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November 30, 2008

Quest for a better chai latte

November 30. Day 153.

I started the evening at Rebecca's, a coffeehouse I have tried very hard to like. Seems right up my alley -- low key, friendly staff, interesting furniture arrangements, funky neighborhood, good atmosphere, ample parking and (crucial:) open very late. But they lights are just too dim to get any work done (only bad if I'm working at night, which is usually). Even worse: the music is rarely musical, and the coffee SUCKSSSSS.

In a last ditch attempt to find something likeable about Rebecca's, I ordered a chai latte. It outdid my lowest expectations. Imagine a huge cup of diluted tea, doused with a few drops of milk. It tasted like... what's the point? words have little value in the face of such an atrocity.

I took a second sip, hoping to somehow erase the taste of the first sip. What was I thinking?

So I left.

Next stop: Filter, a short drive north, where I ordered another chai latte. This time, the guy dumped some powder into some milk. Bad sign. Powder = fake, gross, artifical flavor, processing, stomach cancer. Chai is tea, as in leaves steeped in liquid. Not powder. Plus, it was totally bland. Tasted like extra milky milk, with a hint of milk. I drank about a fifth before I gave up.

They closed an hour later. So I left.

Next stop: Lestat's, my tried-and-true, late-night/early-morning, thank-god-you-exist hang out. I ordered the chai latte again, which is made from the good stuff, and it was sipalicious.

Ok, so I'm particular about my food and drinks. Not necessarily picky -- there's a lot I love, and I'm usually openminded. But these first two drinks were really, truly below underneath subpar. Please believe me?

So, where's the askin'?

At one of these stops, I made a plea for a better drink. At Filter, in that hour between ordering the chai latte and leaving, I walked back to the counter.

"Please don't take this the wrong way, I don't mean any offense at all, but I don't like this drink. Can I have a regular tea?"

He looked a little surprised, perhaps hurt, then said he'll comp a peach tea.

"Thank you. I'm sorry."

Gained: A replacement to tide me over until Lestat's. And a new nickname from my boyfriend: OCD.

November 29, 2008

Free pass?

November 29. Day 152.

On a whim, I hitchhiked to Escondido, a bustling, crime ridden nexus of prostitution and cheese manufacturing in a few miles north of San Diego.

(Ok, it's actually more like Mr. A drove his Honda Civic to Escondido, a sleepy, calm, peaceful, three-street hamlet just north of San Diego -- but wasn't that other opening so much more riveting?)

In any case, as we strolled around this community with his uncle, taking in the sights, I came across something lovely tucked between the other regular buildings: a museum!

It was the Mingei International Museum, which specialized in folk art from around the world. (Mingei, in case you were curious, means folk art. Thanks, Wikipedia!)

We walked past, but a few feet later decided to check it out. I approached the counter to ask about the hours. It was closing in 30 minutes.

Next, I asked if I or we could get in for free, since I have a Bank of America debit card. I'd heard that some museums are free with that card, so I thought I'd try.

Apparently, it only works one day every month -- next weekend. On second thought, we decided not to rush, regardless of the cost, so we prepared to leave.

And just as I turned to leave, the woman behind the counter offered me three passes.

"Thanks, but we wouldn't use them today," I told her, unsure if the passes were an invitation to take a quick look at the collection anyway.

"Use them anytime!"

Gained: $18 (one student and two adult fares). (This is sort of a lucky break, not a truly and authentically an "asking" according to the terms outlined on Day 1. I didn't ask for 3 free passes, that is. But, I will put it under the amorphous category of collateral gains, since if I hadn't asked about the bank promotion, or hadn't bothered to make that 30 second detour, I wouldn't have gotten anything.)

November 28, 2008

Can I just pay here?

November 28. Day 151.

I started the day with the best intentions -- to pay homage to San Diego merchants and help the American economy by participating in that mystical exercise called Black Friday. Join the pilgrimage. Prepare for the holidays. Incant with the rest of the masses: "Could I please see that in my size?" Slide my credit card. And, repeat!

My mother and I headed to Fashion Valley, central San Diego's shopping mecca. But 30 seconds after pulling into the parking lot, we had a simultaneous epiphany: What were we thinking?? Just the line to find parking was infernal -- why would we ever venture to a mall on Black Friday??

She put on her turn signal and we managed to squeeze out with a narrow u-turn, thanks to a nice guy in an SUV and another in a beemer who let us pass. Thanks, dudes!

Next stop: Adams Avenue, whose antiques shops my mother had frequented decades before, picking up small treasures here and there. But everything was cheap and overpriced. Crappy baubles and trinkets, faux this and that, QVC style delicacies, at full retail price. I noticed a teapot made of glass, almost identical to what's selling at a store I love (World Market) -- at triple the cost. I wanted to ask the sweet old lady sitting at the counter, "Have you ever set foot in another store besides your own? Do you know that there are these things called 'competitors' out there, and they're kicking your ass?"

But I held my tongue.

Finally, we stopped at a gift store and cool-thing boutique on the way home, because I wanted to pick up a present for my friend, I, whom I'd visited in NY in September. I was going to her baby shower Saturday, and I had a present, but the more I thought about it, it wasn't quite right.

So I picked up a jewelry box and a pearl bracelet for her daughter to be, and my mother happened to find a book of Japanese prints she liked.

The man at the jewelry counter, frail and vaguely elderly looking (40? 80? hard to say!), explained he could only ring up the bracelet - we'd have to wait in the normal line for the other items.

As it happened, that line was very long -- Black Friday long -- so I used every drop of charm, every whit of wit, to explain that it was just two more items, what's another zap or two of his scanning gun, and what's policy when you have a happy customer?

He shuffled behind the counter unconvinced, looking for a gift box for the jewelry, and meanwhile, I set up the two items on the counter, barcode up.

"Thank you!" I replied, so relieved, when he got back, as if it were a fait accompli. He rang everything up together. By that point, it was just as easy to help as not.

Gained: 20 minutes or so.

November 27, 2008

Share your recipe?

November 27. Day 150.

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and all day yesterday I was recovering.

My update is a little late. But worth it. Because I bring you, gentle reader, the fruits of my asking -- an apple cake produced by Elvira, my mother's Italian boarder.

Light and fluffy, a lustrous rust shade on top and buttery gold inside. And moist -- so incredibly moist.

I took a bite and simply had to ask for this recipe. Here it is:

Torta de Mele

400 grams flour
250 grams sugar
3 eggs
1 stick butter, melted
5 apples, peeled and cut into bitesized pieces
yeast (*details below)
rum or vermouth

Mix eggs and sugar
Fold in flour, then yeast
Fold in melted butter (oil also works, but she used butter for the one I ate and it came out great)
Add rum (didn't say how much, but I'm guessing a generous splash should do it)
Add apples

Bake in a greased glass dish at 350 degrees for 40 minutes

* She uses "pane degli angeli," a vanilla scented yeast she brings with her from Rome. You can find it all over the place online. Since I'm going to make this before it could be delivered, I can post an update about the locally available yeast I used.

Gained: Buon Appetito!

November 26, 2008

How I joined the Thursday Night Scrabble Crew

November 26. Day 149.

I came to Twiggs looking for coffee and concentration.

And I found cwm.

Cwm, I've just learned, is a Welsh word for a small valley, according to The Scrabble Dictionary.

I've just played Scrabble, twice, you see, with the Twiggs Thursday Night Scrabble Crew.

Tomorrow being Thanksgiving, they moved their meeting a day early. As I typed on my trusty laptop and tried to come up with the right place to position a certain paragraph in the chapter I'm working on, I kept glancing to my right, and listening, wondering -- were they friends? roommates? a club?

And then, an hour into their gaming, my eavesdropping paid off --

"So you're off?" I heard someone say.

"Yeah, I'm done for the night."

Before they started their next game, I leaned over and asked, "Are you looking for a player?"

They immediately welcomed me. The first round I got trounced, but the second I managed to keep up, scoring big with "andiron" (50 points for using all your letters -- my first ever!).

These people played on a completely different level. One man talked about this personal best -- over 900 points.

"Nice, " another commented when the woman sitting across from me aligned the valuable f and k in "freaky" with high scoring squares.

