Recent Posts

March 31, 2009

Please explain my health insurance benefits again?

March 31. Day 274.

You know how it goes. Grad school, responsibilities, blah blah blah. Which means I only got around to editing or writing the last three posts tonight. (I say edit first and then write, because some posts I write the day-of, but I don't hit "publish" until after I've read them over, a day or two later.) What wouldn't I give to do this full time. Write you a tender letter every morning describing what I negotiated the day before. Give you the steamy blow by blow. You dashing reader, you.

But until then, gotta finish that dissertation. Oh yes, and become independently wealthy.

Well. Today I asked for something important -- something I was tempted to overlook. I have a freckle that has been acting a little bit funny, and this morning I decided I want to get it checked out. Since I'm in San Diego, and my doctors are in Boston, I have a maximum of three doctors visits out of town, and for a trip to the dermatologist I worried I'd need a referral, which would put me at four visits, not three.

At least, that's what I thought my insurance company explained to me last spring, when I moved to San Diego and got bronchitis.

Rather than assume I remembered things correctly and wallow, I emailed my insurance company today, inquiring if I am allowed to go without a referral or how exactly "we" (read they) can resolve this situation if I've run out of visits. I'm not coming back to Boston soon, and I think it would be unwise to wait, I explained.

(I almost didn't write this, since I know a lot of my friends read this. Not to mention my parents. Don't worry!! Just a precautionary measure.)

Gained: Waiting for their answer...

Wishing everyone good health!

March 30, 2009

Can we meet earlier?

March 30. Day 273.

I fell asleep late and woke up early, resulting in about 2 hours of actual shuteye last night. Too many things going on.

But I was delirious all day. I really don't understand how other people do it.

I did manage to drive, interact with people, order a coffee and benefit from its rush for a few hours, and I briefly managed to think. Yes, I wrote a few coherent sentences. But I felt like my head was stuck in a vat of Elmer's glue. Things moved slower, they stuck together, and everything was bathed in a gooey, translucent, white haze of delirious exhaustion.

By early that evening, sleep was pressing upon my brows with the strength and insistence of the scent of a heavy cheese that melted on the seat cushions of your car after being forgotten there one balmy Tuesday last summer, after a potluck picnic where too many people brought cheese and not enough people brought bread so you decided to leave the extra pieces in the car, on a napkin, for a couple of hours. Little did you know it the temperature inside a car can top 120 degrees.

Yes I was so tired, I even wrote a long string of horrible metaphors and repeated myself, that's how tired I was.

I had made plans with a friend of La Divina who's in town for a few weeks from Milano. The idea was to grab a drink together. But around 7, I thought I'd check if we could meet earlier.

"Can we meet earlier?" I asked, more or less, in choppy Italian.

She didn't answer my message, so I picked her up at 8. And I felt animated and energized! Amazing how some people can have that effect on others.

Gained: No schedule shift, but made a nice new acquaintance.

Really, how do medical residents do it? (Hmmm... a future asking is creeping up! Oh my God! I vow I shall one day ask for this, and find a way to secure legal clearance: Ask a student if I can tag along for an entire hospital shift. What would that be like?!)

March 29, 2009

Girl talk! Do my makeup?

March 29. Day 272.

Mr. A has been in Korea for the past week, for a conference. On Friday he called to say he's heading into the demilitarized zone, and Saturday he called to say he made it back alive.

Three interesting things he reported, on a staticky phone call, about his day trip: Both North and South Korea have set up propagandistic "model villages" near the border, to show tourists just how great life is on their side of the economical/ideological divide. Both towns are happy, shiny places. Both would do their mamas proud. But there's one big difference between them: The Northern town is uninhabited. Once in a while, employees show up and turn the lights on or off to make it seem alive.

Second, the North Korean guards were depressingly thin, while their southern cousins were downright portly in comparison.

Third, the Northern guards operate with a buddy system. This is not to protect one another in case of combat or look behind one other's shoulders alertly as they roam the DMZ. It is so that each soldier can shoot his partner if he tries to escape.

(If I occasionally share gratuitous tidbits such as this, gentle reader, things that have nothing to do with "asking" or even "daily," it's because I find them interesting. That's worth something too, isn't it?)

***

Today I celebrated my "unhealthy origins" by indulging in a fully decadent practice of cosmetic application.

Jem and I had lunch, we talked about boob jobs, our own jobs, other people's cute babies, and wondered if marriage really does kill your sex life (any one with insights or opinions, please make your views known in the comments!!), and then she came over to make banana bread. In the middle of this estrofest, while the breads were baking, we moved to the living room and our conversation rolled around to make-up. She had applied her eyeshadow in a very alluring manner, and I was curious about her methods.

"I've been wanting how to do the smokey eye look," I continued. Mr. A was coming back in a few hours, so maybe I could surprise him. She said it's all about the eyeliner, and you know what happened next. "Can you show me?"

We moved to my bedroom, where I have a very clean, very uncluttered vanity table. Read: I rarely wear makeup. Somewhere between once a year and once a decade, I resolve to become more makeup friendly. I go to the cosmetic counter of FancyBrands (i.e. whatever department store is in the city I'm living in at the time) and spend heaps on new products. In Paris, I remember, I paid something like $30 (or was it euros!?) on a brush, at the insistence of my far more fashion forward shopping companion, Francesco. "A brush will make such a difference. Trust me!!" How exactly did he know? I know not. But I have learned that in matters of taste its techniques, Francesco is de man.

I still have that brush. Memories.

Jem decided that a soft violet shadow would do wonders to open up my baby hazels, so we went with that. Next, eyeliner, finally mascara. I was transformed. A whole new person. A whole new asker.

Ok, not really. But it was fun!!

Gained: Make up tips, and an afternoon of baking, boys and gossip -- that is, felt like a 12-year-old again.

March 28, 2009

Thinking about value... and buy my valuable furniture?

March 28. Day 271.

If you're an economist, or didn't almost flunk college econ like yours truly (thank God for grade inflation), please forgive me. The next post is going to be a sleeper. Probably what you covered on day one of business school. No, what you figured out when you started selling used Porsches out of your mom's garage when you were 15. No, what you learned when you were 7 and ran a successful lemonade business, followed by a neighborhood IPO. So how about you go play catch with your son or bake some peanut butter macadamia cookies. You have better things to do. Trust me. Shoo. Scram!

But if you're like me, dear reader, and consider "plus" and "minus" to be the most aggressive tools in your bag of accounting tricks or wouldn't be caught dead calculating a tip in your head when you have a cell phone in your pocket, read on. You might find this interesting.

Here's my thought for the day: Value. So much about negotiation requires knowing what your goal is worth to you. Do you really want that house for $400,000? What about $600,000? When will you walk away?

The same goes for sellers: At what point do you refuse to make the sale? And, what do you charge to maximize your profits but stay competitive?

These are some questions that are creeping into the back of my mind as I approach certain negotiable transactions...

Like today.

This morning, I did a major declutter-cleaning. Yeah, we just moved, and it finally sank in that we have too much stuff. Would have been nice to know that before lugging it from the old place. I piled trash bags of clothes, shoes & more by the door, and dragged over a few items I'm hoping to sell on Craigslist.

I posted three things -- two shelves and a lamp -- and asked for more than what I spent to buy them. Besides being a greedy little trollope, I'm also curious: How informed are shoppers on Craigslist? An object's value is, by one measure, whatever I sell it for. So... will people catch on? And, a second question: if Target decided the lamp is worth $40 and appealed to a grad student, will a $60 lamp appeal to someone with deeper pockets? Might someone like that lamp more if it costs more?

According to one analyst, selling overpriced services and goods is just a question of semantics. Overpriced? Or worth the money? Geoffrey James, at Sales Machine, states that "Both concepts are completely dependent upon context and perception."

