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September 30, 2008

My first raise!

September 30. Day 92.

My heart is still racing.

I asked for a raise and... got it!!

It's not as high as I'd hoped for, but still...

I do occasional contract work for a local business. This afternoon, in preparation for a project I'll start soon, I called my boss to confirm the dates and then I told him I'd like to talk about freelance pay, if he has a minute. Before our conversation, I'd jotted a few lines I could use, in conversational tones. Here, if you're curious, is the file:
i also wanted to bring up one question, about freelance pay. well, i realize that
you have a tight budget these days, so i don't want to ask for anything unreasonable,
but it occurred to me that $300 is what I earned when I started working for you, back in 2004. so, i was wondering if, given inflation and my experience since then, we could make an adjustment?

if he hesitates: do you want to think about it? i don't mean to put you on the spot.

if he asks what I want: well, what about 400?

if he lowballs: well, i mean, 350 would be keeping pace with inflation.
So with the file open on my screen, I glanced at it for reinforcement and then I stated my case.

"Can you repeat that? I didn't understand what you're saying."

Take a deep breath, Roxy, and slow down.

"Of course. It simply occurred to me that I'm getting paid the same today as I was in 2004, when I did my first project for you. And I realize the firm is going through a difficult period, but I was wondering if you have any leeway in terms of freelance pay."

"Well, on reviews I do. On other projects, there's just no room. I have a separate account for reviews. I pay one guy $200 instead of $150 [my current rate]. So there's precedent for that."

"That sounds good. And on the rest [i.e. the larger projects, where I get $300], I just figured that maybe we could adjust for inflation."

"We're probably paying the same as we did in 2004, or as we did in 2002, and I just don't know when that will change. Things are set for now until the end of the year, and then I don't know."

He sounded thoughtful. The firm, by the way, is going through a total reorganization and has been shrinking its staff, so it did feel kind of insensitive to ask at this time. But, I figured that they must have some freelance funds available, and this company pays the least from the various freelance projects I do, so I decided it was fair to myself to at least check things out. Even if I got slammed, it would be good practice.

"No, that's fine, I understand. We can always touch base again later. And I always appreciate the contracts you give me. It's great working together. I hope you don't mind I brought this up."

"Not at all. It's a good thing you asked." Those were his words, exactly!!

Gained: $200 per review, up from $150. Thank you, Boss! And Women Don't Ask! I wouldn't have had the guts to, before reading you!!

Get me out of here!

September 29. Day 91.

Living at home as an adult (or spoiled post-graduate moocher, as I'm sure some others view me) has its ups and downs. Yesterday was a down. Pile onto that: a car that has become dangerous to drive (stalls and shuts down while in motion), a growing list of deadlines I can hardly keep up with, a day spent in front of a computer screen, and not much sleep the night before, and I was itching to leave the house.

The phone rang. It was Mr. A.

"Get me out of here!" I wailed into the receiver.


"Yeah," I confirmed.

"I'll be there in five minutes."

As it happened, he was in the area after playing tennis at UCSD. He picked me up and we met his friend at Croutons, one of my favorite "nouveau California" establishments. Not surfer, not silicon valley, not smoothies, but perky high-calorie salads disguised as health food, favored by slightly chunky college students who like to pretend they're dieting. Mmm.

They probably would have hung out by themselves, and I might have kept on craigslisting for apartments, but instead I ate a salad and grilled cheese sandwich and talked about religion in India.

Gained: Change of perspective.

September 29, 2008

Can we sit here anyway?

September 28. Day 90.

The hostess wasn't particularly welcoming, but why judge a restaurant by its hospitality representative? Um, right?

"Hi," I said and smiled. "We'd like a table for three."

"We're closed. For dinner. And the terrace is also not open. Unless everyone is doing a full dinner."

"What about the bar?"

"Oh. Yeah, you can go there."

And she looked back into her podium.

We ordered drinks and a pesto chicken pizza, but with nowhere to sit and almost nowhere to stand, Mr. A's uncle sat a table on the empty terrace. There, we toasted Mr. A, who arrived in San Diego exactly a year ago today.

With the sun setting over the pacific, a stealthily snagged table with a clear view of the water, a cool drink in hand after a long beach walk, and great company, the moment was, perhaps, too good to be true. Just when we started thinking we were blessed, a waiter politely asked us to move.

I got up and talked to the bartender. Told her there was no place to eat our pizza. And we weren't going to stay into their dinner hour. Did she mind?

"You know what? Go ahead. We're not that busy tonight."

Thank you, Jake's of Del Mar!

Gained: A table for three.

Bean free, please?

September 27. Day 89.

The scene: guys in half-buttoned shirts, girls in mini skirts, and everyone in wigs. It was the fifth annual pub crawl -- my first ever pub crawl of any kind -- and I went for a jet black number with bangs, and heavy sixties eyeliner.

"Is this a pimps and hoes party?" one woman asked me as we walked past her table for two.

"I guess you could say that," I replied. "It's a charity pub crawl. But the 'charity' part is just there to make us feel better about putting on wigs and getting wasted."

Four watered-down cocktails later, I was hungry. I ordered some skewers, but they were out of my top choice.

"Can I have the prime rib, for the same price?" It was a tiny price difference, but this time I was requesting on principle.

"Fine," the waiter replied.

Mr. A, who went for the powdered marquis look, asked if that was my asking.

"No way. That kind of request is second nature by now. Boring. I need to find something else."

An hour later, still famished, we wandered to a place called Valentine's Taco Shop. Five minutes later, my nachos materialized, only something was off. I mean on. They had beans smeared all over them!!!

Now, I hadn't requested"no beans," which made me feel rather guilty about asking for a replacement. But you know what I did.

"Hi, please don't hate me if I ask you this, but can you please make these with no beans? I didn't realize they came with beans, and I really can't stand them."


And when I checked the menu before sitting down again, beans were not listed as ingredients. Glad I asked for a remake.

Gained: Bean-free nachos.

September 26, 2008

Passion fruit cocktails and bulk bead discount?

September 26. Day 88.

First things first: Recipe for a really good passion fruit cocktail. This is adapted from my aunt, who got me hooked on these with the fruits from her very own vine.

One wrinkled passion fruit.
One glass of chilled tonic
Splash of gin, optional.

1. Pour tonic into a glass.
2. Cut passion fruit in half and swirl a knife around inside, to agitate and loosen the pulpy juices.
3. Pour over tonic, stir, and add gin. Strain, optionally, or else crunch the seeds.


Now that we both have a drink, let's sit back and chill for a moment. I've been thinking, over the past months, about what is an asking. Some interactions obviously test my limits, some make me uncomfortable, but others seem routine. Sometimes I'm going out of my way to ask, but other times the opportunity falls in my lap. The least common denominator is that they're all things I would have hesitated to inquire about before this July. Maybe I hesitate today, as well, but I push myself to try, instead of being polite or 'knowing my place.' Or maybe before it simply wouldn't have occurred to me. So, I guess, this is putting me in tune with what I want, and forcing me to be braver in tiny and not so tiny ways.

I also notice this experiment is starting to morph, slowly, from something focused initially on money, into something more experiential. Can I see the inside of your house? What would you do with $10,000? Can I borrow your dog for the day? Those popped into my head right now, and I'm getting excited about the possibilities.

Finally, I realize these early posts will appear -- once I look back on them in a year -- just like the first postings of every blog. Tentative, wobbly, so transparent. Pudgy baby steps. I wonder what the last post will look like.

Today, I spent the afternoon with my Mama. We went for coffee at Pappalecco, which I'd missed on my New England romp, and then in Old Town, which is San Diego's traditional Mexican quarter (read: super-touristy pseudo-authentic money-making machine). But amid the fresh tortillas and stale shot glasses, there lies a gem of a store: Shepherdess Beads.

