15% is the new 20%

August 19, 2011 at 1:05 pm (I love my city, plays well with others, present)

Dinner last night at Murray Circle was a performance. (It was also painfully and unexpectedly expensive, but that’s only vaguely relevant and not, in my mind, the fault of the restaurant.) We gathered in a private room off of the main dining room and were split into two tables of twelve. The menu was set except for the entree, so we prepared for four courses. Our head server was just the right kind of attentive and no wine glass was left empty, but the real show began with the soup. Six waiters marched soundlessly to the table, waited for a cue, then in perfect unison placed bowls before the women. There was a brief pause, then a swift motion put bowls before all of the men. The first time this display of Edwardian manners occurred, it created a hush amongst the diners. (And to create any kind of quiet in a group celebrating a 30th birthday with alcohol is quite a feat.) By the time our cake slices landed with military precision, it felt like the final act of a charming period play. They removed dirty plates from the second course before presenting the third. They served from the left and cleared from the right. They were somehow always present, but never intrusive. It was deftly, elegantly, impressively done. And if the server got a $1200 tip (from which he would need to tip out the others who helped, plus bussers, bartenders, hostesses etc.), then he deserved it. Yes, deserved it.

I’m not new to fine dining (though my Michelin star experience tops out at two), but this was utterly divine. And it came the same day I read this Inc. article that led me to the original GQ review. Both recount Alan Richman’s experience with terrible service (which seems to have garnered him an accusation of sexual harassment) at a restaurant in Queens (yes, Queens) that thinks it’s too cool for school. I don’t want to sound all “Good help is impossible to find,” but I certainly agree that when I go out for a meal, I am paying for service (with my tip and the menu prices themselves) as much as for fine food. Over the last ten years much of that service has been sacrificed on the alter of cool so that inked hipsters in whatever they feel like wearing can tell me that the chicken I’m about to eat was named Colin instead of delivering it in the perfect moment between conversations.

C and I enjoyed an amazing brunch on Sunday at Baker and Banker (one of my favorite neighborhood spots), but our server didn’t even attempt to hide her disdain when I asked her to bring a clean fork with the cinnamon roll I was taking to go. And my request that the potato pancake be placed to the side of my smoked trout and horseradish cream so that gluten-intolerant C could taste the fish was met with a barely disguised eye roll. I’m not lamenting the overarching casual turn most dining has taken, I just believe, in my own old-fashioned way, that if I’m paying to be waited on, I’d like courteous, experienced service. Or even some tiny fraction of what we saw last night. And until I do, I will tip the 15% that once indicated a barely acceptable minimum and nothing more.

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As annoyed by inattentive 18-year-olds as I was at 18

February 25, 2011 at 12:05 pm (It's all about me, plays well with others)

The Future CEO and I first met in a PolySci class. I sat in the front of the room, raised my hand often, and hung on the professor’s every word; she chatted away in the back. We kind of hated each other. Obviously, those feelings passed as we became friends outside of class. By junior year, a fantastic American History professor had to separate us because we had somehow morphed into a bizarre compromise between our academic styles: we sat in the FRONT, raised our hands, and still chatted away to each other. To this day, she is the person I would choose first for my team if paper writing were a pairs activity, but we are undeniably different learners.

So I get that not everyone needs to hear every word of a lecture. I get that many students show up because they feel obligated. Or because they are required by parents paying tuition (and the mortgage). I get that distraction is actually good training for cubicle nation. But holy Ghandi are the jabbering teenagers in my community college class making me want to commit violence.

I’ve always been the kind of student teachers love. It probably has a lot to do with my desire to learn and my willingness to do the work. In high school, I endured a lot of taunting for…well, for paying attention. For being pleased when I got an answer right. For unapologetically using big words and wanting to sound smart. I couldn’t wait until college, where I expected the teasing to stop. And actually, it did. The Future CEO may have been a disruptor, but it was only because she had already distilled the readings down to their most important points. She answered just as well as I did when Professor Just got all Socratic on us. At Wellesley, it finally felt OK to be smart. I got used to that. I swam in it and let it wash over me. And then, at 30, I went back to school.

