Friday, September 30, 2011

What if I have other plans?

Spare us the Autopilot!
At our house, Customer Service is the name of the Game!  

Ever since our Jeff was old enough to carry a nickel in his little jeans, I've stepped back at the counter and let him deal with the sales clerk.   Both he and his sister didn't want to talk directly to an adult at that tender age--but I gambled that the desire for the little toy or treat was strong enough to motivate them to ask for what they wanted.  Eventually they got used to it and learned how to talk to adults it as they grew older.  I believe that this single skill developed in ones so young turned them into great customer service practitioners by the time they were old enough to go to work in the world..

Dads can be a little mean sometimes to train up a child in the way he should grow--and when he is old he shall not depart from it.

Grampas often use a more kindly approach, but the means and the end are the same.

A Half-a-Wal tonight I needed help finding a gift we've been planning for our Sally's birthday dinner tomorrow night.   A bright young clerk said she'd go with me to help locate it.  What a luxury, to get that high quality of help.  It's standard Walmart training.  I love to visit with folks at stores and see where their commitment to great customer service comes from.

This is a good place to repeat the little story about, Bessie, the Atlanta Tea Room Great Gramma Waitress who summarized her reason for giving great Customer Service with the tender phrase: "Cuz I loves my peoples!"   When I worked at Mrs. Field's Cookie Company we traveled a bit to produce media at new stores to communicate within the company about the latest and greatest store designs.  

On one week long swing with the VP of Marketing and my direct Boss, the Senior Director of Training, we fell into a pattern of asking servers, bell boys, desk clerks and airline personel why they gave great customer service.   Bessie, in Atlanta gave the best answer I heard out of dozens of responses.  (We had planned to make a sequal to the training film, "Why do you give Great Customer Service?" but my involvement in that long term project ended when I prematurely terminated my services with the company to go onto other things)  

I've honed a sensitivity to great Customer Service ever since and I've picked up on a thing or two about  begruding contributions from folks who would really rather phone in  their weak brand of commitment to the job as greeter, cashier or grocery cart wrangler.

One little fire plug of a lady has grown accustomed to my teasing at our nearby store,  She sees me coming and starts her own brand of playful banter before I even arrive within the 20 foot perimeter.  Like so many minimum wage greeters, she has developed an "automatic pilot" tone to her entrance greeting ("Welcome to Walmart")  and her exit line, ("Have a good day!")

I tried something new with her tonight.  I got her attention with my own well thought out response, "What if I have other plans?"  It did catch her by surprise and she gulped air with wide eyes-- but nothing came.  Finally she gasped, "Well, you want to ruin your day!" and I gave her two imaginary points for thinking on her feet--something she doesn't do very often.

Earlier as we paid our bill, we got the thoughtless "Good Day Kiss Off a quick thinking casher came back with, "You can't have other plans!  For at least the next 30 seconds when you are out of my jurisdiction, I order you to REALLY have a good day!"

In the film the "Minority Report"  (spoiler alert) Tom Cruise acting in the future has two eye transplants so he won't be recognized by the cornea reading automotons in high security areas and classy department stores.   As we walks through a store the robot voice greets him with the identity of the former owner of his two new eyes and he gets a good idea where the transplated eyeballs came from, "Good afternoon, Mr. Yamaguchi! Welcome to Saks Fifth Avenue."

My point is simple.  Even though robots do the greeting donky labor in the future (if you buy into the film) we have quite a bit of robotic imitation, thoughtless greetings and good byes  that could be so much better with a little thought.

If more customer service employees "loved their peoples" the results for wishing every individual, every valuable company asset a sincere, connected greeting would make everyone involved feel so much better about themselves and the store.  

When Minne Pearl ended her show with the words, "Y'all come back now, y'hear! it rises above the cultural boiler plate that we get out of rote habit in our daily business from low paid, unimaginative sales helpers.

I went to an autoparts store with my now 30 something son and heard him smoothly greet the guy behind the counter by the first name printed on his shirt.  "Sam, I need your help." he said.

Think of how that woke old Sam up.  "Gee," he might have said in his head. " I don't know who this customer is, but he obviously knows me"--forgetting that this was a simple 'trick' perpetrated by a saavy customer.

The next words out of his mouth would likely be, "Well, hello!  Welcome back.  What can I do to help?" (and he would try to mean it!"

