Sunday, October 25, 2015

Telephone Repair Fiasco

What part of “phone line repair” does AT&T not understand? Five weeks ago my landline went dead. Silly me for thinking it was no big deal. To date, a twelve-foot-long trench has been dug across the street and surrounded by fluorescent plastic cones and yellow caution tape, orange spray paint has been splashed arbitrarily in my yard, four AT&T linemen made a campfire on my front porch and roasted a rabbit on a spit while singing Johnny Cash tunes, and I can hear werewolves howling in the background while talking on the phone; but my phone line is not fixed. I confess that I exaggerate. Cut me some slack. AT&T is making me crazy.

When I picked up the receiver five Sundays ago and discovered I did not have a dial tone on my landline, I called AT&T on my cell phone to report a problem. After wandering in a voicemail maze for two or three years (I found Jimmy Hoffa in there), I finally spoke to Customer Service Rep Katie, who took my information and said she would schedule a service visit on Wednesday. Wait, whatever happened to prompt service? I reminded her it was Sunday and asked her if a repairman could come on Monday. She said the next day a repairman would be in my service area was Wednesday. She insisted she couldn’t send anyone sooner.

I work from home and speak to business contacts all over the country on my landline. I am hard of hearing and the landline phone, with my excellent headset and amplifier, is my best shot at following a conversation. I have difficulty hearing on my cell phone. Without my landline, my ability to work is seriously compromised. I explained this to Katie. She apologized for the inconvenience and stuck to her story about Wednesday.

On Tuesday the phone began working again as mysteriously as it had stopped working and also, to my surprise, AT&T Repairman Bob turned up. Cool – Tuesday was the new Wednesday. Bob checked out the line and reported the big bad news that I have a problem on my line. Dang, I thought the problem had resolved itself. According to Bob, the problem acts up when the line is wet. “Well, Bob,” I said, “if that’s the case, please explain why the phone went out on Sunday because it didn’t rain on Sunday.” Bob said it had rained on the prior Thursday and that it took a few days for the rain to soak down into the ground and knock out the line. Sunday was the new Thursday. He reckoned that until the line got fixed my phone would go out for an indeterminate amount of time a couple days after any substantial rainfall. Finally I had found the upside to the California drought. I figured AT&T would fix the line before the rainy season began, so I was not worried. Bob couldn’t fix the line that day because he couldn’t get to it. He said someone would have to come dig up the street and then an AT&T repairman would climb into the hole and fix the line. Bob put in a request for the hole.

One week later no hole had been dug. I called the AT&T service line and talked to Customer Service Rep Alhambra-Kaminski. He explained that AT&T does not dig holes and that AT&T contracts with local excavation companies to dig holes. He assured me that an excavation contractor would come dig the hole in a few days. The next week the contractor appeared with an earthmover the size and shape of Kansas and half a dozen teenagers in tennis-ball-green vests and dug the hole, carefully placing plywood over it and surrounding it in eye-popping orange plastic cones and yellow caution tape. Progress. There was now a hole. I peeked under the plywood, discovered a teenager who had been left behind, and fed him soup. Just joking.

The hole remained untouched for another week. I called AT&T and spoke to Customer Service Rep Chicklet-Rigatoni, who looked in the computer and found the notes on our phone problem. “It looks like they dug the hole,” she said. “Yes they did, I can see the hole from my window,” I confirmed. “But the AT&T repairman has not come out yet,” she added. “Yup. I’ve noticed that.” She promised me that a repairman would come out. A couple of days later a repairman actually did appear in an AT&T van and he looked in the hole. I ran over to the hole to talk to him. He shook his head sadly and said the hole had been dug in the wrong spot. He couldn’t get to the problem section of wiring from that hole. “What next?” I asked. “They need to dig another hole,” he said.  

But no one came to dig another hole. So I called AT&T and spoke to Customer Service Rep Drainpipe-Chihuahua, who looked in his computer and informed me that the excavation contractor had dug the hole in the wrong spot so the repairman couldn’t get to the problem in the line to fix it. I had just told him this, which led me to wonder why he needed a computer at all, not to mention a brain. He said that a request had been made to the contractor to return and fill in the old hole and dig another one in the right spot. “There’s rain in the forecast for this week,” I pointed out. “I need to have the problem fixed before it rains because the problem happens when it rains.” All he could do was put in the request. I couldn’t scream at him, he was just the messenger. He didn’t have an earthmover and he didn’t even know any Johnny Cash songs.

