Thursday, March 24, 2011

Was I On the Roof?

I’m the kind of person who likes to deal with things openly and frankly. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate a little softening of a big blow, as in the old joke about “Mom was on the roof.” You remember that one, don’t you?

A long-married couple is reluctant to take a vacation, because they are worried about the health of their elderly parents. The brother encourages them to go, saying, “I’ll look in on Mom and Dad, don’t worry.”

The couple goes on the trip, and when they return the brother is there to greet them. “How’s Mom?” the woman asks. “She’s dead,” says the brother, sipping his coffee.

“Whaaaaaat??? Mom’s dead, and that’s how you tell me? Couldn’t you even break it to me gently, ease me into it—you just blurt out MOM’S DEAD?”

“Well, how should I tell you?” the dolt asked.

The woman, flustered, said, “You know, if Fluffy had died while we were gone, you might say, ‘Gee, there was an awful accident… Fluffy was on the roof… He lost his balance and fell. I rushed him to the vet, but there was nothing they could do… Fluffy died.’ At least it would soften the blow!”

The brother nodded, and went on sipping his coffee. “Now,” the woman continued, “how’s Dad?”

“Dad was on the roof…” he began.

So, yes! –it’s wise to consider the feelings of the person you’re interacting with, whether face-to-face, on the phone, or by e-mail. I’m not talking about sugar-coating the truth, just a respectful and considerate regard for how your news, comments, opinions or information will be received.

So combine this viewpoint with the (nearly) universal disdain, dislike and abhorrence of the telephone answering menu. You know—“For business hours press 1, for directions press 2, for our fax number press 3, for complaints, hang up and dial our competitors.” Doesn’t everyone hate those? When I dial my doctor’s office I spend so much time listening to the announcements and the choices that I sometimes forget why I was calling. Oh yeah, it was about my short-term memory problems, but that’s not important right now.

Here’s where the two points I have been trying to make come together. I have had numerous occasions recently to help my father-in-law clarify some retirement issues. In so doing, I placed calls to his benefits office in the giant, well-known, Fortune 500 company he worked for. When I got through the first couple of menus, and reached the line for retirees’ benefits, I got this, “If you are calling to report a death, press 1.” Holy smoke, talk about a smack in the face! It took me aback, but I was really grateful that my 88-year old father-in-law wasn’t listening! I wondered how discouraging that must be if one of their retirees who might have serious health problems or be severely depressed placed that call and heard that as ‘option number 1’. I’m not all that old, and my health is good, and I frankly did not take kindly to hearing that. In fact, in the process of clearing up the questions we had, I reached the same recording several times in the course of the week, and each and every time it felt weird to hear those words said out loud.

So here’s my advice to you, if you happen to work in human resources, or public relations, and you have any influence whatsoever when it comes to scripting the phone recordings: think of how your message might sound to the caller.

Maybe you could try, “If you’re calling to report a retiree on the roof, press 1.”

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Plane to L.A.

You never know who you're going to end up sitting next to on an airplane. Countless stories have been told about the mis-matching of seatmates: someone who wants to be left alone to work, read or sleep finds that the adjacent seat is occupied by a person who wants to make a new best friend. It's frustrating and annoying and you can't do a thing about it.

Last week I was on a flight to LAX; due to a mix-up I ended up being one of the last eight people to board the plane. I knew I was going to be relegated to a middle seat.

As I reached the third row, an attractive blonde woman with1980s eyeliner and artificially inflated lips grabbed my arm and said furtively, "Do you want to sit here? No babies, no fat people-- it’s a great row!" I was a bit taken aback, and half-expected her to open her overcoat and offer to sell me a Rolex for ten bucks.

But I like to sit in the front of the plane, so I said, "Sure," and scooted in. She even offered to shove my coat into the overhead bin for me.

As we both settled into our seats, she said how glad she was to have a ‘normal’ person in the middle. Clearly, mistaking me for ‘normal’ was a key mistake on her part, but that’s not important right now.

Half an hour into our flight, Ms. Aisle Seat leaned over me and addressed Ms. Window Seat excitedly: "So what do you do-- I heard you talking about casting?” (Apparently she’d been on a phone call before I boarded.)

The startled woman in the window seat gave a simple, dignified answer. "I'm a manager, and I scout talent," she said.

Ms. Aisle Seat gushed, "I starred in _________ and _________. I'm Cindy Lou Picketfence! I used to do a lot of informercials! I sold more product than anyone else on tv in the ‘90s! I also developed a line of food supplements!"

The promo went on quite a bit longer than that, and of course that's not verbatim, but her name's not Cindy Lou Picketfence, either. These shows were like the “Friends” and “Law and Order” of the 1980s. She was not the star of these programs, but she had long-running roles, and that's certainly impressive. So while you probably wouldn’t recognize her name, you certainly know the shows.