Tricks?  Techniques--yes, infused with meaning and made to sound sincere.  It's the "change up" game we all should play better.

Some play it better than others...and for the most part, they win with bigger sales, better commissions and a greater likelihood of promotion to management--where every right thinking person wants to be!

Roll on GGP* (Washington, D.C.'s renown Senate Chaplain, the Rev. Peter Marshall, in the 40s and 50s,  loved to play any kind of board game with his family.  GGP are his initials for "Great Game Player.")

This "Have a Nice Day" on automatic pilot needs some pumping up.  Please, America, get out of the rut and change up the greeting.  Remember the difference between a rut and the grave are only dimensions.

Of course, I may have other plans!    


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Wit Wins the Girl - Creative Dating Techniques

In Utah high schools the highly skilled art of asking a young lady on a date (or vice versa on Sadie Hawkins day) is legendary.

The "What's shakin'-wanna-go-out" technique has been replaced here with a rennaisance of creative ASKING.

Our Jeff was invited to an informal PROM - HOP - STOMP-TURNABOUT by a lovely gal in his class who dumped his invitation on our lawn in the wee hours of the morning.  It was sealed in a beautiful waterproof envelope and frozen in the middle of a giant 3 foot long block of ice. 

We had a lot of fun thawing the ice, speculating through the nearly half an hour who had sent some fun our way as a family.

An ambitious mother up the street goaded her son, John to asking his friend Susie to a school dance with a recommended clever invitation.  John went to the dance after sending a complex algorhythm by e-mail to Linda, a girl he liked in his advanced math class.   She responded with an even more complex series of three formulas that spelled out her YES after John worked through each one.  The rest of the story is that John and Linda went steady after that and are planning a June wedding at Harvard in Cambridge Mass. where they are both doing doctoral work on scholarship.

My good friend, sixteen year old Michael and I do the music for a nearby retirement community every Sunday Morning.  On the way to our joyous assignment, Michael told me that he was hammered from staying up so late the night before.

"What were you up to?" I asked.

"A friend and I were arranging the Titan fight song for string quartet." he smiled.  Michael and his xis brothers have a pretty good string quartet of their own and are in demand on the church and old folks retirement home circuit. "It's for Homecoming next week."

Something called up my creative dating stories and Michael shyly revealed that his fellow musician was a girl.

"So, brother, " I joshed."  "was this part of a creative date request?"

"Well, we have to go to the dance to see how our arrangement turned out!" he chuckled.  Might was well go together, don't you think?" 

Michael comes from a great Scoutmaster in Ron and a world class gardener and Cub Committee Chair in Melissa.  His oldest brother, Peter is in Law School back east.  Eric is pre-med at BYU, Nathan is on an LDS Mission to Seattle, Washington.  Ryan is an active scout and the redheaded caboose, Brett plays the Cello not unlike Pablo Casals.  What a great family--doing it just right, in my opinion.

Proving once again that Wit will Win when Wishy Washy Wishing Won't!


Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Narrowing Funnel of Growing Old--The Endurance Crawl

During the Depression years (1930s)
these were sarcastically called
Hoover Flags!
Even sideways, a funnel still gets narrow--the key is slenderizing your life style, gramps, and crawl through it to, "the other side!"

SLENDERIZE YOUR BUDGET:  If I told you that I get little more than $1,000 per month in Social Security and my sweet Gramma Rosie gets less than $500 you'd likely scratch your head and try and figure out how we can almost survive month to month.  We dip into our savings for a few basics.  Our monthly budget last month was more than $2,000.  

We still rent after nearly 40 years of married life and our savings are dwindling.  I was forced into retirement when the Real Estate Coaching company where I worked went under in 2008. For the last three years, I've scattered resumes into the air--and had the scant two interviews and still nothing. Unemployment is long gone after more than three years.  Old guys and gals just seem a little slower and less "bullet proof" than the young bucks who seem to know so much more than you.  It's said that we compare our worst selves to others' best offerings.  Employers may give lip service to experience and line up firmly against discrimination against age, but spot a whisp of grey hair and a little more chicken fat at the belt line and one word pops to a bosses mind:  "NEXT!"  

