venture to the Chinese Theater, to compete with Superman and Wonder Woman for photos and tips. For the first time, ever.

"Do you need help zipping up?" La Roxy asked.

"Oh, that would be great."

"I can't believe I'm participating in this momentous occasion! Your first day as a mascot!" she said as she pulled the zipper up to his neck.

He laughed.

"Are you an actor? Or how do you end up a mascot? What kind of background do you need to have to do this line of work?"

"No, sports. I want to become a pro mascot, so this is the way in. I'm not getting paid, actually. It's just for, you know, tips."

"Wow. So, could anyone just show up in a costume? I mean, could I put on a Cat Woman outfit and show up? Or would the other Cat Woman beat me up, like, 'This is my territory!' "

"It's not like that. I don't think so. You just show up. That's what I'm doing."

Fortunately, there were no other Stitches hanging around -- and he'd definitely be a hit with the kids. Good thinking, Aaron!!

Then he reached into his car and extracted the head.

"Oh my god, can I possibly try that on?" La Roxy exclaimed.

"Uh, sure."

"Are you sure it's okay?"

"Yeah, go ahead."

It was big and wobbly. Hard to see through. Hot. She quickly took it off and thanked him. He put on the entire outfit, and such was his charisma that La Roxy suddenly got the impulse to give Stitch a hug...

Thanks! Good luck on your future career. May you get lots of photos, lots of kiddie hugs, lots of tips, and land your dream job!

Gained: 10 seconds of mascot-hood. And a big blue hug.


January 24, 2009

$10 discount at Budget Inn? And preview your sketchy hotel room, please?

January 24. Day 208.

On Saturday, Mr. A, La Divina and I headed up to L.A. for a weekend of... whatever.

We started in Santa Monica with a coffee to recharge after the drive, then drinks and darts at a Bri'ish pub. Then, we headed over to Hollywood to check out the clubbing scene.

It was around 11 p.m. by the time we drove over, and it was high time we found a hotel.

I called around a few places, opting for one thing alone. CHEAP.

Prices for a room with two queen or full beds ranged from $80 to $199 at the half dozen places I called. Then I came across Budget Inn: $70.

"Is that your AAA rate?" (That memberships usually cuts it by 10%.)

"Lowest rate," the voice on the other end spat.

"Could you do $60?"

"NO! BARGAIN!" he hollered.

"Ok, no bargain. Thank you very much."

I hung up.

We had decided to take it, as long as the rooms were clean. Ten minutes later, we pulled up to the Budget Inn and La Divina and I ran in to the reception while Mr. A waited in the car. I wanted to inspect the room before paying, just in case. (That's where my Virgo pickiness comes in handy.)

I rang the security buzzer outside, and inside, behind a thick plastic sheet -- bullet proof, was it? -- a withered old Indian man with huge eyes and bushy brows tottered out and let us in.

"Hello, I called a few minutes ago about the room for $70."

"70 plus tax," he frowned.

"Ok. I'd like to see it before I take it."

"You don't need! You see. You like. You take."

"Great. Then I'll see it and take it," I smiled.

He huffed and went back to dig up a key.

"105. Down the hall, on the right."

"Thank you. Would you like a deposit for the key?"

He motioned for me to disappear.

The room was nice, under the circumstances. The sheets were clean and impeccably pressed. The towels smelled fresh. The furniture was polished, and not a spot of dust. The shower had an ambiguous fungal green hue (green, or simply fungal?), and the window opened onto a brick wall, which reminded me of a creepy short story I once read. But everything relevant was in tip top shape.

I returned and paid.

As he took my credit card, his wife made an appearance, and I wondered now what two people in their 70s or 80s, from a distant country, were doing running this seedy hotel. Lost their retirement, or forsaken by their children, or started a new venture in a new land too late to save up? Why weren't they curled up in bed together at this hour? Were they exhausted, disgusted, or just resigned?

"I need all three IDs!" the innkeeper commanded. "Check out 11!"

"Ok. Thank you."

Around the motel, all these bizarre types were hanging out, and it was impossible to tell if they were there for the night, or passing through indefinitely. A man with short hair and a flannel shirt who spit off the edge a stairwell. A crazy guy with long hair who was running around with his suitcase and muttering things. A trio -- two girls and a guy -- who laughed a lot and came back really drunk around 3.

From the hallway, I occasionally spotted the innkeeper in the lobby, glancing out, making sure everything was ok, checking that the noise subsided quickly and no one did anything illegal. Between it all, he may have gotten a little sleep.

Gained: Nothing financial. When I checked out the next morning, though, he shot me a smile.

(PS If you're ever looking for a last minute place in LA, the address is 6830 West Sunset Blvd. It's clean, it's cheap, and boy, it has character.)

January 23, 2009

Do you have a favorite balcony?

January 23. Day 207.

Like anyone obsessed by her area of study, I tend to build my dissertation topic -- balconies -- into my everyday conversations. For example...

Friend: On the sixth night, we stayed at a gorgeous hotel that was overlooking the Taj Mahal, and our pillows were made of this gossamer thread that was actually woven from rose petals. The scent was unbelievable. We rode up on horseback, and there were trees on the grounds with raspberry truffles that actually grew back the moment you plucked one.

Moi: Did your room have a balcony?

Friend: No.

Moi: Laaaaaaaame.

OR

Friend: My dad is redoing his guesthouse and he added one of those things to his kitchen... what do you call them... they're round and let you reach your spices easier.

Moi: Like a balcony?

Friend: No... a lazy susan! yes!

Moi: I think the technical term for that is "balcony."

Likewise, I tend to ask (here we go... the asking cometh) high and low for suggestions, references, ideas. The conversation goes something like this:

[Choose your favorite setting. Party, waiting room, airplane.]

"Hi, I'm Ebenezer."

"Hi. I'm Roxy."

"Roxy? As in ROXANNE! You don't have to put on the red light. Have you heard that song?"

[Chirping laughter -- a kinder alternative to replying "Yes! I've head it 23,000 times!"]

"So Roxy, what do you do?"

