Friday, April 29, 2016

Were you raised in a barn?

I feel like a large part of my Brooklyn and New York Experience has been about being taken advantage of for who I am.  I was raised to be nice to people.  My parents are very giving people.  They have always been kind to those who were less fortunate.  I am proud to be like them in many ways, shapes, and forms, but also proud of how different I am in some ways.  

I know I've written about this before.  The guy in this blog, who approached me three days in a row with the same story:

....and the friend of mine who asked to stay with me for a week and I had to talk to him about leaving many months later:

Today's experience illustrates what seems to happen to me a lot here.  I had a lot of garlic on fish for lunch.  You may correctly guess that this makes for some extra special breath coming out of my mouth.  Given the fact that I need to speak with people about donating money to me, it's important that I have good breath.  I took a break from my office and walked over to the pharmacy near by.  I picked out a pack of gum.  As I went to ring it up, the cashier told me that instead of $1.69 per pack, they were on sale for $1.50 for two packs or $1.29 for one.  Knowing that I was going to go through the gum quickly, I grabbed two packs.  I immediately popped two pieces out of the pack.  I then gave it to her and said, "thanks for letting me know, would you like some gum?"  

Now, what would a person in any other part of the country do in this situation?  Maybe I'm crazy, but my Oneonta friends, my Rochester friends, my Chicago friends, and my Washington, DC friends would grab one or two pieces and then hand me back the pack.  If they were feeling especially generous, they might pass the pack on to the person next to them.  

What happens in Brooklyn, I ask you?  The person takes the entire rest of the pack  - 7 pieces. and puts it in her pocket without even taking any gum out.  I took a photo of pack number two since I wanted to show an example with only two pieces taken out (I think two pieces is a normal serving).  

What does one say in this situation after already offering "some gum?"  Again I feel like I was taken advantage of for my kindness.  Someone took more than I intended to offer since I wasn't clear.  

I won't go into how many times this has happened while I've been here.  If you read some of my other posts, you might notice this happens sometimes.

What do I learn from it:

1.) I need to keep being kind and generous.  Don't stop that just because people here take more than you intend.

2.) Be very explicit when you are being kind or generous about what you are offering ("Would you like a piece of gum or two?").  If you only articulate exactly what you are offering, it helps you to not give all you have.

3.) Relish the kindness and manners of people who are not in Brooklyn or New York.  On the phone or when you visit in person, be even kinder to them since they have manners.

4.) Be thankful that you were raised to give and have enough to give when you have it.  It is a blessing to give to others.  It will come back to you. 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Emotional Terrorism in Brooklyn

I had never heard of the term "emotional terrorism" before.  Now, having talked about a recent work situation, I'm realizing that it isn't so uncommon.

When I took over what was a collapsed alumni association and was instructed to build it back up, I decided that I would do exactly that.  I examined each employee, each vendor, and each process to see where money could be saved, a better relationship formed, efficiency created, etcetera.  I found that the person who was in the office before me had many vendors and relationships with people who were negative, demanding, uncooperative, high priced, and lacking in customer service.  I decided to change that.  If I am running an organization where I get to choose who I am going to work with, I will choose people that I enjoy working with.  For a while, I thought it might just be a "city" or "Brooklyn" attitude that was rubbing me the wrong way.  For that reason, I went to my tried and true vendors in Rochester, Albany, and other non-city places.  I've worked with some of my contacts now for almost 17 years.  We have great relationships and I can rely on them.

This didn't go over well, clearly, with people that my predecessor had been working with for 10 plus years.  I will tell you that I gave every single vendor at least three chances to work with me and prove to me that they were someone I wanted to work with.  I chose to keep the printer, the accountant, and the attorney that we were working with.  We've switched auditors, IT support, premium vendors, and are in the middle of switching banks.  Every time I've made the switch, I've moved to someone who is both more pleasant to work with and in some cases more affordable which allows my nonprofit to give more money in scholarships and other student support.

This week, a vendor that has been working with our organization for 52 years called and asked me for my annual order.  I'll keep it vague so as to not call them out specifically.  I tried working with this vendor over the summer on five separate occasions.  Phone calls were answered rudely, customer service stunk, and I was treated poorly when I went to the store.  On top of that, there is no parking near the store and my car was actually towed (my mistake in not reading the sign carefully) the final time I went there.

