Tag Archives: business

Worth the Wait?

I’ve noticed that, in the South, cashiers will chat their hearts out to each customer. Regardless of how many people are in line, the person being rung up is the most important human in the world.

On the West Coast this sort of behavior would get you shot.

But when you stop and think of it, isn’t almost worth the wait to be treated like a neighbor?

I was in this situation today.  With each item the cashier would say some little joke to my 6 year old, who would giggle shyly.  Occasionally I would glance back at the line of four people behind us, watching for things that might be hurled at our heads.  All I saw were polite smiles or spacey faces staring off.  

Reminds me of our trip to Ireland.  I was going through customs in the London airport.  I had a nine month old baby and a four year old with me.  I had a luggage cart piled with three army-sized duffle bags and a suitcase.  I was about the 30th person in a line of about 50 people who had just gotten off the plane and were trying to get through that particular gate.  I had stood there only about two minutes when the customs officer at the front waved me up.  I smiled sheepishly and said, “Oh, I’m okay.”  I glanced nervously around me, hoping no one was cocking back to through a punch.  After all, I hadn’t accepted his unjust offer!

The people were looking at me like I was crazy.  “Go on!” someone said.  “You’ve got children!” someone else reminded me.  I slowly made my way up front.  The guy at the head of the line smiled at me without a shred of hatred as I was let through before him.

It was my first taste of the civilized world.

After five months of that, it was back to life in the Pacific Northwest.  Back to people turning their heads away from someone in need.  Where fairness is based on the mechanized rule of first come first served.  Where the cashiers will hardly ever speak to you, either because it is a culture of “time is money” or because they assume you aren’t cool enough or because the people in line behind you will kill her, or at the very least scream for the manager.

If you’ve never lived on the West Coast, you might think I was exaggerating.  Trust me.  One time in Santa Cruz, California, home of The Enlightened, I was at the bus station at about midnight, coming home from work, and there was a teenage girl sitting on a bench, looking uncomfortable as she actively ignored this drunk old street guy who was standing in front of her, talking to her at high volume.  I watched this for about a minute and then I went over and sat next to her and stared at the guy, repeating, “We’re not interested.  You can leave now,” until he wandered off.  Then I turned to her and rolled my eyes, as if to say, “Weirdos, huh?”  She looked at me and said sternly, “I was fine.  You didn’t have to come over.”

You’re freakin’ welcome.

I think I’ll wait a while longer, here in the South.

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Phone-a-phobia

Not many people are aware of one of the biggest hurdles I’ve had to face in this starting-a-business thing, I would venture to say, bigger than the utter scarcity of capital, the lack of self-confidence and initiative, bigger even than the total absence of any business sense.

I’m scared of phones.

I’m convinced that it all started when I was a young’un living at home, back in the dark ages before answering machines.  (Since my parents staunchly refuse to buy any new technology until the cooties wear off of it, there may very well have been answering machines around then, but you’d never have known at my house.)

Now those folks who read my rants know that I am generally opposed to blaming parents once you are out of your twenties.  And since my twenties are but a distant and embarrassing blot on the horizon at this point, you’d think I would fall into the responsibility-claiming category.

But honestly, credit where credit is due.

The awful, dark, horrible truth:  my Dad used to make me answer the phone.

Now I bet you are going to think that there were horrible people calling, creditors or some such, swearing and threatening removal of limbs to whoever answered the phone.

Well, no.  No one horrible ever called.  It’s just that, well, he hated talking on the phone, (could such a thing be genetic?) and so he wanted me to… you, know… how can I put this delicately… LIE.

Now I’m pretty sure there’s a commandment or something about not lying.  But there he’d be right next to me, shaking his head so hard his ears were waggling, waving me off like a swarm of wasps were attacking, while I said into the phone, “Yeah, he’s right here, just a minute.”

Now you’re going to think that he beat me or didn’t let me eat for a week as a punishment.  Not exactly.  I think he just looked at me sternly and said, “From NOW ON, I am AT THE STORE.  Do. You. Under. Stand. ?”

Of course I said yes.  But then the next time it would be like 9 pm when the phone rang, and it would be someone asking for him, and there would be like 45 minutes of silence while the two halves of my brain conversed.

“Don’t forget!  He’s at the store.”

“He’s not at the store, idiot.  He’s in the bathroom.”

“Just say it already.  It’s not hard! C’mon… ‘No, he’s at the store.’ ”

“Who the hell goes to the store at 9 pm?  We never leave the house after like 3:30.”

And then inevitably I’d go get him to tell him someone was waiting on the phone for him.

And as soon as he hung up with them, I’d start to dread the next time the phone might ring.

Ever since I was a kid and had to live through this psychological trauma, I’ve hated to answer the phone, even my own phone at my own home, you know, with like my own number, under my own name, so that they are calling for ME and never for my DAD.  Caller ID made it a little better, because at least then I knew what I was in for ahead of time.

But I figured I should never get a cell phone.  If the home phone ringing makes my heart race, my hands shake and my ears bleed, then surely lugging around that kind of potential horror would be a bad thing.

But I think I went about it the right way, accidentally.  The Pavlovian Dog training kind of way.  For the first couple of months after I got my cell, the only people who called me were my husband and my sister, both of whom I love dearly and am always eager to talk to.  Hence, the particular happy chime I picked out has now been imprinted in my neurotic brain as the precursor to a happy, non-horror movie conversation.

Now when a client calls asking about tutoring or a class, and I see an unfamiliar number show up on the phone, my first instinct is still not to answer it.  Just hurl the phone as hard as you can, preferably TOWARD a hard surface, and then run and hide under the first piece of furniture you come to!