For example, when you offer an intangible benefit to the buyer, above and beyond what the competition offers, you're adding value. So if you're not charging more, you're basically discounting.

But what if you're a jerk like me? Selling used furniture, with no added value, at a premium price? Geoffrey says that's ok, too
Let’s suppose that there’s no good reason whatsoever why your offering costs more than the competition. (Maybe your boss just wants to buy a new yacht.) In that case, it is still possible to transform being overpriced into a intangible advantage, providing that you sell to customers who automatically associate “high priced” with “better.” And don’t kid yourself, there are plenty of people who think that way.
Basically, the sucker model. (Here's his his full explanation, which is much more detailed.)

Within hours, I got lots of takers for two shelves, but for the lamp, a woman replied to say it's selling new for $30.

Gained: Hoping for $10 profit on the shelves. Still waiting for a taker on the lamp, before I adjust the price. At worst, I hope, charging more than I paid will allow me to break even when shoppers haggle.

One last thought: much of this project has been geared toward minimizing losses -- through discounts and the like -- since my grad student stipend is the same every month. But what I've been wanting to do is find ways to maximize my gains. Normally, I could ask for a raise, find reasonable ways to charge clients more, or negotiate a salary when I start a new job. But since these aren't happening (yet), I've done the next best thing.

What do you think? How does the concept of value play into your thoughts when you're deciding whether -- and how -- to negotiate?

March 27, 2009

Goofus and Gallant, may I have your chair?

March 27. Day 270.

I had drinks tonight with a friend at Tower 23, the waning but still hip beachfront bar with excellent raspberry margaritas. Metrosexuals abounding. The perfect place for La Roxy to play wingwoman to her saucy friend, La Senorita, for an evening.

On the patio, we spotted a single table and no chairs. Fortunately, there were two empty chairs on opposite ends of the bar. We each tackled one.

I asked the woman sitting next to one at the far end of the bar if I could take it.

"No. It's his," she replied, nodding toward a man who was standing nearby. I left.

La Senorita went after the other chair, which was next to a pair of men. One was sitting; the other was not, but had his jacket draped across it. Surprise surprise, she got the chair.

Gentlewoman that she is, she didn't sit down, and of course I didn't either. Not with one chair between the two of us. The guys who gave her the chair came up and teased us. "You wanted a place to hold your purses?"

"No! It's just that she won't sit in it because I don't have one. She's too sweet!" I said, laughing. You know what they did next. Gave us their only other chair.

No quid pro quo. No creepiness or trying to butt in on our conversation. Just nice guys, who will be honored into perpetuity on this blog.

Once we thanked them and sat down, I glanced back for a moment, out of curiosity, to see if the first guy was still standing by his chair or using it. He was standing.

What was this? He quickly walked up to our table! Did I miss something?

"Excuse me," he began. "I don't want to be too forward, but I noticed you were looking at me. Are you coming on to me?" He really said this. I have witnesses.

"No, I just wanted your chair," I replied.

"Oh. Because I thought I saw you staring at me."

"No, at your chair," La Senorita replied. "We were curious why your girlfriend wouldn't give it to us, when you're not using it."

"That's not my girlfriend. Do you ladies mind if I join you?"

"Actually we do. We haven't seen each other in a while and we were looking forward to catching up tonight. But you have a great evening," I explained.

Gained: Two chairs. And a story.

March 26, 2009

Group discount for a spa day?

March 26. Day 268.

Yuck. I just had a sip of bottled water that tastes like a plastic chemical crap.

Shudder.

Ok. So.

I've taken on my first assignment as an asker!

Every few weeks, I get together with a group of girls and we hang out. Watch a movie, go out for dinner, whatever. One of them suggested we have a spa day, and I offered to call around and see what kind if group rate or special package I could find.

It's a weird tradition, if you think about it: have your body buffed and primed, poked and abrased, your hairs removed and your toxins sucked away by organic compounds, in public, for exorbitant prices, while discussing men. All in order to please the men you've just been discussing.

In any case. Here are the results of my first round of inquiries, in the order I called.

1. Indigo, a boutique salon and spa, offered 10 percent off of any individual service. No discounts on package deals (like massage and facial) because those are already discounted.

I didn't push for anything better. Other places to call first.

2. Aqua Day Spa, a larger outfit, offered ten sauna visits for $150 (aka $15 per person, from $20). For scrubs and massages, they have a "buy 10 get 1 free" $900 package (aka $81 per person).

I explained people might not want both scrub and massage, and $81 plus $15 for the sauna was above our budgets. Could we pay less and use less -- i.e. only massage or scrub, plus sauna?

"That's okay, in that case you will get a credit," she replied.

"I don't want to pay for something I won't use."

She was getting confused, or I was being confusing. (There was also a language barrier.) So I tried again, calmly and clearly:

"I'm trying to get the most competitive package. I am calling several places, and I will select the one that can work with my budget. I am looking for a package for 7 to 10 women, who want to pay around $60 to $70 for massage or scrub and sauna. Is that possible?"

(Yes, $60 is low, but that would let them raise it to $80 while including the sauna rather than tacking it on. I hope!)

She said she must check with the owner. Sounds good.

3. Estancia, in La Jolla, serenaded me with sexy bossa nova while the spa concierge made her way to the telephone. She the told me to email someone else to arrange this package. And the email she she gave me was from a different company, someone at "destination hotels" -- basically someone corporate.

Too much trouble. And from the look of their website, too pricey for a glorified nail salon. (Ok, fine, it is the lap of luxury! Sumptuous serene luxury! Luxury I can't afford! Next?)

4. Hair and Nail Studio. It's a small operation, family owned, and a far cry from Estancia. With prices to match. (Disclosure: I get my legs waxed there. Susan, the owner, is wonderful. Here's the website.)

I asked if we could get facials, plus mani-pedis, for $60. She thought about it, then agreed.

I think that's a great deal. But the vibe is more "maintenance" than "indulgence." Bright lights, can-do attitude. Not "ommmmmmm." I don't think the girls will go for it.

5. Hyde-Edwards looks great -- from its website and Yelp reviews, at least. (Though, I don't trust yelp ever since they took down my negative review of a place. Still, I use it once in a while for things like this -- lists of places to check out.)

She told me about their regular group special, which is full price, but includes free champagne and fruits.

I asked if it would be possible to get a discount on top of that. She said no.

Wrap-up: I didn't try very hard. Just by asking, I got up to 20 percent off of services at a mix of salons. And "free" champagne.

Next, I will go back and negotiate with the final two or tree contenders. Personally, I'm leaning for Aqua Day Spa. I'm all about the sauna!! Or Hyde-Edwards, if I could get those prices to come down just a bit.

Gained: Update next week.

(Above, pictures from spas around the world. What would an alien think... torture? birth canal? other aliens? )

March 25, 2009

Daily Asker: Here To Stay!

March 25. Day 268.

Faster than you can say "Daily Asker Taskmaster," this project is becoming something else. Months ago, I used to be on a constant lookout for opportunities and set out thinking of ways to ask -- and if I didn't find any that day, I used to go out of my way to ask at, say, 1 a.m. Some of my favorite posts grew from that desperation. (Sorority and Pedicab, for example.)

Now, I'm still pausing in the evening to make sure I've asked -- but almost always, I find that I have. In other words, it's getting to be natural and spontaneous, and less about me saying, "I'm must ask for something today! Ak! Ok, I guess I'll ask the bus driver if I can take over for at the wheel for five minutes." Lately, I wasn't even thinking about it. I didn't make a particular effort or feel my heart racing out of anxiety or excitement.

It wasn't contrived.

In other words....

I've made asking a routine. This is both fantastic, since it means that after 9 months of doing it daily, I've finally raised the bar to where looking for opportunities and becoming assertive is approaching second nature.

It's also worrisome, because, type-A that I am, I am not easily satisfied with my results. My next natural question is, what next? How do I bring asking to the next level? How do I become not just a daily asker, but a better daily asker?

