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October 21, 2009

Why I won’t be doing steampunk this Saturday
Posted by Teresa at 07:08 PM *

This Saturday at the meet-up, that is. I’ll just be dressed as me. It’s disappointing. I’d had a notion worked out in my head for a pair of non-labor-intensive steampunk goggles. Just needed a few things from Home Depot. And that’s where my new mutant superpowers kicked in.

I’ve been waiting a long time for them to show up. Always wondered which one(s) I’d get. Now I know: I’m invisible. Who knew that all it took was being middle-aged and female? But it’s true: I am apparently now invisible to Home Depot employees. I can walk up to one—six of them, actually, though one was a repeat—and say “Hello” or “Excuse me” or “Can you help me,” and have them look straight past me, or turn and ask someone else if they can help them.

It took me a while to believe it was happening. The first one I figured was busy. The second through fourth I figured were tired or overstressed or maybe just stupid. By the fifth one I was starting to get angry, in a polite and controlled way.

I’m usually pretty good at getting shop clerks’ attention, and this time I brought out the full battery: body language, eye contact, making my approach in his line of sight, and speaking clearly and politely. And by golly, it happened again.

I looked at the items in my cart. I was only short two things I’d wanted. Too bad. I abandoned my cart, walked over to Customer Service, and asked if I could have a comment form to fill out. The Customer Service employee—who, bless his heart, could see me—said they didn’t have a comment form, but he listened to my complaint. He seemed sympathetic. I think it was real. He told me that if I wanted to talk to the Assistant Manager—he pointed him out to me—I could deliver my complaint in person. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the Assistant Manager had been one of the guys who couldn’t see me.

What the hell. It was worth a try. I walked over to the Assistant Manager. When I was just a few feet away from him, I stopped, planted my cane, and looked directly at him. Damned if I wasn’t still invisible.

It was weird—he was a tall man, but when his eyes moved from one side to the other I could see them making an upward bump in their travel path when they were passing over me. He refused to look directly at me for even a second. I kept looking straight at him. There was no way he could have missed me.

When that got old, I walked right past him toward the door, staring directly at him the whole time. Still no acknowledgement. When I’d gone a few feet past him, I turned back around and stared even harder at him, hard enough that it would have been rude if I’d been interacting with a normal human being. He still pretended he couldn’t see me, though truly, he must have.

Home Depot used to be a good store, but in recent years it’s taken a real dive.

See what comes of union busting?

Comments on Why I won't be doing steampunk this Saturday:
#1 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 08:59 PM:

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the Assistant Manager had been one of the guys who couldn’t see me.

I guess it's true what they say about managers setting a place's cultural tone. If the alpha dude on the floor isn't going to acknowledge the presence of people with a XX-chromosome, none of the lesser folk will either.

It's a pervasive problem, God knows, but it sounds like you ran into a particularly pernicious case of it.

#2 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 09:15 PM:

Perhaps a rap across the knees with the cane might have attracted his attention?

But, then again, maybe not.

#3 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 09:27 PM:

I've found that waving my hand in front of their eyes and saying "Excuse me, I have a question for you" generally tends to have *some* sort of results. I've never had to escalate it up to "Excuse me, you $^%TY&( SOB".

#4 ::: Lis ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 09:36 PM:

I used to work in a big box hardware store that competes with Home Depot. There, either the cane or the XX chromosones would have got you ignored by the floor staff, and both at once is practically the kiss of death.

#5 ::: Ann ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 09:40 PM:

I'm another middle aged female with the power of invisibility, and when that happened to me (needed parts to fix the squirt attachment on my sink), I climbed the do-not-touch rolling ladder, sat down, and loudly announced to everyone that I was staying until I got help. It took a bit, but someone finally came over.

And I don't shop at Home Depot anymore.

#6 ::: Ann ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 09:40 PM:

I'm another middle aged female with the power of invisibility, and when that happened to me (needed parts to fix the squirt attachment on my sink), I climbed the do-not-touch rolling ladder, sat down, and loudly announced to everyone that I was staying until I got help. It took a bit, but someone finally came over.

And I don't shop at Home Depot anymore.

#7 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 09:47 PM:

I'm another fat middle-aged female, but I don't have a cane and I'm noticeably taller than Teresa. I haven't yet had that kind of problem at our local Home Depot; the problems I normally have are (1) finding floor help in the first place, and (2) having there be a line of people waiting to ask the floor help a question, probably because of (1). But if I'm patient and willing to wait my turn, they don't seem to have any problem seeing me. Yet.

#8 ::: Suzanne ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 09:53 PM:

I pride myself on being a civil person. I try very hard to treat people fairly and with kindness of spirit, to be reasonable and helpful, and to conduct my interactions -- including those with people not as vested in being civil as I -- in a manner I can later look back on and feel like I retained my high ground no matter how pressed. I don't always succeed at this (I am, in my defense, in IT) but I do try.

Now, many years ago I had a friend (a Vietnam vet, which may or may not explain the next few sentences) who had a prodigious talent for swearing. Among other things, this friend didn't like New York, and on a road trip with him once he started swearing when we crossed the state line and didn't stop until we'd crossed back out on the far side. And, as best as I could tell, he never repeated himself. Most of those swears went straight through my impressionable young brain and lodged themselves directly in my subconscious. I cannot, even with effort of will, make myself recall more than one or two of them, but when I get really really REALLY mad, one will percolate to the surface of my mind like an elder god summoned forth from the dark places, and it will pass from my lips unbidden, and inevitably I will be as shocked by it as whoever I happened to have spoken it to. Then it disappears again back to the murk, and within minutes I won't be able to say exactly what it was that I said, except that it seemed to work exceedingly well in its purpose.

The only time more than one of these words surfaced at the same time was at a Home Depot, and I think a solid dozen made their way from my lips to the ears of that store's Manager, and he twitched. Visibly twitched, like someone had smacked his soul upside the head with a verbal 2x4 with a rusty nail sticking out of it.

And, dammit, he deserved it.

#9 ::: Tracey ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 09:55 PM:

It's the cane; I can speak from experience. Some male employees will acknowledge women, but when you're disabled, people turn weird. They start pulling their children away. Disability is catching and they don't want to get too close. And they ignore you in the hopes that you'll go away and then they won't have to deal with you. They do this especially if you're alone and there's no one nearby that they can identify as your keeper. Because physical disability is the same as mental incapacity, of course.

I don't do the staring contests anymore. I just walk right up to the asshole who's ignoring me, tap him on the shoulder and speak in a voice that carries to the entire room. "I'd like some help, please."

#10 ::: Suzanne ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 09:56 PM:

It's also worth noting that I had a different friend shopping in a Home Depot who had tried desperately to get someone's attention to help her without luck for nearly twenty minutes, and while she wasn't paying attention, her three year old took a big ol' stinky toddler poo in one of the display toilets.

They left very quickly.

I've noticed since then that the display toilets are now up on a shelf. Home Depot does, I think, invite its own special karma.

#11 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 10:06 PM:

Ouch... I can definitely feel your pain, as I've experienced autistic invisibility. That doesn't depend on age or gender, but usually I can at least get noticed by talking directly to someone.

#12 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 10:07 PM:

I've told several people about similar experiences--how once I reached middle age I became invisible--and they refused to believe me.

It happened to me yesterday at Pet Supplies Plus when I tried to get help from a (young, female) employee. Invisible and inaudible, apparently. (I'm short, but I'm not terribly soft-spoken.)

#13 ::: siriosa ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 10:08 PM:

Another invisible here. The first few years, frankly, it was a relief. My young-person cuteness generated a subsonic buzz in company, which was annoying. Now I can go for days without exciting interest, except from women my age and older, who can see me very well.

On occasions when attention is desirable, I have a purple straw hat that works very well: makes me taller, distinguishes me from the background. Also, a Tone of Command inherited from my mother, a white-haired lady one ignores at one's peril.

#14 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 10:42 PM:

They actually sell a tool in the child safety aisle that prevents invisibility... unfortunately they usually stock it up high, and it is quite heavy... you would probably need someone to assist you in getting it down.

You could always shop at Lowe's.

#15 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 10:47 PM:

I'm such a frequent flyer at my Home Despot (less than five blocks from my 1912 home) that they have no choice but deal with me.

I've more often had a problem just FINDING a knowledgeable sales helper. If I have to solve a problem I don't know the details of I either go to Strasser's or the Ace Hardware at Westport. They have smart folks working for them who can help with complex projects.

And do not get me started on how they sort out the shelves of stuff at Home Despot.

On the other hand, my "become invisible" and/or "I'm not here, don't try to speak to me" usually work both at our local RenFest and at SF conventions. We have one of our creeps (the only person ever fired from ConQuesT/Contra conventions for issues he wouldn't stop) come by our booth at the Renaissance Festival every year. He either goes outside around or goes through without seeing that we are here and we are people he ostensibly knows.

#16 ::: Lawrence ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 10:56 PM:

I don't like Home Depot. I was a stockholder for awhile, and sold it because I realized I just didn't want to own even a ridiculously small part of the company.

I can usually get help there -- not always -- but I'm a six-foot able-bodied male.

Frankly, I just don't like the feel of the place. I much prefer Lowe's. One of the few drawbacks of our new house is that there's a Home Depot nearby, but no Lowe's.

#17 ::: ErrolC ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 11:05 PM:

I'm pleased to report that when seeking assistance from any of the 3 big-box hardware chains in NZ my gf has had no particular trouble gaining attention. I'm generally either standing nearby looking bored, or not present.

#18 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 11:12 PM:

#2: I was going to suggest a rap across the family jewels.

I'd write up this as a letter and send it to the store's manager, and the district manager.

#19 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 11:16 PM:

I had that happen to me at a sporting-goods store. I walked out and never went back.
I remember running into something similar at Circuit City, although there you were invisible if you didn't look like you were prepared to lay out four-figure dollar amounts for anything.

I'd rather go to Lowe's than Home Despot. Fortunately, both of the local Lowe's stores are closer and easier to get in and out of than the local Home Despot.

(I also have an mental invisibility field: if I don't want people to notice me, they usually won't. And if I really want to be seen, I think I can make it work that way too, but not as well.)

#20 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 11:24 PM:

"Ya know," he said idly, leaning up against a display, "failing to provide equal service and reasonable accommodation to a person with a cane puts them in clear violation of the Amuricans with Disabilities Act, and while a formal complaint* is probly waaay too much trouble, a nice letter† to a Guvment agency with appropriate copies to the offending party might just support other folks claims. And set some managers to worrying."

*I do realize that this post is probably more about ranting to your friends and sharing your disgust rather than trying to fix things, but hey, I'm a guy.

†I know I don't even want to be on the receiving end of a Teresa Nielsen Hayden patent Rant, even though I have really good healthcare.

#21 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 11:25 PM:

Thinking about it... I hope you at least left your laden cart directly in front of him.

#22 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 11:28 PM:

Dammit, I just ordered a deep freezer from Home Depot because they have free delivery; Sears wanted $65 to deliver, and more to take away the old one.

I rarely go there, because it isn't near my house, but the local hardware store, 4 blocks away, has everything including kitchen sinks - but not large appliances. Made a detour on my way to Convivial (local relaxacon) last weekend to look at freezers. Would have bought it, but the nice middle-aged female clerk said it would be easier for me if I ordered it online, because that's the way to get the free delivery. I'm not invisible to other middle-aged females.

I'm seriously considering canceling my order, but I don't know where to go otherwise. My budget is tight, which is why I want the freezer, to be able to stock up at sales.

#23 ::: Amy ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 11:28 PM:

I've started shopping at Ace Hardware. Yes, it's a little more expensive. Sometimes they don't have exactly what I'm looking for. But there are always 2 or 3 knowledgeable employees waiting halfway up the front aisle of the store, just aching to help me find what I need and carry it up front for me.

#24 ::: Laramie Sasseville ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 11:34 PM:

I’m invisible. Who knew that all it took was being middle-aged and female?

James Tiptree Jr. Of course, we were a lot younger when 'The Women that Men Don't See' was published.

#25 ::: Sean Pratz ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 11:37 PM:

@18: I think she just did.

I work for the (sadly far out of reach from tnh's locale) competition, and not a single customer escapes my approach. All I can say is I'm sorry you got that treatment at any store.

If you email me, I will ship you your needed items, even if it means I have to go to a competitor to purchase them.

#26 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 11:38 PM:

I have rarely had trouble getting help from the staff at Home Depot, as long as I could find a staff person; it may or may not affect matters that my usual outer garment when a coat is necessary at all is a well-worn black motorcycle jacket liberally adorned with 1" band buttons. It's... striking. It may overcome the disadvantages of being female and shortish.

#27 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 11:42 PM:

"I am invisible because people refuse to see me."
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

#28 ::: Laramie Sasseville ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 11:50 PM:

I have to admit that I have not had this experience so far. Maybe because I'm tall enough to look a lot of guys straight in the eye, and am not afraid to use my outdoor voice and draw everyone else's attention along with the clerk's.

#29 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 11:53 PM:

Magic visibility potion:

Fill glass bottle with apple juice.

Label it GOAT PEE with magic marker.

To activate, hold it by the lid with as few fingers as feasible right in front of person who can't see you and recite the magical incantation:

"FIVE . . . FOUR . . . THREE . . ."

#30 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 11:54 PM:

Sean, #25: I agree. Several of the major chains have someone specifically assigned to scan blogs for mentions of their company name and take whatever actions seem necessary. When I posted a rant about encountering a shady practice at Auto Zone a few years ago, there was actually a Zone droid with an LJ account (because I don't accept anonymous comments) who came in and discussed it with me.

Googling for "Home Depot blog" doesn't yet bring up this entry, but I'll bet it will soon. OTOH, it did bring up this, which is even more appalling.

#31 ::: shadowsong ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 11:58 PM:

If someone is that determined not to notice you, I say it's a good time to test out your pickpocketing skills. It'd be like stealing the wallet off a mannequin!

#32 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 12:10 AM:

I may be male, but I'm old, and for the last year or so most any able-bodied human could walk faster than I can, so the Home Depot people can usually just walk away from me. Usually though, if I can hunt one down and plant myself right in front and say "Can you tell me where ...", I can get some response.

Lowe's is an option, but I've had even worse problems with them. I once spent 3 days going round in circles with them over the purchase of two outside doors and the contact with someone to hang them for me (not a chore I can physically handle myself anymore). I had to have then cancel the order twice and set it up again, differently each time. And everybody I talked to about it (two employees in the door department, and one assistant manager) had a different story and a different price. Finally I gave up in disgust and just insisted I get my money back. I was not very polite about it.

#33 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 12:14 AM:

Stefan Jones @ 28:

"I'm a 30 second bomb! I'm a 30 second bomb! 29, 28, 27 ..."

#34 ::: Lawrence ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 12:20 AM:

#22: If you have Lowe's available where you are, they often offer free delivery, and I have never had a serious problem with their customer service. (There have been one or two occasions when it took saying, "Excuse me," to get attention.)

We have a really excellent hardware store near here where I don't think anyone's invisible -- Strosnider's, in downtown Silver Spring -- but they're smaller, so there's stuff they don't carry, so sometimes you need the big box places.

#35 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 12:27 AM:

Home Depot lost a class action lawsuit, bigtime, over employment discrimination a few years back requiring Home Depot specifically to hire and to promote women, address systematic pernicious previous behavior... This of course was prior to the burrowing in of neocon fascist discriminationmongering appartchiks and other more obvious predations during the Schmuck's tenure in the White House--the appartchiks and the predations eliminated the workforce statistical data collection and analysis upon which many civil rights cases depended for proving bias and discrimination, along with sending civil rights and discrimation cases in which the accusing parties were other than white males claiming privilege limitation/removal/denial.... the Schmuck's misadministration has as policy sending all Clean Air and Clean Water Acts complains, sex discrimination complaints by women, civil rights complaints of all types except white males yelling about loss of traditional white male perks and benefits denied others, etc., to dead letter offices as action and final dispensing.

#36 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 12:30 AM:

If Teresa is the Invisible Girl, does that mean that Patrick is Mister Fantastic? In that case, Jim would be Ben Grimm. Abi then has to be the Human Torch, except that she extinguishes flames instead of starting fires.

#37 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 12:34 AM:

When I needed to buy a fridge, I went to a local appliance store that has somewhat-discounted scratched-or-dinged units. They delivered for a fee that was less than Sears wants to charge you.

#38 ::: Zelda ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 12:34 AM:

I am a middle-aged woman, and I am extremely visible in Home Depot, and Ace, and Lowe's.

To the other customers.

Apparently, a woman in khakis, a collared shirt, and sensible shoes, studying shelves of tools and taking notes, must be an employee, orange apron or no orange apron. Sometimes I am able to answer people's questions, in which case I do so. Other times, when I have denied knowledge of the store's stock, I have had to put off the same questioner two or three times. Because I *must* be an employee.

#39 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 01:04 AM:

Next time, Teresa (if there is a next time), I suggest rapping the gentleman on the breast bone with the handle of your cane while asking in a loud voice, "Young man, are you on drugs?" Give him just enough time to splutter, then ask, "Or is it alcohol? Never mind, you're awake now, so you can tell me where to find the framistams and doohickeys."

#40 ::: Sharon MWna ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 01:23 AM:

I've got the opposite problem - people talk my ears off all the time. (Want to hear strangers vent about their divorce/spouse's heart attack/father's adultery/request advice on funeral etiquette? Stand near me in line at the grocery store!) I've gotten used to it - they clearly don't have anyone else to talk to, and I've usually got a few minutes to listen.

More on point, if you're in the Dallas area, we have Elliots Hardware. They have (mostly) older gentlemen in each department who are delighted to help you find the right part and will also tell you how to use it to repair your toilet (or what have you). It costs a little more in money, but saves a ton in time and aggravation.

#41 ::: Sharon M ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 01:26 AM:

I don't have an extensive posting history here, but that should be Sharon M. Sorry!

#42 ::: K. G. Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 02:19 AM:

My middle-aged lady superpower seems to be invisible email. I have been dealing with a young recruiter at [insert name of major tech company] who sends me email one minute before a scheduled phone meeting that says "Have to cancel our call. Can you talk tomorrow?"

I reply "yes" two minutes later, hit "Send," and two days later she writes "Hey, I didn't read your email, can you talk next week?"

And on we go.

She has been at this through five email exchanges in 14 days and still has not managed to answer a single email in a timely fashion or make a single phone call -- scheduled or unscheduled -- to me.

So today I sent a description of her communications prowess to another member of her HR team, with the note: "I had wanted to find out more about [your company]; this was not what I'd expected to find out."

I'm sure I've scuttled my chances of ever working at that company, but if they treat me that way on the first date, why on earth would I want to get into a relationship with them?

#43 ::: PixelFish ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 02:20 AM:

I am visible at Home Depot still, but I was once thoroughly chastised by a lady at Lowe's, who seeing me, rakes in hand, walked into me and then yelled at me for "waving the rakes around". I was standing still at the time, not gesticulating, and looking at a selection of flashlights, I think it was. Maybe the rakes had bobbed a little bit when I leaned over, but "waving" was definitely an exaggeration. She and her husband chided me for my thoughtless behaviour and wandered off mumbling about kids these days. I was 27 at the time.

#44 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 02:41 AM:

This has reminded me that I need to write a letter to Clark's about the behaviour of their staff in one particular store. Two tills, only one staffed, one person being served at the till. I go and stand in the line, which consists of me for a minute or two. Twenty-something woman arrives behind me. A male twenty-something staff member suddenly appears, *takes her out of the line from behind me*, and serves her from the until-then vacant till. Twenty-something female behind the other till finishes serving her customer, and walks away, very deliberately ignoring me.

I am willing to give laddie the benefit of the doubt, as he looked embarrassed when he realised she'd gone off and ignored me and it's possible he genuinely thought I was with the customer in front. I'm not willing to do so with lassie, or the other three staff members who were standing around on the shop floor gossiping.

Clark's hasn't lost a sale, since I was in there to buyy something specific, but that branch has.

#45 ::: Shalanna Collins ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 03:01 AM:

SharonM: we live just down Coit (and around the corner) from Elliot's. Love the place! If I possibly can, I buy from there. Doesn't hurt that Stamp Asylum (decorative art rubber stamps and art supplies) is practically next door.

Middle-aged women are invisible to lots of people who aren't in the same boat. For whatever reason, "Mom" or "Grandma" clones are considered unimportant, and nobody worries about offending us. They will get pretty huffy if we stand up for ourselves, as though we're supposed to stay in the background and not ask for anything. It's really weird. Very unlike ancient cultures in which age/wisdom were considered to go hand-in-hand, sigh.

I have an invisibility field. It clicked on when I turned forty or thereabouts. And it was a lot worse when I had a broken knee last year. People would just about pole-vault over the wheelchair or detour the long way around to get away. I don't know why they thought a broken bone was contagious.

#46 ::: Steven desJardins ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 03:18 AM:

I can't wrap my head around that behavior. I just can't come up with any explanation of how anyone could behave that way.

But then I've never had any trouble getting service. In that situation I would simply say "Excuse me." I can apparently pack quite a lot of pissed-off-edness into a single "Excuse me." I've never had to escalate further.

If I did have to escalate, I think perhaps I would say, very loudly, "This gentleman appears to have had a stroke. Is anyone here a doctor?"

#47 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 05:08 AM:

Years ago, I took a drag king workshop given by Dianne Torr. It was quite something. I took it partly because I couldn't imagine a successful makeover of myself into a man at that point (I was thinner than I am now, but still quite curvy, and had long blonde hair).

Torr was very good at the transformation thing. I suppose it helped that John Killacky lent me his engineer boots and a leather jacket, and that Juan bought me a Gods of Thunder monster truck rally t-shirt. I was startled to learn that when you do the ace bandage wrapping-of-bazooms thing in order to pass, what you get are killer pecs. Anyhow, long story short, a bunch of us were made over and then sent out to wander around for an hour or so and see how we were treated.

I came back early because I was too blisteringly angry to stay out any long. I had been for a walk on a moderately busy city sidewalk and stopped for a cuppa at a coffeeshop. What made me so angry? People got out of my way, didn't crowd me on the sidewalk like they usually do, and the coffee shop guy gave me immediate service, even anticipating stuff I'd need before I had to ask for it. All I could think of was, "They've been holding out on me! THIS is what it's like?" Sure, I knew from observation that there was a difference in treatment, but to suddenly be moved up to the first-class section? Rage. Utter, utter rage, at how different it REALLY was.

(And then I met up with Mike and we went over to see Pamela, and she thought I was a guy even though she was expecting me at that hour in drag, which was funny; she said she thought, "Who's that fan with Mike? I don't know him." So apparently fannish was readable even when gender was rewritten. I should find those photographs we took, because they're pretty awesome. Though it did weird Juan out, because apparently in drag I look disconcertingly like his brother.)

Anyhow, that longwindedness was to say: yeah. I believe you. And it's only gotten more so as I put on a decade or two. These days, with the walker? I apparently have a repulsor field installed in it; who knew?

#48 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 05:52 AM:

The sad thing is this happens to me with a fan. He's somebody I know pretty well, but you'd be hard pressed to tell it from his side.

I first met him when we were on a panel together at Noreascon III. It wasn't the best panel of my life but people who have met me know that I am sort of memorable, in a small way.

I met him a week later in a bar in Dublin and were introduced. I said, we've met. He refused to believe me. We've since met often (the UK is a small fannish circle) and he's never made eye contact with me. Last time I saw him I actually wanted to praise him for something he had done, but could not make him acknowledge me.

It's really weird. I was 37 at the time, and I hardly look middle-aged even now.

He doesn't act like this to other women, so I guess it may be something more individual than age and looks, although the other women tend to be SMOFs. I'd ask him what I'd done to him, but it's hard when you're invisible...

#49 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 06:11 AM:

I am a middle-aged woman, and I am extremely visible in Home Depot, and Ace, and Lowe's.

To the other customers.

Apparently, a woman in khakis, a collared shirt, and sensible shoes, studying shelves of tools and taking notes, must be an employee, orange apron or no orange apron.

I get this a lot (30something male), regardless of what I'm wearing. My best was at the Tower of London, when a couple of tourists mistook me for a member of the staff and started asking me a series of questions about the Tower, history, kings etc., which is quite a mistake to make given that I was in jacket and tie and the actual staff dress like this.

I'd give 'em the benefit of the doubt and assume it's just that we give off an air of authority and competence...

elise's story reminds me very much of "A Civil Campaign". It's also a great example of invisible privilege.

#50 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 06:39 AM:

I sympathise, having spent a good part of my adult life in the US suffering from invisibility myself. That's when I haven't suffered from the automatic suspicion of being a shoplifter.

#51 ::: Rob Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 08:08 AM:

Pardon my naivete, but I am still amazed that treating everybody equally is still so radical.

#52 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 08:09 AM:

I tend not to be invisible in stores--people often come up to ask me if I need help when I just want to be left alone to browse. I do have a problem with employees who assume I'm a bit stupid. I'm quite shy and often stumble over my words a bit when speaking, and occasionally people in shops and restaurants speak to me in the kind of voice they use for children and very elderly people.

#53 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 08:11 AM:

ajay #49:
Maybe they didn't want to approach a man in drag?

#54 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 08:21 AM:

53: that's not drag. Look more closely - that's just a long coat over trousers...

#55 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 08:42 AM:

In #36, Serge writes:

If Teresa is the Invisible Girl, does that mean that Patrick is Mister Fantastic?

Logical, but kind of a stretch.

#56 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 08:42 AM:

This year we were at San Diego ComicCon. There was a booth there showing off digitizers and Lightwave from NewTek. Now I used to sell Lightwave as part of the old Toaster systems--I know it's a powerful 3D program with the second best interface I've ever used. My wife the graphics designer had never seen it and has been wanting a good 3D program so we stopped at the booth, which was small enough that you could not get more than 3 feet from any of the attendants, and went over to the guy who was finishing up with a gent who had some questions about the product. He finished with the gent.

He started playing with the layout screen and totally ignored my wife for over 10 minutes.

She ended up sending a note to NewTek who said they didn't have any reps at the show. Funny, if there's somebody running around wearing a shirt with the company logo embroidered on it allegedly selling my software I'd do what I could to figure out who in blazes it was, but they thought that was enough.

Sorry NewTek. You lost well over $1,000.00 in sales, assuming she would have bought some of the accessory packs (which is a pretty solid frigging bet) as well as upgrade fees for all eternity. At this point I doubt sincerely that she'd take a copy if it was free and if you rehired Kiki Stockhammer to deliver it personally, and if anyone asks her about the program she's going to do her level best to talk them out of it. Clearly NewTek's not worried about it or the e-mail Margaret got back would have had a decent apology in it, but I admit to the temptation to dig out the OLD personal phonebook and see how many of those decade old NewTek corporate numbers still work just so they know they've had their reputation poisoned and that it's going to go on when this year's SDCC is long forgotten.

#57 ::: S Miller ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 09:12 AM:

If you have a local hardware store, please support them. Yes, it is a few dollars more, but good small hardware stores will help you build your time travel devices.

I frequently found myself going to Home Depot to build things that were never envisioned by the people who created the components. Home Depot typically had more variety, but the local hardware store guys were much more knowledgeable and capable of telling me if I was about to accidentally drill a hole through my hand with the project that I was attempting.

#58 ::: D. Potter ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 09:25 AM:

Fragano @ 50: All these years I've been getting excellent service under false pretenses, then. Heh. (Which is to say that I used the suspicious character thing to my advantage once I knew that was what was going on. It really is amazing.)

Also I have learned to deploy a stentorian New York "Excuse me!" and the occasional "Is anyone here accepting payment?"

Teresa, thanks for this heads-up on Home Depot. We middle-aged females can shift our money to stores with a proper fear of bankruptcy in them.

#59 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 09:35 AM:

I get the people-coming-up-to-me-with-questions thing, too. It's because of the large invisible L for Librarian branded on my forehead. Most librarians experience this; we just radiate a field of "I know exactly where it is" anywhere we go. Even in strange cities, when I'm in fairly obvious tourist drag, I still get directional questions.

It's odd and annoying to find I am much more invisible when I am in a store with a man. Alone, I haven't had TOO much trouble yet, but I'm tall and middle age has been pretty kind to me so far. I think red hair may help too.

Teresa, Ms. Mentor's wonderful book "Impeccable Advice for Women in Academia" has some great strategies for both breaking out of and using to advantage mid-life invisibility. (Ms. Mentor is Emily Toth, a shortish, roundish, middle-aged professora of some presence herself, and extremely entertaining at conferences.)