"I'm a grad student."

"What do you study?"

"Comparative literature."

"Interesting! What area?"

"Balconies. Mostly nineteenth century French and Spanish, with a few earlier Italian examples. Do you have a favorite balcony?"

"Romeo and Juliet."

"Interesting."

After enough such conversations, and enough surveys about balconies from strangers and friends alike, today a dear childhood friend I've recently reconnected with sent me an email with an amazing find.
Subject: Thinking of you

Hey, I saw this at the Getty the other day and I thought of you!
WOW! That's the earliest balcony I've encountered, in literature or painting. I've heard babylon had balconies and read about ancient Rome's, but a Roman fresco dating from 9-14 AD??? Located in Los Angeles, so I can inspect it myself?? AMAZING.

Thank you, S!!!!!!!

Gained: Very precious research material.

By the by, gentle reader, do you know of any cool balconies in literature or art? Or do you have a favorite balcony in art, or life?

January 22, 2009

The cursory $5 off

January 22. Day 206.

A few months ago, I was flipping through "Home" magazine, which I found at my Mama's house, and I fell head over heels for one of their spreads.

After a bit of digging, I found it online.

Not every element gets me. (Bleh bedroom and dark walls, for example.) But a few accents, a few ideas, make the space seem warm, luminous, airy. Plus, the many windows that come with the place.

Yesterday, I saw a mirror at Ikea that sort of works like the one in this hallway, in the top picture. Opens everything up.

It was $100, so I decided to pass.

Today, I spotted the same mirror on Craigslist, for $35.

I called and said I'd take it, and at 3:30 I showed up.

I was about to hand over the money when I had a split second of hesitation.

Should I ask?

I've Craigslisted for years -- bought and sold furniture, tried to sell a car (then donated it, still through CL), found work, bikes, found and rented countless apartments in the U.S. and abroad, even ran into a long lost housemate on Missed Connections.

And hypocrite that I am, I've appreciated when buyers didn't haggle. Of course, they often do haggle and I know it comes with the territory, and I respect them for it. But when someone approves of your price, shows up with the cash in hand and completes the transaction in 30 seconds, it makes my day so much... sweeter.

Should I be that kind of client? Make things easy? Accept I was getting a deal -- almost 30% of retail. Or should I ask?

I went for it. Not for the blog, not specifically for this experiment, but just because I felt like it.

"Would you take $30?"

He thought about it, was on the verge of saying no, but agreed.

"Fine..."

Gained: $5

January 21, 2009

Pay for my academic travel?

January 21. Day 205.

I keep a list in the back of my mind of things I'd like to ask for. Some are fun, some are practical.

Today, I crossed a big one off the practical list.

My department in grad school has the generous policy of paying for conference travel once per year, up to $500. Then, in a student's final year, there's a fund to help pay for travel to an interview or job talk.

I have never applied for either fund, and today I finally got up the courage to ask if they would still, nevertheless, help pay for a trip back to campus. It would still be strictly for professional development, and considering a student could receive a maximum of $3500 in a typical 6 year career (not to including summer travel or other larger grants), perhaps they'd be willing to help me out.

I would submit receipts, provide all the documentation one would for the other professional development grants, only it would be for travel to either defend my thesis or meet again with profs and get library books.

This morning, I called the department administrator and phrased my question.

"I don't know right now if we can do that, but I will ask," she replied. "The chair is out, but I'll check with her to see if we can use those funds, or if we have any other discretionary funds, and I'll get back to you."

"That sounds great. Thank you!"

Gained: Perhaps a financial boost that will make my next trip back to Boston less of a dent in the budget. Even part of a plane ticket would be amazing... Fingers crossed!

January 20, 2009

Are you closed?

January 20. Day 204.

This might be one of the most important things I've discovered -- or rather, truly internalized -- while doing this project.

Never assume. Even when you don't think it matters, even when your job isn't on the line or someone's reputation isn't at stake. Never. Assume.

Today's asking is a perfect example of why.

We decided to get dinner at Corvette Diner, a fun 50's style joint where practically everyone I knew growing up had a birthday party once between the ages of 6 and 12. Bewigged waitresses throw straws at you, a DJ plays the Beach Boys all night, and it all ends with a mountain of Bazooka bubble gum dumped onto your table.

La Divina and I got there around 9:30, and as we waited for Mr. A to arrive, I approached the door and saw they were closed.

No more customers. Most of the employees were sitting together in the front of the restaurant, laughing and catching up after a long day, and the chairs were perched on the tabletops.

I went back and broke the news.

"No!" La Divina wailed. When she came to visit me 13 years ago, she had a choco-peppermint shake that changed her life forever.

She tried a version in Italy, at a cafe/bar called "Beverly Village," but it was a pale shadow of this minticoco blast.

She even searched for something similar in the U.S., but nothing came close.

For 13 years she has fantasized about it. And now they were closed?

We were about to walk away, but I thought I'd check, anyway.

I popped my head inside.

"Are you closed?"

They all turned and smiled.

"No!"

"Oh! I thought you were! It looks closed!"

"No! We're open in the back. Come on in!"

A moment later, Mr. A walked up and we slid into a booth.

Gained: Dinner at Corvette. Plus one chocopeppermint smoothie. Every bit as good as she remembered.

January 19, 2009

Is that... Elvis?

January 19. Day 203.

"What's that?" La Divina asked Mr. A, in the middle of dinner. We were at Palms, a Thai place in Hollywood we randomly found our drive south.

They were facing me at the table, and suddenly they both started staring at something behind me, trying to get a better look.

"Is it... Elvis? I can't really tell. It looks like Elvis!" he answered.

I turned my head, and standing behind me was a statue of the King himself.

Statue of Elvis, in Hollywood. Fine.

Statue of Elvis in a Thai restaurant in Hollywood? Double take.

Did the place have a karaoke night? An impersonator? A variety show? In the midst of our speculations, the waitress walked by and I halted her.

"Why do you have a statue of Elvis?"

"Wednesday through Sunday night, 9 p.m."