A few ways come to mind.

First, I need to plug back into the news. At the beginning of this project, I was always looking for "negotiation" and even the word "asking" in the news. I'd post the links here, and it was food for thought. If I start doing that again, it will help me see others in action, and keep asking on my mind.

Second, I need to raise the bar in terms of what I'm asking for. Not every day, but whenever the opportunity arises. I think I've gotten comfortable with the notion that I've asked, and that's that. But maybe I shouldn't be satisfied with a free cookie anymore. Maybe I should ask for the recipe itself. Aim bigger. Aim realistically, practically (or not!), but bigger. Stop being so comfortable. One amazing thing this project has done was force me to evaluate what I want and need, what are my priorities, who and what I'm willing to speak up for. Whether it's my grandmother's dignity, or silence on a bus. Well, I can keep up the routine, but find ways to stretch. Optimize. Constantly reevaluate. Ask for the pony because I want the pony, not the kitten. And get the pony.

Third, I need to develop new methods that actually get me what I want, and look for different opportunities, not just more of the same. Of course, "just opening my mouth and asking," which was the initial catchphrase of this project, has led to many fantastic gains and experiences. But there are many things I did want, and didn't get. Why did I get rejected? What could I have done differently? Time to take stock. Since I'm not often buying cars or negotiating house down payments, I think I need to outsource. Myself, that is. Find people who are approaching larger transactions and offer to step in, with the guarantee I'll back off the moment the want me to. That would be an essential way to use my new skills, and develop newer ones.

Fourth, and I think this is a big one. I need to tap into the experts. That's what got me started in the first place: the book Women Don't Ask, which changed my approach to transactions and interactions from the first chapter. It was a wake-up call. I recently bought the authors's next book, Ask for It, which I'm about to start reading. Well, how else can I keep learning? Who else is out there? What other writers, researchers -- or bloggers -- are approaching this or similar subjects? What other books are good on this subject?

Fifth, I need to get the word out. Do you have any friends who are reporters or bloggers, who could write about The Daily Asker? Do you read any websites or blogs that could link back to me? How about you send them my link! Having people visit this site and leave comments is a major motivator. Otherwise I could ask and not document it, or skip a day and no one would know but me. You guys keep me on task. So... if you know anyone who might like this site, please take a moment to email them the link or mention it next them they could have -- or should have -- asked. Women, men, kids, grandmas, employees, bosses, friends. This post would be a good place to start, actually!

Finally: Long to-do list. So little time. Between finishing grad school, finding work and living my life, there's no way I'm going to get this all done in under three months. So... I'm starting to think that I can't stop in July!! I mean, I had all these plans. Nab a great starting salary. Ask for a better car deal. Ask for a tour of Asker, Norway. Ask for a segway ride. I'm not even halfway to where I want to be, in terms of negotiated gains. I've parked my fear at the door and learned to speak up, I've looked for slick ways to get what I want, but there's so much left to tackle.

And so... at the bottom of this long post, for anyone who is still reading, I'm announcing that unless my lips get sealed shut on July 1 or I develop the Negotiation Superpower overnight, I will keep on asking! And keep blogging about it!!

Thanks to all of you readers who have been following my adventures, sending me your ideas, questions and encouragement. You've brought this project to a whole different dimension!

Speaking of asking... I was playing around on cooltext.com, a logo generator, and came up with about 12 possible logos for this site. Just for fun, ya know? I made a file with them and today, I asked the man sitting next to me what he thought. Within about 10 seconds, he told me he liked the second one. Hands down. It's also one of my favorites. I have a few more ideas for year two. The logo is just frosting. Stay tuned!!

Gained: 266 days of asking, and counting.

March 24, 2009

Mr. President? 10 questions for Obama

March 24. Day 267.


Today, I asked for something I've wanted to since Day 1. Back in July, when the campaign was still roaring, I had wanted to ask Obama -- or either of the candidates, why not? -- a question in a debate or town hall meeting. I never got that chance.

Well, today I did!

The White House has an online forum for submitting questions, which the president may answer on Thursday. From the Washington Post:
This afternoon, WhiteHouse.gov launched "Open for Questions," an interactive page where users can post questions on the economy and vote the submitted questions up or down. The site will continue taking questions until Thursday, when President Obama will go online to answer those that received the most votes. (more here)
So please... vote for mine!! You can search for the bold phrases below, since otherwise the questions would be hard to spot. The more votes I get for each question, the bigger chance he'll use one of mine!

Here's the site:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/openforquestions/

Here are my questions. They run the gamut, since the more I submit, the more chances I have of catching some White House aid's eye.
  • "At a time when U.S. consumers and their banks are holding on for dear life, credit card companies are still free to levy fees, change terms, and raise interest rates with very little government oversight. What are your plans for the credit industry?"
  • "What do you think is the greater threat to the U.S. economy, in the short term (next six months) and long term (next year): deflation or inflation?"
  • "How do you plan to help working parents-to-be, so that our country catches up with the rest of the industrialized world? Longer paid maternity/paternity leave, better early childcare, and/or other programs?"
  • As a working woman, I was thrilled when you signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act on January 27. Woohoo!! I'm curious, though, why did you decide that would be the first bill you signed in office as the symbolic start to your presidency?
  • "Are you still 100% committed to reforming health care in this country, or has that been sidelined by the budget and financial maelstrom? If you are still committed, when will Americans start seeing changes to this broken system?"
  • "What criteria would you use for selecting a Supreme Court Justice, if the need arose? Political ideology, judicial record, professional/personal reputation, demographic background?"
  • "I'm about to complete a PhD in the humanities, and jobs are scarce. I would be lucky to get a short-term adjunct position, but the thought of no health insurance, no career growth and low compensation scares me. What's your advice... law school?"
  • "From kindergarten to college, what will you do to make sure that American students can compete in a global market?"
  • "President Obama, may I come see you in the White House for a day, to get a real life glimpse of what you do as our nation's leader?"
  • "What kind of negotiation skills do you use when you develop and then campaign for a budget or other proposal? (I have a blog about negotiation, http://thedailyasker.blogspot.com, and I'm always on the lookout for advice and strategies from experts.)"
Yes, the last two are unabashed plugs, but if there's one thing I've learned this year, it's that it rarely hurts to ask.

By the way, let me know if you send him a question of your own!

xo,
La Roxy

March 23, 2009

Status of my application?

March 23. Day Day 266.

Super simple asking for a super simple day:

Followed up with a potential freelance employer. Asked if he had gotten my email and wanted to discuss further.

Fingers crossed he did, and does...

Gained: TBD.

PS: Keeping these posts short becase I'm on a mega-thesis deadline. Still asking. Still updating. Just consider these mini dispatches as "The Daily Asker" on fast forward. Toodles!

March 22, 2009

Pre-sale price or adjustment?

March 22. Day 265.

100 days left!! I am adding a countdown timer, just so I don't lose sight of the momentous July 1 deadline to see what I've gained and learned by asking for 365 days straight.

And now, quick report of a quick interaction:

I asked for a pre-sale discount on four stemless margarita glasses I purchased this afternoon. I was denied.

"You can get a price adjustment within 14 days. They're not going on sale any time soon," she added.

Gained. Nadissima. (This is a generic version -- will post pics as soon as I inaugurate them. Mmmm!)

March 21, 2009

Czerny's Revenge

March 21. Day Day 264.

Czerny. Light of my life, fire of my fingers. My sin, my soul. Czer-ny: the tip of the fingers tapping thrice as the tongue taps twice to enounce your maddening name. Czer, as in Cher, Ny as in Niet. Not dear, dear...

His first name was Carl, but to me he was, and will always be, Czerny.

(With apologies to Nabokov.)

I sat down this afternoon and did some Czerny exercises. For those of you who were blessed with piano lessons, this name will surely be familiar to you, as well as to your neighbors. Up and down the keyboard, skipping a note. Back down, skipping two. Over and over. And over. (see below.)