The following week the excavation contractor returned (yay) and extended the hole another four feet so that the plywood no longer covered the entire hole. Although the hole was still surrounded by cones and tape, it became an open trench on one end, which, while clearly marked, still poses somewhat of a safety hazard. After extending the trench, the contractor sprayed fluorescent orange paint marks on my street, driveway, olive trees, gravel, ground, lavender, rock roses, and other assorted items in my yard. I wanted to report this as vandalism, but my husband speculated that the marks were important guidelines for where to dig and where things could be found underground (such as moles and roots). “If that’s the case then why did he spray orange paint on my cat?” I asked. “Don’t exaggerate,” he scolded, “you know perfectly well he didn’t spray the cat.” Busted.

That week it rained, but fortunately my phone kept working. No repairman appeared all week. So on Monday I called AT&T and explained the whole saga to Customer Service Rep Sawtoothbrakefluid, who looked at the notes in his computer and couldn’t make hide nor hare of them. He suggested that I call a different branch of AT&T called Buried Wire, or B-Wire for short, that would be able to tell me what was preventing the contractor from digging for my renegade buried wire. Sawtoothbrakefluid gave me the number for B-Wire. At B-Wire I spoked to Customer Service Rep Arugula who informed me that the excavation contractor could not dig the hole in the right spot because he needed a permit from the city to dig in that particular spot. From this I inferred that it’s legally OK to dig in the wrong spot without a permit but if you want to dig in the right spot you definitely need a permit. Arugula said that I could find out the status of getting the city permit by calling my AT&T Regional Area Service Manager Gingerfish-goo and she gave me his number.

I called Gingerfish-goo and explained my whole sad saga to him. “So,” I concluded, “I’m calling to find out if the permit has been secured and when the contractor will dig the hole in the right spot.” (Meanwhile, I was silently praying that the right spot was not going to be in my driveway.) Gingerfish-goo listened to my woeful narrative attentively and then asked, “B-Wire told you I’m the regional manager for your area?” I confirmed this was true. “I’m afraid to tell you where I am located,” he said. “I can take it,” I assured him, “hit me.” Gingerfish-goo was in the Philippines. I complimented him on his excellent English accent. He took my phone number and said, “Give me an hour. I’m going to track down your real regional manager and I’ll call you back.” This was the most promising response I had received yet.

An hour later Gingerfish-goo, true to his word, did indeed call back with the phone number for AT&T Regional Service Area Manager Calliope- Potatokugel. Thank goodness AT&T outsources to the Philippines because they seem to be the only people who know what’s going on with the hole across the street from my house. Next I called Calliope-Potatokugel, confirmed that he was located in my local area, and repeated my story. “Wow,” he exclaimed, impressed. “That makes no sense whatsoever.” I agreed. “You don’t live in city limits so why would anyone need a city permit to dig a hole on your street?” he asked. “I think you just won Double Jeopardy,” I replied. He offered to investigate (decent of him) and said he would call me back with a status report, which he did the following day.

With Halloween approaching, I’m considering borrowing a cone and some of that yellow caution tape and dressing as an AT&T phone line repair project. Probably not a good idea since a small child could fall into the trench while trick-or-treating and then I might be held liable for tampering with the hazard zone warning presentation.

So. This is where things stand as of this writing. The permit to dig another hole has been secured but the hole has not been dug yet. I still don’t know who issued the permit, but I suspect it was Gov. Jerry Brown because he’s the only one who seems to get anything done lately. I also don’t know where it will be dug. Perhaps in the Philippines. There is still a hole in the street in the wrong spot. Even though the phone line has not been repaired, the phone works (and it has an adorable little hum on the line that sort of reminds me of Johnny Cash). Unfortunately for me, the first substantial rain of the fall season is forecast to arrive on Tuesday. Maybe Saturday will be the new Tuesday. Maybe the contractor and his flock of teenagers will dig the hole this week, the hole will not be in my driveway or under my olive tree, there will be a shortage of fluorescent orange spray paint in my AT&T region, and the repair to my line will get done ahead of the rain whenever it comes and seeps down to my line. Yes. Well. Maybe Elizabeth Warren will run for president. One can always hope. If you call me and I don’t answer, message me. And send dark chocolate. (Can you hear me now?)


