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May 31, 2009

Contest announcement

May 31. Day 335.

It's Day 335, and you know what that means: Time for another contest!!!

What city am I in?*

Anytime between today and June 7, enter your guess as a comment to this post. Include a nickname so I can notify you if you win.

Only one guess per reader, please.

If there are multiple correct answers, everyone with a correct answer will be entered in a drawing for the prize: a souvenir of your choice from this city, worth up to $25.

I'll post a new picture each day and sprinkle in clues.

Spread the word to your friends or any geo-sleuths you know!

Here's the first clue:

As for asking.

I had a vision of taking a photo from the cockpit, for the first clue to kick off this contest, so I put on my sweetest smile and asked the flight attendant if that would be possible.

"Yes!" she exclaimed.

"Really!?? Great! Thank you? When should I come up?"

"Come up?"

"Into the cockpit?"

"No, you can't go into the cockpit. I thought you were asking me if you could take photographs from your window."

"No, I want to take a picture of the captain, and the landscape below. Is that ok?"

"Oh no, the cockpit is closed. But you can take pictures from your window!"

Gained: Gratuitous permission to take pictures from my window seat. Thanks.

*If you already know where I am, or can get the answer by chatting up my mumsie or Mr. A... you can't participate. Only real guesses. Sorry!

May 30, 2009

About UP

May 30. Day 334.

The goal of this project is to ask adventurously, boldly, ambitiously -- and daily.

Above all, to ask for things or opportunities I wouldn't have before, or in ways or situations I wouldn't have attempted before.

Today was not one of those days.

I could consle myself by saying that there can't be highs without lows, but why believe that when every new high could be converted into the next low?

I could remind myself that you can't do it all, and a daily post is the best I can do today, askerly ambition be damned. But then I remember all those other people with quotidien rituals -- priests, athletes, and my blogging cohorts -- who don't slack off.

I could, finally, cut myself some slack because who doesn't need a day off, even from her obsession?

But I will do none of those things. Instead, I'll chalk it up to one thing alone: livin' la dolce vita!! Why stress or strategize when I can instead relax and socialize?

So today, amici, I asked two movie theaters if they have any seats left for "UP." One didn't, one did. And then, I saw a movie. Finished the night off at a wine lounge with some friends, and asked, there too, if the delicious wine they ordered was from California or Australia. (Australia!)

Gained: a night off.

PS: the next post will be a day or so late... And I promise it will be good. Not just good. Goodissimo. Wink wink.

Ciao!!!

May 29, 2009

Split drinks?

May 29. Day 333.

Split entree? Split appetizer? Split dessert? Pretty standard.

But split a cocktail? Not so sure.

I was at Red Lobster, about to have dinner with my mom and some of her co-workers, when my eye fell on the description of the mango mai tai. Nostalgic for Hawaii, and totally tempted by the mango, I wanted to go for it but... I also didn't want a full drink. Just not in the mood, you know?

My mom noticed the same drink, and the thought crossed my mind: Could we split it?

The waiter, who was very chatty, in a nice way, came to take everyone's orders, and I went for it.

"I'd like a mango mai tai, but would it be possible to split it?" I asked, motioning toward my mother. "We're both driving," I felt obligated to add, for some reason.

He looked a little unsure, but then agreed.

A few minutes later, he showed up with two drinks in lowball glasses, each with a slice of pineapple and cherry. Lovely.

Gained: Half a drink. Exactly what I wanted, that is.

May 28, 2009

On Fay-ya!!

May 28. Day 332.

Today I fired off emails to half a dozen former employers, prospective employers, and professional contacts -- people I've been waiting for the right moment to reach out to.

Not sure why, but today was the day.

Said hi, told them about my past year in good old Cali. And, asked about work.

Of these emails, one was to someone I've never worked with before. Someone famous. He's sort of the Emeril of my industry. A head honcho. A grand guru. A daunting dude. I told him how much I like his work and, rather out of the blue, asked him three things.

1. How did he decide to tackle a certain issue?
2. How did he go about resolving a certain problem?
3. Hire me?

I wouldn't be surprised if he never wrote back. On the other hand, people have been known to reply to my even stranger requests, over the course of this year...

Meanwhile, one of my old bosses already wrote back and told me he'll welcome my contract bids! Yay.

Gained: One more prospective part time job, and fingers crossed about the rest.

UPDATE:

Two days ago, I wrote about my paycheck dilemma. I got several answers readers, for which I am grateful. Claire wrote:
About getting that check you are owed. I have been freelance so know how difficult that can be, but the longer you let them do that the more likely it is to somehow become impossible. So I would call, remind whomever that you finished the work xxx days ago and you'd like a check by the end of the week, by Monday, by a time not too far away. Then say that you will be "coming over to pick up the check" on that day and what would be the best time. Then do it. I have always left with a check.
And from Anonymous:
I write a memo to the person who was supposed to approve the check and follow up - EVERY week - with another written memo and a copy of the previous memo(s) attached. Eventually they get sick of getting the memos.

Also, if you leave the job, for whatever reason, you have a paper trail that shows they still owe you money. When money is involved (or comp time) always create a paper trail.
Judging from their thorough experience, seems like this is more common than I thought. Yuck. I can't wait for freelancers and contractors to get their due. As the economy changes and more people ditch (or are expunged from) the permanent payroll system and all its benefits, one trade-off workers should expect (nay, demand) is reliable and guaranteed payment for services renedered. Amen!

In fact, this afternoon I shifted tactics from and called HR directly. The woman laughed sympathetically, like she's heard it 100 times before. She figured out why I hadn't been paid (a communication glitch between parties), and then her supervisor said the check should finally be on its way.

Thanks for the pep talk, dear readers!!

Gained: My paycheck. Yayyyyy!

May 27, 2009

Make room for me too?

May 27. Day 331.

The scene around 3 p.m.: a dozen cars are funneling into an ARCO, which has the cheapest gas in a 5 mile radius.

Prices are up. Summer is definitely here.

In front of me, a guy in a white SUV pulls up to the second of two pumps. Another car is preparing to leave, from the pump in front of his. If this guy starts pumping gas, I'll be stuck waiting, and the other pump will be empty.

This is where The Daily Asker has definitely changed things for me: don't assume the other party will mind that you asked. Don't shoot yourself down by not even trying. With no hesitation, I roll down my window and, with a big smile, ask him to move forward.

"Is there any chance you'd mind pulling up so we could both get gas at the same time?" My words exactly.

Yeah, a roundabout way to express myself, but he gets the idea.

"Yes," he says soberly. Then cracks a big smile, waits for the other car to leave, and makes room for me too.

Gained: 7 minutes or so.

As I fill up the tank, Friday's troubling gas station encounter (scroll to the bottom of the post) gets a resolution, indirectly.

A preteen boy with a speaking disorder of some sort comes up, selling candies. One Snickers bar is $8!! No sob story, no pressure to buy a sketchy camera. The boys are night and day.

I don't have that much cash on me, but give him what I do. $4. I'd felt bad for ignoring the other's request, but this shows there are plenty of people who need help -- and this boy is earning cash through a supervised program. Even a $1 donation is a much better investment in his future.

May 26, 2009

What would you do?

May 26. Day 330.

Dilemma: Let's say you're working for a big company, a reputable company, a rich and powerful company, as a contractor. Let's say that a month after you finished the job, they haven't paid you. They claim they liked your work, and they even want to give you more work, but you're still mulling that missing paycheck. You asked your boss, and she apologizes, says she forgot to file the pay request with HR. A month later, you ask again and she apologizes again, saying she's been swamped with work. Every time, it's a new excuse. Always really nice. Always apologetic. You offer to talk to HR, but she ignores the request. And still, no paycheck.

You've worked for other companies in the industry, so you know it doesn't usually take this long. As far as you can tell, the only explanation is that your boss is reallllllly busy, or she's distracted and doesn't realize how much you need the money really. Probably a little of both.

At what point do you storm in and ask for your money? Talk to your boss's boss? Email HR?

You realize that if you make your boss look bad, she'll be less likely to want to work with you in the future. And except for the minor lack of paycheck part, it's a great job. Great experience. Major resume booster. Definitely want to keep working for them. And minus the delayed paycheck, the boss is awesome. Good feedback, receptive to ideas, everything you want in a boss.