All in the name of strength, dexterity, flexibility and discipline.

Uber-yah.

Now, Czerny wasn't the hotshot of the musical world. He studied under Beethoven and was a respected teacher. But he was no, how you say, maestro.

Yet look how content he looks, almost stifling a smile beneath those taut lips, that impertinent tuft of hair, that hopeful gaze of his. Could strength, dexterity, flexibility and discipline be the key to inner peace? Fulfillment? Fortune? (He did die a wealthy man, thanks to his music, and late in composer years: 66!)

No. I'll tell you why he's smiling. Because unlike Beethoven and Shostakovich, who are enjoyed by only the most skilled of pianists, Czerny actually gets play. Daily. All over the world. Thousands of hands everywhere, doing his bidding. If that's not a sure path to immortality, I don't know what is.

Well, as I attempted to decipher those notes of his, my fingers stumbled something awful. (Wow -- I would never say that sentence in real life, so what would I write it? I will keep it here, if only to document the wild and zany experiment that is this blog.)

But it was still playing, of sorts, and it felt amazing.

Why am I telling you this?

Because for the first time in years, I was playing on my very own piano!

And to get to this happy point, of course I asked for something.

Now that I live in a house and I'm planning on staying here a while, my mom suggested I take my piano. Years ago, she moved it to the garage, deeming it too ugly for the living room. ("I don't have room for it anymore," she explained gingerly, but with a little prodding I found out the real reason. No problem. I was at college and never touched it when I came home, so why shouldn't she replace it with a pair of bookcases?)

An hour ago, a pair of brawny movers delivered it to my house, and here we are now. Before, when I called to schedule the move and asked for a quote, the mover asked what other figures I'd heard.

"Why don't you give me a quote first?" I replied.

"$125."

"Really. I've gotten $100."

"Alright, $100."

Gained: Sort of $25. I definitely had heard $100 from other movers, but I wanted to use these guys since they were available first. So actually, I saved a week, not $25. Either way -- I'm thrilled!

March 20, 2009

Two effing good promos!

March 20. Day 263.

Update: I went to see the nearby Ikea shelf and asked the seller for a discount. He agreed. So far, no Craigslister since July 1 has turned down my request for $5 off -- whether the asking price is $40 or $20. Interesting...

Am I shooting too low?

My question today was for a project that's still just a twinkle in my eye. I have decided to register and host a few domains for future uses, and I came across a company with some good specials now. One promo code informed me, "Congratulations, you are getting our best rate possible!" (Something like that.) But I wasn't buying it. What if there was something better, more up to date? So I called their agent and asked her to price out the total with each of the three codes I had found.

Turns out, the promo that promises the best rate is only for 20% off, for a total of $119. I also had a different code, for 50% off, which brought the total to $71.

Eff-yeah!!!!*

Gained: $48.

Earlier, I tried signing up for a new promo at the bank. The flyer, "Earn $50 blah blah blah," screamed New Customers Only, but it was worth a try. "Can I sign up for this?" I asked the teller. "Not if you already have an account," she replied. No prob. (But if you have some cash to spare, gentle reader, and access to Bank of America, you can always sign up, earn your perk and close out! Here's the link.)

Gained II: Nothing lost, nothing gained.

*I'm not usually this demure. Ask around, and you'll find out that this percussive word and I became fast friends at the age of 4 (my age -- the word was at least 700 years old that year). One day, my neerdowell buddy -- which is to say, my absolutely amazing and inspiring troublemaker of a friend -- Stuart, taught me to play a game.

"I'm going to whisper something in your year, and then you yell it at the top of your lungs, OK?"

I agreed.

"Fuck," he whispered.

I'd never heard it before. I figured I'd get in trouble if Stuart was involved, but I wanted to do it anyway. "FUCK!"

"Do it again!"

"FuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucK!"

"Louder!"

"FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU-- Tata?"

My dad had bolted over. He sent Stuart away, spanked me, and shut me in my room.

These days, every time I use swear words on this site, my dad calls and berates me for being a poorly mannered young lass -- so I'm holding off. I get his point. Tis not ladylike.

And yet...

Don't you love how getting all meta lets you get away with stuff?

And doesn't parental wrath have its charms, when you're old enough to appreciate it?

Eff yeah.

March 19, 2009

The "yuj" -- $5 off Craigslist or free delivery?

March 19. Day 262.

For a few weeks I've been eyeing a tall and slender cd/dvd tower from Ikea, since it's just perfect for storing some jewelry and keepsakes. Fits between a small dresser and the wall in the bedroom.

It goes for $40 to $50 new, depending on the color, and that's just too much in my book. So once in a while I've checked good old CL, and finally two appeared today -- black and white.

I emailed the owner of the black one asked for $5 off, or free delivery since she lives about 30 minutes away.

She agreed.

Then I emailed the owner of the white one, who lives a few blocks away, and said I'd like to come by and see it.

He agreed.

Gained: Not sure which to go for.

March 18, 2009

Career Day? Career Help?

March 18. Day 261.

I'm speaking at my high school's career day.

Let me repeat that.

I. Am speaking at my high school's career day.

Yes. That chick in her nth year of grad school, who does do occasional freelance work but is essentially careerless (let's call it "careerfree," shall we?)... is going to talk at career day.

You see, the alumni coordinator called me today and said they were looking for someone to round out the panel. An Exhibit X. Basically, someone who could describe "what happens when you let grad school happen to you." I perked up. Interesting... She continued: "Many students are actually quite intrigued by the profile of the conflicted young academic who is defined by uncertainty at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Faced with either too few or too many options upon finishing the degree. You know the type. Seeing that you're about to become a full-time blogger on food stamps once you graduate, I thought you'd have many valuable lessons for our students," she suggested.

No silly, that's not what happened.

I emailed her. I told her I'm a grad student and writer/blogger, and asked if I could speak. I imagine that while a lot of kids will want to hear the doctors, lawyers and athletes, maybe there's still someone out there who likes words? books? writing? reading? dreaming? Fingers crossed...

Gained I: A chance to pay it forward. Have you ever spoken at career day? What was it like?

Speaking of careers...

I asked for something else today, more self-focused, also career oriented. Coincidence?

I emailed a couple of friends with a very specific strategy question -- because they're much more experienced than I am after working in the real world the the years I've been in grad school. Things like performance reviews, networking, leveraging opportunities, making yourself indispensable, buying low and selling high, the pros and cons of learning to play your boss's sport, the inns and outs of MBAs are all abstractions to me. Academia has its share of politics, but I've kept away. These friends, however, are living this stuff. Not only do they know how to work a room -- their jobs depend on it. So, having someone to turn to when I have a question like this is immensely valuable.

They replied immediately, with different angles and approaches -- I'm so grateful. Thanks!!! I'll let you now how it turns out!!

xo,
Rox

Gained II: Amazing career advice -- better than any book or website could ever teach me. Their wisdom will give me tools to avoid certain mistakes and make my way through the professional labyrinth, as soon as I start hunting for the cheese...

March 17, 2009

Pay me? And hire me again?

March 17. Day 260.

Several months ago, I landed a short-term gig for a heavy hitter in the industry I'd like to end up in.

It was thrilling to work with them and see the final results implemented.

Only I haven't been paid yet.

Today I emailed my boss, asking him what the deal is. And with this opportunity, I proposed a follow-up project.

The chances, again, are slim. The firm is big and powerful. It has more eager+qualified employees to choose from than an In-n-out Triple Triple has calories (a lot, OK???). Just because I got one gig doesn't mean it will be easier to get another. Etc etc.

But wouldn't that be sublime!?

Gained: TBD.

March 16, 2009

Who farted?

March 16. Day 259.