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Measuring Success

How do you measure success? I mean personally, for yourself?

There was a joke that went around when Jesse Jackson was running for president. It goes something like this:  Jesse Jackson and the Pope were out on a lake in a boat. The Pope’s mitre blew off his head. So Jesse stepped out of the boat, walked across the water, retrieved the mitre, walked back across the water and gave the mitre back to the Pope. Then Jesse stepped back into the boat. The next day the headlines in the newspapers read “Jesse Jackson can’t swim.” You see my point. Others will judge your success from their own biased perspective so the opinion that counts most when you look at what you have done in your life is your own.

Do you perceive yourself as successful? How do you measure your personal success in your daily life and, if you are an elder, how do you measure your success over the span of your lifetime? There are small successes and large successes. I am looking at my own life right now (because I can only speak for myself and do not wish to judge others or make assumptions about how others perceive their own success). I am making lists.

Small successes. I grew cantaloupes in my back yard. My husband cleans my stove for me (before I met him I would move to a new apartment when the stove got too dirty—note, I am an excellent housekeeper but I don’t get along with stovetops). He also irons my dresses on those rare occasions when I need to look un-wrinkled. The fact that I looked ironed for my nephew’s Bar-Mitzvah last spring is a success attributable to my husband. He’s also good at other things now that I think about it. I digress. More small successes…. I have never put a Krispy Crème doughnut into my body (they don’t even look edible). I can tell the difference between a fumble and an incomplete pass, unlike certain referees (and a whiny quarterback) who will remain unnamed (Go Raiders). I switched all my Pleistocene-Age toilets out for modern low-flush toilets (now whenever I flush I yell yippee because I love my new toilets). I can do 100 sit-ups on the Ab-X at the gym. All my children were born at home. I made a wedding quilt for my son and his wife. I belong to an excellent book group. I took my children to the beach every year for our summer vacation despite our shoestring budget. I snagged the first Honda Fit off the assembly line that was sold in my town (my wonderful electric blue car that I love). I am a blogger. I take pleasure in small successes, which is a success in itself. (Perhaps a large success, what do you think?)

Large successes. I raised three children on forty acres of remote forest and they are wonderful human beings who delight me and make me proud every day (and they also keep me laughing). I have a terrific marriage to an awesome guy who, despite all his chronic health conditions and near-misses with that scary character who carries the scythe, is still alive and rather well (although on a first-name basis with half the paramedics in our small town). I consider it a great success that I put three children through college since I believe that going to college is an extraordinary and life-changing experience that every young person should have available to them. (Despite the fact that my youngest is practically pathological about refusing to seek work in the field in which he earned a degree primarily to demonstrate to me that he didn’t need the degree to succeed in life. Oy.) More about putting the children through college:  they do not have any student loan debt because we mortgaged the house to do it. Putting children through college on a lower middle class income is no joke. This is more than a success, it’s a triumph. More large successes…. I can cook delicious healthy foods. I earned a master’s degree and my holistic nutritionist certification. I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth and enjoy walking in this landscape every day. I have made friends with amazing people from all over the world with diverse cultural backgrounds and beliefs. I published a couple of books, but will come back to that in a moment because that’s complicated when it comes to how I measure my personal success. I feel successful in my professional life as I secured a lot of money for organizations to do good work helping people who need the help. (If only I could have secured enough money to ensure my own personal financial security. Not successful with that.)