That's what happened today -- I asked once again -- and my boss replied 'so sorry, really busy today, will do it asap.' Again.

What should one do?

What would you do?

Any advice out there??? Sigh.

Gained: Still nothing.

After this phone call and email, I met up with Tee, a friend who's in town. Tee was a regular feature of this blog a few months ago -- she lives in Northern California, where she's a professor.

In high school, she was the first person I ditched with. It was "cross-cultural day," and ironically that was the day we decided to skip out. Ironic, because she is one of the most cultural people I know. Travels the world, speaks several languages, has friends of many backgrounds. And I love other cultures as least as much as my own. But her fresh driver's license, new Ford explorer (in the glorious gas guzzling days of the late 90s! now she has a Prius) and the nearby Denny's (now a gas station, alas) meant FREEDOM.

Today, she gave me her take on life in academia, and the more I think about it, the less inclined I am to apply for university jobs. For her, it's perfect. She's brilliant. An intellectual powerhouse, and a gifted teacher. As for me, for 7 years, in grad school, I've been in academia but yearning to get out. Working on the side in my secret industry, now blogging. Always planning my academia exit strategy. If I were a prof, it might only be so I could count down until I could get out again, once tenure review came up. Is that fair to my students? fair to me?

I know, mama, you think I should be a professor. "What an easy lifestyle! You teach for an hour, then relax all day!" Well, why don't you chat with Tee? Heehee.

Any other profs out there want to back me up? Comments welcome below!

Who knows. Maybe I'll give academia a shot, if I find something really compatible. But more likely, not.

Talking to Tee, though, gave me a great career idea. I'd never have to beg for a paycheck again. It's a growing field. It's a natural progression given my professional backgrounds. And if I play my cards right, I could name my own salary.

Now, just have to make it happen!!!!!

(No asking involved here, but since this blog is, to a degree, about becoming assertive, planning a career trajectory and preparing to negotiate that magical starting salary, this idea is one piece in the puzzle.)

May 25, 2009

Ballad of the slimy coupon evader

May 25. Day 329.

I went kayaking on the lake today!!!

That sentence definitely takes three exclamations points. Here's how they break down:

! -- I, as in me, La Roxy, went kayaking. Not some outdoor type, not an athletic pro, nor any of my very adventurous ziplining trapezing rock climbing friends. Little old cafe-a-day meeee!

!! -- I survived!! I thought it would be cold and windy and wet. And deadly. Before we headed out, I read all these tales about hypothermia induced paralysis, capsized kayaks and people who boated too far out to come back. The water in Lake Tahoe is dangerously cold, every website cautioned. Stay away. Only go if you've said your goodbyes. (Ok, the wording was more like "Be careful, it can be dangerous if you're an idiot," but I took the liberty of reading between the lines.)

!!! -- It was totally fun!!! Loved it. Sunny, exhilarating. Would totally do it again. The best part was putting the oars down, gliding along, and listening. And getting soaked!

On the way to rent the boat, I stopped and checked my cell phone for coupons. This has become a regular practice, as long as I remember to do it. Just google the name of the establishment and "coupon" "discount" "special" or "deal." I just flash the screen and down comes the price.

I quickly found something for $5 off a kayak rental.

I presented the cell phone screen.

The guy working the station nodded, started filling out a rental contract, then stopped.

"You know, I can only take on coupon. If I validate your parking, I can't apply this coupon."

"Really? We were told parking validation is a guarantee, not a coupon."

"I know, that's how it seems, but we can't apply two coupons."

"Please? When we validated, they didn't say we couldn't use this coupon." (Fine, I hadn't checked, but worth a try.)

"No, I'm sorry. But your best bet is the validation, that's $7 off."

Technically, no, it wasn't $7 "off." We'd paid for parking, $7, with a promise of a refund as long as we bought something for more than $7 on the resort. So we were supposed to get that parking reimbursed. Hands down. And neither coupon said "Not to be used with any other discount." But forget it. He was mired in his policies, and I wasn't prepared to drive half an hour to the next kayak rental place.

Gained: annoyance at Camp Richardson. Quickly forgot about it once I hit the water.

Later, Mr. A did his own asking:

We stopped at a store selling used skis.

His are ancient, and he's a great skier, so it's high time for an upgrade.

There were some name brand ones (sorry, I forgot what they were! K2 or something like that?) going for $225.

"Would you take $175?" he asked.

"I'd do $200."

Score! He brought the price down $25 in 2 seconds . And I like that he was bold. Didn't go for a conservative 10 percent. Really dug deep. After all, maybe if he'd asked for $200 the merchant would have settled on $215.

Still, Mr. A declined. We walked away, to see if the merchant would agree to the lower price. When he did not, Mr. A decided to hold off, since summer is peak season for buying skis.

His gain: $25.

May 24, 2009

Share your campfire? Buy a drink with no ID?

May 24. Day 328.

My idea of a fun mountain getaway involves: cozy cabin, waking up to the sound of woodpeckers outside my window, making waffles for breakfast, going hiking or skiing, stopping for pizza and a drink at the local brewery, taking time to read, write, and think on the lovely backyard deck overlooking a crisp stream, topping it all off with homemade hot chocolate or a glass of wine by the fire.

Mr. A's idea is identical to mine, only he'd replace everything with one word: camping.

Since I'm not a camper, have never been a camper and (sorry, amore mio!) will never be "a camper," we compromised and booked the Forest Suites Resort, complete with spa and heated pool for me, and the word "Forest" in the title, for him. Close enough, right?

Jokes aside, I've been relatively open to the idea of trying to rough it. As long as I'm warm at night, and I don't have to carry twice my body mass in supplies, and the bears are on sabbatical, I decided to give camping a try. One day. (Hey, if I've slept in a mosquito infested hut in the Peruvian jungle, an overheated car in Mexico, and a hotel lobby couch on Halloween in San Francisco (long story), I should definitely be able to handle a sleeping bag in the High Sierras. Right??? Please say yes.)

Tonight, to give me a feeling of what camping would be like, Mr. A proposed we take a stroll through a campground by the lake as the intrepid adventurers settled in for the night.

Just after sunset, we wandered in. All around us, small groups of people were searing meats on their barbecues, sipping beers and talking in low whispers. Music played here and there. It did look relaxing.

As we strolled, I mentioned I hadn't asked for anything yet. Maybe I could come up with something here? See the inside of a mobile home? Have dinner with some strangers? Solicit advice for a potential first time camper?

I didn't want to ask for the sake of asking, so I thought about what I really wanted. And then it dawned on me: all weekend, I'd been smelling the burning wood of hundreds of campfires. And that's one thing we couldn't do at our hotel. Mr. A was on exactly the same wavelength.

We walked around the now dark lakefront property, wondering who to ask, "Can we share your campfire?" Then Mr. A suggested I refine it to "Can we share your campfire for 5 minutes?" Then, stay longer if they invited us to. That would give people a chance to test us out without committing, since we really didn't want to impose on their holiday. But who knows? Maybe someone would be up for it? Plus, if someone agreed to let us hang out, we'd offer to buy a few beers or food from across the street. And then chill out for an hour, or as long as we felt welcomed.

A family with kids seemed like they'd be quickest to reject us. We also decided to avoid couples, since it seemed likely they'd want the evening to themselves. That left groups of adults. Some had chairs set up, with no room for extras, so we walked by. Other groups were completely silent and it seemed strange to bust in.

For some reason, I was feeling nervous. People come to the forest to escape strangers, not commune with them.

Still, what was the worst thing that could happen?

We settled on a group of three guys who were in their twenties. Or so they seemed in the light of the fire.

We walked up, and they smiled as we approached. Or so it seemed in the light of the fire.

"Hi," I said, softly.

"Hey."

"We were just walking around, and we were wondering if we could share your campfire for 5 minutes. Just to warm up. Would that be ok?"

"Sure," one replied. Or so it seemed in the light of the fire. No wait, actually he really did.

They stopped talking, and it felt kind of awkward.

"Thanks a lot," I continued, filling the silence. "We're staying at a hotel nearby, so we can't have the campsite experience there."

"No problem."

Then, we were all quiet for a minute or so.

Next, a young man and woman walked out of the tent, and her body language screamed "leave."

"What are they doing here?" she asked her friends.