Months ago, I invited anyone from Asker, Norway who glances upon this site to drop me a line. Today, I got my first answer ever! It's from Tom, an authentic Askerite! Askerino! (I'll have to, er, ask him which is right.)

Here's his message:
Hey!

I'm from Asker in Norway! I've lived here all my life... 25 years. I like it alot! ;)
There are many beautiful places in Norway and Asker is one of them! We have nature right out side our doors, lakes and even the ocean!

Well... Just thought I would drop you a line, since I found your site ;)

Regards,
Tom
That totally made my day. I will write back once I finish this chapter draft. I've told my self NO EMAILS until I finish this damn chapter. So. Close!!! (Also why I've been slow to update, lately.)

***

Starting this project, I imagined I'd be asking for: a better starting salary or a better deal on a car, among other things. Certainly not this...

But here are the facts you need to know before passing judgment:

Around 3 p.m. in the neighborhood of Normal Heights, I found myself sitting next to three individuals in a popular cafe. They were:

1) a young man with a video game addiction
2 & 3) a pair of work colleagues editing some digital videos, passing a pair of chunky headphones back and forth and making comments.

They all sat down at roughly the same time. Roughly ten minutes after they joined the area of this cafe where I was sitting, a foul stench permeated the region.

I brushed it off (so to speak), chanted "mind over matter," and dug deeper into my work.

Until it happened again. And again.

Now my mind was racing.

Was it the guy? Classic dweeb, dressed in a computer contest shirt, focused on his Warcraft to the point of refusing eye contact with people who tried to walk past him and needed him to move his knees. Self-absorption to the point of solipsism. Prime candidate. Yet -- I hate to stereotype.

So was it one of the video duo? Under deadline. Focusing so hard. So hard. Whoops. There goes another. ...Yes, it was possible, but less likely. The whole "negative peer pressure" thing went against that theory. Or did it? Because precisely that theory incriminates one of them. No one would think he would be so bold, sitting so close to a colleague -- so all the more reason to go for it?

I found a paper and actually fanned myself for a few moments, but to no avail.

Half an hour into this assault, a man walked up to me and tried to get by.

"Is anyone sitting there?" he asked, and pointed to a rare empty seat in the cafe.

"I don't think you want to sit there," I said, not too loudly -- but certainly within earshot of my closest neighbors. "It smells bad. I think someone --" And I glanced their way.

I didn't know how else to put it. And I hoped that would be a hint to the offender that yes, everyone within 15 feet can feel it.

That man, meanwhile, retreated to a different section. At one point he looked at me and shrugged amicably, as in "What canya do? Sucks to be you."

The cafe was full. Except for two seats -- one next to the computer player, and one next to where that man had spread out his stuff.

I rushed over.

"Can I sit here?"

"Of course. I'll just scoot over."

"Phew. Thanks!"

Gained: Oxygen!!!

March 15, 2009

Dinner?

March 15. Day 258.

My apologies if you ever get a double post to your subscription feed (like for March 14) -- it happens if I hit "Publish" twice. Also, I've heard from two people who tried to leave comments but saw their remarks disappear. Just fyi, I never delete or filter comments on recent posts (though I moderate them on older ones, to avoid spam) -- so if it's missing, it's probably a Blogspot glitch. I am not silencing you!!! Feel free to copy everything into an email to me, just for backup. Thanks.

By the way, if you'd like this blog delivered daily to your reader or inbox, use the link to the right to subscribe! ----> (It's totally free, by the way -- just sends the posts so you don't have to come here!)

***

What I asked for today was not special by any stretch. I invited an acquaintance and his wife to come over for dinner. A routine, humdrum invitation people learn to extend when they're five. "Want to come over after school?" An invitation I've extended a thousand times before, in some shape or form.

But this time it's different, because...

Ever since I moved to San Diego almost a year ago, I've been thrilled to be so close to my family. I've loved finally living in the same city as my beloved after three years of long distance. And I've adored the feeling the sun on my shoulders in February.

But I miss the culture, the chaos and the density of big cities like Boston and Paris. And I miss my social life. When I was in LA yesterday and talking to Cecile, it felt so good -- to have a friend! Someone who recognizes me, who knows my jokes, who greets me with a big hug and trusts me enough to ask for advice. I miss it.

I think it just hit me, hard, yesterday. I miss the talking, questioning, thinking, exploring with a similar or different mind about subjects you both find intriguing. And I miss the fun -- scrolling down on my cell phone and figuring out who to call. Running into people on the street. Or lowering my voice conspiratorially in cafe, Just in case. Who knows who's sitting behind you?

Here, I could shout the deepest blasphemies and no one would recognize me.

Is the anonymity empowering? Exciting? Do I enjoy having a blank slate? Not really.

I shouldn't be sniveling. My closest childhood friend, who you knows Jem, lives a few blocks away and we see each other every chance we get. There are more than a few people in this city I love hanging out with. Mr. A would rather live it up than sleep (which says a lot, given how much he works) -- and that energy is one of the reasons I fell in love with him. I just need to start doing what I haven't done in ages -- pick up the phone, and call (or email) them.

Gained: TBD... company? a pre-proto-friendship? a dinner party in the making? my social life climbing back from the grave?

PS I will now insert a few pictures of sad baby animals, so that you divert your pity (or haughty scorn, if that's your style) from me, onto them.

Behold:

Behold:

Behold:

March 14, 2009

Performance Anxiety: $2 off?

March 14. Day 257.

There's a certain pressure that comes with being The Daily Asker, rather than simply Roxy. Not that I am ever simply Roxy, for I am -- just as you are, gentle reader, or as any atom or galaxy we can conceive of is -- far from simple. But you get my drift.

Being a blogger with a mission comes with certain unexpected complications.

Like performance anxiety.

Usually I'm fairly brazen (growing more so with every question, I fear), but once in a while I do get cold feet. Usually, this happens when I'm with friends who know what I'm up to. Maybe they can see the question forming in my lips, my eyes scanning the room or street for opportunities. And they want in on the excitement.

"What are you going to ask for?"

"Are you going to ask for something cool today?"

That's when I start to worry. Cool? I don't know! Is my cool your cool?

Besides, it can be a challenge to ask convincingly when someone is watching. How do I utter the words? Do I sound natural? What if I approach my target like a sylphic lioness eyeing her prey from the shadows of the sausage tree -- and the fox says, "Nah, not today. No can do. Can you talk with my manager?"

Not fun.

Which brings us to Saturday. I was in LA, visiting a grad school friend who's now a hotshot prof at a local institution of higher learning. Not only is she a rising star in academia -- she's also negotiating a better package at her school by doing all sorts of cool tricks I can't quite disclose (since it's a small world). But let's just say, she's gooood.

After our dinner, we strolled around Venice Beach and ended up in Equator Books, a booktique that had quite a few nice selections. Cecile, for that her self-appointed pseudonym, found a copy of The Confessions of Nat Turner.

"I've been wanting to read this!" she exclaimed.

It was $20.

I hadn't asked for anything yet, but this store didn't seem like the place to try. The prices were higher than standard for used books, the editions were hardbacks or otherwise classy, and the general vibe was "non-negotiable."

Should I try and risk failing in front of a friend? A friend who's been curious about this project, but never seen me ask "live"? On the flips side, what did I have to lose, really?

She handed me the book.

"Hi, I was wondering if we could get this for $18."

"$18? Why specifically that figure? Is that all the cash you have on you?"

"No, it's for another reason, but I can't tell why you yet. I can only explain once you say yes or no."

"Ok, then yes," he replied with a smile. "That's fine." I think I made him curious.

Then Cecile jumped in -- "She has this blog, she was on NPR, she's The Daily Asker!"

After he rang it up, I asked for his card, and it turns out he was the owner.