Despite all my successes (of which I am obviously proud), taking the long view, I have to say that I did not accomplish what I set out to do in my professional life so in that sense I consider myself a failure. It’s remarkable what people wind up doing for a living considering what they set out intending to do. As a young woman I set out in life wanting to be a writer (perhaps I should have set my sights more specifically on being an author). I wanted success as a writer, a published author. Sure, I wanted to win the Pulitzer Prize. But I don’t measure success by winning prizes. I have read Pulitzer Prize winners and not cared for them. So how would I measure success as a writer? I would like to have all my books published and to reach a wide audience with my work, and, here’s the heart of the matter, I would like to make a difference in the lives of others (many more others than I have touched so far) through my writing. I would have liked to have a literary career, to have made enough money off my publications to be able to write fiction fulltime. In Amy’s World, I’m basically only as good as my most recent novel, which is not in print.

Perhaps success is cumulative and the sum of all parts. That old “we win some and we lose some.” If I tally up my successes, I believe they outweigh my failures. They equal an overall successful life. And, of course, I’m not done yet. I’m still writing, still dreaming, and still sending manuscripts out into the world with hope in their wake.

Circling back to my initial question:   How do you measure success? I mean personally, for yourself? 

Here I am showing off a delicious vegetarian gluten-free dinner I cooked. 
Chili relleno casserole, beans with peppers and tomatoes, guacamole, 
mango salsa, and salad. (My Jewish Mom pose.) Photo by Sylvia Mullaly.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Welcome Rosie!

This past week my baby brother and his family adopted an eight-week-old puppy they named Rosie. She’s a Cockapoo, which is a cross between a Cocker Spaniel and a Poodle. Here’s a photo of Rosie.

Is she the most adorable thing on four legs or what? Rosie is the newest in a long line of illustrious animal personalities who have brought delight to our family over the years. On Thursday evening, a few hours after they arrived home with Rosie, I skyped them to see Rosie in action. I talked to her on the call while she ran back and forth in front of the computer screen sniffing and responding with curiosity to my voice, then she ran off to chew on her 30 or 60 doggie toys that my Jewish-mom sister-in-law purchased for her earlier in the day at Petco. (I’m buying stock in Petco ASAP.) Half the toys are twice Rosie’s size. She likes the squeaky ones the best.

My brother told me that Rosie came from a Dutch Amish breeder (he lives in Pennsylvania) and so she has never seen technology, which, he explained as scientifically as Mr. Rodgers, accounted for her confusion when she heard my voice coming from the computer. Wait, what? I didn’t think dogs understood how computers work, period. I didn’t realize it’s only Dutch Amish dogs that don’t get it. This started me wondering if Rosie might experience a cultural diversity crisis as a result of being adopted by a Jewish family. Perhaps my brother should avoid putting any doggie sweaters on Rosie that have buttons. It’s not feasible for him to transport her by horse-and-buggy. I hope she can adjust to traveling via car. Can anyone suggest a good Amish dog therapist?

Our family’s known history with pets begins with a purportedly highly intelligent Border Collie named Juno who helped raise my father and my uncle in the Bronx. I have a photo on my desk taken around 1935 of my grandfather, father, and uncle with Juno. She looks quite prepared and capable of herding my father and uncle safely through their Bronx boyhood. When I was a teenager, our family adopted a Kerry Blue Terrier named Happy. Although Happy liked to fake intelligence, he had no one fooled. In reality, he was a doofus. Here he is pretending to be a movie star. 

Sometimes Happy would salvage chewing gum from the trash cans and could be seen in the back yard chomping away. His nemesis was my mother’s bread basket (the one she filled with warm rolls for the dinner table), which lived atop the refrigerator. Whenever he caught a glimpse of the bread basket, he would bark as if possessed and chase the bread basket down as my mother carried it into the dining room. He was a terrific outdoors dog, who accompanied my father on countless boy-scouting expeditions (Dad was a scout leader). And he enjoyed birthday parties immensely because when we sang Happy Birthday he thought we were singing to him and he barked and ran around in circles.

Although I grew up with a dog, I am a cat person to the core. I had been away at college a scant two years before I adopted my first two cats, both of whom I named Woossa. However, I tended to call my more favorite of the two cats Woossa-Woo. My dad went with me to pick him up at the vet when he had to get patched up after a cat fight one summer while I was at home between semesters. Dad laughed his head off when the vet referred to the cat as Woossa-Woo Wachspress (with a straight, serious face). What did I know about naming pets? I was a teenager. My other brother is more of a cat person like me and has had several cat companions over the years, the last of which, Perji, was a cat that acquired my brother when Perji decided my brother’s house would be his and moved right in. He was a gorgeous blue-gray longhair with enormous eyes.

