Monday, April 28, 2008

Ancient Chinese Secret!

Have you seen that commercial where four nearly-middle-aged women are in an elevator and they spontaneously break into the old-school hand-clapping game Miss Mary Mack? (I can’t even remember what product the commercial was advertising, so kudos to the marketing department on that one.)

Hearing the Miss Mary Mack song for the first time in like 30+ years got me to thinking about other games we used to play when I was a kid in the 1970’s…..Kick the Can, Ringoleavio, Red Light Green Light One Two Three….(then we got PONG and childhood as we knew it came to an end...)

The playground game we used to play the most during recess at Catholic school was Chinese Jump Rope (a detailed description of the game can be found here. )
All you needed was three players, an elastic band, and the ability to jump chest high with your legs spread-eagle whilst jumping on the rope and yelling “Kill It!” (a skill that is highly prized in today’s job market).

I couldn’t quite remember the nonsensical chant that we used to say during the game…it was something Chinese sounding (at least to our Americanized ears) like “Itsy Me Si Gi Loco Hotsi Totsi Kill It”….so I did an internet search and was surprised to learn how obscure our little version of the game was. Apparently most children chant “In, out, side, side, etc”….how boringly unoriginal!. I did find one variation of our chant - Itchy me, star shee, Logo hutsy yutsy. - kill it' - and a reference that called the game ‘Itchy me’ and traced it back to Oxford England circa 1985. And then lo and behold, after numerous Google searches, I found a posting on a message board by a woman who linked the nonsensical chant to the Japanese numbers for 1-10 - Ichi, Ni, San, Shi, Go, Roku, Shichi, Hachi, Kyuu, Juu – it’s not exactly the same but close enough to conclude that our little playground chant was a bastardized version of Japanese counting. So there you go. Mystery solved.

So much for the 1985 Oxford, England origin, we were doing it on Long Island as early as 1973….so nannie nannie pooh pooh! (of course, where we got it from I have no idea)

I suppose the only reason why this crazy game sticks in my head is because I experienced one of my most humiliating grade-school moments while playing it. I was airborne getting reading to execute a waist-high Kill It when my foot caught on the rope and down I went in a heap, landing face down in a puddle. My uniform jumper was soaked, and after being berated by the nearest nun I was forced to spend the rest of the recess period sitting in the classroom next to the heater. With plaid wetness sticking to my thighs I could only stare out the window at all the other kids having fun, knowing full well that I would be the object of ridicule as soon as the other kids came pouring into the classroom at recess’ end.

Sigh…I should have stuck to Miss Mary Mack…

Friday, April 25, 2008

Yet another reason why NYC was a bad idea...

You Should Live in the Suburbs

Like many people, you like the city - but you don't want to live in it.

For you, the suburbs is the perfect compromise.

You can enjoy the city as much as you want, but you have a quiet, safe neighborhood to come home to.

It's official, I'm doomed to live my life in a cookie cutter house with a postage-stamp sized lawn. Anyone up for a trip to the mall? We can stop at The Olive Garden on the way...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I don't wanna work, I want to bang on the drum all day...

Now that I finally know where I’m headed in the fall I’m anxious to get this party started.
Especially with spring springing up like gang busters this week, I’m more than ready to clear out the old and make room for the new. We had a tag sale at church over the weekend so I hauled over a load of crap….ahem…I mean “fine, sellable goods”…..and I’m happy to say that most of it is now cluttering up someone else’s closet. The box of foot and body lotions that someone re-gifted to me many Christmases ago – Sold! The Mo Vaughn bobble head (a baseball player who is no longer with the NY Mets and who sucked when he was) – Sold! The 9-year-old printer that came with my first desktop computer and hasn’t been used in 5 years – Donated! (My pastor snatched it from the remainder pile at the end of the sale….please God, let it still work!)

Between the tag sale, Worship, and the Ministry Council meeting I’ve spent six out of the last seven days at church, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. If I didn’t have to work last Thursday it would have been 7 out of 7. My hours at the bookstore have been cut down to 1-2 days a week and quite honestly, that’s 1-2 days more than I want to work.
I took the job so I could pay down my credit card debt before starting school but now I’m working so few hours I have to ask myself: “Is the aggravation and soul sucking that I experience at this job worth the $50 a week that it’s bringing in?”

