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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: July 2005

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

  1. Techniques for balance
  2. The Human Condition: The Comedy of Life
  3. Musings
  4. ORTIYKMWOYBNT-O Department

  1. Techniques for balance
    • We all have 24 hours a day, but what we don't equally have is DISCRETIONARY TIME. That's time solely dedicated to our own preferences and priorities. If you want to increase your balance and your satisfaction, increase discretionary time.
    • If you're not sure, ask the servers what they recommend on the menu. They watch the food prepared and taste almost all of it. And they are relying on you for their tip.
    • If you want an audience to laugh, you laugh; if you want them pensive, act pensively; if you want them involved, ask them questions. Audiences tend to emulate the speaker's behavior.
    • Is there any reason not to keep a few greeting cards in a file for birthdays, Mother's Day, graduations, thank you's, and so on? Does the card's sentiment rely solely on your buying it at the last frenzied minute?
    • Keep an umbrella in the trunk of each of your vehicles and, if you live in snowy climes, an ice and snow scraper, as well.
    • Pay for a private lesson, be it tennis, dancing, diving, or cooking. You will learn ten times faster than you would in a group, and that alone more than pays for the extra investment.
    • Don't leave dumb phone machine messages such as "I can't come to the phone rights now" (Really??!!) or "Your call is very important to me" (How do you know?). Just leave a message explaining briefly how to leave a message and let everyone move on with their lives. (Especially obnoxious: voice mail that imposes the owner's "thought for the day" or details of their busy schedule.)
    • Memorize phone numbers more easily by memorizing their layout on the keypad, not the number sequence. (Don't laugh, try it, it works.) Similarly, if you have to create a number or password sequence, use a keyboard pattern, not a strange sequence or something readily deduced by others, like your birthday.
    • Can anyone explain to me why a tennis serve or golf stroke must be accompanied by utter silence within a mile radius, as if a brain surgeon is reconnecting a synapse, but 50,000 people are encouraged to scream profanities at a baseball batter trying to hit a 100 mile-per-hour fast ball in less than a tenth of a second, generally regarded as the toughest feat in all of sports? Who makes up these rules?
    • The United States, China, and India appear to be the three major economic blocs for the decades ahead. What are you doing to help yourself and your family take advantage of that probability, in terms of investments, travel, kids' educational orientation, marketing, and so on?

  2. The Human Condition: The Comedy of Life

    I've never understood people who say, "I have no sense of humor" or "I'm not funny." Life is funny. Something happens every day to me and, presumably, to you that is a riot. It might not be at the time, of course, but a great deal of pain is assuaged by seeing the comedy in it as time elapses.

    Thus, my case in point.

    I'm a member of Hertz Rental Car's Platinum Club which, even in this day of egalitarianism run amok (which has ruined the air clubs), you must be invited to join. Neither a big wallet nor a big mouth will get you in. It's reserved for CEOs and their ilk, and I've been in it for 20 years or more.

    The deal is that Hertz delivers your car (or a personal escort to your car) at curbside at the airport, train station, or wherever. Similarly, when you return a Platinum car, a driver takes you to your departure terminal-no buses, no lines, no forms. And, of course, you get your choice of cars with a nice discount.

    This works internationally. When our family vacationed in Marbella, Spain Hertz had a Mercedes waiting. (I later wedged this car between two houses in a hillside village when I mistook the walkway for a road, but that's another story, reported earlier.)

    So, when we went to the Caymans two years ago, I asked Hertz reservations well in advance for "the best car on the island" using my Platinum status.

    After we cleared customs, I was surprised to find no Hertz representative breathlessly awaiting my arrival, so I waltzed over to the Hertz office in maybe 100 degree heat, where a wheezing air conditioner was losing the battle. There were three people already in line. I waved my Platinum card.

    The desk clerk told me to wait to one side, but then finished processing the other three people before dealing with me.

    "Why did you tell me to wait over here," I asked, "when you didn't take me any faster than a regular customer?"

    "We allow our Platinum customers to stand there, where it's slightly shadier and cooler, as a courtesy," she explained, feeling she had acknowledged my status. She then put through the paperwork and produced keys to a Chrysler Seabring convertible.

    "I wanted the best car on the island," I pointed out. "This IS the best car on the island," she pointed out.

    The car had apparently been used to ferry troops during the Normandy invasion.