I have had cats, always, for over 40 years. Counting a litter of kittens that my female tabby had in Berkeley (kept one and gave the others away to good homes), I have had more than a dozen cats during my life. I have stepped up my cat-naming ability from the Woossa days. I live with two ten-year-old shorthairs now. Golda is a rare female orange tabby and Ella is my impish black cat with the bright green eyes. While Golda is as dumb as grass, her sister Ella is the smartest of all the cats I have ever had. She can open doors. (Still hasn’t learned how to close them behind her.) Golda has watched Ella open the screen door to the back deck for years and still can’t figure out how to do it herself. She sits at the door, pretending to be patient, but I know she’s simply moronic, waiting for Ella to come open it for her. Golda likes to hunt mice, moles, and an occasional bird; and she eats her kill while Ella watches in horrified fascination. Ella is a pacifist. I have never seen Ella hunt anything bigger than a moth. Golda is territorial and she’ll fight off intruding cats. Ella turns her tail and runs away. She once peed in fright at the back door when she saw a large, strange cat enter our yard.

Sometimes, when I’m not paying attention, my cats work as a team to bring chaos into my ordered existence. On more than one occasion Ella has opened the screen door to let Golda bring a live mouse into my living room, where Golda then proceeded to torture it and kill it while Ella made popcorn and pulled up a chair and I jumped up on the couch and hollered “EEK.” It’s virtually impossible to chase two cats and a half-dead traumatized rodent out of your living room with a broom. Trust me on this. Especially so if you have an irrational terror of mice, which I do. If you even attempt to shoo the whole menagerie out, the mouse winds up hiding under the couch and the cats expect you to chase it back into the open where they can see it. If you don’t chase it out, the cats stare at you reproachfully (and Ella refuses to share her popcorn). Your best case scenario is to let the cat kill the mouse and eat it in the open. Otherwise you risk having a smelly dead rodent in a mysterious location in your house for several weeks. This anecdote makes it sound like having cats is all trauma and a three-ring circus, whereas in reality that’s not true. Golda sits on my lap and purrs whenever I watch football, keeping me warm on the couch in the winter. Ella entertains me chasing cat toys and laser lights and keeps me company when I’m writing by sitting behind my computer in the window or cuddling up in my lap. Cats are calming creatures. Beautiful and centered.

During our Ranch days our family had the most excellent dog, our one and only. She was an Australian Shepherd and Black Lab mix. When we rescued her she was four years old and near death with heartworm. We had her treated and coaxed her back to life with jelly sandwiches and pancakes. We named her Juno after the illustrious Border Collie of Dad’s youth. Juno’s favorite thing in the whole world was going for long walks, and when she discovered that my dad would take her into the hills for hours he became her favorite person. She lived to be about 17 years old, which was unexpected for a 60-pound dog who had suffered severe heartworm in her youth. We attributed her longevity to her mellow personality. She didn’t stress. She tolerated anything our young children did to her. Life was good no matter what came her way. She liked everyone, even the UPS driver. (So much for having her be our guard dog.) The three cats we had for a dozen years at the Ranch would sleep on Juno’s back in her doghouse during the rainy months. Once, Ron arrived home from work, pulled the car into the driveway, stepped out, and saw, when Juno got up to greet him, that Juno had been sleeping with a coiled rattlesnake under her rump. Ron ran the rattlesnake off with a spray of the garden hose while Juno looked on quizzically, as if to say, “what did my bunkmate do wrong?” Some years later, Juno startled a rattler and it bit her in the mouth. By then she was an older dog. I raced her to the vet, who administered anti-venom and kept her overnight. The next day, when I went to pick Juno up, she greeted me with a grin as wide as the Grand Canyon. The vet assured me Juno would survive, adding that she was feeling great because she was on super-strong drugs. Having an older dog survive a rattlesnake bite in the mouth was a miracle. Unfortunately for me, the anti-venom was so expensive that I made monthly payments to the vet for over a year to cover the cost. But there is no price tag on the value of a good dog.