I find myself back in a classroom where I have to walk a fine line. I count the number of times I answer questions (three to five is acceptable, but any more gets me dirty looks). And it’s not that I’m bouncing and waving my hand in the air. I’m as passive as I can be considering my natural instincts. I sit quietly and try to avoid making eye contact with the instructor. I’m also not the only one in the room who gets it, I know I’m not, but it’s just not cool to follow along or have an answer, so the others stay silent.

I’m not in high school any more (praise Aristotle), so I can quickly let it go. My self-worth isn’t wrapped up in any notion of popularity amongst virtual strangers and I step out of that classroom back into my life where I feel comfortable being smart and proud that I love to learn. But for two hours every Tuesday and Thursday, it sucks.

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I’m still here

January 25, 2011 at 5:01 pm (future, It's all about me, plays well with others)

This Sheryl Sandberg talk at TEDWomen has been bouncing around in my head since it was posted last month. She has three points about how women who want to stay in the workforce* can reach the C-suite, but only one resonated as anything new (for me). It wasn’t #1) “Sit at the table” or #2) “Make your partner a real partner,” it was #3) “Don’t leave before you leave.”

I have a friend who, while six months pregnant, bought a house, moved to another state, and took on a new (more demanding) job in that new state. (It is very worth noting that her ability to do this speaks to #2 as well.) I’ve been thinking (with respect and reverence) about how much she is taking on and the conclusion I’ve reached is why haven’t I considered the same? (You know, minus the baby and leaving my beloved San Francisco.) It’s not just about having children and planning maternity leave, it’s about not letting a potentiality or long-range plan limit your present preparation for the future.

There has been a leadership shakeup at work; our CEO is leaving. We know approximately when (it’s not soon), but we don’t know who will fill the position. Many departments have retreated into what is comfortable and what has always been. They haven’t proposed new projects and they immediately reject the idea of change during a period of transition. They want to wait for the new CEO to arrive before they move forward. This foolishness has been best summed up by a colleague who simply said, “When the new CEO arrives, what will s/he think if they haven’t done anything innovative in a year?”

I am not one of those departments and I’m firmly against maintaining a holding pattern for months of a leadership transition, but I too am guilty of leaving before I leave. As an individual with ideas of bigger things, I have planned my next move** and gone coasting along in my current role, behaving as if I’ve already left. Sometimes it’s just easier (read: lazier), but sometimes it’s out of a feeling of guilt. How can I leave them with project X only half-way off the ground? Won’t they be upset to know they invested in my idea if I was planning to leave? The reality, I believe, is that any employer should be thrilled that their employee wants more–for the company AND for themselves. If I think my project is an improvement on the status quo, then the mere idea, even if not full realized by me personally, contributes to the organization’s success.

Lesson learned.


*An important caveat on which I have an opinion, but I’m not in the mood to grab hold of the third rail of feminism today.
**In previous jobs

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A Letter to Tourists

January 7, 2011 at 10:46 am (I love my city, plays well with others)

Oh Gawker, you’re so witty and amusing the way you berate people and slut shame women like some lovechild of Tucker Carlson and Tucker Max. Silly Gawker…

And yet the article posing as a letter to New York visitors gave me an idea. (P.S. That whole thing about sauntering tourists getting in the way of striding New Yorkers is so original that I think it was in Pillow Talk.)

See, the SF version looks like this:

Dear Visitors to Our Fine City,
Welcome. Enjoy the beauty and wackiness of my favorite place. Here are some tips.

Ask for directions
We’ll whip out an iPhone and have you there quicker than LiLo can relapse. And then we’ll be amused that anyone with enough discretionary income to travel doesn’t own a smartphone. Are you visiting from Florida or 2004?

