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February 25, 2010

Why don't people ask?

After the morning's emotional roller coaster, I headed to the Swan Oyster Depot for some TLC. Founded in 1912, this place is rumored to have the best damn chowder in the city, and after slurping down a bowl I have to agree.

There, I chatted with a lawyer -- and older woman wearing a faded Burberry coat who does prosecution litigation, whatever that is -- who, as we spoke, asked the cashier to pack away a few items to go. "I'll have a small portion of the sashimi, and can you give me just half a container of the seafood salad?" It sound like she was a regular, since she and all the staff were on a first name basis and she knew the menu by heart. It also sounded like she was holding back, trying to customize a smaller mix-and-match selection, either for financial or dietary reasons.

The man handed her a paper baggie with about five or six halves of items.

"That'll be $63.25."

I glanced at her, and she looked put off.

"Wow, Earnie, that's more than I wanted to spend, wow," she said. She reached into her wallet and found three $20 bills and some loose change and paid him.

She left evidently dissatisfied, but I get the feeling she'll be back in a few days or a week, ordering up a storm once again, and feeling like they overcharged.

I wonder why -- why doesn't she ask? Why doesn't she say, "Fellas, what can you fix up for $40?" or, laughing, "Earnie, you're killing me. I'm an old lady with a pacemaker. Do you really think I can afford $60 for two nights of dinner? Can we work something out or should I send you my hospital bill from this heart attack?" or even "How much is this going to cost me? (before he wraps it up to go, that is)." Instead, she seemed totally able to pay (the coat, the general air about her, even though I don't think she was rolling in dough); and totally unable to propose an alternative.

So tell me, dear reader:

What are the reasons you don't ask? Why do you think people might not, in general? Can you help me assemble a thorough list? I would like to address our findings in (a) future post(s). I'll start:

--fear of being rejected
--fear of bothering someone
--cultural factors, e.g.:
--generational/age factors, e.g.:
--mistaking the biker for the shadow, or vice versa
--not sure what I meant by that last one, but it sounded nice and I liked the picture

[image via flickr]

Are you alive?

I woke up Thursday morning to very disturbing news about a friend. The subject line of the email was: "Urgent re John Byron" (all names and potentially identifying details changed). This message came from a common acquaintance, a woman I've never met. The gist of the email was this:
"Dear Friends of John Byron: Have you seen or heard from John? I last heard from him on New Year's Day. I've tried contacting him but the email bounced. I am very worried. It's odd for him to cut off contact like this. I think he may be missing, as there is a police search going on for him. Please give me any info you have about him."
She provided a link to an article in a community newspaper, which was written in an elegaic tone and reported that John has been missing for a few months and left a suicide note. It cited a police search and sad comments from people who knew him.

I closed the email, frightened but unsure what to think.

Dead? Suicide? Missing?

John Byron?

I've known John Byron for almost a decade. He started as my teacher and mentor and has gradually become a friend. Whenever I pass through his city I have dinner with him, and when he met Mr. A he was stern but charming, playing the father figure. He's a stunning intellectual, savagely frank, occasionally too much so for his own good, and a kind, warm soul. He's one of the few people I know who have the courage to tell things like they are, always, regardless of the consequences. The writing I occasionally give him to critique comes back looking like it's gotten into an alley fight, scratched and scuffed and bleeding all over the place. "ASININE!!" or "DUH!" he'll scream from page. When I'm trying to sound sophisticated: "Write in English!" And occasionally, a compliment: "Between all this gibberish I can decipher the kernel of a good idea. Get to the point and go with it."

Some call him caustic, crude, harsh.

I respect him deeply.

I thought back to my last interaction with him. A few weeks ago, I told him I was making progress. "The dissertation is almost done!!!" I gleefully typed.

"Dissertation almost done?" he replied. "Hmmmmm ... but I will withhold comment until I see you."

I never wrote back.

Such exchanges -- fragmented, rushed, postponed -- are typical between us. Quick chats between long bouts of work. Could I have been self-absorbed, missed cues of loneliness or impending tragedy?

I checked out Google news, and as soon as I typed "John Byron" the autofill added the words "missing" and "dead." Numb, I clicked through. Relief. It was a different person, a young man who died while hiking in Yosemite.

I called. But the number went through to a voicemail in Spanish. "Dejame un mensaje," said a little girl.

Finally, I wrote an email.

Like nothing happened. Picking up the previous thread, I said I really am progressing on the dissertation. Then I added I hope our paths will cross soon and asked "[Will] you have time for lunch or dinner?" I also mentioned that a woman was searching for him and linked to the news story, but said I didn't want to give any info without his consent. Take care!

I read and reread and reread the message, then hit send.

Something stuck me as strange about the woman's email. She says they were professional acquaintances, but her note was frantic. Was she stalking him, or just worried? Was she right to panic? The news article was also fishy: no police sources directly quoted, and a bunch of hearsay and conjecture. Maybe it was all a mixup.

And then, an answer.

Short and to the point: He is alive and well, and we've made plans to get lunch next time I'm in his town.

He said nothing about her email or the article, and I didn't ask.

February 24, 2010

Lunch with _____

I met my friend _____ at Coco500, a restaurant in SOMA.

He works nearby as a high powered multimedia guru but managed to cut out for lunch, and I had all the time in the world for a leisurely meal with an old high school buddy.

He reads this blog, and before anything I asked if I could blog about him. He's very bloggable, you see.

"Sure. All my friends here are internet documentors, so all I have to do is hang out with them and then I can watch my life unfold before my eyes." _____ was recently profiled in a popular street fashion blog.

"You have it figured out. Even better than writing is being friends with people who write. The effortless autobiography. Or something," I said.

"Exactly. So what are you going to ask for?? I'm dying to see you in action."

In fact, I had no idea.

For the rest of the meal I kept joking that each question was my big "ask" for the day.

