Sunday, March 10, 2013

New Home!

Howdy, dear readers! I have a new home for my writing. You can now visit me at I hope you'll stop by!

Photo credit: House 95 by jaci III via Flickr

Saturday, August 27, 2011

In Which I Make It Evident That I Am Quite Possibly Too Sensitive

Milwaukee Trip by Señor Codo
Milwaukee Trip, a photo by Señor Codo on Flickr.
Every time there's a jumper on the Blue Line, it rattles me and makes me very sad. I just wish whoever it was knew how much at least one person in this world loved them, and knew that no matter what happened today, the world would make less sense to someone without them in it.

Someone got the worst call in the world tonight, and it was so very unnecessary. A layoff? A lover's rejection? A failed test? Overwhelming debt? These are reasons to phone a friend, not forfeit the most precious gift we'll ever receive (written like a true formerly suicidal person). What is missing from this equation? And why the fuck do I care so much?

Anyway, tonight I did what I thought I was supposed to do--what this person for some reason couldn't. I spent time with people who love me and I loved them back. I made life worth living.

It was so weirdly moving to watch the chaos of life going on on my way home this Friday night--all the disrupted commutes; all the mundane workdays suddenly turned in to circuses; all the people who would eventually fall into loving arms, hungry legs, or a suitable facsimile tonight; temporarily derailed.

I looked into every pool of people at every Milwaukee bus stop and I wondered where the person who triggered the frenzy would have fit in. I was sure they belonged there. I was sure this was a mistake.

Friday, February 12, 2010



My friend Terry posted this on his blog, TQNEWS. It's a letter that was left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  I found it powerfully moving and beautifully human. As Terry says, "read it and weep." We both did.

Monday, February 8, 2010

My Place Is Your Place, Or What The Heck Does Being A Great Waitress Have To Do With Properly Serving An Online Community?

If you regularly read my blog, you've gathered that I'm a single mother and have been for a long, long time. Yes, it's the Carla Furca Show 24/7 and the only one who saves the day is me. Occasionally I run into, let's say, a shortage of capital. I often take in freelance writing projects or pick up a short term makeup artist stint, but these gigs are often slow-paying. When I'm short of funds and I need cash in a hurry, I turn to my old standby, waitressing.

The last time I had to take a waitressing job I was 35. My first night on the job held an interesting learning experience for me--actually, the entire assignment was very informative. For the first time in my life, all of my peers were a lot younger than I was. The entire waitressing staff was in their early 20's and I felt like an old lady. The venue was a swanky sports bar where people like Ozzie Guillen and Gale Sayers frequently imbibed. I was worried that the clientele would prefer the younger girls and would be disappointed when a 30-something woman showed up at their table instead. I was sure that I would make a lot less in tips than my much younger counterparts...I decided to suck it up and do my job and stop dwelling on my insecurities.

To my surprise, it soon became evident that I was making more, a lot more, than anyone else on the floor. Consistently. My total ring for any given night was 3 times anyone else's total and my tips were 5 times everyone else's, so not only was I selling more food than my coworkers, I was getting tipped at a much higher percentage rate than they were too.  What's more, the manager started sending me to tables that had been taken away from a fellow waitress after she had thoroughly upset the customer--I was damage control. Often times the managers would send a poorly performing waitress home for the night and give her entire section to me.

At the end of each night, when we counted out tips, the other waitresses would complain that I was making more because I was getting all the good tables. Impossible.  Sections had consistent boundaries and were assigned on a rotating basis. Diners were seated on a rotating basis as well, so that each section had roughly the same amount of seated tables at all times.  I was clearly working harder and smarter than the other waitresses.

I started thinking about what I was doing differently and I came up with an interesting list.  If you want to be an outstanding server, here's what you have to do:

1. Know your product. Memorize the menu. Know which sides go with which entrees. Know what each item costs. Is there a wine list? Learn at least the basics about each wine (pairings, regions of origin, flavor notes, etc.). Come in a few minutes early and have a quick chat with the chef. Are you out of any food items? What are the specials? How are they prepared? Be sure to ask what's in the specials too.

2. Know your customers. Whether you have table full of regulars or out-of-towners, get to know each table. You can do this by asking the people at each of your tables appropriate questions and answering their questions about you--in other words, engage with them. How are they feeling? What are they up to? Where are they coming from? Where are they going afterward? Ask a big group of people how they all know each other. Generate conversation. Answer any questions they ask about you in a professional, and congenial manner. Don't tell them about the boyfriend that you just broke up with, but do tell them about the painting class you just signed up for.

3. Using your product knowledge and your familiarity with your customers, sell the product--after all, one of the chief reasons people come to a restaurant is to buy food.  When a customer can't make up his mind about which dish to order, offer a suggestion. Someone at your table is likely to have a lot of questions about the items he is considering--maybe he is dieting, maybe he has food restrictions or food allergies. Your thoughtful answers will impress him and put him at ease about his final decision. 