I explained to the owner that I was not going to be working with them any more when he called me.  I told him that I had tried working with them last year on multiple occasions and was not happy with my treatment.  He said I should have called him, the owner directly to complain.  I said that I didn't feel the need to always call the owner when I could just make a quick call and ask them to repeat last year's order.  He asked me for names of people that were rude to me.  I don't remember the names and said so to him.  He was very aggressive on the phone and it wasn't a pleasant conversation.  Still, I feel like he deserved a response from me as to why our relationship was ending.

On a side note, my premium vendor of 15 years has had some tough transitions.  I've been through three sales people since my beloved Annette retired.  In that case, in spite of a few bad experiences calling and asking for a new sales person to call me since another one who had me as a client had left the company, I did call them again.  In fact, I emailed the owners who I've also known for 15 years and explained about what had happened to me.  In that case, it was my personal relationship with the owner that made me want to reach out to him and let him know he was losing clients (in case it was happening to more than just me).

Back to the current situation.  Later that evening I got an email that said:

"I cannot tell you how troubled I was by our conversation earlier this afternoon pertaining to the way you said you were treated someone on my staff during a previous phone call to our store. I even did something that I never have before in the 30 years that I am running this family business and that was to shut down our operation midday for a one hour meeting during our peak season to discuss with my sales associates what had been relayed to me in our conversation. I wanted you to know that I sincerely value ongoing business relationships deeply. Which I believe is why we continue to have client relationships that we have maintained for over 50 years. In a very difficult decision and without having the actual associates name with whom you said “you were treated rudely and unprofessionally” by, it left me no choice but to terminate the employment of both of those Sales Associates who have been me 12 & 10 years respectively. So I really hope you were accurate in your assessment and that  if and when you may decide to call upon us in the future you will enjoy a better customer experience.

NAME REMOVED BY ME to protect this person."

Now how in God's name does one react to this?  Why would someone fire their staff based on one complaint from one customer (even one that is a big client)?  Why wouldn't you talk to your staff and figure out how to fix it?  Why, even if you did fire them, would you lay this guilt on a client?

I'll tell you, it made me sick to my stomach.  I almost replied, then thought better of it.  In fact, although I said I'd give him and his company a chance again next year at our business (I've already taken care of this year's three big orders), I will probably never work with this man or his company again.  The entire experience left me hurt and frustrated.

At least I have a new vendor for these things for this year.  He is crazy, but we'll work together to make it happen.

If you are experiencing emotional terrorism at work or in your personal life, I found this article to be a quick read and helpful.

Don't get overwhelmed and remember to find the good in every situation.  Don't let their evil hijack you or your goodness.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Cowie and the Burn

I've had a house guest visiting from Nigeria for two weeks now.  He is David's best friend.  On top of having David's brother live with us, this added guest has made me realize just how culturally different I am from most Nigerians.  I won't go into the specifics except for one thing that made me lose it.  I'm still not sure if it is cultural or is something engrained in me as a result of a traumatic childhood incident.

I'm not sure how old I was, except that I could walk and pull stuff off counters.  I'm guessing I was 3 years old or so.  One day when my mom was busy taking care of her other three kids, making meals, doing laundry, and juggling everything else that a mom with four children ages 3 to 9 does, I somehow pulled a large mug or pot of boiling hot water off a counter and managed it dump it on my face and body.  I don't remember this part.  I don't remember any of that part.  Apparently, my mom s scooped me up and ran me to the bathtub where she ran cold water all over my body.  From the stories I've been told, I was rushed to the hospital and stayed there for some time.  My mom would hold me on her lap while they popped the blisters on my face and body and applied ointment.  This would have been a small town hospital in 1979.  I had a scar that was noticeable to me on my cheek and chin.  I remember that the first time the scar had finally migrated off of my face as I grew was in second grade.  Still today, I have a patch on my shoulder that is scarred.