"So, how's work going?"
"When will you be in San Diego again?"
"What neighborhood do you live in?
"That's great you ride your bike to work. How far is your house from here?"
"So are you really a foodie or is that just your Facebook persona?"
"What do you recommend from the menu?"
"Can I have the salmon?"
Eventually, something more of an ask and less of a question cropped up. _____ loves Coco's mushroom truffle flatbread, so we ordered a portion to share as an appetizer. Indeed, it was exquisite. For the next 10 minutes, we tried to deduce the recipe. I said it must be easy to make, and he vowed to attempt it at home. If only we could decipher all the ingredients. Munch munch. Truffle oil. Munch. Porchini mushrooms? Munch. Parmesan or fontina?

When the waiter passed by, I stopped him.

"Excuse me, what is this cheese?" I asked.

"That is Parmesan. The recipe is really simple, actually. It's a rye flatbread -- rye flour and water -- which we roll out, then a mushroom puree and parmesan, baked. And then a drizzle of truffle oil."

Wow, thanks!

To top things off, after the waiter walked away I discovered that if you eat the flatbread upside down, you get all the cheesy, truffly goodness directly on your tastebuds.

I was in heaven.

But then, as we waited for the check, yet another ask emerged!

As a high powered multimedia guru with friends in interesting circles, ____ has seen both first and secondhand how the print publishing world has imploded. His galpal at Vanity Fair, for example, was saying that the mood at the magazine has totally chang--

"That's my dream job!!!" I squealed. "Vanity Fair!!!!!" Exactly the kind of cutthroat elegance Graydon Carter would covet in a reporter, no doubt.

"Well then, I'll have to put you two in touch."

"Really!? Then that is my second ask for the day: Could you email her and see if she minds if I write to her? Maybe, if she's tight with Graydon, she can put in a good word for me?!"


Amazing lunch? Check.

Catch up with an old friend? Check.

Shot at fame and fortune through the friend of a friend of a friend? Check (please!).

One problem remains: his pseudonym. I asked _____ what he wanted to be called, but as conversations tend to do between friends who haven't seen each other in years, ours jumped from one topic to the next and never came back.

So what's your vote, based on what you've read about him here. Also, this:

Sample quotes: "I use all forms of transportation." "He looks like Charleton Heston but instead of being a gun toting freak he's a brilliant physicst." "I am evil."
Here's what he was wearing: glasses, cool blazer, navy blue shirt and jeans.
He speaks French.
And his name starts with K.

A few options, or provide your own.

Refraction Man (like he's reflected/refracted in everyone's online reports about him, get it? get it?)
High Powered Multimedia Guru

[Image via summertruffles, PureExtracts and Bon Appetit]

February 23, 2010

Can I see your closed museum exhibit?

Because of travel and a very deadline-heavy February, I missed an art exhibit I've been dying to go to: Tara Donovan, at the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art.

Here are a few examples of her inventive, geometrically harmonious installations.

She takes household objects (here straws, paper plates and mylar tape), links them up and completely reconfigures them. As interesting they are on the web, I'm sure they're totally mindblowing in person.

Here are two reviews: San Diego Union-Tribune and LA Times.

Last Friday night, I realized the show ends Feb. 28, and I get back to San Diego that night at 11. Last Saturday morning, before taking off for SF, I hoped I could make it to the museum for a 15-minute glimpse. But between packing and getting to the airport with Mr. A, there was no time.

Sacrificing art for a complete suitcase? So the wrong priority. I see it now. Draaaaat!!!!!

I left dejected, and became even more so when I found out her next show is in Indiana.

Wednesday, finding myself still thinking about this, I figured I should at least try to rectify this situation.

I sent an email to the museum's press person, asking if she'd be willing to let me watch the staff dismantle the exhibit and write about the process. I mentioned my credentials, told her how much I love the museum and hit send.

Normally when I ask, I do it as an average Jane. I don't want people to know I'm blogging because it might skew their reactions; also, because if anyone else is inspired to ask -- like you, gentle reader -- I don't want to have the advantage of being able to promise (or threaten) media exposure. Reporters and bloggers wield immense power -- in the form of access to sources and information, among other things ("Hello? White House switchboard? I have a quick question for Barack.") -- but that's because they're bringing that info to the people. While this blog does that, to a smaller extent, I want to be treated like anyone else out there, rather than a member of the media, because it keeps my interactions, and the stories you read here, more authentic.

But this time, I went against my policy of not asking "as a blogger," because I soooo wanted to see this exhibit and because, frankly, I thought she'd be more likely to say yes if I was a journalist/reviewer/scribe type. I hope you'll forgive this rare exception to my otherwise rock solid policy.

It's Thursday now, and, no news. I called to follow up, but no answer.

Fear not: As soon as I hear back I'll let you know -- and hopefully get the chance to report on Donovan.

[images via Clara Lieu, Trixie6, and Duke Visual Studies]

February 22, 2010

Insider's SF? Legging discount? Aviation article?

I asked thrice, Monday. They were totally disconnected but reflect where my thoughts are these days.

1) Where should I hang out?

Every time I travel I try to get a local's perspective. In Barcelona I asked where to eat the best paella (over by the dock). In Florence, where to eat the best pasta (Il Latini! was the unanimous vote). In NY I asked how to spend my weekend and ended up having dinner with a lawyer and a private investigator.

Monday morning, I spotted a girl at a bus stop and asked her what neighborhood is good for grabbing a cup of coffee. She told me three buses were departing from that very stop and heading for The Haight, so that was that.

On the bus, she gave me an extra pointer: get off a little earlier and go to Cafe du Soleil. French, friendly, free wifi.


2) Discount these leggings?

From the cafe, I wandered up Haight Street and did a little window shopping. Then I spotted them. A pair of gray leggings that were slashed in a deliciously provocative manner, all the way up the leg. I've been looking for a pair of interesting pants for dancing tango, and these would be even better, paired with a delicate, billowing blouse on top. Feral meets feminine. I like.