4. Communicate effectively with all of your fellow staff members.  As a server, you are the hub for all manner of communication in your restaurant. Has a guest made a special request? Type it into the order entry system and then walk back into the kitchen to make sure that the cooks understood the request. Is there a table that needs to be cleared of empty plates? Find a bus person and alert them to the situation. Are there any promotions going on? Get detailed information from your floor manager and communicate this information to every table. Has someone asked about booking a party? Find a manager and let them know immediately.

5. Provide excellent customer service by anticipating and fulfilling your customers' needs and  responding quickly and effectively to the requests that you didn't anticipate. About two minutes after you bring an order to a table--stop back and make sure the food is satisfactory to your customers and no one needs anything so that everyone can start eating together as soon as their food arrives. As you move about the restaurant, do a quick scan--if you see that someone's soda glass is almost empty, swing by and refill it. If someone has almost finished an alcoholic beverage, ask them if they would like another. Do you notice anyone trying to get your attention? Stop by and see what you can do for them.  Don't make your guests ask for the check. Look at the plates on the table--are they nearly clean? Have guests placed their napkins on their plates? Have all the people at a table stopped eating? It's time to drop off the check.

Here's the bottom line: People aren't coming to a particular restaurant just to eat--they can eat at home, or at any other restaurant. They come to a certain restaurant because they identify with something about that venue and they want to enjoy a specific dining experience.  Ultimately it is the server's job to ensure that this happens. I happen to really enjoy connecting with people and making them happy, so the five points above came naturally to me and I truly enjoyed engaging both with my customers and with my fellow staff members and providing an excellent dining experience for my guests.

Now what on earth does this have to do with fostering a happy, healthy online community? Let's go point by point.

1. Know your product. You must know enough about each line you represent in your online community to have a conversation about it and to quickly respond to questions about or issues concerning items within it. Be able to name each business unit and detail the types of products represented in each one.  Aside from the products within each line, what are the unique features of each?

2. Know your customers.  Sure, you should review the available statistical data on who, in general, is patronizing your company. But you should also be getting to know your customers as individual people. Listen to (or read, in this case) what people are saying.  Who's planning a graduation party for their oldest child? Who's resolved to get healthy by becoming more active this year? Who is The Barbecue Master? Of course, this information is useful in selling specific products to your customers, but it's even more useful in developing a rapport with your customers. Share gift ideas with the proud parent; the latest news in exercise science with the fitness enthusiast; recipes with The Barbecue Master.  Cultivate relationships with your online community members by learning about them and sharing with them.

3. Let your product knowledge and your rapport with your customers inform the way you provide service and promote events and products within your community. Someone who is making a large purchase (for instance, a treadmill or a riding mower) will have lots of questions. If you can answer them, or quickly put the customer in contact with a person who can, you take the uncertainty and fear out of the buying experience and put the customer at ease.

4. Communicate effectively with the departments you represent. Are many community members complaining about a certain process? Are they looking for a product your company currently doesn't carry? It's your job to quickly and effectively communicate this information to someone within your company who can rectify these issues.

5. Provide excellent customer service. As soon as you see that someone is unhappy with a product or process, apologize and ask what you can do to make the person happy. Do everything within your power to honor every reasonable request. If you see that someone has offered positive feedback, thank them and see if you can find out more about what made them so happy.  Pass this information on too.

Here's the bottom line (again): People patronize a business because they identify with that business in some way and they expect to enjoy a specific experience when they interact with that business. If you want to cultivate a happy, healthy online community, you are responsible for finding out what those expectations are, communicating those expectations to the appropriate members of your business team and making sure your community feels that your company is meeting and exceeding those expectations.

Again, I really enjoy building relationships with people and making people feel at home and I'm quite good at it.  I hope to employ these traits and abilities in a professional capacity--full time--very soon.  Until then, I'll be working on freelance social media and online content projects until 2 AM on weeknights and all weekend long. Like I said, I'm hoping to do this very soon. I'd love to know what 6 hours of sleep--in a row--feels like.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Afternoon Silliness Inspired By My Alderman, A Coyote And Muggers

Here is an excerpt from the poorly written email I just received from my alderman:

"People living near the river are reminded to keep an eye on their small pets while they are outside as a coyote has been spotted near Kedzie and Belle Plaine last Saturday.

Finally, everyone is reminded to be alert as you transport any holiday packages in and out of your residences. There have been reports of muggings in the area so be extra careful this holiday season."

Which am I supposed to be more afraid of, the coyote or the muggers? And how do I get a job writing emails for aldermen? Also, what if I have an enormous pet, like a giraffe? Do I still need to keep an eye on it?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dear Tall, Smart and Handsome Teenage Manchild Who Resides With Me:

You will notice that the microwave no longer resembles a 2.5 x 1.5 petri dish. I am not sure whether you will be made happy by; made sad by; or feel apathetic about this recent development, but nevertheless, I would like to ensure that the microwave stays in its current state for more than one week. This can be achieved with a small amount of effort on your part.

