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February 28, 2009

Student discount?

February 28. Day 243.

I could have wept for joy.

Swimming pool? Getting a tan? IN FEBRUARY!????

What was I doing in Boston all those years...

That's right. This weekend (for it's Monday as I write) I did something I'm totally unaccustomed to. Nothing.

I broke in a new bathing suit. Sat by the pool for hours. Chatted. Read. Stared into space. Turned onto my belly. Turned back. Swam. Hopped into the jacuzzi. Repeated.

Had a smoothie, then another.

Had a taco, then another.

Went to a movie.

At the theater, I asked to get a student discount.

"I need to see your ID."

"I don't have it on me, but I promise I'm a student. Any way you can take my word for it?"

"I need your ID."

Fine, no go.

The movie was "Paul Blart: Mall Cop." A perfectly inane ending to a perfectly brilliant day.

Gained: A splash of summer vacation -- months early.

February 27, 2009

Share a table? And CC me?

February 27. Day 242.

This afternoon I met up with a friend for coffee, and after we said goodbye I ended up at -- gasp -- another cafe.

Creative, I know.

This second stop was a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf located in a land called Fashion Valley. For between the rolling hills of San Diego where the good Spanish friars built churches and universities, there is a vale. And this in this vale, good things come to those who spend. From Saks to Ikea, anything a shopper's heart could desire sings its siren song to the enchanted, and enchantable, consumer.

Anyway.

I stepped inside, noticed there were no tables, and asked a guy with room at his if we could share. He was the only person not spread out all over the place with books and laptops.

"Sure."

Eventually we started talking (i.e. I started asking: "Do you like Hemingway?" since that was one of his books), and I learned that he is a background investigator for a defense contractor. So when people apply for security clearance, this man digs up the muck in their past, finds out their ties to drug cartels or selected foreign insurgencies, and then writes up a spiffy report.

I wanted in. At least, I wanted to know more about getting in.

"Is it something someone can do with a PhD in literature?"

"I studied English in my undergrad."

"Great. Where do I sign up?"

That's the condensed version of our chat. At the end, I left with his business card, a quick tour of his company's website, the advice to apply since they're hiring now, and the invitation to call him when I'm job hunting if I have questions.

Gained: A table, and some precious CC (career counseling, that is)

By the way, a well-placed confidential source affiliated with an intelligence agency has informed me that the CIA is also hiring... they need polygraph examiners, and the salary can hit 113k. Qualifications include:
Excellent command of the English language, excellent oral and written communications skills, and impeccable personal and professional integrity... Ideally, candidates would have a broad range of interests including such varied topics as: art, history, philosophy, travel, sports, writing, foreign languages, coaching, law enforcement, science, photography, music, theater, medicine, information technology, public relations, marketing, teaching, and culinary arts. This position requires the ability to routinely relate to and interact with people from a wide range of cultures, backgrounds and abilities.
Art and theater? Travel and writing? Cultural tolerance and interesting conversations? Not to mention, a whole new take on asking!

February 26, 2009

And the meek shall inherit the pink slip...

February 26. Day 241.

They had it coming.

The Rocky Mountain News, which just announced it's printing its last edition Friday.

The Seattle PI, which is on Hearst's chopping block.

The San Diego Union Tribune, which is still for sale. A great blog by a friend who works there details the unraveling of his newsroom -- and the perseverance of people sticking it out, facing greater constraints than ever before to put out a paper every day...

They all had it coming -- every paper and mag shuttering its bureaus or laying off half its staff or worse.

Why?

Because they gave away something for free. Because they were too damn scared to ASK. Ask for what? Money from their readers, users, classified posters... Were they scared readers might defect? Stop clicking? Wouldn't hurt their bottom line much more than it is hurting now...

I heard a conversation yesterday on NPR's Marketplace with a professor named David Westphal. Here's how they end their chat:

RYSSDAL: What about different revenue models? There's been talk recently about endowment-supported newspapers. There's talk of micro-financing, in some degree. Do you buy any of those?

WESTPHAL: Well, I'm at a point where I'd like to see any idea float around because I think it's impossible to know . . . I do think philanthropy might well be involved. And if we think about a metropolitan area that has multiple news sources, not just one big one, a philanthropist might very well endow an investigative reporting operation, or endow a science reporting operation. But, again, I think it's smart at this point to put everything on the table.

The words "audience" and "readers" featured nowhere in his list of list of possibilities.

You're just getting his transcript here, but the tone was speculative, hopeful, and focused on abstractions.

Does that sound like a winning attitude?

Does having vague ideas solve anything?

Does that sound like an industry you'd want to invest in?

Sigh...

If there's one reason for the news industry's crisis, it's attitude. The rest are incidentals.

What if the publishers and decision-makers respected themselves and their product enough to charge for it, like any other industry out there -- would that cause readers to respect them, too? What if they treated the matter of paying for content as a matter-of-fact, a natural step, not some crazy and impertinent request? Wouldn't readers go for it, like they pay for anything else they consume?

I know, journalism is for the people -- it's democratic, it's the fourth estate, it's good to educate those who might not otherwise shell out for a subscription. Cry me a river. As long as it's not coming out of tax dollars, it's a private enterprise, i.e. a business.

***

And now, I'm off my soapbox. Back to asking. Back to my own life. But I had to say that.

What do you think? Would you pay for online content? Even 10 cents a day for a paper you love? Do you think this media mess is due, in part or totally, to the industry's failure or refusal to ask? Or am I the only reader out there who cares about this issue?

UPDATE:

Since this blog isn't just about money -- and asking for access or experiences has led to some interesting encounters -- I jumped on an interesting opportunity tonight.

An acquaintance was heading to a union meeting, so I asked if I could tag along. I have never been to anything like that before in my life, so I was curious what it would be like. Maybe I'd get lucky and I could listen to some negotiation tactics.

It ended up being a bunch of people sitting at tables, talking about political power and electability. Then, people took turns giving short speeches, discussing things like retirement benefits, healthcare, contracts, dues.

No negotiation.

No collective bargaining.

No take-away points for this asker/negotiator/bargainer.

Ok, fine, so I got bored. Unless those contracts and bylaws apply to you, they are basically just a lot of words. Imagine sitting in one of my lit seminars if you could care less about Baudelaire. That sort of thing.

But it was worth a peek.

Gained: A glimpse of organized labor, in action.

February 25, 2009

Neighborhood discount? And, who should I pick?

February 25. Day 240.

Who would you pick to mow your lawn:

Him?























or them?

Here's another way of looking at it:

A) The established business with two employees and a better price?

B) The hard working guy who's a bit more expensive, but fighting to build a better life for himself and possibly his family?

C) The hard-working guy, but ask him to meet or beat the price of of the pros?

D) The established business, but get them to lower their prices even more, locking in best quality + price. Boo-yeah.

What's better for me? And for the overall system? I'm leaning toward C... What would you do? What would Obama do? Murdock? Jesus?

Ok, here's the story:

I got a knock on the door this morning. It was a neighbor, who came over to introduce herself. Then, she slipped in that if we wanted to share a gardener, it might be a good idea since my lawn is getting "wild."

Wow.

Hello, nice to meet you too.

I didn't realize I'd moved to Celebration.

Actually, I've been planning on finding a gardener, so we're on the same wavelength. But I found her overture "interesting," as they say.

In any case, I took her gardener's number, called him, and he came by to give me an estimate. He owns a landscaping business, and he sends a team to take care of the block every few weeks.

"How often do you want me to come by? Every two weeks?" he asked.

"I think once a month is good."

"And the hedges? Every two months?"

"I think twice a year is fine." (They're just hedges! Not hippo topiaries. How much trimming can they need???)

"Ok. Anything else? Back yard?"