No one else really notices it except for me.  It' sticks out more if I ever get sun (I hate getting sun anyway) because it doesn't tan as well and is a different color.  My mom still blames herself for this.  She was the one, though, who reacted quickly and the doctors say I'm not scarred more because of it.  I could've had terrible scarring all over my body and face.  Instead, I think I'm pretty darn handsome :) 

A side story before I get to the house guest part.  On the way home from the hospital, a dear family friend came to pick me up.  She is a matriarch of our community and still volunteers every week with my mom at the local food and clothing cupboard, driving herself, at 90 years old.  She brought me a stuffed cow to hold.  I've called him Cowie since I had him.  I still have him.  His usually residence is in my linen cupboard.  

You'll notice that I called Cowie a he and he has an udder.  Yes, this was something that my family could never get me to agree to.  I didn't care that Cowie doesn't have big bulls balls and an udder.  Cowie identifies as male.  Little did I know then that my Cowie was transgender.  I still love him and support him for being his true self no matter what his outer appearance shows.  

So back to the Nigerian House guest.  This week, while David was frying plantains over a pot of hot oil on the stove, my houseguest decided to go up behind him and smack him on the head.  The houseguest was joking, but hit David hard enough to make him flinch.  I saw this and freaked out.  I told him that he wasn't to ever: 1.) hit my fiance for any reason even joking and 2.) you should never get near someone when they are cooking. 

Now, this is where my past comes in.  I don't even want David to touch me when I'm cooking.  I want him away from me and the stove.  Whenever I see anyone else cooking, I give them a big berth.  I am afraid always that someone is going to get burned.  My houseguest explained that this was just the Nigerian way and defended himself.  I wasn't polite and told him that he was in my house and would follow my American customs and my house rules.  It still made me so angry because of my fear of David getting burned.  That was primary.  Secondary was someone not respecting me or my fiance in our own house.  

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Subway girls

Saturday night, I had a gala for work at the Plaza Hotel.  I brought my camera to get some good shots of my board members all dressed up.  I forgot how much I enjoy taking photos.  On the subway, I noticed these three girls dressed up to go out.  They looked amazing, so I asked to take their photo.  This shot captured their personalities the best.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Platform F C E not 9 3/4

The subway in New York city can be confusing.  Fortunately, there are usually natives on the train to give you directions and help you out.  It's not uncommon for a tourist to ask which direction the train is going and if the train stops at "xyz" stop.  Here's the thing....if you have ridden a subway to work every day and home every day for a few months, you learn to know every single stop along that line and how long it takes to get from there to your usual stop.  You learn how many stops between each stop and your stop.  You learn which trains connect at each stop because they announce at each one.

"This is Jay-Street Metro Tech.  Connect here for the A, C, F, and R trains.  The next top is Hoyt-Schermerhorn.  Stand clear of the closing doors. Ding."  

You hear this at every stop.  You learn it.  Even though I wasn't taking the train to and from work, I learned the A and C trains to and from Brooklyn between David's apartment and uptown.  When I lived in NYC before, I took the 1 or 2 to work and learned those between Wall Street and Midtown.  Now I live on an F or G train (Fort Hamilton stop).  I'm starting to learn these trains.
Here's the thing.  Every weekend starting Friday at about 10:00 and sometimes at other crazy times, the city does construction on different tunnels, tracks, and stations.  When this happens, trains are diverted to completely different tracks for what can be a long stretch.  Also, I've noticed that sometimes trains that might have a 7 on them are being used on a 2 line.  When that happens, you are waiting for a 2 train and a 7 shows up.  I haven't checked to see if the train displays a number outside or a letter like happens on our trains.    Inside, the electronic map says "this map not in service."

Last night, I went out with my friend Antuan.  My fiance was out of town and I didn't want to sit at home.  Afterward, I went to a specialty store to get one of his birthday gifts.  I walked into the C and E station near 23rd street.  I had planned on taking the E or the C to West 4th to get on my train.  I had more than my share of drinks with Antuan and was a bit tipsy.  As I walked down the platform, I was calculating the time it would take to get home and holding on to one of the columns.   

I was looking carefully to see if it was an E or a C pulling up and much to my surprise, an F train pulled into the station.  I had to double check to see if I was indeed at the 23rd Street station and not platform 9 3/4.  I was confused.  I jogged along the side of the train up to the middle where one of the conductors has a little cabin in the train.  Was I in a blooper reel or a Harry Potter movie?  