As for my rationale: I made my request very specific -- $18, rather than "discount?" -- because people so far seem inclined to grant requests that are focused, not vague. Plus, $18 was 10% off, so I figured he'd be inclined to say yes. I was tempted to ask for $15, but 25% seemed like a big discount for one item. So I played it safe, asked for a more modest discount -- and got my "yes." That's worth something, too!

Gained: $2

March 13, 2009

What are the sands of time?

March 13. Day 256.

After a dinner of mediocre pseudo-Chinese, this was my cookie's message: Your patience has the ability to test even the sands of time.

"I like my fortune! Check it out!" I told Mr. A. and handed it to him. For once, I had a message that sounded cool. Not "Your tomorrow will be brightened by a new sun" or "Attention should be paid to your health." The sands of time? My patience has abilities? Excellent.

"I want to think it's true," I continued.

"What does it mean?" he asked.

"It means I'm patient. More patient than time. I mean, its sands. Right?"

Suddenly, Doubt tapped Certainty on the shoulder, and when she turned around, he grabbed her by the neck and shoved her down a deep ravine. Or something. Bye bye, Certainty.

The sands of time? What kind of metaphor is that? Sand, as in desert -- time is a vast desert, and my patience will not starve. Shifting, sifting, sinking. Dali.

Or the sands of the beach. Rock in to sand, sand into dust, dust into... dust? If I believe the Bible, rather than that it simply disintegrates or becomes laundry lint somewhere in Cape Town.

I googled the expression "sands of time," but the phrase has been co-opted by a video game.

Time to ask...

"Excuse me," I inquired at the table next to ours. "I just got this fortune and I'm trying to figure it out."

The two girls didn't seem very excited to be interrupted. "It means you're patient," one told me. The other said nothing. "What do you think?" the first asked her companion, who replied with an annoyed look.

"What about the sands part?" I prodded, goaded on by their enthusiasm.

"It's like, what do you call those things?" She pantomimed turning over a-- a--

"An hourglass?" I offered.

"Yes."

"Cool, that makes sense. Thanks! Enjoy your dinner."

I took my query to the streets. On the way to Pinkberry, we spotted a couple that seemed like they were on an early date. You know the type -- best behavior, but not over the top.

"Excuse me. Do you know what this means? It's my fortune, and I can't figure it out." They smiled and looked intrigued when I handed them the slip. People on early dates enjoy diversions like weirdos coming up to them and asking strange questions. It gives them something to laugh about later, after they've slept together for the first time in a cabin in Utah and then run out of gas on the drive home during a blizzard, so they wait for AAA for six hours and start reminiscing. I mean, studies show.

The woman took my prompt and went with it.

"I think the sands of time represent history, like an archeological dig. Some things persist, for years and years, under the sand," she said.

"That's beautiful," I said.

"You should save that fortune. Frame it. Look back at it decades later, once you're married. If your relationship can withstand the sands of time, it can withstand anything," she suggested, as her beau listened, rapt. Mr A and I smiled, but I'm pretty sure she wasn't really talking to us.

Post-Pinkberry, just outside, a man was smoking a cig and staring at the moon. Craving an interruption, naturally.

"Hi. Can I ask you something? Do you have any idea what this means?"

He wove an answer -- archeology, philosophy, deserts and dunes, the earth, the stars -- it eludes me now. But it was perfect.

Gained: A fortune to hold on to.

March 12, 2009

Why are you letting him kick you around?

March 12. Day 255.

Newsflash: "Everything is negotiable."

This story talks about how patients can bargain down medical bills. First line: "When money is tight, everything is negotiable — including your health care bills." Damn straight!

It's a perfect link to set up what I asked for today.

I was working in a cafe when I ran into an acquaintance. She works in a different cafe, and we were always friendly when we saw each other. So I invited her to sit with me and we ended up talking. She told me about her used car, which is falling apart -- two weeks she bought it. Now her boyfriend is trying to sort everything out and return the car.

The dealer won't take it back, and will only pay for half of part of the repairs.

"Why are you letting the dealer set the terms?" I asked.

"I don't know. Because... it's too convoluted."

"Why about lemon laws?"

"I'm sure he's [boyfriend] looked into all that."

"Why don't you at least try to negotiate with him?"

"I don't think we can. He said he won't take it back."

"Well, if you wanted, maybe I could try talking -- I mean, maybe having a third party there, who could help you stop getting pushed around or --"

"It's okay. My boyfriend is taking care of it."

I really wanted to tell her about the blog -- and I've told people before, if it seemed they might be interested or I was feeling particularly blabby -- but this seemed a little preachy, especially since I'd already tried to give her advice and she wasn't interested. "I have this blog where I talk about asking and negotiating. Maybe you can find some useful info there." Nah.

As she ran her hands through her hair, this girl told me how stressed she was about the situation -- it was clear from her voice, her posture. Stress was eating her inside out. But still, she didn't ask.

I'm not criticizing her. First, I don't have the whole picture and it's possible they really are doing everything they can -- and know it.

But is also possible they're selling themselves short. Millions of people do just that, after all. People who get medical bills, confusing insurance claims, and don't ask.

They're scared. They're exhausted by work, life, the fear of futility. They don't know where to start. They don't even know they can negotiate. They don't think they're entitled. And they're not just women. They're Americans, and from every other country on this planet, mired in this opaque system of ours, or opaque systems of their own...

But what if they opened their mouths and asked. Once per billing cycle. Once per billing account. How much money could we save collectively, if everyone tackled one bill, one account and bargained it down?
Castigated excuses and rationalizations and demanded a break?

Gained: Nothing. Tried to help. Failed. Case closed.

March 11, 2009

Can I have one?

March 11. Day 254.

I can't believe just did this. Even I am shocked. But desperate times call for....

The day flew by and I asked for nothing. I spent a few hours in my new favorite haunt, a Starbucks with free parking and crappy wifi conveniently located next to a Trader Joes. A one stop shop.

But, nothing needed or wanted there, so I kept my mouth shut.

Around 7, Mr. A called from work, suggested we go out for dinner. Great! Besides seeing him -- which is the only reason I said yes, I swear -- I'd have the added opportunity to identify a need or want, and ask for something.

We went for Thai food, and then we decided to switch places for dessert. We ended up at IHOP. I still hadn't asked.

We ordered -- two fried cheesecakes with bananas, strawberries and caramel sauce -- and still, nothing.

At a certain point as we waited for our desserts, I don't know what motivated me to do this, but I turned around and glanced at the booth behind me. There was a woman, a woman with long black hair, waiting for her date to come back from the bathroom. This woman had just received a basket of mixed appetizers and a few entrees. Appetizing appetizers. And then, before it was too late, before whatever accursed boldness melted away like the butter on her pancakes... I asked.

"At the risk of sounding very rude or strange, could I please try an onion ring?"

She froze. I froze.

"I'm just curious how they are," I added, as if that could make the supreme discomfort shared by both of us somehow fritter away.

She daintily reached for the one sitting on top of the pile and handed it to me. Much easier than arguing with the crazy lady.

"Thank you," I replied, and smiled. She turned back to her food. Her hubby came back and they spoke in hushed tones in a foreign language.

Not the reaction I was hoping for. Maybe a laugh, a "Sure, they're totally addictive!" or "Only if you trade me for a bite of your dessert, hardy har!" Instead, I think she thought I was very odd indeed, or making fun of her.

Once again, tested the limits of propriety and social decorum. Sank where I never thought I'd sink before. Mortified myself, my dinner companion, and an innocent diner. But gained: a yummy onion ring!

March 10, 2009

Privacy check

March 10. Day 253.

Today's asking was short and sweet: I checked with a potential employer if she plans on respecting my privacy.

A few weeks ago, I saw an flyer at a cafe that said, "Amateur actors needed for short movie. This will be used for psychology dissertation research. $15/hour." I don't usually reply to such signs -- in fact, I don't think I ever have before -- but I wrote an email saying I was curious to learn about the project. I also disclosed that I have zero acting experience.