"They asked if they could stop by for a few minutes," one guy told her.

"We don't camp, but we were taking a walk and asked if we could share your fire for a bit. Do you mind?" I asked.

"Actually, that's weird," she said. "That's not normal behavior. We don't feel comfortable with you here. Please leave."

We thanked the guys and left.

Afterward, I started dissecting the interaction. What if we'd come earlier, so they could get a better visual read on who we were? What if we'd come with beers, or offered something from the start? Or maybe it's an unspoken rule of the forest: to each her own campfire.

"Relax," Mr. A told me. "Don't beat yourself up. You tried."

I guess.

To ease the sting, we headed across the street, to an empty bar. Rojo's Tavern. A reggae band was starting soon.

I ordered a cocktail, and when the bartender carded me, I realized I didn't have my ID in my wallet.

Where was it? Probably in the hotel.

"I'm almost 30," I told him. "Ancient. Can't you see my white hair and wrinkles?" I joked.

He laughed merrily.

"I believe you're almost 30, but I can't sell you a drink without an ID."

I really wanted to talk back. Both to question his reasoning and rail against the idiotic U.S. drinking system. Doesn't work, except to prevent legal drinkers with missing IDs from consuming a cocktail. Drinking age should be abolished, period. So there.

But what was the point.

We left.

I found my license in the car.

Next bar: didn't get even carded. This place, The Brewery, was packed, had delicious house cocktails and yummy appetizers, for great prices.

Gained: Two rejections in one night. Still alive!!

May 23, 2009

May we tresspass against you?

May 23. Day 327.

First thing in Tahoe, we decided to go on a hike -- an uphill ramble that ended at Lower Echo Lake.

Along the way, we spotted a cluster of adorable cabins strung around the lake like a necklace of ruggedly elegant wooden beads, like a sprinkling of chocolate chips around a blue blue pancake, or, if you will, like a row of particularly seductive beauty marks on the face of nature.

Ok, the similies suck. But you get it. They was purdy.

The trail led closer and closer to a cabin, until I called to Mr. A, "Looks cute! Want to check it out!?"

"Sure!"

We skipped off the trail and ran down. I looked in through a window. Signs of human activity. Then we wrapped around the the front, getting ready to take a few pictures of the view from the deck --

Only to see two men standing there. Staring at us. Not exactly happy.

"Hi," I said.

"Can I help you?"

"Hi, yes!" Think quick. "We were just on a hike and noticed your beautiful cabin. And we were wondering..." Quick... "Do you know how someone would go about renting one?"

"Oh," one of the men replied, loosening up. "You can ask at the lodge."

"So they're privately owned, or are they run by the Forest Service?"

"About half are private and half are federal."

"Really? Ok. Thanks. Are you the owner?"

"I am. I grew up in this cabin. It belonged to my parents."

"Wow," I replied. "So you know the mountain really well."

"Well, I moved away a few years ago, and just come back in the summers. But I know it. There are easy parts and harder parts. It all depends on how familiar you are."

The man was in his 60s or 70s, it seemed, with a long gray beard. He was tall and skinny, all sinew and muscle. A real mountain man. He was wearing overalls and standing in front of a stack of ancient skis.

Mr. A asked about the skis.

"They're from World War One," the man replied.

I asked for a few more details -- what it's like in the winter, if the cabins have plumbing and electricity, and he patiently answered everything, then encouraged us to come back.

In no time, were were on our way.

Didn't push it. Didn't try to score a tour of the inside or invite him on a hike. Chatting with this Echo Lake native was prize enough.

Gained: Exchanged a few words with a modern mountain man.

May 22, 2009

The Beach

May 22. Day 326.

You know how in consulting, they work you really, really hard, and then for a week or so, between projects, they cut back your hours and let you recharge your batteries?

At one company, BCG, they call that "the beach." Like, "Wanna grab an extra long lunch today? I'm on the beach!"

This past week, I've been on the beach.

Finishing a chapter is so mentally draining that it takes a while to switch gears to the next chapter's topic.

So, what I've done this week:
-- bought socks
-- planned our vacation
-- mailed the rent check
-- hung out with friends
-- talked at length to my parents and sister
-- saw my grandma and two aunts
-- took Mr. A's car to the garage
-- reflected about career and job possibilities
-- read a bunch of articles that interested me (links below)
-- tinkered around with the dailyasker 2.0 website (more details coming soon!!!)

Here are a few of the more interesting things I've read this week:

Story in the Atlantic on happiness. Describes a study that followed a group of men from college age until their 80s, trying to understand what makes people feel happy, and what makes them say they're happy.

Guardian story about female bloggers in the USA. More like about the infighting between self-professed feminist bloggers, followed by discussion about the state of the feminist 'movement' today -- though feminism, others would say, is hardly a movement anymore. Anyway, a good dialogue. Worth a look.

Funny article in the LA Times about 'Geek Heaven.' Story is balanced and well written. Here's the opening:
On a rainy Saturday, Cameron Dolansky put on a metal-studded leather vest and a red tunic and headed to Neumont University's most raging weekend party.

It wasn't your usual college kegger. A dozen students sat in a classroom frantically trying to kill the zombies racing across their computer screens. A few more jammed to Rock Band, their musician avatars displayed on two projector screens. Cans of Mountain Dew and fast-food wrappers littered the darkened room.
Annoying column in The Observer about why women who don't have kids are worse professionals. [Beach photo above from an unrelated Observer travel story about Cape Verde.]

Feature in Slate about high ceilings. My vote: the sky's the limit. I hate the cramped wafer look.

Metro story in the NYT about swine flu. I'm sick of it, you're sick of it, practically no one's actually sick with it, but this writer, Anemona Hartocollis, makes one pediatric emergency room in Queens come alive.

This column, in Canada's McLean's, generated a lot of comments. The writer excoriates the media for being too soft, and his example is enticing: consider the play-by-play of Obama's fast food runs, versus the secret love child of Jonathan Edwards. The subheadline is "Maybe if they’d covered the love child instead of a fast food foray, papers wouldn’t be dying." Not all papers are wimpy, but he has a point.

Want to share any other juicy reads this week? Have an opinion about any of the above? Drop a note below!

As for asking... thought I'd post these links first. If I'm procrastinating, why shouldn't you? ;)

xo,

La Roxy

UPDATE:

A sobering interaction at the start of our trip:

On the drive to Lake Tahoe, Mr. A and I stopped for gas. There, at some small town between Riverside and the inland, Mr. A and I were accosted by a kid who asked us for money.

"Please, my mom and I are staying at the motel next to the gas station, and we just got kicked out so we really need some money for tonight. So my mom told me to sell our digital camera. Can you please help us with anything?"

Instant anxiety. Not just because of what he was saying, but because he was saying it. Hard times. A lay off or deadbeat dad. Who knows. But where was his mom? Why was he begging instead of doing homework? Wasn't it dangerous for a young teenager to be hanging out in a gas station with many out of town types, approaching their cars?

So I asked. I tried not to sound judgemental, but I probably did anyway.

"Where's your mom? She should be here with you."

"Oh, no, she, hurt her leg. She can't walk."

"Still, she should not be putting you to work like this, even if she's hurt. You're a kid, and there should be some program that helps mothers and children, so you don't have to do this. Do you know about any other way to get help?"

"I'm not a kid. I'm almost 19. My birthday is in three weeks. I should start carrying around ID."

Mr. A and I talked privately for a minute. The kid didn't look a day past 14, his voice hadn't even changed, and it was convenient he didn't have ID. We didn't want to just give him cash, in case his mom was on drugs or something. And the camera could have been stolen, so we didn't want to encourage that approach.

One idea was to pay their hotel room, directly at the hotel. We could have talked to the police, to try to get them into a shelter. We could have checked at the gas station if he was a regular, if his story held up, or if he was just a little punk trying to score for his dope addiction.

And then I decided not to.

Not that I didn't want to help - it's heart breaking to see a kid begging for money. But I don't just pay for housing whenever I see a poor child, whether it's in the U.S. or Eastern Europe or Peru. I had no way of knowing he was being honest, and I didn't have time to investigate.

Gained: I felt bad. He asked. I refused. What if people did that to me? I'd be nowhere. This time around, it wasn't about gaining or losing. I just wanted more info, to see if/how I could help, and I concluded I should not.