There are things that I love about the job – shelving books, opening the new shipments, helping the customers – and there are things that I hate about the job – having to deal with an incompetent and overbearing manager who just leaches the energy right out of me, and the endless heap of promotional “chatter” that we’re expected to dump on every customer who walks in the door (that’s the part where the soul sucking comes in).

First, we have to approach/accost every customer entering the store, ask them if they need help and tell them about our weekly promotion whether it looks like they’d be interested or not… “Excuse me sir, I know you’re only killing time while your wife is in Lord and Taylor, but all of our Chicken Soup for the Soul books are Buy-1-Get-1-Half-Price this week!”

Then once we have the customer at the cashwrap (corporate speak for “cash register”) we have to ask them the following:
“Did you find everything that you were looking for?”
“Will there be anything else today? Any candy or gift cards?”
“May I have your Rewards card?”
“Oh, you don’t have one? Here, it’s FREE! Just fill out this form with your email and phone number and you’ll get great coupons, in-store specials and earn rewards!”
If they say NO, we have to say “Oh, but it’s Free, it only takes a second to fill out and we keep all of your information confidential!" (but we will bombard your Inbox with junk email every week). If they say NO again, and it’s my manager that’s helping them, she’ll slam down the form, give them a dirty look, and talk about how “rude” they were once they leave the store.
If they already have the card but didn’t bring it with them we have to say….”I can look it up for you!” (at which point they give us six variations of their email and phone number none of which we can find in the computer, which means they don’t get the Rewards and all the people on line are pissed because it’s taking so long to ring up one customer)

After the Rewards push is over, we have to note what they’re buying and suggest other titles that they might be interested in (as if they’re going to get off the line to find our suggestion and go through this process all over again)
We also have to push a weekly “cashwrap” item that is propped up in front of the register (and leaves little room for the customer to put their purchases on the counter). It’s either a book that the company is overstocked on or a special “Rewards Member Only" item like a tote bag or cheesy recipe gift set.
After pushing that, we often have an “end of sale promotion” like “Would you like to donate to the First Book foundation that gives first books to children?” or “Would you like to purchase a book for us to donate to the local Women’s Shelter?” Both of which are great causes, but at this point in the transaction most people are secretly shouting “Enough!” as they politely grit their teeth and say “No thank you, not today.”

The kicker is, we’re expected to do this with every customer, regardless if it’s a teenager buying a magazine or an overwrought mother who’s dealing with three screaming kids and who just wants to pay for her book and get out of the store.

Finally, every couple of months we have to hand out “Customer Service” survey forms, and instruct the customer to call the phone number on the form, take the survey and get a 15% coupon. During the survey the customer is asked if the bookseller asked them all of the above questions and if they say “No” (whether it’s true or not) our store’s “CSI” scores plummet beneath the desirable “response/positive percentage” level. Then the District Manage berates our Manager and she berates us for offering bad customer service. It doesn’t matter how friendly we are or how much time we spend helping the customer and making sure they’ve found what they’re looking for…..If we fail to push every promotion that the corporate office expects us to we can be written up or fired.

Our monthly job performance reviews are based on our UPT score (units sold per transaction) and our Rewards percentage (how many people use their cards or sign up for the card when we’re on the register). My Rewards percentage is hovering around 54% while my manager consistently brags that she has an 89% and “if she can do it, we all can do it” – Never mind that she often picks and chooses who she rings up (someone carrying a pile of books who’s likely to already have the card) and will continue to push the card after a customer says “No” until they finally say “yes” just to get out of the store.
My fellow employees have percentages in the low 70’s but they’ve outright admitted to me that they cheat. They scan the card and stuff it in the customer’s bag even if the customer says ‘No’ or, if they can’t find the customer’s info in the computer they choose any email on the list that pops up so they get credit for the sale but some other customer is earning the rewards. I have vowed never to stoop to cheating regardless of how much the manager berates me because she “knows that I can do better.”
What do I care?… I’ll be gone in a few months, but my fellow employees (who are all great with the customers) are almost forced to be dishonest in order to keep their jobs.