Gained: An answer. Sort of. Google informs me they have a Thai Elvis impersonator, pictured above. Sorry I missed it! I think...

We ended up in Hollywood after a drive down the coast, and I realize now that allotting day to go from Monterey to San Diego was much too short. I would have needed at least three. I wanted to see so many places in between, stop at a few vineyards and check out Santa Barbara, which I've never seen before and heard is great, see a friend or two in LA, and creep back to SD nice and slowly.

But, good news: La Divina just postponed her departure by a week, so we'll have time to do it all!

January 18, 2009

Voter's discount?

January 18. Day 202.

I'm soooo late with the updates. I'm sure, gentle reader, you have been waiting the edge of your seat to find out... What's next? What did she ask for? A medium frozen yogurt for the price of a small? A folk dance lesson from an Asturian veterinarian? Or perhaps an Austrian vegetarian?

Not today, but thanks for the suggestions.

I asked for a hotel discount!

From San Francisco, we headed down the coast on Highway 1, where we planned on sleeping in Monterey and driving to San Diego the next day on one of the most beautiful stretches of paved road on the planet.

I decided to call a few hotels in Monterey to check rates and make a reservation. The second place I called, The Monterey Hotel, quoted $113 for a room with two queen beds.

I was about to give her my card number, but I thought to glance online to see what the prices were there.

Online, the rack rate was $189. The internet rate was $94.50. And the "I Voted Special" rate was $89. A note stated you must present your "I voted" sticker as proof.

"Oh my gosh! A special rate for voting? That's so cool! Do you actually need the physical sticker?"

"Yes, I'm sorry."

"Man!!! I totally voted! I wish I had it with me! We're driving from San Francisco and this was totally a surprise stop! I have my stub, but it's on a shelf at my house in San Diego!! I'm saving that stub forever. Do you really need the sticker?"

(My tone, I promise, wasn't outraged. I was not actually maneuvering to get a lower rate. Just frankly disappointed, kicking myself for not having the "I Voted" sticker in my wallet, especially because I was as excited as everyone else about this epic inauguration.)

She laughed.

"You sound honest..."

"Ohmigod! I am! I swear I voted!"

"Fine. I'll give you that rate."

Gained: $25.

January 17, 2009

Replace my pilfered drink?

January 17. Day 201.

A naked guy was standing outside.

Inside, guys and girls (and everyone in between) in various states of dress were doing anything but standing. Dancing, drinking, grabbing, gabbing, groping, hoping...

Ahh, the Castro.

After spending the day at the MOMA, Chinatown, and pizza at Zachary's with my friends from Berkeley, Tie and Tee, we crossed the bay again and landed at Badlands, which had a long line and a $2 cover.

"Seeeeeee," I moaned. "People on the streets. Lines to get into bars. No parking. This is a real city!!"

I like San Diego, and I have no regrets about moving back, but once in a while I yearn for the personality and 24hr pulse (and traffic and gridlock and exhilarating, tooth gritting frustrations) of New York, SF, Paris and the like...

Inside, we ordered drinks and hit the dancefloor.

At one point, I set my drink on a table within eyesite, and the next thing I knew, a waiter came by and picked up half the cups.

Including my vodka tonic.

I wiggled my way back to the bar and asked for a replacement, after explaining someone took my drink.

"WHO took your drink?" the bartender asked through the music. But I think he would have raised his voice anyway. Is this a typical ploy for free alcohol or something?

"A waiter -- He picked up some of the glasses on a table, and he took mine. It was still half full."

"FINE. Then I'll make you half a drink."

"That's fair."

He made me a whole one, anyway.

When I set it down again to dance -- somewhere else this time -- it disappeared again 10 seconds after I glanced away. This time, no waiter to be seen. Hmmm...

Gained: A drink, lost and found, then lost again.

January 16, 2009

What can I say... WOW!!

January 16. Day 200.

Just so you don't accuse me of burying the lead, and just so you don't skip this post because this post says it all, let me spell it out at the top.

It really, truly, positively can't hurt to ask.

With one halfhearted attempt and a little patience, I got more $ tonight than I have in the previous six months of asking, combined.

I was tired and impatient, and I didn't honestly think it would work.

But it did. It so so so did!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sorry to sound gloaty, but I'm so happy, and above all, I'd be thrilled if such attempts ended up being contagious...

Here's how it all went down.

***
Our flight from Hawaii to San Diego passed through San Francisco, and on a whim we decided a day earlier to ditch the last leg and spend the weekend in SF. Mr. A took Monday off work, so he said he'd drive up today to meet us, we'd hang out in the Bay Area, and then drive down the coast Monday. On Thursday I made a hotel reservation (didn't ask for anything discount there, since it was online, a fine price, and I was too rushed to haggle), and Friday around 9 p.m., we got off the plane and headed for the exit.

On our way towards the hotel shuttles, I got a random thought.

"Do you mind if we stop by the next gate, to see if they need our seats?"

La Divina wasn't familiar with this practice, since it's not typical in Italy, so I explained it: Put your name on the "willing to take a later flight list," in exchange for something -- a voucher, free dinner, a ticket, depends on the airline and circumstances.

"Sure."

We headed to the gate of our San Diego flight, but no one was there yet, since it was leaving two hours later.

Next stop, the main ticketing counter at United, where a man told us to go to Counter 26. Sales and schedule changes.

We waited 5 minutes. No one glanced at us.

Waited 5 more. Nothing.

I finally flagged someone down, and she replied she'd be with us shortly.

Not.

After a while, I started getting ansy and pessimistic.

"It's basically pointless, since they probably won't need our seats. The chances are really small, since it's a very heavily serviced route. And who knows who long we'll have to wait. Do you want to just take off? Because if anything, she'll just think we want to cancel and say the cancellation list is not an option, and we'll be wasting our time. Because it's not likely they'll need the seats. I mean, it makes sense to try, and we're already here, but if you want to go I'm fine with that..." and so on...

"Why don't we stick around a little longer? It's not like we have anything better to do."