May 21, 2009

top secret auto mechanic ninja interrogation techniques

May 21. Day 325.

Today, I asked for something involving Mr. A's car, which was with a mechanic for two days.

I started typing it here -- the set up, the dialogue -- but it was really uninteresting. Basically: I confirmed that the mechanic did what he was supposed to, against evidence that he was being sneaky. The only reason it's Asker-worthy is because Mr. A offered to call and take them to task, in case I wasn't comfortable doing so.

"No, don't, this is perfect for my blog: asking for accountability, being confident, standing up for myself if someone is taking advantage of me."

After I interrogated the mechanic (ok, inquired firmly -- no waterboarding involved) about what he did to the car and why his assistant told us something inconsistent, he looked me in the eye and said he did the job, and explained why it only seemed he was being sketchy. And that's that.

Gained: nothing but his assurance. On a test drive, though, the car works fine. I just hope it gets us to Tahoe and back.

May 20, 2009

Met a reader, met a weaver, and slashed $192 off a hotel rate

May 20. Day 324.

Triple wammy.

1. Met a reader!

After trading a few emails with Claire, whose comments here I always enjoy and who started her own daily blog a few weeks ago called We Love Escondido, we decided to "make the leap" and meet in person. Claire's blog has news and views about her community, she takes her own pictures (here's one), and it has already caught the eye of some well-placed peeps in her city. Nice work, sista!

Escondido is about 30 miles north of San Diego, so we picked a cafe in the middle and, over caramel lattes, talked about blogging, life, careers, Paris, photography, writing, east versus west coast, and, yes, asking.

It was a lovely encounter, and it's making me think more about everyone else out there, typing in a few letters or clicking on a bookmark to reach this page every day. Thank you for following my adventures. It's a strange process -- to broadcast info about myself into the ether and occasionally have something bounce back as a comment or email. But if you're ever in San Diego, oh reader, and you want to team up for coffee or even a joint asking one day, by all means, drop me a line.

2. Met a weaver!

On the way back, I dropped off Mr. A's car at a mechanic for a much needed tune up (a key errand before this weekend -- see below). I took the bus back, and walking from the stop to my house, I noticed a man looking at me curiously. Not "come hither" or "go away," but just with a certain unabashed curiosity. Like, "Do you know me?" or maybe "Wow, you look exactly like my daughter."

He was standing in front of a business called Wonder Weavers. I'd always wondered about the place -- who owns it, and what exactly does a wonder weaver do?

Our eyes met for an instant, I passed by, was about the cross the street, and then turned around and walked up to him.

"Are you affiliated with Wonder Weavers?" (Nothing to lose -- if he was not, I'd just keep walking.)

"I'm the owner," he said.

"Really? Wow! I've always wanted to know who owns this place. What exactly do you weave?"

He invited me into his office.

(Maybe, to those who don't know me, and maybe more to those who do, I seem crazy -- talking to some strange dude on the sidewalk and then following him into his office. But don't worry. I'm actually very cautious, and I'd never ever interact with someone, or somewhere, if my gut told me not to. And I talk to my gut a lot, for various reasons. On the other hand, if I ever stop posting for more than a week or two with no explanation, feel free to call the cops.)

In his cramped office, surrounded by swaths of fabric and spools of thread, Stan the wonder weaver explained his craft. He showed me the antique needles he uses, told me about the industry, how all of his former apprentices have opened stores that try to compete with him, but how he still loves teaching all the same. His mom learned the trade from a French woman early last century, and they've been in business since 1950. Now he works for antique collectors and theaters around the country, restoring fabrics. The rest of the time he sews up holes in moth eaten or otherwise damaged suits, dresses, coats. A few blocks away, his sister and mother repair knits and crochets.

As we talked, a lanky middle aged man came by to pick up a jacket. I figure that, outside the antique clothing collectors, that's the prime demographic: businessmen who care enough to buy quality suits and are smart enough to repair them rather than replace them. (As you can guess, his business is thriving in the recession.)

"There's one weaver for every 10 million people," he recited at one point.

Fascinating!!! Never have I ever wondered how many weavers exist in this society. My asking for the day would be complete, were it not for...

3. Lake Tahoe Discount-o

Mr. A and I decided to head up to Northern California for Memorial Day. It's one of his rare days off, and we're going to milk every minute of it. At first we thought Napa Valley, but I think I'd rather hike rather than let the weekend pass me by in a drunken stupor. And I don't need to ask twice if he wants to go hiking. So we opted for Lake Tahoe.

I couldn't tell you how I did it, but after about a dozen phone calls and 3 hours looking for hotel rooms, cabins and various specials online, I managed to convince a woman at Forest Suites Resort to give me a one bedroom suite for the price of a discounted standard room, as advertised on bookit.com -- i.e. $90 per night instead of $185. I explained that it's rare we go on vacation, and we're trying to stretch every dollar. She was sympathetic and told me she does the exact same thing.

Since she was very friendly, I tried to get some tips for next time.

"Well, I'm actually always wondering if there's some better deal I missed. Even when I got a great price like this. Silly, right?" I tried.

"No, I do the same thing," she said again. "And since I work in the hotel industry, I know there's probably something they haven't advertised, or something extra they can throw in."

"So in this case, is there anything else I could ask for? Discounted lake cruise, 2-for-1 cocktails at some bar? A final 10 percent off?" (That what I'd seen on other hotel websites.)

"Actually, $90 a night for holiday, you did pretty good. And it's a holiday, so it's going to be really hard to get someone to throw in any extras. But it's something to keep in mind for next time, definitely."

Gained: I'm not sure how to quantify it. I could count the difference between what I paid and the normal price for the one bedroom suite, times three nights, i.e. ($185-$90) * 3 = $285. I could also subtract $90 (online price of a simple room) from $123 (online price of a one bedroom suite) to show what I gained by calling and asking for the best deal possible, rather than booking online. So ($123-$90) * 3 = $99.

To stop overthinking it, for now I'll just average them to $192.

May 19, 2009

Are you a VIP?

May 18. Day 323.

Had lunch today with a friend who's a pop music critic. Before I dropped him back off at his office, he asked me if I ever buy VIP tickets to concerts, or if I know anyone who does.

You know, he continued, pay a few hundred bucks and meet the singer, hang out backstage or at the reception beforehand, enjoy all you can eat sushi.

I explained that I don't enjoy sushi and have consequently abstained from such VIP experiences.

Ok, not really. More like I don't have $500 to shell out for any tickets save the aerial kind.

As we said bye, I promised I'd ask around. Help a friend and complete today's Asker task? Ideal.

So I texted a few friends:

"have you ever bought VIP tix to a concert? Ie the whole package--great seats, food, meet the singer, etc? x, rox"

And the answers came beeping back:

"Nope."

"um, no..... why?"

"No...?"

"No..Is it amazing?"

"No never meet the singer, how does that work? What concert are u considering?"

Darn.

What about you? Have you? Want to be featured in an article? If so, drop me a line and I'll put you in touch with him!

Gained: Nothing yet... Still trying!

May 18, 2009

Can we go organic?

May 18. Day 322.

Last night, I watched a documentary that has radically changed my vision of things.

It's called "The Future of Food," and the name says it all: What will we be eating in 5 and 20 years?

The movie has a definite slant, but if even half of what it says is true, that truth is troubling.

The story focuses on a company called Monsanto, which has been bullying farmers to use its genetically motified seeds. As a business practice, that's just dirty. Ecoli dirty. And from a health perspective, I get the feeling we're the guinea pigs in their grand experiment.

You can watch it free on Hulu. Click here.

Today, I asked Mr. A if we could start eating more organic. Not all the time, since that would be expensive, but at least more than we are now.

I thought he might say I'm being dramatic or picky, or tease me that I'm easily seduced by propaganda. Since I really did go from "organic, cool, whatever, sounds good to me" to "must restock pantry now." Instead, he replied, "If you think the movie presented valid points, and if you think it's safer to eat organic, then let's do it."

Gained: a slight reduction of the nasties in our bellies. I know I can't really control what I can eat. (Well I could, but I guess I don't care enough to stop going to most restaurants, double my food budget, etc.) But like asking, I can at least take small steps that may build up to bigger ones. If nothing else, I don't want my dollars to support companies like Monsanto (Here are its site and an anti-site.)