The poor souls who work because they have to as greeters at Walmart and table cleaners at McDonalds do their best to appear noble about it--but everybody knows:  They gotta.  I guess when our larder has only cat food, I may consider subjecting myself to the pity of my peers.

SELL THE CAR:  Much as we value our independence and the flexibility to rush wherever we want to at a moments notice on Monday, I'm putting an ad in the paper.  We owe about $1,200 on our little Kia sedan with the squinching punishing back doors courtesy of the Korean manufacturer who still thinks they're fighting a police action against anybody who has to ride back there!  Our son has kept it in great shape and with a few touch ups, it will look like new.  Selling the car, paying it off and depending on public transportation would save us nearly $400 in car payment and insurance costs.  Based on what I need to pay for medicaid and medicare and supplemental insurance when I turn 65 in December, selling the car will almost make it affordable .  

Car sales reminds me of an ironic ad on a bulletin board at a small college that read:  For Sale to Faculty First: 19 something  Buick--only ten years old for ($o much)  and then as an after thought "Would make an excellent student second car!"

Consider these other benefits for seniors contemplating the tightening noose:  

THE JOY OF PUBLIC TRANSPORT:  Taking the bus or Trax is reasonable, especially on a monthly seniors pass.  Planning around public transportation promotes physical fitness as you walk everywhere, at least between your front door and public transportation a block away.  Planning on taking the bus engenders patience.  And you meet so many nice people riding public.  There's even a hint of intrepid adventure anticipating the frosty Utah winters, snow drifts, fall promoting ice and wind that leaves you with a much more basic complexion.

Grocery shopping would need to be more frequent, demanding trips for smaller loads of groceries more often.

SIMPLIFIED DIET:  When the nice fresh veggies run out in the garden, the time has come to stock up on cat food, a wonderful affordable substitute for people food (so I hear from documentaries of starving seniors in the eastern seaboard).  Healthy cats endorse it, because after all, in the same way cats are people too, old people can become cats if they work at it, especially for the inexpensive diet.  Just remember, lots of water.

THE RETURN OF THE EMPLOYEE ATTITUDE:  I've had to learn to willingly give up a percentage of my Social Security Check to the Veteran's administration in exchange for quite competent medical care. I have no choice for what comes next.  As a kind of heavy handed gift for my glowing 65th birthday, I will incur about $150 each for Medicare, Medicaid and the dreaded Supplemental Insurance.  (Good thing I will have sold the car by then so I can just about afford it.)  I've worked for the Federal Government before when I took a job in then Senator Gale W. McGee's (D-WYO) Senate Post Office and Civil Service Committee.  I earned $6,000 a year to go to school at American University, then my draft number came up and I transferred my federal service to the U.S.Army as a Chaplain's Assistant at Fort Ord at the end of the Viet Nam conflict.

I really look forward to working for the feds again--exchanging my Social Security check for medical care with enough left over to survive on the economy (almost) 

RELOCATION: During our near forty years together we've enjoyed the blessing of government food stamps occasionally, church welfare kept us alive until we could figure out how to support ourselves a little better.  Now in the twilight of our years as even the most basic cat food goes up and up and our rent steadily increases.  The utilities gently raise the costs of lights, heat, and water.  We look forward to that great social experiment called the homeless shelter. With the increasing medical costs, ever growing utilities  and no car, one day, I anticipate the freedom from rent--and liberation from the chains of junk that plague every senior (like Marley's ghost in Scrooge's Christmas Carol). If my health permits, I plan to be the only homeless person with a lap top and a good relationship with a computer store where I can access my beloved blogs. 

When my folks moved from Cheyenne to Worland, my brave Brother Tom and his wife volunteered to help out by clearing the basement at the Cheyenne house.  Over the months it took to sift and chuck, Tom and Trudy would ship us little keepsakes in what they affectionately called the intermittent BOX 'O JUNK.  I wouldn't force our beloved Landlord and Lady Chris and Ellen to wade through our aggregate belongings--so until the "end" comes that's my last real job. 

With this post I am proud to say I think I have found the ultimate solution for old age:  Poverty, Homelessness and an uninspired feline diet.  I never saved a nickle against retirement.  I have joyously cheered the onslaught of time coping with the little slings and arrows of diabetes, slowly resolving debt and a low credit rating.  