They were $22. After trying them on, I took them up to the counter and phrased my request thus: "I'd like to take these, but I'm wondering if you can be flexible on the price. I'd like to spend $18."

"Oh, no," the cashier hissed, lips curled and eyes wide like I was the hair in his omelet. "We don't do discounts." I was about to put them back when he continued, in the same tone, "I can only do 10 percent."

"$20? Ok, that's fine."

"We just don't do discounts," he repeated, still horrified. "We are a boutique. I'm not even the owner so I can't change any prices, so $20 is all I can do. And it's final sale."

"That's great. I'm from San Diego, so I couldn't return them if I wanted to. I have have this policy it's a good idea to ask when I want something, and respond when people ask me. Everyone is happier that way."

No answer.

3) Let me write about aviation for you?

A few days ago I met a pilot and asked if he'd give me a ride in his WWII replica plane. He said sure -- if I can get him some media coverage.

Then Carolyn gave me a good shake.
Roxy Roxy Roxy. Are you a writer who blogs, or just a blogger? Are you in business for yourself and plan to use all of your skills in doing so, including your ability to write well? Do you edit people's resumes using your writing skills or your blogging ability? Not sure what your venture actually is, but are you wanting work, to make connections, to get your work out there? Pitch a story to an aviation magazine, or a hobbyist or a history or retirement or an inflight magazine. Maybe you won't get paid much, or maybe you will, but you'd at least get a byline, you'd include your contact information, you'd be planting seeds, and you'd have a new contact (the pilot) who knows you and may bring you work in the future. And you'd have an adventure doing it. Networks are about people who know people, and enjoying each other and appreciating what they do makes it better. This opportunity seems tailored to your personality.
Spon on, as always, Carolyn! Thank you!

I sent my first pitch that afternoon, to AARP Magazine. I've heard it's notoriously hard to get published there, but if I don't ask, my chances will be zero. If that doesn't work, I'll work down a list of publications, until I make it happen.

But hopefully, three is a charm!?

February 21, 2010

Whistle while you tweet!

For the first time in my life, I have wielded the power of Twitter.

I have summoned the forces of the twittersphere and unleashed them on a corporate behemoth.

And obtained nothing.

Sunday, after checking into the hotel where Mr. A's conference is located, the Union Square Hilton, I noticed the room had no wifi. Only cable internet. This is a hotel that caters to a business crowd. No wifi? Even the $58/night hotel down the street had free wifi.

It was raining Sunday, and I had to do some research (preparing a proposal for a new project I'm hoping to start working on soon, and finding out what cafes to go to this week.)

Since I've been more active on Twitter lately, I decided to play the part. This was my tweet:

It's not my style to complain publicly as a first recourse, but if all the cool kids are doing it, well then...

The next day (today, that is) I got a response:

I wrote back something friendly. Would they meet nice with nice or just walk away, relieved?

The lackluster response:

Not the answer I was hoping for. More like: "No wifi? Of course we do! There's a network we don't advertise. Connect to Superfast343." or "Sorry your experience wasn't outstanding. Here's a coupon for a free coffee downstairs, where we do have wifi." I dunno.

If I really wanted to make a fuss and get my way, I would ask for a different room or seek some kind of compensation. But right now I'm not in the mood to do that. I'm not gung ho about having in-room wifi, mainly because I didn't come to SF to surf the net from my hotel room.

I guess there's some comfort in knowing that, as a consumer, I can at least convey my displeasure and be heard. Even if there's no resolution now, the potential is there, next time I'm in a real bind.

Seller beware.

Speaking of twitter, now you know I tweet! If you want to connect, add me and I'll add you too! I'm @dailyasker.

February 20, 2010

What was the Velvet Revolution?

Saturday, after a supremely satisfying dinner at Pizzeria Delfina (thanks for the rec, neighbor!!), Mr. A and I decided to walk back to the hotel. It was about three miles away per google maps, and we were both feeling so stuffed -- and so relaxed -- a stroll was definitely in order.

Somewhere along Market Street I think, the name "Dubcek" sprang into my thoughts.

No clue from where, but then my brain is not always known for its linear logic.

"Dubcek. He's on my mind. " I told Mr. A. "What was he famous for, again? Czechoslovakia? The Velvet Revolution? Go ahead and call me an ignorant American, that's totally fair. I should know this. But I don't remember!!"

My self-flagellation stems in part from the fact that Mr. A hails from a distant Eastern European country (whose capital is not Prague), and he emigrated to Canada before moving to California. Which means he knows things. Like why Dubcek was the dude.

"Yes, Prague. He opened things up dramatically in '68. And then, '89."

"Right! Thanks!"

"I don't think Americans are all ignorant. Most people would probably know about the Velvet Revolution," he said.

"You're kidding, right? Your average person walking down the street knows who Dubcek is? I don't think so."

"I think they would."

"Ok, let's find out. Excuse me," I said, turning to a lone man who happened to be crossing the deserted street with us. Perfect timing! "We're just trying to settle a bet. Do you know what the Velvet Revolution is?"

"No. I've never heard of it. Sorry."

"No problem, thanks!"


And defeat.

Here's more info about it, in case you're curious. Not that you'd ever need a history refresher ;)

[image via]

February 19, 2010

Lovely bubbly, darling?

Regardless of how long you've been reading this blog, if there's anything you should know about me it should be that I ask, and I eat. Dessert, especially. Ideally, both daily.

And I love bubbly.

Thus when, Friday morning, a friend invited me to attend a party -- and not just any party, but a dessert baking competition and champagne fest for which he made a goat cheese white chocolate cheesecake -- I was about to say yes when I realized the day and time: Saturday evening, right when I was set to land in SF.

