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September 18, 2009


A few days ago, Amodini, purveyor of film and other reviews, left this comment in reaction to the jury brownie baking dilemma:
"That means I'm no more "free" or "empowered" by not baking than I would have been "oppressed" by baking."

Oppressed by baking - LOL - but I known what you mean ! Have been reading your blog for a long time now - first time commenting. In my experience have found that men don't think at all over stuff that women agonize over.
In response, I just wanna say that I've been noticing more readers are writing, raising points, and asking back in comments. Some have been following for a while and are now starting to write, and some are totally new visitors -- and I'm thrilled! I'd never ask for tips, just your $.02!


Asking versus complaining

A friend posted this "status update" a few minutes ago on an online profile:

"Finally, after listening to me complain for three years, my landlord got me a new refrigerator!"

My first reaction. "You go! Great news! Way to ask for what you need!"

My immediate u-turn reaction: "It took you THREE years!? I wonder if complaining, spread over three years, ended up sounding more like whining? What if you'd done one tactical complaint+solution combo? What if you had made a case for the fridge, or offered to buy one and deduct it from the rent over six months, or categorically stated that you will move if you are kept in squalid conditions, instead of nagging?"

Maybe I'm being too tough on this person. I don't know the backstory.

Then again... contrast that situation to this success story. From one of you, in fact!

A while back, a reader named Alex managed to get almost 15 percent off of his rent -- by asking!! And not only did he ask. He eyed an opportunity since the market has recently shifted; he lowballed; he negotiated, he hardballed. And then he stuck to his guns. The result: a hefty wad of cash will stay in his pocket every month.

He recently gave me the green light to post his story. In his own words:
[M]y lease was up at the end of the month, so about three weeks ago I called to renegotiate because prices in NYC have dropped somewhat. Not as much in my area (West Village), but I figured I could get a reduction.

Long story short, they told me they wouldn't negotiate against themselves (i.e., I had to name the first price to start the negotiation), and I suggested an absurdly low number. I was paying $2,050 a month (for a studio! crazy New York prices), and I claimed that my market research showed roughly a 25% drop in area prices, so I completely low-balled and asked for $1,550. We went back and forth every two or three days for the next few weeks, and I eventually wrangled 'em down to $1,775. And lord knows I could use the extra $375/month! Anyway, most of my research claims were made up, as were the other places I "was looking at," but so it goes. Overall, the process was totally friendly -- the guy thanked me at the end for being so reasonable! -- but I did better than I had anticipated. I really didn't want to move -- moving sucks!
I hear you. I wish I'd been more of an asker in years past. Instead, I obediently paid rent increases and the like, or moved without blinking. Not anymore.

So Alex, what are you going to do with that extra $375/month, i.e. $4500 per year?

And here's a question to other askers and/or complainers out there: when do you think complaining is effective? Does it depend on the context, or is it just a matter of personal approach? Is there any gendered tinge to complaining? Any tips for the rest of us? Please share, below!

Speaking of fridges, isn't this one dreamy?

September 15, 2009

Which way to good food?

What Mr. A and I were craving, culinarily, Sunday night: dinner at a tiny, cozy, hole in the wall place that served the kind of food you can't find almost anywhere else but other places like it. Russian, Cambodian, something along those lines. Something interesting and, well, East Village-y.

The trouble is that Mr. A and I had decided to drive up to Santa Monica for the evening, and neither of us knew the local offerings.

We stopped randomly in front of a restaurant that will remain unnamed. From the outside it looked fabulous -- tall windows that begged for a curious gaze inside. It was packed, and the diners seemed happy. But the menu at the door wasn't exactly fetching. Big prices and tiny creativity.

On the corner, I noticed a tall woman in stunning heels trying to hail a cab. I approached her.

"Excuse me, are you from around here? Do you know this area?"

"You mean am I a local? Yes I am."

"We were wondering if you could recommend a place to get dinner."

"What are you looking for?"

