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December 31, 2009

Have a Grand New Every/Any Year

I'm seeing it everywhere, headlines, Facebook, casual conversations: "2009 is finally over" and "2010, rescue us!!"

I don't know about you, gentle reader, but I think 2009 wasn't all that bad.

True, a lot of bad things happened to a lot of good people. I understand why the collective impulse is to wash our hands of the whole icky thing. Lost jobs, lost homes. It was a humbling or confounding phase for many.

But let's not fling 2009 away just yet.

What if, instead of greeting 2010 as we would the latest red carpet ingenue -- with reckless adulation -- or granting it our instant approval, as a certain Norwegian prizegiving entity did for a certain American president back in April -- with anxious optimism -- we hold off judgment and let 2010 earn our trust?

And what if we hold on to this year, this 2009, with all its jagged stock yields and crazy apologies and people stuck on runways because of airline incompetence? Hold 2009 close. Talk to it, get to know it, water it, feed it, let it grow into something new and completely unrecognizable.

Perhaps we'd be less poised for disappointment.

2009, by the way, was an excellent year for asking. Including:

-- two airfare vouchers, almost by accident.
-- R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Italian style.
-- an angry salon owner to give a woman back her job.
-- I also completed my daily experiment, analyzed the results and decided to keep going.
-- I discovered 88 lessons, a list that continues to be emailed and retweeted to this day.
(--I've also asked for a few things these past days, but I've been so busy I haven't had time to report them. Looks like I'll be kicking off 2010 with a piece of 2009.)

A few people have inquired what my New Year's Resolutions are.

I have none.

Because I'm always making resolutions. And keeping them? Now that's a different story ;) This moment, for example, I resolve to: get over this cold. Live every day like it's the start of a new year. And every night like it's New Year's Eve!

Now here's what I wish you, today and always: health, happiness, plenty of bubbly, a clear eye on the past when it's answers you're looking for, and the freedom to claim a new beginning and a better future whenever you most need it.

December 27, 2009

In-Law Interlude

The in-laws are a-visiting, which means the only askings I've been doing for the past few days, and the only I foresee for the next few, are things like:

--How was your flight?
--Would you like another blanket or pillow?
--How is the weather in Montreal this time of year?
--Should we visit the botanical gardens or the harbor today?
--How do you take your coffee?
--Can you tell me stories about when Mr. A was a kid?

It's a totally relaxing break after a crazy period of work and preparations, and I'm gonna milk it.

And as soon as I do ask for something a little out of the ordinary, challenging or exciting, I'll plop down on this here armchair and let you know!

I also stopped the weekly asking threads, as of last week, since the interest seems to have died down. (i.e. no one was commenting.) I'll work on answering a few outstanding questions from readers, and we can pick up those threads again in the new year, or figure out where to go from there.

a presto,

La Roxy

December 22, 2009

Erstwhile askings (II): Prices and promo codes

Continued from the previous post, two more from the past few days. Finally have time to catch up here:

4) An asker walks into a deli

There is a cute new deli that opened a few blocks from my house. It's tiny, with a talkative owner, and all the prices are written on little papers taped onto the shelves. I walked in the first time and salivated at the prosciutto, jamon serrano, chorizo, imported olives, sandwich offerings, and oh so many cheeses. At reasonable prices!! Adorable!!

I went back a few days later and ordered some goodies.

Dutifully devoured them.

And then: the dull thud of disappointment.

For, the third time I went back, I noticed something was amiss. Same goods, same nice employees. But the prices had nearly doubled. The prosciutto, for which I'd paid $10.45 /lb a week earlier, was more than $19/lb. More than at Whole Foods! The sandwich that previously cost $4.50 was now $7.50. The olives were almost double.

The horror.

I did the only thing I could: I asked. As nicely as I could. But I had to know.

"So, I'm wondering if this prosciutto is different from the one you were selling last week. Because it costs twice as much. Is it a different brand, or did you just raise your prices?"

(Kind of beating around the bush, but I didn't want to phrase it like an attack.)

"Um, mm, I dunno."


He was an employee, so I think I may just go back and ask the owner. I actually am curious. Of course they're figuring out their prices, having recently opened. And if they can get away with those prices, good for them.

What strikes me, though, is that the first round of prices were clearly profitable, since they wouldn't have charged an amount that left them at a loss. So why the sudden change? Maybe they talked to a consultant, or people in the neighborhood exclaimed "What a great deal!", or they just got greedy.

No problem. But now I am curious. It can be a case study. In how to alienate customers.

5) Honor the promo code you advertise your own website?

I wrapped up shopping for presents online. One merchant, Red Envelope, promised a 25 percent discount if I used paypal. "Discount applied at checkout."

I filled my 'cart,' as they say, and then I proceeded to the checkout page. No discount.

I tried again, but no go.

So I called Red Envelope and asked for help.

This wasn't a request for extra discounts or super savvy shopping. Simply an attempt to make their website work properly. And it failed. Despite the "25% off" splashed across the top of the page, she couldn't get me to the page where the discount actually kicked in, saying it's Pay Pal promotion so they're not responsible. And she couldn't honor it over the phone.

Then why was the promo advertised on their site? Why did they allow me to be enticed to fill up a virtual cart, expecting 25% off, only to discover it was a fallacious statement?

I think we call that a bait and switch, ladies and gentlemen.

Is that even legal?

Pink slip, Red Envelope.