#60 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 09:36 AM:

Is this somehow a consequence of raising the emerging generation with too much praise and too little correction? I take the opportunity to counter youth-criticism with the observation how crucial the youth-vote was was in making Obama prominent and in electing him. But the criticism of that generation I hear is unexpectedly specific, like how shop-owners have begun the practice of teaching their student-hires how to push a broom. 60 Minutes even devoted a story to the topic. (And where's the sense of wearing your pants below your ass?)

Magenta Griffith @ #22:

Dammit, I just ordered a deep freezer from Home Depot because they have free delivery; Sears wanted $65 to deliver, and more to take away the old one.

I rarely go there, because it isn't near my house...

Your deal seems more like the figurative equivalent of leaving the toddler-mess, and moseying out the store slow and whistling.

#61 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 10:11 AM:

Home Depot's business model, at least on the retail floor, long predates it: Old Washingtonians like myself will remember them from the 1960s if not earlier. A typical Hechinger store was pretty much like a typical Home Depot, except not as large. And they had most of the same problems: lackluster service, poor shelf labelling, the works. They were killed off by Home Depot because (a) HD stores were a lot bigger, and thus had more selection, (b) HD came in with a ton of money and shiny newness, whereas Hechinger, while it wasn't hurting at first, didn't have the kind of resources to make its stores as shiny, and (c) most importantly, Hechinger had already picked up the kind of rep that HD has now: lost of stuff, but understaffed and with people who didn't know what they're doing anyway. It's not hard to be invisible at these places, and being seen often doesn't help. As a rule, if I need something where I'm going to need some assistance, I save myself some aggravation and head to one of the local hardware places, where I know that as soon as I come in the door someone is going to say, "can I help you?"

Modulo the stupid sexism, this is the big box experience. I have just suddenly remembered our attempt at buying a TV at Best Buy. We had picked out a model, and we just needed to get someone to pick it off the rack for us. We couldn't find anyone. Eventually we gave up and dashed across town to Belmont TV (two locations to serve you; the other one in Glenmont is an early '60s retail time capsule), where the guy let us in at 10 minutes to closing. We'd been there before, but weren't ready to buy just then (We had to deal with some furniture issues which were a whole 'nother retail travail in themselves); but he had given us some useful advice. Seven minutes or so later, we had one we liked and were out the door.

Julia, it's amazing to me how little interest so many places have in actually selling me something. I go to the local Safeway, and they are extremely aggressive about getting people through checkout; if lines start to build up at all, they start calling in the reinforcements, and the manager himself will staff a register if need be. Contrast that with the Giant which is unfortunately the only place that works out for stopping on the way to the office: they just don't seem to get that at 8 AM my objective has to be to get in and out as fast as possible. It shouldn't be a big deal to open another register, but they are terribly sluggish about doing so. And then they have those self-checkout things (which I've seen at HD too) which are beneath loathsome: they are designed to be used only by stupid people who have never seen such a thing before, and they fight any attempt to speed them up. I categorically refuse to use them.

#62 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 10:17 AM:

C Wingate @ 61... I have just suddenly remembered our attempt at buying a TV at Best Buy

I never buy anything if I don't already specifically know what I want. To say that the folks there aren't qualified is an understatement.

#63 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 10:25 AM:

Mike Leung @ 60: And where's the sense of wearing your pants below your ass?

My hypothesis is that this fashion trend started because otherwise you'd never know that the person in question had spent $40 on a pair of boxer shorts.

C. Wingate @ 61:

Home Depot, at least the ones I have been in, used to have much more helpful people on the floor, but I've noticed their rapid decline over the last few years. I've pretty much sworn off them altogether now.

I've used a better self-checkout machine (I had no choice at the time—it still was pretty horrid). After being abused by one at Home Depot, I swore I'd never use them again.

Actually, I think that self-checkout machines are pretty much an indication that they don't care much about their customers. This isn't like the automatic ticket machine at a train station, it's more involved work that they're shifting off onto the customer because they don't want to hire more staff.

#64 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 10:37 AM:

At Best Buy I have a mantra that I keep repeating:

"Please go away. Please go away. Please go away."

And I'm only there for product comparison.

#65 ::: Billegible ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 10:56 AM:

I've had that problem at FutureShop. I usually end up walking over to a huddle of employees and quite loudly saying, "Hello, I'd like to give you some of my money today, but no one seems to want to take it."
Always works.

#66 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 10:58 AM:

#42 K. G.
Recruiters tend to not call back...
I got a call from one early last week, who was supposed to email me so I could email the current resume. I didn't receive email, and there was a caller ID block on the sender. That was even more annoying than the usual deadend habit....

#45 Shalanna
It was worse a few centuries back, older women got labeled "witches" and murdered....

#46 Steven -- I've had the situation of standing around in a store or browsing and NOT wanting assistance, and getting overly "helpful" store employees demanding to know if I needed assistance--which irritates me so much that even when I DID want assistance, I said, "NO!"

I think that that's happened in Home Depot, even. It's MBA massively overapid management jerks who who likely have never held a retail floor job in their lives "this is how employees must act" directive which Management then imposes from the topdown and fires people who fail to comply--for those stores complying with it...

#47 Elise
I almost considering BITING someone who turned out to claim he was a cop in a relatively large Massachusetts city--I was at a checkout counter in a supermarket, the clerk was totally up the bill and I was getting out the payment, and this early twenties tall slender but wiry short-haired male started moving his groceries from the rear end of the conveyor belt to the clerk end of it, directly past my nose within -easy- biting distance--all I would have had to do was push my head forward an inch, open my mouth, and chomp down, and I would have had a mouthful of obnoxious rude invasive assertive impertinent etc. forearm. He KEPT doing it, even though I objected and said his arm was so close to my nose I could bite it. He had no respect for my existence, and when I said, "If I were a male, would you be [invading my personal space]?" he said, "No." I reacted by calling him rude and needing sensitivity training, he asked the clerk to call the manager. "You're not getting me to speed the transaction up any and you're not going to get out of here any faster," I said. He announced that he was a cop for an adjacent city. I completed the transaction and left with my groceries, going out to my car and surreptitiously checking behind me to make sure he hadn't followed/wasn't surveying.... and though about sending an anonymous complaint about harrassment and offensive attitudes towards older women, to the police department of the city.

#56 Bruce
When NewTek was pushing Kiki Stockhammer, I got irate about it.... she was basically a booth bimbo, and I despise booth bimboes--I detest the male ones, two, who are not distinguishable until asked a technical product question and their response is either parroting marketing points or a scripted pitch or repeating the pitch from the top, or standing there looking like someone who is a complete ignoramous about technical information beyond canned marketing points. One can almost -see- the bouncing around in the empty skull....

#61 C.
The self-checkout things have at least two virtues--one of them is that they're less expensive in a whole lot of ways than hiring store clerks --I applied five or six years ago at a kiosk in a Stop & Shop and filled out the electronic forms. One of the questions was a multiple choice one with a question something like "What was the value of merchandise you stole from your employer" and there were three or four responses which had monetary range values in them.... Retail clerking salaries are low, especially for new hires, and turn around can be high. And employees are the ones who do most of the "shrink"age in retail than involve merchandise taken without being paid for.

As for a virtue which I hadn't though about--a friend's father in institutionalized these days, for a particularly obnoxious form of senile dementia. His brain funciion were impaired and deteriorating before the institutionalizing, however, such that he had trouble and was slow dealing with clerks for transactions at banks, at stores, etc. Machines he could deal with, though, machines don;t judge people on how quickly or slowly they take to perform transactions, most people and especially not those who were once in highly technical fields don't feel publically embarrassed and ashamed to have memory problems when dealing with machines as opposed to store clerks... for such people dealing without an autoteller or automated checkout is easier and preferable to having to face a store clerk or human bank teller and reveal incompetency/slowness.

Having said that, of course, I don't like the automated checkouts much myself... but I;m not someone whose got the issues that the friend's father has had, either.

Meanwhile.... there are -three- DeMoulas Market Basket supermarkets in the town I live in (and no other supermarkets... originally there was a Purity Supreme and two DeMoulas supermarkets, then Purity moved out of the north part of town into a strip mall built in the center of town, which strip mall much of the townsfolk objected to.. DeMoulas put a new store into the space that Purity had vacated--Purity leaving there annoyed the people in that vicinity, too--and a patronage boycott of the Purity resulted in that store closing.

Anyway, the Market Basket chain in this area has been doing quite well and keeps adding new stores, and has generally lower prices that the other stores, and Wal-Mart and Target, even. The stores don't have any automated checkout counters. I've heard the PA make announcements in the stores, when lines start to build up, for employees to come to the front of the store and open more checkout stations up--of course, that doesn't apply to the case of the store being a mob scene with a blizzard watch in effect and the populace playing locust filling the store and denuding it of bread, milk, and ice cream (remember, this is Massachusetts, where people go out for ice cream in blizzards...), and all the checkout stands already open....)

#67 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 11:11 AM:

I've had that stupid mutant superpower all my life. I get overlooked in hardware stores, at parties, and when standing in line in a pizza takeout place. It doesn't help that my speaking voice is a very soft alto.

Also I found that it's a field effect. When I go shopping with a friend who always gets noticed when she's on her own, she becomes invisible, too.

If I could control it, I could become a supervillain.

#68 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 11:19 AM:

Sometimes the invisibility thing shows up earlier in life. Secondary school starts in 5th grade here, and when my daughter was that age, we went to several open-houses. At one, she went into a math class where a demonstration was to be held. There were, as I recall, two girls and two or (at most) three boys. The teacher began his demonstration and asked questions. My daughter was the only one to raise her hand. The teacher not only didn't call on her, he didn't look at her or the other girl; he actually asked the boys if they had ideas about how to answer the question. Needless to say, we chose another school (and fortunately, she doesn't generally have problems getting people's attention).

#69 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 11:32 AM:

Heh. I had the same treatment at a Home Depot about ten years ago. The next day I mentioned it to my co-worker as an example of a place that "didn't speak girl", but he swore it was a case of didn't speak customer as he'd had much the same experience several times.

("Doesn't speak girl" is our family shorthand for this sort of treatment, dating from a cab driver who I'd assumed just didn't speak English.)

San Diego Comic Con is pretty much a bastion of doesn't speak girl, although the NewTek guy was exceptional.

So for that matter are many computer stores (yes, I'm including Apple stores) and car dealerships. We deal with that. If a sales rep only talks to Bruce, I wander off. All that sales rep gets to do is talk to Bruce, 'cause no sales are made until my questions are answered and I don't like talking to people who don't want to talk to me.

#70 ::: Janet K ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 11:39 AM:

C. Wingate @61. I spent a lot of time and money at Hechinger's after I bought my condo in the mid-80s--a trip every weekend for years. I was doing some simple woodworking then, too.

That chain (even in decline) was so much better than Home Depot is now, especially in the variety and quality of stock.

I avoid HD these days unless I know I can get something (such as halogen bulbs) at a real savings there. I generally love hardware stores but HD does nothing for me. What I want is often out of stock and the store is dismal (some of the ones in really upscale suburbs may be better).

These days I get my routine hardware fix at Ace or Strosnider's.

I'm unsure what my visibility quotient would be at HD. I rarely ask for help in a store. I just keep looking. It's a failing.

#71 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 11:42 AM:

If there's an official complaint (especially with a government agency) that you can make easily and quickly, it might be fun to see them jump. My last (and I'm pretty sure I mean last, not "most recent") HD experience involved some 4' shelving lumber that I clearly should have measured before leaving the store, because most of it was just over 47-14". When I called, they told me I was welcome to drive the hour back to their store and return it. After I took a few minutes at the state consumer-protection department's web site, lo and behold the phone call from the manager (apologizing for the "outside vendor" from whom they ostensibly source their short lumber) and offering a substantial refund without the need for a store visit.

#72 ::: Dan R. ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 11:42 AM:

FWIW, as a middle aged man I've been invisible for up to 20 minutes in a shoe store whose target demographic is young women. I was looking for slippers for my daughter's birthday, and I couldn't get eye contact from anyone (all 20-something women), whether or not they were with another customer. When new young women came in the store, they were immediately approached and asked if they needed help.

(Dan R. - not to be confused with DanR)

#73 ::: nerdycellist ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 11:44 AM:

I get the "visibility" problem at bookstores. Despite having not worked in a bookstore for 7 or 8 years (which is about the length of time I worked in bookstores) people still ask me questions about where things are. I must smell like a bookseller.

As for being invisible. Yep. I'm fat and living in Los Angeles. I would imagine should I ever require a cane, walker, crutches or wheelchair I might just be constantly shoved aside and run over. Maybe that will happen in three years when I'm forty.

#74 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 11:45 AM:

I (another middle aged woman) can generally get help at Home Depot if I need it--but "help" is a relative term, as the new generation of workers don't seem to know too much about what they have or where. I pity the idiot who ignores Teresa in full chin-out-hauteur mode...

I will note that my 19-year-old has been told, at her part time job at a chain pharmacy, that she is a little too personable when she's working at the register; people want to tell her about their days, their relationships, their athlete's foot, and it slows the line down. Somewhere there is surely a happy medium. But at least my kid, after hearing years of me complaining about bad service, understands the principle of being cheerily available to the shoppers at her store.*

*she probably knows I'd beat her, else.

#75 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 12:03 PM:

Dan, #72: That's a problem for a lot of men in shoe stores which cater to women. The experience of several people I know suggests that what they're really afraid of is men shopping for dragwear.

#76 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 12:13 PM:

Teresa: And on reconsideration, I was struck by this:

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the Assistant Manager had been one of the guys who couldn’t see me.

WTH? I think you let yourself get beat down, there. You were at the Customer Service desk -- it is entirely appropriate to lodge a complaint against the "Assistant Manager", and ask to see the store's actual Manager.

#77 ::: Zelda ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 12:16 PM:

S Miller @57 If you have a local hardware store, please support them. Yes, it is a few dollars more, but good small hardware stores will help you build your time travel devices. I frequently found myself going to Home Depot to build things that were never envisioned by the people who created the components.

Many people make this error: thinking that Home Depot is a hardware store. It is not. It is a project store. It is designed for the guy who told his wife that of course, he could build a deck, but lied; Home Depot is there to bail him out.

If you are not doing one of the Approved Projects, but rather need a specific item-- e.g. a small quantity of (literal) brass tacks, not brads, not wood screws, but brass tacks of a certain size to make a cosmetic repair to the brass fittings on a piece of furniture-- they can't help you. Go to a hardware store.

Debbie @68 My daughter was the only one to raise her hand. The teacher not only didn't call on her, he didn't look at her or the other girl; he actually asked the boys if they had ideas about how to answer the question.

You know, the weirdest experience with invisibility I've ever had was at a con, shortly after we moved to Chicagoland. There was a panel on a topic on which I had some professional experience, and I wanted to hear what the experts said. After all of the panelists did the I-have-no-idea-why-I'm-on-this-panel, but-here's-my-latest-book, it quickly became apparent that I was the person in the room with the most factual knowledge. Which I could not supply to the discussion, because the moderator could not see me.

I wasn't being rude; I was politely waiting to be called on like everyone else. It wasn't apparently a gender thing; there were other women getting recognized. I was of the majority race in that room, so that wasn't it. After others had all had turns and were getting called on for the second and third time, I did eventually blurt out a fact whose lack everyone had spent several minutes lamenting; that didn't make me visible either. I finally left because I couldn't stand to hear a discussion lurching along without any of the relevant information.

All I can think of is that I was a stranger to the community-- my badge color showed that I was a Saturday-only registrant, and no one knew my face.

#78 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 12:16 PM:

Janet Croft@59:

Even in strange cities, when I'm in fairly obvious tourist drag, I still get directional questions.

Yes, this. I seem to generate "Frequent Asked Questions" even in foreign parts. Unfortunately, although my French is just about up to "over there and turn right", it isn't up to "your map is out of date and that street doesn't connect anymore; you need to go around the block and get in from the other end".

I've seen the invisibility field working on my mother, once or twice. When I arrived and started talking to her, the field suddenly shut down. Most strange.

#79 ::: mgrace ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 12:18 PM:

I feel your pain. I think we live near the same Home Depot--Hamilton Parkway?--and I hate that place! The employees are moronic and just plain dumb. Lowe's, which is nearby, is only marginally better, but given the choice I always go to Lowe's.

#80 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 12:29 PM:

Count me in as a member of the Invisibility Brigade. I was at a Best Buy during a sale and was willing to spend quite a lot of money on the item I wanted. Instead I stood there and watched as six (male) staffers decided the girl shopping for a $20 dollar item needed their help.

On the way out I informed customer service that their computer department had lost them a $800 sale, and that I hoped the $20 all six of their floor staff had managed to make them would be enough compensation. The manager -- who had been chatting up another young female -- overheard it and rushed over offering to assist me himself. I turned him down and walked out. Told him in no uncertain terms that I would inform all my female, middle-aged, prosperous friends to ignore his store.

I do most of my electronic shopping online these days. Saves me from invisibility or from the assumption that a woman my age cannot possibly understand modern technology. This one ticks me off even more, since as a librarian of 25 years standing, I've worked with more technology than those young whippersnappers can even imagine existed.

#81 ::: nerdycellist ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 12:32 PM:

I get public transit questions from tourists both here and in London. Here is great - I'm thrilled to help the confused Norweigan or Wisconsinite find their way about using our ridonkulous bus and subway system. I'm always amused that in a crowd of people, I look like the one they should ask. (maybe the fat makes me look more harmless or motherly or something). London baffles me though, as it happened even the first time I visited. I wound up wandering up to the giant tube map with the nice Scots ladies to put our heads together to see how they could get to x.

As for Home Depot, the last owner of the building I'm living in thought himself some kind of master renovator and re-did all the apartments with tons of cute but useless (pedestal sink with no storage and mirror with no medicine cabinet in small bathroom) renovation. He got all supplies - including freaking lightbulbs for the lighting fixtures - at Home Depot. now when one of those damn things burn out (which is frequently), the only place we can get replacements is the Despot. For all other needs, I go to the OSH which is kitty-corner from the HD. This place is laid out fairly intuitively and when I need to find those little rubber dealies you put on your furniture to keep it from marring the hardwood floors, not only do the employees not look at me funny, but they cheerfully walk me to the appropriate aisle, which not only has the little rubber dealies, but those felt whatsits as well.

#82 ::: Micah ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 12:36 PM:

Being male, I tend toward visibility, but I recall something similar happening with my step-mother. It was particularly amusing because she didn't care enough about the shopping trip to actually get the help she was seeking, but she's not the sort to stand silently while ignored.

(Note that this was a commission-based store, which is why the following makes sense.)

After walking a circuit of the store, she stopped at the entrance and yelled, as loud as she could, "The fact that I parked my FIFTY-THOUSAND-dollar car out front MIGHT have been a hint that I have enough money to BUY something, you LOSERS!" She then walked out to the stares of quite a few surprised salesfolk. I must say, it's on my list of funny moments to have witnessed.

#83 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 12:38 PM:

ajay @ #49: elise's story reminds me very much of "A Civil Campaign". It's also a great example of invisible privilege.

There's a reason why it reminds you very much of "A Civil Campaign." Lois and I were hanging out after writers' group one day, and I had to take a phone call, and when I came back she was leafing through the book of photographs by Loren Cameron, I think it was. She looked up with this bemused expression and said, "May I borrow this?" That led to a series of conversations, and ultimately to that particular plotline. One of the conversations included the story I told above.

(P.S. There's a line in the book that's nabbed from me. In writers' group, we were kicking around the question of how Barrayaran politics handles questions of gender and inheritance, and I said, "They could just let the prick vote. Lord ______, his mark." And Lois said, "I am stealing that!" I love that plotline the serendipity that led to it.)

#84 ::: Micah ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 12:40 PM:

@81: I love it when they put the dealies and the whatsits in the same place. When I ask for a dealie and get led to the whatsits and then need to get new directions to the dealies because I accidentally described a whatsit, it's such a pain.

#85 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 12:49 PM:

Hilde, being wheelchair-bound, runs into this sort of attitude frequently.

The most extreme example I can think of was when we out shopping for a new car several years ago. At one dealership, not only did the salesman address all his comments towards me, but he suggested that we leave my wife sitting in the showroom while he and I went out to the lot to look at actual cars.

We didn't buy a car there.

The especially stupid part of this was that some of the major selling points we were looking for in a car were: 1) How easy would it be for Hilde to get in and out of the car, and 2) how easy would it be to lift her wheelchair into the trunk or cargo area, and 3) how well would it fit into that trunk or cargo area? All things which she and her chair would have to actually be at the car to judge.

#86 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 12:51 PM:

I started going invisible when I was 40, but talking a little louder seems to have solved it.

As for general attitudes about middle-aged and older women, I'm very tired of "not your mother's X" and "not your grandmother's Y". It's almost as though anything associated with women past 40 or so obviously inferior.

#87 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 12:57 PM:

Janet #59:

Red hair is always a help. I'm also a person people ask for directions, but since "Map Geek" is not a well-known forehead logo, I can't figure out where they get it.

Mostly people don't ask me for help in hardware stores, which is kind of funny, since I misspent several years of my youth working in one.

Where I wish I could turn invisible is bookstores, not that there seem to be as many of them around these days.

#88 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 01:06 PM:

A shirt for all those who seem to invite questions from strangers.

I get asked for the time a lot. The frequency didn't diminish when I stopped wearing a watch, either.

#89 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 01:16 PM:

At CVS they train their clerks to shout "NEXT!" as soon as they are done ringing up a purchase and handing the items over.

I first noticed this behavior in the clerks at the Cathedral Grocery in Morningside Heights, NYC and thought that it was a New York thing (high-volume sales and rudeness), but the CVS in my neighborhood (a Maryland suburb) does not exactly have high-volume sales and the clerks act the same way.

However, at least you know where you are with them. Fake-friendly sales people irritate me much more than those who behave as if you are invisible.

#90 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 01:19 PM:

This thread is making me want to reread Remnant Population.

#91 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 01:29 PM:

It's odd and annoying to find I am much more invisible when I am in a store with a man.

When I wanted to make a warping frame, the boyfriend and I went off to Home Depot. We found an employee in fairly short order; what weirded us out was that he addressed all of his questions to Liam, even though Liam had only the fuzziest idea of what we were trying to make. Every time, Liam would look at me and wait for me to answer, but the guy didn't seem to notice that. I mean, I get the assumption that the man is the one with the woodworking project, but you'd think he'd get the hint after three or four iterations...

#92 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 01:35 PM:

Most of my minority demographic qualities are not physical, so I haven't been ignored a lot, but then I don't go to Home Despot either. At Lowe's I have had folks ask me if I need help when I only mean to snag a few paint cards for future collages.
I am very fortunate in having a local hardware store, McLendons, just a few mins away. They know what they are doing and they don't treat anyone shabbily that I am aware of. Not even in the cases where I have to say dealie or whatsit instead of sounding more knowledgeable. My only problem with them is they have stopped carrying 1/4" split rings [you know, like they make keychains with only smaller] and the other places I called didn't have them either. They didn't even have the solid kind of steel ring in that size. I expressed my displeasure as politely as I could, and hope that this will be rectified in time, as these items are indispensable to a builder of tiny trebuchets.
It was one of the big chain stores, I forget which, that I called some years about something else and they knew less about it than I did.
Social aspects--as a lone wolf type I myself am not the best at paying attention to others, and am working on my manners. Still I relished the tales of slighted customers' vengeances.
Maybe if I built you all a BIG treb, you could get their attention...

#93 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 01:40 PM:

I generally ignore people when I make my forays into HD, as I know what I need. When I'm looking for something, I look online and shop there. I also prefer the Strosniders in downtown Silver Spring, but the HD in College Park seems to have slightly better customer service.

The one time I used a wheelchair* -- offered by the entry station at my local Kaiser -- I immediately became invisible to the Kaiser employees who were supposed to be helping me. They kept asking my partner questions, and she would then refer to me.

When I left the Kaiser building on crutches, I was more visible again. Most annoying. There were some very nice people in the NIH campus cafeteria, though, who offered help while I crutched around at work. I still say hello to them.

*My foot injury was severe enough to avoid walking on. Next time I'm in a wheelchair, though, I'll be bringing something sharp and/or poky to get their attention with.

#94 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 01:43 PM:

ajay #54:
that's not drag. Look more closely - that's just a long coat over trousers...

Umm. Joke, Moshe.

#95 ::: Velma ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 01:48 PM:

Like Fragano, I'm usually either invisible or a suspected shoplifter, though these days, as a solid woman with a shaved head, I'm also bordering on the too-weird-to-approach, I suspect. I'm not sure what's going to happen the next time Soren and I go together to a major store like that -- a small disabled guy with a cane, and a middle-aged black woman? Will our invisibilities cancel out, or will they maximize? Stay tuned....

#96 ::: Megan ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 01:53 PM:

A couple months back, a (female) friend and I noted in shock that the recession had gotten so bad that we had actually gotten service at Home Depot. They must be hurting.

#97 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 02:03 PM:

This is shamefully shocking to me. Shamefully, because I was completely amazed by Teresa's story, which given the other stories told in the comments, is disgustingly common. To stand right in front of someone and talk to them, and have them look right through you and apparently pretend not to see or hear you? That's not just not noticing women shopping in the store, that's something conscious and willful. It strikes me as a form of hatred, actually.

Closest thing I've experienced to that is my invisibility to most young gay men. They don't like to think about older men at all, especially chubby ones, because they all fear aging, and being fat (aside from chubby chasers etc.) is absolutely the kiss of death to a gay man's sex life. But if someone's talking to you with the intention of romancing you or "sexing you up," ignoring them is a little more understandable. I guess.

I've been known to say "Oh, no, so and so is definitely straight; he's young and attractive and friendly to me, and no gay man is all three of those." Yeah, even when all parties know I'm gay, straight guys are markedly friendlier to me than gay guys. And I'm not talking about hitting on them, just about "Are you using this machine?" and "Are you done with those 25s?"

But the help in a store? It happens this often? I'm shocked by this, and it horrifies me that I could be so oblivious. This has to be something they deliberately teach their employees; "don't give any service to middle-aged women, because if they shop here our REAL customers won't," or something of that nature.

I have only limited use for Home Depot, but I'm definitely going to avoid it whenever possible from now on. I don't ride in the front of the bus when others are relegated to the back.

#98 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 02:22 PM:

Xopher, "I don't ride in the front of the bus when others are relegated to the back" is a fantastic line. I fully intend to steal it.

#99 ::: Zelda ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 02:25 PM:

Xopher @97:

Boycotting HD isn't the main thing here. Notice how many of the stories are from car dealerships and electronics-and-appliances places. It's only HD's fault that they don't have a day of employee orientation devoted to customer service, beginning with a unit on distinguishing them from the background noise.

Rather, investigate what businesses *do* have decent customer service, if you can find any in your area. Cherish them. *Tell* them that they have your business because they are decent to your female/POC/disabled friends.

#100 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 02:25 PM:

As a person with social anxiety issues, I am often happy when I can find what I'm looking for and check out without making contact with another human being. I like self-check-out. In the best of all possible worlds it frees up staff to actually be helpful and deal with transactions that can't be automated.

...In reality it's an excuse to cut staff.

As a librarian in a library that's quickly becoming very automated, I find that the automation seems to be designed for a brightish twentysomething with no vision problems or physical disabilities. People who have trembling fingers, or poor eyesight, or learning disabilities, are sometimes completely stymied by the payment kiosk and self-check-out, and what's designed to save staff time ends up having the opposite effect.

#101 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 02:26 PM:

re 66: Paula, I actually would like the idea of self-checkout; a lot of times when I have one object it would be nice to just wave it at a machine, feed it some money, and leave. The problem I have in practice is that the only positive design consideration appears to have been "getting rid of checkers so as to save money". The other two design considerations seem to have been "cater to first-time morons" and "assume that everyone is there to shoplift." Therefore they treat you as if you have never seen a barcode scanner in your life and fight any attempts you make to proceed as if you weren't clueless. The handheld scanner paradigm might replace them were it not for the problem that you have to commit to using it when you step in the door, so it doesn't help the "hmm, line is too slow, so I'll check it myself" problem.

re 63: One of the things that's different is that, as a rule a lot of human factors work went into making the subway ticketing work well. I can tell right off the bat that this wasn't done for any of the self-checkouts I've ever tried to use.

#102 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 02:36 PM:

C Wingate @ 101... as a rule a lot of human factors work went into making the subway ticketing work well

That's because they knew that, if they did anything to impede the high volume of traffic in the subway, some of the normally-grumpy customers would have ripped the machines off their concrete-floor moorings and tossed them across the room.

#103 ::: Adrian ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 02:36 PM:

Zelda (38): Carrying a purse marks a woman as a customer, in most stores. Pushing a shopping cart, wearing a coat (any kind of outdoor coat, not a suit coat) or carrying a backpack or briefcase, marks a person as a customer. Taking notes on the merchandise is not typical customer behavior. Sometimes it's seen as inventory control (ie, something done by store management), and sometimes it's seen as industrial espionage, or working on writing a review. (Some stores have given me *fabulous* service when I was taking notes. Not Home Depot, though.)