"Something off the beaten track, delicious, cozy, and unpretentious. Ideally, something ethnic but not Mexican, since that's all we're finding."

"What kind of ethnic?"

"We're open minded. Whatever this area is known for. Vietnamese--"

"Eastern European," Mr. A suggested.

She looked pained.

"I'm sorry. But I can't think of anything. And that's bad. Because I live here, and I'm a chef."

"You're a chef!? That's awesome! Then just tell us something you like, anything!"

"Yeah. But lemme think... oh God, I just can't think of anything like that around here. Oh, I know what you should do! Go to Abbott Kinney. There's an Italian place, a French place, there's that new place that just changed its name, that's really good. It's all organic, or almost all organic. What do I know."

"Okay, sounds great, thanks!"

"Do you know how to get there? You just drive south and -- where's your car. Are you driving? How 'bout I show you. I'm headed that way, anyway. I was waiting for a cab, but my feet are killing me. It's these heels. As long as you're not terrorists or something. But you seem harmless."

That's how we ended up meeting Kate, chef to the stars. She took us to The Tasting Kitchen on Abbott Kinney and told the host to take good care of us. Since a table wasn't ready, we waited at the bar and offered her a glass of prosecco. That's when she told us about her life, her travels, the cookbook she's writing.

When our table was ready we parted ways and ended up having a great meal. The quail was extremely tender, the green beans had a spicy peanut thing going on. All very nice. But the bread. Oh my god. I have never eaten bread like that. The crackly crust gave you a workout - just enough to make you really feel good about tearing into the soft, (w)hol(e)y center.

Moi, mid-bite:

And immediately after:

Results: Asked a local for advice, and had cocktails with a globe trotting chef-to-the-stars. Only in L.A., daaaarling.

Three more cool links about gender and/or negotiation

I said I would post two stories from readers but I'm still waiting to hear back from one -- to make sure she doesn't mind I feature what she wrote to me.

Something else in the meantime: Last week, I asked if you enjoy it when I post links I find interesting. And you answered, "Sure!" In that spirit, here are three more.

1) The Art of Negotiating, from a recent story in Entrepreneur magazine, offers some down to earth tips for getting the best out of any deal. A good primer.

2) Juice Analytics is a company with a blog that showcases the best of the web's visual data. For anyone interested in data representation, or even just understanding about the topics being showcased, it's a useful resource.

Here's one example they focused on. It's from a site that displays statements written by people around the world about their feelings. Viewers can filter the statements by the speaker's gender, age, location, date, and current weather. Click on the picture to try it.

Here's the accompanying discussion from Juice Analytics.

3) And the last one, my fav: Contexts, a quarterly sociology magazine, has a blog with sociological images. It's run by two profs, and I love their tag line: "Seeing is believing." I take that to mean, "you have to see these pictures to believe that people can actually be so sexist/racist/ageist etc."

Here's one example:

The rest of the post, "Don't Hate Me Because I'm Beautiful," is here.

And, on a different note, Kleenex for manly nostrils: when girly tissues from girly boxes just won't cut it.

More on man kleenex here.

September 11, 2009

Cool blog and a question

Just came across this blog, as has much of the world. It is the Girls Guide to Homelessness, written by a 28-year-old California woman who ended up homeless against her every bet. Here's the intro post. She ended up getting coverage from everywhere and landed an internship at Elle.

She says in a recent post that she got lots of nice responses, as well as a lot of hate mail, and I'm intrigued to learn more. I'll spend more time on the site this weekend, but I already thought I'd share.

Sometimes I come across articles, websites and the like that pique my interest, either 'cause I love 'em or hate 'em, and I'm never sure if I should post them here. I'm tempted to, since the great thing about the internet is sharing links and trading ideas about ideas.

But then, maybe you don't come here looking for that. Maybe you just want to know about this particular woman's askings and take a break from the linkopoly, and if you want to read other cool articles, you know where to go, thank you very much.

So, can I ask you? What would you like?

My occasional take on interesting stories out there, in hopes we might talk about them here? Or just skip that and stick to writing about asking?