Immediately to the right of the microwave, you will notice an apparatus which holds a large white roll of something (similar to what you have hopefully found immediately to your right when you are seated on the toilet). These are paper towels (next to the toilet is toilet paper--if you aren't clear on this, let's discuss). The paper towels (and the toilet paper) are perforated at regular intervals, allowing you to easily tear off an amount appropriate for various purposes. You can cover the plate or bowl you put in the microwave (with a paper towel, not toilet paper) and this will prevent splatters and spills, thus allowing the microwave to remain fairly sanitary for quite some time. In the event that you forget to do this, you can also use one of these paper towels to wipe up any mess that is generated during the preparation of your numerous snacks. Should you have any specific questions regarding these procedures and products, please direct them to me. I'll gladly assist you in becoming proficient in these tasks.



Sunday, October 11, 2009

Friends of Pea?

...aaaaaannnnnnd we're back! Can I just summarize the reasons for my absence with 'I've been really, really busy'? With what, you ask? Well, for one I've been dealing with some health issues. You see, I have a cardiac arrhythmia. I've had it since I was in my teens, but it's never been captured on any sort of monitoring device until recently. My electrophysiologist ordered another 21 day monitor, but thanks to the magic of HMO, I had to see my primary care physician in order to get the test ordered. While I was there, I decided to get my annual girlie exam out of the way. So, my fabulous doctor is doing her thing, feeling the girls, chatting away, and suddenly she says, "Wait what's that?"

"What's what?"

"Have you felt this before?"

She takes my hand and puts it on my right breast, just over the lump she found. I say the F-word and a few other unprintables.

"Are you okay? Do you need a minute?"

"I'm fine."

She goes over to the other side of the table to check my left breast. She's making the familiar concentric circles and my mind is suddenly on Jupiter. And then she takes my hand and puts it on the lump she found in my left breast. More F-words and a tear or two. How much do you suppose tears weigh on Jupiter?

"You need to have a mammogram as soon as possible. And an ultrasound."


She leaves the room so I can get dressed and comes back in with my referrals, one for the heart monitor, one for a pelvic ultrasound (to confirm suspected uterine fibroids), and one for my mammogram and ultrasound. I honestly don't remember what I did when I left her office. I don't know if I called anyone--I assume I did, I just don't remember.

I do remember some things. I remember it was Friday afternoon and I couldn't make any of my appointments until Monday. I remember getting ready to go out and looking in the mirror and thinking I might be very, very sick and wondering what business I had going out and painting the town. And I remember thinking, if I am sick, I'll be angry that I didn't go out and enjoy myself while I could, so on went the lip gloss, the silver hoop earrings and the show.

And that's pretty much how it went until the night before I got my mammogram results. Then I paced. I got that awful cold, clammy, chest collapsing, pins and needles feeling whenever I would let my mind get lazy and drift. I felt sad every time I looked at my son and wondered how much of his life I'd actually get to see. I felt worse when I thought about getting so sick I needed his help and being a burden and a major downer when he is supposed to be having the time of his life.

Well, that was all for nothing. I think. It turns out, what my doctor felt in my left breast was absolutely nothing--fibrocistic breast tissue. It also turns out I have a pea-sized tumor in my right breast. The doctors that read the mammogram and ultrasound believe it is a benign mass. I have taken to calling it Little Pea when I discuss it with others. It's an affectionate term--I'm grateful to it for not being cancer and I'm hoping that if I make peace with it, it won't ever become cancer. I have to get another mammogram and ultrasound in 6 months. If the mammogram and ultrasound show any changes, or if I feel any changes while I'm doing my monthly breast self exam (which admittedly, I hadn't been doing), then it's time to discuss further testing.

I left the doctor's office feeling relieved to the point of elation and the whole ordeal is starting to fall out of the forefront of my consciousness. A few days ago, a friend contacted me about Little Pea. She is a breast cancer survivor and she urged me to ask my doctor to remove Little Pea immediately. She had a Little Pea (only hers was named George) for 3 years before she was diagnosed with cancer. One day George got really big and my friend got really sick and she was afraid that would happen to me. Talking to her made me realize that I'm a teeny, tiny bit afraid that will happen to me. A few other people who are close to me have expressed concern over the seemingly lax attitude my doctors and I are taking about Little Pea and when they do, I get a little worried myself.

The decision I made was to trust my doctors and leave Little Pea where she is, nestled quietly in my mammary splendor. Of course I'll do monthly breast self exams and and get all of my follow up mammograms. If there are ever any changes, Little Pea is out. 99% of the time I am completely comfortable with this and the other 1% of the time I can redirect my thoughts to something less terrifying, like rabid, wild dogs.

So there you have it, my breast cancer scare. If you have any experiences you want to share, I encourage you to do so. Also, if you have ever named one of your own tumors, please chime in. I'm wondering if this is common or if my friend and I are complete weirdos. And finally, ladies, please cop a feel. Regularly.