Juno lived to retire eventually to the old folks home with my parents, where Dad coddled her to the last days of her life by feeding her bread warmed slightly in the microwave and roasted chicken made especially for her daily by the kitchen staff; and of course taking her on her beloved walks, which became shorter and shorter. I learned one of my most important lessons in life from Juno. Don’t stress. Learn to lie down gently with the rattlesnake; and if it bites you then you can depend on those who love you to take care of you with strong drugs and jelly sandwiches.

Dad used to have a bumper sticker on his car that said:  God help me be the man my dog thinks I am. I strive every day to be the woman my cats think I am. So, welcome to the family little Rosie – you are one lucky little puppy, and you don’t even know it yet, but you’ll figure it out soon.

Sunday, October 4, 2015


I visited an artist-friend yesterday at her studio, where many paintings she would like to sell cover her walls. She would not charge very much for them. Heck, a lot of them she’d just give away for the satisfaction of finding the right home for the piece; somewhere it would be appreciated. But she, like myself, is not a salesperson. I identify with her plight. I don’t have what it takes to market myself. We talked about this, about her passion for painting, mine for writing, and how we couldn’t stop even if we wanted to (which we don’t); and about not being able to sell our work, to connect with a purchasing audience, to “monetize” our creativity.

The “selling gene” is absent from my DNA. During the years when I had children at home and their schools and sports teams sold things to raise money, I always bought out. If each baseball player was supposed to sell 10 candy bars, I paid the coach for the candy bars and told him to keep them. Magazine subscriptions, tulip bulbs, every conceivable variety of tooth-rot candy, seed packets, event tickets, you name it and I could not sell it. Neither could my children. I passed my failure at sales on to them. None of us could sell a thing. My children and I could not even talk anyone into sponsoring the children when they participated in events, such as Jump for Heart (to raise money for the American Heart Association). We couldn’t even sell raffle tickets. You would think that I would have won something during those years when I bought $10, $20, $30 (however much was required to remain on the team, to help the school, to promote the cause) worth of raffle tickets myself so that my children and I didn’t have to sell them. But I never did. The raffle-winning gene seems to have bypassed my DNA as well. This is often a good thing when you live in a progressive rural community and the item being raffled is, say, a cow or a colonic. But I would have liked winning a trip to Hawaii, a quilt, or a case of wine. Rural raffles are sort of a crap shoot that way. But all I ever got out of the raffles were the tickets.

Some of my children’s teammates demonstrated impressive selling talent. One boy on my older son’s sports team sold $600 worth of peanut brittle one year. I don’t think I know anyone who eats peanut brittle. In fact, I’m not even sure what it is. I can’t remember if I have ever seen this substance. Peanuts set in concrete? I say this because most of the things the baseball teams sold to raise money were designed to inflict severe damage to teeth. Maybe I could have made some money selling dental care gift certificates to the people who purchased the $600 of peanut brittle. Anyway, if I remember correctly, you don’t actually need teeth to play baseball. The baseball fundraising was the worst. Fortunately, my older son dropped out of baseball early on and his younger brother, who was passionate about baseball for a few years, lost interest in the game before he lost any teeth. He preferred soccer and water polo, which thankfully didn’t require me to sell things.

I realize that it’s deeply un-American for me to be incapable of selling, unpatriotic in fact. Our political system is built on sales. Without advertising, how would anyone know who or what to vote for? I suspect that I am unclear on the concept of closing a sale. I have brought homemade cookies to the school bake sale only to buy back the same cookies I baked from the bake sale table for my children. Since I bought the ingredients, I have then paid for the cookies twice. Perhaps it’s my math disability kicking in. (My disability is that I can’t do math. I need to drink four cups of anti-stress tea to balance my checkbook, which never balances.) I have no doubt that if my life depended on me selling an aspirin to a shopaholic with a whopping migraine headache that I would wind up pretty much dead, in fact completely dead. I’d probably manage to talk the shopaholic out of ever taking an aspirin again as long as s/he lived. I couldn’t sell wood shavings to a nesting hamster. I’m hopeless.