In the next post, I'll share two stories about readers who asked... but first I wanted toss this question out into the ether.

Oh, and one more thing.

Happy Friday, everyone!!!!!

September 10, 2009

Give me a break, Sprint?

Once in a while I go over my cell phone minutes and pony up the cash. I know that's part of the deal and I've never protested. Until now.

Sprint charged $20 for talking 105 minutes more than my allotment.

But this time, I asked for a break because... it was my birthday!

It happened to fall on a Monday, and 245 of the minutes I talked that day were between 7 and 7.

So I figured, why not try.

"Hello? Hi. I have sort of a silly question... I went over my minutes last month and looking at my bill, I realize that most of that is because it I was talking to people on my birthday. So, I don't know if you have a magic birthday wand you can waive, but if there's any way you could reduce that charge, or erase it, that would be so wonderful."

"I'll have to check with my manager," the agent replied.

"Of course! Thanks for even listening to my request."

He chuckled, I tittered, he put me on hold, and I held my breath.

He came back with a compromise:

"My supervisor said I can go ahead and take off half of that charge."

"Really!? Thank you!! You just made my birthday even sweeter."

Results: Reduced an overage charge from $20 to $10. Thank you, Sprint!!

(I found this pic on, a page about txt and sms messaging I just stumbled across. Kind of scary how on-target this cake is, come to think of it...)

September 08, 2009

Help me kill seven hours in Jamestown?

Normally, when people go on vacation, they have a great or not so great time, maybe solicit advice about where to have dinner or where the best hiking is in the area, then put up the pictures on Facebook, and that's that. Move on. Back to real life.

They don't make a big deeeeal about it. They don't go on and on about how they stopped for ice cream and how they were undecided between cookies & cream and mint chip, but finally did decide and didn't regret their choice.

And they certainly don't announce, "Look at me! I asked for directions to the museum!"

But then, most people are not bloggers.

And most bloggers don't write about asking for something daily (now almost daily).

So if you choose to read on, here's what you'll get, no more, no less: an account of how I asked my way from a boring day to an absolutely marvelous one, in the heart of California's Gold Country.


Mr. A and I drove up to Northern California for the long weekend at his behest, since he was completely overwhelmed with work. He was craving mountains and wilderness, after poring through mountains of reports all week. And I was game. Nature, blue jays, a cute B&B -- works for me.

We settled on a region based on where we could find lodging for three nights on very short notice. This area, between Yosemite, San Francisco and Lake Tahoe, is like agate next to gold -- raw beauty, easily overlooked next to its brighter neighbors.

On the first day, we hit up the Stanislaus National Forest and hiked our way through a breathtaking stretch of land called Kennedy Meadow. The second day, we ventured to a tougher trail that led to a pair of lakes surrounded by a noisy gaggle of children jumping of cliffs into the icy water. Watching those children leap with abandon and egg each other on to race across the lake, I felt like I'd stepped back into a simpler time. Maybe 1920, after the cloud of war had passed and things seemed promising for the first time in a long time. I lay down on a hot rock and as the breeze rushed against my sweaty neck, I felt lucky to be alive.

The third day, Mr. A was ready for more. He'd eyed a strenuous hike that involves some four legged crawling up steep inclines. I decided to pass. So he dropped me off in Jamestown, an old gold rush settlement we had passed through on our first morning. Its Main Street, dating from the 1890s and lined with small shops, seemed like a perfect way to pass the day.

"Are you sure you're going to be okay here for so long?" he checked.

"Yeah! Totally. I have a laptop, there's a bookshop. I'll be fine. Take your time."

Before he left at 11, we set the rendezvous for 6. And then it hit me.

One street. A dozen shops. One cafe.

What the hell would I do there for seven hours?

I walked into a bookstore and bought A Hundred Years of Solitude for $3. It took me about 45 minutes to pick out the book, because first I leafed through 20 others.