But then, for reasons beyond my understanding, I answer it anyway.  And I’m not freaking out, only pleasantly curious as to who it might be and what they might want.

Is this how phones have been for you people your whole lives?

I’ve entered a whole new magical world of communication.

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Identity crisis

“All of me…
Why not take all of me?
Can’t you see?
I’m no good without you.
Take my lips…
I want to lose them!
Take my arms
I’ll never use them!”

I’ve always loved this song.  Best of all when Lily Tomlin sings it in the movie.  I like it as much as when Tony Bennett croons “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”  I guess I’ve always enjoyed the idea of parts of me being lost to passion.

But somehow the passion of greed doesn’t enter into that fantasy.  Like, say, losing my identity to the lowest kind of white collar criminal.

My husband and I are enrolled in the local Citizen’s Police Academy, which has been quite fascinating.  Especially when you get to wander around the evidence room and peek in the prisoner toilet (don’t worry, no one was making use of it at the time.)

Our lecturer yesterday evening was in charge of the Investigations Department, and during his talk he highly recommended that everyone have identity theft insurance.  This got my drawers in a twist, but I managed to shrug it off and focus on his presentation which covered the number of violent crimes committed in our community last year and how one might go about solving them.  

FYI- if you need to bludgeon someone to death but are unable to procure yourself some gloves, use a bumpy rock as the police will be unable to lift your fingerprints off of it.

On the way home though, the thing that sprang to my mind was not the crime scene photo of a decaying corpse but my irritation at the suggestion of identity insurance.  I still cannot precisely articulate my emotional position (my intellectual position is something along the lines of: “Sigh.  What else.”) but I realize that I am getting closer to complete awareness of where I stand on this important issue.

It goes something like, “You have to be f&%#ing kidding.  I’M going to pay YOU so that I get to maintain control over the ONLY g-d thing in this world that TRULY belongs to me, during my life and beyond the grave?  I’m going to hand over wads of cash so that I get to continue being me instead of some lowlife immoral F#$% being me?”

Only I’m a lot angrier about it in private.

The idea that I would have to fight to re-establish the fact that I am me and that I have only done the things that I have really done, only bought the things I’ve bought… this conflict strikes me as fundamentally absurd.  I’m not denying that it happens, or that the threat is real.  I am sickened by the fact that we all carry on every day even though it happens, that many of us choose to submit to insurance sharks, that an authority figure in the police station would recommend that we pay to protect ourselves, INSTEAD OF TURNING THE SYSTEM UPSIDE DOWN SO THAT THERE IS JUSTICE.

Sorry, didn’t mean to yell.

I don’t have a whole lot in this world.  I have my kids, and they are the greatest thing I will ever have, but I don’t truly possess them because ultimately they are their own individual selves who will grow up to steer their own destinies.  Someday when they are big something will “steal” them from me, whether it is a spouse or a career or their own kids, and that’s how it should be.

I own some cool toys, like a computer and a van and a few shelves full of books, but I recognize that all the physical stuff is ephemeral and I have to enjoy it while I can because it could disappear at any moment, and anyway, I can’t bring it along.

All I really have is my reputation, my integrity, my identity.  How have we evolved a system in which it is possible for this basic unit of selfhood to be stolen?  And how is it that we allow it to be so inhumanly difficult for someone who has done nothing wrong to prove that they are actually the victim?  

And how can we allow people to PROFIT off of this absurd situation?

“Your goodbye left me with eyes that cry.
How can I go on, dear, without you?
You took the part that once was my heart,
So why not take all of me?”

But leave my ID alone, thanks all the same.

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An update from outside the box

I realize that starting a business is technically NOT considered operating outside the box.  Probably more like creating another box, really.  My box is going to have to fit somewhere inside of or at least next to other boxes already in existence.

But I’ve never had a box before.  I feel like a toddler who, upon opening an awesome new present, only wants to play with the box.  Mostly because there isn’t much inside my box right now, there’s pretty much only the cardboard walls and a couple of flaps to twiddle with at this point.

What happened was, I went to the local rec center to propose a Spanish conversation class, and the director loved the idea.  He gave me an instructor application which I brought home and proceeded to fill out.

Turns out I need a license from the city.  

So okay, I look up “business privilege license” on the web (“privilege:” presumably they don’t want you to forget that earning a living is not a right) and get to the appropriate form which I download and print.  I dutifully begin to fill in the blanks on that form.

Turns out I need something called a “Federal Tax ID,” which I again look up online and am directed to the IRS site on which one may get an “Employer Identification Number,” which is essentially starting a new business and getting the little number that you will put on your tax return.

The really cool part about all this is that it was fun.  I’m learning that I know when I’m on the right track when my enthusiasm mounts rather than dwindles as I encounter twists in the road.  Instead of sobbing hysterically and wailing “Why meeeeee?” in my most pathetic voice, which is my M.O. when ambushed by red tape, I was getting jazzed.  My own business, huh?  Pick out a name, pick out some goals, allow your inspiration to coalesce around a box, inside which you can put your brilliant ideas, then your efforts, and maybe someday your accomplishments?

Yeah, alright.  Let’s do it.

It’s still only in the embryonic stage.  If I showed you the ultrasound it wouldn’t even look like a box, it would just be a lump in the form of a tax identification number stuck to a dream.

But someday maybe it will be a lovely strong box, oak, perhaps stained a warm brown in homage to the cups of coffee that inspired it, with forest green trim, and it will have little ribbons connecting outward to tutoring clients and language classes, to translation jobs and writing projects, and it will be bubbling happily with words.

That’s the plan, anyhow.

I’ll keep you posted.

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