She had a point there. We didn't have a car, we were wearing our Hawaii outfits in the NoCal midwinter (albeit a mild one), and once we got to the hotel, Mr. A was arriving in another hour or two. Why not wait, indeed?

About 10 minutes later, the agent told us to come on over.

"Hi," I started, already tasting defeat. "We're booked for the next flight to San Diego, and it turns out our plans our flexible. If you need our seats, we'd be willing to give them up."

I expected her to look me square in the eye and spatter: "You're saying you want something for nothing? Get a voucher for hanging out in San Francisco? Move it. Scram!"

Instead, she checked to see how booked the flight was.

"Looks like it is overbooked. We'll need your seats."

"Really!?"

"Yes."

She started clicking away at her computer, and as it sank it, I started wondering what we'd get. $200 voucher? $50 voucher? Free one way upgrade?

"So, since you're giving up your seats, you're each entitled to a free round trip ticket anywhere in the continental United States."

I played it cool. So cool....

"Really!????"

"Yes. So are you guys based around here, or why are your plans so flexible?"

Aha. She was about to say it's not valid if you have a hotel already. You have to give up the tickets, as a sacrifice. It has to bother you, deeply.

"No..." I replied. "We just don't have to be in San Diego tomorrow, so we thought we'd check."

"Good thinking! That's great luck your schedule was flexible, since we definitely needed those spots. And actually, you also get a free hotel and meal vouchers."

"Really!!???"

"Since we're bumping you, and that was the last flight out tonight."

La Divina and I were practically dancing inside our shoes and grinning like two Cheshire cats. Couldn't couldn't couldn't believe it. The constant search for an opportunity. My last minute idea. Her patience. 20 or 30 minutes. A vow to ask for something, anything daily.

Gained: Estimated value of $1000 to $1300 in travel vouchers. Let's guess between $400 and $600 per ticket, plus $100 for the hotel and $30 for dinner. Thank you, thank you, thank you United! You rock!!

January 15, 2009

Heal me, stranger?

January 15. Day 199.

Around 8:30 last night, I got a call from an 808 area code. Hawaii.

Instantly, my heart sank. It could only be one person: the dolphin snorkeling tour operator.

I'd left them my number so they could get in touch in case the tour got canceled. Indeed, someone was calling to let me know that with rising winds, heading out in the morning would be unsafe. The captain called it off.

On the upside, I got to sleep in this morning, for the first time in ages. Weird not to sleep in on a vacation, but I felt there was too much to do and see. Well, today, I got up close to noon.

On the downside, with rain pummeling the island, there wasn't much to do. We hopped into the Jeep and drove out to some waterfalls, then into a small state park. When the rain took a break, my cousin photographed some chickens sleeping in the afternoon sun. I read the news on my cell phone.

It was neither a vacation day, nor a regular day. Some twisted thing wriggling between the two.

We drove to Kaapa, a coastal town on the eastern side, and got drinks at Java Kai. I had my laptop with me, and she read. I think we both lost track of time, and at one point we looked up at each other with the same thought.

"What kind of vibe do you get from this cafe?" La Divina asked.

"Exactly! I've been wondering about every single person who walked in. Who are these people? Do most of them live here, or are they tourists, or what?"

People who walked in looked like yogis, business men, homeless people, generally with unkempt beards and wild eyes. Eyes that have seen things I'd never believe.

That instant, a man sat at the table next to ours and made polite eye contact.

"Where are you from?" I asked him.

He smiled and started telling us fragments of his story. Atlanta, Chico, California, and Austin, Texas. A life defined, in a conversation with two women in a cafe, by its itineraries.

I asked what he is doing in Kauai -- tourism or work -- and he replied he is a healer specializing in tapping.

"Tapping? What's that?"

"It uses the same pressure points as accupuncture, but instead of needles, the healer applies a repetitive motion to the area and helps release certain tensions and energies." Here is his group's website. Here's more on tapping.

"Is that something you could show me, now?"

"You want a quick demonstration? Sure."

He took my hand in his, and started tapping.

"Think of a problem you have, a crisis you're facing."

"Okay. I got it."

"And repeat after me," he said, "or use the words that come most naturally to you."

"Okay."

"I am about to relax." "I am about to relax."

"I am taking a deep breath." "I am taking a deep breath."

"I am a beautiful person, and I love myself." "I am a beautiful person, and I love myself."

"I am holding a sadness inside." "I am holding a sadness inside."

"Whatever sadness or anger I harbor inside, I forgive." "Whatever sadness or anger I harbor inside, I forgive."

"If there is anything I cannot accept, I do not blame on myself or others." "If there is anything I cannot accept, I do not blame on myself or others."

"I am expelling any feelings of guilt." "I am expelling any feelings of guilt."

"I am a good person." "I am a good person."

"I have something special to offer the world." "I have something special to offer the world."

"This anger inside will be calmed." "This anger inside will be calmed."

I don't remember the exact words, but they were something along these lines.

Meanwhile, he was tapping, as a pianist's forefinger or a woodpecker's beak might, upon my hands, arms, forehead, neck, stomach.

When it was over, which seemed like a while later -- more than a 10 second sample, I felt very relaxed. A little sleepy. Michael said the sleepiness could be a sign that I'm trying to avoid working on myself -- taking a nap from my problems.

I'll be frank: I have had little exposure to such methods of healing. At the same time, there was something fundamentally calming and comforting about his message: Love yourself. Don't blame yourself. Work on your problems, but above all, love yourself.

Gained: The blessing of a tapping healer. A definite shift to vacation mode, since this would never have happened in San Diego.

January 14, 2009

Oldest trick in the book! And, why do we dote on dolphins?

January 14. Day 198.

Behold how the oldest trick in the book resulted in $30 savings.

If there's one thing La Divina and I were hoping to do on Kauai, it was to snorkel off the Na Pali coast. This is an area that's only accessible by sea and air -- and the snorkeling is supposed to be wonderful. Coral reefs, a rainbow of fishies, secluded beaches, and calm waters.

Stop one: Blue Dolphin Charters, whose brochure claims "Guaranteed Dolphins!" in bold italics.