May 17, 2009

The asset versus the ass-ette: Asking, through cultural, gender and disciplinary filters

May 17. Day 321.

A woman got a job as an accountant, fresh out of college, and worked her butt off. She spent weekends at the office, volunteered for every conceivable committee and never said no to overtime. She used almost none of her vacation time, and routinely wowed her supervisors with her results -- and dedication. You know how the story ends: Seven years later, after being passed over for yet another promotion, she asked her boss, yet again, why. He gave her another empty excuse, and then fired her six months later.

This sounds like a case study, but it's a real story, about the sister of an acquaintance. A woman who never asked, and (just as crucially) never said no when asked.

I heard this story at a meeting tonight, and it's been on my mind ever since.

Every month or so, I get together with a group of women to talk about a book, see a movie, have dinner and/or try to infuse a bit of art, culture and ideas into our lives. It's very low key.

One thing I love about these meetings is that everyone comes from somewhere different. We have a bunch of Italians, and the rest are from Colombia, Japan, France, Spain, England. They come and go, and it's always a mix. So it's fun to get perspectives from people shaped by different contexts.

Also interesting, for me at least, is that they're mostly in the sciences -- chemists, biologists, cancer researchers and the like. (How did I stumble upon them? Years ago, I ran into the group's founders at a bar. We stayed in touch, when when I moved back they added me to their email list.)

Today, the book was Women Don't Ask, which inspired this blog and which I had recommended to the group. I was quite curious to see how asking plays out in male dominated fields like the hard sciences, and to what degree a confident woman's label as assertive/aggressive is culturally determined.

For most of the meeting, I sat back and asked questions. And here's what I discovered. In no particular order. (Note: I'm paraphrasing what they told me -- these aren't my statements. By the way, I've changed all relevant info so no one is recognizable.)

Asking is not just difficult for women.
It's especially difficult for foreigners. (I don't know about foreign men, since they weren't at our talk. But I imagine the same challenges apply to them.) For someone not raised in America, who lives in America, asking is hard for two reasons. First, because in some countries, particularly where machismo reigns, the idea of a woman (or any employee) asking is inconceivable. So the asker needs to get over that "training" and start from scratch at age 35. Or whenever she gets to the US. Many, alas, never do get over it.

Second are the preconceptions of Americans (i.e. their supervisors and peers) about certain groups. Stereotypes, basically. So if an Italian or a Mexican asks for a day off to see her family, she might be labeled as lazy or seeking favors. If a Chinese asks for a better computer monitor, she's seen as a workaholic. Etc. That adds a whole other barrier to asking and obtaining.

Asking at work is a lot harder than away from work. This is a no brainer for anyone reading this blog from the workplace. As for me, I have little experiences with this, since I'm a grad student with a sporadic part time job. But the consensus seemed to be if you have a touchy or intolerant or tightwad boss, you do have something to lose by asking (which goes against my perhaps naive (?) mantra - you have nothing to lose!). See the next item for details.

Asking at work reflects on you. If you ask your boss or coworkers for help, access, time or money, and do so with an eye on the greater good or bottom line (even if that end result means respecting yourself!) you'll probably look like an asset. But if you ask for something inane, you'll look like an ass-ette. One told the story of two men from her office who were actually FIRED only for asking for better kitchen at work. (Allegedly. I feel there has to be more to that story, but she said the fact that they asked for something so irrelevant angered the boss.) Even for less drastic situations, there are consequences of asking for the wrong thing -- you look like you miss the point, or you're self-centered, or out of touch. Either way, yikes.

Asking really can turn around your life. One woman told us she's at the top of her pay bracket. She started working six years ago, earning around $30,000. She now makes around $80,000. No promotion. No new responsibilities. Simply, did a great job, added those years of experience, and made several lateral moves with pay boosts. At her last negotiation, the company offered her a sliver more than her current salary. She asked for $11,000 more, saying she knows she's worth that. they came down to $80,000 -- her target. For a different job, she prepared a spreadsheet showing how much her old job offered -- full package, benefits, etc -- and showed that the higher salary but smaller benefits weren't a good offer. They gave her a $7,000 signing bonus. The spreadsheet took her 15 minutes.

She counters that she is viewed as the office bitch, but she doesn't mind as long as they respect her. And show it in her paycheck every two weeks. Cha-ching.

Sometimes it's better to tell, rather than ask. One woman said she assumes certain things will be accorded to her, and she doesn't even ask. How does that saying go? Act first, get permission later? In her case, she did nothing extravagant: simply expected her new boss would give her as much vacation as her old one did. If she had asked, maybe the boss would have thought twice, or acted like it's a favor or perk, rather than standard operating procedure. (In her science field, it's the boss and not the institution that determines vacation time.)

Be one of the guys. Interestingly, the two women who do lots of asking grew up surrounded by guys. Their dads taught them to climb trees, their moms encouraged them to be engineers. At work, they say they forget they're "women" and think they're "professionals" -- talking back, being assertive and loud, contradicting people like any of the guys do.

There's one big string attached to asking. In return for getting these things -- ample vacation, generous raises -- those in the group who asked said they must be super performers. I wonder if expectations are higher for women who ask, compared to men who do. What do you think?

Some who don't have much practice wanted to know how to start asking. I gave them three tips:

1. Start with things you don't care about, which you'll probably get. Just to get some practice forming those words. Could I? Could you? Please? Please don't? etc. Major confidence booster!
2. Ask for some stuff you'll probably not get, just to see how fun and easy it is to get rejected.
3. Figure out what you need or want, before asking. It helps you formulate your question and be convincing when you utter it. Also helps with being an asset rather than the alternative, and helps with negotiation, should that dialogue kick in.

Another question was whether women should use their feminine side to get what they want. What are the costs and benefits of appearing either sweet/nice, or flirty/seductive, in the work place? Does it depend on the industry, or are the same behaviors always cool or uncool no matter what? (I'm not talking Vegas showgirl, but, say any job that doesn't involve nudity.)

Gained: A reminder that women do ask -- but not all of them. Good luck to anyone out there, man or woman, US born or from a distant land, wherever you are today. Good luck with asking more, better, higher, deeper.

Question back at you: What do you think? What would you add to this list of issues? What do you think about the "feminine wiles" question? Are you a woman in the sciences or male dominated field? Are you a man surrounded by women? Or a man who doesn't ask? Are you an immigrant or visitor, finding it hard to ask as a foreigner? What's your experience? What about in Canada, which has a lot in common with the U.S. (in terms of work ethic, I suspect) but is also more aligned with Europe in many respects? I'd love to hear from all of you!!!

May 16, 2009

My fight for freedom of choice

May 16. Day 320.

I was having brunch at Bleu Boheme, a bistro I've never visited before which caught my eye about a year ago. At last, I was sitting in its lovely dining room.

I zeroed in on a bread basket, which comes with either two baguettes or two toasted croissants, fluffy butter, a mix of jams, and coffee, for $7.50.

Before ordering, I inquired if it would be possible to get one of each (one baguette and one croissant), instead of two of one.

The reply was no.

I looked at my dining companion, a friend visiting from New York with her adorable new baby. She was looking at me, expectantly. What was I waiting for?

I turned back to the waitress.

"Is there any way you could let me try both? Pleeease?"

She thought about it, thougt about it some more, and then agreed.

Merci!

Gained: variety

May 15, 2009

Anonymous glamour? Sign me up!

May 15. Day 319.

It's Monday as I write. Excuse the delay, gentle reader. I've been busier than Borat in a china shop.

Old Business: Ever since returning from that week in France, I've been obsessed with this salad. Because this blog is about giving and getting, I thought I'd share the recipe.

Open Source Salad (modify and claim ownership as you please. Just eat it! Yum.)

Into the bowl: Trader Joe's Herb Salad Mix, evoo, balsamic vinegar, snow peas, and really sweet, juicy tomatoes. Don't skimp on the tomatoes, please.

Into a frying pan: equal parts roasted pine nuts and bits of prosciutto or pancetta (or, replace meat with walnuts). A tiny drop of evoo, just to get it all nice and fragrant. Roll them around for one minute or so.

Into oven on high heat: pats of chevre on sliced baguette or even sliced wonderbread (strange but true, works great in this salad -- that's how they serve it in France), at around 450F or 500F -- toast it, basically, for a few minutes.

