If it’s near midnight, it’s time for a Survey

Adagio at OpenDiary had this in her diary a few days ago, and I’d meant to steal it then, but forgot. Then tonight WarriorPoet(2), another OD-er, had it in his diary. Thus reminded, I stole it from him.

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If you could have anything delivered to your doorstep each morning, what would it be?

Poached eggs, wheat toast with butter, fresh fruit juice, home-fries, and coffee with cream, no sugar. And the NY Times crossword puzzle. (I’m terrible about eating breakfast, hence the menu.)

What is the one vacation destination that many people think is just fabulous but which you personally have no desire to visit (or revisit?)

Mt. Rushmore. I mean, it’s a mountain with faces in it, and it’s so commercial. Everything is totally kitschy.

If you were five years younger but knew everything at that age that you?ve actually learned over the last five years, what is the one thing you would definitely do differently?

I’d have held onto the condo another year, refinanced into a really low ARM, had the kitchen and bath redone, sold it for more, and moved out of California.

If you could wake up to one smell every morning (besides coffee) what would it be?
Rosemary and mint. Or baking bread.

Suppose that right now you could be at your favorite vacation spot, reading your favorite book, listening to your favorite CD, and eating your favorite food. What would be your choices for those four categories, and who, if anyone, would be with you?

I’m sitting in an Adirondack chair, on the porch of a rented beach house. I’m not sure where the house is, but it’s someplace cold and foggy, and the water is very blue, not green from kelp beds. I’m wearing a cotton sweater, and soft cotton pants, and my shoes are on the floor beside me. It’s a chilly day, so I’ve got a blanket spread over my lap, and I’m half-watching the water, as I read. The book is either The Eight or Jane Eyre, or possibly it’s a new V.I. Warshawski mystery by Sara Paretsky. There’s a side table near me, holding a plate, a mug, and a small cd player. I keep changing cd’s, playing mostly folk music – old stuff, like Peter Paul & Mary’s stuff – and cello music – and Vienna Teng’s stuff, because I like her lyrics a lot. The mug holds hot tea, with just a touch of sugar and milk. The plate has tuna salad with hard boiled egg mixed in, still warm, and spread on dill bread, lightly toasted, and the sandwich has been cut into squares, kid-style, to make it easier to read while eating. Upstairs, I can hear the sound effects from Fuzzy’s latest video game. Every once in a while, he’ll come down to check on me, and refill my tea, or I’ll wander upstairs to pester him.

Which animated figure is your all time favorite?
Never been a fan of animation. Do line and dot count?

If you had to write a brief message on a dollar bill that many people would eventually see as the currency circulates, what message would you write?
I’d steal it from The West Wing: “Decisions are made by those who show up.”

If you could own a home on the shore of any body of water in the world, which waterfront would you choose?
The Atlantic Ocean. I grew up on the Jersey Shore, and part of my heart is still there.

Suppose you had the opportunity to choose 3 people with whom to eat dinner: a famous sports figure, a movie star and a popular singer. Who would you choose?

Scott Hamilton, Emma Thompson, and Peter Yarrow.

What serves as the greatest motivation for you in your daily life?
Love. And hope.

What activity that you have to do every once in a while do you dread the most?

Dental work.

If you were a multimillionaire, what do you believe you would be doing at this very moment?

As it’s nearly midnight, I’d probably still be tucked into bed with my laptop, writing an entry like this one, and thinking about the manicure and pedicure scheduled for the next morning.

If you could have a cookie jar full of anything you wanted, except money or cookies, what would it be filled with?

Safety pins. You can never find one when you need one.

When people hear what you do for a living, what is the most typical question or comment they give you regarding your job?

So, how are interest rates today?

If you could have any round object in the world, what spherical item would you want?

The item I want is round, but not spherical: A tire swing. Or a papa-san chair. I miss the first, and have always wanted the second.