Then I entered an antique and garden goods shop called La Petite Maison (which happens to have a nice online store). I took my sweet time, fingering cool magnets, picking up clocks to see how heavy they were, turning over hourglasses, touching soft blankets, smelling soaps. Finally I approached the counter and asked about one of the products.

The saleswoman mentioned she was having a calm moment in a busy day.

"I'm in no hurry, either," I replied. "I have a lot of time today."


"I'm going to be in town for seven hours," I continued. "What would you do here for seven hours?"

"Good lord! You're stuck in Jamestown?" (Not her exact words, but close enough.)

"Not stuck, I wanted to come here. My boyfriend is doing a heavy duty hike and I decided to take it easy, but I'm not sure what to do from here. Do you have any ideas?"

Did she! I could go antiquing, since that was the town's specialty. I should visit the railroad state park and ride the steam train. I could get a facial! Did I want a facial or a pedicure? Did I want her to call her friend who has a salon down the street?

"How about a manicure?" I replied.

She called her friend, set up my appointment for 2.

The rest of the day flew by. I rode a train from 1922 and lifted old iron welding tools in the railroad foundry to see how heavy they were. I got a manicure, which is a rare treat for me. I ambled up and down Main Street, stopping in antique shops along the way. I sat under a tree and read Marquez. I ate ice cream.

But I will spare you the play by play of how I decided which flavor to go for. Would hate to bore you with gratuitous details.

Results: A lovely day in Jamestown, thanks to the woman at La Petite Maison.

[pics courtesy of Bonita Jamaica and Western Mining History.]

Marcus, the conclusion

Quick wrap-up of the haircut adventure, for those who were wondering:

I had my appointment Friday afternoon.

Marcus, it turns out, is a hair god.

It was in the way he moved, holding the scissors like a paintbrush and dancing around my head, snipping here, there, erratically, ecstatically, until the final oeuvre emerged.

It was in the story about how he got into hairstyling: As a kid, he couldn't keep his hands off scissors and kept cutting his family members's hair -- well.

But it was clearest when I left the salon and had a total catwalk moment.

I also think he's a good employer, or at least better than I initially thought. He hired back that receptionist, who thanked me before I left and explained it had been her third week on the job. He chastised another employee for not checking with him about something (regarding a client's hair color). He was tough and exacting. But that's because he seems to pursue excellence in every aspect of his business.

When I asked him what he likes most about cutting hair, he replied, "The people. I like to see their reactions, their happy faces as they walk out the door."

The real test of a cut is how it looks two weeks, and two months later, but so far, this Tuesday evening, I'm still smiling.

PS: For K, here's a picture -- I asked ;) someone to snap me from behind on the walk back to my car.

September 03, 2009

Would you bake for your jury?

I asked this with a toothbrush in my mouth, to Mr. A, who was two rooms away.

"What?" came the reply.


"I said, if you were me, would you bake something? For your jury?"

"Why would I do that?" he asked, confused.

"Maybe you've been with this jury for a few weeks, and you'd like to brighten their day. Would you ever think that way? 'How about I bake some brownies for them'?"

"No. I wouldn't." Pause. "At most, I would buy some snacks, if I thought the situation called for it. Baking is too involved for people I don't even know," came the definitive reply. "Why?"

That was exactly what I needed. An uncomplicated, uncalculated answer from the depths of the male psyche. Or, at least, a male's.

Yes, reader, I tokenized my boyfriend.

"Perfect, thanks. Just curious," I answered.

Here's why. For almost four weeks, I was on a jury. A criminal case that was fairly interesting. Fraud, forgery, conspiracy, grand theft, burglary: 118 counts, in all. The verdicts, by the way, were mixed: some guilty, a handful not guilty, and quite a few undecided. Reviewing the evidence taught me a lot of useful things. For example, if I ever opt for the career path of Criminal, and I decide to manufacture fake receipts for the purpose of effecting fraudulent returns at a big retailer, I should not have any files on my computer that are named "FAKERECEIPT.JPG," as one of the defendants did. Note to self.