Ajay (49): Wearing an employee uniform marks a person as an employee, but other kinds of business dress usually don't mark a person as NOT an employee. Sure, sales people wear the standard uniforms...but many stores have managers wear ordinary suits. (And cleaning staff or drivers might wear different outfits that are more or less standardized, but less familiar.)

#104 ::: homedepot_michael ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 02:36 PM:

We are making a lot of improvements in our stores, I am disappointed to hear that your experience with our Assistant Store Manager turned out the way it did. Your feedback is valuable to in order for us to make changes to better serve our customers. If you would like to share more details, feel free to send me an email.

Customer Care
The Home Depot
Atlanta, GA 30339

Check out The Home Depot on Twitter, Facebook, & YouTube

#105 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 02:47 PM:

Only seven and a half hours, and 103 previous posts. Which, given search engine paradigms, is probably not too bad--certainly better than the in-store service.

The Lowe's I go to is usually fairly good about service--and a lot of women work there. I wonder if the one has anything to do with the other?

#106 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 02:49 PM:

The thing is that in that Ace or Tru-Value or other local mom-and-pop franchise or single store, Mom or Pop is out there on the sales floor; and if the store is going to survive, when some clerk is ignoring people Mom or Pop is going to lead that clerk into a back room and give them a tongue-lashing. If they don't do that, the store closes in no time. In a chain, with all the responsibility delegating, its really a crapshoot whether the local store manager is going to care enough about his/her store to be the Mom-or-Pop-style enforcer.

re 102: Well, I'm thinking of DC, where what people would have done was stay in their cars. That's what happened in the days when the machines began to age and became unreliable; I suppose that means in this area we keep our baboons in the zoo. But the point in either case is that keeping that ridership up was at the forefront the minds of those running the systems.

#107 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 02:54 PM:

Several years ago when my new desktop computer arrived by courier, it wouldn't start up properly. When I telephoned for support from the vendor they told me to open up the tower. When I hesitated (since it had a sticker saying "Warranty Void if Opened") on it the response was "perhaps I'd better speak to your husband." Grr. I didn't actually have a husband at the time...

#108 ::: Zelda ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 02:56 PM:

Adrian @103 Carrying a purse marks a woman as a customer

Hmm. Hadn't thought of that. I quit carrying a purse umpty-ump years ago, after leaving it under a restaurant table one too many times. I carry a wallet in a front pants pocket, and get rather snippy with people who think my personal plumbing dictates what I have to carry around with me. Never thought of the "no purse, therefore must have stashed it in a desk somewhere nearby" angle. Interesting.

Taking notes on the merchandise is not typical customer behavior.

Well, why the heck not? No way am I spending multiple hundreds of dollars on garden hardscaping or major power tools without some mighty detailed comparisons-- my momma would disown me for not shopping right.

#109 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 03:00 PM:

Janet 98: I think I got that from Judy Harrow, possibly not in its present form. I'm sure she'd be all Creative Commons about it though!

#110 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 03:03 PM:

I have the visibility problem, too. The conversation usually goes like this:

Random Person: Excuse me, can you tell me where the flibbertigibbets are?
Me: I'm afraid not.
Random Person: Don't you work here?
Me: No.
Random Person: But I'm sure I've seen you here before.
Me: That's entirely possible.
Random Person: But you don't work here?
Me: No. You might want to try looking for the people with the [ugly orange apron|shirt with store name on it|nametags].
Random Person: Did you used to work here?
Me: ...

I can't really account for it.

Sadly, I still have experienced the invisibility problem. In Fry's. In northern California, where there was no shortage of female techies. And I hadn't even really hit 'middle-aged' yet (and look younger than I am).

I solved it by being less than polite. I don't go out of my way to be really rude, but I will invade people's personal space if necessary, and speak very slowly, as if I'm concerned the person might not be able to process large words like "RAM" or "video card". It probably doesn't hurt that my voice carries really, really well. Nobody likes attention called to them when it's clear the person addressing them thinks they're a moron.

(In fairness to Fry's, it didn't happen every time I went. But since one of the incidents involved several 20-something employees standing around talking to each other and ignoring me, it remains memorable.)

#111 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 03:04 PM:

Zelda@77: possibly you were raising your hand the wrong way. Yes, I know this doesn't make sense, but it seems to happen. I am quite often passed over when I raise my hand in seminars; but on one occasion the chair actually said to me 'Do you have a question, or are you just waving your hand in the air?' Why, I wondered, would I be waving my hand in the air if I didn't have a question - but obviously he had real difficuly interpreting it.

#112 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 03:07 PM:

fidelio #105: Yeah, not too bad, even if his tone is a little tinny. That extra "to" makes me suspect "wetware macros". ;-)

#113 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 03:17 PM:

When I approach someone for help, unless it's blindingly obvious that they're a store employee (bright orange vest, or whatever), I lead with, "Excuse me, do you work here?" (Usually they do, but I've guessed wrong on more than one occasion.)

#114 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 03:19 PM:

While I fully believe that stores should be doing more training, I wouldn't be surprised at all if some of these stores are trying. Years ago, I was in a marketing research seminar, and one of our speakers was from the marketing department of a car company. During the question and answer period, several women spoke about being treated badly when shopping for a car. He said they pounded the dealerships with information about how many wives make the buying decision, how many single women buy cars, etc, and it seemed to just roll off of the saleseople's prior programming.

#115 ::: Zelda ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 03:23 PM:

Andrew M @111:

I don't *think* there's anything wrong with my technique-- I have participated suitably in any number of other con panels, and don't think I've changed anything. It was just... weird.

#116 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 04:02 PM:

#104: So, do we ask Michael if he writes poetry? :-)

#117 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 04:27 PM:

Our Home Depot did a massive 180 in recent months. They've gone from having no visible employees on the floor, to literally having employees standing distributed along the main aisles, each calling out "Can I help you find something?" as you pass.

It makes me nervous because they're just standing there. I mean, it's better than being unable to find anyone, but it's as though they haven't seen a live one all day.

Mind you, I'm young, able-bodied, dressed in a fairly standard middle-class fashion, and white. I have absolutely no idea what the experience would be for someone who did not fit those descriptions.

#118 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 04:30 PM:

On car shopping: a few years ago, my partner wanted a new car. We had a basic agreement that she would shop and I would bargain for the car, since that was the part she disliked.

The first dealer pulled out all the high-pressure tactics. He was rather surprised when I took over at the bargaining stage. When I walked out, both he and his supervisor were very shocked.

The second dealer listened to her, showed her the cars with the packages she wanted, pointed out a few things, and treated her like a person. I didn't have to do much bargaining, although they did try to pull one tactic on us (we had to sign a form saying "we intend to buy a car" -- oh, yeah, we intended to all right. Actually moving foward depended on them, but I digress.)

I used to get asked for help in various places, but that was when I looked much younger -- and probably more naive. Now I put on a grumpy face whenever I leave the house/car, and no one bothers me.

#119 ::: Columbina ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 04:55 PM:

My problem in Home Depots is getting the staff to leave me alone. They know less than I do, and even when I can't find the particular left-hand-thread five-eighths galvanized woozle I'm looking for, it has inevitably proven to waste less time searching for said woozle myself than to explain to THE STAFFER exactly what said woozle is.

But I feel for the invisible women. I've seen it happen. (Despite my username here I should clarify that I am a male, a 6'4" male with whatever the polar opposite of a come-hither expression is.)

My favorite Home Depot story is going with a very petite woman of my acquaintance who was working on a fairly complicated piece of carpentry and had very specific and detailed needs about various aspects of it. We were standing in an aisle, discussing these complexities, and the hapless employee comes up, ignores her completely, and asks me if he can help with any of it - despite the fact that he has been watching us long enough to see that she's clearly the one in charge of the decision-making. He wasn't especially abashed when I frostily indicated he was asking the wrong person, but by the time she had talked esoteric cabinetwork minutiae to him for five minutes, he was visibly red-faced - and not from anger.

#120 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 05:01 PM:

Zelda@99 writes:

"Rather, investigate what businesses *do* have decent customer service, if you can find any in your area. Cherish them."

Yes. I suspect that many good independent businesses have a similar sort of "invisbility" problem, where potential customers don't think of them but just pay attention to the big chains, even where they'd get better service and value with an independent.

Well-populated areas tend to have a fair number of hardware stores. Plugging "hardware stores in Brooklyn" into Google Maps turns up lots of hits, many with reviews. Where I live in Philly, they aren't quite as dense, but there is a very good independent store a couple of miles away (closer than the big boxes) that we get to fairly regularly.

But there are a number of other shopping categories where we don't regularly use independent stores, but default to the big boxes. Sometimes this may make sense, but I'm sure that sometimes we're overlooking good, valuable local businesses. Maybe next time I think of going out to a big box to get a neodoohickey, I'll first plug "neodoohickeys in philadelphia" (or "near my-zipcode") into Google maps and see what stores and reviews come up.

#121 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 05:19 PM:

Columbina 119: the polar opposite of a come-hither expression

That would be a "go-hence" expression.

#122 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 05:31 PM:

Well, there ya go! Canned, obviously: more "details"!?

I'm having uneasy thoughts about our beloved local McGuckin's HW store here in Boulder. Historically, I've gotten more service than I've needed. But I've noticed the last few times I've gone to the plumbing department, the helper-guys have seemed noticeably impatient with me. Hm. Maybe time for a comment card.

#123 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 05:31 PM:

I go to a mechanic two suburbs away, although there are many closer, because when my partner and I went to pick up my car after some emergency brake-work, he greeted us both, and then showed me the old discs and explained what he had done.

I have no way to evaluate what he did - if I were a mechanic, I'd have done it myself - but he was open and courteous, and he spoke to the person who owned the car, rather than defaulting to the person with the dangly bits. So, he gets my business, and that of my friends. We fell to chatting about it one day, and he said that it's become part of his sales strategy; he knows that if he treats women like customers, he'll get more women customers. He's right.

#124 ::: Columbina ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 05:39 PM:

Xopher, I was actually thinking it might be "go-thither." Or, perhaps "go yon."

#125 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 05:41 PM:

Columbina, it depends on whether you want to translate "be over there now" or "getawayfrommegetawayfrommegetawayfromme."

#126 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 06:01 PM:

Wow. I can say I've never encountered the invisibility problem myself, but I'm decently tall for a woman and possessed of quite a bit of self-confidence, so that's probably part of it. Then again, I also possess a bit of willful obliviousness to being ignored, as in "You can't mean to ignore me; I must just get your attention in a firm manner."

I also get the people asking me for assistance. It made sense in the bookstore, since I worked for that particular chain long enough to know its practices, but it happens elsewhere as well. And I've been asked on several occasions if I'm a teacher. (No.) Maybe I just project a certain knowledgeability.

P.S. Being invisible because of a disability is due to reprehensible behavior that I have, unfortunately, seen all too often. I was lucky enough to have a grade school classmate who was in a wheelchair and none of us was foolish enough to think it affected her brain; such exposure would probably solve a lot of problems. (Early imprinting: wheelchair != brain issues.)

#127 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 06:14 PM:

No love for "get thee hence"?

Well, if you want to get all literal about it, I suppose ...

#128 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 06:39 PM:

I don't go to Home Depot very often, if only because Ace Hardware is somewhat closer and has the kind of stuff I need.

However, I think I know why I get attention when I do visit HD. I take advantage of the fact that they allow dogs inside, and my dog is rather visible.

#129 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 06:47 PM:

I don't actually walk in stores much anymore other than the grocery and the car repair, but they both know me and pay attention. In fact, the van is up at the shop now -- the hinge pin on my door has almost dropped into the connections. I never had trouble with stores when I was well, but that was a long time ago.

#130 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 07:42 PM:

Jacque, #122: Perhaps "more details" like the names of any of the store personnel involved, none of which appear in Teresa's narrative.

#131 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 07:53 PM:

"You're asking the wrong person." I like that one. From another site, about something different: "if they continue to ask, lie. Try not to be believable."

Ginger-in-wheelchair: you do have a spiky bit. Two, in fact, sitting on two even more spiky bits, just about at ankle level. Now, I've never done this on purpose, but I certainly have by accident, and been profoundly sorry at the clear sign of pain in the ankles. My friend (in a motorized wheelchair, so more weight behind it) has used it on purpose, and it got the point across.

I frequently tell the story of putting my friend's wheelchair away (she would go to our table, transfer into the table chair, and we would find a place for the 400 pound obstacle until she needed it again 3 hours later). Of course, it's easier to move a motorized wheelchair from in the seat than anything else, so I would do that. And *everybody* would get out of the way of the poor young man in the wheelchair - until I parked it, got out, and started walking back. Oh, the looks I used to get! Most of them figured it out, though, when I did the reverse at the end of the session...

This. Drives. Me. Nuts. Like Xopher, it's threads like this that point out my privilege, and it frustrates me no end, now that I've been made aware of it. I have my own problems; I find people coming up to me asking if they can help is very distracting and irritating. If it's the third person in 5 minutes, it's irritating enough to leave the store. I realize that's a minority opinion in North America, so I live with it. Alternatively, however, I want to be able to find an employee when I do have a problem, and they seem to hide them (they don't; they just don't have one person to spare at an "information area". What I would prefer is a "now serving" queue - two or three people in an information area, who are centrally located, and answer questions as asked, returning when that answer is done. Would never work - looks like "paying for goofing off" to management). But "inappropriate sales behaviour for Mycroft"

I don't remember ever being "the man" in any discussion where I wasn't either "the expert" or "the decision maker", but it's probably happened. But even if I am clearly brought in as the expert, if salesperson doesn't pay attention to the Wielder of the Cash, WoC could and should make the final decision - "no". I have had that happen - but because it was the person, not the store, we came back 15 minutes later and bought what we had decided on - from somebody else. Pointedly, in first employee's plain sight.

My problem with Home Despot is that I Am Not Competent; when it comes to construction, I have two left hands. And I know it. And yet, I still manage to ask questions I can't get answers to (last example: "where's the precut cat5 cable?") I can just imagine how frustrating that would be for someone who does know what she's talking about, even past the "I'm the WoC" issue.

My commercial bugbear, however, is "Am I speaking to Mrs. W___?" No. "Can I speak to Mrs. W___?" No. "Oh, is this Mr. W___?"

#132 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 08:04 PM:

Mycroft (131): I don't like employees hovering over me, either. I will usually explain this--once--then leave, never to return, if they keep bothering me. On the other hand, as you say, it's nice to be able to find someone to help when I do need it. It's a fine line for them to walk.

#133 ::: Dan ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 08:08 PM:

I used to be a salesman in a smallish family-owned lumber yard outside Boston. Once or twice we hired salespeople who had worked at Home Depot, and they told some real horror stories -- it's a crummy place to work, and they don't treat anyone like human beings, not their help, not their customers, not their managers, no one. I dunno -- it's just hard to feel entirely sympathetic when I hear someone was mistreated at a big box store. Of *course* you are mistreated at a big box store. Big box stores are designed to get you in and out as fast as possible, with as little human contact as possible -- and they have trained us American consumers to enjoy shopping that way.

Me, I don't go to Home Depot. They're jerks, they don't care if you shop there or not, their lumber is crappy. Forget Home Depot, find a nice locally-owned lumberyard or hardware store, and build up a good relationship with the sales staff (and they are more likely to actually be sales staff, people who know something, instead of just clerks). Yeah, you might pay a little more -- but then again you might not, since while Home Depot does have low prices on a few items, they jack the prices way up on items where they know people aren't price conscious. Yeah, if you go into your locally-owned place the contractors will probably get preferential service -- until, that is, you develop a friendly relationship with the sales staff -- when I was in the business, if retail customers took the time to treat us like human beings, we would treat them well even though we didn't get much of a commission from their small sales.

(By the way, "Ace Hardware" and "True Value" are mostly buying groups -- often the store is locally owned -- I know one True Value store that has been owned by the same family for four generations.)

#134 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 08:11 PM:

Mary Aileen @ 88 ...
I get asked for the time a lot. The frequency didn't diminish when I stopped wearing a watch, either.

I can't wear watches, but do tend to make a "looking-at-watch" gesture when I'm asked what time it is. It's rather impressive/depressing how many people don't notice the lack of a watch...

#135 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 08:13 PM:

#97 ::: Xopher:

Without going into any details, I've had some problems with noticing people, and I assure you that it doesn't require training.

#114 Janet backs this up.

#117 ::: Caroline:

Sudden improvements in service in a bad economy make me nervous because it reminds me how bad the economy is.

#136 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 08:14 PM:


Home Depot's IT Department and Customer Care Department Are Full of Arrant Clueless Arrogant Jackasses....

Hey fucktard, that's you
Unpersonable poo,
A spider that's leaving its shit,

Hey fucktark sans clue
And lies spread it's true,
You're a program not human nitwit.

The spiders go crawling the web
And they search
For what they have told been to find,
And then the next program
Act with the results,
Full of assholishness blind!

Hey fucktard please read
Your post is mere screed
If you were a person you know,

Hey fucktard you're smoke
Your post's a bad joke
And please find REAL PEOPLE to show--

Hey fucktard--in plain English, where the hell is an actual PERSON who shows ANY sign of actually READING what the hell got POSTED, instead of a fucking webspider followed by the on-line equivalent of an autodialer with automated totally bullshit message telling the unfortunate recipient of PHONE SPAM to call the fucking phone spammer?!!

#137 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 08:26 PM:

#110 Tina

Fry's has a reputation to live down to, for store employees who are indicative of "you get what you pay for" regarding quality of clue for minimum wage workers.... one doesn't go to Frye's to get help from the sales associates other than for answers to such questions as, "Where are the Twinkies?" ( a question I actually asked a sales associate, and the sales associate told me that there two locations in the store which had them and pointed them out.... No, I don't eat or want to buy Twinkies, however, I expected that Frye's would have Twinkies as Geek Heaven so I with malice aforethought asked my question... I was there with someone who was there to buy something, he said that one should do the research then go to the store armed with the exact model information of what one wants to buy... because the sales associates have no clues whatsoever.)

#138 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 08:32 PM:

The thing is, for "floor staff" to strike a balance between annoying the customers and abandoning them, they need to actually pay attention to the customers -- reflexive responses to whoever's in range just aren't going to cut it.

That is, they need to look at customers and decide: Is the person looking frustrated or confused, or are they intently examining their options? Are they wandering aimlessly, or searching multiple aisles for something, or are they "locked on target"? If standing still, are they waiting for a companion, or looking wistfully at that box way above their reach?

All these decisions involve actually looking at each individual customer, and trying to interpret their behavior and body language. No machine can do that, and neither can a "droid" -- that is, a person whose behavior has been restricted to fixed responses for enumerated situations.

#139 ::: John Aspinall ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 08:33 PM:

Home Depot is the only place I have ever seen someone make a "fencepost error" In Real Life.

(Aside for the non-programmers: a fencepost error is when you're told to build a 100 ft fence, with posts every 10 ft, and you order 10 posts. The right number of posts is 11. More generally, it's a confusion between counting things, and counting intervals between things.)

Anyway, there I was in the checkout line, with a sheet of plywood in four pieces. They'll cut it for you, for a price.

Clerk: "That's four pieces, right?"

Me: "Yes."

Clerk: "25 cents a cut, that's an extra dollar."

Me: "No. Four pieces means three cuts".

Clerk: "What?"

Me (trying mathematical induction): "No cuts, one piece. One cut would make two pieces. Two cuts would make three pieces. Three cuts..."

Clerk: "Manager!"

The manager gave it to me. I do not know whether he understood the argument, or whether he simply considered it worth the cost of one cut to get rid of me.

#140 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 08:39 PM:

John Aspinall @ 139... You're mean. Heheheh

#141 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 08:40 PM:

Okay, sorry to get off topic here... are you people superhuman speed readers, or just excellent skimmers? Every time Teresa does a post I feel a bit lost, and sad... time is so fleeting...

'A Tramp Abroad' calls... as well as my Lowe's list, now three pages long...

go well umfundisi.

#142 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 08:42 PM:

I won't be doing steampunk this Saturday, but I could, were the distances considerably less, as you can see here. (That got me quite a few comments at the Hugo Ceremonies this year.)

#143 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 08:42 PM:

I've seen some of this from a different angle when I go shopping with my boyfriend. It's fun to watch the wheels turning in the salesman's head as he tries to figure out which of the two guys is the real guy who should get the sales pitch.

(The true answer is different depending on what we are shopping for.)

#144 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 08:54 PM:

Allan, #143: I would love to go shopping with you guys sometime! Then for even more fun, if either of you is a cooking enthusiast (I'm not), we could go into a cookware store and watch you get to be invisible for a change.

#145 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 08:57 PM:

I've been ignored in department stores, occasionally. Sometimes it's because there's only one clerk covering two (or more) departments; sometimes it's because the clerk is Doing Something Extremely Important (like putting clothes back on the racks). Once it was being helped by a clerk who was more interested in her conversation with a co-worker about the shoes she was planning to buy (and the ones she'd already bought) than she was in ringing up the stuff I was buying.

#146 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 09:02 PM:

Dan R. #141: are you people superhuman speed readers, or just excellent skimmers?

Well, a lot of long-time netheads do fit one or the other of those descriptions!

I'm closer to the former -- that is, I am human, but I'm "hyperlexic" -- I read several times as fast as a "normal" person. The flip side of hyperlexia is a certain compulsivity -- it's hard for me not to read anything in my field of view. Even individual words in my visual field "pop out" and grab my attention the same way that bright colors or patterns do.

Also, I was in high school before I learned to read a book without complete obliviousness to my environment -- the half-joke was that you could set off a bomb under my chair and I wouldn't notice. Nowadays, I can still get pretty absorbed (if I read on the bus or train, I'm likely to miss my stop), but I'll notice loud noises or someone tapping me on the shoulder. (The trade-off is that I don't read quite as fast as I did back then.)

#147 ::: Yarrow ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 09:05 PM:

Mycroft W @ 131: "And *everybody* would get out of the way of the poor young man in the wheelchair - until I parked it, got out, and started walking back. Oh, the looks I used to get!"

When I first knew Marsha, she could walk a city block -- but then she was done for. So she tootled all over the city in an Amigo three-wheeled scooter. There were no curb cuts to speak of in those days, so when she got to the end of a block she'd hop off the Amigo, ease it down over the curb, and hop back on. People got very indignant, sometimes.

#148 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 09:06 PM:

David Harmon: I have a touch of that. I've noticed that in other languages it doesn't apply: in French, even a very simple passage with no unfamiliar vocabulary or grammar gets read much more slowly than anything in English.

#149 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 09:07 PM:

Oh yeah!
That's me, too. (They decided I'm a 'natural' speed reader.).

#150 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 09:21 PM:

I wonder if the fact that it's retail makes it more complicated to learn to judge the body language and hit that sweet spot between annoying hovering and being there exactly when needed. I've learned to do it as a librarian, but I'm not on commission -- I'm not, at the same time, trying to make a personal cost-benefit decision about whether helping a particular patron will net me a big sale or use up all my time for a pittance. I don't know if the clerks at Home Depot get a sales commission or just a straight wage, or otherwise get judged by how many customers they help; it might make a difference.

Nancy @ 135, I've noticed that too. It's scary going into a spookily empty mall or outlet store and seeing all the staff standing around with hungry looks in their eyes, waiting to pounce. I bought too many things at a Dress Barn recently just because the clerk was soooo pathetically eager to please. (But then can one have too many white shirts? Not really. White shirts that actually fit MUST be purchased when found, or will be forever regretted.)

#151 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 09:45 PM:

Wow, Teresa. I too am middle-aged and female, and yet when I find myself in Home Despot, I can generally get employees to help me. Though I prefer Lowes, where they are even more attentive. Usually I can't go anywhere there without them approaching ME and inquiring whether I need any assistance.

But yeah, the experience you had sucked. Yeesh.

#152 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 10:06 PM:

David Harmon @ 146: Good grief, were we separated at birth or something?

#153 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 10:13 PM:

Paula Lieberman:

When NewTek was pushing Kiki Stockhammer, I got irate about it.... she was basically a booth bimbo

Probably true, but that wasn't the point. I used to talk to NewTek twice a week minimum (distributing Toasters to Japan 5-10 at a time means you talk to the source when you've bought out the standard US distributors--I used to talk to Jensen, Stockhammer, and when they'd sell out the production run damn near any dealer in North America that might have one left), and the amount of hostility when Kiki left NewTek to go work with Those Other Guys was strong enough that I'd expect Steve Jobs to hire John Scully to run Apple again before NewTek would hire her back.

My funniest call was to a company that made high-end genlocks. I was using a phone that would misdial about every seventh time it was used. Called to order another five genlocks--and got the secretary who sits right outside the office of George Lucas. And who was determined to solve the conspiracy that gave me the number for George's inner office and wouldn't take a misdial for an answer. I don't know if she needed a vacation, or Zoloft, or to get laid, but if she didn't get it before "Episode One" I expect they had to repaint the office to get rid of the red mist when her head exploded.

#154 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 10:15 PM:

Out of curiosity will someone let me know what Word of Power I managed to invoke in a URL-less post to get it held for moderation once the decision on posting it has been reached? I feel like someone short-sheeted my bed...

#155 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 10:24 PM:

I think this must vary considerably store by store.

There are two big-box hardware/materials stores in my area, about equidistant from my home. I generally avoid RONA in favour of Home Depot because almost every time I've tried to get advice from a person-on-the-floor at RONA, it's been unhelpful or flat-out wrong. In contrast, the folks at HD have generally been helpful and knowledgeable; several times I've gone in with a non-standard problem and my idea of how to fix it, discussed it with a person-on-the-floor, and received a suggestion that was easier, cheaper, and more effective to execute than what I'd had in mind.

I often have trouble finding someone on the floor, but when I do find one, I haven't had trouble getting information. They've generally been helpful without being pushy, asking "can I help you?" when I was indeed looking for help. (I have sometimes had problems making myself visible to the automatic door openers. Waving a bulky object over my head helps.)

On one occasion, I actually found a knowledgeable and helpful sales person at a Future Shop, when I was shopping around for a digital camera. A few hours later, when I'd decided to buy one of the items she'd shown me and went back, she wasn't there any more. Evidently whichever of us had originally strayed into the alternate universe managed to get back where we belonged, or possibly she was fired for violating company policy.

A couple of years ago, mostly just to be nasty, I went into the local Best Buy to ask one of the salescritters about the stands-in-the-middle-of-the-room portable air conditioners they were advertising: "But where does the heat go?"

#156 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 10:36 PM:

This has made me glad to have my once-very-local Ace Hardware-- I think I drove there twice, and usually just had a good walk*. Someone will come to help me if I do any wandering, and when I went in for blocks of wood to put under my desk, the one guy (you know, that guy, the one who's there) took some scrap wood in back and sawed it up, then said to tell the checkout person that it was a dollar.
Besides, it's the only place I've found that carries the right brand of cat food.

*There's a pretty high activation energy for getting into the car. I've gotten used to having everything within reasonable walking distance except groceries, and since I've moved, I've just updated the definition of 'reasonable'.

#157 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 10:36 PM:

Summer Storms #152: Well, there's enough of us around that they coined a word for it! And it's certainly a handy talent for both computer programmers (all those manuals!) and netheads in general, so there's some selection bias in the online crowd.

I've seen articles declaring hyperlexia as an autistic-spectrum trait. Despite being on the spectrum myself, I'm non-committal about that, as is the sparse Wikipedia article. I also had the delayed speech development described there -- my family commented that I was almost reading before I was talking.

David Goldfarb #148: Perhaps that's why I never learned another language, aside from scraps of Latin. When I tried to learn Japanese in college, I had several problems, but one of them was that for once I couldn't just upload the textbook into my brain. ;-)

#158 ::: Factory Office Drone ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 10:46 PM:

Interestingly, my experience with big box stores is from the other side, as I have worked customer service for some of their suppliers; almost as annoying in a different way - the (undertrained and rapidly turned-over) staff don't know what information to put on the orders and we have to query them all the time. OTOH they are far less likely to scream at us than the small-store owners.

#159 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 10:51 PM:

Umm, just to clarify on that last bit, I do not have eidetic memory, in fact I can't memorize quotes or poetry to save my life. I do remember plots and principles from what I read, and having read a manual or such, I can later open it and rapidly find whatever details I need.

#160 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 11:00 PM:

Ah, I see, hyperlexia. I'll give it a shot, thanks.

#161 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 11:05 PM:

Reading how many words per minute is hyperlexia? I had the early reading, but I was/am a chatterbox.