Erstwhile askings: Meryl, mullet and more

Between paragraphs these past few days, I snuck in a few askings. Nothing crazy, since I was mostly at home writing, but here they are:

1) Can we please change the subject?

I was glancing through the latest issue of Vanity Fair, which features an interview with Meryl Streep. The article includes a photo collage with Meryl from her teens or 20s until today.

Mr. A looked over my shoulder and, of all the movies she's been in that were splayed across that page, he had a question about only one:

"Is 'Sophie's Choice' any good?" (In this drama she plays Sophie, a Polish woman who makes a very difficult choice; it's based on a novel by William Styron.) The problem: That very book was wrapped and under our tree, a present for Mr. A.

I tried to play it down.

"It's average. A movie about World War II."

"Have you seen it?"


"Didn't you read the book?"

"Yeah, a few years ago."

"How is it?"


"What is the choice she makes?"

"It's stupid. It's a waste of time to even talk about it. Let's talk about something else, ok?"

"What? No, tell me her choice."

"You might want to see it one day."

"Not if you say it's boring."

"Arghhh! It's not boring, but I can't tell you. Let's just please change the subject."

"Let me guess. She decides if she should get an abortion. She isn't sure if she should comply with the Nazis."

"No! I mean I'm not going to answer either way. Please."


"What time is it? I think I'm ready for dinner."

"Why?? Just tell me and we can change the subject."

"Just wait."

His eyes lit up. Bingo. "Wait for what?"

"For Christmas. Congratulations, you've just guessed your present."

"Oh. Oops."

(I should add that somehow Mr. A always guesses his presents. I don't get it. Sometimes, when I pick up on his hints, it's not that hard for him to anticipate. But even when I get something totally random, like this book, which he had no way of knowing and I've mentioned maybe once, two years ago, he gets it out of me. YEGADS.

One more piece of evidence that I would not be a good spy. Police officer: "Excuse me, miss. Do you know what time is it?" Me: "I work for the People's Republic of China. Until last year I was involved in the special-ops mission in which I relayed sensitive government files to the division of biological programming. Now I am collecting encryption intelligence which I intend to sell to the highest bidder.")

2) PLEASE don't get a mullet?

More antics, just around the bend.

Mr. A hails from a country where English is not spoken, and as a teenager he moved to Canada, where he learned French and English. Hence, English is not his first language. He speaks it very well, but this means two things: he has a really cute accent. And he didn't know, until this weekend, what a mullet is. We were talking about the haircut he was intending to get, and the word came up. Don't ask me how.

Him: What's a mullet?

Me: It's that really gross hairstyle people used to wear in the 80's. You know, really long in the back, and short in the front.

Him: Really. Sounds interesting.

Me: No. It does not sound "interesting."

Him: I think I know what you're talking about. That's a pretty practical look. The hair would stay out of my eyes.

Me: And it would be long in the back. Long. Gross. Unfomfortable.

Him: I could put it into a ponytail.

[At this point I was pretty sure he was messing with me, but not entirely...]

Me: WHAT!? NO!! Please don't get a mullet!

Him: I think I will. I bet you'll get used to it.

Me: If you do, I won't look at you until you cut it again. I'll move to Italy.

Him: Just look at me from the front and you'll never notice it.

Me: PLEASE!! No mullet!!! Ewwwww!!! You totally would, wouldn't you!? NOOO!

Him: We'll just have to see. [Evil evil evil gleam in his eyes.]

We went to Supercuts together. A worthy study break, don't you think? I anxiously sat in the magazine section pretending to read, but I felt like a young father in an alien movie curious if his offspring would be human or hybrid after the mother-to-be accidentally ingested the alien spores. Or something.

In the end he got a perfectly charming cut. But not before making my heart race...


3) Give me a discount on plumbing services?

Speaking of hair. The shower has been slow to drain. I tried drano, and a special little tool that came highly recommended, but nothing helped. So I called a plumber. Figured I'd be home all day, writing, so might as well take care of some business in the meantime. I also had a coupon for $50 off any service from Rescue Rooter, so why not give it a try.

First, I asked for an estimate.

"We don't give estimates over the phone. But I can have someone at your house within the hour. No obligation."

"Ok, sure, if you prefer that, I'll be here all day. Come whenever is convenient for you."

Twenty minutes later, a woman in blue overalls rang the doorbell. (It's the first time I've seen a female plumber. Cool!) I showed her the shower and she stated the price.

I wasn't sure I heard right.

"One hun-dred and eighty se-ven??" I checked.

"Yes. $187."

"Oh, wow, nevermind."

"How much did you want to spend?" she asked.

"No, it's ok. It isn't even worth negotiating. Much, much less than that. It's totally a low priority for me, but I just figured that if you could fix before our house guests arrive, I'd be willing to pay something like 50 bucks. But I cannot afford anything even close to that. Thanks anyway for coming."

"Hold on," she said. "I'm going to call my boss and see what I can do. I'll keep asking until he says yes. At least, I'll try!"

"Ok -- thanks!"

She stepped outside and came back a minute later to say it was a no go.

But I liked her attitude. And her overalls!

Next post: the next two askings. Broken down for user friendliness.

December 21, 2009


I have sitting in front of me a full draft of the chapter: 45 pages on two poems by Baudelaire.

It's not where I'd like it to be, but I realize it never will be. Because he is Baudelaire, and I am a Virgo. But that's that. I will give it one, max two, more edits and send it off tomorrow.

Once I decided that I had no alternative but to work on it, it suddenly became perversely easy. I hung out with a friend -- but at a cafe, she reading and I writing. I took breaks, but I was always eager to get back.