My mother, by the way, is a computer guru day and a jeweler by evening-to-midnight. She just launched a website,!

As I tried on different combinations of beads and tried to imagine I was that creative, she collected about two dozen strands of pearls and chrysoprase and other semi-precious stones. The total 'dollar value,' as they say, was a little dizzying, so I asked her if I could ask for a discount. It would be my first chance applying some the principles learned yesterday: be persistent and don't act impressed.

As the sales woman jotted the prices of our items on a log, I started talking with her about her jewelry. Figured it was a way to get her in a generous mood.

"Did you make your necklaces?"

"I did!" she said.

"They're beautiful." They really were. Silver and turquoise and coral, I think. Very delicate. We kept on chatting, about gems and beads, and then I went for it:

"Before you write down the total, can I ask you something? Is there any flexibility on the price, since we're getting so many?"

"You are," she agreed. "Let me see. I'm just the lowly sales girl," she added, smiling, "and I can't promise anything, but I'll check with the manager."

She came up with the tally, but then, suddenly she 'realized' something.

"You're already getting the frequent buyer discount!"

"Is there anything we could do, beyond that?"

"The employee discount is 20 percent, but I can't give you that."

I persisted: "What about meeting halfway? Anything you can do you would be very appreciated."

"You know, I just can't do anything beyond the discount you're already getting."

I didn't push it.

Gained: Not a thing! Was it my approach, or just the circumstances? Was I too eager, or was her manager just a hawk? I've been asking myself that a lot, lately. In any case, I've been planning on picking up Ask For It, the book written after Women Don't Ask, which provides concrete tools on this topic. I hope I'll find some ideas there.


Haggling with a haggler

September 25. Day 87.

It was 11:50. I needed to leave for the airport by 12 if I took the subway, but I still had a few things to do. Solution? Taxi!

Normally, the fare would have run around $65. (Trip from campus to my friend's apartment to pick up suitcase: $7 to $8. From there to airport: around $45. Airport toll, paid by passenger: $5.50. Plus tip.)

I approached a driver, smiling.

"I have a proposition for you. You take me to Davis square, wait for me five minutes while I get my suitcase, and we go to the airport, for $50."

"That's kind of tight. The meter would run about $70. There's also the toll, I don't know." $70? Whatever. But I got his game.

"I'll give you a big tip."

"Get in!"

On the way, George, who was from Syria, got a phone call and started haggling over a car for his daughter. I took a few notes on my cell phone.

"I like the car, but is there any room on the price?" Interesting. I've never used that phrasing before. Tuck away for later.

Later: "Yes, but what about the price?" Insistent, direct, a little pushy. Like, "You'd better make me a deal or you'll lose me."

Finally: "So what's the total? With everything? I see. Well, I'll tell you what. I'll come and look at it, and if I still like it we'll talk then, okay?" So he didn't conclude the negotiations right away. Kept the door open.

After he hung up, I asked him if he managed to get the price he wanted.

"He will lower the price by $2,000," George replied. "I think it's good." Still, he added, he'll check with with some friends who are in the car business, to find out if it really is a deal.

Lesson: Do your research. And even when you're satisfied, don't show it.

Gained: around $5, and some tips from a pro.

September 25, 2008

A second brush with policy

September 24. Day 86.

I realize I'm a day late with updates. I'm still asking every day, but I've been so busy I couldn't do proper write ups. And I actually want to write something, not just bullet points for "asked" and "gained." Once I'm in San Diego, things will be back to normal. Until then, thanks for your patience...


This day-after update is less than enchanting, so I'll keep it short.

I was confronted, once again, by the mean library spirits. This time around, I dared to ask if I could exit through the front door minutes before the library closed. Impertinent human! I was carrying a bag of fifteen books on one hand, and balancing another stack of ten under my chin. Through the front door, lay my department and its free copy machine. A total of 40 steps away. The faster I could make it there, the less chance I'd trip or get an arm ache. Great way to spend my last night in town. (Yes, I'm a big nerd. Haven't we already established that?)

The guard checked the books of another woman, and then she turned to me: "You can't go out this way. We're closing now."


"We're closing."

"Please. I just really need to use this door."


"My department is very close to this exit. Otherwise, I have to walk through the library, up Mass Ave, around the corner, through the quad, and these books are really heavy."

"Oh. Well, I can't let you through here." Then why did you ask, you sadist????

"Please! They're really heavy, and I understand if you want to go home, but it would make a really big difference, and the library hasn't closed yet."

"I can't let you through here."


"It's policy."

Conclusion: Massachusetts uses same staffing agency as the TSA -- the TSA at its most vicious, back when the legitimate fear had subsided , but the agency was still trying to dehumanize people by glaring at them and making strange requests, arbitrary ones, for policy. Because they were wearing a uniform, and you weren't.

Gained: I took the long way, and it sucked.

September 23, 2008

Can I borrow your scooter and not crash, for a change?

September 23. Day 85.
My brush with death, Roman style: Once summer, in a lovely neighborhood called Monti (on the gently sloping hill between the Colosseum and Termini station), I rented a scooter.

Half an hour later, I was sitting on a chair in the shade, waiting for an ambulance.

I crashed. The scooter wasn't hard to maneuver. The problem was that I didn't know the symbol for yield, so I rushed up a small hill, only to plow head on into a taxi coming up the other side.

I remember seeing the taxi coming, only I didn't have time to be surprised or plan the next step. I woke up on the ground a few instants later, wondering what I was doing there. Then I saw the scooter a few feet away -- I must have flown, or maybe it slid out from under me. Around me, everything seemed still.

The taxi driver got out of his car and started yelling. Meanwhile, his customers slinked away. "What were you doing? Don't you know how to drive? You stupid girl!" And then he noticed I was dazed, and he got scared. He asked me how I was feeling, asked someone to bring me some water, told someone else to call an ambulance, as a crowd gathered. I was better, I was fine, I didn't want a doctor, so I stood up and walked out of the street, to a cafe. I was fine.

But another old man came up to me told me he couldn't believe I just stood up and walked away, "Not after seeing your head hit the pavement like that." and he slammed one hand into the other. That's when I agreed to see a doctor.

So, moral time: the helmet saved my life. Because I swear that my head didn't feel a thing. Sure, I was confused, but no pain. No damage. The helmet was a different story. So I will never, ever, ever, never ride anything beside a bike (in limited circumstances) without a helmet, and never again drive in a country whose laws I haven't thoroughly studied. Sounds elementary, but not to a 20-year-old. (As an added plus, besides living a full life in a non-vegetative state thanks to the helmet, now I can also blame at least some of my idiosyncrasies or forgetfulness on that mild concussion.)

Which brings me to the asking I featured earlier: My friend bought a scooter a month ago, and she offered me a ride. It was glorious. We couldn't stop laughing and squealing. It was getting indecently gleeful, by Boston standards.

With the wind in my face, I screamed at her, "Can I try it, later?" (We only had a few minutes for this ride, since we both had to head to different places soon.)

"Totally!" she replied. And yes, she knows about what happened on that Roman holiday.

Gained: Opportunity to conclude an interrupted scooter drive.

Would you stop yammering?

September 22. Day 84.

Pop quiz:

You're on the bus, sitting next to someone who won't stop talking. You left Penn Station twenty minutes earlier, and so far you've learned all about how she's really excited about the venture capital she's raised for her cloud computing company, or his seven year old's soccer tryouts, or the laptop he's been thinking of buying, or how she's got some ridiculous blog about asking people for shit.

You'd love to hear what this neighbor has to say. If you were deaf, that is.