We showed up in time for the 1 p.m. "dinner cruise" (no, I don't get it either), only to learn that they were sold out, and that snorkeling boats only leave mornings in the winter.

The reservation agent said there was still room tomorrow, and it would cost $139.

"Isn't there some $10 off deal?" (I'd seen this in a coupon book somewhere, a few days earlier.)

"Sure, I can give you that."

"Ok. Let me just take a minute to think about it, please. I'll be right back!"

Stop Two: Kauai Sea Tours.

"Hi, I'm interested in your morning snorkeling tour. Do you have any room tomorrow?"

"Yes."

"And how much is that?"

"It's $129."

"I see. Well, the place next door is offering it for $115, so if you could bring the price down to match that, I'd love to come with you guys."

She checked with her manager, who murmured something, and the agent returned to say she was sorry.

"It's my manager who makes these calls," she started.

Smiling, I walked up to the manager, who four feet away and tried to look busier as I approached.

"Hi! So you're the person I want to be talking with. Is there any way you could drop that price? Even by $5?"

"You're already getting a big discount. The price she quoted you is our sale price. Normally, that tour would be $145."

"I see... But I'm not interested a big discount, I just want the tour that leaves the most money in my wallet."

"I understand. I can't do it any lower than that."

"Even $5? I'm ready to pay, and that would be so nice of you..." (I slid my card forward.)

"Since you're already getting our discounted tour, I can't lower it any more than that. It just has to do with our agencies, and it's just not something I can do... I'm sorry..."

"Aloha!"

(The monologue seems monotone as I write it here, but both of our tones were pleasant.)

Back at Blue Dolphin:

"Hi again! So, I just checked next door, and they're doing the same tour for $115. Any chance you could knock a bit off the price? Make it an even $125?"

"I can!"

Gained: $30 in 10 minutes, just by playing them against one another and not giving up.

Post-script. I'm so glad I asked. I just looked on Blue Dolphin's website again and saw the internet price is $126.14. I had actually checked the web page the night before, but forgot the price when I went in person. Proof, again, that there is never one price for everyone. Knowledge and/or persistence = power.

PPS: The mosaic above is by John Unger, an artist living in Michigan I just found on google images. Why do people like dolphins so much? I like them too. But why? If you have any thoughts on this, or this post of course, I'd be sooo curious to hear them. Did you study dolphins in second grade and enjoy the coloring activity (like me)? Watch them at Sea World? Read Scott O' Dell? Do you see them as smart, free, graceful? Why dolphins? Do you have a different favorite creature of the seas?

January 13, 2009

History and discounts galore

January 13. Day 197.

It really is a brilliant idea.

Take any run down main street built before 1948. Throw in a few boutiques or craft shops, hang up some messy but romantic looking plants from porch ceilings or rails, open a cafe or diner with lace curtains or a more modern "concept." Chairs with legs shaped like crayons? Plates that look like buttons? Let's get funky!

Renovate one unique attraction -- a sawmill, a swinging bridge, a barn-turned-billiard bar. Then hang up a wooden placard 300 feet before the turnoff announcing your new Historic District, and people will come.

People like me. I eat that stuff right up. I will drive for miles to walk two blocks, and I leave with souvenirs. Always.

Perhaps I unwittingly (now, wittingly) pine for those distant cities where everything is a historic district, where the entire country's past is as useful and evident as its present.

Or maybe I'm just a sucker for oldie-cutsie-kitsch.

And so it happens that Historic Hanapepe was a must-see in Tuesday's romp on the western island. We pulled up into an overgrown, weedy parking lot at sighed at how cute it was, entered an overpriced antique store and gushed at the cute merchandise, then crossed the cute street and entered a cute jewelry shop, a cuter bookstore, a boutique that sold tuck-behind-your-ear flowers that were so... cute!!!

Along the way, I asked for two discounts and got both.

In the jewelry shop, my cousin found two bracelets, one coral and one pearl, and I dutifully butted in.

"What's the total?"

"$17.48"

"Can she get both for $15?"

"Sure."

In the bookstore, I found three items of interest. Eat, Pray, Love for my cousin, since we'd just been talking about Indonesia and she was looking for something new to read. A primer on seashells for myself. And a book about trails and hiking in Kauai for Mr. A. (Now you know half of your present!)

The total was $17.50, and I got it down to $15. Symbolic, but what's wrong with that?

Gained in Historic Hanapepe: $5.

After a disappointing drive up a mountain (the fog and rain erased all panoramic views and made it unsafe to walk down to the river), we made our way to the Hawaiian Trading Post, in a neighboring town, which specializes in Tahitian pearls.

I spotted a very long strand for a good price -- $18, on sale from $36, and cheaper for that quality than what I've seen on the mainland. (As much as I love historic districts, I love pearls even more. Natural beauty, versatility, and ocean provenance. Loooove.)

Just for fun, I asked the price on a stunning black pearl ring, and the woman quoted half amount on the price tag. Clearly, this was either clearance time, or they liked the "I make special deal for you" approach.

I brought the strand to the counter and tried this:

"Could I have these for $15?"

"No."

The store was run by a batallion of expert saleswomen, all from Asia, all with glasses and impeccable haircuts. They knew pearls like I know parking tickets. But a friend who's constantly traveling to Hong Kong and picking up pearly delicacies in the markets there told me to always, always bargain down and bargain hard in places like this. More power to the bigger bitch. If you don't bargain or act all sweet, they basically don't respect you. Oh, and you're overpaying.

"Well," I snapped, "I do know how much these sell for in Hong Kong. Come on. $15 is a great price for you."

"Hong Kong?!" she said, and chortled.

Gained II: The billious scorn of a high seas pearl trader.

January 12, 2009

Guest Blogging Day: Diplomacy in the Middle East

January 12. Day 196.

Today I'm turning this page over to the reader who won the New Year's Riddle and so earned the opportunity to post anything here that doesn't get me kicked off Blogger. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of this guest blogger.

Feel free to comment, below!