If you were left alone for one hour with nothing more than a pen and a notepad, what would you be inclined to draw or write during those 60 minutes?

Write, but probably doodle in the margins while thinking.

If you could witness anything at all in super-slow motion, what would you want to see?

Tap dancing.

If someone were looking for you in a bookstore, in what section would they be most likely to find you?

The new release shelf of either General Fiction, Mystery, or Science Fiction. Or the coffee bar.

What do you forget to do more often than anything else?

Mail letters, once they’re written.

If you could teach everyone in the world one skill, what would it be?

Effective use of voice mail.

You’ve been offered the chance to paint a billboard along a highway with any message you choose, as long as it’s only 10 words long. What is your message?

Other than the same thing I wrote on the dollar? I’m not sure. Probably something about the use of seatbelts.

Call me, beep me.

I work in the mortgage industry, which means all of my work-related contact with vendors and customers is always with adults. The nature of our business is that we do the vast majority of it via phone, fax, and email, and since none of that technology is new, you’d think the average adult would be capable of using it. I’ve posted about this before, of course, and chances are, given the amount of phone calls, faxes, and email I receive, I’ll post about it again. Apparently, this is because a lot of people need a refresher course in the basic use of these things.

Item 1: Phone messages.
My outgoing voicemail message at work includes the following information:
-how often (and at what times) I check my messages
-how often (and in what priority) I return phone calls
-my usual office hours
-alternate methods of contacting me, including email and fax
-a reference to my assistant’s extension
-a request that any message be detailed
-a request that callers leave their phone number *even if they think I already have it*
-instructions on how to bypass the greeting on future calls.

What any incoming message should include:
-your name. People often sound different over the phone.
-your contact information, even if we do business on a daily basis, because it’s easier to call you if I don’t have to hunt down your number first.
-a detailed message. If you have a question, leave me the question. If there’s a number on a form that you’re unsure of, tell me, “The number on line 802 looks wrong. Why is there an admin fee and a processing fee?” Or whatever. This way, I can be prepared when I return your call, and know to have your file out, or whether I can farm the return call out to the loan officer or my assistant.

There’s a reason for every one of these things. It cuts down on people calling me five times between ten-thirty and noon, about the same thing, and it helps me (when people heed the request) to not have to waste time hunting for phone numbers. If everyone else had similar information on their outgoing messages, the business world would be a much better place. But, really, people who don’t leave their phone numbers are not the most annoying thing in my life – I expect it, just as I expect that people will tack an ‘s’ onto the end of “email” to pluralize it, even though no one would dream of doing the same thing to the word “mail.”

What does annoy me – a lot – is when people don’t leave detailed messages. It annoys me for two reasons: First, I shouldn’t have to call someone back to find out why they called me, and second, if I do call them back it’s likely I’ll get THEIR voicemail, and have to leave a message asking why they called, instead of leaving information, which is great if your goal in life is the longest ever game of phone tag, but frustrating when you’re trying to conduct business.

I had a LOT of messages like that, this week.

But worse than that, I had someone send me an email message that consisted of, “Can you call me about this lock?”

Now, locks are time-sensitive things. We can only lock loans (commit the rate, price, and terms with a lender) between nine and four on days that the stockmarket is open. (Really, between ten and four, as we don’t get the last of our rate sheets until ten. This is why I rarely go into the office before ten in the morning.) So for someone (and this was someone at a lender) to leave a message that vague was both frustrating and alarming. Did the lock request get denied? Was information wrong? Is the program being discontinued? A thousand possibilities raced through my mind.

As requested, I called the person who sent the message. As expected, I was transferred to his voicemail. I left a message telling him why I hadn’t responded the night before, when I’d be available, and asking what the problem was.

He called back while I was away from my desk, and his total return message was, “I’m back in the office. Call me.”

I returned his second call, repeating the information I’d given him before, and adding, “if you get my voicemail again, please just leave a detailed message.”