Do you:

a) Listen attentively and ask questions as long as the other person is pumped, because that's what Jesus would do?

b) Reply to questions and offer the occasional flat "mmhmm" while trying to read, and conspicuously avoiding follow up questions?

c) Plug your years and exclaim, "No more!! Pleeeeeease!"

Today, I went for option C. And it felt amazing.

Don't get me wrong. I wasn't nearly as brusque as you may think I was. Still, I didn't hold back or take the passive aggressive route, as I normally would have. Instead, after I put in some ear plugs and he tried to talk over them, I told him:

"Wow, looks like we might be hitting some traffic... I think I'm just going to relax and do nothing for a while, just take in the sights and clear my mind after a long day. Do you mind if we chat later?"

"No problem, I get it," he said, smiling. So he didn't take it personally, and I was relieved.

Here's an asking update: I met with the New Yorker reporter today! Between writing and reporting, he took the time to talk to me about the magazine's history and his work. And I am indeed grateful.

Gained: Silence and conversation.

September 21, 2008

I and I take on Soho

September 21. Day 83.

Any concerns about authenticity are instantly quelled by brunch at Pastis.

My friends and NY hosts, I&J, took me there this morning, and half the time we were eating the eye candy. The coked-out trust fund girl with brittle hair sitting next to a lady in a mumu two tables away, the very stylish Spanish speaking couple who were visibly pawing at a Nueva York guide in front of everyone while their daughter, rightfully, wished her parents were from the UWS, not, like, Venezuela. Vaina! The guy who took an hour to make his hair look like he took thirty seconds on it. We're all fakes, I remembered. Naturally.

After brunch, I and I headed to Soho for some street shopping. She's having a baby, and I (meaning me) wanted to get her (meaning I) something cute. At Bonpoint, the saleswoman was warning a couple that a cotton dress they were looking at was "impractical." Why, asked the future mother. "Because it's white," she replied. Obviously. A $140 infant sweater in a darker color, however, is totally practical.

We wandered around a few more baby stores, but nothing jumped out at either of us. And then, we spotted them. Onsies. Lined up on a little rack, on Prince Street (I think). The first one had a rendering of Madonna on it and said, helpfully, "Madonna." Perfect for brunches at Pastis. I asked the salesman how much it was.


I put it back, played it cool. The ol' street vendor approach.

He talked to some other shoppers, and then I asked him if he'd agree to $13. Deal. Maybe I should have shot for $10. (If I were with anyone else, I might have felt strange bargaining for a present in front of the recipient, but we are way beyond that.)

We kept walking and came across a table with some really cool necklaces. I couldn't find a picture of them online - that's how new (or fleeting) the trend is. In any case, I asked the price. "$20 - and that's a really good price. I mean, someone told me recently she saw the exact same piece in a boutique for $90." I feigned disbelief. And then, told her it wasn't really my style and walked away. A guy with long hair sitting on the bumper of a white van, who had been totally silent, whispered something to the saleswoman.

"You can have it for $15!" she called after me.


Of course, the necklace resurfaced a few blocks down. This time, it was in a luscious rust color, none of that blingy gold and chrome from the other place. Going for $15.

"Can we say $10?"

This woman shook her head. I walked away. But it was a cool necklace. And cheaper.

I wandered back.

"What about $12?"

She nodded. So for twisty necklaces and straight deals, check out Mary, from Kenya, now at the Wooster and Spring street market.

Gained: $5.

Sincerity and authenticity in the UWS

September 20. Day 82.

I've often wondered what the proper reaction is when people show you their new home. There are so many interactions for which I've been socialized, and so many more for which I don't need socialization. An exuberant hug, when your friend tells you she's having a baby girl? Totally natural. That tacit disapproval, reflected only in the eyes and a tight semi-smile, when someone else mentions someone else is marrying someone else as old as her father (when in fact you think it's hypocritical of your to criticize, given how old your ex was)? Affectation.

So to enter someone's home, the beautiful home of a beautiful couple whose every detail you know you'll love even before you set foot in it -- how do you "behave"? Are you aloof and politely enthusiastic, warmer than when an agent shows you a property, but cool enough to avoid seeming callow? (Gushing is so gauche.) Or do you gush? (Sincerity is sweet.) Or do you ask lots of questions -- What an interesting detail in the ledges: Is that the original cabinetry or a reproduction? -- to avoid admitting how infatuated your are? (The refuge of intellect.)

How thin, and how visible, is the line between interest and envy? (An acquaintance of mine, Dan McGinn, goes into some of these questions in a cool book, House Lust.)

As it happens, I saw three Upper West Side apartments today and visibly salivated. Because they're in New York, in such a cool neighborhood. Because they have hardwood floors and tall ceilings and gorgeous art. Because they're not mine.

I also pretended today, for one painful moment, that I was a New Yorker. Texted a friend and suggested we meet on the "UWS" instead of downtown, if it's closer for both of us. As if I'd ever write that acronym naturally, or even think of it. But I noticed it on Craigslist and appropriated it, far too easily. Affectation.

Given the market's tumble, and the turmoil that has finally surfaced in America's most unperturbable city, I imagine people will start asking themselves the same questions, but in the reverse. How to react to misfortune, not joy. You lost your job? You're still trying to sell that condo? Your retirement went poof? Followed by muted consternation, or noisy and raw despair, or a callous, self-protective follow-up question.

I had grand ambitions for today's asking. I wanted to get a recipe for a Borek, a wonderfully authentic Turkish appetizer I ate at Pascha, but decided the chef would never give it to a random person in the restaurant. I wanted to ask for free dessert, after the hostess moved my friend and me to another table, a cramped corner table, to clear some space for a larger party. Both times, I closed the door myself.

Instead, I did something so routine, it wasn't much of a victory: asked a wine bar to accept my credit card, even though my purchase was under the $15 minimum. Such minimums aren't illegal, but they do go against the merchant agreement for various credit cards (Visa and MC).

"That's fine this time, but please remember for next time," the bartender said. Next time? I nodded. Affectation.

Gained: Convenience of not scrambling to find an ATM and paying annoying fees.

September 19, 2008

A lucky asking in New York

September 19. Day 81.

With the exception of sex and the Gregorian mass at the trappist monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos (dare I imagine a combination of the two?), nothing in the world is as mystical or exhilarating as new york.

In the past minutes, I’ve seen:

A woman dressed head to toe in lime green, with lime green hair and a little frog peeking out of her lime green purse. I’m sure the frog came first.

A guy staring into his blackberry, eating French fries, with a look of unspeakable sadness in his eyes. He wasn’t typing, wasn’t scrolling. Just clutching it. What was on that screen? An email about his layoff? The latest quote of the stock he was shorting? A picture from a PI of his wife’s lover?

A giant Elmo, heading north on Seventh Avenue.

The moment above, as frozen on my cell phone camera.

It just feels like anything can happen here. Not proverbially, not wistfully. Literally. Nothing surprises me here.

I have planned an asking, but the moment isn’t ripe yet. Don’t worry – you’ll be the first to know.

UPDATE: Around 10 this evening, I left the apartment where I'm spending the weekend and went for a stroll. The plan: ask random New Yorkers on the street what their favorite spot is in the city, and then go to the best one this weekend. Or maybe leave things to chance by asking just one person and going there. An informational asking.

Things took an interesting turn about 30 seconds after I stepped outside.

I saw a man, walking alone and in a hurry. I hesitated bothering him, but I thought, what the hell? He can always brush me off. And is the opinion of someone in a hurry worth any less consideration?

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

He stopped and seemed attentive. A good start.

"If you had time in New York, not a day, but a long time, what's the one thing you'd want to do?"

I asked in these terms, because I wanted him to pick the best spot as a local resident, a real favorite, not something a tourist should do in 24 hours or a weekend. I've already seen the Empire State Building, thanks.