"Hmm... know anyone else who might like to go?" he asked.

I scanned a mental rolodex and my thoughts instantly fell on another friend, one who's always up for conversation and dessert, in either order. A match made in merengue?

I called and left her a cryptic voicemail message, which she returned a few hours later.

"I'm wondering what you're doing Saturday, because there's something I want to propose. An adventure of sorts. If you're up to meeting new people and gorging on amazing pastries," I began.

"I can't hear you! What??" she asked.

We had a bad cellphone connection, so I ended up stopping by her house and dishing the details in person. Friend of mine. Great party but I'll be out of town. Saturday. He's open to going with someone else. No sketchiness involved. Dessert and champagne flowing freely. Interesting crowd. Interested?

"What time?" she asked.

"Starts at 6:30."

She had to be somewhere at 8:30, which left little time for gorging, but at least she would get the chance to converse, imbibe and, with luck, sample a few slivers of those sweets.

Friday evening I put them in touch via Facebook and stepped back, but not without this final request. "Have a wonderful time!"

February 18, 2010

Pick a name? Pick a price?

For this new writing/consulting business, so far I've lined up or acquired the following:

--an office
--a business license
--a business bank account
--a list of services I plan to offer
--several promising leads
--a cool free online bookkeeping system
--a couple of mentors whose input has been invaluable
--the moral support of family and friends
--the scoop on free parking around the neighborhood
--some funky paperclips from Staples for who knows what
--a Google Voice number for business calls
--status as a regular at the cafe across the street

But no name. And no clear plan about what to charge.

Regarding the first:

I thought I could put the naming aside, get down to business and it would just happen. Something would just pop into my head as I was brushing my teeth, or sitting on my grandmother's couch, or talking to a professor. (That's how I've gotten other ideas -- this blog, and my dissertation topic, for example.)

No such luck.

Whenever I sent out an email in the past month, my name and address on the signature seemed odd, dismembered, even, without a business name or title to contextualize them. Why would I just write my name and address on an email message? Who just does that? More importantly: Who am I? What am I about? What is the purpose of my new venture? And what word or two will instantly convey all that to a potential client in an appealing and trust-inspiring way?

I thought and thought about it and came up with a list of possible names. I also sought the input of my aforementioned mentors. At last, on Thursday, I emailed a group of trusted counselors who work in a variety of fields (read: a bunch of friends) and asked them to pick their favorites.

Their votes were remarkably consistent. Everyone liked the same four choices. Now I need to try them on, see how they feel, see what's truest to who I am and what I want to achieve, and finally, start announcing it left and right!!

As for prices.

Since I have already been interacting with a few possible clients, I need to know what to charge, and fast. I've looked around online, hoping to discover some guidelines, but I've found only the vaguest of answers: "It depends." "Every project is different." "You can charge by the hour or by the project!" Wow, thanks peeps.

I did some math and realized that if I charge what I think is fair given my credentials, the results I can deliver and what it costs to run this business + pay myself a salary, then my fees will be, well, steep. Will people be turned off? Would someone really just fork over hundreds if not thousands for these services?

On the other hand, they might be turned off if my fees are not high enough. Would you hire an auto mechanic who claims he can do a $120 job for $30? I would be suspicious.

How to proceed? How do I find a price point that doesn't turn off clients and is still adequate compensation for myself?

And then, Mr. A said something wise. He said, "Why price your services according to other people's budgets? Charge what you know you're worth, and find people with a budget that can match that. You're excellent, and plenty of people are willing to pay for excellence. Those are the ones you want to work with, in the first place."

Thanks, amore! I like how you think. ;)

Thus on Thursday I set my fees based on my target yearly salary and just stopped worrying about it.

[image via alchemysite]

Post script: I just noticed the typo -- 'once' instead of 'ones' -- and fixed it now; especially in a post about excellence, cringe!!

February 17, 2010

Hotel discount?

Next week, I'll be in SF with Mr. A.

He has a conference, and he invited me to tag along. I'll skip the socializing and, instead, work in a different cafe every day. There's one last chapter I have to edit, and that will be the week to crank it out. (I won't be done then, unfortunately. Still have to revise everything with professor feedback, format it and do the front/back matter. But this will be a big leap toward completion.)

For most of our trip, the hotel is paid for by his company. But we're arriving a day early, so I set out Wednesday to find a hotel. It had to be affordable and centrally located.

SF has several nice options. I settled on The Touchstone, which is close to Union Square had acceptable reviews on Tripadvisor. Instead of doing it online, I called to reserve, since I wanted to get a room up high -- and get a discount.

The voice on the other end, male and youngish, said they have rooms, he confirmed the lowest price is $62, and he agreed to give me a room away from the noisy streetside facade.

Next, I asked for a discount.

"Do you think you could knock off 5 or 10 percent? Maybe come down to $58 from $62?"

"I should be able to do that, yeah."

No clue where I got the $58 from.

I also didn't think he'd say yes. Not sure why, but that was my gut feeling.

Glad my gut was clueless.

$4 off isn't close to nothing -- yet it's also worth a coffee or maybe even two. Free breakfast? I'll take that.

[image via Strange Maps. Cool blog!]

February 16, 2010

Fitted Sheets: Ditched!

I don't know about you, but I have been excited about excising my least favorite chore. I didn't give much thought how or when. Then, Tuesday night: liftoff!

That morning, I pulled the sheets from the bed and didn't put on a fresh set. Had to run out the door (to yoga, see previous post). That night, I was on the couch watching something on Hulu, when Mr. A said goodnight.

From the bedroom, I heard a groan. (Don't take this the wrong way -- we share chores, but he had pulled an all-nighter and all he wanted to do was sleep. I would do the same thing.)
Align Left
"The sheets?" I called from the livingroom. "I started but didn't have time to finish. Can you start putting them on? I'll be there to help with the duvet."