That's how I learned that pa and mo and el and yean and toea are words. (Don't ask me what them mean -- or those players either.) I was also told that the best online Scrabble dictionary and the official pentalingual Internet Scrabble Club are hosted in Romania, and that this group meets on Thursdays as an offshoot of a different, monthly, club.

Gained: A scrabblously good time.

November 25, 2008

Hey, did you shrink your portions?

November 25. Day 148.

I have a longstanding love affair with Croutons, a place that serves super salads loaded with unhealthy ingredients at astoundingly good prices. A friend introduced me to the Carlsbad location a few years ago, before it popped up all over San Diego, and most recently I've been a regular at the one by my mom's house.


Let me sing of
your $5.45 "Santa Fe"
with its gouda, granny
smith apple, red onion,
corn, and jicama mixed with
romaine. And if it had a
balcony, I would
serenade the Spinach,
whose walnuts, freshly
fried bacon, and straw-
berries are so worth

But at some moment, every small business owner realizes he or she could be charging more for the same product. When it's a restaurant, this switch is especially obvious. Flat Patties, in Boston, traded natural soft burgers for the frozen variety. The result? Yuck. Croutons had earlier downgraded the quality of its panini breads, but I didn't mind since I usually get salad.

Last night it struck me that the containers were smaller. Mr. A and I discussed this privately, checking the current portions against our memories. I figured I could always ask, but saying "Are your portions smaller?" would invite denial or a plea of ignorance.

Instead, I thought I'd treat it as a given, and phrase the question thus:

"Did you make your portions smaller because of the economy, or for some other reason? Just curious."

Yes, I actually waited in line to ask this.

"They're not smaller," the cashier replied.

"Really? It just looks like the containers have shrunk since the last time I was in here."

"No, they didn't..."

"Okay, then maybe I'm extra hungry tonight!" I thought I'd conclude on a friendly note, on the off chance she was telling the truth. Didn't want to seem like I was interrogating her in front of a line of customers.

Gained: Refutation of my theory (or a lie?)

November 24, 2008

Break a 20? Pretty please?

November 24. Day 147.

Quick, allow me to write something now, so yesterday's entry falls a little bit lower on the page.

I spent the entire day at the library, a place I don't often venture. That's because I like my libraries like I like my steak -- rare.

After setting up a pile of books I needed to photocopy, I realized I needed a copy card. For future reference, here's how to get a copy card at the UCSD library.

Step 1. If driving, stop by the visitor's booth on Gilman Drive to get a parking permit.

Step 2. Look for a spot that's marked B or C, but not A and not a meter. If it's before 4:30. After 4:30, meters are acceptable. But still not A.

Step 3. Collect books from the seventh floor.

Step 4. Take a break and walk to the Price Center, a student area and food court about 10 minutes away (including elevator time).

Step 5. Spill a full cup of hot coffee all over yourself.

Step 6. Now you are ready to start copying.

Step 7: Walk back to the library, and stop at the copy card machine. On the way, remove credit card from wallet so you're ready to roll.

Step 8: Read "Cash only" sign on the machine.

Step 9: Discover you only have $20 bills. Much more than necessary.

Step 10. Read "No change given" sign on the machine.

Step 11: Ask the circulation desk rep if she could break a $20 into two tens, or whatever denomination is easiest for her.

Step 12: Be informed that the closest place to break any bill is back at the Price Center.

Step 13: Scamper away from circulation desk.

Step 14: Find a group of undergrads. A trio of guys rushing into the elevator, ideally.

Step 15. Stop them just as the elevator door starts beeping, and force them to wait while you ask if someone could please break a $20.

Step 16. As they hesitate, let images of Price Center or accosting more students dance in your head.

Step 17. Add "Pretty please?"

Step 18. Wait while one guy removes a wad of dollar bills from his pocket and starts counting, shuffling, digging around for more. Thank him. Meanwhile, his friends get more annoyed, so smile apologetically. Thank them too. His friends must then decide to leave without him. He remains alone, wrapping up this good deed.

Step 19. Say $19 is fine, so he can be on his way.

Step 20. Accept the $20

Step 21. Retrieve copy card.

Gained: Didn't walk back to the Price Center -- saved 15 to 20 minutes -- and valiantly helped an undergrad procrastinate.

November 23, 2008

Enter buzzworthy keyword here!

November 23. Day 145.

I was sitting in a cafe, and I became curious as to whether the young scholar performing a series of studious acts upon a legal tome was, indeed, attending the law school I suspected he was.

So I asked the young man what school he goes to.

He replied.

He asked me if I am interested in going to law school.

I replied.

Gained: Material!!!!

Now, for the dedicated reader who returns day after day to learn about my adventures, this will have been, no doubt, completely unsatisfactory. I promise -- to my readers and to myself -- to sway the pendulum toward more worthwhile and interesting ventures this week.

Yet my apologies go especially to the hapless visitors who stumbled upon this blog by searching for "law school" or "law school application" (now that I've added the word "application" twice to this page). Also, now, to people looking for "Obama cabinet" "cheesecake recipe" "Paris weather" "how to make out" and "Dancing with the stars."

If you happened to land here by searching for "negotiation" "women careers" "grad school" "women don't ask" or "daily asker" -- you've come to the right place, but the wrong day. Please check back tomorrow!

La Roxy

ps: speaking of studying, this flowchart is kind of scary, if true. click on it for a better view.

November 22, 2008

Who stole my newspaper?

November 22. Day 145.

Mr. A subscribes to the weekend editions of the Union-Tribune, San Diego's daily gazette. He rarely reads it, but he gets it because he knows I enjoy it. Thank you!

Occasionally, the paper disappears from his building's porch.

This bothers me for three reasons.

First, I like newspapers. As in paper.

Second, while I'm a somewhat loose constructionist when it comes to the Big Book of Morals, and normally not one to point fingers about high grounds or cheap shots, I do think that stealing someone's newspaper is low. I get indignant partially because I've been veeeeery tempted, but never dared. It's especially hard when I see a coveted WSJ sitting on someone's porch for a few days in a row, forsaken or abandoned, weeping for my loving attention, only to be trounced upon by a more opportunistic neighbor -- or the trash crew. I fully admit the hypocrisy of claiming to be morally chill and then wanting people to do unto me as I would do unto them... and yet it just kind of pisses me off.

Most of all, it's bad enough that newspaper subscriptions are down and the whole industry is dying. On top of that, someone has to steal a paper? Go pay for it, jerk. Stop getting journalists layed off!

Well, Friday's paper came and went, by Saturday, I decided to take a new approach.

I posted this message on the bulletin board downstairs:

"Did you take Friday's Union-Tribune? I subscribe, and I need an article from that edition. If you took it, please bring it back downstairs. Thanks."

At press time, no newspaper to be seen. Harumph.

Gained: zilch.

November 21, 2008

Office Party, The

November 21. Day 144.

Friday was Mr. A's company's holiday party, held at Sea World. Arcade games, an arctic ride, photo-ops with huggable plastic marine mammals, and a live penguin encounter, encountered: men in dark suits drinking vodka cranberries, a dance floor that remained more or less empty until the final hour, raffles for vacations to exotic places (but not vacation time, hardy har) and wives, so many wives, wearing whatever but almost universally clad in very long, glittery earrings that couldn't have been diamonds now, could they?

Dinner flew by -- we kept getting up to say hi to people, making the rounds to stations of "foods from around the world," and getting handed drink tickets by his Muslim buddies. Mr. A was annotating and footnoting all our interactions. The boss. The boss's boss. The guy he played tennis with last year. The colleague who suffered through that awful restaurant with him in Prague.

And then, we were off to the arcades, where the mood subtly shifted. Engineers, hundreds of engineers in formalwear, stormed the air hockey games and skiball slopes like there was no (work) tomorrow! And strangely, sublimely, hierarchies collapsed. Employer and employee, boss and bossed? Pah! A new order was quickly forming. Who among these algorithmic animals could bonk badgers better? Who could shoot a hoop or scoop a pooch?