(The trial is over at press time, so I can finally write about it. I held off writing this for two days, until the judge released us, so I wouldn't break any laws or cause a mistrial.)

After spending so much time with the other jurors, including more than a week of deliberations, I figured that a nice gesture, like some home baked sweets, would lift people's spirits and put a smile on those weary faces. (Anyone who's been on jury duty knows what I'm talking about. One day, yay! Two days, okay, okay... Anything more than three, kill me.)

I enjoy baking. I enjoy making people smile. Brownies are quick and painless. Brownies would surely help dissipate the tension in the room, at least during that minute of munching. So why not whip some up?

Yet surprise, surprise, I was hesitating. Why? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Court's Exhibit A:

On the first day of deliberations, a court deputy asked if anyone was planning on bringing in cupcakes. Juries like to share snacks, he explained. Pretty standard practice, apparently. Since then, I got the very vague sensation that maybe I, or someone kind of like me on that jury, i.e. the of the "feminine persuasion," would be the designated party for such an endeavor.

Maybe this sentiment is based on nothing more than a feeling. For example, comments were sometimes made about how desserts are sometimes brought in, and looking around the table at each juror, it occurred to me that if anyone would make or bring such a dessert, it could be her, or maybe her, but never one of the hims.

One morning, I brought a piece of chocolate cake for my breakfast, and a very nice fellow with whom I've shared a few lunches and interesting conversations asked, "Wow, did you make that? Yum!" Wink wink. Hope hope--


But maybe it's based on facts:

Looking at the courtroom, I can't ignore what I see: male judge and attorneys, and female clerk and court reporter. In the deliberation room, coincidence or not, we have a male foreman, and it's the women who clean up the water cups and collect trash from everyone around the table. They are initiating it -- no one told them, "Tidy things up, ma'am." So they volunteered to do that task. But after they did it a few times, never did a man step up. Should one have? That's debatable. Perhaps the women should also have sat just still, and let someone else worry about the mess.

Several of my female friends bake treats for work, school or their research labs. To this date I do not know of a man who has done that, including those who are great bakers. (Not that they don't, but I just don't know that they do.)

Now, it could be that bringing in treats fosters cohesiveness and encourages collaboration, which are, according to a substantive body of research, beneficial results of female management styles. If so, then brownies are not just about smiles, but about strategic alliances, improved communication, shared objectives and faster forged progress. When I think of my various friends who bake for work or school, they're far from sissies. Quite the opposite -- they're tough, smart women who are doing great in their careers. So maybe baking is the savvy, liberated thing to do. A women can or cannot bake. It's her choice. That's how things are in our bright era.

But I have a lurching suspicion that's not entirely, or even usually, the case. Yes they have the choice, but it's not such a simple one.

Things aren't even. They weren't in that courtroom, at least. Men tried and judged the case, and women cleaned the deliberation room even when it wasn't on their job description. Thus baking, in such a setting, isn't just baking. If men don't do it, it's because they feel they have better things to do than foster cohesion through chocolatey carbs -- but equally, perhaps, because they know the women will already have that covered.

That's why I asked Mr. A, to see if a guy who happens to be a fantastic baker, and a generous one, who bestows pastries and cakes on family and friends, would get the idea to bake for his jury. He's very busy with work, like I am, and stretched thin between a ton of interests, like I am. He's far more thoughtful than I am, take my word on that. If he said he'd do it, I'd go ahead and make some brownies. But if he felt it wasn't a high enough priority, and the benefit to himself or the jurors didn't outweigh the time invested, then I'd skip it.

I realize it's problematic that I based my baking decision upon his position. That means I'm no more "free" or "empowered" by not baking than I would have been "oppressed" by baking. Because either way, my decision is a reaction rather than an action: Either to cede to hints, pressures and expectations to bake, or to antagonistically ignore them. In both cases, I'm not doing what I want to do. What I want was never part of the discussion.