So what was I thinking when I self-published a book? That the entrepreneur fairy would appear and zap me with her magic wand? If there is a word for the opposite of an entrepreneur, that’s me. The entreprenot. I know what I want to buy and I don’t let salespeople talk me into buying anything I don’t want to buy. So I wander through life clueless because I imagine that everyone else is the same way. I make that dangerous error of not being able to view the world from someone else’s perspective. I make assumptions about others based on my own worldview. I assume that if people want to buy my book they will. I don’t need to make a nuisance out of myself by getting in anyone’s face about it. No matter how wonderful the product, no matter how much I believe in it, no matter how much I think the buyer will love what they buy from me, no matter, it feels morally wrong to me to try to talk someone into buying something. The first thing that publicists tell us authors is for us to write our “elevator speech,” a one-sentence pitch that authors can rattle off in the event that they find themselves in an elevator with Steven Spielberg. I feel 100% certain that if I found myself in an elevator with Spielberg I would offer to carry his briefcase and not mention that I am the author of a book that would make a great movie.

On the other end of a sales pitch, I am vicious. On the rare occasion that they get through all my filters and do-not-call listings, when they call, I hang up on telemarketers, pollsters, and salespeople in under five seconds. I refuse samples in food stores, actually mark junk mail “return to sender” and send it BACK to the perpetrator, leave coupons for products I don’t buy at the cash register when they print out with my receipt, and mute the TV during commercials while watching football games. I am the anti-marketer, the original non-consumer. If I am in the market for something, like a car or a bed, and the salesperson says they can offer me a special deal but I have to take it in 24 hours to get the special price, I’m out of there faster than the Roadrunner. My aversion to being sold to is probably the underlying reason why I can’t sell to others. If I would hang up on myself, walk away, throw the flyer in the trash (or refuse to take it when thrust at me), then I don’t feel comfortable making the call, approaching the prospective buyer, handing out the flyer.

It’s ironic that I have spent more years self-employed than working for others. You would think that I would never manage to get work because I don’t promote myself. But that’s not the case. I started a contractual grant writing business and I have consistently secured great clients for over 15 years without ever having set up a website for my grant writing biz or doing any promotions or marketing. I started a publishing company and sold 2,000 copies of my book despite my reserved marketing style. (When I think of how many copies of my book the kid who sold the $600 of peanut brittle could have sold it makes me sick. But so would peanut brittle.) While 2,000 may not seem like much, the truth is that less than 2% of books published sell more than 1,000 copies (and less than 20% sell more than 250 copies). If only I had that sales gene, I would be a famous writer by now. A bizarre twist to this is that I write grants for a living, for heaven’s sake. I convince the federal government to give my clients millions of dollars, and I think that pretty much qualifies as selling on some level. But it’s different because my job is to convey an excellent narrative; and if the narrative is excellent enough (and follows all the instructions), then the funder awards the money. If only selling was nothing more than telling an excellent story.

In Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, he shows that Jobs was not a computer whiz or a brilliant engineer but a masterful salesman. Jobs knew how to market the stuffing out of a product. That’s what really made him so successful. If Jobs held a bake sale, you can bet that the cookies would be hyped so much ahead of time that millionaires would fly in from all over the world in their private jets to purchase one of those chocolate-macadamia-nut specials. Of course, if any of those cookies crumbled then the buyers would need to take the cookies to an authorized Apple cookie repair agent to be reassembled and uncrumbed for eating. Jobs knew how to work it. He would never buy his own cookies back at the bake sale. I bet he even knew how to balance his checkbook.

I just don’t know how to work it. I can’t bend it like Jobs. There must be lots of people out there who would enjoy my books, who would get something of value out of them, something to take on the journey through life. There must be more than 2,000 people in the whole world who would enjoy my books. But these hypothetical people who populate the world simply don’t know about my books and I don’t know how to connect with them. I can’t monetize. I can’t close the sale. Sigh. I confess that I do get a sense of satisfaction from the fact that the kid who sold the $600 of peanut brittle drives a UPS truck for a living and my non-salesman son has a college degree and makes a six-figure income. No selling involved. Perhaps there is some justice in the world. Have a cookie.

I didn't know what picture to put on this blog post so chose 
chocolate macadamia cookies. Eek. Now I want to eat some.