We had each received 10 tokens with our entry tickets. Here, I realized, would be a perfect opportunity to do some haggling, to stretch our allowance. I checked with Mr. A first. Wouldn't want to be "the crazy girlfriend." He gave me the green light, so for the rest of the night we downed clowns, flung frogs, whacked whiffleballs. And I bargained left and right, two for 1, practice shots, 3 for 2, trial rounds, and, always, always, strategy tips. We ended up with three stuffed animals!!!

Gained: $5? half a dozen arcade games? Hard to quantify, but who's counting when you're having fun?

November 20, 2008

Can you please move your purse?

November 20. Day 143.

When La Sorella and I were little, things would usually go down like this:

She would aggravate the hell out of me, provoke me with pokes or tickling, until I'd snap. Bend her pinkie back or pull her hair. She'd scratch me back, maybe stab me with a pencil. (She denies that, but I still have the scar!) Fight ensued.

I'd get annoyed for no good reason -- she wanted to hang out with my friends or play with the toy I was using. I'd do something mean to teach her to leave me alone. Throw a block close enouth to her head that she got scared, but far enough to miss (lucky every time, thank God). Fight ensued.

Or -- and this was most typical in the car -- she would pretend I attacked her, screaming, "Mama! Roxy hit me!!!!" and our mom would yell at me. Fight ensued. Later.

Or -- and this happened pretty much anywhere -- I'd pull rank. Tell her she was adopted and we had another year to decide whether or not to keep her, or demand the sweater she was wearing if it had been mine, or calmly explain that I was born first so I got to eat the bigger half of a chocolate bar we received. Generally she believed me, or else she pretended she did.

By about 14 and 10, all that died down -- because we knew we didn't have to resort to physical pain anymore in order to hurt one another, because we went to different schools and spent much less time together, and because she stopped thinking I was cool enough to bother with.

All that to explain that with most people, asking for something is just that -- asking. I make a request, open a dialogue, and wait to hear what the person says. Yes? No? Okay, moving on. But when I turn to La Sorella with a question, it's so much more complicated. Requesting her for help, advice, input, not to mention butting in with my help, advice, input, is second nature.

Well, this afternoon I picked up La Sorella from the airport. Less than eight hours later, I made my first imperious request: Can you please not put your purse on this table? I'm trying to keep it uncluttered.

On one hand, BBS (bossy big sister) makes a comeback. Poor girl is back in town after living four months in a new city. She's staying with me for 10 days. And all I can think about is keeping a table neat? I, who am hardly the queen of neat? Lovely.

On the other hand, I had just moved the table by the door, put a tapestry and a bouquet on it. The rest of the house is up for grabs. But I'd like to try to keep at least one corner neat. So I asked.

No prob, she replied.

No hair pulling or flying blocks.

No time-out, even though our Mama was standing right next to us.

Gained: 20 years, give or take, since the good old days...

November 19, 2008

Is that a yes or a no?

November 19. Day 142.

A few months ago, I submitted a small project to a large public service organization, as part of the consulting work that I do. (For those of you who have started reading more recently, I do occasional freelance work on the side of my grad school studies.) My supervisor replied with a Thanks, I'm really busy right now, but I will get back to you soon. And I never heard from him again. I emailed twice to ask if everything was okay, but no answer.

So I sort wrote it off, assuming he didn't like what I put together and didn't have the time or inclination to tell me.

But it kept gnawing at me. Was he just incredibly busy? Did he truly lack even the time to let me know, "I'm not going to use your work after all"?

For two months, I thought about calling him. But I put it off, since uncertainty was better than rejection. He works for a venerated institution, and I had been thrilled he hired me. But finally, this morning I did call, steeling myself for rejection. I reminded him who I am and which project I had been assigned to, since I was a new contractor. I asked if he was still interested.

"We've been pretty busy, dealing with this global financial situation," he replied. "But when things calm down, I'm going to use it. I'll be in touch in a few weeks."

I asked him if in the meantime, I should update the data or adjust anything, since a few months have passed since I submitted it.

That would be a good idea, he told me.

So, we're still on.

Gained: R-E-L-I-E-F.

November 18, 2008

A confession

November 18. Day 141.

I have a confession. If the prose seems a little deflated these days, if what I asking for seems a little dull, it's because that's how I'm feeling.

I'm starting to wonder if I can make it for a whole year. I must; I shall; I still have a lot left to learn, and every reason to learn it. But I'm hitting some turbulence.

Part of the problem is situational: most of the day I'm at a table, reading and writing. I hang out in cafes, reading and writing. I sit on the couch, reading and writing. (Side note -- if anyone is considering grad school, please talk to me first! Free advice. Just ask!) As a consequence, there's only so much I can ask for each and every day -- unless I start interviewing cafe goers or cashiers about their favorite pets or request extra ice or something. And that would simply be lame. Even if I don't resort to such means, how will I keep this going for almost twice as long as I've already done it?? That is the question.

Another problem is definition. What is this project about? Is it a financial enterprise, trying to raise my bottom line? Is it professional, so I position myself better come graduation? Is it gender-psychological, building guts with gusto? Is it personal, existential, experiential, so that I enrich my life with experiences I might otherwise have missed? It can be all of those, but with something so amorphous, the freedom is liberating, and a burden. Today, for example: do I head out and try to score some sort of discount? Again?? Do I try something new and exciting -- ride a fire truck? Perhaps. Do I just play it by ear? Just deciding is wearing me out, a little.

Above all, (and I use bold sparingly -- only once before -- so this is important:) I'm not a ritualistic person. I've never done anything every day, save what I must do for survival: eat, sleep, cleanse, caffeinate. I don't do schedules. I can adhere to one, and they're useful for projects or events, but I'm not prone to creating my own as a way of life. How something so seemingly insignificant -- asking for something, anything, every day -- can so consume my existence is baffling! But if I have to think about it at least every 23 hours, it's a ritual. And that's very new and, frankly, weird for me. On the upside, perhaps this will also build up my stamina for other potential daily endeavors. Fasting? Praying? Sister Roxy? Right!

Well, now. To sum things up: 140 days into this damn -- I mean, darn exciting -- project, I'm finally wondering what I've gotten myself into. Sorry to complain! I could keep this to myself and keep reporting just on what I asked, but perhaps you appreciate such transparency? In any case. It's 4:19. Plenty of time left until tomorrow.

a presto!


Thanks to those who responded.

Lisette, you've been with me from practically day 1, and your words within and beyond the context of these pages mean a lot to me.

Pat1755, I have taken up your generous suggestion (see below). Phew! And, thank you.

And Lana, I love the list idea... Maybe we could start a workgroup for daily bloggers? Your Thirtieth Year Project is an amazing compendium of characters. A modern Balzac! Or a sort of "missed connections" to the Nth power.

Tonight I headed to Lestat's, to clear my mind. And then, just before I left, I thought I'd give someone else the chance to ask. I turned to Carlos, my table neighbor, to see what he'd request, if he could ask for anything on earth.

"As in, what would be my dream come true?"

"If you want to see it that way, sure," I said. "Or it could also be something more connected to your everday life. Maybe you've been wanting something, to track someone down, to have a certain experience, to get a bargain on a new apartment."

His first desire is to ask the love of his life, a woman he broke up with 15 years ago, "Who are you today?" and tell her, "Here's who I am today." Maybe, maybe, if they're both in the right place, and seem to be more right for each other, they could get to know one another again and even try things over again...

His second desire is to find a mentor. He's a songwriter, and what he needs is honest feedback. Because it's hard to find honest voices out there, that know both him and the music industry.

Love and honesty.

Gained: an opportunity to sit back and listen... and a day off!!!

November 17, 2008

Change the date?

November 17. Day 140.

Nice: Being so busy with exciting cultural activities you don't have a moment to sit still...

Not so nice: double booking!

A few days after I made plans to go see "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead," at the La Jolla Playhouse, one of San Diego's theatrical jewels, Mr. A reminded me about his company's Christmas party. It's on the same night.

It's a tough call. I love Tom Stoppard, and I've never see than play performed. But I would like to meet Mr. A's coworkers and be there with him that night.

I called the theater and asked how long the play runs. 3 hours. Too late to be able to make it to the party afterward.

My next move: asked if I could exchange my ticket for one the night before.

"It might be possible, but you have to check with the box office. I can't process orders here."