The problem is that I don't actually know if I want to bake. Would I have gotten the idea if the bailiff had said nothing, or if other jurors hadn't dropped hints? Would I think about feeding, nurturing, if I'd never seen other people (okay, women) doing it and getting positive results for themselves and/or others? How to distinguish a genuine desire from a manufactured one?

Result: Actually, it's clear now what I desire. I scrapped the brownie idea. Know what I did instead? I wrote this.

(By the way, the next day, a juror brought in cookies. We thanked her profusely.)

September 01, 2009

Meeting with Marcus

Today after jury duty, I walked four blocks to Salon de Marcus.

He was the first person to greet me. With deep blue eyes and shoulder length ebony glamarockstar hair, he was even more intriguing in person that I'd imagined.

I said hello and explained I'd like to speak with him privately, since it was a personal matter. (There were some customers behind me.) We stepped outside, I introduced myself, offered him my hand to shake, and made my case for why he should rehire the woman he'd fired because she gave me a discount on a haircut.

"I am the person who called last week about the discount -- the 50 percent discount on a haircut with you."

"Oh, right, you talked with a few of my employees," he answered.

"With two. I understand that the employee who gave me that discount is no longer working for you."

He was silent, waiting for me to keep going.

"I would like to make a deal with you. If I pay full price for a haircut, regardless of whether or not you cut my hair, would you give her a second chance? I don't want to interfere in how you run your business, and I'm sure you would have a very good reason for firing any of your employees. But if her interaction with me was the main reason you fired her, then I am asking you to reconsider. On the phone she was courteous and informative, and I'd hate to know that one mistake made her lose her job."

"That's a very nice thing you're doing," he replied.

I interrupted him.

"It's not about nice or not nice. Jobs are very hard to get now. To me, this is a grave situation, not just some favor I'm doing for someone. So if money was the issue, then I'll pay full price for a cut. And if her error was an issue, I am offering to fix the mistake so she gets one more chance. Like I said, I have no idea why you fired her, I have no idea if there were maybe other problems, but if it was just because of that discount, I would ask you to please reconsider. I can give you my number and you can let me know your decision after you've thought it over. There's no hurry. I would just appreciate it if you thought it over."

"I'll tell you what I'm going to do. That's fine. I'll do it. And for your money, I'll cut your hair. Since it's your first time you can have 20 percent off."

"Okay. Thank you. So you'll give her another chance?"

"Yes. She'll be fine. Don't worry about her."


We stepped back inside, and I made an appointment for Friday.

My final step will be to get confirmation from the employee that she was indeed rehired. If so, I'm about to get the most expensive haircut I've ever had. But, if it preserves someone's job (a job I had an indirect hand in compromising) while making my hair look nice, it will be worth every penny.

Result: Rectified a wrong. And felt something I haven't felt in a long while: fearless.

Refund this book?

A few weeks ago, I ordered a book through Alibris. It was an old edition of a book that would help me design a syllabus, if I ever end up teaching literature. Its condition was described as Very Good, meaning little wear and no marks or highlighting. When I opened the book I received, I discovered it was full of highlighting and sloppy underlining.

It was a total no go. The book was very cheap -- $2 -- but with shipping, it added up. More than anything, I wanted to send a message. Just cause we're all anonymous doesn't mean quality or service should fly out the window. I, for one, care.

I sent this admittedly terse email Monday:

I received the book _Beginning Theory_ and I would like to send it back for a refund. It is in much worse condition than was specified in your description. I am very disappointed in your service. Please send me a shipping voucher or some manner to send it back without paying for shipping, and refund my credit card when you receive the book.

La Roxy
Moments later, I got this response.
Thank you for your email. I am terribly sorry you received an incorrectly listed item. We strive to accurately list and ship books but sometimes errors occur. I have refunded your order in full and apologize for this inconvenience. You may keep or donate the book that was sent to you.

Warm regards,

Honorable Merchant
Result: Refund, and avoided the hassle of sending it back. That's what I call a convenient return policy! I will donate the book to Goodwill, though I have a creeping suspicion they will not accept it -- because of that darned highlighting! But I'll try.