"I'll take care of that. Really I'm looking for a low key, low water approach. A drought/recession approach. And since you're already doing three houses on the block, could your price reflect that? No driving time, no gas..."

"I can do that. I can give you $40 for the first trim, and then $25 after that. It's a discounted price."

"Ok, I'll have to talk it over with my boyfriend..."

Next, I got another quote from a man who's starting his own business. He's a gardener for another company and he's starting to do weekends on his own to earn some extra dough. He handed me a colorful business card that could have been home made, and I get the feeling he needs the money more (just a hunch, maybe not...).

Only he's more expensive, not tried and true, no neighborhood accountability... but he's working toward a dream. I respect that.

Gained: A discount. No commitment yet. But just writing this post has helped me make up my mind... and you know exactly what I'm going to do.

February 24, 2009

Free lunch? And... ETA on PHD?

February 24. Day 239.

I ran into a doc and found out that a one-time sleep stroll is nothing to worry about. It happens when you're really tired or have a lot on your mind. Like a dissertation.

Speaking of... I wrote a long-overdue email today to my advisor.

In this message, I gave her a status update (working on the last three chapters, all going well) and then I asked her two key questions. First, is it at all realistic for me to graduate in the spring if I buckle down and work 24/7, or should I shoot for the fall? And second, what are her thoughts about my career options in academia?

Gained: Hopefully, the advice of someone whose opinion I really trust, and an ETA on my PhD.

Second, I went to Jack in the Box and asked for two free tacos. I didn't have the coupon printout for this national promotion, so I showed them the coupon on my my cell phone screen and the manager okayed it.

Gained: Free lunch!! (Value: $1.)

February 23, 2009

Diagnose me!!! And... asked for someone to get his act together

February 23. Day 238.

I just woke up, and Mr. A gave me this news before he rushed out the door to work:

I was sleepwalking.

Last night I got out of bed, walked to the computer in the dining room with my eyes open and said:

"No, I'll do the literary comparisons." With an heavy emphasis on the I. Not you, I, will.

Then, looking a bit confused, I turned around and went back to sleep. I mean bed.

WTF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!??????????????????????????????

I don't remember a thing.

I've never sleepwalked before (to my knowledge).

I had a dream last night about something totally different. Nothing literary. Nothing comparative. Nothing ambulatory.

I know, I know, this has nothing to do with asking. But I think we can interrupt the regular flow of posts to document the first step in my fall to delirium. I looked online, and I can rule out most causes (drugs and medications, alcohol, head injury, migraines, sleep deprivation and puberty). Which leaves: nervous system disorders, brain swelling, and seizures. Oh, and stress.

What does this mean? Any doctors reading this? Should I be worried? Is this normal? Am I secretly writing my dissertation in my sleep?

Actual asking coming up next... Until then... Happy Monday.

UPDATE:

I'm rarely in a position to ask people to do something for me because I've paid them to do it. Let's be frank. I'm rarely a client. I mean, at most I buy something in a cafe or store, receive my goods and then leave the counter. Finito.

In fact, when I'm waiting for paid services to be rendered, I tend to treat people like they're doing me a favor. I can't quite fathom that they're supposed to do that service. (A few years ago I hired a lawyer for something, and it was totally shocking that he called me back, was nice and reliable, sent me a holiday card. Eventually it sank in that at $300 an hour, he damn well better sound interested when I call with a question or concern. But it was an adjustment I had to make from being grateful for his time to feeling like I earned it.)

Well, I've been waiting for a few weeks for a contractor to come by the house and fix a few things (outlets don't work in two rooms, etc etc). We've played phone tag and I've always been oh-so sweet. He's busy. He's confused. He didn't communicate with his employees.

Time to snap out of it, Roxy. You've been waiting for this guy to fix your outlets for almost a month. You're paying rent. It's not a friendly favor. It's his job. Which he's sucking at.

So I called and left a message saying just that:

"It's La Roxy, from 4444 Exasperation Lane [I used my real address]. I'm calling because it's been several weeks since we've been in touch about the problems we went over, and after last week's missed appointments, I am getting tired of waiting around. I am not angry or annoyed. I understand you're busy. But I am simply exhausted by all this back and forth and I'd really like my house to be functional. Please be professional enough to return my call and tell me exactly when someone someone will show up -- and make sure someone shows up. Thank you."

Gained: Still waiting... We'll see if this approach works...

February 22, 2009

20 percent book discount?

February 22. Day 237.

What a morning.

Woke up at 6:30. Strolled to a nearby cafe that makes amazing mochas, aptly called Mystic Mocha, and read a dozen magazines and caught up on mail. Checked out the neighbors -- two older gentleman having breakfast, a young dad and his toddler son making silly eyes at each other, a group of people celebrating a birthday, someone working the counter advising a customer about the academic job market.

Praise the jetlag! This has never lasted so long! Wow! What a revelation to actually get up and do something before 10 a.m.

Then I headed home, where Mr. A was fixing up my bike -- new gears, new brakes, new seat, new handles. Good as new.

Meanwhile, I did all those finishing touches I never got around to after the move. Unpacked the final, final boxes. Set up the rest of my shoes. Consolidated suitcases. Moved a table in the tiny kitchen to make a little more counter space. Mr. A came in from the bike and we finished that stuff. And then... freedom!!!

We rode our bikes to Lestat's, another favored cafe, to see how long it takes to get there from home (a little under ten minutes). And on the way back, we stopped at a bookstore.

Here's what we bought:

(Some books for Mr. A's niece and godson, another present for a friend, some really cute individual Shakespeare plays in the lower right, a Korean phrasebook since he's traveling to Seoul for work soon, a splash of art and that there brick of Proust.)

At the register, inquired: "Since we're buying so much, could we get a 20% discount?"

The man agreed, and even cut off the sales taxes if we paid cash.

Gained: About $50! (Below is a detail of yesterday's lamp, included in the books picture.)

February 21, 2009

Lamp discount?

February 21. Day 236.

On our way to tennis this afternoon, Mr. A and I drove past a yard sale. I've inherited my mom's rummage vision (the ability to sweep over the contents vast lawns and parking lots in order to ascertain the buyability of products contained therein while speeding by in a moving vehicle), so the moment after we passed I said, "Stop! Can you pull over?"

"What?"

"I just saw a lamp."

He stopped the car and I sprinted out.

It had an elegant line, Chinese cloisonne base, with black enamel and a gold filigree pattern.

"It's real gold," the woman told me. I didn't believe that, but I did like the lamp, and its story: her grandmother bought it as a vase in China about 40 years ago and then turned it into a lamp.

"How much do you want?"

"Make me an offer." (Interesting strategy. She doesn't sound anxious to sell it. Rather, thinks she can guilt me into over paying. Is this a good strategy to remember, next time I have a garage sale or sell anything at all? Open a restaurant where people name their prices? Let guilt and a sense of civic/consumer duty work their magic? Hmmm...)

"Hmmm... this is tough... it's a garage sale, not a store, so I'm tempted to give you... $20?"

"Ok."

I instantly regretted it. Garange sales are about cheap steals! She accepted my first offer! I walked right into the trap. Poorly played, Roxy...

That's where Mr. A came in.

"Wait, sorry -- I need to consult with my boyfriend. What do you think?"

"It's old and dented... You're the decorator, you know what's a good value and what's not, but I'm not crazy about it."

"You think $20 is too much?"

His face showed it was obvious he did. Or at least, he was playing bad cop to my good one...

"He thinks $20 is too much. Could we make it $15?" I asked her now.

"Sure."

Gained: $5, sort of. I'll put a picture up once I add the bulb and set it up.

February 20, 2009

Hire me?

February 20. Day 235.

A few things have been on my mind recently.

Health. In the past weeks there has been a stroke, a delicate eye operation, and two cancer biopsies in my family.