One more call, same question. But they were sold out.

Gained: Nothing. But, that evening I realized his party starts early enough, 6, that I can stop by for an hour or so, then head to the play. That could work!

November 16, 2008

Do two half requests...

November 16. Day 139.

...a whole one make?

I'm a day behind, so I'll keep this short...

I asked for a few small things, but nothing bold or blog worthy.

Picked up Mr. A from the airport. As we pulled out of the parking lot, I asked him to take some time for himself, to sleep, maybe get a day off work, anything to make up for the 18 hour days he was pulling for the month before and during the conference. But I felt like a (no offense!!) wife, a mom, a nag. I think that's something I need to figure out, as well: How to ask someone to do something for him/herself. Find a job. See a doctor. And yet, I don't think it's really my really place to do that. When can/should I intervene?

Then, that night, we had dinner with his cousins, and I asked their three-year-old daughter for a kiss on the cheek. She's bashful, but turns into a bundle of cuddles once she's comfortable with you.

(I did think about asking for a discount while I was at a mug shop for tourists, but I only remembered after she rang up my purchase. D'oh!)

Gained: a promise to at least consider prioritizing sleep/health/well being, and a cutie's kiss

November 15, 2008


November 15. Day 138.

Preface: The readers have spoken, and I dig it: This post was a confusing attempt at "narrative" blogging, so I'll just spell everything out at the top of the page. I decided to write in the voice of the person I asked, a waitress at my 10 year high school reunion. Long story short, the reunion was so lame I escaped to ask her some questions, and I thought it would be more fun to report it from her POV. Anyway, I'll stick to normal posts from now on -- though I reserve the right to have some fun with the form, occasionally! =)

And here's what I wrote originally:

The first person got there at 7, a girl, alone. She looked around a little nervously, like was this really the right place, and a few minutes later some of the teachers and a few more students trickled in. Hugs, laughter.

I asked them all what they wanted, and the usual orders came in.

Two more couples walked in, saluted and breezed past the rest, and sat in the back corner table. One guy had his hair slicked back and looked like he was ready to charter a boat or something. Strangely nautical. He owns a decent Mexican restaurant, I heard someone say.

At one point, four more people had arrived: a blingy couple with big smiles and sparkling voices, a tall, attractive couple with glasses. Beers for half of them.

Then a girl came in alone and ordered a wine as soon as she saw me, then three more guys showed up.

By 8, I realized. This was it. Their 10 year high school reunion. 15 people or so, a handful of teachers, the alumni coordinator, complaints about the location. Our restaurant.

I have a few years left until mine. I always imagined reunions with many more people, old flames finding one another and groping, more noise. These people were only interacting in their own little groups.

I made the rounds, served a bunch of waters to some intelligent types talking about salmon and cognition and fundraising, brought beers to the guys in the corner still think they're too cool to talk to anyone else, a wine here and there. No one was touching the food -- buffalo wings, our specialty, and chicken quesadillas.

It was a team of us working the party room, and whenever I got a chance I slipped out to tend to my other tables, in the main dining area.

As I was waiting for an order from the kitchen, two people from the reunion walked over.

"Excuse me," one of them asked, a girl in jeans. Pinot grigio. "I was wondering if you could answer a question for me."

I told her shoot.

"Do you know where this restaurant gets its name from?"

Honestly, the question never crossed my mind. If you look around, you'll see a bunch of sports trophies in cases everywhere. So it represents our theme, I explained.

"Cool... So what's business like these days?"

I told her the truth. It's slow these days. Really slow. No one's eating out. Who has money for restaurants? They're thinking of shutting one or two locations. Look around. It's Saturday night. Empty.

"Does that mean your tips suffer?"

Excuse me? Kind of personal, but whatever... If these people want to know about my tips, no problem. People used to give 15%, for standard service. Wham, bam, thank you ma'am. Now it's 10, 11 percent. All the time. I used to get 20 for the good tables. Hardly ever, anymore. And it's more than a financial hit. It's frustrating, because I make the effort. I do what it takes to get things right and have the nice attitude, and they still cut back. And I'm wondering if I did something wrong, or what. I mean, for them it's $3 versus $5, and they think that's practically the same thing, but for me, with taxes and sharing it with the bartender and all that, I take home a lot less than they think.

"So then, how do you like working here?"

Had to shake my head on that one. I am not a fan. They nodded sympathetically, and I felt like I needed to explain. It's not just that I'm a server. This is not a career for me. I have a master's degree and a professional certificate, but I haven't been able to find work, so I'm stuck for now. No one in my industry is hiring. Good thing I had experience waiting tables in high school.

"That's terrible! So then, is this like really boring for you, or is it actually an interesting experience?"

Interesting? You write down the orders. You bring them to the kitchen. You bring back the orders. Mind. Less. But it's infuriating. People think I'm just just a server. I probably have more education than some of my clients do.

"So what do you think about our reunion?"

I told them exactly what I thought.

[This is my take on the server's point of view of my high school reunion. It was held tonight at a sports bar and was so lame that a friend and I escaped to conduct this interview. I was disappointed, mostly, because I had really loved high school, and my high school.

Most of this is based on the server told me. Some of the details (drink orders) are from what I noticed or discussed with others. I don't promise even close to total accuracy. Thank you Tie, husband of Tee, who gave me the idea to ask the server about the restaurant's name and accompanied me on my quest. Tee is my high school partner in crime; she and her husband have the same first initial, but pronounce it differently. He's Aussie, you see (or sey?). And she, like me, is, like, totally from California!

Gained: someone's perspective about who I and my peers are, 10 years after high school. Normally the ideal is not not care what people think about you at your high school reunion. But in this case, somehow I do. Good luck with the job hunt!]

November 14, 2008

Asked for an asking

November 14. Day 137.

Short version, in case you're in a hurry:

Another retail attempt. Another bust.

Here's how it went down:

I ended up at Cost Plus with my mother, to look at some rugs. They have some nice wool ones with persian-esque designs, which had caught my eye some time ago. Fortunately, almost all were 25% off! Unfortunately, not the one I wanted. (The ones pictured are from another store, but I liked the image.)

I found a salesgirl walking the floor. She had rung up my purchases in the past and had always been friendly. I made my case.

"I noticed that all the rugs are on sale except for this one. Do you know if maybe it's a mistake?"

"It looks like just this series is full price, that's so weird," she said, checking the prices.

"Well, do you think I could get the sale price on this one, anyway? Even a smaller discount would be great."

"I don't... think you can do that." She looked doubtful, but in a way that gave me hope.

"I'd be willing to make it a final sale, or pay in cash?"

"Cash doesn't make a difference for us, I'm afraid."

"I mean, I could walk out with it today, like a clearance item, and never return it. If you could get the price down a little."

"I don't think we can do that."

"Argh, that's too bad! I love it. I would totally buy it if it were just a little cheaper. Is there any way the manager can come up with a discount? I've heard that sometimes they have special powers."

She smiled. "I can ask for you, but I can already tell you the answer will be no."

"Would you... mind asking?"

I got the feeling I was starting to waste her time. "I can, but he's almost definitely going to say no."

"That's ok. It would be worth a try. If you don't mind."

"I can. But I can already tell you he's going to say no." And then her eyes lit up. "If you open a charge card with us, you get a discount. Or, if you sign up for e-mail promotions! Or, it might go on sale later? They go on sale at random times."

"Thanks. I guess I'll wait to see if it goes on sale." Easy out. In a sense, I like that she offered alternatives -- she was an asset for her company by dissuading negotiation and quickly pointing me to their credit card. And at the end, she seemed to genuinely want to help me get the price down with all those options. Except by asking her manager.

I took her word that he'd say no. I think that was a mistake. Perhaps by asking her to ask, he would have come over and I could have gotten a different answer. Or perhaps by asking her to ask, she would have starting thinking that prices, even those printed in ink, are not set in stone. Could be good for her shoppers, and in her own life. Instead, I respected the status quo and rested my case as quickly as you can say "Loser."

Gained: Practice, I guess? Practice at taking rejection? Arrrrgh. Practice at not persisting? AAAAK! Do any of you readers have ideas for retail bargaining? Is my approach all wrong, or is it just a lost cause?