#162 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 11:08 PM:

Visual and audio memory here.
It has its points ['Oh, that one. What's going on there is ....'] and its drawbacks ['Show me the drawing, and I might be able to answer your question. Describing it doesn't work.']
I think I'm lucky to have found a job where this is useful.

#163 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 11:15 PM:

Xopher @ 97: Drop me a line if you like. I have some comments that would be way off the topic of this thread. My name with a period between the parts,

#164 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 11:17 PM:

P J, I have the opposite problem. I tried to put together some equipment from a drawing (with no instructions), and couldn't. I finally had to take the drawing into a different room, away from the equipment, and write instructions based on the drawing. Then I used the instructions to assemble the equipment. No problems.

#165 ::: Pfusand ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 11:24 PM:

Quarter-inch and smaller rings - look for jewelry findings.

White blouses - Well, okay, but I look ghastly in white.

Invisible? There was a one-year period when I was *always* the last one served in a restaurant group.

In box and department stores... well, no more than most, but I put it down to being quiet and patient, not to being a guurl.

#166 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 11:30 PM:

Nancy @#160: I don't think there's an bright line in terms of words per minute -- a "diagnosis" would probably be based on the developmental pattern.

To give a sense of scale, back in college I had some net-friends who could read at 1200 baud (without pausing the display), though I couldn't quite match that. (Especially not with the 75-column walls of text which that crowd was prone to producing!)

#167 ::: caffeine ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 11:35 PM:

I have a fairly amusing combination of Things That Happen when I go out:

1. The cousin syndrome. Everyone thinks they know me, or have met me before, or was their sister's friend a long time ago. Most recently, a shop owner in Front Royal almost insisted that she'd seen me around town, although it was my first visit to the area.

2. To customers, I'm highly visible. I tend to walk purposefully and quickly to what I need. Apparently that shouts I Work Here. I once had a lady get quite upset with me when I was in my early twenties because I insisted that I didn't work at the K-mart through which I was walking. K-mart employees that day were wearing khakis and red shirts. I was wearing khakis and a dark blue shirt with a large Food Lion logo on the breast.

3. To employees, I am not invisible. Alas. I attract the strange and wonderful of the service industry: the creepily silent mechanic, the overly chatty waitress, the cashier at the craft store who, when politely asked "fine, and how are you?", tells you at great length while your friends stand impatiently nearby. If I were more social I'd encourage it and write a book. A friend calls it Restaurant Karma and swears I did something terrible in a former life to deserve it. (It probably has more to do with the large "PUSHOVER" written on my forehead.)

Unless I actually need help, at which point I turn invisible. Especially at Home Depot. Inconvenient, that. To be fair, the last time I was there an employee did ask me if I needed anything, but that was only because I was struggling comically with some storage bins.

With all that, it's no wonder I have a bit of social anxiety. I never know what's going to happen.

For the record, I vastly prefer self checkouts. Even with the slow machines I can bag faster than the employee can, and there's very little chance of the machine telling me about the traffic jam last week.

#168 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 11:35 PM:

elise @47, that's fascinating! And matches up with other things I've read.

It doesn't exactly match with my one experience of changing my gender presentation -- but that was at a renfaire, and while I adopted male clothing, and was slender enough to look vaguely boyish in loose breeches and jerkin, I didn't exactly pass at any closer than a thirty-foot distance. What it DID do was insulate me from the "wench"-based harassment by the tourists (which was my goal), and get me jokingly flirted with by every teenage rose girl there.

#169 ::: Liza ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 11:55 PM:

Rikibeth @ 168, I've gone to a renaissance festival as a Scottish male (my dance group had an overabundance of female dancers at the time, and I was one of a few women who knew the dances equally well from either position and was comfortable cross-dressing). I mostly got "Oh, look at the lassie!" from tourists, despite the fact that my kilt would have been scandalously short for female garb of the time. (Doesn't everybody, or at least everybody who'd go to a renfest, know what a kilt is and who wears one?) Apparently I fail at carrying myself as a man, or something. It would be interesting to take a workshop like Elise described!

But I just noticed this is entirely off the original topic, so I'll stop there and say I'm very happy with my local Ace-affiliate. Some stuff they don't have, and I wish they had a website so I'd know what they had in stock (though they can order anything on the Ace website) but excellent people working there.

#170 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 11:56 PM:

Zelda @77: If you are not doing one of the Approved Projects, but rather need a specific item-- e.g. a small quantity of (literal) brass tacks, not brads, not wood screws, but brass tacks of a certain size to make a cosmetic repair to the brass fittings on a piece of furniture-- they can't help you. Go to a hardware store.

This isn't ALWAYS true. I needed some 1-1/8" dowel stock cut into lengths to make cannoli tubes, and a pack of sandpaper to smooth the edges, and Home Depot was closer to the restaurant I worked at than the small hardware store, and they were able to provide it. I did have to wander for a little bit to find Someone In An Orange Apron, but once I found them, they didn't have a problem getting the person who actually ran the cutter.

However, if I have a problem of the "This $THING broke, and I'm not even sure what it is, let alone how to fix it," I definitely go to the local hardware store. Even if they don't have the doodad, they can identify it and tell you where to go to find another.

#171 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 12:06 AM:

P J Evans #161, Xopher #163:

Hmm. I can work from either pictures or text, at long as they're in front of me. Third party descriptions, forget it. I'm even pretty good at examining the parts and assembling something without directions, though that is a bit risky. (And I resent it on principle. ;-) )

Just goes to show you, different people can have very different talent sets.

#172 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 12:10 AM:

fidelio @105, it's waaay slower than the Twitter-based Comcast service! Last summer we had an unexpected outage, and I twittered a grumble about it (because I could do that from my cell phone), and within FIVE MINUTES I had a reply from one of their Twitter support people saying "can I help?" I was astonished.

Still, sort of cool that they monitor it at all.

#173 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 12:16 AM:

David Harmon @ 171 ...
I'm even pretty good at examining the parts and assembling something without directions, though that is a bit risky. (And I resent it on principle. ;-) )

Heh. I consider doing that to be a side-effect of having an old and cranky house, and having had an assortment of old and cranky vehicles.

... and now that you mention it, I'm thinking that it's just another facet of being able to (say) create a pattern for a garment based on looking at the finished garment... or figure out what a garment will look like, based on the pieces (or putting IKEA furniture back together ... )

#174 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 12:18 AM:

My proudest moment as a clerk working in my dad's hardware store was when a lady came in looking lost. So I asked if I could help her, and she told me she was looking for "the thing that's the thing that when the door, umm, it's the thing..." and waved her hands around, and I led her straight to the strike plates.

To this day, when the toilet breaks, or a window does, and I need to fix it (my husband doesn't do hardware unless it's electronic) my first step is to stand there and tell myself, out loud, how to fix it. I listen to myself, and that's how I do it.

#175 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 12:22 AM:

Lee @144: Now I'm trying to remember who got the attention from salespeople when my dad and I went to FIVE DIFFERENT STORES in one night looking for a 10" rather than 9" Pyrex pie plate. He was male in cookware stores, but I was under 20.

Of course, it was the night before Thanksgiving, so I wouldn't be surprised if we both got roundly ignored in the chaos. I can't even remember where we finally found the pie plate. Possibly Sears.

#176 ::: Dragoness Eclectic ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 12:32 AM:

Things I remember from my brief sojourn in retail:

Sometimes the "N employees standing around gossiping and ignoring customer" thing is because N-1 of those guys are coming off shift/going on shift and aren't on the clock yet and aren't *allowed* to help customers[1], but are stopping to chit-chat with their friends. The place I worked had a breakroom in back, out of sight of the customers for that sort of chit-chatting, because the managers knew how bad it looked to customers.

Second, floor people were encouraged to keep an eye on customers (if not hover over them) not only in case they needed help, but because people don't tend to shoplift when someone is watching them.

Frankly, I'd fire the assistant manager and the staff if I owned that Home Depot. And probably the manager, since he obviously wasn't training his staff. You don't ignore (potential) customers if you want to stay in business. Not only do you lose sales, you lose merchandise to the less honest visitors.

[1] Labor laws don't allow the company to require you to serve customers off the clock.

#177 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 12:38 AM:

David Harmon, *I* could read at 1200 baud! I could only skim at 2400, though. And the Wikipedia article about hyperlexia doesn't sound like me, but your description does, except for the delayed speech. One of the visual effects that Criminal Minds used to emphasize Spencer Reid's enhanced perception was to show words popping highlighted out of a word-search puzzle -- and I was bouncing in my seat going YES THAT IS WHAT WORD SEARCHES LOOK LIKE!

#178 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 12:47 AM:

I don't get ignored in cookware stores. Possibly this is because by the time I need to ask a question I've already piled my basket high with Neat Stuff, or because I get all bouncy and happy in them. ("His head is made outta rubber! His bottom is made outta spring!")

#179 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 12:52 AM:


I've been similar all my life--I used to joke that if there was a fire while I was reading a book, the fireman would carry me out over his shoulder, still reading. (I'm sure I'm not on the autism spectrum, though.) One weird aspect of the whole reading-wired-into-brain thing (maybe this happens to everyone) hits me when I'm at the gym. I'm usually listening to a podcast in Spanish, while working out on the elliptical trainer or something. But there are screens everywhere with closed captioning on. If I let myself even *glance* at the screen, I will be pulled entirely into English, and will have read the closed captioning and lost the last couple seconds of Spanish.

I'll sometimes make a point of finding a screen I can turn off, and then exercising in front of it, to avoid this. Drives me nuts.

#180 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 01:50 AM:

Reading speeds:

One of my dorm mates took the same astronomy for non-science majors class as I did, and after a while it came to his attention that my time-gap between "sitting down to read the homework" and "being done" was markedly shorter than his. "What are you," he exclaimed in exasperation, "some kind of fucking Evelyn Wood?"

Being a parent has meant slowing down somewhat so that I'm interruptible. My son reads like I used to: voraciously, everywhere and with total absorption. But he can do it in English and in Dutch, and he's two years above his grade level in both languages.

My Dutch reading speed is picking up, and I accelerate as I go through a given Dutch book, but it never gets above about 40% of my English rate. I think it will be some time before I read anything other than young adult literature, because that gives me the right number of plot points per hour to feed my incurable story addiction.

Bruce @154:
Out of curiosity will someone let me know what Word of Power I managed to invoke

Name brands of drugs are frequently Words of Power.

#181 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 01:50 AM:

As to self-checkouts, the local Shaw's has a bunch, and I've got the prompts down pretty solidly so I can get through them quickly. When most of the customers are like that, they're really nice, but at this store everybody else has to labor through the prompts, it seems, and so the self-checkout lines are just as slow as all the rest. I find myself getting very impatient with people who don't know how to use the system, and so I often just default to using the staffed lines. It doesn't help that it's a particularly busy supermarket. I don't know what would free up the self-checkout lanes to be faster -- possibly just staffing more lanes. But queueing theory is hard and not always amenable to common-sense analysis.

The only time that I can recall ever being invisible was in one of the local alt/goth/whatever stores. I wanted big black stompy boots for dancing, like you do, and I wanted to try them on, dammit, because if I was going to drop several hundred dollars on a pair I wanted to be sure they fit. But I was doing this on my way from work to someplace else, so I had on my hat (a fedora), a T-shirt, a fleece jacket, and a pair of hiking pants that pass for khaki slacks at a distance -- (software) business casual, in other words. I spent a long time standing around the store trying to get somebody's attention before they'd help me, and when they did I got the distinct impression that they didn't care about my custom. No, they didn't have anything in my size. Period. Not "but we'd be happy to order something for you," not "but here are other stores you might try," not "but this is a good place online," just "no" and walked away. I'm convinced they thought I looked too straight-edge to bother helping. It was an uncomfortable experience, and it sucks that people have it happen to them more frequently. I do my best to help everybody when I'm in a service position, but I probably have unconscious biases and assumptions too.

Going into my local CVS dressed in the aforementioned boots (which I finally acquired online), stripey stockings, a skirt, and a fitted T-shirt in the middle of the day and trying to get help was also eye-opening. It wasn't that I was invisible -- on the contrary, I was VERY visible -- but the staff was also very obviously uncomfortable in my presence and would practically run away as the last syllables of "I'msorrywedon'thavethat" left their mouths. There, self-checkout was a serious blessing. I have no idea how my transitioning trans friends cope with that kind of treatment all the time.

#182 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 03:11 AM:

David Harmon@157: No "almost" about that for me -- my parents took me to a child psychologist at Mills College because they were concerned at how late I was at starting to talk. I did start talking, but the psychologist noticed that I was reading. (I am not otherwise on the autism spectrum, though.)

Earlier this year I ran into D. Potter at an Oakland Trader Joe's. Tolkien came up in the conversation and I mentioned having read The Lord of the Rings at a very young age. She said something like, "Are you one of these people who started reading at the age of three? If so, I'm going to have to hit you." Rather than answer out loud, I started shuffling away, mock-cringing.

#183 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 03:46 AM:

David, #182: I was definitely reading at the age of three! Although my parents would have told you four, because it was a year before they'd believe that I didn't just have the Pooh books memorized. What finally got them to accept that yes, I was actually reading was the day I read the newspaper headlines out loud. By the time I got to school, I was reading for pleasure about 3 years ahead of my age level, and could pronounce and define scientific and technical terminology up to almost junior-high level. (This last courtesy of my father, who still had some teacher's-edition texts from his abortive career in that field, and who let me read them.)

And yes, I read very fast compared to a lot of people... though not as fast as I used to, I'm starting to think.

#184 ::: Lawrence ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 04:11 AM:

You know, the absolute worst case of female invisibility I've ever seen was back in 1983, which my wife was pregnant with our first kid. We went to talk to an obstetrician. A female obstetrician.

She insisted on talking to me. Hey, I wasn't the one with the baby! I kept telling her to talk to Julie, and she kept talking to me.

We walked out and found an old-fashioned male obstetrician who looked like Marcus Welby and ignored me, talking only to Julie. We liked him. He delivered both our kids.

#185 ::: Matthew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 04:52 AM:

The nearest Home Depot to us isn't like this; they've a lot of female staff, at least a third if not more (high proportion for a store of this kind), and they know what they're doing. Definitely queer-friendly hiring, too. (This is the Garden Grove, CA store). If I'm going to any, it'll be this one.

Those descriptions of hyperlexia sound like me, though my talking wasn't impaired; I was chatty, if anything. That compulsion to read anything, no matter how meaningless. I was reading at two-and-something, and I haven't stopped yet. I polish off novels in an evening.

#186 ::: Teemu Kalvas ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 05:42 AM:

Liza@169: I'm quite sure people have over 99% accuracy of telling (adult) men from women if the kind of amount of leg is showing that wearing a kilt will show. Male and female calves are quite distinct. There's the different attachment angles of the calf muscle for starters, and if you can see sufficiently above the knee, the thighbone angle difference (caused by wider hips in women) will show.

I imagine successfully crossdressing otherwise in that situation would just cause the observer to detect there being some mixed signals, but the legs would probably win.

Sorry, I've been doing long-distance sports for 30 years and looked at too many legs of too many genders for too long.

#187 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 06:50 AM:

David Goldfarb @ 148... in French, even a very simple passage with no unfamiliar vocabulary or grammar gets read much more slowly than anything in English

You've never heard me read anything in either language.

#188 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 08:12 AM:

Kevin Riggle @181: do I remember that you're Greater Boston? Was that Hubba Hubba? I've heard stories like that about their staff before.

#189 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 08:31 AM:

I have that problem all the time at Home Depot, about half the time at Reno Depot and occasionally at Canadian Tire.

I've found two ways round it. One is, take a male person (kids work) and get them to get the attention, then once they have the attention, talk. The other one is to shop in Hogg, a local hardware store with awesome service.

Once, in Hogg, I was buying things to fix my toilet and the guy told me which bit I didn't need (resulting in me spending less money) and even ducked into the employee bathroom to check that what I wanted to do with the flush mechanism would work. I shop in Hogg because when I say "I'm looking for paint stripper..." they say "What kind of paint stripper? I mean, what are you planning to strip?" instead of ignoring me or, at best, saying "Aisle four" before scurrying away. They also ask me things -- when I was buying liquid lemon wax (for the wood) a passing worker paused and said "That's a new brand for us, have you used it before? Is it any good?" I never realised I wasn't being treated as a human being in hardware shops my whole life until I found Hogg.

Now I wish I could find a computer shop where I was visible.

#190 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 08:37 AM:

abi #180:
"What are you," he exclaimed in exasperation, "some kind of fucking Evelyn Wood?"

Speed sex? Sorry, not my kink. [context is king]

#191 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 08:57 AM:

John #139 reminds me of the most surreal thing that ever happend to me in a big box hardware store...

I needed four wood posts, 1 metre each, as legs for a work table. The shop had 2 metre poles and a workshop where you could get wood cut to measure. Simple, one would think. Pick up two poles, go to workshop, two cuts, thirty seconds work, everyone is happy.

Only, there was no staff in the workshop, they wouldn't send anyone, and they wouldn't let us use the machines on our own. Instead they pointed us to, I kid you not, a sawbuck held together by duct tape and string, which was knee-high on one side and four inches higher on the other, wobbling like a chair with three-and-a-half legs. The saw they provided was a massive two-person one suited for sawing hardwood logs, if it had been sharp. It ripped the soft pine apart, and bounced every which way.

We really needed the stuff so we made do, avoiding injury by some miracle and ending up with some badly mangled but functional posts.

It has been 13 years, but I have never set foot into any store of that chain again and told everyone who didn't run away that everyone from floor staff to management was criminally clueless. Yes, I bear grudges.

David Goldfarb #148: I find that my reading/skimming speed in English and old-orthography German is about the same, while in new-orthography German it is waaay lower. I learned from that failure how I do it -- it seems I take an image of about half a page, translate it to compressed sound, and let my brain make sense of it while my eyes are half a page ahead. A word spelled in a way that "sounds" wrong (= new orthography) brings the process to a grinding halt. I need to go back, find where I was, identify the word, re-compile it, patch the sentence or paragraph, and only then get moving again.

This does *not* happen with words I do not know. Those get filled in from context.

#192 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 08:58 AM:

Reading speed? Depends on both the content and the format. Word-at-a-time sucks at distinguishing close cousins ("hypothermia","hyperthermia"). Technical stuff tends to have dense meaning, slowing me down. Really wide columns slows me down — tracking the line, and finding the next line becomes hard. White space helps.

1200 baud printing terminals* were fast enough to keep me from getting distracted, 2400 baud printing terminals cheated with the type-every-other-line-backwards thing, but I could usually keep up on glass. I could sometimes keyword skim at close to 9600 baud, depending on keyword (and phase of the moon).

*My brain also built a feedback loop while typing on DECwriters, I could tell by sound when I mistyped, dot-matrix characters had distinctive sounds for each character's pin-strike.

#193 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 09:15 AM:

Inge #191:
As an English speaker learning German, one of my issues is that my brain has a hard time coping with the longer word lengths in old-orthography. It doesn't help that I don't have the necessary vocabulary of common long words. I think that it's kind of cool that your brain has the opposite problem.

#194 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 09:16 AM:

Lee @183: And yes, I read very fast compared to a lot of people... though not as fast as I used to, I'm starting to think.

If you stop to think, it slows down the process :)

#195 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 09:46 AM:

Lee #183: I started reading at three also.

#196 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 09:51 AM:

John Aspinall @ #139:

Four pieces can be done in two cuts, if the cuts are straight and you allow re-positioning and stacking the plywood between the cuts.

Lee @ #144:

Never felt invisible in a cookware store (male, ~6 foot tall), but I guess the fact that I like cooking and can argue for and against properties of various implements until my mouth falls off MAY have something to do with it.

Abi @ #180:
Bizarrely, I read faster in English (my 2nd language) than I do in Swedish (my 1st language). Might have something to do with (mostly) having read books in English for the last 20 years (Swedish is something I associate with electronic fora and newspapers). The flip side is that I can't always tell what language I am reading and that can be VERY confusing.

#197 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 09:56 AM:

David #182: I know that I could read before I was three and three months, because we moved then, and I could read before that.

It was lucky -- I had perception problems that would have made me look retarded if I hadn't had that big obvious marker of high intelligence that early reading is usually seen as. (OTOH, as intelligent kids are never in any way disabled, I didn't get them diagnosed before it was too late to catch up.)

#198 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 10:34 AM:

John #193: As an English speaker learning German, one of my issues is that my brain has a hard time coping with the longer word lengths in old-orthography

My problem is that many compound words have a different meaning then the sum of their parts, and a different sound. "schlecht machen" (/ /-) is doing something badly, "schlechtmachen" (/--) is speaking ill of something. "allein stehend" (-/ /-) is standing alone, or without aid, "alleinstehend" (-/--) is a single person.

New orthography conflates different meanings into identical writing. It's no problem in speech, because the sound depends on what you mean, not on how it's written (at least for now). When speech adapts to writing, this will have created new homonyms, or have dissolved the more metaphorical compound meaning.

With non-compounds, the homonyms are already there. "of a greyish colour" used to be a different word in writing than "horrid". Isn't anymore, and I find myself mentally fading a scenery to grey instead of seeing it as scary.

I have the theory (as in, wild guess) that speed reading is what makes it so annoying to me. No idea if there was ever a study on it, and any study will have a hell of a time to control for class, I fear.

IngvarM. #196: The flip side is that I can't always tell what language I am reading and that can be VERY confusing.

Oh, word. I need to recall the image of the words on page/screen, or look for grammatical markers to find out what language I had read something in.

#199 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 11:02 AM:

Teresa and others have described how they seem to be invisible to the staff of big-box stores. My own experience has been that, when I have a question, it's hard to find anybody. I had assumed that it was because those places were short-staffed, but maybe they have a large staff and I can't see them.

#200 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 11:13 AM:

I wonder if the intelligence community is aware of this issue. Perhaps we are surrounded by middle-aged female NSA ninjas; we just can't see them.

Xopher @ #97: yet another reason why I love you. Keep being you.

Haven't caught up with the end of the thread yet; more later--including my blind college roommate's experiences with retail/food "service".

#201 ::: K.C. Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 11:23 AM:

My grandmother was an antique dealer for many decades, right up to the last few months before she died. She co-owned a large and very nice antique mall too. Their policy was to call a greeting to every single person who came into the shop, and say something like, "If you need any help, let us know." They always had two dealers on staff at all times, often more since dealers were always popping in and out. They never hovered, but they were always available.

When my grandmother went into another antique store, if a clerk didn't greet her, very often she'd just turn around and leave again. I've noticed that the shops she left like that were usually ones that didn't last long. Of course, in antiques, customer service and knowledge are hugely important--but they ought to be hugely important to every business.

#202 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 11:33 AM:

Maybe Teresa is the grand-daughter of Lamont Cranston.

#203 ::: Stevey-Boy ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 11:55 AM:

Clerks at Home Depot, Lowes, or any large Megastore, are a craps shoot. I'm a white male in my 30s, that can look and talk "handy" if needed, and I'm still invisible more often than not.

What I have found is that if a clerk approaches you, rather than the other way round, they are extremely helpful. However, after a month or so, you will never see them again. My theory is that it takes these gems longer to perform menial tasks, due to customer service, so they are "let go".

Now I have no choice as our local hardware store just closed it's doors.

#204 ::: Lisa Morton ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 11:58 AM:

My mother once used reading as an anesthetic on me. I'd had my ears pierced with the gun about a month prior, and one of them promptly became infected and swelled up as a demonstration of why you shouldn't get pierced with a gun. So I had to have some minor surgery to remove the stud, which had completely disappeared into the ear.

I was, perhaps understandably, more than a bit skittish about having my already-agonizing ear prodded at and squeezed to get the stud out, so my mother pulled a book out of her purse, opened it to a random page, stuck it in front of me, and said "Read".

It worked like a charm - I immediately fell into the words and barely noticed that they were removing the stud and cleaning out the infected wound with alcohol, even though it must've hurt like the dickens.

#205 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 12:16 PM:

re 199: Another possibility is that the larger the store is, the more statistical distribution of clerks gets you. It's a lot easier for them to group in one place and ignore the rest of the store (accidentally or on purpose).

Here's my top "getting ignored" story, but it's dining rather than retail: there's a rather nice Indian restaurant near here which like most of them runs a buffet in the lunch hour. We were there on a Sunday afternoon after church, and we ordered off the menu because I wanted malai kofta and they didn't have it on the buffet that day. Well. They waited on us hand and foot while we ate, and then we didn't see them anymore. Eventually we realized that there was noboy in the restaurant except us and waiters, who were up around the corner by the entrance and the buffet. They had apparently simply forgotten that we were there. So after an indecently long interval I went up and asked them if we could please have our bill, and while I was there, I picked up one of the customer comment cards. Not long after, we received an abashed letter from the owner apologizing for our treatment and offering us a free lunch at the buffet in recompense. I was ever so delighted, when we returned to take advantage of this offer, that we were greeted by the exact same set of waiters.

However, I never set a napkin on fire to attract the waiter. That was someone else I knew.

#206 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 12:46 PM:

182 and following
I don't remember learning to read. But I have a book I was given when I was three. (My mother said one of my teachers - young and inexperienced - thought I might be 'slow' because I'd finish reading and then I'd go do something else.)

#207 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 01:36 PM:

Lisa Morten (204): I had that happen after I got my ears pierced. I don't remember it hurting particularly much when they took the studs out--but it hurt so much already that the extra pain may have been lost in the noise. Incidentally, the emergency room staff told me that they averaged about one case a week with that problem.

#208 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 01:39 PM:

David Harmon, bless you! Hyperlexia -- now I can tell my parents!

I started to read, very fast, when I was 3. I conned an uncle into teaching me, and he didn't like children's books, so I ended up learning from The Iliad and The Oddysey. I was trying to write my own books at age 5. Some of my relatives convinced my mother that I was insane in some fashion and she nagged my father until they took me to a child psychiatrist. I was terrified.

He ran some tests and turned to my parents and said (and this is a quote, translated from the Spanish as best as I can remember): tell your imbecile relatives to mind their own business. I remember him in my prayers every night, even though I don't remember his name.

#209 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 01:43 PM:

I can just barely remember not being able to read, but I can't remember how I picked up reading. I just know that at age four, I told my mother, "Actually, Mom, I can finish this chapter by myself," and took the book (one of the Chronicles of Narnia) and did so before turning off the light. It probably had to do with being the daughter of a librarian who read to me all the time. I can finish a 400-page book in a day or two if there are no interruptions; these days, of course, it takes me more like a week. And although circumstances have forced me to cut my reading drastically, I distinctly remember turning to the backs of cereal boxes in frustration when I wasn't allowed to read at the breakfast table. Furthermore, before I had kids to keep track of, I was known as "the one who walks everywhere with her nose in a book, even at intersections, and never falls down or gets hit by a car."

I'm homeschooling my oldest daughter, age 5, and she is "finally" starting to sound out words for herself. It's a relief to me because I wasn't sure which teaching method to choose, not remembering how I figured out the process. (I eventually realized that letting her play at starfall dot com at her own pace, plus reading lots and lots of books and pointing out environmental print, was my method, and it was working.)

#210 ::: Evan ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 01:52 PM:

Oh dear, once again Making Light seems to have dropped me into an alternate universe. And that comment to me from the bullying thread: "You are approaching this from a position of unacknowledged privilege" is ringing in my head.

Reading Teresa's story is like reading some SF satire that illuminates a societal pathology by exaggerating it or decontextualizing it. It's like some Ballardian hell or purgatory: a vast space filled with the overpriced junk of civilization devoid of the simplest human decency and overlaid by some invisible yet casually violent rule of behavior. I'm getting chills just picturing it.

I thought that the point of stores was, you know, to make money. Which you do by acknowledging the existence of your customers.

Since ignoring somebody takes MORE energy than simply helping them, I agree with Xopher -- the only explanation for Teresa's experience is contempt, pure and simple. I was tempted to type "reasonless contempt" but, having read all the other comments here, it seems all too obvious what the reason is.

As an able-bodied 30-year-old white old male, I don't get ignored in public situations. But I didn't realize this was a privilege, or that it was because of my physical characteristics. Utterly astonishing. Jeez. What happens when I hit forty?

Also, I promise to take part in a fun, light-hearted Making Light thread one of these days ...

#211 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 02:00 PM:

Our local Home Depot has gone downhill since it opened a few years ago. A vast store devoid of employees. Busy Saturday I counted six on the floor and six on register.

I stopped shopping there. I'd rather pay a little more get much better service at the local hardware store.

#212 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 02:01 PM:

Of course you could have tried to walk out with some unpaid items. I bet that would have gotten their attention.