So, gentle reader, how is your Least Favorite Chore Ditching Quest going? I see this idea got very little response. Do you think it's lame? Have I set the bar too low? What, you mean you have ambitions beyond household management?


Still, if you decide to play along, I would love to hear your stories, strategies, results.

Either way, for the next few months I have planned a series of asking challenges. They'll be in a variety of settings and have a variety of goals -- home, work, personal, professional, and having random crazy fun.

I hope you'll join me!!

Missed opportunity

Tuesday morning, Gem suggested we go to a gentle yoga class.

"It's $12," she let me know.

We showed up and discovered the class was actually $14. The studio is under new ownership, and the first thing they did was raise the rates.

I had exactly 12 one-dollar bills on me.

Gem offered to let me use of one her prepaid classes -- purchased at the earlier $12 rate -- and take my cash, and I accepted.

During class, as the instructor was inviting us to get in touch with our heart-centers and open our palms to face the universe, I realized what I'd done wrong. I hadn't asked. I should have told the woman at the counter that I thought it was still $12, that's all the cash I had, and would they please let me stay? That way, Gem didn't use up her lower-rate class, and I got to ask.

Oh well. Tuck this regret away and learn from it. Be more aware, next time around. All is good. I am at peace.


[image via]

February 14, 2010

Are you suuure we can't sit there?

Sunday morning I awoke with no hangover. Pizza is the perfect prevention.

Before making our way to the mountain, Mr. A and I stopped in town for breakfast. The night before, I'd eyed a diner called "The Evergreen Cafe and Raccoon Saloon," so we parked across the street and walked over.

To my shock, there was a line. Like a real line. A crowd of people waiting outside. I've never been to a mountain hamlet diner before and not found a seat. What was going on?

"Are you waiting? For a table?" I asked.

"Yes," someone answered.

We walked in anyway and asked for a table for two.

"That'll be a 20, 30 minute wait. There's a few people in front of you."

I glanced at her list. Party of 5, party of 2.

I looked around the room and saw three open seats at the counter.

"What about those?" I asked.

"I can't give you those. There's a list and we'll need them soon."

"We just want a quick cup of coffee. Before we go skiing. I promise we'll be in and out in 15 minutes."

"I'll have to check with my manager."

"Of course! Thank you!"

She came back with a smile.

"You can have them. One party has five people, and the party of two only wants a table."


Would she have turned away two customers who were eager to eat there and who had a place to sit -- simply because she wasn't thinking on her feet?


Did it matter?

Apparently not. The place was full, it had a line out the door, and we wanted to eat there so bad I asked her to reconsider her refusal.

Some places, I guess, can afford not to be too careful.

What do you think: Are competence, quick thinking and customer service sometimes overrated? Or are they always paramount?

[image of the Tiffany Diner, in NJ, not the Evergreen, since I could find none online.]

February 13, 2010

Give me a ride in your WWII replica plane?

Saturday night, as a zydeco band strummed in the background and I was on drink number... four I think?... I asked some guy at some bar if he would give me a ride in his airplane. And he said yes. Sort of. How it came about, after the jump.

Mr. A and I spent the weekend in Wrightwood, a ski town an hour east of LA. He is an avid skiier and I can take on any bunny slope. The plan was to leave first thing Saturday and have a day on the slopes, but

1) He twisted his ankle Friday and
2) We both had work to do.

We ended up leaving in the afternoon. Once we got there, we discovered the mountain is open for night skiing. Mr. A's eyes lit up, and I told him not to worry about me. He hasn't skied in two years, he was aching to go (ankle be damned) and I could figure out something to do for three hours. (I'm not into night skiing. Brrrr.)

I sure did. The local tavern, named The Yodeler, was having a Mardi Gras celebration, so I took a seat at the bar, strung on some beads and helped myself to a Jack n Coke and mushroom pizza. Foolproof combo.

One of the locals I talked to included a man who works for an aviation museum. He restores classic WWII planes, has flown in WWII movies and air shows, and whenever he heads to Vegas for the weekend, it's in his plane. He told me how much he charges for a flight: $750.

That's when I asked.

"Would you ever take someone up, as a guest? Like, I'm not actually asking for you to take me on a flight, but would you?" (This non-question question was not strategic. It was the Jack talking.)

"If you can get the museum some publicity, write about us, I definitely can. You come out for our press day, I'll show you around and take you up for a flight."

Earlier, I had made the mistake of telling him I blog, but I didn't say exactly what about.

I'm not sure The Daily Asker is the kind of publicity he had in mind, but I kept his card. Perhaps a flight will somehow be in the works. And if you're ever in L.A. and want to check out his museum, here's the name: Planes of Fame.

[image via]

February 12, 2010

About Montana

He had a raspy tenor voice, deepset eyes and a strong, slender frame -- a more weathered version of Dr. House, you might say.

The man, who appeared homeless, was standing outside the Which'wich sandwich shop as Gem and I walked by Friday evening.

"Sandwiches are $1 today," he let us know.

We inspected the signs posted all the windows, and he was right. It was the restaurant's birthday, and all sandwiches were 99 cents.

Gem and I had and hour to kill before we met our boyfriends for dinner. The sandwich joint was packed: dozens of people lining up to celebrate the restaurant's birthday and stuff themselves for cheap.

I glanced at her and mouthed, "Want to?" and she nodded.

"How about you come with us for a sandwich?" we asked.

"I couldn't do that," he replied. Maybe he was nervous about going inside or didn't want to be a bother.

"No, it's okay!" we insisted. "Why don't you come choose something?"

"I'd feel bad. You must want it for yourself."

"No, no! Please don't worry! What kind of sandwich would you like?" we said and headed in with him.

We all looked at the menu, which was written on a huge wall, and as he inspected the choices I wondered about him.

"Do they have pork?" he asked.