"Take care of yourself," people have been telling me. Older people who know what our joint DNA has in store for us, who wish their words would be enough to snap me out of my complacency. People who don't want me to end up like them.

And they're right. Unless I make some real changes to my lifestyle, I'll end up the same.

And work. As in, will I get a job once I graduate?

I'm not the only one worrying. The most emailed story in the Times for the past three days is about cover letters. There's nothing revolutionary in this story, nothing shocking. But that basic info (do use a cover letter! keep it short! spell check!) is enough to keep people clicking, day after day. I clicked, too. Did you?

Well Friday night, I set both worries aside and headed to the theater. We have a subscription to UCSD's drama school.

The play was Danton's Death, about the French Revolution, and I'll cut to the chase: I walked out.

The play itself is extremely challenging (thematically, and just to execute, with tons of cast members and a three-hour running time typically), and I heard it was sprung on the actors last minute so they didn't have time to really step inside their roles. But it was just so stilted, stunted and slow that I couldn't get into it. Others in the audience seemed to like it, but after 1.5 hours, I gave up.

I cut out early, went to a nearby restaurant and sat at the bar. I started talking to the bartender. He asked me if I was coming from the theater.

"Half. I walked out," I admitted. "But life is too short to spend it on something that's putting me to sleep. I'd rather make a phone call, take a walk, get a drink, read, anything."

"I agree!"

So we talked. Italy (where we both lived for a while), grad school (my day job), commercial real estate (his), and eventually, my job prospects.

He mentioned, before I left, that I shouldn't despair. Small businesses like his will always need others to write their marketing stuff, press releases, and put together creative projects.

"Really?" I asked. "But how will I find those people? They're not on Monster.com. I don't know they exist, they don't know I exist."

"You just need to start getting the word out, now. Start telling people let and right, and something will come up by the time you finish your PhD."

"Well, could I give you my email and we keep in touch? Who knows, maybe you need some writing or editing, or someone you know does?"

"Absolutely. In fact, I may need you in the next months. I really do have some stuff I need written up, and writing is not my thing. What's your availability?"

Gained: Another business contact. A good step. But a baby step. I need to start being much more proactive, and pursue leads much more aggressively, if I want to find work in the near future...

February 19, 2009

Salon discount?

February 19. Day 234.

After yesterday's positive results, I decided to angle for another type of online bargain: I emailed a spa I've heard good things about and asked about their prices (which weren't on the website).

For the services I'm looking for, they were more affordable than anything I've seen in this city. This spa has great reviews online, the pictures look reassuring, the location is convenient, and they use a line of products that I love.

What more could I desire??

A discount. I wrote back:
Do you have any discounts for for first timers? I'm looking for a place to become my regular spot, and I'm looking for the best combo of price and quality.

Thanks again!

Hope to come by!
She replied 15 minutes later that they can give me 15% off for the first time, and they have a special package deal -- not advertised, but good to know about.

The plan: go once, and if I like it, propose to prepay five sessions for a 20% discount.

Gained: For the first appointment, about $7. In the long haul, TBD.

February 18, 2009

Why Craigslist is my friend: Competition!

February 18. Day 233.

Thanks to all who replied to my preliminary poll. I think I have enough data to proceed with the actual poll question... stay tuned... I'm waiting for just the right day to put it up.

Today I asked twice, online.

First: I somehow landed on an email list about San Diego's theater scene. I love theater. Love it. But I don't love unsolicited links to crappy websites about theater. Especially with no "unsubscribe" button at the bottom. Gauche!!!

Here was my email:
Hello,

kindly remove me from your list.

Thank you,

La Roxy
That was, frankly, much nicer than some of the emails I got back when I sent a single mass message with an announcement. Those included: "REMOVE" and "DELETE!!!"

Next, I used Craigslist for what it's best: securing quality products and services by snagging the lowest bidder.

Our adowable widdle house comes with a matching lawn, and per the lease we're in charge of landscaping. I looked online and saw a few price ranges for lawn care that made me gag. I refuse to spend $50 for 10 square meters of mowing. So, I turned to craigslist, stated the dimensions and said the lowest bidder will win.

Got about 30 answers in a few hours I still need to sort through.

(Option B: do it ourselves, but I wonder if it's worth investing in a lawn mower rather than outsoucing? Unless there's one from the previous owner stashed away somewhere... Hmmm...)

Seriously, this lowest bidder mentality has me thinking of the possibilities. Especially in this down economy.

I mean, why let the retailer dictate the terms??

If I ever host a party, perhaps I won't try to find a caterer through individual negotiations. Instead, I'll email 30, say "I'm feeding 20 people next month. What's your best offer?" and take it from there. Not that I ever use caterers, but you get the idea. Or when I buy a car, I'll approach the dealers with this attitude: "I'm going to every dealer along this strip and asking the same thing: Can you beat your neighbor? Whoever gets me the best package will get my cash." Etc.

Exploit their spirit of competition. Make them earn my business, rather than present myself as trying to earn their services.

After all, no one will charge me less than they consider their time or product to be worth. Right?

Here's a story in this week's TIME saying pretty much the same thing:
The upside to the downturn is the immense incentive it gives retailers to treat you like a queen for a day. During the flush times, salespeople were surly, waiters snobby, as though their kanpachi tartare with wasabi tobiko might be too good for the likes of you. But now the customer rules, just for showing up [...] Finger the scarf, then start to walk away, and its price floats silkily downward. When the mechanic calls to tell you that brakes and a timing belt and other services will run close to $2,000, it's time to break out the newly perfected art of the considered pause. You really don't even have to say anything pitiful before he'll offer to knock a few hundred dollars off. (More here)
Gained: A reduction in spam and a price cut off of retail.

February 17, 2009

Window Seat?

February 17. Day 232.

From Athens I had a few hours to kill in Amsterdam, so I rushed to my mom's favorite chocolate shop to pick up a few of her beloved truffles, crossed over to the post office to mail some twizzlers for E, and sampled a croissant in a cozy cafe with an open kitchen (pictured below). All I was hoping to do on the plane to the U.S. was sleep, but there was one slight impediment...

Before getting on the plane from Athens to Amsterdam, I confirmed that each of the three legs was a window or aisle seat. 12A, 23F, and 8C.

"Yes, they are," the check-in agent told me.

"Really. Because F is usually a middle seat on intercontinental fligts." ( I know big jets are rarely six seats across, where F would fall. If there was room on the plane or it was at all possible, I wanted to avoid the middle seat on the longest leg of the trip.)

He looked me squarely in the eyes. "No. It's a window seat."

His colleague looked at the boarding pass and confirmed.

"It's a window," she stated.

"Ok, great."

Only when I boarded the long flight in Amsterdam, I thought I'd ask again. I've never seen an F seat on a window on large planes. Just thought I'd check...

"Is this a window seat?"

"No it's not," the agent told me.

"Excellent. Two of your colleagues in Athens looked me straight in the eye and lied to me. I don't mind where the seat is, but I don't like being lied to."

"I'm sorry!" she replied.

"It's fine. But if anything opens up, would you mind switching my seat?"

"I'll try."

Meanwhile, my neighbors in line, a missionary minister and his wife who'd been preaching in Russia, asked what was going on.

"No big deal. I'm just annoyed because they told me I had a window and it's not."

They nodded sympathetically, and the minister told me it happens to him all the time. I felt I needed to clarify, since I probably sounded like a major whiner.

"I don't care about seat itself, but it's exasperating that they don't even have the courtesy to give you a straight answer. But, I've learned not to expect anything from airlines other than a place to park my butt and a seatbelt, so it's really no big deal. I just hope we get there safely."

A few days earlier, a plane crashed in Buffalo, killing everyone on board. I think that tragedy was on travelers' minds that day, both thoughts of sympathy and self-preservation.