#213 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 02:04 PM:

Albatross @ 179: I have the problem that if I am watching television or listening to the radio (or even someone in the same room speaking to me) and the printed word comes into view, I wind up "tuning out" everything except what's in print. Oh, I still hear it, I just don't fully process it. This is, however, actually a relatively recent development - sometime within the past decade or thereabouts, I think - as I distinctly remember being able to, say, watch television and read a book simultaneously in my childhood/teens/twenties and follow both just fine. It's an ability I'd like to get back, if only I could figure out how.

#214 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 02:15 PM:

David Goldfarb @ 182... "...I'm going to have to hit you."

Jeez. Good thing I didn't do anything too gauche when I met D for the first time in September.

#215 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 02:20 PM:

Also, hyperlexia: I was talking at a very early age (before I walked, in fact) but took to the printed word early on. I like to think both were due to having been read to every day from very early infancy. At the age of two I did have several of my little books memorized, and could sit there and recite them to myself while turning the pages. At three, I had figured out the link between the characters on the page and the words of the story, and was working on the mechanics. I think I got the gist of basic phonics on my own at age four, and only needed that last little push for it all to crystallize into actual reading. This happened while I was in kindergarten and I remember the event: I was sitting in my room with a book I knew well, and suddenly I could see exactly how the letters on the page made the particular words of the story. I immediately got a different book that I didn't have memorized and tried that. Yep, I could read it. Few things have excited me that much since.

Note that this all occurred in the late 1960's when schools (or at least my local school) exhorted parents NOT to attempt to teach their children to read at home before starting kindergarten, for fear the parents would teach them the "wrong" way and the school would have to undo the damage. (What a load of crap.) So my parents, despite being aware that I was well on my way to figuring it out on my own, didn't actively step in to help. When I got to kindergarten, most of my classmates could not read yet, so those few of us who tweaked to it early in the year got sent to the first grade room for reading group each day to keep us from becoming completely bored and disruptive. The following year had me going back to my kindergarten room and reading story time to that year's crop of five year olds from my Dick and Jane reader. Good times.

#216 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 02:26 PM:

Jenny Islander: Cereal boxes! Yes! Been there, done that, still do. Nice to know I'm not alone.

#217 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 02:27 PM:

Serge @ 202. Good job I'd stopped before sipping my drink when I read that.

"Visibility": my invisible "I belong here" sign luckily is mainly turned on in zoos. Where I may be able to answer the question, if it's about animals, but not if it's about where something is and it's my first visit to the zoo. Or if it's asked in a language I don't speak (I've been mistaken for staff in zoos all over Europe).

Jenny Islander @ 209 Me too - the cereal box thing, I mean. I was reading at three (can't remember not being able to read). I do remember, through my childhood, thinking it was very unfair that my father was allowed to read the newspaper at the breakfast table and I wasn't allowed to read my book. So. Cereal boxes.

As for reading speed, a couple of times as a teenage I worked out my average reading speed for novels was about 100 pages an hour. Tuning out the outside world to the point that my parents told me the car (which we were in at the time) was on fire, and I didn't hear them. I did respond, in a delayed manner, to the statement that there was a giraffe in the car "no there isn't" (while continuing to read).

#218 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 02:33 PM:

#210 ::: Evan:

People in business (at every level) are exactly like people. Both free market and Marxist economists seem apt to think that business magically makes people efficient profit maximizers, and I think the Marxists are a little worse about it.

People are apt to lose out personally because of prejudice (not making friends they might otherwise make, for example), and being paid doesn't automatically mean that prejudice is no longer a habit or that fear of other people's prejudice goes away.

If there's prejudice in a society, there will be be (generally unprofitable) prejudice in that society's commerce.

Your point about ignoring something taking more work than paying attention to it is a half-truth. It's work to ignore something or someone when it or they have registered on your consciousness, but it's also work to notice whatever you have a habit of not letting into your consciousness.

#219 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 02:42 PM:

I am not in the least surprised how many regulars here started reading early and are natural speed readers.

I was reading books by age 3; there's a picture of me at that age, sitting at a table intent on a book. (I can remember that book, too.) Fortunately my parents let me read basically anything which interested me, without trying to mandate what level was appropriate, and when I was in 5th or 6th grade they signed for me to get an adult library card at the city library. In junior high school, the school had everyone do a brief speed reading class for a couple weeks as part of English; I discovered that I was already reading a couple thousand words per minute, much faster than the top speed they claimed you could get to.

My daughter read her first words at the age of 2-something; while visiting Portland, she pointed to a sign in a restaurant where we'd never been and said "That says Exit Only". That was the only thing she could read for a while, but she still started reading fluently around 3, and by 4 or 5 she wouldn't let us read stories to her any more because it was too slow. My son is also an early reader but has been a year or two behind that, and liked being read to occasionally for longer. I think in terms of personality he isn't drawn to a challenge as much as she is.

Oh yeah, stores and invisibility:

A business needs to regularly teach and train its staff to recognize, acknowledge, and provide good service to any and every potential customer; it is not hard to do so. It is sad that that takes conscious attention, but it does. My company did that, and that's one of the reasons we were successful and outlived most of our competition. *

If a business does not train its staff that way, then it is sending a message that customers are not important and that it's not important to treat everyone equally. It will leave it up to a combination of the individuals' natural inclination and the social culture that they belong to. Since the latter is pretty toxic in many places, that's how you get things like this.

In chains or franchises, if the corporate management doesn't set and focus on the attitude to customers, the level will float up or down to the personal standards of the individual store manager. Clearly that's what's going on with Home Depot, and is why some stores - despite being understaffed - will have a reasonably good attitude from staff (like the one here and the one Matthew Brown describes above.)

As Dragoness Eclectic says, if the store manager cared, they would be counseling or firing the assistant manager and the other employees about their attitude; if the corporate management cared, they would be taking the same stance with the store management. It's clear that the Home Depot corporate management does not care, and does not grasp how that affects their bottom line. I would bet that there is currently tremendous variation in revenue between similarly situated Home Depot stores, that they don't understand it, and that if they started examining it they would find that the least profitable stores were those which treat Teresa et al. as she has described.

[*] In the computer industry, particularly technical support, the general subcultural climate is even more toxic and hostile to everyone, in that it positively encourages clever snarking on how dumb the public is. We had to really train our support staff on the attitude that everyone deserves sympathetic respect, regardless of how simple their problem may be, and keep a lookout for any rise of the "Bastard Operator from Hell" attitude, either in them or in ourselves.

#220 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 02:49 PM:

Summer Storms @215: Alas, it didn't stop in the 1960s, and is one of the reasons we pulled our daughter out of the public school system and home-schooled. They said she'd learn to read in kindergarten so we shouldn't try to teach it at home, but since her class was late in the rotation they wouldn't get to the computer lab till late spring. They had some wonderful state-of-the-art program that would have them all reading by the end of the year no matter how late they started!

When it was finally her turn, lo and behold, all it turned out to be was a letter recognition program we'd used at home the year before. She already knew her letters quite well, thank you.

We bought some grocery-store learn-to-read books and had her reading by the second week of summer vacation. She hasn't stopped since. (This is the same school that considered her a discipline problem for working ahead in her math book...)

#221 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 03:05 PM:

I've still come across a few "your child can't possibly be reading" teachers, even today. I consider any teacher who tries that as someone not worth bothering with, as they clearly are clinging to an idea in the fact of evidence, not a good trait for a teacher. My mother very specifically did not send me to the school my older siblings attended because they tried to pull that one on her. (She also pulled my brother out and sent him to the local public school, which was willing to acknowledge that hey, kindergardeners could sometimes read.)

In fact, my mother had learned to read before she went to school, the teacher tried to tell my Nana that she'd taught my mother wrong and my Nana laughed in her face. So there's a long family history of learning to read at early ages.

As for "speed-reading", I dislike the term intensely because the people who use it at me tend to do so with a sneer, as in "you're reading far too fast to enjoy the story." It takes a lot of effort to explain that, no, I do in fact get the voices and images in my head and play the scenes out, I just do it in what seems to be normal speed but just happens to be a perceptual fast-forward. I've always considered it to be a case of things getting faster with practice, and I've got thirty years of practice. I'm so thankful that Evil Rob's the same way.

Incidentally, one of Gareth's words is definitely "book." Minus the terminal consonant, but he definitely knows what it is, and demands repeated readings. Also "kitty."

"Mommy" and "Daddy" haven't quite made it into the rotation yet.

#222 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 03:14 PM:

Serge@187: Unpack, please? You mean you're equally fast at both, equally slow...?

@214: She didn't actually hit me (and indeed was obviously joking when she said it).

#223 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 03:28 PM:

Evan @210: I thought that the point of stores was, you know, to make money. Which you do by acknowledging the existence of your customers.

Well, sort of. The point of stores is, yes, to make money for their owners. Maybe if the owners were out there in the aisles, things would be different.

I've worked retail, and one thing I learned is that not everyone who walks into the store is a customer. When I was working as a typesetter and graphic designer in a print and copy shop, it wasn't unheard of for people to ask me to type stuff up for free, or let them make free copies. Or try to sell me something, or preach their religion at me, or ask me for money.

#224 ::: Jason Aronowitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 03:46 PM:

"Reading the back of cereal boxes" reminded me of Chex Press, so I googled it. First hit was "Making Light" in 2003. The relevant post was John M. Ford's (#23).

#225 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 03:55 PM:

David Goldfarb @ 222... Like Alvin the Chipmunk on too much caffeine.

#226 ::: Ruth Temple ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 03:58 PM:

Well. yes. My white-haired painterly poet father experienced that invisibility syndrome at the SF paint store that is one of two places in North America that carries the Kramer pigments for painting; being assiduously ignored cost them a quick $50 that day, and any future biz from me or artist guests from out of town I used to drag by there just to drool. Funny how they've moved down and out and keep only 24 hours a week where they are now...

Home Depot lost my biz years ago. Staffing by part time at minimum wage is not any way to build a staff who will (a) come to know anything or (b) be around to train the next batch of folks.

I am very happy we have an OSH closer by home. I think I'll take that advice to go and mention the next time I'm in, how delightful it is to have their kind of biz in the community. Even the guy who's been in the small tools area for decades and will talk your arm off about tools and stuff is at least interesting, shares success project stories, and often has great ideas (try one of these! and it works!) often with a smaller simpler tool than you knew existed. Plus they have organic starts in their garden section.

#227 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 04:05 PM:

dcb @ 217: "Tuning out the outside world to the point that my parents told me the car (which we were in at the time) was on fire, and I didn't hear them. I did respond, in a delayed manner, to the statement that there was a giraffe in the car "no there isn't" (while continuing to read)."

I remember vividly an incident when I was ten or twelve: I was sitting on the floor in front of the fireplace reading, and my dad said my name. I kept reading until I hit a stopping place and said "What?" He said "What?" back, obviously confused. I told him that he had said my name, and he frowned and said that had happened about half an hour ago. For me it had been just a moment.

I still do that sometimes--someone will say something and I'll store it until I finish my thought and then play it back, like a recording, to figure out what they were saying.

Nancy Lebovitz @ 218: "People in business (at every level) are exactly like people. Both free market and Marxist economists seem apt to think that business magically makes people efficient profit maximizers, and I think the Marxists are a little worse about it."

The issue isn't that businesses fail to make people efficient profit-maximizers--it's that the employees aren't being paid to maximize profit. They're being paid the exact same hourly rate whether the company turns a profit that hour or not. People with no stake in doing their job well won't do it well--in fact they'll do it poorly, because doing it poorly is easier and they'll trend towards maximizing their effort/reward ratio.

#228 ::: Sharon M ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 04:11 PM:

Hyperlexia = me, too! Mom discovered I could read when I was 2 & 3/4s (while Christmas shopping, I'll spare you the story). My parents read to me, and I watched Sesame Street, and apparently that was enough.

But anything with a narrative thread sucks me right in. I'm conscious of reading a few sentences, then there's a movie in my head, and then I'm looking at the back cover of the book. And I think that's why I can't seem to like audio books, they're so slow it's frustrating.

#229 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 04:23 PM:

I very distinctly remember learning to read, at about age four. My parents used a whole word method that involved words written (in bright red nail polish, as it happened) on large cards. I quite clearly remember sitting at the foot of my parents' bed with my mother, reading those cards.

#230 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 04:24 PM:

Doing customer service well is easier, or at least more fun: it's fun to track down something obscure, it's fun to make someone's day a little better, it's fun to share your specialized knowledge. But you need to have a culture that promotes that, not one that emphasizes spending as little time per customer as possible. It has to be a culture where minimum-wage part-timers can depend on their bosses for support when confronted by impossible-to-please customers.

#231 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 04:39 PM:

In contrast to many here, I actually had considerable trouble learning to read, probably because I was taught with Phonics (*spits*) by ignorant incompetent teachers. Having the word 'blend' be used for sequences of letters like 'bl' and 'sh' (yeah, both of them) makes it harder to understand what's going on.

I don't remember the details of my experience then, or remember what it was like not to be able to read, though I do recall that my first-grade teacher's response to my observation that the difference between 'p' and 'b' was that "with 'b' you use your voice" was to tell me I was wrong and to be quiet.

My parents decided to have me IQ tested in case I was retarded; they discovered I was not, which led them to the inescapable conclusion that I just wasn't trying. (This was 1965, and learning disabilities were just being discovered, and not at all in credit yet, especially with Behaviorist psych professors like my dad.)

I'm not sure what finally did it, but there was a real "wa-wa" moment (which I described at the time as "getting over the hump") sometime in second grade, and I became a voracious reader after that. For some reason our school library limited pupils to taking out no more than two books at a time; since two books got me through about one day, I went to the library a lot. By the time I was in fifth grade, I was testing at 11th-grade level, and reading books that were wayyy too adult for me to appreciate!

#232 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 04:52 PM:

Hyperlexia, me too. My parents found out I could read when I read the Shoney's menu to them at age 4.

Roommate story: my former college roommate is blind. More often than not, if a bunch of us went out to eat, the server would take everyone else's order and then point at Laurie and say "And what does SHE want?" (To which we would reply, "I don't know, why don't you ask her?")

Laurie had been blind since birth, was witty, articulate and extremely capable (she used to find my room key for me on the frequent occasions of my losing it). Yet her own aunt was stunned that she could FEED HERSELF.

#233 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 04:55 PM:

dcb @ 217...

Shiwan Khan: "Your mind is like an open book to me!"
Lamont Cranston: "Then learn how to read!"

#234 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 04:59 PM:

I was taught the alphabet in kindergarten and quickly learned to actually read without further instruction. Toward the end of that year, my teacher had me read a (short, simple) book to the rest of the class. When I started first grade, there were several in my class already reading, enough to make up a "reading group" of our own. (There were two other groups of about the same size in a class of 25-30: probably one group knew the alphabet and nothing more, and the other was starting completely from scratch.) One of my older brothers had taught himself to read at about age four, by following along when read to.

#235 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 05:00 PM:

inge @ #198:

I occasionally have to pause and stare at the words before I can tell what language I am reading in. At least once, it took me somewhere in the region of 60 pages before I realised I was reading Swedish, I thought I was reading English.

#236 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 06:35 PM:

Emma #208: He ran some tests and turned to my parents and said [...]: tell your imbecile relatives to mind their own business.

Great answer!

I got the "she can't possibly be reading" in kindergarten. With a side order of "and is probably disturbed". I sat under a table the whole day (safer -- the kindergarten teachers were not good at keeping kids from trying to kill each other with building blocks) and read pedagogical professional journals that the kindergarten had subscribed to and that were behind the teacher's desk. Kindergarten teacher didn't get why I'd sit under a table and look at a wall or text instead of "playing" with the other kids. (Correct response would have been, hi there, I am shortsighted, I have trouble recogizing faces, I'm not good in processing auditory information, because of that I have the articulation of a two-year old and I am very bad at a) dodging thrown building blocks and b) explaining this to you, so *leave me alone and let me read*.) My mother at least conveyed the "leave her alone and let her read" part convincingly and the kindergarten teacher backed off.

Summer Storms #215: suddenly I could see exactly how the letters on the page made the particular words of the story. I immediately got a different book that I didn't have memorized and tried that. Yep, I could read it. Few things have excited me that much since.

I think I remember that moment when "things started talking" to me (might be constructed, though). It was really that sudden. I sat in the bath and looked around, and all the letters around me made words.

Xopher #231: I actually had considerable trouble learning to read, probably because I was taught with Phonics (*spits*) by ignorant incompetent teachers.

They use Phonics in *English*? I thought it was a bloody stupid idea in Northern Germany where (native) people speak Hochdeutsch, which is phonetically pretty tidy. (Not as tidy as Spanish or Finnish, from what I've been told, but good enough that a kid who grew up in a high german speaking household and has good auditory processing can learn reading that way -- I'd never have learned it.) In *English*? I'm horrified.

#237 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 06:42 PM:

Ingvar M @ 235, inge @ #198: I envy you. I can read French, slowly, with a dictionary. In German, I can read the long veterinary words (same as in English but running together) but none of the other words (!), and that's it. Language learning is definitely not one of my best skills, and I wish I could improve it.

#238 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 06:45 PM:

#236: They use Phonics in *English*?

Oh, you don't know the half of it.

There is a political aspect to reading instruction methods. Conservatives think phonics is the way to go, and conservative media outlets push home teaching materials that use it. They do this in reaction to the 'whole language' method, which they perceive as not only less effective but ideologically tainted. (Because teachers use it. Lefty, unionized public school teachers.)

#239 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 06:55 PM:

Stefan Jones@238

For what it's worth, my dad (retired teacher who follows educational research much more closely than I do) says that phonics is actually useful as PART of a well-designed reading program, but was never intended to be used by itself.

#240 ::: nerdycellist ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 07:08 PM:

My earliest memories are also of reading (and catching snakes with my manx cat Abishag) so I must have learned between 3 and 4. My parents lived in student housing while my dad was attending UofO so I went to a co-op preschool with a lot of professors kids and I'm sure some pretty smart people teaching us. In elementary school I was always one of the more advanced readers, but I was not alone. Reading was presented as an exciting thing and used as a reward (finish your worksheet and you can go into the Book Nook!). When we moved in the midst of Jr. Hi, I wound up in a school district where no one was reading at anywhere near my level, and only a precious few really loved books the way the general populace in my old school did. I have no idea what the (richer) school district did to engender such a hatred of reading in their students, but at least it didn't hit my siblings too hard.

Incidentally, I was also "diagnosed" based on my late speaking. The doc told my parents that only time would tell, but I was most probably autistic. To my parents relief, I spoke my first word (taco) only a few weeks later. I've told them on several occasions that I just didn't have anything to say.

#241 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 07:10 PM:

Inge, @#236

Actually, in the hands of the competent, phonics can be a way into reading and spelling for some children. They've recently been reintroduced here, under a few special programs for kids with reading difficulty, and the results can be phenomenal. Here's a recent success story.

In the hands of the incompetent, phonics are a disaster. And whole-word reading works for many learners, child and adult, and is still being used in tandem with phonics, which seems to me to be the way to go.

My mum was, inter alia, a teacher of remedial English and a librarian. I can't remember a time I couldn't read, but I do remember that when I was two, she made me a set of phonics flash cards (along with some cards with whole words like my name, "aeroplane," "Fluff," (my dog), and so on) and I used them to make up stories. I also used phonics to try and read new words, which was a great game.

When I finally got to school, I had to prove to my teacher that my parents were not helping me with my reading by pulling out that day's newspaper and reading it at them.

So, long story short, phonics FTW. But only in the hands of a competent teacher.

#242 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 07:24 PM:

inge@236: They use Phonics in *English*?

It depends upon the school district, the decade, and the prevailing theory of the moment.

Primary-grades reading instruction doesn't seem at first glance like a viable, or even plausible, candidate for politicization . . . nevertheless, it is, and it has been. This, unsurprisingly, results in an all-one-way-or-the-other approach to the "whole language vs. phonics" thing, when the truth of the matter is that some kids do better with one, and some kids with the other, and a sensible teacher would use both as appropriate.

#243 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 07:33 PM:

#242: "a sensible teacher would use both as appropriate."


I was a member of a two-year elementary school experiment called ITA. Initial teaching alphabet. In first grade, and at least the first chunk of second grade, we got books printed in a extended phonetic alphabet. 33 characters? 44? Something like that. There were ITA posters and one of those over-the-blackboard alphabet lists. I don't remember *how* the teachers used ITA, exactly.

Did it help? Well, by the end of second grade I was reading regular-alphabet books like Space Cat on Mars and The Boxcar Children without moving my lips or using a finger. OTOH, most of the other kids mumbled and stumbled away while reading. I recall teachers fretting that switching from ITA to regular-alphabet books was frustrating some kids. ITA sure as hell messed up my printing skills. Some of the ITA characters are backwards English letters! Later teachers may have thought carelessness was dyslexia.

#244 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 08:35 PM:

vian, Debra, Stefan: I can see how no single size fits all, but still, English, of all languages...

Primary education plus politics, that's a match made in hell. The whole '70s to '00s school debates feel like conservatives whinging about being disrespected in '68. (And secondary education had it worse.)

#245 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 08:41 PM:

I recall doing drag (as a youth I was quite the pretty boy, and a passable girl).

It was interesting. The first time was to a drag party. I got hit on by people I knew; who knew I was going to be at the party.

I never got ignored when I was out in public, but I didn't get the same sorts of treatment I got as a man (even a slight man, with long hair).

And I lost the ability to be invisible.

Maia and I used to do an experiment at restaurants. When the bill came we'd see if the waiter brought it to the table or handed it to one of us. Usually, irrespective of who asked for the bill it would be put near me.

which of us was paying would change the placement of the paid/card-laden check. If I was paying it would go toward them middle of the table, if she was paying it would go toward her side.

About 80 percent of the time it would come back to me for change/signature. Some of the time it would come back to me after she had signed for the card.

Female waiters did it too, but they were far more likely to get it right.

Lee: I'm working in a cookware store, and men aren't invisible; not to me, not to the rest of the staff. Those of us who understand cookery know that lots of people do it, and those that don't are so clueless (one asked me if there was such a thing as an omelette pan). they don't know who might be interested in things.

I don't think (from the times I've been in cookery stores (with, and without company, of both sexes) I've ever felt ignored.

The culture at the shop I'm in seems to be "respect the customer". I spent a huge amount of time yesterday helping a young woman build a gift basket for her new boyfriend (she had a, rough, budget of 120 bucks... and wanted stuff which wasn't over the top, nor yet piddly). All from her asking where she could find a cutting board. It helps that I know how to cook, and the tools of the trade, but I also asked her why she was looking for the cutting board, as I walked over to the stack.

In a less customer oriented store, I'd be more encouraged to point, than to walk. So far everyone I've observed leads customers to the product area they need to be in.

Re reading. I learned to do it sometime before I was four (I thought it was five, but my mother insists it was four. In this regard I am willing to grant her memory is probably better than mine).

For my birthday my grandmother sent me a check for five dollars. To my mother's eternal credit that was my money. Whatever I wanted to do with it, I might. Five dollars worth of ice cream or candy, sure. Not all at once (and some candies were forbidden; because I had a crown on an incisor, and it could have been pulled off).

I wanted books. So we went shopping and got two Dr Suess. We went home and I asked her to help me read them. She started to help me with Green Eggs and Ham, and then went to make supper (it must have been a Friday, because she was making clam chowder).

I complained that it was too hard. She came back, pointed out I was on page eleven, and I said, "oh...", stuck my head back in the book and never really came out.

I was reading anyting I wanted, re-reading things at school (or reading the next story in the reader), and so on. The Hobbit was at about nine. The Lord of the Rings didn't really grab me until at least high school (the style was great, the story not quite the thing), but Sherlock Holmes was at eight, Heinlein was started at 12 (though I read my first Heinlein at 11. I didn't know it at the time, it was just one of the books in the back of the room).

I read Roy Chapman Andrews, and Verne, and digests of, "classics". Christie, newspapers and, of course, cereal boxes.

Words are real; and I was taught with phonics, (and in several school systems) but my second grade teacher was awful. She didn't care that I was reading far ahead of grade, she cared that I didn't do all the problems.

For speed, I don't know. I was tested at about 600 wpm in the sixth grade. I tend to figure I read about ninety pages a minute of the fiction I like.

#246 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 09:08 PM:

It's interesting to see how often rapid readers "have it in the family".

Like many of you, I came from a family of readers, in spades. Both parents, my stepmother, and three of my grandparents were all schoolteachers, though Dad and my stepmother later switched to other careers. Mom was a library teacher (since retired), and has a Masters in (IIRC) Library Science.

Some of my earliest memories are of crawling past shelves of books, and poring over the Big Black Dictionary in the basement. And then there were the shelves of SF and boxes of Analogs in Dad's basement....

#247 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 09:11 PM:

@45 et seq

I will absolutely admit to being one of the people who goes around the other way in a retail store when I encounter a fellow shopper using a wheelchair / mobility scooter / etc.

The idea that my behaviour would read as "OMG Wheelchair Cooties Run!" had not occurred to me (ableist privilege, natch).

I'm probably not going to stop doing it, though, because I do it for a reason: I usually have a shopping cart, and the aisles in many big box stores are too narrow for two shopping carts - or a cart and a mobility device - to pass each other comfortably.

So, in the interest of a) not ramming a fellow shopper, and b) not having to wait for my fellow shopper to get out of the middle of the aisle, I generally just take my shopping cart and come in from the other end of the aisle. Because I hate having to wait even more than I hate having to shop.

No cooties, just logistics. YMMV.

#248 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 09:26 PM:

Stefan, #243: Oh dear ghod, the younger brother of a friend of mine got caught in that ITA disaster. I remember his mother explaining to me why he wasn't allowed to read the kiddie books I remembered enjoying at his age, and I also remember how monumentally stupid the whole thing was. Even at age 12 I was smart enough to understand that making children learn to read TWICE wasn't going to end well.

#249 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 09:34 PM:

inge #244: Remember that the conservative-authoritarian types depend heavily on controlling the information their children and followers are exposed to. Genuine education is their enemy, and they know it -- so they will take any opportunity to kill it and replace it with indoctrination.

Stefan Jones #243: It looks to me like you learned to read despite the best efforts of your educational system. That "ITA" scheme seems to assume you can expect kids to not only learn something that's not quite written English, but then forget half of it (on cue!), and relearn actual English, all in less time than it would have taken to learn it properly to begin with. Based on what we know now, that's Just Wrong, and I'm not sure how (scientifically) plausible it would have been even 50 years ago.

#250 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 09:44 PM:

Xopher@231, I had no trouble learning how to read, partly because I was taught with Phonics, but by reasonably competent teachers. Phonics _is_ after all how you learn to read words you've never seen before, and some of us had to also put up with whole-word-Dick-And-Jane nonsense which didn't really get across the concepts. And it meant that by 2nd grade I could be reading the 6th-grade books if they weren't on the top library shelves.

It also helped immensely that my parents read to us, and that Sitting Around Reading was something they did a lot of even if they weren't reading to us so it became part of my value system. And it also helped that we didn't have government-run kindergartens, and while the church-run nursery/kindergarten did alphabets and counting and maybe a bit of reading, they mostly worried about social development like sharing and playing games with other kids and not biting them, and kept the intellectual stuff more focused on art (at the level of keeping the paint _on_ the table.) So by the time they wanted us to sit down and learn to read, I'd more or less learned the sitting down part, which I probably couldn't have done well at the year before.

And yes, you can even use it in thievery-crafted languages like English where they have to teach you that not all the words follow the same rules and you just have to remember or guess which are which. It does involve a lot of rote memorization and copying, and I never liked the copying bits. (I never did learn French spelling that well in 2nd grade; I could handle the different pronunciation fine but couldn't guess from the sounds how much of the last syllable of a word had been swallowed or what it was.)

I can understand why many of the conservatives like phonics - it's not just because of the marketing campaigns and because it's how they were taught, but also because they saw younger kids taught whole-language really badly, and because of the liberal social-promotion theories that were evolving at the time, kids could get out of first grade without having fundamentally learned how to read and then lose badly the rest of their time in school because none of the later grades really taught reading for non-readers.

#251 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 09:47 PM:

Isn't a whole lot of Sesame Street's reading-skills stuff phonics? A couple of Anything Muppets bouncing around holding signs and singing "You take a J, that's juh, and e-t et, put 'em all together and they spell jet..."

'Fess up, how many of you just got earwormed?

#252 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 10:01 PM:

I used to do engineering for a supermarket company back when I was in college, which meant I'd often be walking around stores carrying a clipboard and wearing a white shirt and tie. It's very much the opposite of invisibility.... I do occasionally go to Home Despots, and the problems I have there aren't that I'm invisible, but that the employees often are, though maybe it's a time-of-day thing.