Foot in the Mouth in Israel

In every country, there are politicians who are tactful and diplomatic, and there are those who are not. Israel is no exception. Not-so-diplomatic Israeli politician: Matan Vilnai. Diplomatic Israeli politician: Tzipi Livni.

Not so diplomatic

Let us begin with the not-so-diplomatic politician: Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister, Matan Vilnai. He threatened the people of Gaza with a "bigger Holocaust" last February (Reuters report). Needless to say, he soon had to clarify: He was misunderstood. He did not mean what he seemed to be saying.

And how could he have meant it? A bigger Holocaust is a mathematical impossibility. There aren't six million people in Gaza. Even if there were, killing them all would not be practical. Look at what’s happening now:

There was a six-month truce between Hamas and Israel. Next, Israel violated the truce by blockading the civilian population and launching military operations. ( See video clip where CNN anchor is bewildered to realize who was the first to break the truce .) Then Hamas responds by rocket fire which fails to kill even a single Israeli during the truce period. With the truce period over, the Israeli siege and violence from both sides continued, forcing Israel to take defensive measures to protect itself from the perennial existential threat posed by the Palestinian people. So, Israel launched the recent all-out assault. And, so far, it has barely killed 1000 Gazans (mostly civilians and policemen). Less than a thousand dead? That is only a tiny fraction of the total population of Gaza. It's certainly nothing by the standards of the Holocaust. Goes to show how wide off the mark the Holocaust threat was. Better luck next time, Vilnai!

Literally diplomatic

Now, let us turn to a diplomatic Israeli politician, in fact one who, as Foreign Minister, is officially in charge of Israeli diplomacy, appointed to that job to show Israel’s good side to the world: Tzipi Livni.

In November, Livni said that when and if a Palestinian state is created in West Bank and Gaza, then the current Arab citizens of Israel proper should be invited to leave their homes and emigrate to that state. “You are citizens with equal rights, but the national solution for you is elsewhere,” she says to the Palestinian citizens of Israel-proper.

A little background on this polished and graceful rising star of Israeli politics is in order. She belongs to Kadima. Kadima is one of the two main parties contesting Israeli elections next month, and it is the more peaceful one. If a new Holocaust were to occur, it would more likely be thanks to the initiative of Kadima's rival, the Likud Party.

Actually, the next Israeli prime minister is expected to be either Livni or her rival from Likud, Netenyahu, an eloquent speaker of English who in the past has called for the forcible mass expulsion of Palestinians (see here, for example).

In short, Livni is the diplomatic face of the relatively peaceful party, the one that is taking the current defensive measures in Gaza, and the one that took equally defensive measures in Lebanon two years ago. (Remember that war? In purported retaliation for two of its soldiers being captured, Israel killed 1000 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and destroyed Lebanon's infrastructure.)

What shall we make of a cabinet member inviting a part of the population of her own country to leave the country? Unless you are steeped in American and Israeli public discourse, you are going to have a hard time sympathizing with Livni. So, let me try to help you see her side. You see, one of the numerous existential threats Israel faces is its Arab citizenry, which makes up 20% of the population of Israel proper. They present a major problem for the Jewish state. The problem they present is that they are Arab. And the problem is getting worse, since pairs of them have been known to have children, thus producing even more Arabs. Although this hasn’t been proven, it is thought that within a century or so Arabs might equal or exceed Jews in number. This possibility is invariably given an ominous name: the demographic “bomb”, “threat”, or “peril.” It is a harbinger of the “destruction of the Jewish state,” and possibly the end of the world as we know it. You don’t see the problem yet? Well, think about the U.S. In a few decades, whites might no longer be the majority, as there’ll probably be more blacks, Hispanics, and Asians than whites. Doesn’t that send a shiver down your spine? How could this be called a white country if most of its citizens were not white? Or think of South Africa, when the government ceased to be white. While that did not bring about the Apocalypse, the ruling regime did change fundamentally to the detriment of the said ruling regime. Similar deal in Israel. Now you get my drift.

Some might object that Livni’s proposal is not practical. The hitch, again, is a mathematical one. How will the Palestinians leaving Israel fit into Gaza? There's no room for them. In Gaza, Palestinian refugees are already packed like sardines. They ended up there like that after the Jews destroyed their villages and towns in 1948, expelled them, and told them they can’t go back home. (Don't get me wrong; every one of those actions was in self-defense.)

There's also another hitch: Gaza is a poor place, with nearly 20% of the population malnourished. You can’t tell the Hispanic citizens of the US to leave for Mexico as long as Mexico is poorer than the U.S. The same logic applies here.

But these objections are nitpicking. I’m sure Israel will find a way to persuade the Palestinians to leave of their own free will. If they do not, appropriate defensive measures need to be taken to save the Jewish people from annihilation this time around.

January 11, 2009

Hotel upgrade? Fix my computer? Charge my phone?

January 11. Day 195.

Well, here we are. Hawaii. Finally!!

Five minutes after I stepped off the plane, I took out my laptop to search for an online rate for a rental car, since I'd been too busy in the days before the trip. Hotwire claimed $12/day from Lihue, but it didn't work from my cell phone.

And then I did something very stupid: I dropped my laptop.

I think it was a combination of sleep deprivation, and, I think, lack of sleep, that put me in a borderline psychotic state.

I tried it on two different outlets, pressed power a few times, but it was dead.

I resigned myself to the demise of the laptop ('twas a good little machine -- light, cute, affordable, loyal, feisty, purred so happily on my lap as I wrote this here blog), and I even romantically envisioned a Kauaian sendoff, complete with a seaside burial or ceremonial launch into the waves. (No worries, enviramigos, it was only the wistful thinking of a Roxy in mourning. Of course I'd bring it to my friendly neighborhood designated recycling center.)

But I quickly started panicking about the data. I last backed it up about a month ago, and my dissertation every day, but there was still a lot of stuff that was fresh -- and crucial. I called Mr. A, to determine if the data could be retrieved. He told me not to worry. With a stop at an electronics store and his all-knowing voice guiding me, I could collect the right tools and extract my files, pronto.