November 13, 2008

Life after death? (And, more retail requests)

November 13. Day 136.

After watching Grey's Anatomy, in which a character returns as a ghost, and eating a pear and blue cheese pizza, my grandmother and I started to talk about death.

What she wants to happen when she dies. Funeral, insurance, prices, logistics, cremation versus burial. We remembered other dead people -- so many of her friends and relatives. I told her about dreams I have with my other grandmother, how gentle and wise she had been.

We talked ghosts. When she was little, her father, a pharmacist living in a provincial city in Eastern Europe whose shop used to smell like Eucalyptus, held many seances. Seances in the 1920s, on a wooden table with no nails (according to the superstition that ghosts are repelled by iron). With friends, family, his young daughters.

She laughed, imagining her funeral and what how we might misplace the urn in the garage, and said her friend's recent funeral was a good logistical template. For her, I realized, this is the next shebang. The craziest party she'll (sort of) attend. I take notes at weddings. She also looks at funerals. It's only natural.

We'd never talked so candidly, and I wanted to know more: "Do you think that there is something, after all this?"

She shrugged, smiling. "How can anyone know? But for the people who loved me, I'll always be a thought away! No one needs to get depressed!"


This afternoon, I sat on the deck of Krakatoa, a cafe in the Golden Hill neighborhood, under a fig tree with meaty leaves. (One pictured, above).

Some girls next to me were commanding their dogs in loud, nasal voices to sit, and squealing "Good boy" when they did. A waiter came out with a sandwich on a plate, and one of the girls told him, "Could you make it to-go? I changed my mind." So routine. Asking.

Women who ask are everywhere. They ask about food and death. They ask for themselves and their loved ones, and they're not blogging about it. They're not patting themselves on the back or beating themselves up over the who, how and why. They ask as if it were the simplest thing in the world.

One voice in the dialogue I often have with myself about this project tells me: You got a discount or a bike ride. It's not like you have a career/family balancing act, an oppressive boss, aggressive male coworkers, entitlement left and right. It's not like returning a pair of pants or seeing a sorority matters. So what's the big deal? Why blog? Why a year? Why make it into an "issue"? Why not just ask when I need to, and that's that? One of the privileges of being a woman here and now, after all, is that we don't have to make a big deal about asking. It's allowed, expected. If we don't, we're selling ourselves short. No one is stopping us but ourselves.

And yet. I did used to stop myself, and I'm by no means shy. How many women ask in the workplace? A wire story today says the world's women may be better educated than ever, but they're still powerless. I won't be a student forever, and then I'll really be tested. When the time comes to be a wimp or a bad ass, I hope I choose well. With grace and humanity, but not self-sacrifice or self-effacement, either. I hope the same for you, gentle readers...


Well. What I asked today. I went to two bookstores, and twice requested a very legitimate (according to me! haha) discount.

The first time, I spotted a lit theory book I don't reeeally want, but it would be healthy reading for my dissertation. It was $10. I asked her to take the price down, saying it's a lot cheaper online. She bristled and said no, because online there's shipping. I pushed, saying taking off $2 or $3 would make them competitive. Nope.

The second time, I stacked a few books on a counter at the store across the street and asked if he could take a little off the total. He replied: "If you bought a stack this high [arms a meter apart], that would be okay." I asked if we could pretend the stack was "this high," and he laughed.

I also just called my grandmother, to see if she minds I type this up. I don't normally ask for permission to write about people, but this seemed different. It's about her life and death. And she's my grandma.

Gained: No discounts. One heart to heart.

November 12, 2008

Fix a retail mistake?

November 12. Day 135.

After dinner, my Mama returned the phone call of a window replacement company; ours are leaking -- yes, it does rain in San Diego. While describing her situation, she was very sweet. The conversation advanced, and it seemed she was signing up for one style and making an appointment for them to inspect the property.

"Prices?? Negotiate!!!" I whispered.

She nodded. "So what kind of price range are we talking about?"

Long silence.

"A general range is fine. I won't hold you to it, but I want an idea."

Long silence.

"Let me be straight with you. Whatever price you give me, I will bargain it down. And I will do the same with any other vendor I talk to. That's just how I am. It's not a commitment, but before I waste your time, and mine, I need to know what kind of prices we're talking about. So the best thing you can do to increase your changes of getting my business is telling me, now, how much it could cost, and making that figure competitive. We've already been over how many windows, their measurements, the type of package I'm looking for."

He is calling her back with prices. Sigh. That's more like it.

Earlier, I went to Marshall's to return some clothes I'd bought for Mr. A, for this conference. I selected more than he needed, because it was fun, and because I wanted to give him enough options to choose from. After waiting in a long line, I dumped everything on the counter and the cashier went through the pile, scanning things. It took forever, because they had to check something in the men's department, but meanwhile we chatted and she was friendly.

She rang me up, and I walked away. Then, I stopped to check the receipt. Was the math right? Seemed a little off... Wasn't sure.

I went back (to the front of the line this time) and asked her to go over the transaction, item by item. I don't think she was thrilled. Wanted me to tell her what item was wrong or missing.

"I don't know, but it seems I should have gotten more money back. Can we go through each thing and cross it off the receipt?"

She had skipped a pair of pants.

Gained: Money that was owed to me. (I would have done this before July, granted. But my only other asking today was even more lame. Boooring. Won't waste your time, or mine!)

November 11, 2008

Of smoking, and asking, and empathy, on the balcony

November 11. Day 134.

Mr. A's building has four balconies.

Those of you who know me might imagine I greatly delight in this fact. Those of you who don't, allow me to explain: I am writing my dissertation about balconies.

But I do not delight in these four balconies.

Because they attract smokers.

And smokers repel me.

It's only fair. I grew up with tobacco. My father smoked until this summer, and I'm ecstatic he has finally really and truly quit this time. One of my favorite t-shirts of his was yellow, with a "Smokenders" logo and a broken cigarette. I liked it even before I understood what it meant. Viscerally attracted to the bright color maybe, as a kindergartner.

All but two of my aunts smoke, which means foggy family dinners and hazy holidays. Love the aunts, hate the smoking. The worst of the pack is the one who drives with a cigarette and a manual transmission. She tries to exhale out the window, while shifting gears or steering, and the the smoke always gets sucked back inside. As a kid, I ended up accompanying her on a lot of errands for some reason. Cough.

Occasionally, cigarettes excite me. Mixed with certain perfumes, their scent reminds me of that sweet, petite grand mere who died eight years ago at 85. It's a hypnotic combination. Catapults me back to her apartment, her couch, the cocoon of childhood. She puffed happily until her final hours. And when I was euphorically drunk in Europe, I'd bum a cigarette off of corrupting confidantes and drink it in. Curiosity and revenge, mostly.

Outdoors, don't mind either. But inside, my nose just gets stuffy and I can't think of anything except "Finished, yet?"

For the past few weeks, the scent of cigarettes has drifted more and more often into Mr. A's apartment through the door and window seams of this old building. I could smell it as I was trying to fall asleep. I could smell it in the middle of the afternoon, eating lunch. I wondered: Has someone new moved in? Grad student or unemployed? Why is there suddenly a smoker on the balcony at all hours?

One evening, I poked my head into the hallway and saw a small group of friends, laughing. Didn't recognize anyone, so I smiled and closed the door.

I thought about putting up a sign on the bulletin board downstairs. "If possible, please try to smoke on the sidewalk" or "Some of your neighbors may not like the smell of cigarettes. Please be considerate." But that seemed awful.

I considered posting an article from the Sunday Times about a noise conflict among neighbors, but that seemed too oblique.

I asked Mr. A about the lease rules, but before he could check he left to Prague.

Tonight, the smell slinked in again.

I opened the door. It was a neighbor from few doors down, holding her cat.

"Hi," I whispered.


"Were you smoking?" I asked this casually, like I might have come out to join her next.

"Yeah. I kept the door closed. Was it bothering you?" She started walking to her apartment.

"Oh, no! Just wondering. Good night."

"Good night."

I smiled, again, and closed the door.

And then, yes, then I opened it again!!!

"Hi." She turned around. "Would you... do you think you could, if it doesn't make a huge difference to you... use the other balcony? ...I can actually smell it when you smoke... it comes inside the apartment."

