Friday, October 2, 2015

Who's the Boss?

So you think you want to be your own boss. Make your own hours. Get to take credit for all your own ideas. The dream of small business!

You can do all of that. You'll also be responsible for writing your own checks. Finding your own clients. Dealing with customers and all their weird requests. Doing your own marketing, networking, invoicing, web design, inventory, phone answering and having no one to blame but yourself for running low on printer ink.

But you knew all that. Me too. The one thing that I wasn't prepared for was that I hate BEING THE BOSS.

The Enforcer. The Hatchet Lady. The one who has to deal with minute details of dealing with the public. You didn't pay on time. You checked in with extra people and didn't pay the fees. You are 3 weeks late with the deposit. You broke the rules.

I feel like a Snitch. I hate Snitches. (that's right, capitalized)

I was never a tattler when I was little, I just took care of things in my own way. I was a creepy hoodlum that no one knew about in elementary school. Pig tails and all. I extorted artwork and paintings from kids who were better artists than me. I would pinch the skin above the elbow of the girls I stole from-- threatening them with further pain if they Snitched on me. Who'd believe you anyway? I'd hiss in their ears. If they cried, I twisted harder. This is me, 1972. Looking at it now, I'm surprised there aren't feathers poking out of my mouth.

I'd make kids stand in the cubby hole where we hung our coats until I said they could come out. I was 5. I have no idea where I got this script, there was only Wonderful World of Disney and Lassie TV, maybe Romper Room? My parents were white bread super Midwestern 'nice people'. I don't know why that's in quotes, exactly. But my point is that I didn't have any black sheep uncles hanging around from Coney Island. There was only one sibling at home when I came into the fold...and he didn't give me the time of day. I apologize retroactively to both Julie S. and Julie K. for the extortion of their Underdog paintings.

In middle school I was terrified at all the things going on, like boys asking you to 'go with them'---I went with some boy Dale from first period to third. It made me physically ill to be fenced in like that. I returned the necklace and broke the news of the break up after science class. Other things that deterred me from being a hoodlum were gym class, getting a training bra even though I didn't need it, locker rooms, first kiss, and having other friends who were WAY worse than me, the smoking drinking in the bathroom and getting pregnant at 13 kind. I just stood back. But I never told on anybody.

By high school I was insufferably bored and ran a ring of stolen Admits from the Dean so people could skip class. Dean Butts I think her name was? There were colored pens for different days of the week and an easy to forge signature. No problemo. I was one of those kids who was a school patrol, a 'natural leader', tutor, office worker and hall monitor. I wasn't book smart, but sharp, a huge bullshitter, prone to Eddie Haskell behavior around adults and a persuasive pretty blond with a criminal mind that wasn't being challenged. I'd definitely be the kind of prison warden involved in helping inmates bring in ropes and booze.  I'd turn off alarms, let everyone escape. I don't have problems with authority, I just ignore it all. I don't break laws, I just self govern. And I think others should do the same. Someone got a hold of one of my Admit pads and tried to forge their own signature. Wrong colored ink. Busted. She turned me in. We all got suspended. That was weak Amy P. I'll never forgive you.

By my junior year, a few of us were notorious toilet paperers. Stealth. Quiet. Ninjas. But as one would expect, someone had butt hurt over the cruelty of teens, had their parents call the cops, and the fall guy spilled the beans on the whole crew. Troy. James. Mike. Brian. Carol. You'll have to live with your decisions.

I grew out of my criminal white collar phase and went into hospitality where if you're not a thief, you're a weirdo and should look for another line of work. I knew all the bartenders stole from the hotel I worked in...never breathed a word. No one got hurt. So the Hyatt made a few bucks less on a $20,000 bar shift.

After owning a couple of my own places, I had some boomerang Karma. People stole from me, my bathrooms, ignored rules, did credit card charge backs months after they ate dinner there---I realized that a shady uncle from Coney Island wasn't a bad thing to have. I had a hard time pulling it off being a cherub faced middle aged lady person with curly blond pigtails. I hired managers. Handlers. People to Act on My Behalf. I can set the rules, but I hate enforcing them. And if people don't heed the rules, maybe out of kindred spirit, I really hate calling them out on it. Especially if it's under $100.