Enjoy the whole damn city
No, really. It’s only 49 square miles. New Yorkers (according to Gawker) may want you to keep to certain neighborhoods, but we’re a bit more inclusive on the left coast. Though you’re likely to stick to the Haight, Pier 39, and the touristy part of Chinatown, you’re more than welcome to Russian Hill, Union Street, and the Mission too. Just, for the love of God,

Don’t come looking for hippies
SF retains only the spirit of those wild, free-loving years. The kids you see on the street are mostly homeless runaways that the foster system chewed up and spit out. They’re not here for your amusement. (I’m talking to you crazy Duggar woman with 27 kids.)

Get your coffee from Starbucks
Leave us our Blue Bottle, Ritual, and Philz. It’s Northern California crack.

Breathe deep
Yes, people smoke weed in public. Yes, the cops can smell it. Yes, it’s legal. Sorry, Josh Hamilton, get over it.

Enjoy the Bush Man
Just kidding. There’s nothing in that bush. Nothing at all.

Keep your Blazing Sadles bikes to the west side of the bridge
There are signs on the Golden Gate. Read them. Or we will make fun of your fanny pack to your face. Weekend + bike = west side of the bridge. This shouldn’t be difficult. Check your phone, it’ll tell you. Oh wait…

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Because I would never blog about work…

September 13, 2010 at 3:28 pm (plays well with others)

The Easter Ham^

Every Easter for as long as she could remember, a young girl watched her mother^^ prepare the Easter ham. The mother would unwrap the ham, cut off the ends, cover it in honey, place sliced pineapples on top, and cherries in the middle of the pineapple slices. When the daughter grew up, come Easter, she prepared a ham for her own family in exactly the same way. One year her parents came to visit and the mother helped the daughter with the ham. The daughter unwrapped the ham, cut off the ends, covered it in honey, placed sliced pineapples on top, and cherries in the middle of the pineapple slices.

“Honey, why do you cut off the ends of the ham?” asked the mother.

“Because that’s the way you always did it, Mom, and I learned how to prepare a ham from watching you,” she replied.

“But, dear, I only cut off the ends because the ham wouldn’t fit in my pan.”

It is remarkable how frequently we are told that we are supposed to do something ‘because that’s how it has always been done.’ Horseshit. The best way to advance a society, company, or idea is to question loudly and often*.


You say to your soldier, ‘Do this’ and he does it. But I am obliged to say to the American, ‘This is why you ought to do this’ and then he does it**.

Baron von Steuben


^There are many versions of this story, but I chose to use the one my mom told me only minutes ago, not the least of my reasons being that hers is very concise.
^^Sheesh this is a sexist story.
*And if that concept strikes you as a big ol’ bite of the thumb to our 43rd President, well then, I can only allow you to draw your own conclusions.
**I guess I am particularly American. And also? See! Even in the 18th century, questioning authority was thought to be a particularly American characteristic.

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Technology Twinkies

August 25, 2010 at 5:33 pm (in my head, It's all about me, plays well with others)

The liberal mainstream media (the sarcasm, it is dripping) has made a big deal lately of this retreat/research trip/getaway in which several elite neuroscientists went off into the wilderness of southern Utah to see what happens when peopleĀ  stop being polite and start getting real. Wait, sorry, wrong experiment. While I’m sure there were arguments about walking around naked or puking in the pool, this group was actually studying the effect of technology on our brains. It’s fascinating stuff, though more entertaining, I think, in this version than this one mostly because the NPR audio combines elements of Matt Richtel’s follow-up story. But, I’d like to point out, I was totally there first. Remember that whole thing about bringing back Shabbat? However, one of my favorite ideas to come from Richtel’s work is the comparison of technology to food. It’s good, it’s necessary, but you really don’t want to consume yourself to death. There are technology Twinkies and technology brussel sprouts. Below, I’d like to break down the categories for myself.

Brussel Sprouts-type technology for me includes email, the ability to receive voicemails as emails, personal computers, and, generally, the interweb*.