    It was banged, dinged, dented, and bedraggled. As I surveyed the wreck, a Hertz employee appeared with two clipboards.

    "Take one," he said, "we have to list all the damage so that you're not charged for it."

    "That's mad," I said. "We'd be better off recording the parts that aren't damaged. This could take all week!"

    Ignoring my sarcasm, he said, "It's a two-person job, we both start at the trunk, I'll go right, you go left, and we'll meet at the hood." When we did meet, 20 minutes later, our forms were blackened with indicators of damage and debris. But he seemed pleased. "Good job," he advised, "please sign here, here, here, here, here, and here."

    As I finally loaded the luggage and got in, I noticed belatedly that the car was American left-hand drive, but the traffic in the Caymans drives on the left, British-style. I yelled to the dent inspector, "How am I supposed to pass anyone with the wheel on this side?"

    He never looked back, but shouted over his shoulder, "Carefully, man, very carefully."

    The Seabring made it through the week and drew quite a few stares at the island restaurants we visited. But I never knew if the appreciative looks were because the car was still on the roads, or it was, indeed, the best car on the island.

  3. Musings

    The "power of suggestion" is a frightening phenomenon.

    My wife has always bemoaned that her coffee isn't very good, and she's absolutely right about that. She experiments periodically, with me as the caffeine guinea pig. After the agony, we go back to Dunkin' Donuts or the local coffee shop for a couple of months until the next round of trials. If my wife were Edison, we'd still be using gas lamps.

    Not long ago she returned home and after a few minutes turned up in my den. "I brought you some coffee," she said, and handed me the Dunkin' take-out cup. "Thanks," I said, not looking up, and sipped the coffee while working at the computer.

    Later she asked if I liked the coffee. "Sure," I said, it was the usual.

    "Gotcha!!" she yelled, "I made it myself and poured it in a Dunkin' Donuts Styrofoam cup I had saved!"

    I couldn't believe it (nor could I believe my wife had nothing better to do than to stage this subterfuge and was thinking maybe she needed to get out of the house and find work). So I went down to her coffee machine and tasted the batch again in one of my mugs.

    It was dreadful. She tasted it. When she spit it into the sink, I took that as confirmation of my opinion.

    There are stories of people drinking grape juice which was poured into an empty wine bottle, who then showed all the signs of intoxication, as if it had been real wine. What makes us so susceptible to this strange phenomenon?

    I think we believe what we choose to believe, and then stop analyzing to any critical degree. We move on to other things, but accept the original beliefs as "givens." Dunkin' Donuts has always had good coffee so anything in their cups will taste good. Red liquid in a wine bottle is wine, and drinking half of that bottle makes me giddy. I've always liked this actor, so he must be good in this movie. I've always like this musical group, so this new CD must be great.

    A brand is really a power of suggestion (as is most advertising). You will look better, be smarter, be more appealing, be more confident, if you use the product. Years ago Chrysler made a car under their name AND an identical car with a Japanese nameplate in a joint venture. Every even numbered car off the line received a Chrysler marque, and every odd numbered car the Japanese marque. There was no other difference at all-same plant, same workers, same parts. Yet, in a satisfaction survey administered six months after purchase, the Japanese nameplate models received consistently higher scores than the identical Chryslers!

    Think about what you're taking for granted in your personal life, professional life, and private life. Ask yourself if it may be time to more critically analyze habits, routines, and beliefs.

    Or to put it another way: Wake up and smell the coffee.

  4. ORTIYKMWOYBNT-O Department


    I was staying at the Royalton Hotel in New York, an "in" place so minimal that I asked that my fireplace be lit in August. "I don't want heat," I explained to the front desk manager, "I need light in this room!" Everyone wore black and all the walls were black, so that the staff emerged from the shadows like the mole people in the old Flash Gordon films. The client insisted I stay there. Never again.

    My job was to interview candidates for a senior position. Before meeting the next one in the lobby, I had an urgent desire to visit the rest room. With difficulty, I found it hidden in the shadows. But I immediately panicked, because there were no urinals, and I assumed I was in the woman's rest room. I wandered over to a huge metal wall, confused about its presence in the black marble room. All of a sudden, I heard a "click" from an electric triggering device, and I just managed to lunge backward as a cascade of flushing water poured down the entire metal wall.

    I had inadvertently tripped the urinal wall "flush" system, and had nearly been drowned by it.

    The ensuing interview took about three minutes, as I was in a great rush to dash back to my room.