Twenty minutes later, the agent called me back to the desk. She managed to find a comfy spot on the full plane, a window seat, perfect for dozing.

Score!

Gained: Exactly what I wanted, after making a bit of a racket.

February 16, 2009

Does this count as begging? What about this?

February 16. Day 231.

I could say, once again, that I asked for directions.

It's true. I did. As we were searching for our new hotel in Athens, a few wrong turns led us to a different part of town. I took it upon myself to boldly find the way.

"Heferefontos? Heferefontos 16?" I asked left and right, holding out a piece of paper with the hotel's address.

For a reason I couldn't fathom, people were turning away or recoiling rather than stopping to help.

"Why did that lady run away?"

"She probably thinks you're begging," Mr. A suggested.

"What?"

"Think about it. You're rushing up to people, shoving a piece of paper into their faces and mumbling something."

"Oh my God."

Eventually we found the hotel, with and without help from locals at various intersections.

But that pales in comparison to the new low (or high?) I've reached with today's other asking...

After Mr. A's five-star stay for the conference, and our modest selection on the island (basically the only place with a bed), the hotel we chose in Athens on the last night was on the cheap side, since we were only planning to spend a few hours there before heading to the airport at 2 a.m. It was essentially a place to drop off the bags and take a shower. The idea was to find something very well situated, and skip the extra stars.

Hotel Adams was basic. Crabby receptionist. Not exactly gleaming. Not updated in 30 years, it seemed. But around the corner from an amazing little piazza.

And no shampoo.

For Mr. A, that's no problem -- he can use regular soap, or lye for all I know. He's resistant that way.

I have long, soft hair that loves to be pampered, and the previous place also didn't have shampoo, so I reeeeeally wanted to take a proper shower.

We hit the streets for a final romp through Athens, and I popped into a few stores and saw that the cheapest shampoo came to around $6. So I did the next best thing. I saw a bellhop standing at attention. I noticed a large turnstile. I slipped inside.

It was none other than the Hotel Titania.

"Excuse me."

Several gentleman at the reception turned my way.

"I have a rather odd request I hope you can accommodate."

They were all ears.

"I'm staying at a hotel you see, a different hotel, which doesn't provide its guests with shampoo. I was wondering if you could be so gracious as to give me a small shampoo, to use there."

They continued to stare at me as I hadn't said a thing.

"I have heard great things about your hotel and your hospitality, and so I was wondering if you could help?"

"I don't understand. You're a guest here?"

"No, at a different hotel."

"If you're staying at a hotel, why don't you use your own hotel's shampoo?" he asked back.

"Because my hotel doesn't offer its guests shampoo. My hotel: bad. Your hotel: good. Next time I'll be sure to stay here."

He moved aside to confer with his supervisor. I heard quite a bit of back and forth. I wasn't sure which of them was more revolved by my request, but finally he returned with not one, but two vials of a cognac colored substance.

"Thank you. You're very kind."

Gained: SHAMPOO!!!

Once in a while, gentle reader, I wonder if you'd do the same. Would you have asked for this? Or anything else I've asked for, for that matter? Or, do you ever ask yourself if you would?

Postcard from the Plaka

Kalispera!!

A quick note to say I'm heading back to the USA tomorrow morning. I've been offline these past days, trekking on an island and getting into all sorts of asker-y mischief, but I'll be back to blogging late Tuesday, after a quick stop in Amsterdam.

Updates coming soooooon!

Filia,

La Roxy

February 15, 2009

Legal advice, Greek style

February 15. Day 230.

"What if something goes wrong? Can she drive it? What happens if the police pulls me over?"

These were Mr. A's questions to the guy renting us an ATV so we could explore the island. The whole set up seemed somewhat sketchy -- limited insurance, hand over driver's license as collateral, call the dude's cell if something went wrong, and then this:

"Listen," he said, and paused. "Who actually cares about the law? If you do something wrong and you get caught, yeah, you're in trouble. Like, don't drink and drive. But if you're driving and you break a law, or if she drives, and nothing bad happens, then who cares? Just don't crash it, and have fun!! Police here won't bother you."

"That's not how it is in America," I interjected. "In some towns they make big bucks off of speeding tickets from tourists."

"Don't worry. So, here's the contract. You need to bring it back by 5."

"Five???" I balked.

Already, I had the feeling he was giving us the "special tourist" price. 30€ per day. I was tempted to negotiate, but held back since I just didn't know the market. Yet now he expected us to pay for a full day and bring it back in six hours?

Time to ask -- er, insist...

"Five is much too early. Can we bring it back tomorrow morning?" I asked.

"Tomorrow? Why would you need it so long? It's not like you're going to ride around in the dark, are you?"

"Probably not. But what if we want to get dinner in a different town or take our time coming back?" Mr. A continued.

"Ok. I'll do 7."

"Later. We could get dinner somewhere, or ride around the port."

"Ok, fine. 10."

"Fine."

Gained: An ATV for a day. Here are few shots of the island, from the scooter.

February 14, 2009

Which way to the Acropolis? Mooch your wifi? And... help us book a hotel?

February 14. Day 229.

About 300 feet from the entrance to the Acropolis, high above the rest of the city, is a hut. In this hut, or rather house, to be fair, since to its inhabitant the tiny white cube it is surely a proud and noble dwelling, lives an old man. He looks about as old as Achilles and twice as tough.

I stumbled into his house out of desperation, since for an hour Mr. A and I were trying to find the Acropolis and failing. It wasn't really a problem, since the walk itself along the deserted back alleys of the Plaka was lovely, but we did want to see the Acropolis eventually...

The massive temple was right there, right there, just over the fence, but how could we get inside? Where was the gate? Where were signs, a plaque, any directions?

Just as the path started heading back downhill, I heard a blaring television and followed the sound toward an open window and a curtain billowing in the breeze. I sprinted over, stepped inside through the open door, noticed a television on a small table with a dark flowered table cloth, and this hobbled man with fierce eyes.

"Signomi," I started. Excuse me. "We are looking for the Acropolis."

He nodded, as if he'd been expecting us since 1950. Or 1950 BC.

"Back. See church left? Down. See hill? Right. Up. Acropolis!" He pointed left and right, accordingly.

"I see -- go back, take a left at the church, then turn right up the next hill. Right?"

"Back. See church left? Down. See hill? Right. Up. Acropolis!" he repeated, doing the exact same dance.

"Thank you!"

It was exactly as he explained, up a hill, after a little church... I wonder if that was the only line of English he spoke. I wonder if the Athenian tourist board taught it to him, or if he decided to learn of his own good will. I wonder if he was as old as he looked, or merely weathered by the weather, since that sun beats down like nowhere else on the Acropolis at noon... I wondered if the gods thanked him for his service, sending tourists their way, or cursed him...

Either way, I am grateful for his guidance, and would wish him another millennium guarding those gates, if he so desires.

Gained I: Sneak peek of a Plaka-dweller's house. And, more directions!

That evening we took off for Aegina, an island about an hour from Athens. I'd heard it's easy to find a hotel room or guest house on the islands during winter. Boy, was I wrong... of course the island had hundreds of empty rooms, but they were all closed for the season. For an hour, Mr. A and I set up camp in front of a hotel and used their password protected wifi (Asking II) to look for a room. Finally we found one, reserved it online, and walked over. It was a block away.

When we got there, however, the innkeeper told us she was all booked, and the reservation website doesn't work.

"When did you reserve?" she inquired.

I realized I had to play it smart or risk sleeping on a bench that night.

"Today," I whined. "This is such a disappointment! Your hotel is so nice, we came all the way from Athens sure we had a place to stay, and now we don't? This is a disaster! What will we do? Woe is me!! Can you please help us?"