"Yes, they do! Look at that: Pork tenderloin. So what kind of bread do you want? Wheat or white?" Gem and I each filled out an order sheet for him, since he didn't seem inclined, or able, to write. Pickles, pork tenderloin, provolone, mustard x 2.

"You girls smell like piss of 1000 angels!" he gushed. We smiled, assuming it was a compliment.

He asked what we do, jobwise. Gem described her job, and I told him I write.

We asked his name.

"Let me see if I remember," he said, and started pondering that question. "Montana." He extracted a wallet from one of his many pockets, flipped it open and pointed to the "Montana" running across the top of the glossy ID card.

As we waited for his sandwiches to come up, Montana told us that he used to be a chef specializing in French Cajun cuisine. He once made 111 soups in a row. His favorite, he said, was broccoli cheddar. He has lived in San Diego for 8 years. He likes collecting red sharpies.

Too many of the stories I read are about politicians and fund managers. Too much bad news, inane news, the same old news.

So this is a story about Montana.

Has he been written about before? Is there someone else out there to remember him? I may never know. But at least there's this.

[image via]

February 11, 2010

Didn't you say $12?

I decided, when I moved into my office, that I'd always have fresh flowers on my desk.

There's a stand is right by where I work, which makes that resolution very easy.

Thursday afternoon, I stopped by to pick up a bouquet.

I poked around a few premade options, which were gorgeous, but they were more than I wanted to spend. The man pointed me to one for $10.

"It's pretty, but half of the flowers are wilting."

"How about I make something for you. How much do you want to spend?"

"$10, up to $12."

"How about some stock? Rununculas?"

"That's great, yes, really delicate. Perfect."

He picked up a few stems and got to work, added some flouncy leaves, wrapped a bright purple paper around it and pronounced my price.


"Didn't we say $12?"


The flowers were so pretty that I ended up going back down and picking up another bouquet, this time with lillies and tuberoses (one of my favorites because of the intoxicating smell), for a dinner Mr. A and I were headed to. At first I had been thinking to bring wine, but that disappears in an hour, while flowers last for days.

That time, we agreed on a price and he stuck to it.


The Great Chore Ditching Project

Remember how last week I asked you what's your most detested household chore?

Answers included setting up the iron and folding fitted sheets.

Here's a challenge. Sometime between now and the end of the month, attempt to palm off said task on someone else.

Do it by asking, calling in a favor, bartering, pulling rank, cajoling, bribing, whatever it takes.

If you live alone, it might be harder. Actually, depending on who your housemate is, it might be easier. Maybe you can invite the friend-who-never-says-no for dinner and laundry folding. Maybe you can summon your favorite nephew. What do I know? The one thing you can't do is say you're reading this blog and you're participating in a collective chore-ditching project.

If there's anyone who you think would be interested in playing, forward them this link.

The Great Chore Ditching Project

Are you game?

And if you didn't list your most detested chore last week, do so in the comments below. On Feb. 28 I'll ask how you did, what methods you used, what the results were (extra points if you do it more than once), and we can all kick back and celebrate the collective minutes we saved, and aggravation we were spared!!

Happy foisting,

La Roxy

[image via ffffound]

February 09, 2010

Caution to the wind

Here's the thing.

I asked for something major -- something that almost always leads to rejection.

And I can't tell you what!! I wish I could, but sometimes it's best to keep things private.

It's is a question that is nestled in the deepest overlap of my profession and my greatest passion. And if I report it here, well... I am not ready to give away that part of myself yet, to put it out in public. It is too fragile and too sacred. For now, at least, it is.

But I can write around it.

How and why did I ask for this today? Because I had no reason not to. For years I thought about it, wondered if I was ready, wondered if it was the right moment, and I kept coming back to the same two letters. Snide N, callous O. One poked me while the other laughed.

And then, Tuesday I simply asked. I didn't even think about it. Out of the blue, I took the necessary steps to formulate my question, approached the individual and pronounced the words.

There wasn't an ounce of fear. It was completely natural that I should ask for this, this way, and now. Imagine seeing your high school principal, the strict one who was kind of scary but always had your best interests at heart, at your grocery store. She retired and moved to your neighborhood. You're both just people now, and while she was and will always be formidable, you are finally tall enough to look her in the eye. You have earned the right to call her Judy.

As I write this two days after the fact, I am still waiting for an answer.

In the worst case, it will be a confirmation of what I've been telling myself all this time. At best, a new road will unfold before me and I will have proven the most fundamental tenet of asking: Don't close the door on yourself, don't reject yourself. You try, give it a shot, and let others do the rejecting. Asking is half the battle...

Sorry to get so metaphysical on you.

Perhaps, if I am blessed, I will have some concrete news to report.

And if not, back to business as usual. Which is fine by me! =)

[image via ffffound]

February 08, 2010

Aim low and you'll never be disappointed

Another one of those wish-it-were unnecessary askings:

I called Southwest Airlines, which has been bombarding me with credit card offers (ok, just two in the past month, but I want to nip it in the bud).

I asked all offers and marketing communications to cease.

The agent removed my name from their list and said it will take 90 days.

Case closed.

Not exciting, not ambitious, but what can I say. If every day were exciting they'd all blend together. That way, if I look for keys on Sunday and ask Southwest to stop pestering me on Monday, Tuesday's request will be all the more exciting!! (See next post.)

February 07, 2010

Where are my keys?

The three biggest all time self-inflected time wasters in my life, in order of most to least offensive.

1. Not getting enough sleep, which leads to exhaustion the next day and general inefficiency.
2. Living in Massachussets.
3. Searching for keys.


I'll never escape #1. I'm resigned to being a night owl and feeling tired if I have to get up early. That is that.