THE LAST MEMORIAL:  Lately we've had reasonably cheerful discussions of funeral arrangements.  We looked into the sevem thousand dollar bill for a fancy schmanzy funeral at one of the best funeral "homes"  We decided we could spend that money more effectively keeping our cat food supply topped off. Laws prohibit my dream: a plain pine box in the backyard--likely because I can't afford the lumber or the time to build it and my backyard is owned by another.  But I have one ace in the hole.  When you die you gotta be buried, if not for love then for stink as my dear friend Elaine Woodward chuckled to me one day. 

Yes the narrowing funnel of growing old gets narrower and narrower for those of us on the bottom of the food chain.  To get through to the other side involves enduring to the end---or just giving into disease and circumstances and jumping the broom to the other side.

WHAT'S AFTER DEATH? National Public Radio interviewed a former attorney who gave up his practice and lived in a walk up efficiency in New York and went out for chinese food a lot.  This man was a compulsive runner who spent much of his waking life jogging around a track that he championed around the old reservoir.  He gave much of his own fortune and contacted a wide circle of friends for the rest to build it.

The reporter asked the near 90 year old guy if he had any idea what death was like.  He said it was. "Like transferring from one apartment to another."  To men and women of such peaceful attitude death comes as a blessing.  For many their kids ignore them.  They haven't taken time to cultivate neighbors.  Their best friend is their barcolounger and the flickering image, hour by hour on what passes for their real life--the plug in drug.  

(The media makes much of fuzz and wuz as Dan Rather used to say.  News of flashing red lights and dead bodies spur TV ratings--when so many other things cry out for coverage)  News of death is like the grass in Jesus' parables--it comes and goes without much lasting impact that we can see.

Gramma Rosie knows I want a DNR (Do not resuscitate) order if and when I go to the hospital for the last time.  It's the getting from here to there than needs resuscitation.  No transplants, no surgery--well maybe a little pain medication!  As someone famous once said, "I'd love to live in the dark ages.....with penicillin!'

With the fall of the stock market and devastation of senior investments for a comfortable retirement, more and more seniors are forced to crawl through the narrow end of the funnel.  Physical and mental challenges make the journey as challenging as any mountain climbing.  I figure I'm among friends, though I've never met most of them.  

DON'T HOLD YOUR BREATH FOR A POLITICAL SOLUTION:  I won't wait for a resurgence of the Grey Panthers to find a political solution.  With the Tea Party wealthy dictating a freeze on all government spending--even to keep the government itself in business, I'm not going to depend on Social Security to get a boost and swoop in as if on a white horse and save us. 

Nope, I'm gonna sell the car, shop for a nearby homeless shelter, arrange our cat food by variety of flavor--and hunker down for the end I'm enduring towards.  When the young clerks at the stores we go to less and less frequently bid me to "have a nice day,"  I smile and ask "Suppose I have other plans?"   Happy endurance crawling!  See you over there!


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Boy Chases Girl 'til She Catches Him!

If she likes him,
she'll fake a stumble!
There are lots of practical things a grampa can teach a gramson (and a gramdaughter) that parents some time miss.  The facts of life are often some of those things.

My own great dad was pretty sparce when it came to "the talk"  We were sitting on aluminum lawn furniture out on the edge of Laramie at 1408 Ashley, looking east at sundown one evening--just him and me.  It was a Saturday.  I had a date later.  I was a man of the world.  I'd been to Brazil.  I'd dated a few girls and I'd paid good attention in the locker room where this kind of informal "training" goes on and I was prepared.  

 It was 1969 and times were different.  AIDS had not been imagined. VD was only talked about in the seedier parts of our tiny downtown--and then only by what were then called, "Beatniks"  (anybody with a beard and sandals or long hair and a turtle neck--you get the idea.)  Most had done academic time in Berkley and had wild ideas and wilder mating habits.

I was the clean cut son of a railroad engineer--and I'd always tried to be a good boy.

"Now, son," he began, "When the time comes, make sure that you've got clean sheets on your bed."

Practical advice, nothing flashy--no great revelation.  Solid wisdom from a man who didn't say much--even to his near and dear.  He knew that the church his family were very active members of, taught the youth and adults to be totally celibate before marriage and totally faithful after marriage.  I was and he knew it.

