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Bitter is the new black, p.11
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       Bitter is the New Black, p.11

           Jen Lancaster
 

  I’m infuriated every time I hear about his boss, Clark’s, unprofessional behavior. It’s not that Fletch isn’t tough, but every time Clark treats him like his naughty child, it brings up a slew of unpleasant adolescent memories of his abusive father. Frankly, I’m glad the old man is dead, because I’d have an awfully hard time trying to be nice to him at family gatherings. Do you know he never once told Fletch he’d done a good job or that he was proud of him, even after the Army sent him to the prep school at West Point because he was one of the best and brightest enlisted men? He scored almost 1400 on his SATs yet his parents still thought he’d do better at a vocational/technical trade school than at a college proper. I’ve spent years trying to build up the esteem his parents so causally trod upon.

  “What’s his problem?” I reach in the cabinet and pull out matching mugs and begin to heat the milk in a saucepan.

  “I’m not sure. It’s been much worse lately. I heard one of the women in the office filed a complaint against him because he came on to her at the Christmas party, so that may be the cause.”

  “Isn’t he married?”

  “With children.”

  “He’s truly vile, isn’t he?” I stir the milk to keep it from scalding.

  “You don’t know the half of it. But I don’t want him ruining my night, too, so tell about your day.”

  “You won’t believe who I heard from,” I say.

  “Are you going to make me guess?”

  “No, I won’t torture you. Actually, I heard from a couple of people. Courtney says hey and she dumped the Chadifornicator. Guess she finally got her head out of her ass, eh? She wants to know if you have any cute friends.”

  “I don’t keep track of which of my friends are cute.”

  “That’s OK. I bet I can think of someone. Anyway, the big news is I talked to Camille. Remember, she was the annoying granola account executive at Corp. Com.? She ran into a guy who’s recently launched an organization that does what Corp. Com. does. He’s looking for people, and Camille thought of me—she sent me this guy’s contact information. His name is Ross and he’s the founder. We chatted this afternoon, and I have an interview with him tomorrow.”

  “A start-up? I thought you said no start-ups. Too much risk.”

  I hand Fletch the steaming mug of cocoa, which I’ve dotted with whipped cream and covered with vanilla sprinkles. He takes a sip and smiles. I can actually see some of the tension slip away from his shoulders. “Yes and no. They are a start-up, but they just received millions in venture capital. They’re totally funded for the next few years. The founder seems sharp and he thought my experience would be an asset. So we’ll see how tomorrow goes.”

  “Outstanding!” he says and starts to high-five me. I try to slap his palm, and as always, I miss.

  “In less exciting news, my money hasn’t come yet.”

  “You’re kidding.”

  For the fourth time in as many months, my unemployment check is missing. Fortunately, it happens so often I’m now a pro at refiling. The first time it didn’t show up, I checked my instruction booklet. After reading and rereading, I still couldn’t figure out what to do, so I called the IDES. Fifteen minutes and a dozen voice mail menus later, I finally reached a live person. When I explained who I was and what happened, the Small Angry Woman on the other end of the line said, “Oh, yes, Miss Prada, I remember YOU.”

  And right then I knew I was in for a LONG wait.

  My first interview with Ross at the start-up goes so well I’m invited for a second interview. The second interview is even better than the first, and I’m asked back a third time. Since Ross and I have already discussed everything under the sun at this point, I assume I’m getting an offer when I show up for my fourth interview.

  Silly me.

  Instead, I’m brought into a conference room, where I’m to interview with Ross again and his special guest…gah! It’s WILL! I’m pretty sure my jaw hits the table when I see him.

  “What are you doing here?” I ask before I can stop the words from leaping from my mouth. Backpedaling madly, I clarify, “I mean, how long have you worked here?”

  “I started a few weeks ago,” Will replies with a smug grin. “When I heard you were coming in today, I asked, um, if I could, you know, sit in on your interview.”66

  Ross allows Will to attempt to rake me over the coals for the better part of an hour. From the incendiary tone of his interview questions, it’s obvious be blames me for getting fired, which is totally unfair. Did I try to buy drugs from my employees? Did I completely disregard corporate goals in order to be liked? Did I leave my résumé in a copy machine? No. He was let go due to his own lack of merit.