I asked her if this was a real F train or a fake one?  She said it was real.  I asked her if it was going where the F train normally goes?  She said it was going back on the F track at West 4th.  I asked her if she was shitting me?  She said no.  I said, "Fort Hamilton?...does it stop there?"

She said yes sir and then pointed to the doors indicating that I had better get in or she was going to leave me.  

As I sat in the train I articulated my confusion, fascination, and joy at finding a magical F train to take me home.  Only in this super confusing city. 

My train got me home.  Maybe I'll get lucky tonight and a Magic F Train will show up at a stop near my gala :)  Bipity bopity boo. 

Friday, April 8, 2016

New Yorkers unite in hate of police

Tuesday night, I had a conference call in the early evening.  I decided that I wanted to still fit in a quick workout.  I left the office a little early and drove to the gym.  Traffic was terrible because of an accident.  Side note, if you get in a accident on a busy road, isn't it smarter to get out of the traffic if there is room on the side of the road?  

I pulled into a spot near my gym.  I got out of my car, went to the passenger side, took off my trench coat since it doesn't fit in the gym locker very well, picked up my gym bag, and I walked the seven car lengths to the parking meter to get a ticket.  

I inserted my credit card and added two hours to it.  The machine processed the card and printed the ticket.  I walked back the 7 car lengths to my car and there was a police officer giving me a parking ticket.  

"Are you giving me a ticket?  Really?  Are you serious?  I parked, went to the meter, and walked back.  I have the ticket to put in my car window right here?"
The cop looked at me.  She clearly hears this all day, but I had proof in my hand.

"Let me finish this ticket process, and then I will withdraw the ticket.  My machine doesn't let me stop once I have started."  

I understood this.  I was trying to stay positive.  Two ladies came walking out of the store I was parked in front of.

"You best not be giving him a ticket.  Is she giving you that ticket?  You just got here.  I saw you."

"No mam," I replied, "she is going to not give me the ticket." 

"Darn right she's not.  Good."
Then I watched as the cop continued the ticket process.  Another guy approached...
"Are you fucking kidding me.   This guy just parked here.  Give a ticket to all these other cars that have been sitting here.  He paid for his parking.  Guy, I can help you out.  Take a photo of the other cars here."

"No, I have it under control.  She isn't going to give me a ticket."

The cop said she wasn't going to give me a ticket and this other guy started yelling at her about how they always give stupid ass tickets to people who don't deserve them.  At this point, I was afraid she was going to walk away and leave the ticket on my car anyway.  As much as I appreciate the one time that New Yorkers seem to want to help me, they were only hurting me this time.  

I tried to get her to relax and waited patiently.  I did the best I could to remain polite and calm.  She did withdraw the ticket so I could get to my workout.  

Monday, April 4, 2016

Long Distance Friends to the Rescue

Brooklyn is full of interesting things and people.  As you get older, though, it is tough to make new friends.  I moved here just after my 38th Birthday.  This weekend, I just needed some friends.  Some stuff was happening in my personal life and I desperately needed to be face to face with someone who loves me and doesn't judge me no matter what I say.

I reached out via text and phone to the few people I know here.  None of them responded quickly.  Those who responded were busy and couldn't see me, but would check in on me later.  I called my brother and he was busy with his family.  I was so upset I almost drove over to Philly to be with him.  I didn't want to ruin his family night out, though.

What does one do in this situation?  I posted on Facebook that I was down and wanted some jokes.  Immediately, my phone started blowing up with texts of friends from all over the country asking me if I needed to talk.  Facebook jokes comments were coming so fast and furious that I decided to delete the post.  It's funny that some people who I don't really know that well even reached out.  We were close enough to be Facebook friends, but little else.  These people knew what it was to be down and wanted me to have the option to talk to someone.

I was touched.  I am touched.  Although I haven't connected with people as much and as well here, I've still got the most amazing people in the world in my life.  I spent an hour on the phone to Chicago, an hour on the phone to Rochester, an hour on the phone to Binghamton, and all the while was texting and facebook messaging with Oneonta, Rochester, Philly, and even Brooklyn.  As the night wore on and my upset continued, a newer friend in Brooklyn video chatted with me for an hour.
As it is with most of my bad/sad moods, I'm pulling out of it.  I knew I would.  It just takes time and some love from not just myself, but from those who I've loved over the years.

Thanks for being my friends :)