The other visibility problem I have there is that I drive an old van, so if I go there on a weekend and it's in one of the towns that doesn't harass immigrant day-workers, there'll be a dozen about-to-be-disappointed people around by the time I park, because unlike the store employees, they recognize customers and are happy to help. (The old van also gets a quick mistaken response when I go to a car dealer; I'm typically there to see the parts or service department.)

#253 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 10:27 PM:

I can be both visible (to other customers) and invisible (to employees) simultaneously. I'm not sure if it's because I exude an "I know what I'm doing" aura or I have Plateau eyes. Or both. If I'm having really bad social anxiety, I'm more reliably invisible. If I'm also uncertain about what I'm looking for it adds in, with the result that when I need assistance most I'm almost as invisible as Teresa was. (I'm serious. And it has lost some stores sales. It's also left me wondering if I have feminine mannerisms, or otherwise manage to throw myself significantly out of the default privilege slot. Which is a thought I couldn't have constructed until a couple years ago; all I knew was that it was frustrating. Now it's got a heaping helping of guilt built into it too, which turns out not to help matters.)

Reading: I was reading at 2. This actually managed to get me tagged as retarded: obviously if he's more interested in the newspaper than in the toy blocks, something's wrong with him.... I both speedread (but not to the point of obliviousness to my surroundings) and skim; the latter behaves a lot more like pattern matching than reading.

I spot word patterns, although my specialty seems to be misspellings instead of word searches. Interestingly, while my speed and proficiency in Spanish and French are much lower, the pattern matching still works. (And that particular combination of languages makes Portuguese an incredible eye-itch.)

(This is probably rambly and/or messed up; something about the topic is being triggery. FIIK.)

#254 ::: Harriet Culver ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 10:30 PM:

Terry @ 245

I discovered Sherlock Holmes at eight, too, IIRC -- we'd just moved to a new house and the previous owner, an elderly doctor's widow who was moving back to Germany, had left a number of her son's books and other junk down in the basement in a sort of finished room (this was 1960 and I can barely remember the basement layout any more, though now it's coming back to me as I write).

Anyway, there was an old copy of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes amongst the other stuff.

For the longest time, I hid it from my parents because I imagined it was the sort of book that they might have taken away from me as "too advanced" for my tender years. So I got all the thrills of The Empty House and Silver Blaze--I think it was the double life of the dead trainer in Silver Blaze that made me think TMoSH was a naughty book, in fact--all those thrills plus the pleasure of doing something a bit edgy, wrapped up into one grey binding. :-)

#255 ::: Harriet Culver ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 10:37 PM:

Obs sf ref: One of the first things I can recall reading, though I must have been making some sense of my kiddie lit books before that, was sitting with my dad as he showed me the article in the New York Times about -- which of the early space shots was it that sent up the monkey? I must have been in kindergarten. Disappointingly late, but I made up for it my keeping my nose in one book or another for the next fifty years and more. (Off to Google now)

#256 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 10:58 PM:

I was reading before kindergarden. And my first exposure to SF was when, in second grade, father asked me what I wanted from the library so I could read it while we were on vacation in the Bahamas.

I said something like, "I think I'd rather not have a a book with any pictures."

He brought home a Jules Verne Omnibus that I had to read with a pillow in my lap to prop it up. I'm thinking it had 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea, From the Earth to the Moon and Journey to the Center of the Earth but I'm not positive on that, And I expanded my vocabulary by a ton of words,

I had find a pad and jot down words I didn't understand, because the resort didn't have a library with a dictionary. And I think he had to renew it three times before I finished it. It made me feel 'Very Grown Up to actually read a book without illustrations.

It expanded my vocabulary by several hundred words. And it instilled in me a desire to find books that inspired a sense of wonder in the future, in space, heroic fantasy, etc.

Fast forward to about 1991 or 1992. He commented while I was home for Christmas that he couldn't fathom why I was so into Science Fiction. I reminded him of the Jules Verne, and he kind of went, "but you want to write, and hasn't everything been done that can be done?" I then reminded that I had been paid well for the short stories I'd sold already, and hoped to make more.

He never, EVER brought the subject up again.

#257 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 11:15 PM:

Evan @210 - when you hit forty, since you're male and white, nothing will change. You will remain visible.

I had never even considered this. I'm another of those people who gets asked for directions no matter what country he's in, or what language he speaks or doesn't speak. Hungarians drive up to me in Budapest and ask how to get to Miskolc. Puerto Ricans in San Juan ask where particular streets are. The most annoying was the German guy who refused to accept that I didn't know where something in Stuttgart-Vaihingen was. My wife laughs about it every time.

I learned to read at three or four, too, but it wasn't hyperlexia - I clearly remember the initial insight, while perusing my favorite page of The Cat in the Hat Comes Back (the one with all the cats cleaning up the pink snow, of course), that the printed word "had" was, well, the word "had". (The only trouble is, I've looked at that page since; "had" doesn't appear on it, so this is a synthetic memory, it would appear.) I did try to learn speed reading once, though, from a library book (natch), but to my chagrin I'd been doing it all along. And I could read to the exclusion of all other input, as a child.

It's handy - I'm a technical translator (German to English, mostly) and I work really fast. Fast reading and comprehension is the key to my livelihood.

#258 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 11:23 PM:

I don't remember ever not being able to read, but my parents have told me how I learned. They'd been reading to me all my life, and I had all my favorite stories memorized. Then came the day, probably just before my fourth birthday, when my older brother came home from kindergarten and proudly announced that he was going to learn to read! I, like any little brother who didn't have any real concept of age difference, decided that I would learn to read too. I shut myself in my room with all my books for about a week, occasionally calling out questions ("Does T-H-E spell 'the'?"), and came out with a sight-reading vocabulary of around ten thousand words - everything from "cat" to "pachycephalosaurus". When I finally got to school, my teacher didn't have a clue what to do with a kid who was reading at a sixth grade level, but couldn't write a word.

#259 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 11:31 PM:

Weird variant of the original topic:

This hasn't happened to me since, say 1995, when I went to grad school and then moved west. But between, say, 1980 and then I was frequently mistaken as store staff. Something about the way I dressed or carried myself prompted people to ask me where to find things.

#260 ::: Harriet Culver ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 11:59 PM:

Harriet @ 255

On further reflection, and googling, and converting date to grade in school, I'm pretty it was the original Sputnik, not one of the launches with monkeys, about which I remember reading in the Times, puzzling out the big words with help from dad. What amazing times those were!

#261 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 12:19 AM:

Lila @ 200: I wonder if the intelligence community is aware of this issue. Perhaps we are surrounded by middle-aged female NSA ninjas; we just can't see them.

That idea certainly shows up in mystery novels. The variant that I particularly liked was G.M. Ford's P.I. hiring the homeless to do surveillance. They can sit or wander anywhere in Seattle (or most any American city) and everyone just looks right through them.

On the reading thread, I recall learning to read in 1st grade. How pedestrian. In 7th grade, we were given a series of lessons to work through to improve our reading speed and comprehension. I tested out of it immediately. Alas, no glory for me. I was also revealed to have a great big vocabulary of words that I couldn't pronounce correctly, and I had to do remedial phonics.

#262 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 12:26 AM:

I wasn't a preemie reader, but read I did as soon as I figured it out. As for Verne... One of the first movies I ever saw on a big screen was Journey to the Center of the Earth. That was 45 years ago. Still love that movie.

#263 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 12:40 AM:

I get treated as staff in lots of places. I've been offered (mostly joking) jobs in bookstores and kitchen supplies. I get asked for directions, all the time, in places I've never been before.

It's been happening since my late teens.

re Sherlock Holmes: I started with A Study in Scarlet, and The Sign of the Four. The first was largely over my head, and the second sort of strange too.

It was a a Miss Marple which I hid the fact of my reading.

I read all sorts of stuff. Norse Myths, Victorian childrens' stories (the Water Babies, Mary Poppins), and I forget what all else. The first Heinlein I tried to read was The Star Beast. Bored me to tears. "Earth Times Two" was the first SF I recall reading and liking.

I think the best thing for my development was the great breadth of things I had available to read; coupled with no limits on my attempts to read them. The greatest harm I think anything did for me was the vicious paper cut I got from a volume of Man, Myth, and Magic I was reading at seven.

My Grandmother had been a member of the National Geographic society since the teens, (or perhaps that was my grandfather), and had all the issues.

Soaked them up I did.

#264 ::: Sharon M ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 12:57 AM:

My teachers thought I was slow, too. (I wasn't paying attention to the alphabet drills: i is for igloo! Boring! When just a few feet away, there was an entire miniature kitchen with lights and parts that moved!) Mom told them I could already read, and then we had to prove it. She had to talk to several teachers about letting me read what I wanted to over the years.

I read the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy early, too, around 10 or so. I picked them up again in my early 20s, and they were entirely different, much longer books. Younger me just plowed through what I didn't understand.

(And the J - et - Jet! thing was more Electric Company than Sesame Street, wasn't it?)

#265 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 12:57 AM:

Terry Karney @ 263... So you were from a family of readers, or was your granny the only one besides you?

#266 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 02:19 AM:

I have had quite a few people pull over and ask for directions; I think it's where I used to live, fairly close to downtown and on a one-way that Google Maps doesn't list as such (it says 'go north on Dodge' when it means 'go north on Governor and it turns into Dodge'), so a lot of people are frustrated and looking for anyone ambling along, and partly that yeah, ambling along. I know my patch of town pretty well, and not much else.

On reading, I don't remember learning to read, but I'm pretty sure I learned phonics of some sort. We had the Letter People in kindergarten and first grade. Which meant, babynerd that I was, that my family had the Letter People tape for car rides, and I can still sing and do light choreography for some. And, because babynerd, I was Mr C for Halloween one year.
The thought of teaching without phonics baffles me. If you don't know a word, you sound it out. Okay, in my case, that has led to some interesting pronunciations and one spelling bee loss on 'vehemence' because of course it's veHEEmence, but I'm one of those people who thinks that her childhood, and those of her people, are the only ways to run a childhood.

#267 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 02:26 AM:

Thena @247:
The way to cure any dread that it's ablest cooties that makes you steer your shopping trolley the other way is very, very simple.

Make brief eye contact with the person in the wheelchair/scooter/whatever. Friendly eye expression if you're in a friendly mood, otherwise neutral.

It's not the fact that someone in a vehicle takes up more room than someone standing on two feet that rankles, methinks. It's the way that so many people veer off without eye contact, as though the disabled person were covered in a Somebody Else's Problem Field.

(Obviously, eye contact rules may vary by culture. But it's the standard minimum-commitment I Acknowledge You gesture.)

#268 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 02:27 AM:

It's a family story that I told the kindergarten teacher (with the sort of scorn unique to kids of that age) that the Dick and Jane books were stupid[0].

Fortunately, it was quickly resolved (by the kindergarten teacher asking my mother) that 'stupid' meant "I don't want to read -those- books", not "I don't want to read".

[0] I was reading well beyond that level; they were stupid.

#269 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 02:35 AM:

diatryma @ 266... I have had quite a few people pull over and ask for directions

Our users seem to prefer contacting me when they have a question about our system. I'd like to think it's because I don't make them feel stupid for their having to ask questions.

#270 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 02:46 AM:

xeger @ 268... It's a family story that, when my wife was a young tyke, she got to visit a TV studio, where she very loudly exclaimed her disgust that Captain Satellite's spaceship was a fake.

#271 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 03:30 AM:

xeger @ 268: You were right, the Dick and Jane books were stupid. I remember in first grade being scolded by the teacher for reading ahead in the books -- I was trying to find something that was Not Boring.

I too learned to read at three... at least, that's when Mom discovered I could read. It was a Sunday afternoon and she gathered my sister (a year younger than me) and I to read the "funnies" from the Sunday paper to us, and I started reading them to her. (The paper was probably the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph.) I don't remember ever learning to read; as far as I remember, I always knew. Mom was helpful about words I didn't know (until I learned to use the dictionary, at least), but always insisted that she never taught me to read. I think I largely learned from TV. We got our first TV the Christmas after I was born; I grew up watching commercials. Some of the first words I remember are brand names: "Joy," "Cheer," "Frigidaire," "Chevrolet" -- and yes, I still drive a Chevy and wash my clothes in Tide.

And Mom read all the time. There's a snapshot my dad took when I was about two months old, a few weeks after that first Christmas. You can't see me, I'm in the bassinet. It's late at night; the TV -- a very small screen in the background -- is off. Mom is sitting in her nightgown next to the bassinet. Her right hand (she was left-handed) is reaching into the bassinet -- she's holding my bottle, though you can't quite see that -- but she's looking at the book on her lap that she's holding with the other hand. Or was, because she's just glancing up to see what Dad's up to. Dad thought this pose was so typical of her that he'd grabbed the Brownie to catch it for posterity.

We lived in an area rural enough that, in the mid-1950s, there was no kindergarten nearby, but by the time I started first grade I was reading at about a fourth- or fifth-grade level at least, and by second grade at least, I was sneaking into my brother's room to read *his* stuff. He's about nine years older than I am, and so was in high school by then, and had interesting stuff like Boys' Life magazine and Classics Illustrated comic books. (The latter he brought home from his after-school job at the local drug store.) I also remember puzzling over his Algebra and French textbooks, but not making much sense of them at the time.

The local library wasn't much help. They had some very strict rules that are (fortunately) very old-fashioned now: you had to be over six years old and be able to write your name in order to get a library card, and you could only borrow books from the proper age group, and only borrow no more than 10 at a time. (I'd have half of those read in the car on the way home.) So when I finally could get a card, I could only borrow books from the "first and second grade" section, a lot of which were not much less boring than Dick and Jane. "Little Black Sambo" -- I didn't know the word yet, but I somehow had the concept of "racist" already, and that book was it. (Not to mention the tiger turning into butter. There's fantasy and there's silly, but that was neither; it was just dumb.) Dr. Seuss was good, but there weren't that many of his books (this was about the time he would have been writing "The Cat in the Hat"; I had to wait until my sisters had kids to catch "Green Eggs and Ham") and once I got through the ones they had, I was bored with the library. I swear it's a miracle I ever became a librarian in a public library after that! But as I said, libraries have changed a lot since 1957.

We didn't get any phonics to speak of until second grade, and on some level it confused me. If we needed this to learn to read, I wondered, why did I already know how to read? And so many exceptions! The rhyme about "i before e except after c" should give people a clue about how un-phonetic English can be, but people like to think there are rules, I guess. I was too oversocialized at age seven to complain out loud about it -- I had other issues with the teacher as it was -- but it seemed a waste of time. At least I became a pretty good speller; some of the "phonics" (like "i before e") seemed to be more about spelling than reading anyway, but even so a lot of it's just memorization.

#272 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 06:26 AM:

inge @ 244: Thanks for the link - I love that piece (I've seen it in various places). As a native English speaker I find it very hard to read out loud because I ckeep bursting into giggles.

Lord of the Rings I read at 10. Took me a week (it was during term time so I could only read in breakes etc.).

I remember being accidentally disruptive in English when I was about nine, because while the book was being read aloud, round the class, I would always be reading ahead. So when my turn came, I wouldn't have a clue which page I was supposed to be reading from. After one such occasion the teacher took me and one other girl aside, told us that from now on we were no longer part of the class for reading aloud, just let him know when we'd finished the book and he would supply another book. I got to read some good books (and so did the other girl, I presume), and the class didn't get disrupted. Win-win situation.

#273 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 08:49 AM:

My own dumbass-teacher story: When I got to fourth grade, for the first time I had a teacher who didn't like me (she had a lot of "issues", but I didn't hear about that until later). So... she put me in the back of the class, where I could neither read the blackboard nor hear her.

Sometime later, she called my Mom in for a conference with her and the principal, where she said "well, he's probably not retarded --" and promptly got laughed out of the principal's office. (By this time I was bringing in books that said principal found difficult.) That's when I got diagnosed as nearsighted and hearing-impaired, and transferred to a private school (where I stayed through middle school). As I found out later, the school nurse at my elementary school was a drunk, which is probably why the hearing loss hadn't been spotted earlier.

#274 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 09:48 AM:

Reading: the story in my family is that I had apparently acquired the notion that you had to go to school to learn to read, and so came home from my first day at school (not sure if this was preschool or kindergarten), picked a kids' books off our shelf, and read it aloud to my mom. (it was something about the circus, as I recall, not a Dr. Seuss) I think I was relieved that now it was okay for me to read. A tad oversocialized, perhaps.

Thinking about the invisibility issue reminded me of the concept of "inattentional blindness," the idea that if you aren't expecting something your brain doesn't process it. A classic demonstration is here. Watch the video clip and count the number of times the basketball is passed. Most of you have probably seen this before but rot13'd for those who haven't and would like to try it, 50% bs crbcyr snvy gb abgvpr gur tbevyyn ng nyy, naq znal bs gubfr jub qb abgvpr qba'g frr vg hagvy vg orngf ba vgf purfg. If you don't expect a person of a particular age, or a person of a particular color, to be a customer, and you're scanning for potential customers, you may genuinely not see them. Doesn't mean that it's right, or that more training isn't needed, but it does mean the issue is not necessarily deliberate sexism, etc.; it's learned behavior that may be difficult to unlearn.

I'm often fascinated by the interaction between what we consciously do (choose, for example, what to focus on) and what we unconsciously do (focus on what we've chosen to the extent that we develop tunnel vision).

#275 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 10:01 AM:

And on the original thread, last night I got a startling glimpse of what "autistic invisibility" must look like to others. As noted elsewhere, yesterday I had a particularly tiring hike through fog and rain (still hurting this morning), then I got back, zipped through the shower, and was off to my birthday dinner at Mom's. Did all the usual things, rousted out some winter stuff from her basement, then back home... still wired&tired, so I didn't get to bed until after midnight.

Then I startled out of my drowse: "WTH, where was Julie?"

Now, my stepfather Julie is a shy and quiet fellow, but much-loved, and if he'd actually been missing, there would have been apologies for his absence! I wondered if in my exhaustion I'd somehow been ignoring him, so I had to sit down (up) and page through my memories: "Let's see, I came in, and yep, he was there on his couch, we were all discussing swine flu and he mentioned he'd had the 50's flu that's supposed to be similar. At dinner, where was he? Go around the table... Hmm, he must have been there... hey, didn't he cut the bread?"

Concentrating, I could retrieve the image of him sitting at the table, but even then (and still, this morning), my memory-image of him at the table is weirdly dim and faded, as if he were standing in shadows while everyone else was brightly lit.

Now, Julie does have a sub-clinical "autistic streak", which is what makes him "shy and quiet" (and an engineer). Usually, I'm pretty resistant to invisibility fields, indeed I occasionally startle people "you're not supposed to notice" by greeting them. I'm wondering if for once, last night's exhaustion let me be affected by Julie's I-field.

#276 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 10:07 AM:

OtterB, #274: the idea that if you aren't expecting something your brain doesn't process it

There's a scene in Star Wars that does that. Luke and Ben are bargaining to sell the landspeeder in Mos Eisley; it's a long-range shot, and about halfway thru it a pair of thin, storklike legs crosses in front of the camera lens, between your eyes and the action. I did not notice this until the 6th time I saw the movie!

#277 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 10:15 AM:

The invisibility discussion has been reminding me of China Mieville's most recent novel, The City and the City. For anyone who hasn't already heard, it's about two cities sharing the same physical space. They maintain their separate identities by rigorously training their citizens to "unsee" the other city.

There are certain situations in real life when unseeing (or the less drastic real-life version, anyway) is a tool to maintain sanity. When you're packed onto a crowded bus with thirty other people it's polite to pretend you can't hear the private conversations around you, and leave your neighbors alone to read or play with their iPods or just stare out the window. And if we paid constant full attention to every detail of our surroundings the most relevant information would probably get lost in the sensory overload.

Retail is a pretty good example of an environment--and there are many--where "unseeing" is never, ever helpful. A lot of The City and the City is about how unseeing can so easily turn dysfunctional.

#278 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 10:25 AM:

Afterthought to #275: Perhaps the key factor was that last night I was the center of attention.

Something I learned way-back-when (in a magical exercise on shielding and invisibility), was that "invisible" people tend to notice each other, even more clearly than they see "normal" people.

#279 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 10:33 AM:

Wesley #277: OK, I'll have to check out that book. For some reason, I haven't read China Mieville, despite his work popping up in a lot of interesting discussions.

And if we paid constant full attention to every detail of our surroundings the most relevant information would probably get lost in the sensory overload.

That is exactly the problem of autistic-spectrum folks -- we get overwhelmed because we lack the usual perceptual filters, and/or can't properly "focus" our incomplete versions of same.

#280 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 10:41 AM:

Myself @ 272. Argh. For clarity, that should read "As a native English speaker I find it (the poem) very hard to read out loud because I keep bursting into giggles." (I can read most stuff out loud without laughing, honestly).

#281 ::: Harriet Culver ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 10:43 AM:

Wesley @ 277

[invisibility discussion, and Mieville's The City and the City]

This in turn reminds me of Cherryh's Wave Without a Shore, and the aliens and others who are right there in the midst of the city, in their blue robes, but invisible to the human culture because they are unacceptable or outcast to the humans. [apologies if I've got some of that wrong - it's been a couple of decades since I read it]

#282 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 10:50 AM:

janetl (261): Evelyn E. Smith's Miss Melville books use that idea, with a middle-aged woman who is an (originally accidental) assassin. Fun, although the joke does eventually get old.

#283 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 10:51 AM:

In Gaiman's Neverwhere, Richard Mayhew becomes invisible to the normal world when he helps Door.

#284 ::: Velma ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 10:58 AM:

David Harmon @278:
"Something I learned way-back-when (in a magical exercise on shielding and invisibility), was that 'invisible' people tend to notice each other, even more clearly than they see 'normal' people."

That makes sense to me, in a bearing-witness, like-calls-to-like sort of way. I can almost always tell when and where another marked/invisible person enters the same public space I'm in, even if I'm looking in the opposite direction, and I will know where they are most of the time. Some of it is probably how the unmarked people are reacting, or not reacting, as well.

#285 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 11:08 AM:

And flashing back to the reading subthread: On the drive out to the Old Hotel Trail, my hiking buddies were discussing old-time Jewish cooking, including "marnaliga". Except I could notretain that dang word, even after later mentioning it (as "Jewish polenta") to Mom (and she knew the word). This morning, I hit Google, and found the word near the bottom of the page. Now, having read it, I'm pretty sure I'll be able to remember the word.

#286 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 11:23 AM:

The Kindly Ones by Melissa Scott also plays with the notion of social invisibility; in this case, it's a punishment for assorted crimes and is so commonly applied that the invisible have their own economy and art forms (such as "crosstalk," a type of play in which the invisible riff on the dialogue of the visible, who of course must pretend not to have heard them).

I must say that even though I am a fat homely practically dressed woman over 30, I have not found myself to be particularly invisible except to men from about age 17 to 35, after which they appear to grow some manners--and it's a matter of making room on the sidewalk, not ignoring me in their place of business. OTOH, I acquired a magic visibility field when I began pushing a stroller. I once saw an 18-wheeler stop traffic half a block from the intersection so that I could cross. I think that living in a small town has affected my results, since businesses that do not treat every customer with respect fold quickly and complaining to the boss is a matter of a local call.

#287 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 12:01 PM:

"It's a world much like our own, yet much unlike it. A twisted mirror of reality, in which a man can find himself cast out, made invisible by public acclamation, belonging no longer to society, but only to the gray reaches... of the Twilight Zone."

"A small footnote found in the court records of some parallel world. The name of Mitchell Chaplin, who served his sentence of invisibility and learned his lesson well. Too well. This time, however, he will wear his invisibility like a shield of glory. A shield forged in the very heart... of the Twilight Zone."

Intro & Conclusion to TZ's adaptation of Silverberg's To See the Invisible Man

#288 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 12:07 PM:

Maybe a major clue is body language? If you move like a guy, you're the alpha. The farther you get from that "norm", the less visible you become. If you move with purpose, you're a fast and easy sale, so an employee can pay attention briefly, demonstrate that they're doing their job, and get back to soldiering (loafing - was that this thread?). If I know what I want, half the floor staff wants to help. If I'm not sure what I need, I have a lot of trouble being visible. I am short, slight, older, and obviously female.

Tangent: I used to live in Capitol Hill in Denver and walked a lot. I was partway down a long alley when two kids came in from the other end. They were just old enough to be discovering patterns of facial hair. Their attention shifted from each other to me, and their path began to intersect mine.

It was coming on dusk, and in this usually busy area no other people were visible or audible. I started feeling adrenalin time-slow and sensory enhancement.

They made their decision and vectored toward me. At about two yards, one said, "Excuse me, ma'am, but how do you spell [soldier]?" I gave the letters as we passed, no one breaking step. One said "Told'ja!".

I am often mistaken for store/library help, and often asked spelling or grammatical questions from people I've never met. Never any quite as memorable as this.

#289 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 12:21 PM:

Another literary reference is "The Vanishing American" by Charles Beaumont, which really gets across how it feels to the protagonist to be unseeable. (He gets his visibility back by doing something noticeably odd: climbing on the back of the lions outside the New York City library.) It's reprinted in the Penguin Classics anthology American Supernatural Tales, edited by S. T. Joshi.

#290 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 12:38 PM:

#275 ::: David Harmon
Then I startled out of my drowse: "WTH, where was Julie?"
Concentrating, I could retrieve the image of him sitting at the table, but even then (and still, this morning), my memory-image of him at the table is weirdly dim and faded, as if he were standing in shadows while everyone else was brightly lit.

In order to deal with the otherwise overwhelming amount of data we are immersed in all of the time, our brains do a lot of mapping of our environment*. Then it can safely ignore anything that is mapped and concentrate on the things that are different in any way. Once you have that map, you only have to remember the environment by reference (unless you are Sherlock Holmes†). So you have a familiar person in a familiar environment, and nothing was out of the ordinary enough to make you remember. A comfortable time with comfortable people.

[or maybe I'm just full of it]

*Hence déjà vu and jamais vu.

†For Sherlock Holmes to have been able to do what Conan Doyle had him do, he would have frozen every time he entered a room (or have his brain wired sevant).

#291 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 12:52 PM:

David Harmon (285): "marnaliga"

I initially read that as 'marginalia' (or a misspelling thereof), then I expected you to recount a misunderstanding based on the similarity. Or maybe a story about interesting recipes/variations written in the margins of Jewish cookbooks.

#292 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 02:43 PM:

Rikibeth's mention of Sesame Street has reminded me of something I've been wondering about, and as we have an early-childhood subthread going:

Has anyone here (who is not from the US) seen Sesame Street in kindergarten age and got a bad case of confusion/an uncanny valley effect because of cultural not-quite-match?

Sesame street freaked me out in kindergarten when none of the other kid programs in similar format did, and seeing the eps thirty years later made me wonder if that might have been part of it.

#293 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 03:31 PM:

John Houghton @ 290: I remember, when I was very young, reading a Batman comic book whose plot resolution hinged on Batman's habit of memorizing every license plate that he saw, and being able to retrieve that information accurately some time later (a few days, IIRC). Even as a youngster, I thought this was utterly preposterous.

#294 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 04:17 PM:

OtterB 274: Doesn't mean that it's right, or that more training isn't needed, but it does mean the issue is not necessarily deliberate sexism, etc.; it's learned behavior that may be difficult to unlearn.

I buy that for a person looking at something else, or wandering around looking confused, but not for a person with a cartful of stuff she's already found, and who is standing right in front of you saying "Excuse me, can you help me find...excuse me? Excuse me!" as Teresa reports. That's either conscious and deliberate, or the kind of brain disorder Oliver Sachs studies. Either way that person has no business being floor personnel in a store.

And I especially don't buy that there were FIVE people with Oliver-Sachs-level brain disorders ALL working the floor in the same store.

Harriet 281: Yes, I thought of that too. I remember that when I first read that book I thought "Hmm, Cherryh must have written that after a visit to New York." Also, that City of Assholes would be a more descriptive title. None of the non-blue-robe-wearing people in Kierkegaard (the name of the city IIRC) deserves anything other than the classic two in the head as far as I'm concerned.

David 285: "marnaliga"

It amazes me how many seconds (more than one! more than two!) elapsed before I could read that as anything other than a misspelling of 'marginalia', even after I read the rest of your comment and knew you were talking about an item of Jewish cuisine of which I haven't previously heard. And was the first word of your comment I read. My eye went directly to it and only afterward read the text in order, or whatever it is that I do to read a whole paragraph.

Mary Aileen 291: I'm so glad I'm not the only one!

#295 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 04:54 PM:

I suppose it's possible that big box floorworkers may have vision fatigue. I only rarely go into such stores - haven't been to a mall in at least a year - and they wear me out. Between all the bright lights, and shiny things and competing colours and Important! Graphics! everywhere, it's all I can do to toddle after my partner while she locates whatever it is we're there for.