Mix prosciutto and pine nuts into salad. Plop the gooey-crunchy toast on top.

Use the bread to sop up the dressing and nudge the greens onto your fork.

Chomp.

(Variations I've enjoyed: add cilantro, grated cheddar cheese, fried onion, fresh onion, different salad bases, asian sesame dressing.)

***

New Business: Invigorated by that burst of antioxidants, I took off to Cafe Bassam to meet a friend for a glass of wine. Bassam's is this otherworldly place I've written about before -- dozens of clocks on the walls set slightly out of tune make it an ideal location to lose touch with reality and completely chill out.

It was getting close to midnight, or so the clocks hinted, and the "Haven't asked yet" panic started setting in. I glanced around, looking for ideas. Ask the cafe owner for a free drink? Ask someone sitting next to me something personal and fascinating? Ask a stranger to let me test drive his or her car? No, no, no.

And then I noticed a couple sitting at the table next to ours, reading a program. Was it from the opera? The same opera I went to last week and LOVED?

"Excuse me, is that the program for Madama Butterfly?"

"Yes it is."

"How did you like it?"

"I thought the soprano was wonderful."

We started talking, and in the next ten minutes we:
--traded names and basic contact info
--learned about each other's life histories in fast forward
--offered to help one another professionally (well, they're retired, but they offered to put me in touch with people -- very nice, thanks!)
--discovered we love all things Italian
--talked about how to be an extra in an opera

About that last one: my friend, who works for a nonprofit and has never acted before, randomly signed up to be an extra in an opera a few years ago. She didn't sing, but she was on stage in full regalia. Got her hair done, got to wear a pretty dress and a nun's outfit, got to experience the drama from the inside out. I'm so doing it!! Next season!! Frilly dress, bright lights, and anonymous glamour, here I come.

Gained: another one of those "no financial gain, but glad I asked" moments.

May 14, 2009

Wanna be friends?

May 14. Day 318.

I joined Facebook! Wanna be friends?

You can just search for my email: thedailyasker [at] gmail [dot] com.

I'll update my profile with blog posts, new flashes about cool freebies you can ask for, and links to articles and useful materials related to negotiation, women and careers, bargaining and haggling in the news, and more.

(I also need to figure out how to switch my profile from showing my name as "Roxy La" to "La Roxy." Any Facebook gurus out there? Hmm...)

That's it. What I asked for today. Friend me?

xo,
La Roxy

May 13, 2009

Yo Ho Ho Ho, A renter's life for me!

May 13. Day 317.

I have mice in my attic. This was confirmed by three independent sources: my right ear, my left ear, and Corky's Pest Control.

The friendly exterminator worked his magic last week, but when he returned this week, he said there wasn't much progress. A likely cause: the ceiling of this old house, built in 1930, has open vents. Meaning the critters can come and go as they please. Now, I'm all for tenancy at will. Between consenting adults. Mice, not so much.

I called my property manger.

"Hey, it's La Roxy. How's it going?"

"Good, what can I do for you?"

"Well, the gentleman from Corky's came by today and he made a suggestion -- to keep mice out, he said it would be smart to install some screens over the vents in the roof. Would that be possible, maybe when you fix the roof?" (He informed me a few weeks ago they're planning some work on he roof. I'm not sure what it's for, but thanks for the heads up!)

"What would be the point of the screens?"

"That would keep out the mice. Apparently, the vents are open, letting the animals crawl in or out. It would be more bang for your buck, since this way even if you pay for pest control, they can keep coming back. Nothing urgent, but maybe something you'd like to look into, or discuss with my landlord."

"I'll send someone to take care of it immediately. My top priority is caring for your home."

WOW!

I asked Mr. A, in a separate conversation, why anyone would want to own a home. Especially people who might move more than, say, once a lifetime.

"Broken screen? They fix it. Roots damaged the driveway? They fix it. Water leak? They fix it. I love this system!" I exclaimed.

"You're also paying for it," he responded.

I guess so. I just hope that isn't reflected in January, when it's time to renew the lease...

Gained: peace of mind -- and satisfaction that I'm using what I'm paying for

May 12, 2009

9 negotiation lessons from the trenches

May 12. Day 316.

What do buying a car, locking up the Chicago mob and being a total rockstar have in common?

Negotiation!!!

This afternoon, I found myself in the living room of Gay Hugo-Martinez, a professional acquaintance. (It's related to the side work I do.) Once our meeting was over, I asked her about her background, since I'd heard she used to be a lawyer and totally changed tracks a few years ago.

Turns out that before moving to San Diego, she fought organized crime in Chicago in the 1970s.

As she sat demurely in her sunny home, she poured out stories complete with phrases like, "Organized crime figures won’t kill prosecutors. They know that if they kill one, there's another one right behind them that will do the work." Another gem: "If one of us has to go into the witness protection program, that’s not going to be a picnic" (words she told a colleague back in the day). And, my favorite: "I knew that if he (the hitman she put behind bars for 25 years) wanted somebody killed from his jail cell, he could do it."

Day-am.

And then, she mentioned the golden word: negotiation.

"Negotiation? I'm obsessed with that! Can you tell me more?"

Being a federal prosecutor involves a lot of persuading, negotiating, getting the other side to do what you want, she explained. Here are a few tips I gleaned from our brief but riveting conversation, which she kindly agreed to let me post:

Interview with Gay Hugo-Martinez about Negotiation, Empathy, Playing Hardball and Playing Fair

1. Know your strengths and weaknesses

Enter any negotiation with a firm idea of what you're willing to risk and what you stand to gain. Obviously, the stronger your strengths, the more bargaining power you have. "How much are you willing to give in order to get what you want?" she asked. For best results, figure this out before starting.

2. Know the other side's strengths and weaknesses

This helps with persuasion, knowing when to back away, knowing when to press harder. Think about it. If you can deduce what the other side is willing to give up, or what it can't stand to lose, you have the advantage. A simple example: this is a great time to buy a car, since dealers are struggling.

3. "Go for the gold"

"Ask!" she said. Yes, ask. Her word exactly. So many times, people shoot themselves down. She tells this to her kids, to strangers in her living room asking about asking. Ask! Ask for more than you think you'll get, ask when you think you might not get. "You have nothing to lose," she added.

4. Be empathetic

Empathy can be a powerful tool. It helps you imagine the other side's position, and it might encourage you to take reasonable risks. For example, maybe you think asking for a free cucumber at the farmer's market is rude or silly. But imagine that you were selling veggies and someone asked you to throw in a sample. You'd probably be happy to show off your wares and attact a new customer with a sample. Not such a crazy thing to ask after all, right?

"It works better if you say to yourself, ok, if you were in this position and somebody came to you and asked you, would you think this was reasonable?" she said.

5. Be fair

Related to this: let's say your position is so strong, or the other side is so needy, that you could run circles around them with your demands. Stop. Think about it. Then play fair. It's what you'd hope from the other side, if you were in the weaker position.

6. Enthusiasm can be your friend

I used to think that if you look excited about something in a negotiation, that was a weakness. For example, "What a perfect car! I reeeeeally want it! Yipee!!!" could tell the dealer that I'm eager and willing to pay anything. Bad.

Not necessarily so, she said. Who would you rather deal with: Someone who really likes your product but claims she has a limited budget, or someone who doesn't seem to like your product but claims she has a limited budget? Who's more likely to seal the deal?

This is an especially useful foundation for the next step:

7. Hardball: Walk away


If you're not getting what you want, and if you know you have a strong position, walk away, calmly and coolly.

"In negotiation, if you have a positon and you think you’re right, it’s better to pull back and walk away and wait," she said. "Then the other person knows there’s some credibility in your position, and that may be your bottom line."

Added tip: never walk into a car dealership expecting to drive away. Always give them your number, then tell them to call you. Repeat after her: " 'I’m sorry, that's just not what I’m willing to pay. You guys change your mind, call me.' Then turn around and walk out."

8. Keep doing it

"The more you do it, the more comfortable you become, the easier it becomes for you to do it, and the better you get at it."

(After 316 days of asking, I can add: so true!)

9. Women do ask

I was curious if she thought women ever underestimate the strength of their positions (alluding to the idea that women may hesitate to ask because they don't realize they're in a position to do so.)