"Of course. I'll just use the other one. I'm sorry!"

"No, I'm sorry. I don't want to be the crazy lady who comes out in the middle of the night with complaints. You have every right to use this balcony if you like it. I just didn't know if you don't care either way."

"I don't. It's no problem at all."

"Really!? Thank you so much. I really appreciate it."

"Of course! It's all about consideration."

We traded names, I asked her about her feisty black cat, which had started wriggling in her arms, and I offered to feed it if she's ever out of town. Anything to return the good will and say thanks.

Gained: A nice neighbor. The satisfaction of addressing a delicate issue personally. And the relief of having empathy for both sides, the smoker and the smokee, but still speaking up.

If I was timid in this whole encounter, it's because I'm a firm believer in the LALL school. I could perfectly relate to her pleasure in smoking on that balcony, having a corner to herself, a ritual. And I know how much smokers cherish their Camels. I didn't have any greater claim on that space, or the air in the hallway, than she did. Balconies, after all, are transitional spaces - inside/outside, public/private. In this case, communal as well. And if I'm the only one it bothers, why should she change her ways to accommodate me? And yet, the smoke was seeping into a private area... so thanks to this experiment, I decided I would just try to ask, just try to check with her. Perhaps both balconies were equally appealing to her -- her door is halfway between them, in fact. So asking, I'm thinking now, isn't about suspending empathy. On the contrary. But it does mean that after you consider the other perspective, you don't let yourself necessarily be seduced by it. Instead, you open a dialogue.You give yourself as much consideration, as much value, as the other party. Something that can be hard to do judiciously. And hard to do, period.

November 10, 2008

Creepy preamble... and asked about art

November 10. Day 133.

I'm officially creeped out. On the walk back from the car, I noticed a lone guy on an empty stretch of sidewalk in front of the apartment, and for some reason felt I should hurry inside before he could pass. Paranoia.

Once inside, I googled "street safety," "women's safety -travel," "home intruder what to do," etc, and that creeped me out even more. Elevators, making sure the cell is charged, the reflex of some people to gasp instead of scream, and dark hunches, such as:
"As I crossed over the bridge from the public area of the park to the more densely wooded part of the trail, I passed a man walking alone. He greeted me, and we walked on in our separate directions. I didn’t think much of him, but out of habit I glanced back. He had turned around about thirty feet away and was walking back towards me." (Whole anecdote here.)
Quickly! Change the subject!

Blog entry and happy thoughts start..... 3...2...1... NOW:

I've always wanted to live in the kind of city where people chill out in cafes until dawn talking about art, and where that art makes a statement. I've never been to Berlin, but I've heard it is such a city.

Tonight, I discovered, so is San Diego!

I went to Lestat's, my late night standby. I'd been inside all day, and by sunset I desperately wanted out.

The table I happened to sit at was next a wall of paintings by a local artist. "Black vomit," if I recall, was either the artist's pseudonym or the name of the series. The predominant motif: cackling or frowing clowns and skulls, and familiar images with a sinister twist, printed or painted on plastic boards and skate board bellies.

All night, people walked past this wall and leaned forward, and over my table, to get a closer look. Groups of friends stopped and traded remarks. People who were otherwise in a rush halted to glance. I've never seen this much interest in a work of art in a cafe before -- or in certain museums, for that matter. Those clowns commanded.

I was also strangely hooked. As I tried to write I kept glancing right, despite myself, to see some dame's skull leering at me. (Hmm, now I see why I was feeling nervous and on edge after I left the cafe!)

When one couple stopped and stayed for a few seconds longer than the rest, I thought I might try talking to them about their reactions. I've never done this -- striking up a conversation with strangers about art, just like that. I tried this at the Billy Collins reading and was promptly dismissed. This man was very tall, with long lashes, and she had blonde dreads down to her hips and the bluest eyes. Both were quietly contemplative.

"Do you like it?" I asked.

"Excuse me?" he replied.

"Do you like this art? Is it edgy or attractive for you?"

"Are you the artist?" the woman asked.


"I love the colors," the man said. "And I really love the skateboards. I've never seen anything like that before. What do you think?"

"I've been watching people's reactions as they walk by, and they're getting a lot of attenion. They're edgy. I've been sitting here trying to write, but it's hard to concentrate with all these clowns."

"Are you afraid of clowns?" the man said.


They asked me what I was working on. I told them. They asked me if I've been to Paris, and if I liked the balconies there. I told them. Then, I asked back.

We were chatting. About art and architecture. About Paris. In a cafe.

Gained: A pleasant, casual, quick chat about art. Especially after a similar attempt a few weeks ago bombed.

UPDATE: Noo! I just did a google image search for the word "creepy," to find something to post here. Baaad idea. I don't recommend it, especially at 1:34 a.m. in an empty house. Here's a picture to counteract those. Paris, pastry, park. The opposite of sinister.

November 09, 2008

Pushing for a cash discount in a cashless economy...

November 9. Day 132.

I spent the afternoon with A, who we'll call Jem from now on. (Using just her first initial risks getting confusing, and it doesn't do justice to her personality. Since her name partially resembles a natural material, her nickname is a single syllable, she's a child of the 80s, she knows how to rock, and she rocks, I think this will do.) One of my closest friends growing up, Jem moved back to San Diego a few years ago and we've been rediscovering parts of the city together.

We headed to good old 5th Ave., where good old things abound. By old I mean, of course, created before 1980 or so. By good, I mean: miles of used books, second hand clothes, dive bars and vintage records. I was looking for nothing in particular. Jem was on the hunt for some career separates.

At Buffalo Exchange, nada. In high school I had loved this store (pictured above); then I realized I could find the same dusty shirts and dated skirts at Amvets for $2 instead of $12, and simultaneously (but coincidentally) stopped caring where my friends shopped. Next, Jem showed me two newer places in the neighborhood, Flashback and Rags. Both were brimming with edgy, entrancing and/or ridiculous vintage pieces. Costumes, practically. A shantug silk shirt suit in cobalt, size zero. If only. Long prairie dresses and flowered caftans so grotesque they bordered on beautiful. Acres of chiffon.

And an interesting silk scarf. $12. I checked my wallet and saw I had $10 and some change, so I set the scarf on the counter, which was just across from the scarf stand.

"Can I ring you up?" asked the salesman.

"Before you do, I was curious: If I pay cash, could I get this for $10?"

"No," he replied.

I could have put it on a card, but it wasn't worth more than $10 to me. "I can put it back," I said, moving to hang it on the rack.

"No. I will." And he pulled it away. Alrighty.

I must say, I'm curious what leads some merchants to give discounts, and others not. One one hand I read that prices are falling, we're heading for deflation, sales sales everywhere; on the other, merchants are struggling and I imagine they want every penny. So, is it that only the boss cuts deals? Or either very large or very small places do? Any perspectives, out there?

Gained: $0.00.

November 08, 2008

The violinist replies

November 8. Day 131.

Haven't asked yet. More on that later. But first, an update:

The violinist I wrote about yesterday wrote back! His name is John, and after googling him I discovered he was the musical director of the cafe's gigs, and quite the opposite of the indigent invalid and/or washed up dilettante I romantically imagined he could be.

He returned the favor, offering these speculations about me:
Now if I may, let me make some assumptions regarding those who would blog in this manner! They might be cowardly because they choose to remain anonymous and obviously fear confrontation of any kind. Perhaps they are full of themselves, with the words ”some dissertation work“ in the first sentence and “dissertate" in the last sentence of their blog. One could imagine writers such as these were abused as children, and are now egomaniacs with inferiority complexes, full on narcissists even, although I’m not a psychologist.
Moi? A pretentious narcissist? J'adore!

Wake up call, Roxy. It's one thing to be bold and learn to speak up or negotiate; another to take jabs at strangers from behind a curtain of the Internet. So, I owe him an apology. A new guideline will be: treat every word I write as something the subject and his/her family (or lawyer) might read. Aiming not for censorship, but consideration. Not inhibition, but integrity. Reporters do that. I don't think bloggers, anonymous or otherwise, should be held to a different standard. That was always my intention; how could I have gotten so careless?! Yikes.