  As we wrap up the interrogation, Ross asks Will to excuse us, and I assume that now’s the time to discuss an offer.

  Wrong again.

  “Jen, although I’m impressed with your credentials, I’m still not one hundred percent sure how actionable your cross-platform skills are.” Um, buzzword psychobabble much? What the hell does that mean? I look at him quizzically. He explains, “Before I make a decision, I need an understanding of how you’d approach this job. I want to bring you in one more time. Prepare a business plan containing tangible thirty-, sixty-, and ninety-day goals, as well as ten original marketing concepts. I also want a potential client list. To divide the PR agencies between you and the rest of the sales team, I have to know who has contacts where. On your way out, stop by Mary Ann’s desk to set up a time for later this week.” He thanks me and returns to his office.

  OK, this is ridiculous. I can’t believe the hoops I’m jumping through for this job. The nerve of making me do HOMEWORK for an interview! I never wanted to tell someone to pound sand more in my life. Unfortunately, there are NO jobs out there, and I can’t let this opportunity slip through my fingers. I’m incredibly aggravated to have been put in this position, but I desperately need the money. I already cashed in my 401(k)67 and my savings account has been empty for months. Because of the missing unemployment check, I’m totally broke. I’m supposed to meet up with my family in Marco Island next week, and I had to use the money earmarked for our electric bill to pay for my ticket. I wasn’t going to go, but my parents know I’m not busy, and if I told them I didn’t have the money to join them, they’d completely wig out.

  Looks like I have a business plan to prepare.

  I spend three long days putting together the plan, stopping only for coffee and pep talks with Fletch. I create the mother of all documents—it’s a forty-eight-page masterpiece. In it, I start with an industry overview, and then I segue into an analysis of the marketplace and competitive landscape. My marketing plan is the meat of the proposal, with almost thirty pages devoted to sales strategy, promotion, and pitch. I wrap up the document with a framework for growth, as I detail a scalable plan encompassing management needs, legal structure, and human resources. Granted, I could have simply presented Ross with the business plan I created at my old job and gave to all the sales managers, but somehow I suspect Will may have already done so.

  There’s no WAY I’m not getting a job with this proposal under my belt! Seriously, I poured my whole self into the document, and it shows.

  Will and Ross and a couple of other salespeople sit in rapt attention as I discuss the finer points of countering our competition. When I launch into the marketing portion of my proposal, I notice they all whip out notebooks and begin taking notes.

  Like a lot of notes.

  Like the kind of notes you’d take at the review session the day before the midterm when you’d skipped most of the classes.

  I get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. This isn’t right. They should be listening and interacting, not furiously transcribing every word coming out of my mouth. I made a number of copies of my plan, but suddenly I’m hesitant to give them out. I wish I hadn’t already distributed my client contact list.

  The only reason these people would be more interested in my work than me is if they know they a
ren’t going to hire me. But surely they wouldn’t have put me through all these paces without honestly intending to bring me on. No one is that sleazy and unethical, right?

  I finish my presentation and am summarily dismissed. No one congratulates me on my brilliant plan, except to complain about not getting a copy. No one takes me aside to discuss salary expectations. No one does anything except attempt to hustle me out of there. When I press him about next steps, all Ross says is “I’ll call you to let you know our decision.”

  You know what? I just took it up the ass, and I didn’t even get dinner first.

  What I’ve Learned:

  1. The next time an interviewer requests a business plan, simply walk out and save yourself three days’ effort, or present them with the document and a bill for consulting services. Because either way? They aren’t going to hire you.

  2. Com Ed does not consider travel to Florida a “medical necessity” and will have no problem cutting off your lights and leaving your boyfriend in the dark for two days while you vacation on Marco Island.