And here we are. 48 years old and I still don't quite know how to tell people that their manners suck. That they're doing it wrong and that they won't be getting their deposit back. I get emotional. I don't want to be bothered. It's not so much that they trashed the house or didn't pay for extra people or broke my air conditioner, no, I'm mad at them for making me do extra work and be a Snitch.

Line #4 clearly states that you cannot jack the AC down to 62 in August and leave for the day, and that you'll pay the service fee when it freezes. Your deposit will be surrendered. Ugh.

So since none of these 'jobs' I do warrants enough to pay a full time manager, bill collector, secretary or security guard, I have to figure it out on my own.

To call customer service lines to haggle over incorrect billing I often take on other voices just to keep it interesting for me, keep a lid on my exasperation and to hopefully brighten the day of (get better service from) sullen phone bank workers. I have an old black woman voice who sounds like Flip Wilson's Geraldine and a tiny Jewish grandma from Yonkers, who is intimidating, but endearing. Regular Me is curt. Unimpressed. Not smiling. No one wants to help Me out. I make people defensive, if I'm not careful. I have a Classic Bitchy Resting Face, but I swear it's because I'm writing something in my head. I'm not judging you. I'm wondering if I have enough Asiago for the salad, I swear.

So people who ask for favors, those who don't expect to be charged, sneak in the back door with extra people, use the bath towels to clean their cars, leave trash piled to the ceiling or who otherwise think the rules don't apply, (aka 29 year olds) be prepared for Olive Rose Hanselcraft. Our VERY strict German housekeeper and bookkeeper. I gave her your number.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Not my Circus, Not my Monkeys

Yesterday I listened to a man talk about how his back hurt so bad he couldn't bend over and tie his shoe. Twenty years ago he had an accident and the subsequent surgery left him in unbearable pain for which he still took demerol. He only takes that on the weekends because he can't work on the drug. I decided to skip the questions about how you can have a script for demerol for twenty years and just listen. Gave him arthritis. It was hard to work. Nothing works on the pain. Leg gave out the other night and he fell and broke his glasses  and that's why his face was all cut and bloody.

Have you tried Acupuncture? Massage? Chiropractic? Physical therapy? Stretching? Calcium Magnesium? Turmeric? Epsom salt baths? Hot tub?


I had an urge to run upstairs, grab all my anti-inflammation natural cures and make him a care package. I got my phone out to get the number of several chiropractors in town. Acupuncturists are rare but I had a referral. OH yea and the lady over at the wellness center who does Reiki, she could help with the nerve pain. How about St. John's Wort? the tincture is great for the neuralgia. I have some. How about a Yoga class?

As he took another drag from his Newport he crushed his (fifth) Mountain Dew can into the cooler. He came out with a 40oz Busch beer and popped the top. "You sure know a lot of stuff. You should be a psychologi---psychiatr---counselor," he slurred. "But I'm not goin' to any weird ass faggy Yoga hippy shit."

I was transported back to my years of bartending. My mantra: never apply rational principles to irrational people, which meant in that context, no arguing with drunks. But it worked here too. It's super frustrating for me because I want to help and I always go straight to solution mode, but most people really just want the ability to complain. Be heard. They may need all the help you want to give them but really don't want a solution. The cycle of feeling sorry for himself mixed with the promise of blitzing out every weekend in some powerful pain med haze was his thing. And at nearly 60, this was not a new habit. And I know better than to take this on. Surely I could find another Sisyphean task that would be more interesting if nothing else.

They commiserated over the price of groceries and how they could only afford frozen dinners. I calculated the price of ground chuck from my butcher and eggs and breadcrumbs and chipotle peppers and potatoes and figured I could make a meatloaf that would feed them for 3 days for $12. Meatloaf with chipotle sauce. Roasted potatoes. Omelettes. Maybe sneak some spinach from the garden in there. 

They told me about their lousy expensive cell phone plans that were over $100 a month. I have a wi-fi based plan for $10 that switches to cell when there is no wifi nearby. Unlimited. Save you $1000 a year. No contract. Easy. 

Not so much as a pen and paper...what's the name? Nothin. Just went back to complaining about the service, the fees, the plans, the money, the low tech phones. They pay for 3 plans as well. Not even so much as a family plan. I couldn't take it anymore. I was bursting with solutions! Ideas! Remedy! I can fix everything!