As for anonymity, I don't particularly care if people know who I am offline, once I've asked. But I'm keeping my name under the radar because I'd like to make my requests as a regular person for this experiment -- the same way I'll be doing once this project ends next July, or just as any of my readers might be doing already -- without the potential clout or liability of "being a blogger." Basically, publishing my first name alone makes this whole shabang possible.

If the invitation to go for a latte at Twiggs still stands, John, I'd love to!

La Roxy

For today's asking, please stay tuned. I have an idea, for once not centered around food or coffee, but we'll see if it works out...

UPDATE: My plans were thwarted by a very long nap I took. I ended up asking for something just for the sake of asking: a ride. From my aunt. Of course she said yes.

Must shake things up on Sunday.

GAINED: A ride offer; a reply.

November 07, 2008

What's the most effective alternative to silencing a tortured violinist?

November 7. Day 130.

I headed to Twiggs this afternoon to do some dissertation work. I’m on the final phase of this chapter – writing, after months of reading and thinking. I love the feel of this cafĂ©. Perfect for diving into the world of 19th century dandies and eccentrics: A gigantic wooden carving on the wall – seems south asian, but I’m no art historian. Dark red walls. Interestingly upholstered couches and divans. The latte was one of the best I've had in San Diego. Plus, there’s this:

Books as a makeshift chair support? To funny looks from people studying next to me, I knelt down to see what they were. Swanson on Swanson and Civil Procedure. Love it!! The bluntest review I've ever seen. (I know what some of you might say. A book on the ground? Where's the love? But I think there’s something so decadent-yet-practical about using a book you’ve stopped reading for new a purpose. Gives it life again, in an era when books are so often empty decor anyway (e.g. coffee table materials, collected works that look pretty on the shelf, antique bindings you never touch for fear of ruining them, all that). Why not put a volume to better use if you'll never read it again? And if it sucked, there's the added benefit of being able to rest your feet, or better, upon the offender. Poor Gloria!)
But my bubble of paradise quickly burst when an old violinist set up a donation station on the sidewalk outside and started tuning his instrument. And tuning. And tuning. And then I realized: he was playing something!

To mitigate the immediate reaction to run out there, give him $50 and invite him to stop playing for the rest of the day, I started imagining his back story. He’s come here every weekday afternoon since 1989, when the San Diego Symphony fired him after he slept with an intern. He worked hard his whole life as an airport mechanic, put four kids through college, always dreamed of seeing the pyramids, and now he plays; he learned in high school and found the violin in his mother's attic after she died; he knows he's not that good, he was never really good at anything -- but he's worked hard, he's gotten by, now it's finally his turn to be a little self indulgent, damnit. He used to teach elementary school French, before the budget cuts. Now, all he can do to supplement his medicare check and pay for dialysis is squeak for alms. I mean play. He’s a neighborhood character, loaded, always drunk, and this violin is only of his many caprices. Everyone loves him! Frankie!

Anyway, after a few minutes of trying to turn this obstacle into an opportunity, I realized it was really working against me. Believe me, I support even the meekest attempt at creative expression. But there could be no writing to such a soundtrack.

I sidled up to the counter and put my request in these delicate terms.

“It’s my first time here, and I don’t know if I’m about to break some tradition you have, but could I close the door, or could you turn up the music? That violinist is playing outside, and it's kind of hard for me to concentrate."

The cashier laughed. “Sure! Close the door!” And then he pumped up the volume. After a few people came in and left the door open, he even put this sign on the handle: "A closed door is a happy door!"

Occasionally – when the songs change or someone enters or exits – I can catch strains of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. I hope his wish comes true. Mine did! I can write. I mean blog. I mean dissertate.

Gained: A diplomatic resolution to a territorial conflict of sorts.

November 06, 2008

RIP, Maxima! And, today's "vocal" request

November 6. Day 129.

Great news! My car has died. It didn't start two times in a row, I called a bunch of mechanics who said it will probably be expensive to fix, so I'm planning my exit strategy. I could fix part of the problems and sell as is, or trade it in... we'll see.

Why is that great? Because now I finally have the carrot I need to finish this chapter! I won't buy a car, or even research buying a car, until I'm done with this step. Sad that I need to abuse myself like this -- but, whatever it takes to get this chapter finished!

And that brings me to my first big ticket negotiation. A used car!! I'm very curious to see how much I can bring the price down. Maybe I'll try different approaches with different sellers. It will be kind of a game, actually. If anyone has any strategies at all, or anecdotes, I'd love to hear them.

As for asking, I'll be out and about today, so stay tuned!

UPDATE: I hope today's request will not fall on deaf ears.

I listened all to my accumulated phone messages yesterday, which included: one person calling twice to say exactly the same thing, someone whose voice kept cutting in and out for quite a while, someone who accidentally called and left the phone going for a few minutes, a few phone calls on behalf of other people so we could all coordinate something (so much faster on email, no?), and a handful of remarks ("It's me! catch you later!") that are shorter than the time it takes to access them and would convey the same thing as a "missed call" on my cell phone (minus the voice, the human touch, but I'm not that sentimental. Not with deadlines looming.)

Of course, there were many voices I was happy to hear -- from friends, family, business associates -- so I'm not against the system. Just, inefficient use thereof.

I'm also prone to leaving rambling messages, especially to my long distance friends. I guess I really do see those as vocal mails -- small dispatches with an interesting update, a question about we can plan to see each other, a wish for a nice weekend, a concern about the dissertation, an idea for a fun trip together, topped off by an apology for rambling for so long.

But maybe they're checking that message in traffic. In line at the bank. When they're stressed. Maybe they need to wait for me to finish before they can advance to the next message, the important one they were waiting for.

This approach, from The Art of Manliness, is about the worst I can imagine. The write-up itself mimics the anti-ideal voicemail: a few relevant nuggets buried between miles of chatter, and far too many steps to be worth the listener's while. Sounds like a recipe for turdukken, not a business call!

State your name first. You would think this would be so basic that it shouldn’t even be mentioned. However, I can’t count the number of times I’ve gotten voicemails where people go on and on and I don’t even know who’s talking to me until the very end. Pretty annoying.

State your number right after your name. Many people wait until the very end of the message to state their number. This will irritate the receiver of your message because if he doesn’t get it down, he then has to sit through the whole damn message again to hear it repeated.

Repeat your phone number twice. People seem to forget that the receiver of their message has to write the number as you say it. Don’t rush through it. Even when you say it slowly, it’s hard to get down the first time. So repeat it again, so they can check to be sure they got it down right.

State the purpose of your call. In as few words as possible, state why you’re calling. Is it in regards to an interview appointment? Are you following up on a previous meeting?

Find some common ground. If you’re cold calling someone, your voicemail is your 30 second chance to make a connection and leave a good impression. One of the best ways to make a connection in that short amount of time is mentioning a mutual acquaintance. You could also mention a shared affiliation with an organization.

Be brief. Don’t make your listener resent you for leaving a 5 minute long message. People are busy. Listening to 5 minute phone messages is not on the top of their priorities and wastes their time. Many callers seem to think they are the only person in the world leaving a voicemail for a particular person. Yet a dozen other people feel the same way and a man ends up holding the phone to his ear for an hour.

Leave a specific request. What do you want your listener to do? Sure, you want them to call you back, but why? To answer a question? To set up an appointment? People will appreciate it if you give them specific actions for their call back. That way they’ll know they won’t be wasting a lot of time on the call back trying to figure out what you want.

Consider leaving your e-mail in addition to your phone number. People like choices. Some people like to have conversations on the phone, while others prefer communicating through e-mail. You don’t know what kind of person your listener will be, so leave the option on the table. For many, e-mail correspondence is less threatening and might actually encourage them to reach out to you.

Be Brief. Did I mention be brief? Yeah? Make sure to do it.

I love this approach, courtesy of iMarc:

When a caller talks for 5 minutes then does a John Moschitta [link fixed] impersonation while leaving their callback number it's maddening. If you miss the phone number, you're forced to playback the entire message and try again.

Next time you leave a voicemail, do this:

  1. State your name
  2. Leave your phone number, talking slower than normal.
  3. In one sentence, tell the person why you called.
  4. Repeat your name and number.
  5. Hang up
So, I'm making a friendly entreaty to my callers.