"I'd go to the boat house and have drinks. And then I'd go to Chinatown and get some really good Chinese food."

"Really? Thanks!"

He asked me where I'm from. What I was doing in town. We traded names. And then, he said he was in a hurry to get to dinner with a private investigator. Did I want to come?

Did I???

Five minutes later we were in a cab to the UES, talking about fly fishing and our siblings. We met his friend at Bar Italia. This friend, a softer version of what I imagine a modern Sicilian businessman would look like, was chatting up two young women, one in the fashion industry and the other with a chirpy laugh. "No blondes, please," he was saying at one point, and inspected their hair contentedly.

One bottle of Prosecco later, the three of us took a cab for two blocks to a Belgian bar. The kitchen had closed at the ungodly hour of 11, so we decided instead to go to Niche, a new place a few blocks away.

Over tapas and a lovely 2004 Rhone, the guys pushed one chunk of cheese back and forth on each other's plates -- "You eat it!" "No way, that's not mold, that's ash. That's like being starved in the Amazon and biting into a shoe because it's leather so you think it's food, only then you discover there was a rotting foot inside" -- and asking the waiter for extra evoo.

We talked about Zoroastrianism, Scientology, sharks, grappa, dementia, balconies, black truffles, grandparents. He told me about his various pursuits -- owning a restaurant, working as a lawyer, trading commodities, commercial fishing -- and I told him about grad school. (Not a fair trade, but he was a gracious listener.)

We ate until only cheese rind and cilantro sprigs were left on our plates, and we drank until the bar was empty.

At one point, the friend asked me: "How do you know this guy?"

"We met on the street," I said. "If he didn't invite me to come out with you, I'd be sitting in a cafe by myself right now, reading a magazine."

Gained: asked for a suggestion, and ended up with a wonderful and totally unexpected (yet somehow expected because this is New York) night. Many, many thanks.

September 18, 2008

Replace this lemonade?

September 18. Day 80.

Today I met with a gentleman and a scholar, and the conversation turned to salary negotiations -- as it inevitably does when either party is blogging about that subject and she shamelessly harasses her friends about personal financial matters.

He has a philosophy which I adore. His minimum fee is $50 per hour. I won't tell you his industry, because it's a tight knit one, but let me say this: most people charge around $15 per hour for the same work.

If he earns less than that, the project is simply not worth his time. That way, people only come to him with interesting and substantial projects, and he gets a load of cash for every one.

Sounds like Linda Evangelista's classic quip about supermodels: "We don't get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day." Why should they?

On the flipside, this mercantile maverick confessed, he doesn't know how to haggle. Show him sticker price and he'll immediately plunk down the cash. "I don't know what it is. I guess I don't want to appear poor," he said.

Which gets me wondering.

Are there two types of negotiators out there? Those who bargain up salaries and those who bring down prices? Are men better at the former, and women at the latter, at least in large, loose categories? At least from what emerges here, I've been decent about bringing prices down. But what about bringing my own price up? (True, I don't have almost any opportunities; I'm on a non-negotiable fellowship. But to charge more than three times the going rate for a service, including the part-time work I do, would never even occur to me.)

If there's any truth to this, should I, as a woman, confidently charge more to a man for my services, expecting him to be shy about not affording them? Any thoughts?

I don't know what I'll ask for today. Technically, I could say I asked the scholar and gentleman about his negotiation strategies, but that's so meta.

This process goes in waves -- for a few days asking comes naturally, and then I flail and end up begging for library access and free bacon. But I'm hoping, hoping this will all pay off when I start the post-grad job hunt next spring.

a bientot!

UPDATE: Went to a cafe with a friend and ordered a lemonade. The idea was to stave off the colony of germs tormenting my throat. The drink, however, was very strange (unsweetened, and actually sort of tasting like chicken broth. She also tried it and agreed). So, I asked the waitress to bring me a Naked Juice. Not for free. Nothing gained. But at least I enjoyed my drink.

I'll be in NY for the weekend, and I'm curious to see how this project unfolds there. Could be hard. Yet if I ask for anything less than I did today, it wouldn't be asking. Damn...

Free bacon?

September 17. Day 79.

For dinner I stopped at Z-Square, a restaurant that has seemed new ever since it opened about four years ago.

I ordered a turkey and avocado sandwich.

I asked the cashier to put bacon on the sandwich, instead of the included side salad. (I don't judge you, so please don't judge me. Oh wait, you're not broadcasting your decisions on a blog. Ok, judge away!)

He gave me both, and didn't charge for either.

Gained: $2.50 (cost on the menu of adding bacon to something)

Now, onto something much more interesting.

I found out that Dr. B, a friend from college and grad school who's me hosting this week, negotiated her starting salary by 20 percent.

Outside her teaching and research job in academia, she has been hired as a research contractor. The department offered $25 per hour, and she boosted it to $30.


She did research about what others get paid. She also figured how much she'd be working every week and what the position was worth to her. And, she said, it seemed appropriate to ask for more than they offered. The worst thing was they'd refuse and she'd have the original job offer.

Go B!!!!

September 16, 2008

A tale to chill your bones

September 16. Day 78.

Gather round, all you kids! We're going about to get really cozy for Spooky Story Hour. So grab a s'more, snuggle into your blanket and be prepare to be terrified as I tell you...

"The Tale of the Evil Library Guard"

It was an early autumn evening, just as classes were picking up again at Midmore University, and the literature department was hosting its annual Fall Party. This was a yearly tradition that students and professors both loved, and Roxy, a grad student back in town for a few days, didn't want to miss it.

As she wandered around campus, everything seemed familiar -- and yet it wasn't. The same concentration appeared on the faces of undergrads rushing around, but the faces themselves were different now. The traffic was just as bad as she recalled, but for a blessed change her car was not among those ticketed on Massachusetts Avenue.

At the party, Roxy talked with professors and students she'd missed, gave newcomers advice about teaching and career paths, and nibbled quality finger foods.

Time flew, and soon people started leaving. She too left, as we all eventually must, and on the way home she decided to stop by the library for a certain pressing need. It was a fateful decision, a decision that would forever change her life.

At the eerily familiar turnstile of the library she'd spent so many hours, she swiped her ID card, but the light flashed red. Of course! Her ID expired last term, and as an off campus grad student she didn't get a new one yet. Roxy approached the guard.

"Can I help you?" the guard snarled, staring at Roxy with a knowing gleam. Cloaked in a black uniform and seated at a very tall chair indeed, she reminded Roxy of a lady who used to babysit her and force feed her omelettes every morning, even though Roxy didn't like eggs. Only... eviler.

"Excuse me," Roxy asked. "I was wondering if I could just run in for a minute. I just need to use the bathroom. I don't need any books. I'll leave my bag here if you want."

"Why won't your ID work?"

"I'm still a student here, but my ID expired and I didn't pick up my new one yet. I just want to run downstairs. I actually really need --"

"You can't come in."

Roxy felt the blood draining from her face. Was it possible that this guard would stand between her and the place that was, at this moment, dearest to her in the world?

She summoned all the forces within her and asked again.

"Really? For thirty seconds? I'll leave everything here. My wallet, everything!" Had this guard been sent from the darkest bowels of graduate school to torment our plucky heroine? Would something embarrassing happen in the library lobby?

"I'm sorry, but I can't buzz you in with an expired ID. You can try the science center."

"That's ten minutes away!" A line was forming, and she lowered her voice. She didn't mean to cause a scene. But it was her only choice. "Please!! I'll do anything!! You can have my soul!!!

"I don't want your soul, you pitiful grad student, you!! There's only one thing I want! Give me your overdue library books! Now go away and don't come back without them! Mu ha ha ha!"