Today, I got an answer with more details. It would involve learning a script and then shooting for about three hours, and it could happen anywhere. I'd be playing a psychiatric patient, and I'd have to -- get this -- ask/request/demand something of my therapist, over a webcam. The doctoral student would then show my video to a group of doctors and get their reactions. I'm not sure what her overall project is but... Wow! How perfect! I can now add another tool in this bag of negotiation tricks: psychotic supplication.

Anyway, I replied yes, sign me up, but I checked that I'd be identified as an actor (in a disclaimer or in the credits, whatev). What with Youtube, and more than a few aquaintances and friends who work in the field, I wouldn't want there to be any confusion.

Gained: Could be my big break on the little screen! Or at least a cool new experience. Bring. It. On.

March 09, 2009

Stop spamming me? And give me more work?

March 9. Day 252.

I just got off the phone with Rob Appel. He's a spammer. The theater spammer.

After sending a few emails asking him to unsubscribe me, to no avail, today his message appeared, and I decided to give him a call. Maybe all it took was some personal contact.

He didn't pick up, so I left this message:

Hello. This message is for the person sending emails from the address raoulappel@aol.com. My name is La Roxy, and I have emailed you multiple times to request that you remove me from your theater email list. You have not done that, so now I am taking the additional step of calling you. Please remove me from your email list. My email is thedailyasker@gmail.com. That's L as in leave me alone, A as in abstain, R as restraining, O as in order, X as in exasperating, Y as in yuckie, at gmail dot com. I look forward to not getting your messages again. Thank you. (only I used my actual email, and the acronyms weren't quite that mean.)

You may wonder why I don't just filter his address. That would be easy, and it's my next step. But since I'm exploring different types of requests, I think this is a perfectly valid extension of this experiment: see if a thoughtless parasite, aka spammer, responds better to a telephone inquiry than he does to email. Stay tuned for the riveting results.

Before earlier today, I asked for something that will pay off in a few months. Since my grad school stipend ends soon, until I land a full time job I need something to tide me over. So I emailed the various clients I do freelance work for and offered to pick up some new projects. This is until my exciting new career picks up -- or perhaps in parallel with it.

Gained: one more step toward gainful employment.

March 08, 2009

On giving. And, would you participate in my focus group?

March 8. Day 251.

Once in a while, I get asked, too: for advice, help, a ride.

And I enjoy saying yes. (Yeah yeah, I know, you, yes you, you know who you are, you're rolling your eyes and muttering "magnanimous my arse" because I told you no last [Tuesday/month/year]. Well... fiddle dee dee.)

Actually, being an asker, a taker, a requester -- an opportunist of sorts, really -- has changed the way I view giving. It's become slightly more nuanced in my mind. Some people give out of obligation, guilt, a sense of quid pro quo; some give out of necessity or responsibility (whether personal or global, whether socially or personally imposed), others motivated by love, affection & co, and many others -- many people who I've encountered through this project, I gather -- give because it's fun. It's empowering. It's a break from the routine and a chance to exercise one's autonomy. A chance to make someone's day. And if you can do that... why wouldn't you?!

There are overlaps between these loose categories, and I haven't given it much thought, as you can doubtless see. But all this to say, maybe starting July 1 I'll launch a new project: the daily giver. Try to give something to someone, every day for a year. Advice, $1, a book, a donut, a haircut, a break, a lecture, a loan.

Just a thought.

What do you think? If you had to generalize, would you say you prefer giving or receiving? What about: prefer asking or answering? What's easier for you?

***

And now, back to our regularly schedule programming:

Around midnight Sunday, March 8, my life changed.

I realized with a jolt what I'm going to do with my life.

I have a career path. I have a PLAN. I have a future.

And... I can't tell you what it is.

SORRY! It's just that if I write it here, possible employers may find the blog, now or later; I can't take that risk. Let's just say it involves writing and people. It puts my degree to use in an interesting way. It challenges me, and exploits what I do best. And I will be free. Not glued to a chair all day. Not working weekends unless I want to. Not stuck in committee meetings and filling out expense reports. Not working for free. But free.

It was a cumulative revelation, built on several smaller ones, and by Sunday night it was screaming for attention.

It dawned on me when a friend asked for input on his business plan for a competition. Mr. A and I listened to his proposal, which is great, and bounced some ideas back and forth.

And as that conversation unfolded, my own ideas on this path to gainful employment crystallized.

So I asked Mr. A and this friend if I could tell them about my plan, and they said they think it could work. Then I looked online for domain names and found a few available possibilities. I asked for more feedback, on potential names, and narrowed it down to two, which I'll register.

The whole plan is still just a twinkle in my eye.

And I still have the dissertation to finish.

But it's a start.

Gained: Confirmation, from a mini-focus group, that the service I intend to offer could be unique, useful and alluring. I could jump right in, or use it as a backup plan. Either way... yay!!!

March 07, 2009

Teach me about Italian wines?

March 7. Day 250.

I've gotten into this cycle where I'm writing three or four blog posts at once. Not sure how I feel about it as a writer, but how do you feel about it as a reader? Comments are welcome, on this or anything else regarding the delivery of this project. Or not regarding it. I always love hearing from you, gentle reader! In email, or right in the post. Sometime it takes me a day or two (or three) to reply, but I read every word and love writing back, too.

Allora. From Tuesday, Saturday seems like a speck in the rearview mirror. Saturday... what happened Saturday? Let me dig out my retroscope to get a better look. Focusing... focusing... ah, yes.

Saturday was lame. Lame from an asking standpoint, that is. Wonderful from every other standpoint.

I went to a cafe, sat at the counter and talked to the owner/barista. I noticed a sign on the window stated the cafe is applying for a liquor license, so I wished him luck. He replied that they'd serve only beer and wine (Italian wine, since it's an Italian cafe), and I confessed I know very little about it.

Then, I asked if he'd mind teaching me one day.

He agreed.

Gained: A tentative meeting to learn to differentiate Barolo from Barbaresco. Not the most out-there of requests, but something to look forward to nonetheless.

March 06, 2009

Can I see your cover letter?

March 6. Day 249.

I stopped by my aunt's house today to pick up some tickets for a performance tonight she can't attend -- a night of Mendelssohn at my favorite cathedral this side of the Atlantic.

As I drove away, a strange rumbling sound came from under the car.

I had a flat tire.

I called Mr. A to check if it's safe to drive, even a few blocks, since there's a gas/service station about half a mile away. He told me to stay put and -- my heart is still fluttering -- he came over from work, just before a 2 p.m. meeting, and changed my tire. Then he took my clunker back to work and gave me his safe car so I could run some errands.

Mersi!!! ;)

When I got home, I began researching tire coupons --> tire sizes --> outlet tire retailers. I called one company and asked point blank if they could make me a great deal, and the man said to call him back since he was with customers. But he seemed willing to negotiate. Good start.

Next, I wondered, "Do I really want to spend $120 on tires for a car I'll dump in no time? What about making a move and buying something?" (Background info: my car has been on the fritz for a few months, and various interventions + luck have kept it going. But unsafely. At this point, it has a big bold DNR sticker on it. An invisible one, but still size 24, Rockwell, bold.)

So I searched for: cars on craigslist of various years, makes models --> cars on other websites --> online promos at san diego dealerships. snorted. what promos? no wonder people aren't buying when $10-off counts as a promo. onward.

Next, I wondered, "Shouldn't I be looking for negotiation tactics and info about how buying a car works, and not just cars?"

So I searched for: car buying tactics --> how to get best deal on a used car --> tips and tricks at the auto dealerships --> car loans at san diego banks --> car budget calculators.

Next, I wondered, "Can I really sign up to buy a car worth a penny more than my savings if I don't have a job come June?"

So I searched for: jobs --> careerbuilder --> craigslist jobs --> san diego jobs --> and so on -->

Which leads me to today's actual question: Can I see your cover letter?