Each employee is also required to read the company’s daily online “E-News” which is full of mind-numbing corporate speak like “increase your upsell” and “Correct placement of EGC and the RDC is critical to fourth quarter earnings elevation.”

Can’t you just hear my soul being sucked out as we speak?

I’ll take church aggravation over corporate aggravation any day…
At least parishioners arguing over the choice of carpet in the sanctuary will never say things like: “The impending selection of ground level covering is not within the parameters of our previously requisitioned selection, therefore we will need to move forward with an alternative product to satisfy our core base, otherwise revenue intake in the coming quarter will suffer a reduction, thus affecting our intake/outtake ratio”

Translation: “Pick a different color rug or the offering plate will be empty this week”

Somebody get me a drum, I gots me some banging to do!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name...

What was it that T.S. Elliot said about “the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time?”

It was exactly one year ago this week that I received the dissapointing news from the Boston school that put my seminary plans on hold for a year. After stomping my feet and pouting because I didn’t get the scholarship that I was so sure I was going to get, I decided to take my business elsewhere and began looking longingly at a school in NYC. I deferred my admission to Boston…and then surprise, surprise, one of their scholarship students got shipped off to Iraq and the money earmarked for him landed in my lap. But alas, my loving gaze had already shifted to NYC, and Boston was moved into the “maybe, but only if I don’t get a scholarship from NY” column. With Boston set as my safety school, I tossed both balls in the air and decided to wait until the spring of ’08 to see where they’d fall.

Well, I’m happy to say that they’ve finally fallen…
….and they didn’t land where I expected them to.
And all I have to say is: “Thank God for that!”

I’m going to Boston!

I knew from the start that anything short of a full scholarship to NYC would have me packing my bags to Boston. Between tuition, housing, food, transportation and books, the price tag for NY hovers around $98,000 for their three-year M.Div program. That may be doable for someone on the path to academia and professorship (and the tenure/salary that goes along with it), but at that price those of us who’ll be cashing the paycheck of a clergy person will most likely be paying off student loans until the day we die.

But even if NY did come through with a full scholarship I didn’t want my choice of school to be based solely on money.
So, being my usual analytical/neurotic self, before I received my admissions letter from NY I sat down and made a Pros and Cons list for both schools - on an Excel spreadsheet complete with multi-colored fonts and shadings - and in the end I concluded that Boston is really where I want to go.
Just to be sure, I arranged to take a second look at the Boston school and after taking a trip up there two weeks ago I feel confident that I’ve made the right choice.

The curriculum has a good balance between the practical and the theoretical, the new chapel is beautiful (and now has the daily worship services that drew me towards NY), the classrooms have been renovated and updated, and the students that I met had nothing but good things to say about the quality of the professors and the closeness of the community.

But in the end there were two areas in particular that drew me towards Boston and away from NY:
The campus, and the people.

The campus: As much as I loved the beautiful gothic architecture of the NYC school and the fact that it’s closer location would make it easier to come home every weekend, I had to admit to myself that I’m just not an urban kind of girl.
I commuted to NYC from Long Island when I went to Audio Engineering school in my twenties, and again when I secured an internship after I graduated. But as exciting as the city was I needed to leave it behind every night. I needed the greener, wider open spaces of suburbia. And now that I’m living in more rural western CT I need space and greenery even more.
I need trees, the sound of birds during the day and crickets and peepers at night, a peaceful space to study and recharge. The school just outside of Boston has all that, the one in the center of NYC does not.

The people: The students I talked to at the Boston school seemed happier and more energized, and had fewer negative things to say about their experience at their school.
The people in admissions were much friendlier and seemed to actually care whether I chose to go to their school or not. Something as small as receiving a personable email from Boston asking me if I’d like to visit again, while NY remained either silent or provided me with stock answers to questions that did not address my unique situation.
Unlike NY, the people in the admissions department at Boston remembered me from when I visited and thus treated me as an individual; I wasn’t just a name on an application….and that made all the difference.

I finally heard from NY last week and while I was accepted into the M.Div program, I did not get a full tuition scholarship. I received a half-tuition grant, which is still a good amount of money, but it would leave too much of a balance to be covered by student loans.
But in the end it didn’t matter, Boston is where I want to be.

A*ndover N*ewton here I come!