Gained: Confirmation that people who man the door at Midmore University libraries are CRUEL!!! This would never happen in California. Any Massholes -- I mean, Bostonians -- care to disagree? By the way, this was one of several askings today, but selected for the pure egregiousness of its denial.

September 15, 2008

Can I try your shoe on?

September 15. Day 77.
After dinner, a friend came over to Dr. B and her husband's house so we could all eat some nectarine cupcakes and watch Gossip Girl. I was planning on going out afterwards, to make a few phone calls, work on the dissertation and, of course, ask. But as this woman, a high school history teacher, settled into her corner of the couch, I caught sight of her shoes and decided there was something I could request, right there.

She was wearing cool shoes.

Sporty shoes, the kind I wear to play tennis or go hiking, but with an open back. Sneaker-clogs, you might say. They seemed comfortable, yet stylish. Nothing I've seen before. Nothing I'd ever own, because I'm just not that practical, but suddenly I was overcome with the desire to see how comfortable they were.

I kept eyeing her shoes during the commercials, waiting to make a move, but it always seemed incredibly awkward. Every time there was a split second pause in the conversation and I opened my mouth, someone else started talking. Anyway, what would I say? "Hey, I like your shoes. Would you mind if I tried one on?" Or perhaps a more neutral approach. "I've been thinking of investing in some shoes kind of like yours. Are they comfortable? Oh really? Great. Could I see what they feel like?"

Eww. With every scenario I realized I sounded like the Prada salesman in Sex in the City who gave Charlotte free shoes in exchange for playing with her feet.

Well, Serena and Dan broke up, the show ended, and with it, my chances for asking were swiftly diminishing.

The friend got up and headed to the kitchen. I grabbed a plate and followed her. There, she and one of my hosts were talking about -- I couldn't tell you what. I was getting more and more worked up, thinking about how I'd ask. There I was, a houseguest, trailing the hosts's friend so I could try on her shoes, while everyone around me assumed I was interested in movies and politics like the rest of them.

A moment of silence.

"I like your shoes. Are they comfy?"

"Yeah, pretty comfortable." As I bent forward a little, she extended her foot so I could get a better look.

"Could I try it on?"

If she considered my request odd, she handled it very graciously. She took her foot out and let me step in.

Now what would I do? Walk, like at the shoe store? Stand on it?

I decided to run. Around the kitchen.

"Do you go running in these?" I asked, still in motion.

By now I think we were both weirded out. Why didn't I just give it back immediately, like any other person would have? Oh wait, because no one else would try on some random woman's shoe...

"No, I have other shoes for that. I mean, if I'm in a hurry I'll run in them, but they're not designed for that."

I quickly stepped out, and nudged it back toward her.


Gained: getting over my stage fright.

September 14, 2008

I'm commandeering your outlet! ...please?

September 14. Day 76.

so tired... asked for something electrically oriented, but i am too tired to write it... spent the whole day in the car, driving from maine to boston. i'll fill this in tomorrow morning, or else i'll fall asleep at the keyboard.



A few days ago, I dreamed I bought a motorcycle and then experienced tremendous buyer's remorse. It was red and pretty sleek, and I paid around 8 grand for it. Once the transaction was complete, I instantly had two thoughts:

Why the hell did I just buy a motorcycle? I don't need a motorcycle! I don't WANT a motorcycle!


Why didn't I negotiate?? How will I show my face again on The Daily Asker?!!

And that, dear reader, is the first and only dream (so far) I've had about this experiment.

As for yesterday's asking:

I was driving down the New England coast, as you know, from northern Maine into Boston. About halfway there, I realized I really needed to make some phone calls and check the directions, but my cell and laptop were out of batteries.

I stopped at a Dunkin Donuts, but it didn't have any plugs. Drove by another fastfood place, but it was closed. Then, spotted a McDonald's.

Now, as much as I may have loved their Happy Meals growing up, it's not my practice these days to go to McD's more than once every few months, let alone twice in the same vacation. But desperate times, you know...

I spotted the plug, which had a child safety blocker, so I decided to check if I could use it. Maybe it wasn't working?

"Excuse me, is there a problem if I charge my phone really quickly in that outlet? I'll order something, of course."

The young lady manning the register, Kayla, dropper her jaw like I'd approached her talkin' Mexican.

"Can I use your outlet?" I tried again.

"Umm, let me check with the manager. K, cum'ere! They wanna use the plug." It was more of a complaint than a request.

The manager, Kaycee, thought about it for a few seconds before she gave her verdict. "They can't do that."

Now I was having trouble following. The restaurant was empty. The plug was available to the public, as it was in front of the counter (not behind it, or in the kitchen, or somehow difficult to access). It was blocked to protect children, I presume - a member of whose group I was not. I was a traveler asking for a few minutes of cell phone juice so I could get on my way.

Of course they had every right to deny me. But was it logical? Was it friendly? Was it American?

I decided to do something I rarely have the guts to. I pulled rank. Kaycee and Kayla were at that precious age when Crisco foreheads begin to mattify and summer jobs turn full-time for those without the prospect of, or interest in, secondary education. Around 18, that is.

I figured that with a decade or so on them, I could at least sound like I had some authority.

"There's no reason for you not to let me use that outlet," I said calmly but firmly, in the closest thing I have to a patient mom voice. "Now, I'm only going to use it for a few minutes, because I do need to make an important phone call. Is that fine."

"I guess it's okay," Kaycee conceded, no longer interested in asserting her managerial hegemony. Or perhaps I had simply convinced her that whatever dangers lurked before had evaporated like the alcohol in her misty hairspray.

Gained: Internet access, directions and a phone call to confirm housing for the night.

September 13, 2008

Emergency sandwich stop?

September 13. Day 75.

There are two things you need to know about me before we proceed to today's asking.

1) I am obsessive about food. Not obsessed -- that would imply I sit around at night drawing muffins or dream I've turned into a lucious piece of fois gras that's about to be devoured by an acappella group on tour in Dijon. I am, however, obsessive. What I eat, and when I eat, and whether I eat, matters a great deal to me. The where, how and why are secondary. I take unspeakable pleasure from the little things: watching a pat of butter melt on a skillet in anticipation for the steak it's about to caress, or the taste of a single grain of kosher sea salt. Consequently, I get very specific, and very insistent, cravings.

2) I love a quality cheesesteak.

Moving on...

I woke up this morning hungry. Maybe it was the Maine aire, or the spirit of fall quickening in my bones, or the fact that on the day of the wedding, i.e. yesterday, I skipped breakfast and lunch and supped on three blueberry mohitos, a delish Indian dish and a handful of hors d'oeuvres.

In any case, the official plan was to wake up at 8, head downstairs for the inn's delicious breakfast and then proceed to a farewell wedding brunch. But a few snooze buttons later, it was checkout time and I was still in bed. In a rush of packing and getting ready to leave for brunch, I realized the destination was a 30-minute drive away. Did I mention I was hungry?

Mr. A was in action mode -- carrying suitcases, imputting addresses into the GPS, checking under the bed for socks. I interrupted him with a critical request.

"Can we stop for a sandwich?" I was referring, of course, to the place we'd grabbed a sandwich a few days earlier, a hole in the wall 24-hour convenience shop and gas station in a neighboring town. You'd never guess it, but that place had the best cheesesteak I've had on the east coast. (The western division winner is, and always will be, I.B. Hoagie on Durant Street in Berkeley.)

"I don't think so. The brunch already started, and then we're having lunch with my parents."

"Come on. It's a quick detour."

"Do you really need a sandwich when we're about to eat brunch? And then lunch?"

To be clear, we had back to back brunch and lunch plans with friends and family in town. And I was indeed asking to stop for a sandwich. (See notes 1 and 2 above.) His wasn't really a question, but I answered anyway.