  3. Never, ever carry a Prada bag to the unemployment office.

  The Lobby for a Hobby

  * * *

  VOLUNTEERS needed to walk dogs at a no-kill animal shelter located in the Gold Coast. No experience required. Please call 312-555-2439 for more information.

  * * *

  With my hot new tan and super-Marco-Island-sun-streaked highlights, I’m the prettiest unemployed girl on the block. Unfortunately my good looks have gotten me nowhere. I’ve applied for over eight hundred positions and am still barely getting responses, though I’m not taking it personally because almost everyone I know is out of work.68 But, still, I’m distressed that my résumé isn’t standing out like a shining diamond among all the jagged, ugly rocks. So I need to do something to differentiate myself. But what? Whatever I come up with, I had better do it soon because I desperately need health insurance again.

  Last time I needed my allergy medicine, I made Fletch go to the doctor and pretend to itch and sneeze. Worked like a charm. He couldn’t fake asthma, though, so I have to pay full price for those meds, and they’re so expensive! I’m out of my inhaler because I used the money to buy a twin set. I may be wheezing, but I’m wheezing in fuzzy, ballerina pink cashmere, baby.

  I’ve obsessed about health care ever since I accidentally canceled my discounted medical plan through COBRA. I’d read that Fletch’s employer covered domestic partners, so I figured since we lived together, he could add me to his benefits. I thought I was being so clever. Unfortunately, this was one of those almost unimaginable instances where I was completely, utterly wrong.

  I marched out into the living room wearing my favorite flannel jammies with the polar bears on them and a snappy new pair of glossy black, square-toed, pilgrim-heeled boots. I danced around a bit but Fletch didn’t notice. He was deeply absorbed in one of his myriad business magazines.

  “A-hem.” I cleared my throat. He didn’t even glance in my direction. Hello! Surely I’m more interesting than your stupid magazine! Pay attention to me, please. I cleared my throat again and stomped back and forth.

  Without looking up, he asked, “Do you need something?”

  “Guess what,” I said, leaning back on the arm of the couch, waggling my feet in the air.

  “What?” he asked, totally engrossed in what he was reading.

  “Guess what I got.”

  He finally peered up from his magazine and looked me up and down. “I hope it’s not new boots. Tell me it’s not new boots. I thought we agreed you’d stop wasting your unemployment checks.”

  “We did agree. So guess how I bought them,” I said in a singsong voice.

  He slowly blinked at me and ran his hands through his hair in one of his getting-stressed-but-trying-not-to-show-it gestures. “Do I want to know?”

  “I used my own money.”

  “You don’t have any money.”

  “Yes, I do! I canceled my COBRA and they refunded my payment. I got the check from them today, I cashed it at the currency exchange, and that’s how I bought these! Aren’t they divine? Don’t you lurve them?” I did a quick Riverdance so he could see the beauty of my boots in motion.

  “Whoa, wait a minute. You canceled your insurance?”

  “Yes, I don’t have to worry about it anymore.”

  “I’m suddenly very afraid to ask why.”

  “Oh, you’re being silly. Didn’t you run across the article in your little magazine where they talk about all the progressive employers who insure domestic partners? Well, your company is one of them, and I’m your domestic partner. We’ve lived together for years. So please remember to sign me up under your plan tomorrow, sweetie.”

  “Jen,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief, “they mean same-sex relationships.”

  “No, they don’t. They can’t. That would be discrimination.”

  “Yes, they do, they can, and it wouldn’t.”

  “What about if we’re the opposite sex? That counts, too, right?”

  “Nope, it’s just a benefit for gay couples. I know because I asked about this months ago, thinking it would save you a few bucks.”

  “So we get nothing for living together, despite the fact that you’re currently the breadwinner?”

  “I’m afraid not.”

  “Even though I do all of the laundry?”

  “Ha! Even though you do some of the laundry.”

  “But that’s not fair. You didn’t choose to be straight! It’s not your fault you were born that way. I shouldn’t be punished for your heterosexuality. Maybe you should get a lawyer.” I began to panic because the COBRA people were clear that once I canceled my coverage, I couldn’t reinstate.