The selective gender/ableness invisibility thing is real and I've encountered that, but I don't think it's the only factor. How can anyone offer reasonably responsive customer service when the entire store is screaming at you to notice it?

#296 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 05:29 PM:

Joel and I live in the same city, and HD here is often better than some of the descriptions from other places. For one thing, much of the staff is female. The Canadian self-scan checkout seems unexceptional - so probably better than the US one.

My wife (who's 5' 10" and a person of size) had about a seven-year period of chronic invisibility, then it got better circa age 50. OTOH, she often gets mistaken for male.

I have occasional invisibility myself. Recently in a pharmacy (of the nutritional/homeopathic variety), I experienced the beckoning of someone behind me. I left. I phoned the store and asked if they would post a sign saying "unaccompanied males will not be served" if that is their policy. One of the staff who ignored me had almost tripped over my feet. I had been the only obvious XY among five or so staff and seven or more customers.

pericat at 295 may well be right - most of the cases I can think of certainly happen in harsh light.

#297 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 05:30 PM:

Xopher, I walked out of two big-box office-supply stores today (same chain, different locations) because the floor personnel couldn't be bothered even to ask if I wanted help. One of those I stood basically in one place for about fifteen minutes, and there were floor people in that part of the store while I was there. (the second one also didn't have the main thing I was after.)
They missed a hundred dollar sale.

#298 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 05:50 PM:

Joel @ #293, granted that memorizing license plates seems unlikely, I can tell you that the 1959 California plate (the old ones: blue numbers and letters on a gold background) on our 1959 Oldsmobile was TAN 169.

#299 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 05:53 PM:

Lila @ 200: I wonder if the intelligence community is aware of this issue.

Oh, I'm quite sure it's a standard part of their training regimens. I'm sure they're also aware of its intrinsic limitations! Notably, abusing it is much less useful in an age of public video surveillance -- and it's none too reliable, anyway.

Mary Aileen #291, Xopher #294: Heh -- thus demonstrating a drawback to overlearning reading, or at least of proofreader's eyes. I probably didn't notice that only because I was looking for the print version of something I'd heard, and the two words don't have the same syllable count.

In any case, too much of the stuff would certainly expand your own "margins"!

John Houghton #290: I actually never got around to more than one or two of the original Sherlock Holmes, but I thought the whole point was that he had the sort of genius intelligence which is (spuriously) implied by use of the word "savant"?

Part of what disturbed me was that I actually had had conversations including Julie, and I had to dig for them in my memory.

Velma #284: Interesting -- I'd infer that you surely have heightened awareness of crowd behavior, presumably from your own personal history.

OtterB #274, pericat #295: I'm with Xopher on this one, though it took me a while to overcome my own "presumption of innocence". As Teresa describes the incident, I can only consider it trained hostility toward her "type". Which might be "middle-aged women", or even customers in general. Either way, it's inexcusable.

Multiple literary references: The sort of thing we're discussing is surely why personal invisibility is one of the "ancient themes" in mythology and folktale. After all, mythology is based on the universals of human experience!

#300 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 06:26 PM:

Oh yes, and Joel @ #293: I have a friend from high school, who back then had a savant-type talent for remembering numbers -- he could recite not only phone numbers, but license plates of his friends' (parents') cars, remembered from when he was five or six! The talent started to fade in his early 30s (somewhat to his relief -- he was feeling a bit cluttered by then).

I also recall a novel -- it must have been from the 50s or 60's, as I got it from my grandfather's attic. It was about a Jewish chaplain-trainee in the Army, and at one point he almost gets run down by a car. While reporting this to the military police, his friends are impressed that he can remember the license number (seen while diving for the ditch ;-) ). He responds to the effect of: "Oh, ever since that Administration class, I automatically memorize any number I see over five digits. Don't you?"

#301 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 06:37 PM:

Henry Troup #296: Similarly, the sort of abuse Teresa experienced seems much less likely here in Virginia, or at least Charlottesville -- everyone here is much friendlier, specifically including store staff.

#302 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 07:12 PM:

David Harmon @299 Teresa was actively snubbed rather than 'not seen', and I agree inexcusably so.

I was thinking more of some of the other experiences related in preceding comments. The bad behaviours in many of those appear to have one common point in that the customers needing assistance did not, for whatever reason, match up with the floorwalkers' idea of 'customers'. The floorwalkers may have narrowed their signal range from 'all of humanity present within these walls' to a manageable subset. I suspect the big box or mall environment is itself a root cause of that.

I'm not trying to defend or excuse it, mind. I'm just looking at it.

#303 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 07:20 PM:

Stefan Jones #259, when I was well, I had that happen, too: people always thought I worked wherever I was. I think because I looked confident.

I taught myself to read when I was four and it was one of the reasons my folks took me to the base psychiatrist when I was six. After all, if I could read, there must be some reason that I wasn't waving back at people who waved at me and so forth. Mother used to tell me the psych came out of the room and told her "Nothing's wrong with her! She's blind!"

And here I am after David Harmon and I was going to say something similar. I'm in NoVA, but I frequently nod and say hello when I pass strangers or they may say it first. It's pretty common in the more-rural south. (Of course it was a non-talking toddler who waved at me through dinner last night.)

#304 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 07:31 PM:

That's a later plate than 1959; at that time they were doing gold (actually chrome yellow) letters on black. (We bought a truck in 1960 and it got gold on black: UNY314. The others were KZX622 and KZX623.)

#305 ::: K.C. Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 07:40 PM:

I wish I could remember the moment when I realized I could read. I know I had to be reading pretty well in first grade because I remember arguing with my teacher and one of my friends that the word 'disturb' was spelled 'disturv' (because that's how I heard it).

Lois @271 mentioned Little Black Sambo, which made me think of my paternal grandmother's house and how utterly bereft of books it seemed when I was a kid. At home I was always surrounded by books and my mother read all the time, but when my brother and I went to stay with my paternal grandmother (my maternal grandmother's house was comfortably filled with books), I had a choice between Little Black Sambo and a picture book about evil-looking rabbits dying eggs. I hated the rabbits, but Little Black Sambo held a bizarre fascination for me. The notion of tigers turning into butter seemed repellent but curiously plausible, even though I knew even at that age (five?) that things didn't work like that.

#306 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 07:41 PM:

Abi @267, you're right about cultural variation. My first thought was "Jeez, eye contact? Isn't that a bit intimate for random strangers in a store?"

I just checked with Chris, and she backs me up: "People move to New York to avoid eye contact!"

Actually, I'm more social than Chris is. I occasionally make eye contact and smile at people I'm passing on my block. I even know the names of everyone living on the same floor of our building.

#307 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 08:28 PM:

I used to do "secret shopper" evaluations, where a company under contract to various chain stores would send people to $CHAIN_STORE to see if the service, quality of goods, etc. were up to the standards dictated by $CHAIN_STORE's national office.

I did three or four shops at Home Depot. One of the parts of the test was to wander slowly around the heart of the store with a shopping cart, obviously looking for something, to see how long it took for someone to offer me assistance. If I didn't get assistance in twenty minutes, I was to approach someone directly and move on to the next part of the strip.

I never *once* got assistance volunteered to me. I found this incredibly depressing (not to mention time-consuming), so I told my employer that I wouldn't do them any more.

I did have some people walk away from me as I walked up to ask them for assistance, but never anything as bad as what you described here.

#308 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 08:30 PM:

Marilee #303: It's pretty common in the more-rural south.

Yeah -- it occurs to me that population density really changes the retail game. Back in NYC, I lived in an apartment building with 800 other people, and there were two identical building right next to it, with more, smaller, apartment buildings on all sides. Any restaurant or store that opened nearby on Queens Blvd. probably had a "basin" containing at least 3000 people who would consider it "right next door". That's a lot of people to come through, and maybe buy a bit, while they're discovering that the food or service wasn't so hot. Then add in folks "passing through", and the lowered social expectations of NYC....

Here in Charlottesville, there might not be 3000 people living closer to Seminole Square (my local mall) than to Barracks Road or Fashion Square (the next big malls up and down the highway). There are buses and highways connecting all three, plus more big malls in other directions, and many smaller ones scattered in between. So the shopping centers are much more spread out -- but so are the customers. Thus, it's still easier to run out of customers if you make a habit of ticking them off.

Elsewhere in VA... well, Charlottesville isn't as big as, say, Richmond, much less DC, but it's a university town to begin with, and increasingly popular as it gets good press. I suspect there are plenty of small towns around that don't have 3000 people in total!

#309 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 08:45 PM:

David Harmon @ 300: I have no problem with the idea of someone remembering numbers that have had some significance, no matter how trivial. But every license number seen in passing? In Gotham City, which is supposed to be like New York City?

#310 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 08:55 PM:

Kevin @ #307, I did the Secret Shopper thing a few times. My favorite experience was the time a quite polite young man waited on me at $FAST_FOOD_JOINT and did everything perfectly except that he forgot to offer me a straw. Whereupon the manager loudly and publicly chewed him out, in front of me and every other customer in the place.

I filled up an entire page with exactly how that manager's behavior turned a pleasant dining experience into a rude, loud, embarrassing jerk-fest. I hope he got the same treatment he dished out, only not in front of the poor hapless customers.

#311 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 09:31 PM:

P J @ #304, I could easily have the colors wrong. Not the numbers, though!

That was the car we had before Dad bought the 1962 Valiant with the push-button transmission on the dash. We drove that one across country from LA to Northern Virginia in November or December of 1962.

#312 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 09:49 PM:

I could be wrong (it happens often enough). My Corona came with blue-and-gold plates, having been re-registered in CA in 1983 (after some years out of state - it was a 71, and it was never outside the family). So did the Corolla that came after it.

#313 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 11:41 PM:

to quote the writings of Dan Leibert (pilfered from

'I had a nightmare that I found the woman of my dreams but she was on a top shelf at Home Depot and I couldn't find anyone to get her down. I finally found a guy in an orange vest, but by the time he came back with a ladder she was an old lady.'

#314 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 11:44 PM:

ps, thanks for the hyperlexia tip - I've spent the last seventy-four hours reading everything ever written on the web about Home Depot. The above quote from Dan Liebert 'won the internet,' as they say. I think I'll sleep now.

#315 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2009, 12:30 AM:

Sharon M @264, I am positive that it was Anything Muppets with letter signs on sticks singing a very catchy song. Electric Company would SAY the sounds closer and closer together, but no cute song.

#316 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2009, 12:45 AM:

David Harmon, I could have sworn the dish was "mamaliga," and that it was Jewish specifically by way of Romania -- cornmeal doesn't show up much in Ashkenazic cooking otherwise, as far as I can tell. Maybe I misread "rn" for "m" in a more compacted typeface somewhere?

#317 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2009, 12:54 AM:

I grew up in the '70s with California plates being gold letters on blue background (rather than blue letters on gold background as Linkmeister said originally). Gold letters on black background is older; sometime in the mid-'80s they switched to midnight blue on white.

#318 ::: Liza ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2009, 01:08 AM:

Diatryma @ 266, I lost a spelling bee once (a special have-your-parents-drive-you-to-another-town one at that!) because the person giving the words pronounced "vehement" as "veemit" and didn't give a definition. I gave him a funny look and pronounced the word the way he spelled it, since I'd never heard the word before... (But something did come of the trip: we stopped at a small pizza place and I ordered sauerkraut pizza out of curiosity, and discovered I liked it.)

#319 ::: Liza ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2009, 01:13 AM:

Site note: When I posted my above comment, I got the following error page instead of coming back to the post. The comment did post, and all may be well, but it does say please contact y'all about it. (Feel free to delete this comment, of course--it doesn't add to the thread in any way that I can see, it's just the easiest way I know to contact someone who might care to see the message.)

Internal Server Error

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Please contact the server administrator, and inform them of the time the error occurred, and anything you might have done that may have caused the error.

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#320 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2009, 02:58 AM:

Avram @306:
Well, then, do whatever you do when you're indicating I see you to someone. Look at their chin, whatever.

Local eye contact customs vary hugely. I don't do enough of it in the Netherlands, and struggle against people's subconscious feeling that I'm maybe a little shifty as a result.

#321 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2009, 03:01 AM:

You guys do know that there is a whole Wikipedia page on the past and present of California license plates, when they were which colors, and all that?

#322 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2009, 08:48 AM:

abi #32:
The Dutch longer eye contact thing is a great example of subtle cultural differences. It felt like I was getting a reproving glare until I got used to it. And I know that I don't do it right for American usage, it is one of my social maladaptions. I either look away too soon, or hold a gaze too long.

#323 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2009, 10:28 AM:

Add Bentley Little's The Ignored to the list of books about social invisibility (this was from Little's earlier days, when he was actually an innovative horror author).

#324 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2009, 10:51 AM:

abi, I remembered the switch from black-on-gold to gold-on-black, but I thought it was earlier than that. That was back when all the registrations were expired at the same time, instead of being handled all year. (Can you imagine what that would be like now?)

#325 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2009, 11:30 AM:

Xopher @294, David Harmon @299. I agree, unfortunately, that a simple "inattentional blindness" doesn't describe Teresa's experience. I was thinking of that concept more for the chorus of "It happens to me, too," many of which weren't quite so ... egregious. I generally believe behavior has some reason or serves some purpose for the person who is behaving that way, even if it's not always obvious to the observer, but no amount of looking sideways at it makes what Teresa experienced make any sense to me.

#326 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2009, 12:22 PM:

I don't usually have any trouble being noticed, except in some bars where being male means the barstaff will automatically serve women first, and I also don't push to the front waving the money in my hand.

Here in the UK, we keep hearing about how bad our customer service is, yet I can't think of many occaisions when I have had bad service. A little abrupt or just streamlined and non-involved yes, but never bad. People at B&Q, the largest big box DIY chain in the UK have generally been fine, although I seem to recall something about their hiring policy being slanted towards hiring over 50's, which does mean you have a better chance of getting staff who will be somewhat more open minded and knowledgeable.
A quick search online turned up this:

"B&Q has a long history of employing staff over the age of 50 as the company firmly believes that its customers, stores and offices benefit from the mixture of new ideas and expertise that come from both younger and older employees."

I always used to get asked for directions when out and about in town (eg as a student at St Andrews university), but the ravages of the last 3 years including being ill have left me with a thin face and a default expression of pursed lips, open staring eyes and perhaps a slightly aggressive look which probably puts people off asking. Now being in London that has its advantages, but I'm getting a little worried that I have forgotten how to open up and have fun.

#327 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2009, 12:49 PM:

Today at TJ's I saw the, "you don't really exist" in full swing. There was a fellow, about 50, shopping for wine. He took a knee, and extended his right leg out well behind his body.

Which was a problem, because he was far enough back from the shelf that he was blocking the entire aisle. I moved my cart up and said, "Excuse me" and he moved, but not enough to let me get by. The back wheel of the cart would have run over his foot.

He failed to notice that I wasn't actually able to pass him.

Then a woman, about my age, came up from the other side; in plain line of sight, an asked permission to pass. It was as if she wasn't there either.

We looked at each other (because she could plainly see my plight: I was directly behind him) and I pitched my voice to more than mildly preemptory and basically told him to let us through (EXCUSE us sir, but we'd like to get by you). He was shocked, and moved with guilty alacrity, resumed his general stance, but with much less arrogation of space; and a far greater look of constraint to his body.

Serge: My grandmother wasn't much of a reader, that I could tell. She sent me money (we were living a few hundred miles away). My mother was a reader.

My stepfathers also were readers. My father, well I didn't know him until later. He reads, but he wasn't, so far as I can tell, an early reader, nor much of one until he was out of high school.

dcb: I could only read in breakes... so when wearing skirts and dresses you couldn't read? :)

John Houghton: Sherlock Holmes is an not-quite incredible person. Doyle actually based him on an acquaintaince of his (an instructor of medecine, as I recall), who pulled the sort of stunt Holmes does to Watson at the opening of A Study in Scarlet on Doyle, much to Doyle's amazement.

I am not as good as Holmes, but I don't have to freeze to spot the sorts of things like avenues of approach/exit, number of people in the room, left handed/right handedness of cops, and people possessed of potenitial weapons (the guy doing omelettes to order, with the 8" chef at the sideboard, etc.), spot people carrying firearms, notice obstacles to corner cutting when negotiating a path, where the light has shadows, etc.

Some of it is natural talent, a lot of it is learned behavior.

I can't do Archie Goodwin's eidetic-ish (he says he's not perfect, just dammned near; up to about two hours of conversation, with up to a days' interval) recall of conversation, but I can do damned good recall. I'm told by a psychologist who has been doing work with interrogators that all of them she's worked with have some of that. A group was going to dinner (psychologists and interrogators). one of the interrogators stopped, about a block from the car, and asked, "Did you put the right change in the meter?" They walked back and sure enough, a couple of the quarters had been nickels, and there was a decdided shortage of the expected time.

He either noticed the coin size, or had the time impinge his awareness, and then it took some background noodling and then bubbled up.

pericat: My problem with Home Depot (and costco, actually) is the lack of contrast. Everything fades to grey. The scale is so off that people are hard to estimate the distance from.

#328 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2009, 01:16 PM:

addendum to 297
At a couple of points the floor personnel were within ten feet of me, and looking in my direction. (I must have had my invisibility field turned on. Even though I was trying to turn it off.)

I may go back to that store, but I'll make sure they hear about what they're doing.

#329 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2009, 03:01 PM:

P J Evans @162, more visual than auditory memory here – learn a tune pretty well, but need to read or write down lyrics to remember them – love following scores.

That's why it's so annoying book covers keep changing AND we get criticised for looking for books by cover design. Title, author *gone*, colours, layout, images just fine. Hardly notice publisher unless like Penguin or Gollancz, very distinctive. But shop assistant mayn't have seen that cover + their catalogue searches seldom have cover images + can seldom search for images, mostly untagged (always problem with matching).

Similar problem from both sides with products, eg even if I know name, they will often not 'click' unless they're shown label/bottle/bag, &c, which I've learned to keep.

'Savant' (David H @290, 300 ): this is 'political correctness' issue. Was idiot savant: bad at most things, extraordinarily good at one or two. Idiot was seen as demeaning, except removing it de-meaninged the expression. Better to find new word.

#330 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2009, 03:14 PM:

(catching up after being away for two days)

Stefan @243: I hated ITA with a fiery passion. I entered first grade already reading (hyperlexia, hello!) and reading above grade level, and ITA was intended for students who needed help learning to read.

My public school ended up moving me into second grade after a few weeks of first grade. Ultimately, this was not one of their good ideas.

#331 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2009, 03:34 PM:

Epacris @329, like most things dismissed as "political correctness", this is an accuracy and dignity issue.

#332 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2009, 04:28 PM:

Epacris # 329 -
Hmm, No, the use of the word savant by its lonesome is not itself a bit of PC-ness, but (as I mention below) imprecision.

The word savant has a long and honorable history, as a "man of learning or science," when much more of "science" was based on memorization and recall of observation. The OED shows uses of the word, in English, back to 1729.

The "PC-based" change (which was really a change because the phrase "idiot savant" was both incorrect and imprecise in addition to being pejorative) was to "autistic savant."

I will happily agree that the use of "savant" or "savantism" as a short form of "idiot savant" itself shows imprecision (and may be perhaps due to "pc-ness"). The nuance of the condition when the two words were joined in one descriptive phrase was the tension between the two words' meanings -- one who is profoundly disabled, and one who is keen in observation and learning. The use of "autistic savant" doesn't have quite the dynamism, but is more accurate.

Even the use of the term "savant syndrome" is imprecise. (A "syndrome" of "learned observation and judgment?" We should all be so afflicted.)

#333 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2009, 04:50 PM:

A lot of the "invisibility" described seems to the result of unexamined privilege. A smaller amount is learned extension of privilege.

When I was first corralled into tutoring high-school students, I had to make a conscious effort to pay attention to the distaff members of the study group, so that I didn't blithely skip over their efforts to ask questions or make contributions. I originally made the effort because I had just read something about the studies about female students being ignored in the co-ed classroom setting, even down to primary school level.

Of course, I was *sure* I didn't/wouldn't do any such thing. My strategy was to scan the group, pick who would get the next recognition for the question/observation, then rescan just the female students. It was an eye-opener for me to realize that I was ignoring at least 50% of the female students in the first scan.

I sat down with the group adviser to tell her that maybe I shouldn't be doing this, because I apparently wasn't giving full attention/aid to the group as a whole. Her response was to laugh at me when telling me "bulls**t!" She said that full-time teachers she knew had never gotten that point about the way that members of the student groups would be routinely ignored.

Nonetheless, when the next group of tutorees came through I asked to be put in the one-on-one assignments,especially since I didn't want to know what I would find out about myself when I found myself dealing with non-constant skin colors.

These days I would hope to be more confident about dealing fairly with any group as a whole, but back in my very early 20's it was a kick into my self-esteem.

#334 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2009, 05:03 PM:

Reading at an early age -- I don't know just when I learned to read. My parents claim that I taught myself, and that one day they noticed I was absorbed into the books lying around, even ones that I hadn't been read from. Just when it dawned that I wasn't just looking at pictures is unclear.

I was always reading ahead of my age group in school (when we took standardized testing in 5th grade I was rated as being between 11th grade and 12th grade reading level). I would routinely be scaled into the college-level bracket for vocabulary and comprehension. The problem I wound up with was that, because so much of the high-school curriculum is geared towards reading and outline recognition, I breezed through. When I got to college I near to died because I didn't have any usable study/research habits -- I hadn't needed them until then.

I (and my kids, and wife) have what a late friend of mine called "words in a row disease." If it's got words in a row, we *will* read it.

I know just when I realized my eldest of this marriage was reading on his own was when he was telling me I'd skipped pages in one of his books that I know he hadn't been read to from as yet. I thought he had memorized it from, perhaps, Leslie reading to him, but she hadn't read that book to him yet, either.

#335 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2009, 05:16 PM:

"Words in a row disease"
(Craig R, #334)

Yes, I like it. Anyone want to render it into Latin and we'll see how long before someone takes it seriously?

#336 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2009, 05:27 PM:

Craig, #333: Kudos to you. I'm with your adviser; the mere fact that you noticed puts you into at least the top quartile -- because until someone notices the problem, they don't realize anything needs to be done toward fixing it.

#337 ::: bentley ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2009, 06:41 PM:

(I skipped the last 80 messages. I hope the discussion on learning to read hasn't died already.)

I used to think I was an early reader, but my mom once told me I wasn't. I grew up with English and Spanish at home, in a Spanish-speaking country, but was sent to a French school. In primary and secondary, half the courses were in French and half in Spanish. We had a lot of French kids (and some Belgians), but most of us had never spoken French before.

In the first two years of school, kindergarden and transition (ages 4 and 5), we learned to read and write in French. Our reading textbooks were Daniel et Valerie books 1 and 2, one book per year. Then in first year of primary school we learned to read and write in Spanish.

Most of my leisure reading was in English, thanks to my grandmother's twice yearly shipment of books. I assume my mother taught me it. We didn't get any formal English instruction until I was 8 (?). That's when my sister and I started going to English grammar classes on Saturdays.

#338 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2009, 08:30 PM:

Epacris #329, Craig R. #332: "Savant" is hardly the first nor last archaic word to have its original meaning be eclipsed by a specialized usage. In any case, we do need a word for the phenomenon, and this one is brief, pronounceable, and currently unburdened. (I'm still waiting for "Non-verbal Learning Disability"¹ to get a less misleading tag. ;-) )

Craig R. #334: When I got to college I near to died because I didn't have any usable study/research habits -- I hadn't needed them until then.

Oh yeah, been there. Not so much for research, though at first I wasn't very good at it. But I really didn't know how to study, and that hurt me.

Craig #333: Amen to Lee #336. Simply being human means having imperfect perceptions (among other limitations). Being a good human includes recognizing our imperfections, and doing our best despite them.

bentley #337: Bilingual upbringing does slow down early language development. On the other hand, it also gives a permanent advantage, in ease of learning new languages thereafter.

¹ "NLD" currently refers to the lowest (mildest) "diagnosable" tier of the autistic spectrum.

#339 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2009, 11:44 PM:

Craig R. @332, Ah, "autistic savant" makes more sense and (until autistic becomes an insult) sounds more neutral.  Would be good to have better word for old-style savant than, say 'intellectual' or 'expert', tho'. 'Guru' – far too much baggage (honest & dis~).

Early reading & other childhood topics: It's continually flabbergasting how much others remember. Majority of my childhood is inaccessible without old photo albums, school books, birthday & holiday cards, &c. Family around then to ask is dead. A big part of why I hoard too much.

Craig R, @334, "Words in a row disease", yup.  Distracting, that.

#340 ::: Jenavira ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2009, 09:25 AM:

Hyperlexia -- of course! I cannot remember ever not reading (like Epacris, most of my childhood is irretrievable to me without some kind of external help), but I will always remember nearly toppling over while biking home from the library because I had too many 700-page fantasy novels shoved in the bike basket. I must have been, what, ten? Twelve? I definitely didn't have the delayed speech mentioned in a couple of the websites linked to upthread, though; my mother still tells the story of a family trip to Hawaii when I was a year and a half old, and how the stewardesses didn't believe I was young enough not to have to have a paid ticket, because I could talk rings around them. I've gotten quieter since then.

As for invisibility, particularly in big box stores, it's something I cherish. My social anxiety is particularly acute when talking to strangers, and there's nothing I hate more than employees asking if I need help, especially because 90% of the time I know exactly where to find what I'm looking for and the other 10% I'm willing to take the time to find it myself. Ideally, of course, the invisibility field would be specific to people who *want* it, and not a trait of an entire social group.

(Hi. *waves* I'm trying to stop lurking.)

#341 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2009, 03:15 PM:

Several people comment on seeing others behaving as though their (visible) disability was contagious.

I'm now slightly worried that I present this appearance. I've heard enough stories of people having their canes or crutches kicked accidentally or possibly not accidentally (either way would make one watch nervously anybody approaching, I would think!) that I now make an effort to give extra leeway to people who have something like that that takes extra room.

I hope that the difference is visible somewhow in body language or something!

#342 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2009, 03:51 PM:

Jenavira @ 340... I'm trying to stop lurking

That sounds like the last line for a Lovecraft story.

#343 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2009, 04:09 PM:

David Dyer-Bennet #341: I hope that the difference is visible somewhow in body language or something!

Goodness, I hope that, too. I'm am awfully clumsy, I fall over invisible cracks in the pavement, walk into posts, or catch my sleeve on a door handle and then have my momentum carry me into the closest wall. I'm giving everyone who'd have a hard time dodging 200 lbs of really clumsy person a wide berth.

#344 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2009, 04:15 PM:

Inge #343: Same here -- I'm not actually so clumsy anymore, but as late as high school I was still walking into signposts, and I still have exaggerated "avoid" reflexes. Not just for people (disabled or otherwise) either....

#345 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2009, 04:34 PM:

David Harmon @ 344... as late as high school I was still walking into signposts

"You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That's the signpost up ahead - your next stop, the School Bus Zone!"

#346 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2009, 04:37 PM:

The Home Depots here are pretty useful to me. They have more things than the local hardware store (I've got a good one two blocks away, and walk there frequently during projects). And they're mostly cheaper than the local hardware store. I do most of my bigger purchases (multiple 5-lb boxes of sheetrock screws or nails, piles of 2x4, sheetrock, and such) at various big-box stores, most often Home Despot or Menards. We barely have Lowes or however they're spelled, they're just starting to move into the area that I know of, and I've never been in one. For us, Home Depot was the good new store coming in that made Menards clean up their act.

I find big-box people and small hardware-store people about equally useful for answering questions, with considerable variation in both. Definitely easier to find the people at Nicollet Hardware down the block (an Ace store).

I don't have trouble getting noticed (but do have trouble finding employees sometimes) at HD, but I'm a pretty big guy, if long-haired, and heavily bearded, i.e. I'm the one they'd notice, if the hypothesis proposed is true.

I do have strange problems in fannish conversations, with people not seeming to notice I'm talking (deduced from their interrupting me several words into sentences, i.e. not the "we started at once and it took a while to notice" problem). It's weird and frustrating, don't know if I'm talking at inappropriate times and being punished for it, not projecting adequately, being insufficiently interesting (which makes it a deliberately rude response, unlikely in some of the places it's happened), or something else I'm not understanding (presumably that's the actual answer). But it gives me a slight view into what having the invisibility gene must be like sometimes. Ick!

#347 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2009, 04:52 PM:

I was at Home Depot this weekend with the two older boys, (5 and 2.5) looking around and killing a bit of time. I was _not_ invisible, and it's really hard to be invisible with two boys in one of the race car carts. I was greeted by at least three people as I walked by whatever they were doing.