"Come oooon. That place was soooo good. By the time they seat us, and it's just a mile away, and you must be hungry too, and I didn't eat breakfast yesterday, or lunch, and we're going hiking after lunch so I need my energy, just a mile away, and if we don't go I'll never get to go again because let's face it I am never going to come back to this place even though it's beautiful because it's so remote, and it was sooooooooo good, come on!!!"

Okay. So that wasn't exactly an asking anymore. It was more of a "blizzard of words" (to quote Charles Gibson). But I wonder if men have an evolutionary mechanism that lowers their hearing threshold by ten or so decibels when the rate or pitch of their female companion's voice increases by more than five percent. Meaning that I was ranting, and he was admirably still focusing on what he was doing.

As he pulled out of the hotel, I resigned myself to no sandwich. Big loss. I didn't need it. I was just clamoring for it because it was a craving, a selfish whim, when we were about to eat twice and we were running late. Why was I asking for a detour when the right thing to do, the best thing to do, was drive in the opposite direction? And, most harrowing of all, was the possibility that first sandwich was somehow a glitch and the second one would be gross, perhaps made by someone else and burned or missing cheese, and it would deflate the memory of that perfect one?

One cheesesteak later, I was a happy girl.

I asked him why he decided to stop.

"If I didn't, you'd bug me about it for the next year."

And then I realized. I'd won the cheesesteak, which was every bite as good as the first one. But he won the right to tease me about it for the rest of our relationship. Or at least until something better comes up.

Gained: One beloved cheesesteak
Lost: Any claim, real or pretended, that I'm low maintenance

September 12, 2008

A trio of askings

September 12. Day 74.

This day will live on in history as the day askings abounded.

Situation: bridesmaid gets hair done at salon, after a quick blow-out, discovers it's really not what she was hoping for.
The crisis: There are several other people waiting to get their hair done, and the hairdresser seems a bit gruff. Bridesmaid doesn't want to impose. But is it too much to ask?
The asking: When you have a minute, would you mind putting my hair up or adjusting it somehow, so the flower isn't sticking out so much?
Gained: Very cute hair and stablized flower.

Situation: Long line of cars being held up by a construction crew. No motion for about ten minutes.
The crisis: Wedding starting in an hour. Bride in car, in said long line.
The asking: The bride, with hair and make-up done but otherwise still in jeans, runs to the front, tells the guy she's late to the church, and he clears the road for us.
Gained: Made it to the chapel!

Situation: "Just married" sign for the getaway vehicle hasn't been made.
The crisis: Bridesmaid (me) who volunteered to make it has been busy with other things and never got the chance.
The asking: She asks another bridesmaid, "Would you mind making the sign?"
Gained: One silver toned "Just Married" sign.

(That last one was a basic delegtion, nothing spectacular, but we can't get Mustang upgrades every day. Yet it wasn't second nature to delegate; I had to force myself to ask. So maybe it makes it worthy after all.)

Hotel room upgrade?

September 11. Day 73.

After yesterday's victory, I'm totally digging this upgrade idea. I decided to try my luck while checking in at the Claremont Hotel, an intimate old waterfront inn that seems unchanged from the belle epoque postcards in the lobby.

"I was wondering, if by chance you still have any rooms available, would it be possible to get to something nicer?"

"Let me see what we have available."

Promising. He started looking through the book.

"We have -- there would be a difference in price, you realize."

"Oh. But I was wondering, well, I know that hotels might give guests a room with a nicer view, as a courtesy, for example, if there's a room available at check-in."

He was not amused. Who was this chirping chick who wanted something for nothing?

"Not this hotel."

No prob, mate. (Later, in the room, I found a tiny crawling bug and an annoying flying thing, and I was tempted use that ammo to push for a change-- just to give them a taste of what it's like to deal with someone that uptight. But it wasn't worth the effort, time or lost karma points.)

Gained: Nut'n.

September 11, 2008

Rental car upgrade?

September 10. Day 72.

You're driving up the Maine coastline, about to see one of your closest friends get married. Along Highway 1, there are tons of adorable coastal towns with adorable British names -- Camden, Bath. You stop in Wiscasset for a lobster roll and paw through antique books in one of half a dozen little stores. You cross long, low bridges and crane your neck whenever it's safe, just to get a glimpse of the glistening water dotted with sail boats.

In a Chevy Impala.

Screeech. End of fantasy, right?

However, thanks to this experiment, I asked the Hertz office in Portland for a free upgrade and got... a Mustang!!

I'd heard of people asking about rental car upgrades, but I've never managed to get one. Either I forgot to try, or they were out of stock, or the option wasn't particularly sexy and hence not worth it. But at Hertz I encountered Amy, who told me they have not one but several choices. I stopped her at Mustang.

The bride-to-be, who also happens to be a blogger, offered this pearl today: When you start blogging, your life shapes the blog. Once you're committed, the blog shapes you life.

Thanks for the wise words, radiant P, and so looking forward to tomorrow!!

Gained: One hot car. Thankz, Hertz!

ps: as for my worries about internet and the like? this rustic cabin heated by fireplace and an elementary furnace tucked at the end of a gnarled path on a remote island has wifi. go figure.

September 09, 2008

A charmed asking for Uncle Ronald

September 9. Day 71.

I'll never forget my first McDonald's cheeseburger. It was my best friend Seeyavash's birthday, and McD's was about the coolest place you could turn 5 in 1985. (Except for, maybe, Chucky Cheese.) I remember seeing the pictures on the menu first -- golden buns, a dab of red ketchup, triangles of, what was that, cheese? I asked the mommy if I could get a hamburger or a cheeseburger. "Whatever you want, pumpkin" she said (in this romanticization, granted, of that ineffably sweet moment).

I opted for cheese. Cheese was a good thing. Still is. And so a lifelong love affair was born. Good grades? "McDonald's!" my sister and I implored. Tiring airport layover? Get a little luv from the clown.

Which brings me to...

Asking I: I purchased wedding present. Tried getting cash-only discount, but was informed that "our prices are already phenomenal for what you're getting." Are they, now? Somehow, the pricetag hinted otherwise. But it's for a good cause, so getting a deal isn't the priority.

Feeling like I've been slacking off, I decided to ask again, wherever, whenever I could. Or create an opportunity if there were none. No worries, the opportunity came shortly thereafter.

Asking II: I booked a flight with Delta exclusively because they don't charge for the first checked bag. My e-ticket came, and the first leg was with AA. Eventhough I booked and paid with Delta. At check-in, they informed me I owe them $15.

"This is a Delta itinerary. I paid through them. I shouldn't have to pay this."

Protests. Explanations. Apologies.

"Please, just waive it so I don't waste my time and your airline's disputing it."

Protests. Explanations. Apologies.

I gave her my Visa.

Twice burned, I got another chance at LAX, the first stop of this three-legged red eye.

Asking III: I ordered some comf-o-food at McD's, wandered to my gate and discovered the small fries were absent from my baggie.

Back at the counter, I asked the same guy who handled my food for an upgrade. I did walk all the way back, three whole gates -- that's some serious aerobic effort for a regular customer like myself.

He reached for the large, freshly fried nd still glowing greasily... and now, a few minutes and one asking later, only the paper envelope remains as proof of my brush with starvation.

Gained: some tlc from Unkie Ronald

ps: for the next days I'm typing this on a tiny smartfone keypad, which is somewhat frustrating. So if you see typos, please be indulgent. Also, no pictures. Until Sunday, that is. Then, Boston, civlization and ambient free wifi. Looks like cell phones need to be off. Ciao ciao from seat 21A!!

Adjust my cocktail?

September 8. Day 70.

In this recent string of askings, tonight's will seem monumental, but only because I've set the bar so low recently. So low. With upcoming travels and chances to spend money left and right, I hope to do right by you, o reader.