Your notes kept me on task in a way nothing quite has before. Thank you, dear readers.

Next post: Three askings I did manage to sneak in these past days...

But first, I think I'm going to go roast a chicken.

December 20, 2009

Dissertation Limerick

This arrived in my inbox:

Dissertation Limerick

To finally get that degree
You must put down the globes for the tree
Keep e-mail at bay
At least for the day
Soon you'll be La Roxy, PhD.


Just thought I'd share. 'Cause I love it. Thank yee, Tee!

December 19, 2009

I Am An Awesome Asker

Where I is You

Well! This chapter writing frenzy has led to not one but two delayed postings.

Good news: my writing almost done. I have 6 pages left to edit and fix, then give it a once over and I'll hit send. The bad news: I forgot, yesterday, to invite you to post your awesome askings!! Sorry.

Without further delay, you are welcome to report: What fantastic asking did you undertake or witness this week? Anything related to the holidays, or otherwise?

I look forward to resurfacing in a day or two with the chapter behind me and bright new year of asking, for all of us, just around the corner.

Until then, wishing you a great weekend,


December 16, 2009

It's working -- so I'm working!!

I asked for one thing alone yesterday ("Excuse me, is your CD skipping?" at the cafe where I parked myself for the day to edit the chapter. The barista checked, and it was indeed. Result: calming music restored.) because--

Great Jehosephat!!!

It's working!!

All your encouragements and admonitions have been AWESOME.

What a day. From 9 a.m. until 8 p.m., I've wrote, trimmed and regrouped. Every time I snuck into my email or glanced at the blog and saw your comments, your messages compelled me to hunker back down. Then, yesterday evening, I got a call from La Divina, my Italian cousin, who had read my plea and promised this: on December 24 she will call back to inquire if I've met my goal. If so, she will book a ticket that moment and come visit in March! STUPENDO!!!!

Man. THIS is the way to finish a tough chapter. One that I've been twisting and turning for more than a year (when the rest took a third as long -- sheesh). This is it: my aim is completion, not perfection. This academic deadline is like any professional one. Love those mantras. Here's one more: Basta.

Thank you, everybody.

Plan for the entire next week? Rinse and repeat.

Please keep your messages coming. They are inspiring, and something I'll cherish long after this deadline. More importantly, every time I'm feeling naughty, about to click on the Scrabulous icon on Facebook or glance at Huffington Post, I will read your words and get back to writing mine.


La Roxy

December 15, 2009

Help me finish this chapter, o reader?

I'd like to write "up" this next asking, as opposed to just writing it, but I must confess: my brain is fried. I'm soooo close to finishing this damn chapter. All the pieces are there. The only problem is figuring out the best order to put them in as I build that section's overall argument.

You'd think that the friendship between Logic and her buddy Rhetoric would make the order of the ideas presented self explanatory. But, dear reader, that is not the case. For I am a modular thinker. Fronts are backs, insides are outsides, most good ideas have drawbacks and absurd ones have their merits; supporting evidence can be used after stating a point, or broken down into smaller ideas and used to sandwich a point, or used as a lead-in to a point. Counter-arguments can either intersect arguments, or be grouped together after a thread has fully evolved, or be built in subtly throughout the journey. There is no right or wrong way, just an incrementally-better-than-the-alternatives way.

In a word:


So that's what I've been doing with myself.

What helps is that for once, I have a deadline. Mr. A's parents are coming to town for 10 days, and I must must must be finished with this chapter by then. They arrive on Dec. 24, and I SHALL finish the chapter by then. My committee needs time to read it, and I need time to spend with his fam. And I need to graduate. That, too, come to think of it.

So here's my asking for the day.

I ask you to help me.

Whenever the spirit moves you, drop me a line over email or a comment to this post that prods me to finish this chapter.

You can be mean or nice.

You can do it once between now and Dec. 24 or once a day.

You can call or send me a text, if you have that info. Otherwise, email.

Please don't expect an answer, because that would defeat the purpose. At least, not until Dec. 24.

Sample message ideas, to get you started:

"Step away from the Facebook."

"La Roxy, you have such a bright and beautiful future ahead of you, why put it off any longer?"

"If you're tired, print it out, go for a walk and come back to it with fresh eyes. You can do it!"

"Ok, so, you're not exactly 'employable' but let's gloss over that as you conclude your noble investigation of those 19th century aristocrats who never had to work a day in their lives. Fuuuck! Drop out now and learn a trade!!"

"Be grateful for your visual cortext. It is allowing you read the following words: STOP PROCRASTINATING!!!"

"Dissertation is a state of mind."

"My your thoughts and prose be as clear as a Bavarian lake in January."

"Browsing gadgets on Amazon does not a philosophy doctor make."

"I saw you checking your email between sentences. And you thought no one was watching. Get back to work, bitch."

"If you meet your deadline, I will buy you a car, my pretty."

Oh yeah. I have one more asking to report, from this weekend. Never got around to posting it, since I was busy with the diss. My mom and I went to World Market and I found a bunch of globes for the tree. This is the first Christmas tree Mr. A and I are decorating together, and the first time I've had a tree in my very own house. Exciting!! At the register I asked for a discount, explaining that my mom has a coupon in her email for 25 percent off. We tried to find the coupon on her phone, but it wasn't working. So instead I asked if they could give us any other kind of discount, and we got 10 percent off. I'm surprised it worked, since in my experience they're sticklers, but we lucked out and encountered a cool manager. Thanks!