The reason this all came up today was we got cable this week and on the Starz network I saw a wonderful romatic comedy called "How Do You Know?" with Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon and Jack Nicholson.  Though it didn't do well at the box office the writing is phenomenol (maybe that's why!).  Witherspoon plays a superb female softball player on the down hill of her Olympic career who gets cut from the team and changes her whole way of life.   

Wilson is a 14 million dollar big league pitcher with a 95 mile fast ball.  He is self absorbed and trying hard to be the perfect host to the many women he sleeps with.  Reese is getting ready to leave his palacial apartment when he says, "You don't have to wear that dress, here, try one of these!" He opens a big cupboard that looks like the hoody collection at Nordstroms--and they're all in pink!

"This is wrong, it just feels wrong!" she says, " I feel like I'm on an assembly line!"

Wilson responds, "Well, that's kinda how it works.  You sleep with a bunch of women choose one to get monogomous with for the rest of your life--that IS sort of an assembly line."

Earlier in the movie he reassures her with, "lady athletes always give good sex"  

"Couldn't you personalize it a little?" she asks.

I loved the movie, even though the Nick and Nora/Cary Grant and Roslind Russell banter is a bit pretentious and self conscious.  It's like a Shakespeare farce that would work just as well on radio--but came off wooden to the teen and twenty somethings who never saw the great old movies.

Without "spoiling" the ending she has to choose between two men as the plot thickens.  Her final choice is based on how the "Right" guy treats her without pretention,   

Hence the title above.  The boys chase this girl, as they do every girl, and in the end, she makes the choice.  And that's the bit of advice I would pass along to a grandson, if I ever get one, and when he's old enough to "get it!"  Those kinds of little bits of relationship understanding are great material for a grampa to pass on.

Finally, I met a smashing girl at one of the electronic stores.  She had a smile like Nora O'Donnel of CNBC and big eyes to match.  Her real name is not Annie, but that's the one I'll use in this story.  I bought a little smart phone stand to attach to the vent in the Kia.  Annie is a natural flirt--great hair, really good customer service and had learned to call me by name.  I admit it, I fell in love (in the way that a caring dad falls in love with an excellent find for his single 30 something son)  Upshot:  She let me take her picture to "test" the phone and she gave me her e-mail so I could send her an example of how much Nora O'Donnel she looked like--the high tech geriatric equivalent of my son getting a cute girl's phone number (and he does that a lot).

Here's the lesson- I casually showed him her picture and encouraged him to go down and do a little cell phone shopping at her counter, suggesting that she had a technical background and a great manner--and not bad looking either! (A perfect daughter in law).

My wonderful self absorbed bone-headed son got a touch of arrogance in his manner when he responded, "Well, if Annie thinks she knows tech, I can run rings around her!"  ....and I hung my head in defeat for a couple of beats!  He didn't get the lesson.   I reminded him gently that the purpose of courting was to be attracted to someone who would make a great partner, a fine companion -- a good match, and he'd lost it in the bullpen with an arrogance that denied all the potential she could bring to a partnership, and played up his superiority -- to the boredom of all concerned.

There's a little commercial running on network TV with two guys and a waitress.  I've long since forgotten the product, but I got the message that my son does not yet understand.  The nerdier of the two asks for the waitress to repeat the specials again--and as she begins to look exasperated the noble buddy interrupts her and tells his friend what they are as the camera cuts away to the waitress who looks with growing admiration at a man who obviously listens.

Self absorbed young men don't get to first base.  Caring, accomplished, secure, honest listeners who, like Judge Learned Hand love for others to participate in the conversation-- these get to second, sometimes third and more often than all others,score at Home Base.

By the way, Judge Hand was an apellate judge in Washington D.C. in the forties and fifties.  Hostesses were always careful to invite him to parties and he would show up armed with his mental list.  He had devised half a dozen provocative questions that he would drop like pearls into every coversation.  Then, and most importantly, he would actively listen and ask related follow up questions to prove it.

The secret to this message is girls fall for men who are secure enough to follow Judge Hand's excellent example.  Instead, most are so insecure they have to dominate conversations with a variety of versions of their own story.   "How  Do You Know" is a movie that at it's best illustrates the dilemma of communication that plagues modern couples--and demonstrates how, and how not to resolve the conflicts that arise!

This isn't the end by a long stretch, but it's a start on "the talk"  Did it help?  Can you feel me listening?