"Oh no! I'm so sorry. The reservations service we use is terrible. Let me see what I can do to rectify this." She started making calls, talked to about five places until she found us an available room.

Gained III: Shelter. And an important lesson: Reserving a hotel room in advance can't hurt, but it brings no guarantees.

February 13, 2009

Where am I? And, cancel our coffee meeting?

I write from the land of 6 a.m., a strange and foreign place I rarely visit. I'm stopping through because of jet lag, on my way back from Europe, you see...

Which brings us to my first actual day in Greece. I wrote up bits and pieces of these entries while I was there, and have finally assembled a few pictures and posted them today!

***

February 13. Day 228.

After a morning of shopping on Ermou (the main commercial drag), watching the busy sidewalk action from a series of cafes (this cardboard box card player had a wad of cash from his successful bets; he shooed me away when I snapped his photo), and wandering between the ruins (saving the actual ancient tourism for this weekend, when Mr. A gets off his conference), I asked for directions from half a dozen people.

At once point I was so lost, I couldn't even find my place on the map, so I tried to figure out where south was based on the sun. The residential streets were empty, but eventually I spotted a man coming my way.

"Do you speak English?"

He nodded. "Little."

"Thank you! Where am I?"

He told me the street name. I gave him the map, and he pointed to the intersection.

"Cafe?" he asked, then.

He looked about 45 or 50, some sort of white collar worker. Yes, he was interested in one thing alone -- coffee and maybe more with the foreign girl -- but I was also interested in something: finding out about life in Athens. I actually had a bunch of questions (cost of living, politics, EU status, social practices, and more), and I figured it would be a good asking... It could be an interesting opportunity to speak with a local, and the moment he tried to put the moves on, I'd just get up and leave.

"Ok," I nodded.

As we started walking, I asked him what he does.

"You. Toi. Engineer? Doctor? Dok-tor?"

He shrugged.

We continued walking in silence, and I started wondering how I could chat with him with the language barrier.

And then, we arrived at... an apartment building. His house, I presume.

"No, no, no," I told him. "No casa! Cafe. Corner. Street. No casa."

He pointed upstairs, made all sorts of friendly gestures.

"Cancel. Annuler. Bye," I said, and walked away.

Basic asking: Check. Interesting asking: averted, alas.

Here's the thing...

I haven't really been scoping out discounts or going out of my way to find new adventures. Every step on those ancient sidewalks, every bite of crispy, fluffy spanakopita, is an adventure.

I'm on vacation, after all. So I'm taking it easy. And there's always tomorrow...

Gained: directions from half a dozen strangers, and one declined invitation to coffee.

February 12, 2009

Exqueeze me? Please, which way is Greece?

February 12. Day 227.

Two highlights from my first hours on Greek soil:

Before dinner, while Mr. A was at the conference, I walked around the Plaka, an ancient maze of alleys filled with cafes and boutiques under the Acropolis, occasionally murmuring "Pardonakis" when I wanted to get through a crowd. I have no clue why I thought this means "Excuse me." It sounded right.

Oops.

And at the Athens airport, when I first arrived, I stopped to ask for directions. To Greece.

The airport train station was deserted, and so I asked a lone young woman if she spoke English (in English).

"No," she managed.

My turn to try.

"Parakalo? Metro?" I asked and pointed to the train platform. ("Please? Metro?")

"Ne!" Yes! she replied.

"Aha. Metro... pros hellas?" Roughly: "Aha. Metro to Greece?"

She pointed to the metro again, to show me where it was. But I needed to know the train's direction.

"Hellas?" I asked again. "Greece?"

And then I caught myself... "Atena?"

"Ne!!" she said, and laughed.

That's the problem... I know just enough Greek to get into trouble. A few words, a pronoun or two. Just enough, that is, to talk to someone who doesn't speak English and think I'm communicating.

Gained: Directions for this silly tourist.

What's the silliest thing you've said or done, as a tourist?

February 11, 2009

Networking 101: Can I have your business card? And give you mine?

February 11. Day 226.

Just got great news from a reader -- she landed an internship working for a magazine and, intrepid reporter that she is, spent a whole weekend working overtime to nab a hot story. Then, she had a thought: "I realized that since, technically, I was doing work, maybe I should be paid for those hours," she explained to me in an email. She asked her boss if she could get overtime, and the reply was a resounding yes.

"Of course!" the boss said. "Yeah, you should totally get paid for that time. You were on a pretty tight deadline there."

What if this reader hadn't asked, assumed her time wasn't worth it, or that as an intern or new writer she "owed" the company her weekend so she could prove herself?

Now, instead of being diligent but humble, she has been recognized by her boss for coming through on a deadline, she has shown the boss she knows what she's worth, and she can celebrate her extra cash -- and cachet -- with a new pair of I'm-da-bomb shoes!

Nice going. Ask, ask away!!

***

On the way to Athens, I sat next to: An engineer from San Diego with two adorable little boys, one sitting calmly next to her and one squirming on her lap; a trend setter who decides what Target and Tupperware will be selling next season and travels the world to consult about color schemes; and a Greek cargo ship captain.

I got really lucky, since each of these individuals was fascinating. With the mom-engineer, I chatted about kids, careers, tango, and how arranged marriage is changing in India (she's Indian). The captain told me about Athens -- where to go, what to see -- and about life on the high seas. And the trend setter explained how using her instinct, deep retail experience and market research, she makes decisions that millions of consumers will feel.

The more the trend setter and I talked, the more curious I got about her career and what led her down that path.

And so, motivated by this project (and my looming graduation), I did something I never do with a total stranger on an airplane: I reached out and made an ouverture to stay in touch. (Normally I avoid straight-up, unabashed self-promotion and business card exchanges. I'm kind of shy in this respect, a little scared of seeming like an overtly careerist, bum-kissing missie. Case in point: I used so clueless and careless about networking that a few years ago, I went to a professional conference with a bunch of friends from my undergrad days. At the end, we all reconvened and everyone took out the business cards they'd collected.
"I got Ali G's!"
"Well I got Jerry Fallwell's."
(Not actual conferences goers, but you get the point: big names in our field.)
"I have 18 total!"
"I totally beat you. I have 32."
"Damn... How did you get Beyonce's?" "I just asked for it."
"What are you guys talking about?" I butted in.
"We decided to see who could get the most business cards."
I was so out of the loop I didn't even know there was a contest of sorts. Typical La Roxy, circa 2003.)

This time, it seemed perfectly natural and sincere to turn to the trend setter at the end of the flight and say:

"It was a real pleasure speaking with you. Do you have a card?"

She did, and then I added that if she's ever looking for a hand with writing or marketing materials, I'd love to work with her. And I told her about my credentials. Then and there.

It was direct, it was natural, and I had nothing to lose.

Gained: three delightful conversations, and the email of someone I'd love to keep in touch with.

February 10, 2009

On branding... and national postal services

February 10. Day 225.

When I woke up this morning, my first thought was a nonverbal image/sensation/desire/qualium for two slices of pizza and a coke. Emphasis on the coke.

I don't know if it was residue from a dream, or if my alarm clock/radio had just played a commercial about pizza and coke, or if the idea was building up in me for a few days, but I remember desperately craving an icy cup of coke the moment I slid back to awareness from the dreamstate.

Moments later, I forgot. I rarely have soft drinks -- maybe a few times a year -- and I almost never "crave" them, so this was unusual.

I went about my day, packing, making sure my last minute plane ticket went through and it wasn't all a sham, or another dream, and later I met my mom for dinner again.

At dinner, the first thing I ordered was a coke, and then I remembered the craving.

All this is going somewhere. And here we are:

I wonder what has to happen in someone's brain for such an elemental need for a product to be implanted. I rarely wake up thinking about anything, except "want more sleeeep..." so how did Coke-a-cola infiltrate my hypothalamus?