Now if only I applied the same perseverance to my dissertation.




December Asking Challenge

All day yesterday something was nagging me. Did I forget the back door unlocked? Was my health insurance bill due? Whaaaat?

And then, right before bed, it struck me: Our weekly advice extravaganza!! But by that point I was snuggled between my sheets, and falling off the edge of consciousness looked awfully appetizing, so I decided to wait until this morning. I hope you'll forgive me.

From Monday, bumped this week to Tuesday, I give you:

Asking Advice Exchange: Edition 3.

Last week, IGC had this on her mind:
How do your ask for more work and more interesting work, especially in light of recent company-wide layoffs?
I don't have an answer yet, but I've set up a meeting with someone who could give us some perspectives. More on that, soon. I also know some of you are managers and delegators, in the professional sense, so by all means please share your take on this.

Meanwhile, I figured this week we could go for a theme. A December challenge. Your mission is to identify one thing that would make your life EASIER this month and, in the comments to this post, pledge to ask for that. Think long and hard about a little knot or hitch in your holidays (or regular days, as the case may be). Then, figure out how it could be improved and who could help. And go for it!! Anything is fair game: family issues, household logistics, vacation planning, work stress alleviation, shopping discounts, Santa elf requests.

I suspect that the hard part for most people will be identifying what they want, what's 'worth' the ask; not the actual asking.

(This is in addition to the normal questions, which are always welcome. i.e. What have you found troubling, challenging or vexing about asking? In theory or practice? What's something you'd like to ask for, but aren't sure how?)


La Roxy

December 12, 2009

Asking, seen from the other side

On Friday I met up with merchant whose business is not doing great.

He has tiny jewelry shop with gorgeous estate pieces, and while those are all over my budget, he's my go-to guy if I have something that needs fixing. Great prices, always timely, always personable, free parking, and a resident cat named Shadow. What more could a shopper ask for.

I've been a client for about a year, and at one point I mentioned to him I write. He didn't check where or what about (um, blog, balconies) before asking me to help him come up with some flyers and ad copy. The holidays are here, and he really needs to get people into his store.

I agreed. He gave me an old brochure and invited me to do whatever I wanted to it -- jazz it up, bring it to life, that sort of thing. I returned Friday with a few suggestions about the wording and general look (color scheme, etc) plus some slogans and ideas for possible holiday sales. He claimed he liked my ideas, I'll be elated if any of the suggestions translate into a boost for his business.

(I didn't ask to get paid, because not everything is about money. On this blog I realize I may appear selfish -- I focus on myself, I advance my needs, priorities and desires at the cost of someone else's (a merchant, a tired waiter, etc), I try to make sure I'm not getting the short end of any deal -- but that's actually training that goes against a different impuse, and, I hope, the more firmly ingrained one -- which is to help people unselfishly. Those are the episodes I don't discuss here.)

But here comes the reflection on asking:

His old flyer advertised a 30 percent discount on custom jewelry designs and stated, in bold: "Flyer must be presented at time of order." I suggested he either remove that, or be flexible about it. Speaking only for myself, I told him that I like it when a merchant says, "There's a coupon. Even though you don't have the printout, I got you covered." It makes me feel like an insider, like I got a "scoop." (Even if everyone else is getting the same deal. Psychology, I guess.)

But he was adamant on keeping it, and his reasoning stung me.

"If I don't ask them to show me the flyer when they order, then this is what they do: they tell me they're on a budget, I do everything I can to stick to that budget. I come out making 100 bucks after all the time and materials, and then they pull out the 30 percent flyer. I'm like, 'I have done everything to work with your needs, and now you want me to lose money on this transaction?' People will do whatever they can to get the price to the ground, even if it means forcing you out of business. They don't care about your bottom line."

Interesting. Asking for an extra 30 percent, or a final deal sweetener right when I pull out my credit card, and obtaining it, would make me feel triumphant. I would tell myself the merchant could always refuse, and that I maneuvered an amazing deal.

Of course, there is a world of difference between asking and pressuring/demanding. Each has its place.

Maybe the people he was lamenting about were ungracious or presented their "request" as an ultimatum. Honor the flyer or I'm out of here. And Yelping about you. Or maybe not, and he's just hurting because of the economy.

In any case, next time I'm bargaining hard for a crazy discount, particularly from a mom'n'pop, I'll remember the words of this bearded, bespeckled goldsmith: "People will do whatever they can to get the price to the ground, even if it means forcing you out of business."

A reminder to ask responsibly, especially as I head out today to hunt for Christmas presents.

December 11, 2009

If the Daily Asker lived in a cheesesteak police state...


Failed to report earlier due to other surveillance commitments. All incidents involving cheesesteak must be documented pursuant to Resolution 38219s-fd45. -RZ

LOG: On Tuesday, 12-8-09 at 19:08 subject entered a cheesesteak vendor approximately two miles from her domicile, approached counter and placed order for a 10-inch mushroom steak. Subject was asked if she would like onions and replied "Of course."

Vendor relayed order to the kitchen and the stated the total: $7.47.

Subject reached into purse and extracted one Visa brand debit card.

Vendor approached card machine, placed card in machine in preparation for swipe, then stopped. "There's gonna be a 75 cent charge."

Subject: "Really? Would you mind skipping it just this once? It's my first time here. If I'd known I would have brought cash."

Vendor: "There's an ATM at the [name redacted]."

Subject: "Please? Can you waive it just this once?"

Vendor: "Sorry, I can't. There's an ATM nearby."