First stop: Radio Shack.

First asking: "Is there anywhere I could plug in my phone while I shop? I need the GPS to find my hotel." (I also almost let the battery die, another sign I was exhausted.)

Second asking: "Would it be okay if I used your counter to test your hard drive enclosure, to see if it's compatible with my laptop? And do you have a screwdriver I could use?"

The guys agreed to let me set up camp at the register, and as a token of gratitude, I confessed I am from San Diego -- exactly as the Chargers were losing the football game to some team I forget. Steelers, maybe? They cheered when they heard this, and we were clearly "all good."

Gained I and II: Cell phone juice, and the generous patience, advice, counter real estate and screwdriver loan of a team of Radio Shack employees.

Second stop: Sheraton. A few months ago, I asked for a hotel room upgrade in Maine, and failed. I thought I'd give it a second try.

As I approached the reception desk, I put on my friendliest smile and asked if perhaps they could let us change rooms, to something in the Ocean Wing, if they had anything available.

The clerk said he'd be happy to upgrade it, for a small fee.

I tried again, still friendly...

"Is there any way you could throw in a complimentary upgrade? For two girls who came so far to see Hawaii for the first time? It would really make our vacation magical."

Really. I laid it on thick. Thicker than Count Chocula's accent.

He replied he vood like to, but he zimply cannot.

Gained III: Nothing. (Frankly, I didn't want a better room -- ours is great. But part of this project is about getting what I need and want, and part is about practicing. Like this. Now, I'll have to see if there are any methods, post-check in, to getting that elusive upgrade. Am I really that bad at getting something so ordinary? I think the secret is complaining. Leaving the smile at the door.)

After a complimentary mai tai (or three), which was exactly what I needed before I disemboweled my laptop, I unfolded my computer repair kit and the dead machine on the bed and called Mr. A.

"Ready to go?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Okay. Why don't you plug it in and hit power first, for one last try?"

"I tried it twice. It's dead. Two plugs in two different buildings. I'm ready to operate."

"Okay. I'm just saying, you could plug it in one last time, before we do something irrevocable."

"Okay, you're right."

I plugged it in, and, of course, it lit right up. Gained IV: Lazarus the Laptop. (Adapted illustration, with apologies to Rembrandt.)

January 10, 2009

can you/would you/wouldn't you/couldn't you/please do/please don't/ARGH!!!!/AHHH...

January 10. Day 194.

I would love to do a proper narrative of Saturday's events, because it was quite a day.

But I'm on vacation. In Hawaii... Outside, I hear rustling waterfalls and birds chirping. My arms and shoulders are exactly at that delicate border between sunkissed and sunburned. I am happy.

I should not be holding a computer in my lap and typing. I should be out frolicking, imbibing mai tais or cliff diving into crystal clear waters. Or both.

So how about I keep fast forwarding through the past days, rather than doing the normal write ups, since I reeeeally want to get to here and now.

Mr. A and I have moved in, as you know, together. After doing about a fifth of the move on Friday, Saturday was all about disassembling, moving and reassembling furniture, retrieving all my stuff from my mom's house, and packing the final loose ends (i.e. more than half of our possessions were still left over). Meaning enough work to fill a week.

And I was leaving the next morning at 5:30.

This rushed situation, and the fact that our small aesthetic differences instantly became a practical rather than theoretical subject, led to not one, but maaaany requests, implorations and exhortations, on both sides, all day long. INPO (in no particular order):

Can you make room for my chair?

Can you make room for my rugs?

Can we throw away this lamp?

No, how about we keep the lamp?

Do you really need this?

Well, do you really need that?

Can you help me clean up the kitchen?

Would you stop worrying about the kitchen?

Would you start doing this/that?

Can't you see I'm doing something else?

Can you come here and do that/this?

Would you stop telling me what to do?

Would you tell me why you're pissed off?

Would you just piss off?

At midnight, we climbed into the truck for the final transport, and the silence hung heavily upon our brows.

At 1 a.m., we were putting things away in the new house and shooting meek smiles at one another.

At 2 a.m., Mr. A went out to get a snack and I started packing again -- for Hawaii. I could only find bikini halves, no t-shirts, no flip flops, no sunscreen, so I just grabbed what I could and shoved it into my weekend bag.

At 3 a.m., I crashed on the mattress and fell asleep a second later. At some point after that, before we woke up at 4:45 to go to the airport, I remember him curling up next to me, and I remember smiling.

Gained: Moving day -- Finito!!! We talked, we asked, we argued, we pleaded and we negotiated. I didn't always get my way, he didn't always get his, but we both have something way better: each other!

January 09, 2009

Can we accept I'm old and haggard and call it a night?

January 9. Day 193.

Moving day! We started with everything but furniture -- books, kitchen stuff, towels -- which after a day of transports, ended up being merely a drop in the bucket.

It was also the day two huge unrelated work deadlines coincided, and the first day with my cousin, dubbed La Divina for reasons previously mentioned. She arrived from Milan, via New York and Las Vegas, in a grand tour of the United States, courtesy of a buyout.
Get this: In Italy, after three years, she had upwards of 5 weeks of vacation a year. Her buyout was for a year and a half at full pay. And she didn't even have to ask for such great terms. They're standard!!! Ahh, Europe.
In any case, from when I woke up at 6 a.m. until I 1 a.m., when I was wrapping up a late night supper, I think I sat down for a total of an hour. Around midnight, La Divina, Mr. A and I had made our way downtown, to show her around and get a bite. We stopped at Fudruckers, the only place open where we were parked. Next, we'd head a few blocks south, to Cafe Sevilla, for salsa dancing.
And then I uttered my feeble request:
"I just don't know if I can do it. Tomorrow we have to move all the furniture, and I only slept for 2 hours... My eyes are closing... I can barely walk anymroe, can we just call it a night? Go to Cafe Sevilla another time?"

No objections on either side.
Gained: Sleeeeeeeep.

January 08, 2009

Waive your uncompetitive check fee?

January 8. Day 192.