I went to a bar last night, completely not what I should have done -- and exactly what I needed to do. I'm leaving for two weeks, Mr. A and I haven't had much time together, so between packing and laundry and digging around for my snakeskin flats (finally spotted: in his car) we went out for a drink.

The place we picked, selected randomly because it was the only place open at midnight on a Monday, was a gay bar called Bourbon Street, I think. From the street it was quite calm, but inside there was a clear N'orleans theme.

I tried something new: chambord and tonic. Light, fruity, bubbly. Neither of us wanted to get tipsy, since we had a lot of work left.

The result was something sweet, really sweet, too sweet really, but tolerable if I convinced myself. The question was, should I or shouldn't I convince myself? Given I hadn't asked for anything yet, the answer was obvious.

"Could you adjust this, or make me one with more tonic please?" I asked the bartender.

"This your first time here?"


"You want something stronger?" He was about 25, muscles bulging from here to Tulsa, wearing a wifebeater.

"No, just more tonic."

Gained: a more drinkable drink. (I don't recommend it. Guess raspberries aren't good in everything.)

September 08, 2008

Telecommute for a day?

September 7. Day 69.

My car has been acting up, dangerously. Yesterday, as I was driving home, it started losing power and the RPM dropped precipitously, and I had to rev the engine. On the highway! I clutched the emergency brake the whole rest of the way. The problem is sporadic, and I don't know if it's a huge hazard or not. (I took it in to a mechanic, but the car happened to be fine that day).

So my asking was very basic. Just to be on the safe side, you know?

I have a business meeting tomorrow (for my work as a consultant of sorts), and I emailed them last minute to ask if we can do it on the phone instead. Telecommute, for a day. This isn't atypical in my industry, but it's far from ideal. Still, safety first.

This afternoon I learned a fantastic trick from my mother, something I'd be happy to share with you, gentle reader.

Next time you're standing under a morning glory vine, in late summer, when most of the flowers have wilted, ideally wearing a sundress or chinos at a garden party where there's raspberry lemonade (because, wouldn't that be nice?), snap off one of the wilted trumpets (which should look like this, petals curled inward, not a blossom) and suck at the base. A sweet nectar should trickle out. Then, when you're done, clasp the other end with your fingers rightly, and with the base still in your mouth, blow hard. It should pop. Loudly!

How this relates to asking, gender, negotiation, and glass ceilings, I'll leave to the many, many people actively involved in posting comments to hash it out. Or not. =)

Gained: No answer yet. I hope they're reasonable!

September 06, 2008

The mullet is dead. Long live the mullet!

September 6. Day 68.

Getting my haircut is a lot like brushing my teeth when I'm exhausted. I dread the thought, I have to mentally kick myself to jumpstart the process, but when it's over I feel quite nice. (Unless I end up with a mullet, which is almost what happened at my last haircut, in Buenos Aires. That was a few months before this asking experiment started, or I would have definitely tried to get my money back. I went despite myself, despite every rational and empirical thought churning in my head, after seeing countless mullety haircuts patrolling the streets. But the salon had a good vibe and, strangely or not, I view haircuts kind of like travel souvenirs. I showed up with pictures from magazines, pantomimed 'cutting layers' with my fingers in my hair and resorted to key words, "elegante, feminina, movimiento, sexy," to guide him. When he finished chopping, my well-meaning stylist was beaming. "Ahora eres muy Argentina!" ["Now you look so Argentine!"] After a week of wearing it in a scrappy bun, it started growing out into inconspicuous long layers.)

(a specimen in Barcelona, whose hair stylist probably trained at the same school as mine in Buenos Aires)

Almost five months later. It's time again. I headed to Salon Tonic in Little Italy, which I chose based on internet reviews since it's my first haircut since moving to San Diego after nearly 10 years away. The stylist did a wonderful job. Hands down. She saw I was jittery and didn't brush me off when I explained what I wanted, even talking me through some snips while she cut. In the past when I mentioned specifics, people have kind of nodded to show they're pros, or looked bored, but she was relaxed and listened. And the cut was perfect.

When I went to pay, the woman at the reception desk asked me what tip I wanted to add.

"Twenty percent. How much was the cut, again?"

"So," she paused, "$84."

Left brain: $84? I'm not following. The haircut was quoted as $70, so where did the extra whopping $14 come from? She did spritz some conditioner, but only about four or five pumps. And she let my hair air dry under the big dryer instead of blow drying it. Did they actually charge me for that? And with tip, that will be, what, more than $100?

Right brain: Chill out! You like the haircut, and what's done is done. So they added $14 for something, who knows what, and who cares? Are you really going to dispute it? Laaaame.

Left brain: I should at least find out why they changed the price like that. Whether or not I pay their total, I deserve to know why. Or suggest they tell people before automatically charging them.

Right brain: There are people around. You're seriously going to ask them to itemize the haircut and then deduct the extras because you weren't consulted? And show your face here again?

Left brain: I think so. I mean, don't you hate it how salons add in special conditioners or charge for random a la carte stuff, without checking with you first?

Right brain: Oh my god, you're totally right! What a scam!

"Just wondering, how does the $84 break down?"

I was actually nervous asking this. Now, you've seen I'm not a shy person. I'll ask a guy in a cafe about his political orientation and ask a random stranger on the phone for a free massage. But asking for an accounting of a beauty service struck me as so, izquierda.

"$70 for the cut, plus tip." She smiled. Maybe this is what it means to live on the West Coast. People are actually do smile here, whether or not they mean it.

"Oh, perfect. Thanks." Smile. So I had jumped to the wrong conclusion. I can't calculate 20 percent of $70. I was suspicious. Now who's lame? I felt silly. Silly for asking, and silly for not wanting to ask.

Gained: Even when it feels awkward, I always have the right to know what I'm paying for and not automatically pony up without being consulted first -- something I might not have believed in the past. I also realized (cue girl-writing-college-essay background music) that I need to brush up on my basic arithmetic reflexes, particularly if I plan to negotiate anything on the spot in the future.

PS: For a really cool animation related to the picture above, and a test to see if you're right- or left-brained, check out this page.

Who are you voting for, token white male?

September 5. Day 67.

Oh my. This is the last sentence I wrote:

"I turn to Claudine Ghiacchetti's analysis here, best explains this lines."


I've been working on this chapter all summer, but of course it comes down to the week before I take off when I actually hammer it all out. It's 2:39, and I still have a few hours to go before tihs section is coherent.

It will all be worth it, in the long run: write this chapter. Write one more. Convince adviser to cut final chapter. Graduate in the spring. Earn six figure salary. Get a dachshund.

Sadly, I don't think that's going to happen. Today I was reminded why: I started chatting with a guy sharing my table at Rebecca's and I told him I 'm a grad student and he looked at me suspiciously. "You're not doing a dissertation in business, are you?"

"No, I'll be very poor after I graduate. Even poorer than I am now. That's a hint."


"Worse. French."

There you have it: my dissertation is in French literature. Nineteenth century French literature. I didn't get into these details so far, because who'd want to read them? But now that I've started blabbing, and my critical faculties aren't all intact, I'll just leave my confession here. (And what an ideal mental state for writing a dense academic study, no?)

So, I can sense you're tapping your feet. What on earth did I ask for?

I was sitting in Rebecca's, listening to jazz and feeling a little random and gutsy. So I went up to a guy reading by himself in a corner. He was reading The Crying of Lot 49, and I told him it's a great book (hated it), just so he'd loosen up. Then, I asked.