To fix #2, I moved back to California. (Any readers from Mass, out there, don't take this the wrong way. I adore ye, the good people of Mass. I even like the drivers -- aggression beats distracted Californians any day, because at least those behaviors are predictable. What got to me were the institutions: long lines, endless bureaucracy, for what? A chance to live in a state with huge income tax, blue laws, and the audacity to tow people during snow storms 30 minutes after the snow emergency announcement? Puhlease.)

I thought I had solved #3. Until Sunday.

Since moving into my house last year, I've developed have a key ritual. Unlock door, push it open, remove key, close door, and put the key on the bookcase by the door.


Sunday, I spent the day around town. Mr. A and I went to the theater with my mom, then the superbowl at his friend's house, and finally watched a movie (When in Rome: lame!). When I got home, I realized he'd been driving the whole time and my keys were missing.

I checked both purses, I checked the car, I checked every possible pocket, scoured the house, I even looked in the trash, I tried some places again, and finally I turned to Mr. A and basically whimpered.

"Have you seen my keys? I've been looking everywhere. Do you mind helping me look?"

He was working, deadline looming, so I felt bad to interrupt him. But I was getting frantic. Work the next day, and it was late.

Mr. A did the same thing, we retraced my steps in the past 24 hours and just when he was about to open the trash bin, I found them.

In my purse. The tiny purse I'd been wearing all day. And had checked. Twice.

Huge chunky monumental key ring. Tiny purse.

Some days.

[image above, representing what my brain was doing while my body was working so hard to find the keys, via tumblr]

February 06, 2010

A night at the opera

[Behind on postings, not asking, because I've been busy in the best way possible: happily writing!! dissertation and various career related endeavors. Now digging out for a bit, and even happier that this is how I get to spend my break.]

Back to Friday:

Gentle reader.

Sit back and listen to a tale of two lovers separated by the cruelest of circumstances. Discover how the kindness of a stranger brought them together and then fate again intervened to tear them asunder. Witness the anguish of a mother watching her daughter's heart break at the thought of being torn from the bosom of her beloved. At last, smile in relief when a twist of ingenuity allows the two lovebirds to be reunited and, after some comical hijinks, to die of tuberculosis. The end.

Minus the TB, that's not the plot of a famous opera but of how our evening unfolded at the opera.
Mr. A, my mumsie and I went to see La Boheme.

I had bought our tickets in early December, which was very late: Almost everything was sold out, for every performance. We had a few choices: Upgrade to the next level, where tickets were $70 a pop. Skip it. Or sit separately. We opted for the latter.
But instead of settling for that, Mr. A and I tried neverthless to wrangle two empty seats next to one another. (Mom was happy and cozy at the end of a row, so we didn't search for three.)
First Mr. A found a friendly usher, who he told us he'll zero in on any pair of empty seats right after the doors close and escort us there.
That usher disappeared.

Next, I spotted another usher and asked the same thing.

"I can't do that. You need to take your seats before the doors close."

"Ok!" I said obediently and backed away. Then, turning to Mr. A: "Where's your guy? We need to stick with him."

Usher 2 may have heard, or he was simply being vigilant, because he asked us to sit down.

"It's ok, thanks," I said. "Another usher is helping us now."

He backed off. We waited 15 minutes for the doors to close, and lo and behold, pairs of empty seats emerged here and there. Usher 1 led us to the best pair and we sat.

The rest of the night (we got displaced when latecomers arrived, sat apart for a few acts and finally moved down a floor after spotting some open seats there) is not really worth reporting in greater detail. Other than to say that the opera rocked.

But this is just a reminder of two tenets of asking.

1) Persist. If there's something you really want, why not try again?

2) It's a crapshoot. Asking for a phone credit? Need a fee waived? Want to sit next to your amore at the opera? Depends entirely on who you come across. (Which reinforces #1)

[image via tumblr]

February 05, 2010

Pull your lip over your head and swallow?

This is just twisted.

Has nothing to do with asking but I have to post it. A guy got sued. For taking pictures on a public street and then selling them.
"Mike Hipple took photos of Dance Steps on Broadway, a public art installation on sidewalks in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. The photos earned him $60 and now a lawsuit from sculptor Jack Mackie."
The full story is here.


Does anyone else find this dirty -- in a bad way!?!

Got the scoop via overlawyered.

As for asking... stay tuned. Nothing yet. I have 13.5 hours to go before the day is over. Maybe I'll ask that fool to lay off Hipple. Want to join me?

From the sculptor's website, here's his cell (206.550.1493) and email (

February 04, 2010

Attention Daily Asker Readers: Free resume edit

Dear Carolyn, Callie, and anyone else who's interested,

If you're looking for a job and you have a resume and cover letter you're grappling with, send them my way. I'll be happy to edit them.

That's the offer I extended to the people of Craigslist, and there's no reason I wouldn't do the same for my amazing readers!!

Email your materials to thedailyasker [at] gmail and include this:

1. a very brief overview of the position you're aiming for
2. if applicable, any issues/concerns you have with your current resume/letter
3. a phone number where I can reach you (feel free to mask your address, but phone is useful if I have questions and better than email for these kinds of things)

Everything you give me is confidential. I will never use your materials, emails or name to promote my resume editing services, as a sample, as a blog post, whatever.

So what are you waiting for!?

Send them in!

[unrelated awesome image of tyroleans gettin jiggy, via ffffound]

February 03, 2010

Have I got a deal for you

Faster than you can say "Satisfaction guaranteed!" I have turned into something I never thought I'd become.

A salesperson.

As in, "I'm in sales!!!!!!"

You know the type. The guys have those awfully kempt hairstyles and tuck their polo shirts around their beer bellies. The girls are don Tiffany and, more often than not, carry around pharmaceutical samples. The worst kind gets up in your face and presumes to "read" you by correlating the visual clues you offer with the little checkboxes in his brain. "Woman. Late twenties. Said 'I love my lab' into cell phone. Thus a good bet for the puppy print flannel sheets."