Subject: "Then go ahead and cancel my order."

Subject turned around, moved to do door. As she moved past door, coat sleeve got caught in handle. Subject released sleeve, closed door behind her.

REMARKS: Note that on 12-6-09 subject spent $518.95 on a pair of earrings, then refused to pay $.75 on credit card fee. Subject previously cited Visa merchant guidelines to noncompliant vendors, stating that surcharges for Visa debit or credit transactions not permitted, and was consequently allowed to use debit card; Dr. J should review inconsistencies in expenditure strategies. Sleeve incident should be conveyed to Dr. K for cognitive behavioral analysis.

RECOMMENDATIONS: 1) Inform vendor of credit and debit card usage guidelines attached herewith: 2) Immediately commit subject to Institution 3.

I Am An Awesome Asker

Where I is You!

Third edition.

I don't know about you, but my week was kind of crazy. Aimed for an elusive job, hung out with Grandma, discovered a new wine bar and totally reorganized the chapter I've been working on, since it dawned on me that starting at the beginning isn't always the best approach.

And so. On that note. Let's start at the end: Did you obtain what you wanted, or not? And, what exactly did you ask for?


La Roxy

December 09, 2009

Want to stop here?

For a soundtrack to this post, click here or here.

Mr. A and I left the house close to 10 tonight, both of us wary after long days of work. He's been buried under a massive to-do list as he prepares for a vacation. (And at his company, like many others I suppose, "vacation" means "do all your work before you're gone and then be reachable on email the whole time you're away." Evil. But I digress.) I spent the day on something related to my professional development -- a job application! For a really fantastic opportunity. The chances are slim because they will likely hire from within, but if I do get it, or even land on their radar and encourage them to consider me for future opportunities, I will be one happy asker. More details to report soon, I hope.

So we headed out. Our goals were similar: clear the brain, reconnect after a crazy day. Our plan was vague -- ideas we tossed around included a belly dancing show at a local bar, shooting pool, or listening to blues downtown.

But after a quick stop by an ATM, we scrapped those ideas and opted for something different: drive around and find some place we've never been before, and see what emerges. Mr. A, who was behind the wheel, headed for an area not far from our house with a lot of bars, figuring we'd find something new there.

"Here?" I tried.


"Here?" he tried.

"Not yet."

It seemed we'd been everywhere, or the options didn't look promising. And then, as quickly as you can say "tiny wine bar tucked around a corner," I saw it. A tiny wine bar. Tucked away, around a corner. Perfection.

"Look! Want to stop here?" I asked.

"Fine by me. Let's check it out."

"Are you sure? Didn't you want to play pool?"

"It's okay. As long as it's something new, I'm good."

That is how we discovered a fantastic wine bar in our neighborhood. It's about 100 square feet, with maybe 10 seats, exposed brick walls, big windows, 150 types of wine and a friendly bartender. When we walked in, there was one man sitting at the bar (a seismic engineer, father of 3 and one of 12 siblings, we later found out) and a couple in a corner. The menu was varied and interesting. The prices were reasonable. The best part, though, was the music: tango. A very danceable tango.

And that is exactly what we did: danced, in the tiny bar, knocking against tables and chairs and smiling until the music died.

December 07, 2009

Make me an offer I can't refuse, thou wanton childkiller?

Turns out I am a total sucker for a very specific type of very gendered-specific type of product.


Also turns out that I'm in desperate need for some dissertation motivation. Lou aptly picked up on my mood when she chastened me to "write the damn thing!" Along with other great advice. You're right. I must. Thanks for the talking to! I mean it: thank you. =)

And so I've decided to bribe myself.

I've decided, that is, to purchase a pair of diamond earrings and bestow them upon myself for Christmas if I finish the chapter I've been working on (and the last one before revisions!) by December 24. But only if I also get a spanking good deal on them. Did I? Didn't I? Will I? Won't I?

First, quick background:

I wrote about a similar endeavor here last year, when I embarked on a day long bargaining adventure at a local mall in hopes of obtaining a superior discount on a pair of superlative studs. The best I got was $120 off of a pair of $1200 earrings. I replied I'd think about it, and she suggested that if I returned she might give me an even better break.

For moral, financial and aesthetic reasons, I passed. I've never been into spending large sums of discretionary income on anything other than travel. I've never had a mass-produced or conventional kind of aesthetic. I've never been one to savor the thought of children perishing in Congolese mines.

After giving up on the design, I interrogated myself about why I so desired this. Was I foolishly asserting my 'female consumer autonomy' while falling into the same trap as those who shell out thousands for right hand rings? (Undoubtedly.) Was I attempting to give myself an allure of bourgeois stateliness when I am but a grad student with an affinity for alliteration? (Possibly.) Was it just a case of covetousness: several of my friends have such earrings, and perhaps that's where this wish came from? (I doubt that.) Was I attempting to plug into the aesthetic of an era when things were more codified, more glamorous, more stylish, easier to decipher but undoubtedly less favorable for intellectual, ambitious young women? (Very much so, I'm afraid.)

Sobered by these considerations, I forgot about the whole cursed project.

And then, when I was in Nice this spring with my mother, I noticed something winking at me from across a darkened terrace as we were eating, I recall, a platter of mediocre fried calamari. Diamonds, on a woman about 10 years older than me. Her hair seemed soft yet crisp, cut two or so inches below her shoulders, her was neck slender, and she was completely unadorned, save for her glimmering earrings.