Cindy Lou kept telling us (by this time, my book was put away) tales of her costars, and what they’re doing now. Okay, this was pretty entertaining, especially when she trashed her husband's celebrity ex-wife, but I did feel a bit like the old maid aunt chaperoning the cheerleaders’ party. I was captive, yet strangely unable to participate.

A couple of times I offered to switch seats with the actress, just to get out of their way. But she was committed to staying on the aisle because she had two tiny dogs in their carrier in front of her feet.

Amidst a lot of "Do you know so-and-so?“ and “Remember Whosits?“ these two found out that they actually grew up in the same town. I'm here to tell you, folks, that although people bemoan St. Louisans asking, "where'd you go to high school?", that is not a query limited to our burg. These women were from southern California, and they simultaneously blurted that one out! I laughed out loud, and I guess they'll never know why. They learned that they went to the same school, about ten years apart, and knew a lot of the same people.

Ye Olde High School
Small world. Smaller plane. And a teeny weenie middle seat.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Seeds of Many Meanings

When you go out looking for yarn in California, you might get more than you bargained for.

My daughter and I were heading over to a yarn shop in Sacramento while I was out there visiting. We both knew it might not be open, given that this was a Sunday. Well, we were going on a whim, since we had been in that general vicinity on another errand, so it was no big deal.

As we approached the strip mall in question, she pointed to the sign that said “Kelly’s Yarns” with an “Open” sign in the window, and a handful of cars in the parking lot, so we pulled in and parked feeling pretty optimistic.

Kelly’s was next to a shop called “Green Pastures Hydroponics“. My daughter hesitated as she took her keys out of the ignition. “Um, Mom…” she began, “The place next door--it might be a medical marijuana dispensary…” She seemed very concerned that I might be appalled.

“Really?” I asked. “What makes you think that? I don’t see any of the standard buzzwords, you should pardon the expression. Besides, don‘t forget I lived in San Francisco in 1974, so I‘ve seen pretty much everything.”

“I’m just saying,” she explained, “that so many storefronts in California that offer plants actually turn out to be ‘clinics’ for the dispensing of medical marijuana.”

“Well, what’s weird is that both shops are marked ‘Suite 130’. And come to think of it, the plant place door says ‘Use other door’, and the only other door is on the yarn shop. Hmmm… At the very least, this is a little peculiar.” After all, I thought, they could have saved some money and materials and just shared one sign: “Kelly’s Yarn and Weed”, or “Bong and Bling“. I mean on “Harry’s Law” the window is painted with “Harriet’s Law and Fine Shoes”, so there’s a precedent. Sort of…

We went in. Along the right side of the spacious establishment were rows and rows of lovely wooden bins with a gorgeous array of colorful, seductive yarns-- silks, cottons, wools, blends-- you name it, it was there. Pattern books, supplies, knitting needles (also known as ‘sticks‘), totes-- all the things that make me want to spend money like a drunken sailor. (No offense to any drunken sailors who might be reading this.) I can resist shoes, purses, jewelry and lots of other things women often get accused (sometimes rightfully) of overspending on, but let me loose in a yarn shop or a fabric shop, and I’m likely to leave with a slightly melted Visa card.

Meanwhile, on the left side of the store, there were multiple rows of planting and growing supplies for the budding home-based plant aficionado. There was an endless array of grow-lights, plant stands, terrariums, seeds and nutrient products.

A young woman came out from behind the counter under the hydroponics sign and offered to help us. We told her we were just going to browse some yarns. She informed us that the owner of the yarn shop wasn’t in, but that if we wanted to buy anything, she could handle that. We thanked her, and went back to our petting of the sweet, soft hanks of promise.

If the hydroponics are ‘just add water’, then the yarns seem to me to be “Instant Sweater”-- just add sticks (and a whole lot of time.) So maybe if I were opening a yarn store, I’d call it “Sweater on a Stick”. And if I were opening a fabric store, I’d want to call it “Cutting Edge”. These are just two of the reasons I’m not opening either one.

The woman from plantville came back several more times to make sure we didn’t need help. I should have asked her if we could put some yarn and knitting needles under her grow lights to make a sweater. But since I didn’t want my daughter to disown me, I kept my thoughts to myself.

Anyway, it was a quiet Sunday in the strip mall, and no plants or supplies were sold while we were there.

We did, however, make a dent in the yarn supply. And the pattern my daughter chose? I must confess-- it’s in the Seed Stitch.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

What Does it All Mean?

I saw a decal on a car window in my grocery store parking lot yesterday. It read “Second-Generation Air Bags”. I thought, is that something to be proud of? I mean, do you really want to brag about that? Doesn’t that mean your parents talked too much, too?

Which reminds me, when Lady Gaga won a Grammy some weeks ago, does that mean they gave her mother a Great-Grammy? I’m just asking…

And last March I paid $69.99 for twelve months of virus protection, guaranteed. So how come I have gotten two colds this year? What’s up with that?

And why am I asking these questions...