She replied that not every woman has good negotiation skills, but not every man has them either.

Good to keep in mind.

Gained: Advice from a masterful negotiator. And thanks again for agreeing to be featured on this blog!

Later, I did a small negotiation of my own.

I went to get Mr. A's car washed. The posted price was $13.99, but I wanted to test out a few of these tips.

My strength: the other car washes nearby, which might be cheaper or honor a coupon I had
My weakness: no time or desire to move
My insider knowledge: many businesses offer coupons - so even if I didn't have his exact coupon, but maybe I could use that info to score?

His strength: convenience -- I was in his parking lot
His weakness: didn't have the best price
His insider knowledge: no idea

What I wanted: a discount and a clean car
What he wanted: a customer

"Hi," I started, from inside the car (trying to look ready to drive away). "I was wondering, do you guys have any coupons you could apply? Even if I don't have the actual print out?"

"No, I'm afraid not."

"Oh, ok. Because I have coupons for a bunch of car washes, but I'm here now. Any chance you could honor one of those?"

"I can do even better. Keep your coupon, and I'll give you $2 off any wash."

"That sounds good. Thanks!"

Gained: $2. Not exactly locking up the mob, but applied today's lessons, from theory to practice. Next step: buy a car, this summer. And save big time.

May 11, 2009

Can we have your numbers?

May 11. Day 315.

Boy and girl meet. Boy or girl asks for number. Boy or girl calls. Maybe.

A variation of that theme happened today, when I asked for the phone number of two guys.

Now, I'm not lookin' for trouble. Just some interesting conversation with some interesting local types.

Here's how it all went down.

I went to Pannakin, a cafe in downtown La Jolla that's sort of a local haunt -- the kind of place where the alternacool kids went in high school, and still show up 10 years later. Ahem.

I was there with a friend from high school, who's a painter today. She was back in town, and we simply had to hit up the Pannakin. Over chai lattes, we started making all these plans, like:

--I'll write a screen play and she'll direct and produce it
--we'll attend an internet law school, basically something totally cheap, and then open a boutique law firm specializing in defending whistle blowers, people whose insurance companies ripped them off, people with immigration emergencies and the like.
--we'll write fiction, details tbd.
--we'll spend a week in Taos, New Mexico, oil painting. I've never painted before, while her watercolors are displayed in London galleries. How would our approaches to oil differ, and intersect?
--we'll launch a mix of start-ups, with ideas far too lucrative and earth shattering to describe here. (hint: think bdsm and/or pet trends)
--we'll track down our high school English teacher and find out if he's ok (rumor is, he's not)
--we'll learn to make really good chai lattes

Amid this flurry of creativity, a pair of guys sat down next to us and started playing chess. I know, what a cafe moment.

We started talking, and it turns out they had opinions. About Harold Pinter, politics, San Diego, and the Cohen Brothers.

D'ali and I had to leave, since we each had plans that evening, but outside, we quickly conspired.

"They were pleasant," D'ali said.

"And smart," I concurred

"And local," she added. "Let's get their numbers!"

I hesitated. Could we ask for their numbers without leading them on, or would they get the wrong idea?

"Come on, Roxy, aren't you the Daily Asker or something? Where's your moxie?"

Touchée. She was so right. What were we, in high school? Worried what they'd think? Indeed, what did we have to lose by asking!

We stormed back in, explained exactly how our conversation outside unfolded (minus the blog part), and suggested we exchange digits.

Gained: Names and numbers of two people I'd enjoy chatting with again. In the era of Facebook and cell phones, I seriously can't remember the last time I traded numbers with someone for non-business purposes. Not emails, not business cards, but numbers. For hanging out and conversation. Wow.

May 10, 2009

Where is she? (A Mother's Day Special)

May 10. Day 314.

This smell of cilantro on my fingertips... I used to hate it, many years ago, along with the avocado. Now, cilantro drives me crazy, in a good way. I can think of only one vaguely similar scent -- cucumber, I think, and no similar taste. And I can't come up with a single adjective to describe this flavor, this scent. That simple purity, that pure simplicity, places cilantro in the pantheon of herbs I use sparingly, strategically, because it's too distinctive and too intoxicating to trifle with.

Elusive.

Enveloping.

Mr. A is coming home tonight, so I made a dinner. Not just dinner, but a dinner. For my man, coming back from a long and tiring trip. I roasted a chicken, stuffed with a home grown lemon from my aunt's garden. I sprinkled it with kosher salt and herbs and threw in an quartered onion for good measure. Tossed a salad with greens, snow peas and the cilantro. For an appetizer, vermouth and some mini bell peppers, and two cherries because they look pretty next to the bright peppers. For dessert, a cake my mom baked, and chunks of watermelon. We'll drink red wine, I think.

He is coming home in an hour, and I'll be so happy when I see him.

Overall, it's been a great day:

I went to a farmer's market with my mom. My mom, who baked me a cake for Mother's Day. That's the kind of mom she is. "What I want for Mother's Day," she said, handing me the foil wrapped package, "is to give you a cake."

Then we went to my aunt's house, of the lemony trees, whose garden is quickly transforming into its own ecosystem.

Later we went to my grandma's house, my mom's mom, who looked wonderful. Her hair was a sweet puff of curls, she's just the right amount of plump, after trying for some time to add any merciful pound. Last night she partied until almost midnight.

You'd never guess she's turning 88 in two months. Especially with her packed schedule (bingo! exercise class! card game! party here! party there!) and her sharp sharp wit and smooth smooth skin. When I was a kid she was over at our house every day, feeding my sister and I when our parents were at work, helping us with homework, taking us to karate lessons and Winchell's Donuts for the occasional treat, pulling us apart when we fought, doing everything a parent would, but with the kindness and wisdom of a grandma. She opened my first bank account, taught me to save, to look to the future, to be practical, but to never stop dreaming or examining how far I can reach. Even at almost 88, she lives alone and is an awe inspiring example of self-sufficiency and courage.

Between these visits today, I made a detour to spend time with another mother who was instrumental in my life: My other grandma, my dad's dad, who won't get a pseudonym because she is dead now. Her name is Vanna, but I called her Wanna, since I couldn't pronounce the V sound as a baby. The name stuck. Wanna.

Wanna taught me French, and she had a rare combination of grace and strength of character that guide me at the hardest moments. She was frail and tiny, but with an expansive personality that drew people to her side from all corners of the globe. She had friends in Poland, Martinique, Canada, Romania, New York, Texas, Hawaii. Long before Facebook, they traded letters, and learned of one another's deaths when the letters stopped coming. She grew up through two world wars, saw her life ravaged by a political system that persecutes people for thinking freely, and escaped to the U.S. in her sixties. And when she finally made it to San Diego, the land of her happy future, she taught my sister and I to remember. She told us stories, cooked old recipes, showed us pictures, gave us traditions, helped me assemble a family tree. Her most essential legacy to me, a child of divorce, was adoring my grandfather until the day she died. Their marriage, and knowing how lucky I am to have met Mr. A, give me hope today that a lifelong love is possible.

So I went to the cemetery. It had never occurred to me to go on Mother's day. Usually my visits are random, a few times a year, when I have an extra hour, or when someone else is in town and suggests we go.

I parked and headed for her stone: to the right of a large tree. But strangely, there were too many trees. I wandered from tree to tree, trying to find her. All around, I saw entire familes having picnics with their ancestors, laughing, praying, crying. Somehow all the people disoriented me. I was lost.

I felt ashamed, for a moment. What kind of granddaughter was I, to forget? I must look very neglectful to these strangers.

And then, I felt scared. What others thought was unimportant. But what did it mean for me, as a human being, that I couldn't find my own grandmother's grave?

After about 20 minutes of walking, I gave up and went to the office.

I asked for help.

The girl at the counter -- laid off six months ago from her old job, new to the cemetery business -- was very reassuring. A natural.

"A ton of people get lost on Mother's Day," she said.

A woman with a name tag and sober suit appeared, with a printout and her business card.

"I can accompany you."

I declined and I drove back. Parked my car were it had been before. Walked 20 feet. I'd stepped right past it.

I sat down. For a while, I did nothing. Cleared my mind. Waited. And then, I asked my grandmother, Wanna, how she's doing, and what she thinks of it all.

And then I chopped the cilantro.

Gained: A reconnection.