I confessed to my mom I was still pining after them, or the idea of them, and she congratulated me for having abstained.

"You don't need diamond studs, honey. It's all marketing. If you really want to invest in a good piece of jewelry, get something unique, antique, something that really reflects you. Not studs. Those are a dime a dozen. Believe me, please. You already have a pair of earrings from your grandma. Those are more special than anything you could find in a store. Anyway, I'm glad you passed."

I sighed the sigh of righteousness and put it out of my mind.

And then, yesterday morning, I woke up with one thought: me want sparkly sparkles!

I did some rapid research online and found out that Macy's was discounting a pair from $2,400 to $800. Which brings us to

Diamond Quest the Second

First stop: Macy's.

The fine jewelry section was empty, and I had all three of the women working there helping me. It didn't do much good, because they didn't recognize the promotion I mentioned, and when I showed it to them on my cell phone the said they don't offer the online prices in the store. The manager did dig out a pair of that had the same original price and did some hocus pocus on a calculator, and said the lowest she could go was $1400. Period.

I left.

Second stop: Zales.

It was just a little busier than Macys.

The moment I stepped in I could tell I had been 'claimed' by two young men. One was very courteous and made steady eye contact. The other wore a thick gold chain under a shirt that had one too many buttons opened and his every gesture announced "compensating."

Every time his underling attempted to answer my questions or show me some earrings, the compensator helpfully enhanced or otherwise drew out the answer.

Underling: "Maybe you want to try these on. They're 3/4 carats total weight, but you'll get a much better quality for the price with this clarity, compared to the bigger ones. If we factor in the seasonal discount, they're also within your budget."

Compensator: "Show her the 1.25 carats. Those are nice and big. She'll want to see those."

I felt obliged to cut in.

"I'm here because I'm curious if you can beat this price." I took out my cell phone and showed them the Macy's earrings. "Those are $800. Discounted from $2,400. 1 carat total weight. Do you have any similar promotions?"

The Compensator made his pitch.
"Well, if you buy from Zales, for only $85 you can get the lifetime protection plan, which would allow you to trade in your diamonds any time for an upgrade. Right now this is what you can afford, but one day you may decide you want something bigger. Plus, if you have the plan and they chip or crack we will replace them."

"You mean I should expect your diamonds to chip?"

"It happens. Not if you drop them. Like, if something violent or crazy happens."

"Well if something that crazy happens that close to my cranium, I think the diamonds will be the least of my worries."

Turns out they don't have any dazzling discounts, and no upcoming sales. (So they claimed.)

I left.

Third Stop: Macy's.

Not the same one, but in a neighboring mall. I sensed the first store was a fluke and another Macy's might honor the online promo. Indeed, when I walked in I saw the $799 sale advertised loud and proud, on a little red sign next to an array of tiny bright white dots. Oh yeah, they were diamonds.

A saleswoman showed me a couple stones and together we inspected them under the light, to find the best possible pair.

"Your first diamonds! How exciting!" the woman said. "You'll wear them all the time, with jeans or a special night out!"

This time, it was my turn to make a pitch.

"They're amazing. I never thought this day would come. I've been saving up for them for so long!" Pause. "Is there anything you can do to get the price down a little more? Are there any other promos I'm not aware about, or some special magic you can do?"

"Are you my friend?"

"Excuse me?"

"Are you my friend? Say yes."


"Then you get the friends discount. That's 25% off of the sale price."

"Really!? Awesome!"

"And if you want to save even more, here's what you should do: open a Macy's card."

I did the math: It would come out to $120 off.

Getting 20 percent off a pair of diamond studs is a step up from the free Disney towel I received for opening a Visa card five years ago.

And that is how I ended up with a pair of gorgeous earrings, if I do say so myself, for under $500!

It still strikes me as odd that I would desire them, and that these sales teams would go through elaborate rituals -- 'friendship' discounts, upgrade and warranty contracts -- all so that their aspiring clients may participate in the even more elaborate construction of female middle class identity. We purposefully forget: how the rocks were obtained, how much of our monthly incomes they swallowed, how very obedient we are.

Anyway, I have to run. There's a chapter I need to finish. Because Mr. A promised to hide the earrings for me until I finish it, and I want them back. Bad.

Asking Advice Exchange

Dear Reader,

Happy Monday.

This weekend I undertook an asking challenge of my own: I broached a difficult subject with someone close to me. It wasn't exactly fun to ask for what I did, but having a receptive listener, and a sense of the stakes, made it easier than it could have been. I won't be posting those details here, since some stories are not meant for cyberspace, but suffice it to say our conversation ended in an acceptable manner.

Also this weekend, I also asked for a discount. A huge discount, on something tiny and shiny. The details, and the results, coming up in the next post.

But first, I'm opening up this week's Advice Exchange for your comments. Here is last week's, with the guidelines.

What's been on your mind?


La Roxy

December 04, 2009

And it came to pass that San Diego was mistaken for an actual city

How was your day?

I think these four askings provide an adequate snapshot of mine.

1) "Do you have my bike, or did it get stolen?"

This, I asked a security guard of a local university. (Quick refresher -- I'm a grad student, my school is on the east coast and I'm doing my dissertation from a distance since I'm in the final phase, but I sometimes work on a campus here.)

My bike was missing from the pole where I normally lock it.

Turns out I wasn't supposed to leave it there, and they removed it. No warning, just snip and goodbye.