And more importantly, how can I use this to become a savvier asker? or savvier anything? How can I make asking, negotiating, buying, selling, eyeing opportunities, so essential that I wake up thinking about it? Just food for thought. I'm not interested in brainwashing myself, or anyone else. (Except to encourage the City of Boston to forgive my ancient excise tax -- doesn't it degrade us both, darling, to dwell on the past?) But this is what I am curious about now.

Today, I asked twice.

First, at Target, I went to return a half dozen items I'd bought as I cleaned and decorated the new house and discovered I didn't need (a flimsy curtain rod, a clock cd/radio, some file boxes, etc), but there was a problem with almost every transaction. Once, my card didn't work when I swiped it for a refund, so the man had to give me cash (which seemed to be a painstaking procedure). Another time, I didn't find the receipt and he had to look it up on my credit card. Then, the cashier said there's a limit to three transactions.

I think he was tired at the end of a long day, but I still wanted to return my stuff and get out of there...

That's when I thought I'd ask, extra nicely.

"You're doing a great job, I know I have a lot of stuff and it's confusing us both," I tried. He smiled. So far so good. "Is there any way we can work around this?"

"Oh-- I got it! I'll ring you up now, then do the last transaction separately."

"That's awesome, thanks for working the system for me!"

Back at home, I didn't exactly ask a question, but I did embark on a fact finding mission that should save me a few bucks.

Way back in July, I asked my friend E for a special something from Paris: Caramel tea from my favorite teahouse. She replied with a 'sure, but plz send me some twizzlers!!'

I finally bought her Twizzlers -- 6 whole pounds of them -- and I was about to send them, when it occurred to me that if I'm going to Greece (and have a short stop in Amsterdam), it's probably a lot cheaper to send from Europe.

For those who have never navigated a postal website in a language you don't know, let me tell you my new theory: It tells you a lot about the society!! As I tried to find rates for mailing packages to France, the Greek site directed me to a bunch of "direct mailing" and entrepreneurial business services -- apparently, a country on the upswing, trying to build capitalist roots, trying to foster growth and b2b type interactions; just now discovering the beauty of Penny Saver-like mass mailings. But at the cost of basic and logical functionality, like rate info. No criticisim, just sayin!

The Dutch site was super slick, plastered with hearts for V-Day, and it was efficiently organized yet hyper commercial. They were even selling chocolates; also seems like a country where the mail is reliable. I immediately found the rates. (TNT is a multinational postal and freight company that operates the national mail service.)

Yet both countries are former maritime powers and, stereotypically, a land of merchants. What does that suggest: Privatization, in the case of the Dutch provider, is a good thing? The strong Dutch economy translated to a stronger web presence, while Greece, which entered the EU later and has had some problems with the currency and corruption, is focused on things other than web 2.0? Or rather that the Greek postal service is smart enough to cater exclusively to business users, if that's where the money is?

Or simply that one website is cooler than the other?

Gained: About $100 back on my card after a small hassle, and info that it's cheaper to mail the package from Amsterdam to Paris (about $15-20) than from San Diego ($45). No idea about Greece!

I'm curious, if there are any Dutch or Greek readers out there -- am I way off? Or is there something to this postal anthropology?

And... what could someone theorize about America, based on its website: usps.gov.

February 09, 2009

Divulge private info over the phone?

February 9. Day 224.

After further deliberations with Mr. A, seeking my grandmother's advice and reading comments from those wiser pet-owners out there, I'm letting the cat dream go. No hard feelings, no regrets. I've been thinking about this for a few years, but lightly, not as an actual plan; a few more years won't make a difference. It's just not the right moment, and I'm not in the right place. Thanks to all of you who weighed in -- from encouraging comments from Cathy, crusoeinengland and mi tia, to the counsel of Nita and IGC that an outside-only cat isn't feasible, to MP, who told me in all frankness that I "missed the boat" with this half-baked idea. I valued your perspectives.

Who knew a blog about negotiation and assertiveness would end up helping decide me not to get a pet!?

Today, from my mother's house, I called my credit card company and pleaded for one crucial piece of info: my card's expiration date. The card itself was sitting on my desk at home, and I was about to click "purchase" on a plane ticket on my mom's computer, 10 miles away.

I had the card number on a statement and I know the secret code, but I forgot the expiration date. And I needed it, stat, since I was about to book a ticket and I wanted to use that card (it gives me miles).

I called the company and explained the situation, and then I asked the rep to confirm the expiration date.

"Is it 3/12?" I began.

"No, I'm afraid it's not."

"Could you just tell me what it is?"

"There's no way I could do that."

"I see. No, I appreciate that. How about I try one more. What about, 3/11? Is that even close?"

"It's not right, and I can't say anything else."

"That's okay. I'm glad you can't give it out. It's good to know you're so secure. Thanks anyway."

I ended up using my debit card, because we were about to eat dinner together and I wanted to lock in a great fare. A last-minute fare to... Greece.

That's right. I found the fare today, after weeks of looking for cheap tickets and finding nothing. I may need a car, I may be a measly grad student on a measly stipend... but I work part time, I have something set aside in an IRA, the hotel is paid for, and I figure I got the rest of my life to plan ahead. If I can't hop to Athens now to meet my boyfriend for a week, when can I??

I'm leaving Wednesday.

Filia (that's xoxo in Greek),

La Roxy

Gained: No identity info, but that's a good thing, on second thought.

Continuing this recent trend of asking a question at the end of every post... have you been to Greece? did you love it? any favorite islands or suggestions?

February 08, 2009

Animal Control

February 8. Day 223.

Speaking of animals, I had a fun write-up, coincidentally on a similar topic as yesterday, but I'm not really feeling up to it. Basically, I thought there was a wild animal trapped in the garage since I heard a squealing sound coming from here. I called the animal control emergency hot line for help and the woman who I probably woke up told me to open the door myself. I asked if I should be worried about rabies or whatever, and she breezily said no. I did, nothing was there. It was just a tortured bird, flying around my house and squawking.

UPDATE:
I asked my grandmother for advice tonight, and she echoed what Anonymous wrote, below. Compromise -- that's what negotiation is about, no? However, I have decided to take down the rest of this post, which was about the developing pet saga. I just don't want this blog to become a venue for dishing about my personal life. That has nothing to do with the purpose of this project.

Onward! To discussions about finances, careers, experiences, and other negotiable, obtainable and askable benefits...

February 07, 2009

Can I get a kitty? Prrrr-ty please?

February 7. Day 222.

Mr. A called me from SFO a few hours ago for one last xo before he took off to Athens for 10 days. He has a conference through Friday, and then he'll take a few days to either visit his grandma, who lives in Europe, or explore the islands.

With 5 minutes to go before his final boarding call, I thought it was the perfect time to bring up a pressing issue.

"You know, I think it really would be a good idea if we got a cat."

"No."

"Yes."

"No."

"Meow?"

"Grrrrrr."

He is strongly anti-pet. I am strongly pro-pet. This conversation pretty much summarizes our attitudes, and the many other conversations we've had on this topic. A shorter version would be: "What a cute dog! That's just the kind I want." "Me too. For dinner." Aaak!

Originally I wanted a dog, but I realize that is more intrusive to a non-pet person, since they make noise and want attention, whereas a cat is more self-sufficient. Also, I've discovered mice in the garage!!!!! Our manager will take care of it, but to prevent future problems, I figured that getting a happy little outdoor tabby would work wonders.