  He smirked. “Yep, society’s always keeping the straight man down.”

  “Don’t be a smarty-pants. I’m serious. What if you told them I was a guy? Couldn’t you go to the benefits office and, you know, swish around a bit? Tell the HR girl that her shoes are fab-u-licious? I’m sure she’d believe you were gay, especially since I taught you to wax your monobrow. You were very convincing when you lied to get my Claritin.”

  “A: HR is in Denver,” he said, closing the magazine. “And B: it wasn’t a lie: I do have allergies and should be taking Claritin.”

  “Even better! Seriously, there’s no way they’d know I’m not a man. Ooh, you could give them my initials for the membership card, and they’ll be none the wiser. J. Lancaster could totally be a dude. Correction, a gay dude.”

  “No.”

  “They wouldn’t be allowed to pry into your private life. They’d never know. I’m telling you, this plan is foolproof.”

  “Your plan is anything but foolproof. What happens when they get a bill from your ob-gyn? How would I explain that, even though you’re a guy, what with us being gay and all, you needed to see a women’s doctor?”

  Thinking on my feet,69 I quickly came up with plan B. “OK, this could still work. You tell them I’m a post-op transsexual. I’ll wear that really dark MAC lipstick that makes me look like a drag queen, and they will absolutely believe me.”

  “You’ve got to be kidding.”

  With great solemnity, I told him, “Castration is no joke.”

  “The answer is still no.”

  “No, you won’t pretend to be gay, or no, you won’t claim that I’m a tranny?”

  “No to all of the above.”

  I sensed the need to change tactics if I ever wanted to see a doctor again. “OK, Mr. I-Don’t-Want-to-Help, what about this? What if I had an asthma attack and DIED because I don’t have an inhaler? What would you do then, huh?”

  He looked thoughtful while he paused to consider the ramifications of a world without the beauty and magic of my life force. Personally, he’d forever bear the deep wounds of tragic remembrance. On a larger scope, darkness would encompass the earth. Flowers, devastated over the loss of me, their personal sun, would wither on the vine. Trapped in perpetual darkness, owls would shr
iek all day long and songbirds would cease their singing. Distraught and too racked with grief to carry on, Fletch would lead a shadowy existence, wearing black every day. He’d begin the half-life of a solitary Beat poet, chain smoking in dank and depressing coffee shops on open-mike nights, while he waited for his chance to read maudlin tributes to the eternal sunshine of my soul that—

  “I’d bury you with your new boots.”

  What? He! Oh! No! Arrgh!

  I was clearly tasked to come up with the snappiest of all rejoinders for his not properly paying tribute to the possibility of my heartrending demise. But what to say? How could I express the gravity of my displeasure? How could he take the extinguishing of the light that is his darling Jennifer and turn it into a joke? I consulted my internal thesaurus and came up with the perfect riposte that would slash him to the bone, leaving his soul in ribbons in order to show him the folly of uttering such casually caustic words.

  “Asshat!”

  Fletch took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “I’m going to go read in the den now.”

  “Homophobe!”

  “I will talk to you when you decide to act like an adult again.”

  “You suck donkey balls!” I shrieked as he retreated into his office, hands holding his temples like he always does when he feels a migraine coming on.

  “You should really see a doctor about that!” I hollered as he gently closed the door behind him.

  Anyway, I’ve yet to come up with a better way to get my asthma medicine, so I need to find a job with good prescription coverage. I put on my thinking boots70 and brainstorm. I know that I’m a great salesperson, but how can I demonstrate this to hiring managers at good companies? Prior to 9/11, I could walk into office buildings and foot canvass, but with all the new security measures, that’s out.

  I was good at soliciting business over the phone before, so I should call the VPs of sales directly and market myself. And now I’d be selling a product I really love, so I think this could work. But which companies shall I call? Ooh, I know! I’ll start reading the Wall Street Journal again. They always report on who’s growing, merging, and acquiring, and that way, when I call, I’ll have something to talk about. Really, with problem-solving ability like mine, who wouldn’t hire me?

 
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