Just then, a little fairy came out of the trees and rang a teeny tiny bell in my ear.
Do not waste your wise words on deaf ears, friend. Funnel energy into worthy cause. Not all needy causes are worthy. These dudes are not going to flip the switch and get off the sugar, the nicotine, the caffeine the demerol and suddenly eat whole foods, cook and take responsibility for their health and switch to calcium tablets and start doing pilates and water aerobics. They are going to continue to wash down their gout medicine with cola and eat chocolate donuts out of a bag between insulin shots. You will not fix this. You maybe could fix this, but they don't want fixes. 

It pained me, but I just said, Good luck with all that, and went upstairs. I am in a lot of ways a psycholi--psych---counselor. But people come to me for advice, consult, writing, ideas. And they pay for it and stuff. I'm a little late to my own party but I am drawing a line in the sand. If not asked, I cannot afford to put a hole in my energy bucket.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Whine Bar

You're not going to like this, but it's true. We, Americans, have become a nation of whiners. This isn't new but it's getting worse.  Complainers. Big wheat belly achers. The fat guy at the table who never gets enough to eat and yet a bounty lies before him. We bitch about cable tv customer service like it's a birthright to have 200 channels of nothing in particular. But we PAID for the service and we want our $60 worth! And they left me on HOLD for 20 minutes!

After you get up and running, be sure to go over to CNN and catch some of the devastating rubble in Nepal after yet another earthquake. Be confident no one is searching for the remote.

We demand cheap prices AND good food in restaurants because someone, somewhere came up with the mantra The Customer is Always Right. No, you're not. If you've got demands of quality and price you're never gonna find it. You do have control over it Home. Beans. Rice. Repeat.

There is no restaurant owner anywhere who says,

Ya know what? I'm going to work 14 hours a day every day to have the best ingredients available from hardworking fair wage farmers to create a creative, delicious, timely dish that is exactly how YOU want it. I'm going to serve it to you in a room of the perfect temperature and size with just the right amount of space between patrons and pay my fun, easy going never late or absent staff a better than fair wage to wash up after you and I'm going to rent this commercial space for too much money to do it in. That dish will cost me every bit of $20 in the end, but you know what? I'm going to sell it to you for $15 because that's what it "should cost" in your mind. I'm going to flush $5 every time you walk through the door so you can feel like you got a good value while you drive home with your pants unbuttoned. Or maybe you'll go home and write a scathing review on Yelp. 

And dammit I've done it. I have. Hospitality and I have a torrid past. I love hotels. They don't always return the infatuation.  I've changed my room because the room smelled funny or there were mosquitoes breeding in shower drain and I feared Dengue. I changed because there was a flood light in my window all night that made me feel like I was in A Clockwork Orange, but it did serve well to illuminate the couple who were having sex on the hammock that hung outside my window. I left a rental apt because the door to get out wouldn't open but the door to get in my apt wouldn't lock. There was no AC, cafe, manager, towels or WiFi on property as promised on the website. We moved to a house with no AC (in the jungle at 94 degrees) which had fans and the elusive "cross ventilation" that everyone talks of that only works if there is a breeze and that only comes during monsoons so the breeze is actually ---water.

There was a snake under Nicole's bed. My shower dribbled out some water but not really enough to call a "shower", so we just used the large dog bowl "splash" pool. We saw the gardener filling the cistern with the garden house but we ran out of water after 3 days and none of the toilets flushed. My pillows were stuffed with what I can only imagine to be heads of cabbage and old socks. All cafes in town were outdoors but the charm was tarnished by the cans of Off! on every table next to the pepper mill. If you go organic and pass on the Deet? You will look like a measled child before you finish the bottle of wine that makes you care less. Our view was of the neighbor's roof where his dog lived which was covered in feces. Much of the ad copy describes this part of the world as Paradise. I have been going for 25 years. I don't think I'll return.

All of these things happened in Mexico. And you know what everyone said? It's Mexico! and shrugged their shoulders. It was the national slogan for everything from brackish water to downed WiFi to street dogs fighting in the middle of the road over territory rights to the steak house dumpster. Bad service and mas o menos housekeeping. Noise at all hours. Most probable dysentery. Outside of the populated big cities, most surely dodgy technology. It's Mexico!