Foursquare, smartphone games (yes even Words with Friends), and Twitter are Twinkies. I know someone is going to argue with me about the classification of Twitter as sugary crap capable of withstanding a nuclear winter, but I hold firm that you must be able to use good grammar and punctuation in order to classify as remotely technologically nutritious.

I think, though, that there should be a third category. Something akin to ice cream. Or homemade pizza. I want a category for the technology that has some redeeming value, even if it’s mostly time-sucking poop. A category for blogs** and Facebook. Because while I spend a good chunk of my time on Facebook complaining venting, spying, or praising California, I also credit Zuckerberg et al*** with bringing me closer to family. Through Facebook my cousins know the regular me. The me who shows up when they’re not around. And that has made it infinitely easier to be me when they are around. Plus, baby pictures. ‘Nuff said.

*The interweb with the exception of the UPS site that told me there was a UPS store in a shopping center when there is not a UPS store. (There is, however, a fabulous bakery in said shopping center so I was forced to buy a mini fruit tart. Damn UPS site.)

**Note that a) I write a blog and b) I’m not calling the content poop. Also c) ALWAYS take it as a compliment if I compare you to ice cream. (Oh! and d) I might need to rethink this as blogs provide for the exchange of ideas, a community of sorts, and a dialogue that can aid in stress relief and the creative process.) And finally e) No, I take back the rethinking as I’m talking about how I use blogs (namely for entertainment and distraction) not how someone else may use, say, Feministe.com.

***Have you seen? There’s a movie. Though the trailer makes it look like a cross between Sneakers and Hackers, I’m pretty sure I’ll just be annoyed by the portrayal of a time and city (and, to a certain extent, a culture) I lived through.

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Cohabitation and compromise

August 18, 2010 at 2:36 pm (future, It's all about me, On dating and mating, plays well with others)

When you consider cohabitating with someone, you think about the big things–What does this mean? Am I ready to take this step? How will we divide up the household responsibilities?–but you rarely think about the things you’ve always taken for granted as The Way Things Are Done. Jess covered this the other day, but in a slightly different way. What, you may ask, is The Way Things Are Done according to Sara?

#1. Lock the doors to the house.
Every time I arrive home, I lock the door after myself. Including the dead bolt. Since the most threatening thing to ever show up on my childhood doorstep were prosthelytizing missionaries of some Christian denomination, this locking thing likely came from my mother’s childhood in urban New Jersey. Nonetheless, it is what we always did and what I continue to do.

#2. Do the dishes the night dinner was made.
I hate crusty dishes. Always have. And waking up to crusty dishes staring me in the face while I make myself breakfast is one of my least favorite ways to wake up. So unless there was a party that went into the wee hours and you know you’ll spend Sunday (or Saturday) morning recovering from a tawdry evening with Mr. Vodka, you do the dishes the same night you cook.

#3. Do not leave food out, ever.
This largely comes from my fear of bugs. And my mother’s fear of bugs. And my father’s distaste for being awakened at 6 am by screaming about bugs. Even though the San Francisco climate (and a generally clean house) makes bugs rare and unlikely, I still can’t stand leaving food out for more than an hour. And especially not overnight.

#4. Keep the cat inside.
I understand that cats like to chase things (and bring gruesome presents home) and that litter boxes smell and that cat hair gets on stuff, but letting the cats out leads to badness. Like $600 stays at the emergency vet’s. And visits from raccoons in search of cat food. And encounters with skunks. And dirty cats. And the cone of shame.

#5. Shoes get left in the entryway.
I’m not a fan of the decorating challenge this presents, but I do firmly believe that a shoe-free house is a cleaner, more sanitary living space. Particularly for those of us who walk around barefoot as often as possible (and maybe do a few pirouettes in the kitchen when you’re not around).

#6. Flat sheets are on the bed for a reason.
Duvet covers shouldn’t need to be washed every time the sheets are changed. Perhaps this comes from many years spent in living arrangements without an in-unit washer/dryer, but flat sheets provide a germ barrier between the sleeper’s body and the duvet. Flat sheets are good. Flat sheets are necessary.