Fortunately, I got it back. More than I can say for most missing bikes. But, if I may whine a little: it was a hassle and a waste of time, and now I don't know where to lock the bike in the future. (There are no racks in the area.) And since they cut the lock, I had to shove the dirty bike in my car and sully my new pale pants. Curses!

2) "Can we meet a little later? There's terrible traffic."

With the bike in tow, I hit the highway. The plan was to meet a friend, Gem. But there was traffic. LA style traffic. At 6 on a Friday? In Sun Diego?? Strange. Here's why: There was an event downtown called December Nights. You see, once per year this collection of sleepy neighborhoods resembles a city. People get out of the suburbs and converge on a large park for two nights of music, food and revelry. They have fun and block all the streets and get into some healthy mischief for a change. It's a fantastic event.

And that makes me want to weep.

Not because of the traffic, nor because of my delayed plans, nor because I'm missing it this year (trading one fun thing for an even better one) but for my darling San Diego. Because other cities get street fairs every week, and live music and outdoor terraces are everywhere you turn. Museums stay open late, people sit on bridges and have picnics more than two days per year.

My word! Imagine organizing "December Nights" every weekend for the whole winter, and a different sort of fair in the summer! But no, watch out, if you do that San Diego might resemble Buenos Aires or Rome, and that would be unseemly.

3) "Hello, you've reached La Roxy. Please don't leave a message?"

In the car, still in traffic, I checked my phone and saw I had 11 voicemails. It feels like it's always like that. Listen to three, five more arrive. So I took advantage of a particularly long stoplight and adjusted my message. It now says:

"Hello! I'm no longer checking voicemail, so if it's urgent, could you please send a text or email? Otherwise, I'll see your name in my phone history and call you back. Thanks!"

The last time I tried this, almost exactly a year ago (I guess you could say I have a history of ambivalence toward technology; here's that post.), I didn't last more than a few days, since people were so! weirded! out! by it!

But now I'm serious. I am so over voicemail.

Ciao, baby.

4) "Ready to work on your dissertation?"

This is what I asked myself when I sat down at my dining room table just now. You can derive my answer from this blog post.

But I think I'm ready now. I ended up having a great evening with Gem. I also bought groceries, relaxed, played some addictive word games on Facebook, I wrote this post and I did everything I could possibly do but the dissertation. I'd even do laundry, but Mr. A already took care of that.

Thus, after this writing break, I feel I have no choice by to approach the dissertation with a calm demeanor and steely will.

If nothing else, I hope those previous annoying askings serve as a chance to vent, and the perfect push into a night of productivity.


Today is Friday. You know what that means.

Time for

I Am An Awesome Asker, Where I is You!
Second edition

I've been looking forward to this all week.

Ready? Set? Fire away!

[image via Daily Kos]

December 02, 2009

All I want for Christmas are my two front fully automatic submachine guns

Long ago, when I still believed in the powers of princesses and ponies, my dad took my sister and me out shooting. My father is not the NRA type. The only official weapon in our house when I was growing up was a tribal bow and arrow given to my parents by a friend from Africa, which hung high on a wall and was unreachable in the case of a home invasion. But just like he signed us up for karate and taught us how to use a slingshot in the name of fun, fitness and fearlessness, my dad decided we needed to be smart and safe around firearms. Not to mention know how to blast a hole through someone if the need arose.

I must have been about 10 and my sister around 6 when we piled into his car and headed for some remote area outside San Diego. He borrowed a BB gun. I recall the area where we stopped was wooded and completely unpopulated, and it was an overcast day -- the perfect setting for teaching two kiddies how to shoot.

The officer who nearly arrested him, however, disagreed.

My dad can be very persuasive, or maybe the officer didn't want to quasi-orphan two little girls, because the incident ended with a warning and orders to leave immediately. And that was the end of my firearms education.

Until today!!

I am staring at the targets I obliterated at the San Diego Police Revolver Club. My dashing guides: Two firearms experts and executors of the law, which we shall heretofore refer to as Investigator C and The Pro. The weapons at our disposal: Four pistols, one revolver, one shotgun and a submachine gun, which they brought from their personal collections for us to play with. My objective: to learn how to load and fire each weapon without maiming someone in the process. By that, I mean that I wanted to both be safe on the firing range -- and shoot to kill.

How did this all come about, you ask? By asking!

I met both of them a few months ago, when I was a juror in a trial where they were collaborating. I ended up befriending the prosecutor, aka The Pro, on Facebook, which eventually led him to mention that I should learn to protect myself with a gun, which eventually led me to send him this email:

I'm back from [the East Coast]. So... are you truly prepared to show me how this whole shooting thing works, or was that the wine talking? If you'd rather not, I understand. Teaching law is one thing, teaching a lit grad student how to hold a rifle is totally different.

If so, when and where? The next few weekends are packed, but things calm down in December.

La Roxy
We made the appointment for 14:00 today at the police shooting club.

The Pro got there first and we started with the safety briefing: Always treat a gun you're holding like it's loaded, never point it at anything you're not prepared to destroy, and keep your finger off the trigger until the instant you're ready to shoot. Then he showed me the weapons he brought and taught me how to load and aim.

Investigator C got there next, and we were off.

At first, I was jittery. I had just half a cappuccino in the morning -- I cut back because I could already feel myself t-t-trembling. But I told myself to relax and I remembered some advice Mr. A gave me: take your time. Pause between shots, collect yourself. There's no rush. Focus on the target, steady. Ready? Aim.... BLAST!!!