Greetings from Hawaii!! It's January 11 as I write -- three days after the fact. These past three days have been... insane. More on that soon. I'll just keep this post short, so we can get to the juicy stuff.

January 9 was moving day, so to pay the first month's rent, I needed a cashier's check. I went to Bank of America, where Mr. A and I opened a joint account when I moved to town, originally to pay for our fun and take advantage of some great promotions (I think we earned about $200 just by opening two accounts and then combining them!). Now we'll use that account for rent as well.

It turns out they have a $6 fee for such checks.

I asked the teller to waive it.

She said no.

I explained that with two banks next door, including one where I'm a customer and checks are free, perhaps it would be smart for them to revise their policy. I'm just sayin'.

Gained: Nothing.

Onward...

January 07, 2009

Can I sample your chicken flavored wine?

January 7. Day 191.

Mr. A and I headed to Mr. A's -- a venerable restaurant in San Diego with a really good bar. It's old school. Usually frequented by couples in their twenties celebrating a birthday or proposal and couples in their nineties celebrating they're still alive.

We go for the cocktails and truly magnificent rooftop sunsets.

It was too cold for the terrace, so we sat at the bar. While chatting about -- What were we chatting about? Oh yes, the couples in their nineties and couples in their twenties sitting nearby -- we overheard the bartender describing a wine to one of the waiters.

"Creme brulee, pineapple," he was saying. My ears perked up. A chardonnay that "tastes" like a yummy dessert? Sounds scandalous. Scandalously good, that is.

"Creme brulee?" I asked him when he turned our way.

"Yes. That's what the bottle says."

"Could I could try it?"

This wasn't a strange or risky thing to ask for, granted. It's an excellent bar, as I said, and tastings are part of the schtick. But I promise that were it not for this project, I would have kept my mouth closed and decided I don't need to know that much.

"Of course."

He poured half a glass, and I smelled it first.

"Chicken," I pronounced.

"Really? Chicken?"

"That's what I'm getting. Chicken soup."

Feeling less curious now, I took a swig. Let it sit in my mouth for a few seconds, like they teach you you're supposed to do. Once I swallowed, that familiar flavor of caramelized butter and sugar actually did creep out, eventually. The bartender and Mr. A were waiting for a reaction.

"Wow. There it is. I'm getting it. Twenty -- no, 18 seconds later."

"Now you feel it. Exactly 18 seconds later? That's tongue in cheek, right?" the bartender asked.

"No, I really do feel it now. That's so strange."

I took another sip. That time the sweet flavor surfaced immediately and, fortunately, overpowered the chicken. Weird.

Gained: $7 -- estimate for half a glass of wine in a ritzy restaurant. If you're still interested after this review, the wine was Berenger's Private Reserve Chardonnay, 2007.

January 06, 2009

How all those parking fines finally paid off.

January 6. Day 190.

There are few domains in which I proclaim expertise. Grad school has only stressed how little I know -- and how much I need to stress out. The school of life has brought no greater mastery of any line of thought.

But I do profess to know my Three P's: procrastination, parking tickets, and praspberries.

Let's leave the first and third for later, shall we, and zoom in on number two.

While living in Boston for six years, I amassed a fanciful collection of parking tickets, most of which I saved and put in a file labeled "Fuck you too." These include your routine expired meters, street sweeping, snow emergency, permit only, feeding the meter, and the more exotic specimens: valet parking only, handicapped ramp (only by 2 inches!!), reparking on the same block after a meter expired, and my personal favorite -- parking facing the wrong direction.

Believe me, it was no small task to collect such a variety of offenses.

And so, in hopes of saving you the hundreds or perhaps thousand dollars in fines I paid, I encourage you to apply these methods as needed. Consider them as part of the revolt against a system that forces drivers into coffer-filling obedience.

We will not be jerks and double park or block someone's driveway. But nor will we tolerate this subjugation another day, hour or minute!! Go forth and park in peace, my brothers and sisters!

0. If you'll be parking somewhere frequently, get to know the area's parking vibe. Some streets are doomed, others seem scary (i.e. heavily trafficked) but rarely encounter a meter maid. On some, no one comes by before noon despite the signs. Others, 3 a.m. checks are routine.

1. Begging and/or kissing up: do it. I have gotten out of lots of tickets on the nick of time by running up to the meter maid with a smile. You don't need to flirt or have long hair and stilettos to pull this off. Just... enough desperation.

2. Leave a note. For a while, I had a paper in the back seat that read, in all caps sharpie, "PLEASE HAVE MERCY! BE BACK SOON!!" It was ready to go for quick meter stops if I was out of quarters and in "Private Parking/Tow Zone" areas. I used it unobtrusively -- in an empty residential lot during business hours, or an empty bank lot on a weeknight, and never for too long.

3. If you do get a fine, check the ticket meticulously. If a number is recorded incorrectly or something is unreadable or missing, the court should declare it invalid.

4. Appeal, appeal, appeal. I got to be a familiar face at Boston city hall. Why not? The ticket cost more than what I earn in an hour, and there are plenty of lunch spots nearby to celebrate.

5. If you get more than one ticket at once, you never simply PAY. Bring two at a time and negotiate. I think I saved $100 or $200 bucks that way, in pre-asker askings. BUT: Don't bring more than two tickets, since the clerk can probably only let you off the hook for one without seeming like a softie.

6. And for the record, since records are so important, act deferential and contrite, even if you and the clerk both know it's a bunch of bullshit to be charged $40 for being a minute late. At least, that seems to work for me.

Today I was in downtown San Diego for a meeting with someone, and there was no way I'd be able to come out and feed the meter. So I resorted to Methods 1 and 2, with a note secured behind a windshield wiper.

"Dear Parking Agent,

If possible...
Please have mercy!
My meeting is done at 1 and I will move the car immediately!!

Have a great day,

apologies,

La Roxy
(civic driver)"

The meter had expired for an hour and 15 minutes, and no ticket! No clue if it was the note or luck, but given my usual misfortune, I want to hope it was the note...

Gained: a $40 reprieve, after paying many multiples of that.