"Who are you voting for?" Before he could answer, I explained that I was curious what he, as a token white male, my words exactly, thought of choosing between a black male and a white female. I cited a WSJ article I'd read (subscription only, or I'd post the link - sorry!), which said that middle class white men are feeling disoriented and turned off the political process because they can't identify with either of the democratic candidates -- abck when Hillary was still running. When I read that story, I had to laugh. Can't identify with the candidates? Welcome to how the rest of America has felt since 1789 (our first presidential election)! Actually, only white males could vote back then, so make that 1920, when both women and blacks joined the fray.

Jeff, my adorable TWM, told me he makes his decisions based on policy and ideology, not demographics, and then said that my question stressed him out so much that he's going to abstain from voting.

Gained: a break from my dissertation!!!

September 05, 2008

Compensation for my wasted time, Netflix? Actually, nevermind...

September 4. Day 66.

Fell asleep watching an indie movie, Bella. Woke up to brush teeth and blog. So, this will be short.

Asked: Netflix to give me a discount or any sort of compensation for spending an hour on and off the phone trying to solve a technical glitch. The movie was playing in their "instant view" mode, but no audio.

Gained: Nothing, as the technical dude said he's not authorized to give credits or help smooth ruffled feathers. He didn't resolve anything, and I was too exhausted to be transferred to customer service to follow up.

Discovered: After hanging up, I hit "play" one last time and waited to see what happened. The audio actually worked fine -- it was just silent in the first five minutes. Looks like I wasted their time, not the reverse. D'oh!!

September 03, 2008

Cancel my insurance policy, Amica?

September 3. Day 65.

For more than a month, I've been paying two insurances for my little white gas guzzler, one in Boston and one in California. I tried to cancel the plates in Boston, so I could cancel my old policy, but the RMV has been outrageously incompetent.

Today, I thought I'd take a different approach. I called my Boston insurer, Amica, and asked if they could cancel my policy if I showed proof of insurance in California. Then, I would sort out the bureaucratic part, but at least stop paying for two policies. By this point, after all, I am in California, the car is in California, and for more than a month it's been insured here, with AAA.

The agent was really nice, but she explained that the only way they can cancel is if the RMV confirms it has cancelled my registration. However, this agent explained that if I email proof I'm insured in California, then once the RMV responds, Amica will refund my payments starting from the date I signed up with the new insurer.

But. That will not happen before my car reaches 250,000 miles, because the RMV

a) is overloaded and understaffed
b) hires people who invert 1 and 7 (not necessarily a problem in itself) but then DENY it
c) hires such people because there is one criterion for employment: massholeness, i.e. utter indifference to the plight of those it's meant to serve.


In conclusion, I lost about ten minutes and gained a few points in my blood pressure, not because of Amica, which has been a great company over the years, but the RMV. I just want to escape from Massachusetts, once and for all! Let me go!! Please!!!





In a week, I'm talking off for Portland, Maine, for a wedding. Then, Boston for a few days to do library work and see friends; New York for a few days, to see more friends and the city I will never stop wishing I could call home; and then back to Boston for a meeting with my advisor. And, perhaps, picket the RMV.

It will be interesting to keep up this endeavor while I'm traveling. In NY, it may be easy to ask, but I wonder how many people will say yes. I was tempted to book a flight on US Airways, just to demand water. I wonder when Amnesty International will get involved to stop these abuses on airplanes?

September 02, 2008

The three basic needs: food, sunlight, and asking

September 2. Day 64.

Yesterday, I asked a reporter for the New Yorker if he'd meet with me. He wrote back today!

sure, yes. Roughly when do you got in mind? I'm just back from a week of vacation in Massachusetts, and about to settle back into the kinds of routines that involve, among other things, trying to keep track of a schedule.

Gained I: An opportunity to talk with a writer whose work I admire. (Though, not counting any eggs. I hope he'll have time when I'm in town and doesn't change his mind...)

Today, I asked for a better piece of pie.

I was in Trader Joe's with my Mama, and I spotted the free sample lady from across the dairy aisle. She was offering organic apple juice and a pear tart. I took a slice and summoned my mother with a wave.

She walked over, and meanwhile the woman had slid a slice of tart forward, but there was one problem: it was just dough, no pears. Now, when you buy the whole tart, which prides itself on being "rustic," that's no problem. The dough is actually yummy. But I could see my mom looking at it, hesitating to pick up a hunk of dough, and glancing at the fruity piece farther back. She finally started reaching for the doughy one when I stopped her.

"Can she have this?" I asked, and the woman didn't answer, so I reached into the counter for the other piece. It wasn't a huge reach, I didn't assault her or anything. Simply, took something that was meant to be distributed.

Rude? Crude? How about: the sample giver was so busy chatting with a Spanish wine supplier that she didn't even notice.

Gained II: a complete slice of mediocre pear tart for the woman who gave birth to me.

Posted this morning:

Today I'll be squirreled away at my white desk, writing. I'm heading to Boston and New York in a week, and I need to have a well-formed chapter by then to show my committee. I plan to emerge for: food, sunlight, and asking. Until then, I give you three examples of women and negotiation, in the news-o-sphere.

FemaleScienceProfessor blogs about how she and her cousin asked for raises, after finding out their male colleagues earned more. Excerpt:
My cousin talked to her boss to ask him why the new guy was being paid so much more than women who were his equals in experience and credentials. She assumed there was a good reason, but wanted to know what it was. It turned out there was no good reason, and my cousin and the other women were given "extraordinary" raises so that they were making the same (or more) than the new guy.
In the NYT, Hannah Seligson describes how confident young women often get a rude awakening on the job:
I have also seen young women — myself included — getting in the way of their own success. I have found that we need to build a new arsenal of skills to mitigate some of our more “feminine” tendencies. Having lived in a cocoon of equality in college, we may have neglected these vital, real-world skills.
And Linda Babcock, author of "Women Don't Ask," discussed salary negotiations and her latest book, "Ask For It," on NPR's Marketplace.

A presto.

September 01, 2008

Coffee with a New Yorker?

September 1. Day 63.

Rabbit, Rabbit!

My third grade teacher, the magnificent Kitty McDaniels, who was and still is the best teacher a kid could have, taught us that if we say "Rabbit Rabbit!" the first thing in the morning on the first day of the month, it will be a lucky month.

I leave you with that, gentle reader, and wishes for a good September.

Meanwhile, it's time to start wrapping up this dissertation chapter and figure out what I'll ask for today.


UPDATE: I asked for lunch or coffee, with a New Yorker reporter!

Almost a year ago, I met him at a wedding. Since I'll be in New York later this month, and pass through every few months, I figured I could at least try to set up an informal chat with him. Not that I have the faintest hope The New Yorker would ever sneeze in my direction, but one can dream. Anyway, it would be cool to learn about how things work at that magazine, and a little about his reporting process. I'm sure many men wouldn't be shy about networking, even if they went about it in a different way. Here's what I wrote (with minor edits to protect people's identities -- and a word on that. Some readers know who I am, but I'd like to stay generally anonymous if possible, simply because if people know my interactions with them are being publicized, they might change their behavior.) (Also, last I heard, he isn't reading this blog):
You may not remember me, but we sat next to each other at V and J's dress rehearsal dinner. We talked about the story you were researching, and (of course) {our days at college}.

At the risk of seeming completely brazen, I was wondering if you'd be available for coffee or lunch sometime. I'm about to finish grad school, {deleted}, and now I'm considering my options in the writing world. I'm not presumptuous enough to think I could land a job with The New Yorker, but I remember you mentioned that you started there as a fact checker. I admit I'm curious what it's like to do that kind of reporting, and how someone could end up interning or helping with research.

I don't know what I could offer in exchange for your time, except for lunch, translations to or from Italian, advice about surviving in the Peruvian jungle, and my gratitude. Please don't think twice about saying no if you're busy.

Thanks, and best wishes,
La Roxy
Gained: Insights, info, and interesting conversation... I hope!