Of course there is lots to love. Food, architecture, music, dance, art, scenery, landscapes, diving in the Caribbean with long haired Tarzan looking boat guides. But the comforts of home? Meh.

The subtext, of course, is this: Get Over It. You'll get used to it. And if you don't? You'll go home. But we're not changing it. 

Mexicans deal with a lot of adversity and it doesn't bother them like us. The stuff that should bother us doesn't (wall street tycoons getting rich while our housing market crashes,  human trafficking, govt corruption) but we sure get our tail tied in a knot over "service" and the shrinking size of airplane seats. Many Mexicans (read: poor working class) don't feel entitled like we do. They know everything is corrupt and that good services and protection are for the wealthy Narcos and that if they want anything, they'll have to do it for themselves or go without. Going out to dinner or traveling and staying in hotels is a rare and exciting time for most average people. It probably wouldn't cross their mind that the bathroom is too small for 6 to share.

Fernando, my guy for a few years, is a Mexican National but he lives here. He complains way less than me. He's a roofer in the South, you can't be a whiner and be a roofer. He wanted to call his mom for Mother's Day and couldn't reach her because the land lines are out of service in their rural town. For WEEKS. He owns a cyber cafe there and it's routine that other businesses and houses nearby ride on his internet cables and most definitely the electricity. No one does anything. And who would you call anyway? And yea, the phone. Cell service is lousy and the ONE company TelCel that covers the entire country? Doesn't care about unpopulated areas so much. So he Skypes with his mom and dad when they aren't out plowing the fields or castrating sheep or worrying about drought.

When he does talk to them, his little tiny Indian mom with her braids and his dad with a 10 gallon cowboy hat and a tortilla sized belt buckle say 'Todo bien! Todo bien! Everything's fine! We're great! 

He never has a pillow that is too hard. Never is he "in the mood" for one thing or another for dinner. If something breaks on his car, he fixes it. He does think the ladies at the hardware store are incredibly rude and he doesn't understand why people keep jobs that they clearly despise. And I'm pretty sure he thinks silently when getting ignored by a cashier, are you kidding? at least you're working in air conditioning.

So this is why I have little sympathy for the sad faces when they find out (because they didn't read the website) that there is no cable tv.

Tell me what's to love! The beds have good mattresses and linens are of the highest quality. Each room has a bathroom and private yards are all around. The grounds are lush and colorful. The new hot water heater is burn your ass hot and bigger than you'll need. The AC is blowing and there are 28 pima cotton freshly laundered line dried towels in the closet. The price is 1/3 of a local hotel which has none of these amenities. But please, again, tell me your negative feelings about not being able to watch non stop pharmaceutical commercials or C-Span. I'm riveted.

Like little crack addicts emptying their pockets looking for lint to smoke. But, but, at home we have satellite TV and, and, the refrigerator is bigger and there's an ice maker! But you're not at home, friends, traveling is hard. Dozens of magazines and tv shows would posit otherwise but Dorothy was onto something. There is no place like home. But this may be good for you. Traveling is eye opening. Getting out of your nightly rut of zoning on the sofa and hearing the endless barrage of mainstream media? This is the place to do it. But we're not Amish, you can still binge watch about 10,000 shows on there.

The last group who stayed here had 8 people and a million requests and all of them were met by me, the bedraggled house manager who also has the task of paying for all this crap and maintaining it. Yea, I know. I need to do this to pay for the joint. I'm venting. Hoping they'd leave a good review for all my efforts, freshly baked cookies, a bottle of wine, a bowl of tangerines---instead, the whiny mom texted a week later--a recipe for organic weed killer "to spray the weeds on the sidewalks". Sweet Mary, what is our national obsession with weeds??? They left no review. I guess I'm happy. It could have been negative. The water heater blew and we had to wait 3 hours to get in our 8 showers after the manager paid $1000, and we had to call her to turn on the heat because the inlaws are from Florida and they don't want a house to be 68 degrees in April. 

But I need to let go of my expectations of meeting other people's expectations. A friend of mine says, No Good Deed Goes Unpunished. Just do your best, and people can take it or leave it.