The Man has changed my mind on several things, including keeping a gun in the house* (unloaded and there are no children), putting dishes in the dishwasher without rinsing them, and the infinite value of a memory foam mattress, so I am hopeful that he will budge on some of the above.

*And by that I mean that I am no longer terrified by it, not that I would be an advocate for it, even though every person living in the house has been trained in proper usage and safety.

What is The Way Things Are Done according to you? And have you had to compromise some of them for a significant other or roommate?

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July 30, 2010 at 10:03 am (in my head, It's all about me, plays well with others)

There is this thing (attitude is not the right word) in New England that drives folks to be somewhat insular. I don’t say this to be insulting, I simply say it as an outside observer. Perhaps it’s the weather–all of those freezing months followed by the kind of humidity that would make a Buddhist monk cranky–or perhaps it’s derived from the same kind of heartiness that makes them prefer icy ski slopes to fresh powder. In any case it takes a while to make friends. There are no casual invitations, no trying people on for size, no “the more the merrier.” People actually say that they have enough friends. Like out loud.

In many ways, this is superior to the “California invitation” whereby “We should get together sometime,” actually means “I didn’t really know how to end the conversation with you and move on to someone else,” but for a time it was a challenge. It felt exclusionary. It felt like that Harvard party where they let me in because I’m female and flat out told my guy friends, “We don’t know you, get lost.”

It took time, but I got used to that mindset. And took it home with me to San Francisco.

Enter The Man. It is rarely possible to go somewhere in this city without running into someone who knows my boyfriend. He buys beers for out-of-work Irish stonemasons he meets on the street. He remembers the name of the guy working the front desk at our favorite mountaintop retreat. He knows at least 10 people at any given Giants game. He gets greeted by name often. And so it doesn’t surprise me that many new people have become part of my world. What I love is how many of them are downright awesome.

His niece and nephew are two of the smartest most adorable kids ever (and I’m not just saying that because they washed my car for me while I stored it at their house for a week). His cousin and cousin-in-law were the most amazing dinner hosts last night. His friends with whom we spent time in Yosemite are funny, easygoing, and truly welcoming. The people in his life are people I am eager to have in mine.

So I’m dropping my New England attitude and proclaiming instead that you can NEVER have enough friends. Even when you’re triple-booking yourself on a Thursday in order to fit them all in.

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Bits and Pieces (and slideshow roulette)

July 1, 2010 at 4:37 pm (It's all about me, plays well with others)

I am trying to return to blogging, but it is a process. I could go on with some pathetic preamble of excuses, or I could just get to the juicy stuff. I vote the latter, and really, mine is the only vote that counts.

1) All of the Father’s Day posts on HGRB made me misty. (Yes, I know Father’s Day was two weeks ago, but this is how behind I am on my blog reading.) Does this mean that someone has turned on my biological clock? Maybe, but I’d still rather have a dog.

2) I went to a wedding in Seattle with a beer and chocolate ceremony–beer to symbolize the bitter times every life and marriage experiences and chocolate to symbolize the sweet times. It was brilliant and I’m totally stealing the idea should I ever pledge my life to another human being in front of witnesses. Actually, the whole wedding was awesome. It was #4 of six (this year) in case anyone is keeping track.

3) If you’re not watching Alex Wong on this season of So You Think You Can Dance, you’re missing out on some of the best dancing on television in years. Also? he’s a big goofball and I want to make him my BFF. (And while I work on that, could someone please work on a device that would let me siphon off his talent once I managed to get close enough?)

And now for a cautionary tale… Before you all even think it, this is not a situation where I’m talking about “my friend” when I’m really talking about myself. Believe me when I tell you that I don’t do that kind of thing (by which I mean foist my embarrassing story off on someone else: see post where I talk about going commando to Target) and that I don’t do that kind of thing (by which I mean the thing I will discuss in the story below), and that I would never ever EVER tell this story to another living soul if I had done this kind of thing and been caught. Got it? Good.