Mr. A worries that he'll be stuck with the feeding, cleaning, scooping, paying. When I go off for some exotic work assignment in my future glamorous yet-to-be-determined career or travel to back to grad school before said career, he thinks he'll be on kitty or doggy duty. No pun intended. He suggested that I rent a pet, or do a time-share with a friend or neighbor. I maintained that renting isn't an option in San Diego, while a time-share would be too big a hassle (who covers immunizations? Do I have to drive 3 miles just get my daily 10 minutes? Or is it a full weekend, every other weekend? What if the co-owner has another pet with fleas, and then the fleas end up at my house? What if the co-owner wants our co-pet to do kitty yoga or be vegan or learn to doggy ski, when I think paw painting would be more enriching? Sounds too much like a custody agreement for my liking...)

To counter his worries that I couldn't take care of it alone, I explained that single people have cats too. The cat lady is a cliche for a reason. There are pet hotels and pet sitters and friends and maybe even neighbors. If I promised it wouldn't affect him at all, other than knowing an animal lives somewhere in the vicinity of our house, couldn't we try to find a compromise?

Somehow, we managed to come to an agreement just before the plane left:

The pet would always stay outside. I'd be responsible for everything pet related. I'd get a cat first, as a one year trial. If it annoys him, if he ends up stuck caring for it, it it pees on his favorite vintage grey coat leaving an indelible stench (I speak from experience, my friends), then after a year max, the cat goes bye-bye. If it proves to be no bother, then I'll keep it.

We each ironed out the details and vetoed various things. And it's not set in stone yet. I realize it's a big leap for someone who really doesn't like animals, and I'm grateful that he's open-minded enough to let me prove how unobtrusive it can be. Now, I just need to make sure it's the right thing for me to do. Financially, logistically, and time-wise. And Mr. A needs to make sure he's okay with this accord. But at least I have the green light to start thinking and planning.

Gained: The possibility of a cat. And an inspiring example of fast paced, high stakes bipartisan conflict resolution with my main squeeze. Bon voyage, cheri!

PS: Do you think it's possible for one person in a couple to have 100% responsibility for a pet, or is that just naive? Anyone else been through such a negotiation before?

February 06, 2009

Am I fat and sad, or do I just look the part?

February 6. Day 221.

A man walked up to me tonight holding a stack of books and he offered me two of his treasures. A how-to manual for lowering your cholesterol in 8 weeks, and a faded hardback from 1977 about... jogging.

He was trying to get rid of them, he didn't manage to sell them to the used bookstore down the street, and wouldn't I like these two?

I declined, telling him someone else would probably appreciate them more.

"I don't jog," I explained, smiling. (That's an understatement, by the way. Jogging is antithetical to everything I believe in. Various joggers in my life: "Just try it... Come once! It's such a high!! You can invest in some cool new shoes, listen to music, or not, and we can get an iced coffee along the way at this cute place I know, for a well-earned pick me up. Roxy: "Sounds like a plan! Can we just skip the jogging?")

"Just look through it, maybe you'll find something useful," this man said, and handed both books to me. I took them. As he walked away, I saw he had two other books in his stack -- one about personal finance and one called "Writers on Writing," which, perhaps, he'll offer to a track and field blogger?

I'm being wry, but actually this man was an interesting figure.

I was at Starbucks, trying one of their new chai latte drinks and clearing my mind after a long day. I spotted a fat leather loveseat, next to a basket full of discarded newspapers, ordered my drink and plopped down.

As I sat reading an article in TIME (which Mr. A gets thanks to a free subscription that came with a purchase at Fry's Electronics) -- about people who mooch off of news organizations for free content -- a man opened the door and headed straight for the newspaper basket.

"There goes my paper..." I thought. "But first come, first served. Namaste, old man."

And then he headed for the door.

At first I figured he had as much claim on the paper as I did. It was the communal Starbucks paper, and if I didn't claim it by putting it on a table or reading it, it was available to anyone. Even if I was sitting next to it and wanted it. Intention is nothing.

But since I bought a drink and those papers are meant for patrons (at least, I wouldn't take one without a purchase -- or asking -- and I'd apply the same standard to someone else), I felt I had dibs. Anyway, couldn't hurt to ask, right?

"Excuse me, I was about to read that paper," I began. He stopped and turned around.

"Oh. You want it? Here you go." He handed me the whole messy pile. The wrinkles on his face constricted with disappointment.

I felt bad. I didn't have a strong case -- it was in the basket next to my seat, not in my lap. And, I didn't want the whole thing -- just the A section and arts. It all took about 4 seconds, you know? And now I felt like a tyrant. My paper! I have dibs! Poor guy comes in from the cold, maybe can't afford a paper, let a lone a coffee, and I ruin his chance to catch up on the news. Or maybe he just hates Starbucks but likes current events. Who am I to judge?

"Could we share it?" I asked now. I split it in half and handed him a few sections.

"Do you have the sports section there?" he replied.

"Lemme see... I do. You want it?"

"Yeah, that's what I was looking for."

He turned around and walked away.

"Sorry," I added, still feeling like a jerk.

Then, something unexpected happened. He turned around and smiled. "Do not be sorry," he commanded. "Be happy."

And he offered me his books.

Gained: The A Section. Two books I don't want, but someone else might. Any takers?

February 05, 2009

Free dessert? Or rather: Free. Dessert.

February 5. Day 220.

I just got back from Denny's, where Mr. A and I waited an hour for some nachos and a hot skillet plate. We went out to eat especially because we wanted it to be quick. Neither of us had time or desire to chop onions or do dishes. I was planning on making some baby octopus in red wine, but I got lost in work and by the time he got home I hadn't started.

And we were hungry.

Instead of an efficient and satisfying meal, we spent almost 2 hours there, most of it waiting.

Before the food came, about an hour after we ordered, I asked the manager for a dessert on the house. I would have asked the waiter, but he was MIA. There was no hesitation or internal dialogue here. If Mr. A didn't love them sizzlin' skillets, I'd have high-tailed it ages ago. I think it was more of a monotone, because by then I was trying to curb my seething impatience (which I have now funneled into this post and the accompanying illustration).

"Any chance we could get a free dessert after waiting so long."

"That's fine. What would you like?"

"Do you have apple pie."

"Yes. I'll let your server know."

Apparently she didn't let him know, because he brought us the bill a minute after he brought the food (Now you're being efficient? The moment I shove a nacho in my mouth?), so I asked him directly.

Gained: One big slice of apple pie. Menu Price: $3 or so. Actual price for my wasted hour. $150. What I've decided I'm worth, especially when I'm feeling disrespekted.

On the other hand, it was time spent with Mr. A, between our busy workdays and a long night of more work planned for both of us. So it also was a blessing in disguise. Even if it was at a filthy Denny's, under fluorescent lights, with four squawking children two booths away. Even if our food was an hour late. Even if they tried to skip our free dessert. Even if we did leave a decent tip, despite everything, because maybe, maybe it wasn't the waiter's fault. Even if the bathrooms were eww. We talked about Google Latitude and something I asked on Craigslist, which you'll read about next Tuesday... and we shared a slice of pie. That was nice.

So, have you ever asked for anything free from a restaurant, o ravenous reader? What was your most juicy, succulent experience with that?

February 04, 2009

Medieval balconies... Heartbreaking 101... And bourbon or beer?

February 4. Day 219.

The poet Virgil was certainly a king of verse, and he sure knew his way around Hell, but maybe he should have taken some clues from Ovid about wooing and wowing of ladies. Can't have it all, I guess.

According to a medieval legend, Virgil was such a pushy suitor that one fed up damsel decided to teach him a lesson. She invited him to hop into a basket, saying she'll pull him up into her balcony for a little tete a tete. And then she left him hanging there. All night. For the whole town to see.

In my research today, I came across this and a few more enchanting images and stories from the medieval period. My dissertation is about a totally different moment -- the 19th century -- and believe me, shifting from 1150 to 1850 is as different as, I don't know, comparing effective marginal tax rates to bovine taxidermy?