I know not all Americans are woo bags, and not all Mexicans are easy going, but when it comes to services we have an embarrassment of riches and it seems we find fault with all of it. We need to look at everything for what it is. Don't go to the five and dime and look for rubies.  Don't go to a restaurant with a focused small menu and wish it was Chili's and conversely don't go to a pub on Hwy 78 and ask for a wine list and lament the lack of late harvest Rieslings. Don't go to remote tropical locations and expect the AC to frost the windows.

No one can meet all your imaginary, very personal secret demands. Sometimes it happens, and it's magical. And if it's really important? Ask nicely. Most service folks could care less if you want a softer pillow or a darker room. But know your limits. If you must have cableTV (and I've lost clients over this) ask before you show up. And maybe, just maybe consider your addictions. If it's nationally imperative you can listen in your car. And if it will affect your stock brokering hobby, update your tech. Stop looking for someone to blame because you can't be self sufficient.  I refuse to bear the burden of being all things to all people for $250/night.

I've decided not to react to the discovery of "no cable" as a fire to put out. It says so on the website, you booked last minute, didn't investigate the amenities, there's a ton of other stuff to do and hey, It's Mount Airy! You'll get used to it! 

And it turns out, all is well.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Teachable Moments

When I was a little kid, my parents had a friend named Mr. Scott. He was a former principal at an elementary school in Minnesota and a very nice old man. He used to tell my mom that I'd be a great teacher when I grew up. I'm not sure why, but maybe because I was a bossy pants, I guess. As an adult I knew I'd never be up to the everyday-ish-ness of being a school teacher. A sub? I'm your gal. But I would never fit into The System, and I'm certain there would be a public flogging from some scandal and my big mouth would get me into hot water.

And although I never really liked school per se, I do love learning. As an adult I have really started to dive into all kinds of subjects that weren't even mentioned all through high school or college. How can that be? 16+ years of formal education and not one class on floral arranging? Financial planning? Herbalism? Or cooking for that matter. An "elective" I never took...I took welding instead, I could learn cooking from my mother, after all. But welding? Exotic.

Yes, and the irony that I grew up to be a self trained cook who opened 2 restaurants over 10 years is kinda funny. I still have never taken a cooking class. And I'd love to. (In Italy.) But I was obsessed with the restaurant business more than cooking which is nearly as important, if not more, than what's on the plate. Sadly.

Eating? Yes. Wine? Yes. The details of service? Yes. Cooking I'd figure out. I was terrible at production but I knew the key was hiring people who had the skills that I lacked. And I lacked a lot of skills and techniques. I have a couple talents...the best one is imagining a plate, a flavor experience, an evening, a stage set, a smell. And I can make exactly ONE of something. Then it's about showing the production people how to make 100 of them. Yin and Yang. I had a great time learning and watching the people I worked with. I cooked in my kitchen like I was making lunch for one first grader. Plate to pan and all that. My line cooks of course made up in experience what I lacked and showed me how to plate 25 things at once. Ohhh, that's how you do it. The sheet pan full of salmon. Got it. But if I could show them how to know when there was too much lavender and not enough ginger in the butter sauce for halibut, I'd be free to go do other things. Like manage waitstaff or place orders or try to learn reservation software or wait tables because someone didn't show up.

Not so much a teacher, but a trainer.

All of this is to say that when I first bought this big old goofy bowling alley of a house (or as one friend who lacked vision put it, "oh good, you've bought a funeral parlor...") I pictured parties, weddings, retreats and classes. I'm finally getting around to the classes. I'm not the teacher though, you are. I will make lunch, though.

Now that I'm finished with the duplex-i-fication of the main house, one side is a self contained vacation rental --the other side is the big main open kitchen and dining room with fireplace and terrace is now an intimate space to have small classes with pros and experts and lunch. Something light from the garden or a seasonal crop from a local farm.  Classes will be affordable and limited to 20 or so people, so hands on learning and Q&A will be easier. Set on the beautiful park like grounds at The Hacienda, I'm really looking forward to it.

Classes will include:
Gardening, painting, craft/woodworking, internet marketing and computer skills, floral arranging, writing, cooking, WINE, herbalism, plant identification, landscape design and more. If you'd like to be considered for a class instructor shoot me an email and I'll send you more info. You'll get paid, have the ability to sell your book, CD, DVD, salves, creams, potions and you'll get lunch! Come meet and create a new community with me up here in the mountains---solfood at mindspring dot com We'll post the schedule on the website and here as it develops.