There were three of us on Sunday morning: my friend Beth recovering from two beers, three mojitos, three French 75s, and a couple glasses of wine; Beth’s new friend Joe who crashed the wedding dressed like Ron Burgundy; and me. We were staying at the home of a couple (mutual friends of Beth and Joe) who were in Boston for the weekend. This kind couple had left us clean sheets, a key, and their laptop set up on the kitchen table. As we sat chatting around the table, their laptop switched over to the screensaver. Photos of their dog, their travels, their respective families, and their drunken revelry faded in and out in an endless slideshow until suddenly Joe and Beth squealed. There (or so I was told), amidst the shots of Lucky chasing a ball and New Zealand sheep being sheep, was our hostess, scantily clad and taking a self-portrait in a bedroom mirror. It was a tasteful picture (or so I was told) and Joe planned to give her a hard time about it so that she could edit the slideshow and avoid future embarrassment. But I had missed the picture.

We went about our day giggling about the photo until a post-dinner lull found us looking for entertainment. We could have turned on the television. Or talked. Or gone for a walk in the cool Seattle summer. But I had missed the picture. So instead, we watched the slideshow.

For three hours.

Unfortunately, the photographs went from sexy and lovely to pornographic…still interspersed with adorable Irish Setter and international landscapes. It was a car wreck.

(It was also incredibly entertaining and quite possibly the best premise for a drinking game EVER.)

Had it been my friend, I would have put a stop to it. I really, really would have. But somehow I felt far less responsible for the carelessness of complete strangers. And so, as my penance for accidentallyonpurpose watching homemade porn (thankfully–OHMYGODSOTHANKFULLY–the slideshow only played still shots), I am sharing this story (all names changed, natch) so that you can be more careful.

Please, people, be more careful.

And yes, I hate myself a little now, too.

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This post doesn’t even deserve a title

May 21, 2010 at 2:14 pm (It's all about me, plays well with others, the fam)

If we count this coming weekend (the upside to this trip to LA is that I get to see The Agent and The Future CEO, the downside is that I’ll see them in LA), I will have been out of town for 7 out of 8 weekends. Plus a day or two on either side here and there. I am not complaining (I swear!) but I am bone tired. So let’s just run through the past two weeks quickly, shall we?

  • The rash got worse before it got better. It peaked the day and evening of the wedding that was the main purpose of the Boston trip.
  • The wedding couple wore Converse All-Stars. So cool.
  • C was in San Francisco, so I stayed at her Boston apartment without her. My Boston friends D+Z arrived in SF the day I left for their city. We should all have waived at each other in the air.
  • It takes leaving the Bay Area to realize that not everyone has a smartphone. That realization has me more addicted to mine than ever.
  • I had thoroughly forgotten how much I hate humidity. Humidity brings out my evil twin. It also explains why I had so much less sex in Massachusetts. (Kidding.)
  • Subway systems are AWESOME.
  • I bought skinny jeans. C and the salesperson talked me into them.
  • C and I should not be allowed to go shopping for skinny jeans, then drink, then sexually harass talk about waiters.
  • I bought a Red Sox shirt for T’s son, which is something I’ve been wanting to do since he was born two and a half years ago.
  • The best thing about Virgin America is CurrentTV. You know that person on the plane who is laughing out loud at something only he or she can hear? That was me. Watch, laugh, thank me later.
  • The Man and I celebrated my stats final exam (and final class!) with a quick little dinner at Outback. Somehow I got the menu with the nutritional information. I didn’t finish my salad and yet still worry about fitting into those new jeans.
  • I still got to overlap with D+Z for a day in SF! Their two-year-old daughter gave me lots of hugs and sat on my lap and drew me a picture and could use her daddy’s iPhone better than my daddy can use his. It kind of rocked.
  • I get a new fridge today! The freezer door on the old one didn’t seal properly so it’s being replaced.
  • The Man’s cousin and her fiance (plus a vodka soda) convinced me to go to the driving range tonight. If I turn into a golfer, my dad might think The Man is the best boyfriend I’ve ever had.

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