Old message: "Hi, you've reached La Roxy. Please leave a message and I'll return your call as soon as I can. Thank you."

New message: "Hi! Please leave your brief, efficient, terse, condensed, concise, succinct, diminutive, pithy, breviloquent, lightening quick, necessary and/or relevant message after the beep."

I promise to do the same!

Gained: Time.

November 05, 2008

Can you deal with this?

November 5. Day 128.

I got a note today from FedEx asking me to drive to their depot to pick up a package I'd ordered. Only. My car isn't working and I'm using Mr. A's today. I reeeeally have to work on my dissertation. And the people who sent the package messed up, since I didn't ask for delivery confirmation. Why should I spend an hour fixing their mess?

I did initially consider making the treck rather than pushing it back into their court. But come on... I'm not The Daily Asker for nothing. Here was my email:
Hi Cheryl,

I received a notice today from FedEx saying they tried to drop off a diploma at
my house. I am not there, and my car is currently in the shop. That means I
won't be able to pick it up!

I spoke to someone at their office, a customer service representative named Pat
Xxxxxx, who told me that if you call and remove the signature requirement,
they can deliver it again and leave it at my door.

Phone: 18004633339
The "door tag" I was given: xxxxxxxxxx
Delivery address: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Otherwise, I'm afraid there is no way for me to receive this diploma, and I'd
hate for it to get sent back to you, or lost!!

Thank you very much for your help,


La Roxy
I really hope this works. She needs to know I can't resolve this problem. Shouldn't be my headache. Period.

Gained: An hour for my dissertation. One valuable hour.


I dropped off two huge bags of clothes at Hillcrest Cleaners. Spotted a sign that they impose a 25 cent per item surcharge if you don't prepay. I asked them to waive it since I'm a first-timer.

Gained II. $4.50.

November 04, 2008

An asking for the ages! And my own tiny victory over prejudice.

November 4. Day 127.

What a day! What a night! What an asker!

I generally try not to get political here, since negotiation is all about bring opposing sides together. Seller and buyer. Boss and employee. Right and left. Basically, I don't want to ramble about my personal views (unless the those views involve asking, raspberries or cruel library workers).

But... Let me just say this... A black man from Chicago asked people to vote for him. The grandson of a Hawaiian secretary-turned-exec asked for change. A junior senator with magnetic oratory skills asked America to listen.

And America did!!

From a purely intellectual standpoint, Obama's campaign and his quest for the White House have a lot of takeaway points for my own project: Persevere. Believe in what you ask for. Make givers (voters, in this case) confident there's something in it for them. Learn from those who are more experienced. Stay civil and focused on the target even when you think you're going after an impossible goal. Know that nothing is impossible.

I spent Election Night at a GoObama party, where I met a man who butted into my conversation with a friend in a most brazen fashion. Middle aged, white, buzz cut, in the military since high school.

I asked him why.

Because he graduated from school with an interest in accounting and electronics, and the military offered a career doing electrical work on ships. He joined, got money for college, and then went back to the army because he wanted to make a difference. A seasoned fighter. He deployed to Afghanistan on 9/11, he's been to Iraq 5 times, and he's proud to be in the military and fight for America abroad.

I asked him why.

Because he belives in what America is doing. He believes the military has the Middle East's priorities at heart. Democracy, not oil. He has to believe it, or else his career and so many lives would have been lost in vain. But he doesn't agree with the methods. He thinks they should help the Iraqis govern themselves and then phase out. Stop fighting. Reduce the majority of troops. And stay the hell out of Iran.

I asked him why.

Because Iran can fight back. Because he's seen too many of his friends die. He just buried two of his closest friends at Rosecrants. He's had enough. He knows we'd be in trouble if there was another war. Most of his coworkers agree with him on this. Most people would be surprised at how many people in the military are are voting for Obama.

I asked him why.

Because they've also had enough.

It was an intriguing conversation, because his perspectives and opinions are different from most in my social and family circle. I don't know anyone in the military, and talking to John opened my eyes in a new way to the thoughts of someone serving in the armed forces. I never suppored this war, but when I meet someone who faced gunfire and worse, with the earnest belief he's helping someone like me cross the street in safety-- be it someone in California or in Fallujah -- I have to respect him.

Gained: A new president. A more nuanced view of what it means to fight for what you believe in.

November 03, 2008

Fraid to ask? Fake it till you make it. (And, a retail bust.)

November 3. Day 126.

Mr. A called a little after noon today with a mission: Dry clean his suit and buy him a blazer or whatever else is necessary for a business look, since he's taking off for a week-long conference in Prague and has been consumed by deadlines and would I mind helping him with this?

Of course not!

I looked in his closet and made a mental list of what would fill in the blanks -- a black blazer? A warm jacket to face the Bohemian autumn? A white or soft blue shirt, but not in a boring "Dockers" cornflower shade. Maybe something in bordeaux, since it's a color that looks great on him. And everything had to be comfortable. He detests ties.

I glanced online to learn about collars and pleats, because frankly, what do I know about menswear? I can recognize a well dressed man. I greatly enjoy recognizing a well dressed men. Whenever Mr. A is said man, paradoxically, I quickly want to change his status from dressed to its opposite.

My male fashion expertise stops there.

At Nordstrom Rack, I got some advice from shoppers and a salesman. What to look for in a shirt in terms of quality. How long pants should be. What's comfy but crisp. The benefits of wrinkle free.

As I started pulling out some shirts and checking them against the jackets I chose, an unexpected feeling crept up on me: embarassment! I started imagining what the guys around me were thinking. "She must be the controlling type." "She won't even let her boyfriend pick his own tie." "I bet she lays out his outfits every night."

I wanted to shout back. "But he asked me to!! He's working overtime and I love shopping! I'm not his mother! I'm his girlfriend! Just look at my purple suede heels, which I selected before heading out today to send you a subtle message about what an individualist I am!

"I wear purple!!

"I believe in the freedom of fashion!!!"

Of course, it was all in my head. Everybody I talked to was unperturbed by my presence. Friendly, even. One guy around my age exclaimed, "He gets a personal shopper? Nice!" An older man: "I wish my wife shopped for me, but she refuses to."

Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to a word I've been thinking about today: Expert.

Being an expert in something -- be it menswear, purple pumps, quantum game theory or shopping cart ergodynamics -- isn't just something your earn by studying or practicing. It entails being publicly comfortable with your exceptional knowledge in an area. It's entails representing that area. It's membership, it's access, it's entitlement. It also comes with certain responsibilities.

In any case, you have to claim that status. Some people claim it without working for it. Others do the opposite. I believe they should go hand in hand. But, I realized today that I'm unfailingly shy to profess expertise, or even experience -- because I don't want to benefit from the corresponding access, entitlement, acknowledgement. It's costed me professionally, intellectually, socially.

People in the shirt aisle weren't judging me negatively; I was doing that on my own. I was excluding myself from the circle of people who should shop for men's clothes. I decided, essentially, that I was intruding in an area I shouldn't be an expert in. Yet, no one else thought to question my place there!

And that makes me wonder: how often do I close doors? "I don't know much about that subject, so I'll keep quiet." "I'm not experienced in that, so why don't you two do whatever makes you happy?" "You're the expert, so whatever you think is best!" Etc, etc, etc. It's safe, it's deferential, it seems to be better for the system. And it's a strategy I've adoped too frequently in the past. But maybe the decision makers weren't more qualified; they just had louder voices, more swagger, or a greater opinion of their abilities.

When it comes to asking, I think my new approach is going to be: "Fake it till you make it." Act like an expert in negotiation, until I become one. For minor requests, I know I'll probably get them, so I'm already fearless. But what about the big ones?

For Mr. A's purchases, I asked for a discount at the cash register, at two stores. But I was shy. I seemed unconvinced. And I was flatly rejected.

"We don't do that here."

"You can get discounts at department stores, not here."

Gained: A refinement to my strategy. My new goal isn't just to ask, but to ask expecting to hear yes, even when I secretly think the answer will be no. With each new type of challenge, I must present myself like I've asked for that 100 times. Believe in yes.