So I emailed a former professor, a scholar of medieval French, for a little help. Normally such emails are standard procedure in a scholarly community. My only worry was that I'd taken a class with her years before, and completely fallen out of touch. Was it rude to suddenly write and ask for advice, after years of silence?

So I wrote a note that began "It's been a few years since we crossed paths after History of the French Language. I hope your research and teaching have all been going splendidly. =)" Then I briefly told her about my research and asked her for any tips about medieval balconies.

She wrote back a few hours later with suggestions; "
it is nice to hear from you," she began.

Gained I: A list of medieval dictionaries to check out, and her confirmation that one of the poems I found may actually be the earliest written use of the word "balcon." Coooool.

(Yes, I'm a neeeerd. We've established that ages ago. Moving on.)

Later, my mom, her German visitor, Mr. A and I went to Humphrey's By the Bay, a rock/jazz/latin venue situated by -- yes, indeed -- the bay. Jem's father plays keyboard for the Johnny Eager Band, and they had a gig there. I've been to hear them a few times at another place, and their music has a very danceable bluesy rock feel. At the end of the night, I got the idea of sending him a drink from our table. But what does he drink? I didn't have a clue.

I asked the waitress if she could check with him, when they were on a break. At first she said no, but as she made rounds I saw her dash up and ask him, between sets.

Gained II: He got his drink, he didn't seem at all bothered by the interruption, and we had the fun of knowing someone in the band!! Woohoo! Raise your lighters!!

So, reader... have you ever made it backstage, or sent a band member a drink, or ever been a groupie in any shape or form? Alternately, what's the cruelest thing you've done to tell a guy or girl you're just not that interested? (No worries, we're all anonymous here... You, way more than I am!)

February 03, 2009

Ceasefire?

February 3. Day 218.

For years, someone and I have been having an ongoing argument about something. This topic comes up at regular intervals, about every six months, whether there's a prior directly aggravating factor or a much older trigger; the conversation unfolds in generally the same way every time (starts with reproaches on both sides, then simmers to a frustrated or resigned "Let's just set this aside, since we're not convincing each other," and either moves to an icy chill of days or weeks or a friendly continuation of how things were, pre-talk.)

This someone (ok, fine, my dad) brought up this topic (ok, fine, something related to our family) again today.

As we reached minute 40 and the conversation was drawing to an end, I had a thought: Could we draw this to a close, once and for all? Could we each accept the other's different attitudes and approaches? I came up with a proposal that would give him a chance to get these complaints off his chest, and then we'd lay the subject to rest, forever. We are so close, and there are sooo many many other things to talk about...

"I have an idea," I told him. "Until I turn thirty, you can raise this subject as often as you want to. We can talk about it, I'll listen to what you have to say, no hestations or objections, but the day I turn 30, we don't bring it up again. Do you agree?"

"Fine. I agree."

Gained: A ceasefire, dated August 2010.

I imagine my request made him sad. Or maybe he just thought I'm being childish, narrow minded, heartless, impatient, intolerant, a disappointment. As he reads this (since he is one of my most faithful readers), his heart will probably beat faster with sadness or indignation. Maybe he'll also be upset I'm blogging about it, or perhaps he will feel he's failed in some degree as a parent, if the daughter he raised acts differently from his beliefs and wants to close a line of communication like that. Or maybe he'll laugh. "My own daughter? Making such a dramatic request? Of course I'll relax! Just stop taking everything so seriously, kiddo! Don't get an ulcer over this. I rest my case," he could say with his gentle smile.

These transitions are hard, and as my parents age and my life becomes more enmeshed with theirs (after the cocoon of college and living in a distant city), I fear they're only going to get harder. A few days ago, my mom stopped by my house without calling and I snapped at her. That was unkind of me. She would never get angry if I came home unannounced. She'd run up and hug me. I have a key to her house (which was also mine until recently), while Mr. A and I have decided not to give keys to any of our relatives. Why didn't I open the door and welcome her in?

Is that what growing up is? Drawing a thicker line between yourself and those closest to you? From having people wipe your butt and read you stories every night to telling them "Please don't talk to me about that subject," or "Please don't come over without letting me know first." That can't be right...

Ideally, a kid would never stop seeking the counsel of his or her parents, and I treasure advice from both of mine. I mean that. I'm really blessed in that department. Yet how much influence should they have when I raise my kids? On the flipside (and far more frightening): how much influence should my sister and I have when they make medical decisions? Will I read these words one day, in the distant future, when I can only imagine their advice or desires, and weep with regret?

With that, gentle reader, you're getting a glimpse of my life btb (beyond this blog). As simple and light as everything might seem here (happy grad student! career aspirations! tango and dessert! dashing boyfriend!) there's more to it than that...

What's the hardest thing you've ever asked your parents???

February 02, 2009

Hello, Twitter! And... craigslist discount, again?

February 2. Day 217.

I've joined Twitter!

My page is twitter.com/thedailyasker.

Or, in twitterspeak, @thedailyasker.

I'm not sure why I did, but lately I've been reading and hearing about it incessantly, so I thought I'd give it a try for a week or two. Feel free to track me, or let's trade tweets, or whatever it is people do!

***

Besides joining Twitter today...

La Divina left. I took a long nap. I bought a table.

I really needed something spacious to work on, since I kept setting up camp on Mr. A's desk. It was about time I found a space of my own.

Old Reliable (Craigslist) led me to a hardwood table for $25. I've long debated between getting a desk and a simple table; I think a desk would seem diligent and productive, but be encumbering. With a table, I can set it up however I want. File boxes beneath or beside, a row of books bordering the wall, or not... Here is the picture from the CL ad:

When I picked up the table, I asked what I knew I must: "Would you take $20?"

Without a blink, she said yes.

Later, I asked her where she got the table from.

"Craigslist."

The seller, a senior in college who's majoring in writing, lives in an apartment that reminded me very much of my first home out of college. An old blue house, on the third floor, with slanted ceilings, a roommate, lustrous hardwood floors and a cozy, bohemian feel. Ahh, 2002-2003 -- first year of grad school, first year I sat at my own kitchen table and read Plato and Derrida and felt so overwhelmed and exhilarated... Time flies!! Tables remain.

Gained: $5.

February 01, 2009

Two out of three

February 1. Day 216.

Today I asked three times, got two yesses and a no. Here we go...

Pancake Quest

It was La Divina's last day in town and she really wanted pancakes with fresh fruit on top, so I tried my best to make it happen. The only difficulty was that it was 2:30 when she got this craving, and brunch was over.

On our way to Coronado, where we were headed since she hadn't seen it yet, I made a few calls to some diners and cafes I knew serve good breakfast food, asking about their brunch menu. No one was still making pancakes. Case closed.

(I could have made them myself -- I regularly do -- but the idea was to explore San Diego as much as possible! Onward...)

Chorizo Quest

Instead, we ended up at the legendary Hotel Del Coronado, which has a really quaint beach side bar and tasty munchies. I ordered nachos with no beans, and instead they brought them with no beans -- and no chorizo. I asked the waiter if we could get some chorizo, and he replaced the entire portion.

Meanwhile, everyone was gathered around the TV and cheering, and I was wondering what was going on. I eventually noticed a headline on my cell phone. The Superbowl!? Today!? Totally missed it.

Pancakes: Found!

On our way to Denny's, which is an American institution if ever there was one, Mr. A got an idea: what about that 24 hour diner in Coronado that makes these scrumptious breakfast plates? Didn't they have them? Or in the worst case, a bacon double cheeseburger?

We zoomed over, we found exactly what we were looking for, and she ordered her last pancakes on U.S. soil. With strawberries.

Last but not least

I forgot the third thing I asked for... if I remember, I'll add it on later...

Gained: Bean free nachos. Doesn't seem like much. (Unless you're me.)