I emailed a few friends and asked if they don't mind sharing their letters.

Who knew a flat tire would jump start my career search?

Gained: TBD

March 05, 2009

The strange case of the secret eater

March 5. Day 248.

Another day of asking just to ask. Some days I shoot for the moon, and others, I reach for the filth between my toes and stop stretching because my lower back hurts...

I was sitting in Starbucks, writing. My neighbor was grading papers. I asked, "Are you grading papers?"

He replied yes. We talked about his papers. We talked about grading. And then we stopped talking.

Ok. Fine. It was lame. I didn't buy anything but some avocados and tomatoes at the supermarket. Oh, and I had lunch at the divine Burger Lounge and asked the waiter for ketchup. I didn't plan my career or embark on a funky new adventure.

I had a macchiato and made small talk. Some days, that's precisely what's needed.

Gained: Human interaction during a long stretch of work.

But wait? What's this? A second asking, creeping up out of the shadows?

Could it be?!

After dinner, Mr. A and I went for a walk. Our conversation rolled around to dessert. We were craving ice cream, but every restaurant around the neighborhood was closed.

"We have some strawberry ice cream in the freezer," he pointed out, relieved.

"We do?" I asked, nervously.

"Yeah, I found it in the back, stuffed into a plastic bag. So we're saved."

He was beaming. I was... not. He found my stash! My secret ice cream stash! The stuff I keep in the back of the freezer for emergencies, hidden in a nondescript bag so no one else will be tempted... because anything left in front of the freezer disappears about 12 hours after we buy it. Last time I bought a pint of Haagen Daaz strawberry, which Mr. A insists he doesn't like, I found the container empty -- still in the freezer. Taunting me. So the next pint of strawberry, I hid. For later. For seeecret eeeating.

Of course, I should have known he would find it... since besides being a talented technical type and an excellent dancer, he also has these foraging skills that are fine tuned for sweets and chocolates. When we travel, he finds exotic candies and pastries. At home, no chip is left unchomped.

So I explained why the ice cream "just happened" to be in a plastic bag shoved in the darkest corner of the freezer, behind the okra. And then I asked, "Could we stop by AM/PM and pick up something else? I'm kind of... saving that... for later."

Gained: A fresh pint of Ben and Jerry's Vanilla Caramel Fudge.

March 04, 2009

Can I make a suggestion?

March 4. Day 247.

I wrote a slightly tongue in cheek email to the Google Books crew with a suggestion:
Hello,

Being omniscient and amazing Google, you're probably already working on this, but just in case you're not: how about adding a "Create Bibliography" button to people's libraries?

I'm using Google Books to research my dissertation, and adding new titles to my library every day; being able to convert them into a bibliography in 30 seconds or so would be AMAZING!!!!!!

Extra points if you can get it up and running by the time I assemble my final draft in 3 months.

Thanks,
La Roxy
A few minutes later, I got back a form letter.
Hello,

Thank you for your message. I see that you'd like us to add a feature
which would allow you to easily manage your bibliographic data. I've
forwarded this suggestion along to the rest of the team for review.

I appreciate your taking the time to offer us this feedback and encourage
you to continue to let us know how we can improve Google Book Search. As
this is still a young program, new features are under consideration and
your feedback is very helpful.

Sincerely,

The Google Book Search Team
Gained: Nothing for me, but maybe a better tool for future generations.

March 03, 2009

And the third gardener wins!!!

March 3. Day 246.

For a few weeks, I've been looking for a gardener. I've made some calls, met two people last week and was about to go for option B, when option C came to my door: A flier from a competitor.

Thought this isn't a "classical asking" -- I didn't negotiate a thing -- I am including it here because if I went with the first option, or didn't persevere in finding a good deal, I'd be paying more now. Instead, he came by and gave me an estimate which was a lot more affordable.

Gained I: $10 up front and $5/month. Total saved in a year by persevering, though not negotiating: $70. All for about 5 minutes of effort. And some patience.

PS: I didn't call the IKEA customer service people-- I like what I bought. I'll still shop there, but be on my guard...

March 02, 2009

IKEA receipt? And fix my umbrella?

March 2. Day 245.

I'm behind on the updates, which is actually a good thing -- means I've been working on my diss all week and it's coming together!

Monday night, I headed to IKEA to return a dish rack, and I bought a few items (a different dish rack, a mini shelf and a magnetic knife bar). I went to auto-checkout, since the lines were endless everywhere else. The attendant there seemed ill. She was dazed, slouching, watery eyes, unresponsive... I hope it wasn't contagious. A few times I asked for help (since those machines are slow, they get blocked, need an authorization code), and finally I finished and left.

Ten minutes later, I realized the machine never spit out a receipt -- or if it did, that happened after I left. So I called IKEA to see what we could do. "Could I come by tomorrow to get a receipt?"

"I'm sorry, but we can't give a duplicate receipt."

"Well, there isn't an initial receipt."

"I'm sorry that happened."

"What about my credit card-- could you use that in case I need to return them?"

"No. Only the original receipt."

"Do you mean to tell me that when IKEAS's machine delays emitting a receipt, and IKEA's attendant is too sick or high to attend to her customers, then the customer is stuck with IKEA's faulty or unwanted merchandise?"

"Yes. That's our policy."

"Can I quote you on that? Even when I asked your employee for help twice, and the third time I called her over she completely ignored me and I gave up? Should I talk to her manager? Get her in trouble or fired? I don't want to do that. We all have bad days. But I want a receipt."

"I'm sorry that happened to you." Stone cold.

"Well," I said, slowly and calmly. "Let me tell you my policy. My policy is that I don't go to the media when I have a problem. But I happen to be a consumer blogger with a very wide reaching audience, and contacts who work for a mix of papers, and if you don't reconsider your policy, then I will reconsider mine. I will write about you, I will talk to CNN, I will tap into consumer advocacy groups, and go as far up the IKEA echelons as necessary... Maybe we'll get lucky and I won't want to return anything. But what if I'm not satisfied? How will we resolve this?"

Her voice changed. She gave me the number of her manager, gave me her full name, and told me to call back in the morning.

"I can't do anything for you here, but if you talk to them, I don't know, maybe they can help."

(Yes, I played the blogger card, but it was more of an experiment -- I've never done it before and I'll never do it again, but I was curious: would I have the guts to make a threat? and would it open doors? Apparently, I did -- and it did. If I was just Average Jane calling with a complaint, I probably would have been kicked to the curb. Yuck.)

Gained: Contact info.... and rising disgust with IKEA. Meanwhile, I see a slew of complaints here and here. Until today, I thought they were the good guy. Rather overpriced given they sell particle board, but cute designs and a good mission -- bring style to every day homes. Not anymore.

Yes. They have the right to institute whatever policy they want, as long as it's legal. And I have the right to make a big fuss about it. Yay, First amendment!

My second asking (which came earlier in the day, but I want to end on a high note):

Months ago, when La Divina was visiting, I took her to a great Asian overstock store -- a total hole in the wall -- and we spotted two paper umbrellas. We both wanted to affix them to our ceiling lights somehow, ideally by cutting the handles and hanging the open umbrellas from the screws where the bulb goes.

She took an umbrella with her to Milano, and I've been here, trying to find a saw, or buy one, or borrow one. Since January.

"Why don't you go to Home Depot ask? 'Oh, Mister hardware expert, could you help me out?' " Mr. A asked, batting his eyelashes. He has a point. Using womanly wiles to get what I want? Why not?!

But before I made it to Home Depot, a better opportunity presented itself... for a contractor from Maintenance Magic came by to fix those outlets and screens at long last.

I asked if he had a saw I could borrow, and he said yes. Then, he ended up helping me saw it, since it was too unstable for one person to hold onto.

Gained II: A spiffy new lampshade! It looks kind of like this, but not so ornate, and it has cherry blossoms and a birdie painted on it.