But maybe I was a little too calm, too detached. As you can see in the picture above, I didn't really get the stance right at first. I was leaning back, holding the gun like a magic wand.
Investigator C, who has a ton of field experience, talked me through some techniques used by swat teams and police officers in combat. They adopt a forward stance, they tune in to their adversary's mental state, and when the moment is right they shoot quickly and devastatingly. There's no gray zone, no maybe or almost. Just kill.

Meanwhile, The Pro was reminding me to breathe. Breathing is good.

Once I sort of got the hang of it, we moved onto bigger weapons: a semi automatic shotgun and a fully automatic submachine gun. Both were so heavy they made my arms waver after a few moments -- sad but true, given that my typical upper body workout involves lifting a cheeseburger to my mouth or carrying library books around -- but firing them was frighteningly satisfying.

Shooting, it turns out, is a lot like tango. You have to lean into your partner, embrace it. In this case, not a man, but the engine of his destruction. Why? It's mechanical, and psychological. If you're holding the gun tight but with just a bit of slackness in the knees, you have more control, your arms are steady and your body, not the gun, takes charge. Also, it makes you look like a badass. And that, my ferocious reader, matters when it's you versus someone who wants you dead.

And so it came to pass that I loaded cartridges and pumped rounds into a distant silhouette. I experimented with weapons I never knew existed. I apparently hollered once or twice. And I had a fantastic afternoon. Thanks to this training, if I ever find myself in a jeep filled with artillery and ammo in a wartorn territory as a band of guerillas approaches, I probably wouldn't survive, but at least I'll have shot a gun before I die.

No, really. What next? What did I, how you say, learn?

First: The word "Lock" written on a gun isn't a safety device, but its brand name. Who knew.

Second: Pulling a trigger is the exact opposite of asking. You're declaring, you're announcing, you're claiming. There's no "May I? Can I? Would you please?" There is no room for doubt. Your intention and the outcome are crystallized in a split second, so you have to be sure of what you want. For that very reason, this experience will help me be a better asker. In moments of high stakes or high intensity, all I need to do is remember how I felt firing those guns -- alert, focused, determined, unfuckable. That is the attitude I need to carry with me the next time I'm negotiating something serious.

Third: Asking for a shooting lesson can bring unexpected rewards, like great conversation and awesome photo opps. Thanks to The Pro and Investigator C for my lesson on the range!

December 01, 2009

Obituary for Mr. B?

I remember the smile smeared mischievously across his lips as he was about to produce one of his celebrated puns. I remember his voice, twangy and smooth as iced tea, instructing us how to use ours: "You may not be able to read music, but at least you can tell if the little black dots are moving up or down!" I remember how it felt to finally sing, to sing for him --

I recently found out that someone very dear to me has died.

His name was Edgar Billups, and for 8 years, from sixth grade until my first year of college, I sang in his church choir. Yes, your tough talking, raise requesting, gun slinging (more on that soon) asker spent more than a few Sundays in a church, lifting her voice if not always or exactly for divinity, then for beauty, for peace, calm, hope, history, and for that strange entity I was then beginning to discover, which one might call the self.

Mr. Billups was the music director and organist of a church with two adult and two bustling children's choirs, which means he trained somewhere around 40 or 50 giggling girls and boys every year to produce absolute silence and harmonious sounds -- in precisely the intervals he desired. When we were good his eyes and a grateful nod said it all, and when we were bad his mouth did the talking.

Through his explanations of Faure's Requiem we learned about World War I, and I started thinking about the relationship between art and suffering; in rehearsals for the spring concerts I read my first medieval song lyrics, which made me more curious about poetry; and in the towering cathedral, in the instants after he cut off a chord and the echo of the notes lingered with the incense, that was the closest I've come to the sublime.

Of course, it was more than a musical education. Between school dances, a first kiss, karate tournaments, college application essays and AP exams, slumber parties and practicing for my driving test, there was choir. Between displacements and disease, a divorce and a death, there was choir practice. Tuesdays from 4:30 to 6, with a break halfway. His cigars, which he smoked on the church patio under ever changing leaves, determined how long those breaks would be. And that was when we talked. About all that, and more.

He was at once a gentleman and a feminist. He founded the girl's choir and believed in us, when the tradition favors boys. He paid us just like he did the boys (not much -- a few cents or bucks per week, but it added up). And any opportunity the boys had, be it to sing in an opera chorus or wedding or music festival, we did.

In 2002, Mr. Billups retired and he and his wife moved closer to where he'd grown up: North Carolina. I'd graduated from high school years earlier, moved to New England for college and grad school, but on a roadtrip through the South with my sister in 2003, of course we stopped by for dinner. It required a four hour detour, but how could we not. She fed us, he cracked his same jokes and made sure we were happy, healthy and sane, and they waved goodbye from the front door.

It's taken me a while to get around to writing these paragraphs. Weeks. Because I have trouble comprehending. I have not fully processed that he is gone. Cancer? Dead? Not even those words, or the past tense, make it real. Maybe because my last memory of him is out of the familiar context, in his new and distant home, or maybe it is simply because Mr. Billups exists beyond time. He's a standard, a classic, an archetype. For more than a decade, since finishing his choir, every time I sang his music (mostly alone, driving late at night, washing dishes, or sometimes with my sister) he was there. He is here. That will never change.

But when I heard the news he had died, I asked someone with access to a printing press to commemorate this good man. I wrote an email to a friend and mentor who happens to work for the local newspaper, and suggested they do an obituary. Here it is. Thank you, Jeff and David.

And thank you, wherever you may be, Mr. B.