With the good ones, it's like you've made a friend only at the end of the chat you're sliding a day's pay for something you didn't know you needed. Until you realize you did. And once you do realize that, you're back for more.

Both of these models are antithetical to how I've always viewed myself: authentic, straight talker, niche (versus mass market), passionate about ideas and their applications, not products and services. A discerning consumer, an occasional advocate maybe, but certainly not a -- my word! -- not a panderer.

So did I ever think I'd approach a virtual stranger and offer my services as breezily as I might tell someone they're wearing a cool shirt??? And did I ever think I could do that while preserving my integrity!??

I blame The Daily Asker.

The total mindf*ck this project has engendered over the past year and a half, combined with the pressure of looking for opportunities daily, has resulted in today's interaction:

I was at a cafe I love, where I tend to go when I have a lot of work to do. It's quiet, with quality seating and good brew.

The owner, who's usually in the back room, was waiting for his drink by the counter when they called my name. I walked up, collected my tall capp and we started talking.

He told me he's trying to expand his business, get the word out on social media, and redo his website.

"Do you have a blog?" I asked.

"Our roasters do, but I'm trying to do a lot more with that. The whole social media thing."

"That's the way to go. It's free and it can make such an impact. I have a blog, and -- actually are you looking for someone to blog for you? Or do any kind of writing? That's what I do. Professionally, I mean."

We continued talking about his marketing campaign, various changes he's planning, how and why he wants to grow. By the end of our seven minute chat, I

--mentioned some of the clients I've worked for
--learned about the cafe's past, present and future
--gotten an idea of his budget
--listened to some of his goals and upcoming milestones
--told him a bit about my marketing experience
--gushed about his coffee (and believe it me, it was sincere)
--gave him very quick feedback on some of his ideas
--told him twice I would love to help him get the word out
--suggested we meet up for coffee to take this chat to the next level: a strategy session

So here I am, with his business card in my wallet and a follow up meeting in the works.

This, from a person who was, until relatively recently, totally shy when it came to networking. Don't impose. Don't look ambitious or they might think you're spineless. Above all, don't ask for help, time or attention unless it's an emergency.


[image via michaelkiffmeyer]

February 02, 2010

Beat your own rate, rental car company?

That was Monday.

As I write this Tuesday night, no asking yet. I've been writing all day. Took a mid-afternoon break for a much needed nutella mascarpone crepe and then buckled down again. Or tried to, since I got very little done in the afternoon and instead, my mind wandered. (This is the kind of sentence I'm loath to write, because people -- loving but enthusiastic people like mommies -- read it and start worrying. And then they start asking. When is your dissertation going to be done? I thought you were going to graduate in the fall!? I mean last year? I mean in 2007? Isn't it supposed to take five years? Why didn't you finish with your friend did back in November? How's her job search going? Why couldn't you concentrate today? What's the matter? At least tell me how many pages you wrote today. Why is that an evil question? Are you sure you don't want to be a professor? Really, honey? Then at least tell me why you can't concentrate? If you relaxed and cleared your mind you'd get a lot more done.

So I avoid such sentences at all costs, and I especially avoid calling attention to them by explaining them at length at the top of my blog posts...)

Maybe this antsiness is a sign I need to shake things up.

Drive to Vegas tonight and ask for a comped room. I could. Nowhere to be tomorrow but wherever I am.

Ask the Colonel's ancestors for half of his 13 secret herbs and spices.

Ask five people in the produce section of the nearest 24-hour supermarket what their least favorite household chore is. Just because.

Ask a travel agent about one-way flights to Fiji.

But wait a minute.

I did ask for something. Something simple, but valid nonetheless. I tried to obtain a discounted rental car rate.

I will need to drive to an airport in Texas on an upcoming trip, and after zeroing in on some reasonable prices online I called to see if the phone agent could do one better.

She could not: the phone rates were more than double those online.

Next, I asked if there was a reason why their website showed a price, but the moment I clicked "make reservation," it jumped up by $30.

"You can never tell what the final price is going to be just by looking at the price that's listed. That can change for any number of reasons. Right up until you pay," she explained.

"Wow, it's almost like you're playing a game," I said, my tone friendly. "It's like a treasure hunt. Will you or won't you get the price you were quoted?"

"Yes! Exactly! It's more like the lottery. You can try, but you're never sure what the outcome will be."

"Thank you! I was in the mood for a distraction. I guess I'll spend some time on your website clicking submit and waiting to see if I hit the jackpot."

"Good luck!"

Either she didn't get my irony, or I didn't get hers.

And so I paid. The full internet rate, which wasn't half bad.

As for least favorite household chore, suddenly I'm curious. What's yours? Mine: tugging and tucking the fitted sheet around the mattress. Bleh.

February 01, 2010

Let me edit your resume, internet denizen?

Every few months, I post a note in the Craigslist "writing services offered" section. It goes something like this:
Looking for a job?

I can edit your resume and cover letter for free.

No strings, no obligation.

Pro resume writers, I'm not trying to put you out of business. But in this difficult economic climate, I've decided to reach out to people who can't afford professional services or who want an extra set of eyes to look over their materials.

You can send me your documents directly or email me first to find out about my experience or request a reference.

That's not the exact text (since I change it a bit every time), but I think you get the idea.

So far, one person has replied: a woman who, I am thrilled to report, found a job about 2 months after I revised her materials!! She was intelligent and capable, but she was totally underselling herself. I don't think she saw herself in her target position until her updated resume reminded her who she was, what she'd accomplished, and what her objectives where. As soon as she got her confidence back, BOOM. Hired.

As they say in Gujarat... DANG!

I posted such a note again today, and I'm curious to see if anyone will reply. I'm a little surprised only one person has responded in more than six months of occasional posts.

I just hope people don't think I'm some sketchy plagiarist or something.


Will you vouch for me if they ask for references? ;)

[image via fadetheory]