May 09, 2009

Operapriety

May 9. Day 313.

Sa-weeeeeet!

Made it.

Six posts in one night, and all caught up.

Now I can sleep.

***

Snagged a great seat at the opera for a great price. Win win!!

I got there very early for some reason. (Compensating, I guess, for getting there really late last time? Right.)

The usher let me in and I took my seat.

A moment later, another usher waked over and asked me to leave.

"We're not seating yet," she explained.

"Oh! Sorry! Someone let me in and invited me to sit!"

I gathered my stuff, stood up and started to follow her.

And then I thought about it for a second.

Why shouldn't I be there? They weren't cleaning. Nothing was happening. People were already sitting down all over the place. Did she just decide to enforce the... policy?

I gave logic and reason a whirl.

"Excuse me? It seems that people are scattered all across the hall. Is it your intention to clear everyone out before the show, or is there someone we can ask if I can sit down after all?"

"Oh dear, I'm sorry," she sounded worried. "I should check. Sometimes we get conflicting information."

She came back to say it was, of course, fine to sit. But I had been so ready to just follow, calmly, blindly. Almost like Butterfly herself. Never questioned, just obeyed. Until the harrowing end. (The opera, by the way, really got to me this time. The whole thing was so absurd, so extreme, yet real. Plausible. Disturbing. Gave me goosebumps.)

Anyway, glad I asked.

Gained: 30 minutes in a comfortable chair.

Have you ever stood up to a silly policy? I'd be curious to hear about it!

May 08, 2009

A blessing in disguise?

May 8. Day 312.

Bad news for a lot of my friends and acquaintances. This week, their company laid them off.

It's happened before -- this is the fourth or fifth round in a year or two. I've lost track.

But this one was absolute carnage.

So I wrote each of my friends who are leaving a note, with a small offer to help. I don't know what I can do, I don't know if I can help them find work, but maybe, maybe I can. Or someone I know can. Who knows.

It was a reverse asking -- the kind where you gain by giving, that is.

Gained: Hope these people will pull through, hope the cuts were a blessing in disguise, hope I might at last help someone professionally, after being helped so many times by so many others.

And you, reader, have you been affected by the economy, job-wise? If you were laid off recently, did you find it was for the best? Perhaps escape from a crumbling institution, a pressure cooker, a chance to refocus? Or was it the worst thing imaginable?

And if you weren't laid off, what's it like holding a steady job while people left and right are losing theirs? Is this idea of "survivor's guilt" a bunch of media hype, or is it real? Is it harder for those left behind, or the departed?

May 07, 2009

Coming soon to a blog near you

May 7. Day 311.

Guess what.

I think I need to sleep.

I could keep writing, and it would probably be somewhat coherent, but it won't be fun for either of us.

I realized this when I reread the first sentence of this post: Today, we went to Ocean Beach.

Yes, I'm down to one sentence paragraphs.

Eww. Not enticing.

That one had two sentences, but it won't happen again.

I promise.

For enticement, must sleep first.

Anyway, I'm almost caught up.

With any luck, I'll dream up an asking for tomorrow.

xo,

La Roxy

PS: anyone have anything to say? A little May message? How's this blog working for ya? Anything thoughts, ideas, suggests, questions, concerns, as I conceptualize this project for Year Two? Would love to hear from you!! Leave a comment below, or email me.

PPS: the one sentence thing doesn't apply to PS's.

PPPS: zzzz.

UPDATE:

You know what?? Screw sleep.

I can do this.

Onward.

You can't visit San Diego without going to the beach. So we headed today to Ocean Beach, which has three great things going for it:

1) that beach surfer/hippie atmosphere you can't find most other places on the planet
2) a row of cool local shops
3) great Mexican food

After a taco lunch and a stroll by the water, we stopped in a few stores. In the last one, we each noticed some pretty jewelry. I rather liked an antique cross with seed pearls (not that I'm overly, or overtly, religious -- see this post for details -- but I am happy to wear a cross on occasion.) No way was I buying it, but that didn't stop me from trying it on.

Meanwhile, Eau had zoomed in on an Edwardian pendant with amethyst. Absolutely stunning.

She asked the salesman if he could do a better price, and he offered 10 percent off. Nothing amazing, but still, around $25 for her pendant.

Following suit, I asked the same, and he extended the same discount -- about $16 off.

These were American pieces, he explained, from around the turn of the century. Necklines plunged for the first time in decades and women could finally wear something dainty around their necks, rather than brooches. Cool back story.

Ample desire, but no actual intention to purchase. Still, I had to ask for something.

Gained: The offer of $16 off a $160 pendant.

May 06, 2009

Salary injustice, close to home

May 6. Day 310.

La Sorella called me this morning, flustered.

She took on a babysitting job in Seattle. A baby and a toddler. $10 per hour. It takes her an hour to drive there and back, not paid. Plus the family comes home late and doesn't pay for the extra 10 or 15 minutes. Should she ask for a raise or not? Should she ask them to come on time, or pay her for her time? She was nervous about bringing up these issues, but upset with the status quo.

I told her yes on both counts. Encouraged her. Gave her a few talking points. Told her to find a better paying gig, since even if she got a raise, the base is so low it would probably not jump high enough to be worth it.

Then I hung up.

But I felt like we didn't end the talk well. I wasn't sure I'd given her the best advice. It was snippets of ideas, but nothing coherent. Nothing rousing. Nothing more meaningful than "hope" and "try."

"Can you talk to her?" I asked Eau.

This woman has taught negotiation classes. She bargains down jewelry in Hong Kong to less than 10 percent of the asking price. And she knows about employment law.

It was a moot question. Of course she would. I dialed and handed her the phone.

"Darling," she said, and yes she really does talk that way. "Darling, I heard about your situation, and I have to say, it's really wrong what they are doing. It's unconscionable, really. I mean, given my line of work I'm really tuned into what's fair and equitable and what's not, and anyone would rule that this is exploitation. If you factor in your travel time and gas, you are earning less than minimum wage. Just to put things in perspective, when I was in New York I charged more than five times that. Prices are very inflated there, and you're in a different city, but you're still a college graduate with special training in education. You should be charging much more than $10, especially for two kids.

"I think that what's more important than keeping these clients -- since they are taking advantage of you -- is learning to value your time and talents. People are happy to pay more for a quality product or service, and that's exactly what you're offering. You're intelligent, energetic, wonderful with children, and you've been trained as a teacher. You're a professional. You're not some teenager who wants to make a few extra bucks on top of her allowance. So I'm sure there are other people out there looking for a babysitter or a tutor. I'd find some other clients, and start with a much higher fee. You can always let them bargain it down, but $10 is far too little. And if those people still want to pay $10, they should hire a preteen from the neighborhood.

"Even if the kids take a nap, you shouldn't feel you have it easy or it's not a job. You're still the responsible adult in the house. If something goes wrong, if there's a fire or one of them needs to go to the emergency room, that's actually what you're there for. Just in case. On top of the care you provide when they are awake. Plus, any time you are there, you can't be doing something else. Working a better paying job, or looking for full time work, or doing whatever you want with your time.

"I've found that when people do ask for respect, when they take themselves seriously enough to complain about something or make sure they're treated fairly, people will actually respect them much more. Never, ever be afraid to stand up for yourself."

I just listened in awe. Right on every count. My sister, meanwhile, was silent, but taking it all in on the other end.

A few hours later, she sent me this text message:

"They said no to higher pay. So I won't be babysitting after these sessions. Ridiculous. Maybe they'll reconsider. Thank you and Eau. It felt great to stand up for myself!"

I was so happy -- so so happy -- she acted. Immediately. No fear. I'm proud of you, little sis!!!

Gained: respect -- and just around the corner, I am positive, a much better paying job -- for my Sorella.

(Another bit of good news:

For months I've been working on this chapter. Last Friday I drove to UCLA to hand it to my prof, but the pages had printed out funny. For her, that was a nuisance. For me, it was salvation.

Because it bought me a few more days.

So since Friday until today, I worked madly the finish the damn thing. Really finish it. I edited it three more times. Print outs. Paper jams. Between hanging out, cooking a chicken, playing a board game and occasional sleep...

Finally...

tonight... at 11:50 p.m...

I hit send.

Done. Bye bye, chapter two!! Four down, one to go!!)