Boston Business Journal: No Tips

Shop Girl by Kitty Kaufman, photos by Julie Moffatt, Ellen Kaufman

fort poin I used to be a staff writer at a weekly publication. The editor made assignments with reasonable deadlines and rarely if ever changed your copy. Once, when a stylist wanted me to say he had the "best prices on Newbury Street" and I wouldn't, the letter I wrote back to him at the editor's request took longer to write than the feature. As turn-downs go, it worked and the stylist kept his ad in, which was the whole point.

After several years the editor had an idea: instead of writing about advertisers, I could do a column on how to run a business. Of course I was flattered. It sounded like consulting on the fly but still. I told myself this was good for them and me. They wanted a list of topics and this began keeping me up because I didn't have any tips. Now I would tell anyone in a startup that the first two people you want to sign with are: one, an accountant and two, a lawyer, but I didn't see where that was going to turn into a story although you would be surprised how many business people never think about those professionals at all.

I asked the editor if he had any ideas. No, he didn't and then he said, "You're the writer." It's possible I might have said I thought tips were trite but maybe not. I made a list of real-life clients.

  • Collaborative problem solving with the guy who knows everything
  • How to make mistakes
  • How to orchestrate an office move
  • How to start a new business
  • What did you expect?
  • Keeping cool: firing, hiring, evaluating, severing
  • Call me (even when you don't want to)
  • Don't forget to write (answering when you don't want to)
  • Secrets of life (completely arrogant but good for weeks)

  • list I mean, really, trying to deal with a know-it-all? Secrets of life, who was I kidding? I sent "Call Me" which in a nice way says call people back even when you don't want to. There was no response, which in light of the subject was curious not in a good way. They asked for another column and I sent "Starting Over" about how December resolutions end up toast by the middle of January.

    Writers know priorities change. I had to ask when they were starting even though I knew it would be painful. Our conversation wound around as I imagined, uncomfortably, and went something like, "Well, what you wrote is fine but it isn't tips." I said, "I told you, I don't do tips." And that, as they say, was that.

    Everyone does it. Sunday Parade magazine is full of tips and gossip. Frankly if I never get another tip about anything, except the market, that's soon enough and right now I don't want to hear anything about that either. But feel free to send along any gossip.

    Speaking of no tips, I got what I thought was an interesting call last week. These calls never come when you are in the office at your desk. I was driving and my cell phone was in a pocket so it took quite a few rings before I could answer. The caller told me her name and the business weekly she writes for, not the same one of course, and said she was doing a prescriptive article. And I said, "What?" "Prescriptive." "What?" "Prescriptive, you know, things that businesses can do that will help them get by in hard times." Later I told two friends about it and they both said, "What's prescriptive?" I guess that's what tips are called now.

    gus I started thinking out loud and it got quiet on her end and I realized she was taking it all down. I stopped and asked her what the focus of the story would be. She said she didn't know yet. So I said, "May I call you back?" She said that would be fine and when would it be? How about an hour? I offered to call her but she said definitively, twice, "I will call you back in one hour, at 4 pm." I raced back to the office and made enough notes to rule out more off-the-cuff remarks.

    I was ready early. New York minutes slipped by. What exactly is the five-second rule when you're waiting? Is it 10 minutes or 20? Like waiting for a guy to call you after a date; how do you know if he's playing by three- or seven-day rules?

    canton moon I ended up calling her back at what turned out to be a general number fielded by voice mail, of course, and left a message. I waited. Then I looked up the paper's number and spoke to a receptionist who for some reason said I had to speak to her supervisor, the office manager, and to wait a moment and she would let me talk to her. The office manager did not answer, of course, and when her voice mail came on I left a message. It was now 60 minutes after 4 pm.

    No, nobody ever called back and too bad no one is looking for tips or prescriptives today. This is probably as good a time as any, I'm guessing, to get started either on secrets of life or, what did you expect?

    © October 13, 2008
    Write to us:

    Share with us on Twitter:

    See Boston restaurant stories via One for the Table on Zomato

    it's a 10 Area Four
    It's a 10
    hot pink Boston Museum of Fine Arts
    Food, and art
    fruity Flour Bakery
    Eat dessert first
    fishes Locanda Del Lago in Santa Monica
    Italian Western
    fishes Santa Monica Seafood Cafe
    Fine kettle of fish
    tofu Blue Dragon
    fish Rino's East Boston
    Cold, cold comfort
    limes Island Creek Oyster Bar
    Happy new year
    big fish Black Trumpet in Portsmouth
    Ta dah
    fish on a bun El Pescador Market in La Jolla
    My summer vacation
    big shrimp Bar Boulud
    With all due respect
    © 2001-2022 all rights reserved - please write for permission