Then again, the last time I was in that Home Depot, It took a long time (tens of minutes) for someone to show up to answer some questions after having the customer service people call for him. And in the end, the only help that was provided was the willingness to open the boxes so that I could look at the directions.

I don't go there much, I prefer the little stores that are overrun with all those little parts that you'd never think to need until you do. And there's at least three of those stores closer than the hour drive to HD.

#348 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2009, 04:56 PM:

David Dyer-Bennet @ 346 ...
I do have strange problems in fannish conversations, with people not seeming to notice I'm talking (deduced from their interrupting me several words into sentences, i.e. not the "we started at once and it took a while to notice" problem). It's weird and frustrating, don't know if I'm talking at inappropriate times and being punished for it, not projecting adequately, being insufficiently interesting (which makes it a deliberately rude response, unlikely in some of the places it's happened), or something else I'm not understanding (presumably that's the actual answer). But it gives me a slight view into what having the invisibility gene must be like sometimes. Ick!

My voice unfortunately falls -exactly- into the range of sound where people first start to lose hearing, so I experience this problem fairly regularly. It's not that they're trying to talk over me, per se -- but that they're not quite hearing me, or able to pick out my voice from the sea of general noise.

#349 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2009, 05:01 PM:

Serge #345: Heh, anyone who knew me back then would tell you I was in another dimension. A dimension of mind, yeah... sight and sound, not so much. ;-)

#350 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2009, 05:04 PM:

Also, I'm teaching the older boy to read now. We're doing a phonics course. I looked at a couple of other curricula and the others didn't impress. It was also the sort of thing that I was willing to try for a while to see if it worked. One thing that I liked about this one was that while it is phonics and it does do some regularization, that gets phased in and out pretty quickly, so that by 2/3 of the way through the course, they're just teaching english. By 10 lessons in, they've started with some of the irregular stuff.

At a little more than a month into it, It's working really well. He's picking up all the lessons and reading simple stuff. He's always been into listening to stories, so I'm expecting that at some point, he's going to have a critical mass of reading skill and will just take off.

I'm also sort of expecting the 2.5 yr old to decide that he wants to read too. That will be amusing.

#351 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2009, 05:08 PM:

I also taught myself to read around age 3, but I didn't learn the alphabet until much later, and looking things up alphabetically is still hard for me. I often have to recite the relevant segment of letters, and I'm frequently surprised to discover that R comes after P, or what-have-you.

#352 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2009, 05:33 PM:

Craig R #333: Like others, I'd be more inclined to give you points for noticing and working on it, rather than dock you points for not managing 100% equity at all times.

My calculus prof related a similar story to me once. What made it even more eye-opening for my prof was that this was at a women's college whose undergraduate programs are women-only; graduate programs admit both women and men. One of Prof. B's classes was made up of all undergraduates plus one male graduate student, and Prof. B started keeping track of how often each student was getting called on during class.

A couple of weeks into the class, Prof. B requested a meeting with the graduate student in order to tell him, "Don't take it personally, but I'm basically going to stop calling on you in class. This class has 19 female students and one male student, and the male student — you — has been taking up almost 50% of the class discussion time. That's not right, especially in an undergraduate-level class at a women's college, and I feel I can't allow that kind of imbalance to continue." (As Prof. B related it to me, the student understood the reasoning and didn't take offense.)

#353 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2009, 05:42 PM:

Craig@334: I had some of that "breezed through highschool and never learned to study" thing. I just realized, reading your message, that quite possibly what saved me is that I spent from 8th grade until, well, now (ongoing project) teaching myself computer programming and photography. And that working on that maybe gave me some bits of study skills, and some ability to be persistent and focused. Never quite connected those things that way before. (I didn't quite breeze through college, I actually worked at several courses for one reason or another. But I found things clearly showing me some of my intellectual limits were in sight, even though I got an A in the course and enjoyed it and didn't sweat over it exactly. But another math major of my year would sometimes have to drop out of before-class conversation, explaining he hadn't had a chance to look at the problem set the night before; so he'd open the book and write a word or two by each problem, 10 seconds or so each. On the problem set I'd spent an hour working on the night before.)

#354 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2009, 09:54 PM:

I'm frequently surprised to discover that R comes after P

But R doesn't come after...oh wait...yeah it does. Wow.

#355 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2009, 11:02 PM:

"I often have to recite the relevant segment of letters..."

Is it a hyperlexic trait to visualize the 26 letters of the alphabet as a single picture, so that one can easily see a letter to the left or right of another letter (instantaneous alphabetization) or do they run themselves as a series through the brain, forcing you to imperceptibly 'work' your way down the line, until the two letters in question have been identified, i.e., 'before' and 'after'?

#356 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2009, 11:08 PM:

DanR #355: I think that's an individual thing. I still tend to mentally replay the classic "Alphabet song", or to get their numeric places, I use "EJOTY" (that's every fifth letter).

#357 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2009, 11:31 PM:

DanR, 355: I have never gotten over Big Bird's alphabet song.

(I had forgotten the "Sale! Yarn!" sign. How early in life was I imprinted, anyway?)

#358 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2009, 11:44 PM:

I had problems with letter order until I (deliberately) imprinted myself with the Backwards Alphabet Song (from, I think, Sesame Street) which forced me to think about the whole thing.

#359 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 12:26 AM:

Rikibeth @188: Yes and yes. I've complained about them here before, but it wouldn't surprise me if other people have had similarly bad experiences with them.

#360 ::: Janet K ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 10:29 AM:

My memories of early childhood are hazy and unreliable, but I'm pretty sure I wasn't reading before first grade. But I caught on really quickly and was soon reading far above my grade level. By fifth grade I was reading adult books, chiefly science fiction because that's what appealed to me. The public library (at my father's request) gave me special permission to check out books from the general collection.

When I was in third grade (I think) I realized that I'd somehow missed learning the order of the letters in the alphabet. (This was in the dark ages before Sesame Street.) So I taught myself the alphabet and that's proved useful over the years.

#361 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 10:59 AM:

TexAnne #357: Hmm -- in that clip, if you focus on Susan's pacing as she recites the alphabet, you can see and hear traces of the classic song's phrase breaks (but not its fast run on "LMNOP"). Heh....

#362 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 11:06 AM:

Xeger@348: Voice pitch? Hmmm, could be. I feel like mine is kind of high for a big male guy, but I don't know what my singing range is, which seems to be the usual way to identify such things.

#363 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 11:23 AM:

David Dyer-Bennet (362): Singing range isn't an infallible guide to speaking pitch, however. When I was in choir (many moons ago), I sang (second) soprano. But musically-trained people who hear me speak assume that I'm an alto, because my speaking voice is the extreme lower end of my range.

#364 ::: Amber ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 12:01 PM:

Oddly, I never had much trouble with accelerated reading with my teachers in elementary and middle school. In just about everything but math, my teachers would usually check in with me at the beginning of the lesson to see that I understood, and then other than that, I could do what I liked, since that usually meant I was a) quiet and b) reading, which freed them up for everyone else in the class.

Admittedly, this screwed me over hard in high school, because I'd never been taught to actually study, and was so used to not having to turn in things like homework as long as I could prove that I 'got it', that my attention span for doing out of school assignments was not good. My homework grades were utterly wretched, and when I finally ran into things that I didn't get the first time, I had no idea how to study, /or/ how to ask for help.

It took freshmen year of college to actually build study habits and time management skills...and those still aren't my strong points.

Re: Invisibility, I've got it too. I suspect it's because I prefer casual clothes, as well as being female. Just a year and a half or so ago, I was thoroughly ignored in both Home Depot /and/ Lowe's while trying to spend nine hundred dollars on my first washer and dryer. I'm not sure how much of it was being female, and how much of it was being in jeans and a t-shirt, without a purse, but I did end up finding my a local-owned store, where they even delivered and installed for no additional charge.

#365 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 12:32 PM:

David 361: [the alphabet song's] fast run on "LMNOP"

When I was a little kid, I thought 'elemenopee' was the very long name of a single letter. Comes of learning the alphabet song before actually seeing the alphabet laid out. I think I remember a eureka moment when I saw those letters and heard their names separately ("Ohhhh! Ell, em, en, oh, pee!") but that could be synthetic (44+ years later).

'Elemenope' sounds like it should be some linguistic or poetic phenomenon like syncope or synechdoche. Perhaps naming something because of its resemblance to letters? "Yes, it's called the Ell Snail because of its L-shaped example of elemenope in zoology!"

#366 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 12:40 PM:

I find myself reciting chunks of the alphabet at appropriate moments. Mainly h-i-j-k-l and p-q-r-s-t and t-u-v. When I was first learning alphabetical order (as opposed to the letters themselves), I thought that it was t-u-v and not t-v-u because one wouldn't want to get it confused with TVs.

#367 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 12:46 PM:

'Elemenope' sounds like it should be some linguistic or poetic phenomenon like syncope or synechdoche.

I think it (she?) belongs on the list of the muses. Joining Calliope, Mnemosyne, etc., is Elemenope, the muse of preschool entertainment.

#368 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 12:58 PM:

My ex taught 3-year-olds at a day-care center. At some point he discovered that you can sing a very nice version of the alphabet to the Limbo Rock song:

A-B-C, D-E, F-G,
H-I-J-K, L-M-N-O-P,
Q-R-S and T-U-V,
W, X and Y and Z.

Now I've said my ABC,
Next time won't you sing with me?
See how easy it can be --
Come on, sing your ABC!

He said it was much less boring than singing it to "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star".

#369 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 01:02 PM:

OtterB @ 367:

Judging by a lot of preschool TV shows, she's a very twisted muse.

#370 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 01:05 PM:

Mary@363: True (or so I hear; I have near-zero musical knowledge), but it's so often the first question that arises when one discusses where one's voice is in the range that I tried to short-circuit that question.

#371 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 01:17 PM:

Mary Aileen #363: Same here. I trained myself to speak at the lowest end of my range, so my speaking voice is below middle c and very soft. (I still get complaints about speaking too high to be heard, so I use my guitar tuning device to check occasionally.)

My singing voice today is second soprano (up to high a), used to be first (up to d above high c) when I was younger. It is also quite loud, but I cannot use it for speaking.

It is kind of fun when I join a new choir. Every conductor wants to put me into alto and I have to insist (very softly) that they need to hear me sing some scales first.

#372 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 01:28 PM:

Xopher #365: way-back-when, there was a mailing list for kink & fetish players named "LMNOP". (That tune again: "S & M, B & D..."). I have no idea if they're still around.

#373 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 01:33 PM:

there was a mailing list for kink & fetish players named "LMNOP"

That's going to mix Really Badly with the muse of preschool entertainment, and I don't think it's the sense of "twisted" that KeithS meant. Trying really hard to clamp brake on brain before it goes there.

#374 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 01:35 PM:

OtterB @ 367 -- I was thinking along similar lines.

Hmm. Elemenope, the Muse of Preschool Entertainment, would make an excellent nerdy Hallowe'en costume concept. Not for me, I think (and I'm already set for this year: "Captain Cook, super-chef!"), but I'll have to keep it mind to suggest to friends who may be looking for ideas.

#375 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 02:44 PM:

I think Elemenope may be the Muse of Preschoolers, the one who gives them small but hilarious ideas, silly songs, and wild, crazy stories.

#376 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 02:46 PM:

DanR, #355: Visual in my case, definitely. And in Technicolor. (Yes, I've got a bit of synesthesia.)

WRT singing voice vs. speaking voice: My singing range runs from second (low) alto to first soprano - I could hit high G in high school, nowadays my upper limit is more like high C or D - but my usual speaking voice is in the low part of my range. This is partly due to having trained myself to speak in the low range, as a result of my years of doing college radio. Early on, I'd listened to one of my own air-check tapes and been chagrined to discover that I sounded about twelve years old on tape, so from that point on I made a conscious effort to lower my voice when speaking on the air. It carried over into everyday life, and I think I began to be taken more seriously as a result.

#377 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2009, 01:07 AM:

Barring the local home despot not having some of the things I was looking for, the trip today was low stress. No need to search for help, no help offered (although it wasn't wanted, so that was fine), and cashiers present when wanted, with no lines.

I'm still left trying to find lead, though ... it's remarkably hard[0]!

[0] The finding, not the lead ... the lead should be soft...

#378 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2009, 02:51 AM:

DDB@362: I agree that your voice is high-pitched for a man, and especially a man your size. Wouldn't surprise me if your singing voice were tenor, but I'm no expert on the subject.

#379 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2009, 07:34 AM:

Back to taws, Teresa, how did your meet-up go, with or without steampunkery?

#380 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2009, 11:05 AM:

When I started infants' school (age 5), I already knew the letters of the alphabet, by their proper names (Ay, Bee, Cee, etc.). However, at infants' school this was thought too sophisticated, and we had to call them A, Buh, Cuh, etc. I remember being made to recite my alphabet on arrival at the school (I suppose to check I relly knew it and was not making it up); I got as far as Uh, Vuh, Wuh, but then got stuck pronouncing the letter that comes after that. 'X-, Xu-'

'Ecks', said the teacher.

Relieved by this but somewhat bemused, I called it Ecks.

(Later the real names of the letters were revealed to other children when I was off sick; so for a while I was going around the school saying A, Buh, Cuh when everyone else had stopped.)

#381 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2009, 12:37 PM:

Xeger@377: our neighborhood hardware store actually has plumber's lead there; I was a bit surprised. Another kind of place to look is a store catering to shooters of old-fashioned muzzle-loading guns who want to cast their own balls, either for authenticity or fun or whatever. Or I suppose modern reloaders who want to cast their own bullets, but that's been pretty much in decline the last 20 years as jacketed bullets took over everywhere.

#382 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2009, 12:38 PM:

Andrew, what a bunch of idiots in that school! I'm continually amazed by stories like yours. Which probably says more about my ability to learn from experience than anything else, but oh well.

#383 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2009, 02:17 PM:

David Dyer-Bennet @ 381 ...
My immediately local plumbing supply store doesn't have it, but I haven't tried checking the hardware stores... I'm not sure that there's a store within an hour of me that caters to the black powder crowd, but that's definitely a thought...

Hmm... for that matter, are they still using lead for models? (I'd rather not try to track down lead tire weights...)

Thank you :) Food for thought!

#384 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2009, 02:27 PM:

xeger: How about sinkers, like for fishing? I seem to recall those are made of lead.

#385 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2009, 02:52 PM:

AndrewM: What was the rationale behind that nonsense?

David Dyer-Bennet: I've been in the relaoading world for more than 20 years, and the only smokeless shooters I know who cast their own are really finicky target shooters; who use revolvers. They do it because they can't get the precise weight they think works best in wadcutter/semiwadcutter.

I do know (though with the rise of inline, and sabot, shooting this is in decline) lots of black powder shooters who cast their own.

#386 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2009, 02:55 PM:

xeger: What do you want it for? Lead for balancing tires is hardened with antimony (which is why it's not good for casting bullets.

#387 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2009, 07:03 PM:

Terry Karney: I think the idea was that it was too difficult to learn the sounds of the letters and their names at once, so they would teach children the sounds first. (My situation was not typical, or at least was not expected to be; they were working on the assumption that entrants normally did not know their alphabet.)

#388 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2009, 07:26 PM:

Terry Karney @ 386 ...
xeger: What do you want it for? Lead for balancing tires is hardened with antimony (which is why it's not good for casting bullets.

It's for wedges to secure the copper flashing for my porch in the reglet. It seems that the local scrapyard will sell me lead scrap by the pound, so I'm currently thinking that melting that down seems like a reasonable way to get what I need...

#389 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2009, 07:51 PM:

The truly invisible beings are post-menopausal women. I watched it happen to my mother and now it's happened to me. There are actual physical changes, body weight shifts, skin goes crepey, etc that are probably due to no more estrogen. These changes seem to signal very strongly and very deeply: non-fertile female. Ignore.

Another excellent reason for wearing bright colors.


#390 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2009, 08:53 PM:

Summer @376 - thank you for the synesthesia link... very interesting stuff indeed... makes you wonder what other pathways in the brain can be opened up, and how...

One caveat to the researchers' claims, however... I do believe that these skills can be practiced and perhaps even learned.

#391 ::: Sharon M ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2009, 09:19 PM:


You're right! (Which you already knew.) The Electric Company version had faces in silhouette making the sounds, and the faces and letters on the screen would move closer together until they made the whole word. Odd that I'd remember that one, and not the Sesame Street version, since I know I didn't like the Electric Company as much (they were too shouty).

Eye contact in retail: when I worked at Pier 1 in the early 90s, greeting and making eye contact with everyone that walked in the door was pitched as the best loss prevention measure. They had studies that said 70% of people that shoplifted didn't enter the store intending to do so, and those people could be deterred just by being seen when they walked in.

I don't know how effective it really was, but I do know it took a year or so after I left the job before I stopped turning to face the door in a shop with the right doorbell noise. (I only greeted a customer in another store once. It's funny now.)

#392 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2009, 10:04 PM:

I had to train myself to talk at the bottom of my range; I'm a natural countertenor (I've taken alto parts when needful) and until I retrained myself I was always taken to be female on the phone. And sometimes if I'm excited I forget the training.

(I nearly got carded the other day by someone who blamed my cap, but given the rest of me I think she was reacting to more than just sartorial evidence.)

#393 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2009, 11:31 PM:

Terry@385: It was over 20 years ago now that I helped someone cast some .357 wadcutter bullets. His issue at the time was cost, or so he perceived it. Mine was it was a cool thing to have participated in doing.

Since then, I've known fewer and fewer people who even reload; in fact I'm part owner of a reloading setup that hasn't been out of boxes in a decade now. And components are up as bad as ammo mostly now, so it still isn't that useful. Besides I've got two calibers we don't have dies for now.

#394 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2009, 12:02 AM:

Xeger: A fishing supply store should have lead weights; I found some there when I needed them for a project, I no longer remember what.

#395 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2009, 12:16 AM:

DanR #390: Mmm... the thing is, hyperlexia and synesthesia (inter alia) really do involve significant changes in brain function. It's not so much that they're alien to normal thought, as that it's not so easy to "learn your way" from here to there.

On the other hand, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation seems able to bridge the gap! Apparently it's possible to temporarily counter the symptoms of autism, or even trigger temporary savant talents in normal people.

Incidentally, I hadn't even known about the former study until I started googling for the latter one. The interesting thing about that first one is that the experience seems to allow for learning that persists well after the treatment itself.

#396 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2009, 12:26 AM:

PS: Yeah, Age of Autism seems to be caught up with the antivaxers, but the first- and second-person accounts here are pretty dramatic. Here's another report from a different site. (And a different lab -- Dr. Casanova is apparently the guy who came up with this.)

#397 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2009, 01:27 AM:

Xopher #365 and others:
Elemeno P are a New Zealand band. Nothing kinky or twisted about them AFAIK.

#398 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2009, 01:48 AM:

The school (in Scotland) where my son learned to read and the one (in the Netherlands) where my daughter will be formally taught what she's picking up already* both request that parents use letter sounds rather than letter names.

This has made a certain amount of work for us, because my son always wants to know "how to spell" things in English, and he's never been formally transitioned away from the letter-sound names. We're working on it.

I want to know when they get the words-for-letters thing (you know, whiskey tango foxtrot and the like).

* We were watching Mythbusters last night, and she turned to me in great excitement. "That spells busted! I always thought it just says Mythbusters! I wasn't expecting that." Yet another joy of reading.

#399 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2009, 05:26 AM:

Lead weights: but please don't use them for fishing. A very large number of waterbirds (particularly loons and swans), die each year after ingesting lead fishing weights (sinkers, jigs), lead shot etc. (they take them in as grit to help grind up food in the gizzard). Ingestion of even one 0.5 g piece of lead sinker/jig can be fatal in a loon and 2-3 pieces of lead shot in a swan.

Secondary lead poisoning has been a major problem in reintroducing the Californian condor as well: the condors are feeding on carcasses of animals which were shot with lead bullets.

#400 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2009, 06:34 AM:

Xeger @383

Lead-based alloys for models went out of use a long time ago. I think it was health and safety laws in some US states that forced the shift. The alloys also have some specific characteristics needed to make a good casting.

#401 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2009, 11:55 AM:

Malleable lead: find a stained glass studio and ask for their trimmings. They generate a lot of otherwise useless scrap.

It's one industry where gen-ewe-ine lead is still used.

#402 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2009, 12:23 PM:

Soon Lee 397: And Ella Minnow Pea is a delightful book as well.

#403 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2009, 12:31 PM:

Abi @ 398... use letter sounds rather than letter names

We already do that for vowels. Isn't it awkward to do that for consonants?

#404 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2009, 01:22 PM:

DanR, #390: I don't see it as a "skill"; for me it's something that just is. The letters and numbers have always been colored, and so are some musical tones. It's just how I perceive the world. It wasn't until fairly recently that I even realized that other people don't all have the same sort of perception.

#405 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2009, 01:57 PM:

Are depleted uranium fishing weights safer than lead fishing weights? If so, I sense a new, profitable nuclear power aftermarket. One could coat them with other delicately radioactive materials so that they glow in the dark.

#406 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2009, 04:10 PM:

Serge @403:
We already do that for vowels.

But we don't. We don't say Aa, Eh, Ih, Awe and Uh. We say Ey, Ee, Eye, Owe and Ewe (in English; Dutch is closer to pronunciation).

Fiona read me a good chunk of Fox in Socks this evening. I was impressed, especially considering that today was her first swimming lesson, and she was tired.

#407 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2009, 04:22 PM:

The names of the vowels are equivalent to their long sounds (more or less: long U is only sometimes pronounced Yoo, since at other times it is Oo; and long A is sometimes Ay, sometimes Ah. And so on.) But yes, when I was forced to identify the letters by sound, we used the short sounds.

This of course raises a fundamental problem for the plan of identifying letters by sound; many of them have more than one sound.

#408 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2009, 05:21 PM:

abi: We don't say Aa, Eh, Ih, Awe and Uh. We say Ey, Ee, Eye, Owe and Ewe...

With our child, we treated that as a learning opportunity for explaining how the silent 'e' works (as in mane, time, home.) "The 'e' makes the vowel say its name."

#409 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2009, 08:17 PM:

#227 ::: heresiarch:

The issue isn't that businesses fail to make people efficient profit-maximizers--it's that the employees aren't being paid to maximize profit. They're being paid the exact same hourly rate whether the company turns a profit that hour or not. People with no stake in doing their job well won't do it well--in fact they'll do it poorly, because doing it poorly is easier and they'll trend towards maximizing their effort/reward ratio.

It's not just what employees are being paid for-- it's hard to devise an incentive payment scheme which only rewards what you want and doesn't damage cooperation.

My point was that if management really cared about profits they'd set up an environment (point covered in detail in other comments) which encourages and makes it feasible to offer good customer service.

#410 ::: Tall Dave ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2009, 12:02 AM:

Esp. to Xopher@97 and Mycroft@131:

Some years ago, I was a member of a Methodist congregation that met in the evening. We were the "contemporary" service, not the traditional one. Way fewer people, and very very ethno/racially mixed. And one evening, our black female pastor stood up and said "Today, instead of the usual, I want us to talk about privilege." And we did, for the entire service. Latinas and blacks and gays, white unmarried mothers, Asian men, people who weren't even sure what all had gone into their background, we all had a chance to stand up and talk about our feelings and perspectives on who got to do what in our society.

It could have been horrible. Our minister had guts, that's for sure. But she also knew her congregation, and we generally knew each other. There were plenty of stories of being invisible, of being ignored, of being shoved aside, of being dumped on, of being harassed, of being persecuted. It was pretty horrible.

This was quite a few years ago, before I met my husband. So at the time, I was: White. Male. Anglo-saxon. Protestant. Heterosexual. Tall. And not overweight. So what the hell was I going to say to all my friends? Well, one thing I said, with great trepidation, was "I'm tired of being blamed for this stuff."

But the most important part of the whole evening, the key take-away point, came from one of my fellow choir-members, a single mother with dark skin, who said "I understand that life isn't going to be fair. I don't have a problem with the fact that some people have lucked into having more, and better, keys on their key ring than I do. What really frustrates me is when the people with the most powerful keys deny that they're more privileged. They have all this power, and won't even use it!"

My keyring still has "tall thin white anglo-saxon protestant male," and I'm fairly sure that, unless I'm standing next to my spouse, I don't really read as gay. So I try to keep in mind, as I muddle through life, to remember to take advantage of the advantages I won in the lottery. As in, the time that an overweight female friend of mine asked me to tag along when she went car shopping. We would walk in together (well, I usually made a point of following behind her), the salesman would approach and ask "Can I help you?" and, if he glanced at the guy instead of the person closest to him, I'd say "You'll have to ask her. I'm just here as an advisor," and wander off or plop down in a handy chair, my job as testosterone beacon fulfilled.

On other occasions, I have offered, or been asked, to be a shopping proxy for a friend. "We both know what you want. Would you like me to go in and actually get it, since I'll probably get better service than you will?" Often this has as much to do with my multi-lingual abilities as my physical presence; I'm fluent in Tech, Geek, Guy, Handyman, and Carmechanic.

Yes, it's stupid. It's an annoying waste of time to have to send in a ringer to get the service you deserve, or to have to tow a friend along to accomplish a task that should be perfectly do-able by yourself. Xopher said "I don't ride in the front of the bus when others are relegated to the back." Bravo, and I agree. However, don't forget that sometimes you can claim that front seat on behalf of somebody else, and let them enjoy upgraded service without having to, er, 'strap an Ace bandage around their bazooms.'

#411 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2009, 01:39 PM:

David and Summer,

Thanks for all the excellent reading material... this stuff is fascinating to me. Potentially, inter-brain connections are 'hardwired,' but apparently, not totally unmalleable. Perhaps Asperger's and high-functioning autistism offer a glimpse into the human brain's untapped powers. Obviously, social skills and 'practical' though patterns are essential for survival, but these new patterns might just be the first inklings of mankind's next evolutionary step.

#412 ::: Bo Balder ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2009, 05:58 AM:

abi #320:
This is very enlightening. I'd wondered about a slight but noticeable lack of eyecontact at Viable Paradise, thinking maybe sff people were generally shyer than other people...
So it was just a cultural difference! Now I'm starting to wonder what they thought about my Dutch stare!

#413 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2009, 10:10 AM:

Bo Balder @ 412 -- Have you read Janet Kagan's Uhura's Song? There's a mention-in-passing of a similar cultural difference: Spock's Vulcan-normal "I am paying attention to you" steady look tends to be interpreted by Earth-humans (especially women) as sexual interest.

I'd never thought about the converse: that to Vulcans, Earth-humans would tend to appear shifty-eyed and ADD-ish.

#414 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2009, 06:48 PM:

Bo @412:

Because I rarely encounter Dutch people in non-Dutch cultural contexts, I'm not really sure how the eye contact would come across. The best I can say is that these subtle impressions are but a small part of the overall impact of a person over time.

I wonder what the impact of long-term laptop-based video conferencing will/would be. It's a whole new regime for eye contact; you can either look at a person or look like you're looking at them, but not both at the same time.

#415 ::: Syd ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2009, 05:00 PM:

Soon Lee @ 397: I think your Elemeno P should meet L.A.'s Elemenopy.

#416 ::: kim ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2009, 12:58 AM:

I only got as far as about #105, but my (female) partner says the way to get attention in a store that sells hardware is to go to an expensive piece of equipment and start moving levers and pushing buttons and moving parts around, etc.

#417 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2009, 02:16 AM:

kim @ 416: That is deeply, deeply wrong. And very, very clever.

#418 ::: Janet K ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2009, 08:39 AM:

Last Thursday morning I made my first trip to HD since reading this thread. This was a store in the close-in suburbs of DC.

There were staff everywhere. I was greeted and asked if I needed help 5 or 6 times as I swept through picking up the things on my short list.

I hadn't a clue where to look for the last item I needed (vacuum cleaner bags) so I asked an employee and she knew where they were and gave me good directions.

Not a perfect shopping experience--one item on my list was out of stock. But that store at least seems to be trying harder.

#419 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2009, 03:00 PM:

Kim @ 416 — Ha! That reminds me of the time I was in a department store's shoe section and couldn't get anybody's attention. After a while, I picked up two display shoes and started trying to juggle them (I can't juggle, by the way). Within seconds, there was a salesperson there acerbically saying "May I help you??" with a deep, annoyed sigh. I smiled sweetly, put the shoes down, and got them to get me what I needed.

#420 ::: A. J. Luxton snags a spammer by the tail ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2011, 05:57 AM:

O hai thar, overly generic linky comment.

#421 ::: tykewriter sees wtf? ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 05:36 AM:

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