An hour later, we finally spoke, and the information imparted (there’s a max-rebate on the program in question. Our chosen interest rate would have given us pricing that exceeded the maximum, so, he changed the rate on my locksheet and locked the loan), was nothing that needed to be handled in real-time, nothing that required seventeen conversations. In fact, he could have just stuck all the information in his original email (from a send-only account – how I hate those) or phone message, and asked me to call if there was anything I had a problem with. Because he didn’t, a good portion of my day was given up, to play phone tag.

This leads me to:
Item 2: Email
-Please do not send me messages in pink text or with stationery embedded into the message. That’s all fine for email sent to your mother, but not for business.
-If you send email, please make sure people can reply to it. Send-only accounts have their places (lock confirmations, rate sheets), but not if what you are sending requires any kind of response.
-If you email me, and you aren’t a person who checks your email regularly, please include your phone number. You should never assume that people ONLY check their office email while sitting in their offices. I check mine from home, about half the time, and I don’t have ghost copies of every file sitting on the dining room table.
-If you don’t check your email regularly, don’t give me your email address. I should not have to call you to tell you to check it. I’m not your mother, after all. (And how do you function checking it only once a day, anyway?)

This is part of the reason why I hate answering the phone at home.

Of course, there are things you shouldn’t put in a message without checking first – if I’m calling someone’s workplace the first time, my initial message to them always begins with, “Hi, I’m calling about personal stuff, if you’re listening to this on speakerphone, please pick up the handset.” And then I give a five second delay before I go on. And if it’s really sensitive I’ll be as specific as I can in a message, without totally obliterating privacy and propriety.

Sometimes, I think anyone working in any kind of office setting should be required to go through a class on effective use of voicemail and email. (The latter would also include not sending cute colored text, and loopy graphics, in business mail.)

Most of the time, I wish I could just stay home and write for a living, and not have to deal with the frustrating masses who can’t use common sense.

H is for…

* * *

When I was a kid, I wasn’t allowed to have the television on before five pm. The only exceptions to this were Star Trek, Saturday morning shows that lasted til 10 AM (Mainly Sid and Marty Kroft stuff, not animation), and, if it was summer, or I was home from school sick, I would ask to watch old musicals. (To this day, I still feel guilty if I’m watching television before five on a weekday, but I don’t mind spending the occasional Saturday curled up on the couch watching movies with Fuzzy,). One of my favorite musicals was Bridagoon. Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse, and all that lovely alliteration:
The mist of May is in the gloaming.
There’s lazy music in the rill.
So take my hand, and let’s go roaming
Through the heather on the hill.

It’s the last line that I love. It’s this wonderful image of being totally free, and just giving in to the moment. The kind of thing that can only happen in a musical.

Holding hands while wandering through a field of flowers isn’t something I’ve ever experienced, but holding hands while walking on the beach, or down a street, is.

My grandmother used to clutch at my hands, gripping too far down on my fingers, rather than across the palms. It drove me crazy, but it made her happy to have human contact. “Your hands are so warm,” she’d say, when hers were cold. “Hold mine and warm them.”

Once, the three of us, my grandmother, my mother, and I, stood hand in hand on a boardwalk overlooking the ocean. I think it was a few months after my grandfather had died, and we’d just scattered some of his ashes. It’s the kind of moment that, in a musical, would signal a poignant trio, but life isn’t a musical, and our moment was silent, though, in retrospect, I’d have loved a picture, three generations of women holding hands and staring into the sea, daring life to throw something else at them.

Several years later, walking with my mother on the beach, we both stopped to pick up sticks. We wrote names in the sand: Esther, Edward, my grandparents’ names, and then we stopped, and held hands in a moment of mother-daughter communion.

In that moment, I’d have done anything to be seven again, for just a moment. For having my grandfathers’s strong, square hand surrounding one of my smaller, more delicate ones, and for having my grandmother clutching tightly to the fingers of the other.