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Bitter is the new black, p.13
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       Bitter is the New Black, p.13

           Jen Lancaster

  Behavior-wise, I admit that they’re improving. We had a small setback last Tuesday, when I ran down to Starbucks for a latte. I left them out of their crates for the first time, thinking they couldn’t get into much trouble in five minutes. Wrong again! They tore apart two forty-pound bags of manure-laced potting soil I’d bought and hadn’t yet carried up to the deck. When I walked in, I stood there wondering when we covered the hardwood with a black rug until it registered. Two hours, one shovel, three tearful calls to Fletch, and a double helping of Xanax later, my world was back in order.

  Fletch is a much bigger fan of the dogs than I am. He flies out of bed in the morning so they can roughhouse before work. Sometimes he sneaks home midday to hang out with them, and he takes them to the doggie park every evening. Twice I’ve caught him singing to them. His vile parents never let him have a dog, so he’s loved this experience.

  But the point is moot because we’re taking them to an adoption event today. Cute as they are, I’m sure someone will want them, and our life (and my normally spotless home) will be back to normal.

  We load the dogs in the car, packing up the various toys and accessories we’ve purchased for them over the past few weeks. Owning a dog is slightly less expensive than being addicted to crack. I feel a twinge of regret taking them down the stairs one last time, but I know that when I’m back to work, I won’t have time for them.

  The adoption event is in the far suburbs, so naturally we get stuck in heavy traffic trying to escape the city.

  “Do you think there’s been an accident?” I ask Fletch, scanning the rows and rows of cars stopped before us.

  “This may just be typical Saturday traffic. Are you anxious to get there?” he asks.

  “No.” I’m quiet for a while. Fletch, unaccustomed to so little noise coming from my word hole, asks me what’s the matter.

  “I don’t know. I’ve been looking forward to these guys leaving, but now that it’s reality, I feel kind of guilty.”

  “Or maybe sad?” Fletch asks.


  “You sure?”

  “OK, possibly,” I concede.

  “Yeah, me, too.”

  “The only thing is, it’s a shame they probably won’t be adopted out to the same family. Katie said when they were found together, they cried like babies when she tried to put them in separate cages. Do you suppose they’ll miss each other?”

  “I don’t really want to think about it. Kind of chokes me up.”

  We drive in silence a little farther.

  I say, “Adopting these dogs ourselves is out of the question. I mean, they’re so expensive and destructive. And time consuming. What would happen when I got a job?”

  “That’s what dog-walking services are for.”

  “Well, we’d probably have to replace the carpet in the bedroom and den if we kept them.”

  “We could always buy a carpet steamer. Or get a housekeeper.”

  “But that damn pit bull…we’d have to find a way to stop her from whining.”

  “All you have to do is pick her up.”

  “You aren’t worried she’d try to kill the cats?”

  “She loves the cats. Especially Tucker. Haven’t you seen them stretched out on the couch together?”

  “Still, keeping them is completely insane.”


  I turn around to look at the dogs in the backseat. They are spooned together in a tangle of paws and tails, sleeping peacefully. I feel something inside me break loose and suddenly my heart feels all hurty at the notion of them not being in my life. We get to the exit we’re supposed to take to get off the expressway, and I turn to Fletch.

  “Gimme your phone, please.”

  “What for?” He smiles. He knows, but he’s going to make me say it anyway.

  I take a deep breath. “I need to call Katie and tell her we’re keeping the dogs.”

  The good news? The Sexingtons are gone! The bad news? We have the kind of stylish and cool neighbors I’ve been dying to meet. Why is that bad news? Because, in an ironic twist, they now hate me.

  Last week I noticed a pronounced lack of Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Baby lately coming through the wall, and I figured the Sexingtons were on vacation. Instead, an interesting new couple had moved in next door and have managed to exist without causing me any mental or aesthetic distress. Already having scored points for being clean, quiet, and pleasant, they are carefully tending the beginnings of a lovely rooftop urban oasis. Better yet, they bought their patio furniture at the same place as us, so our decks are simpatico! We could be in a Crate & Barrel ad together.

  Intrigued by their obvious good taste, yesterday, I began chatting with them over our shared deck railing. I discovered that we have many common interests, such as a passion for animal rescue and a love of Coen brothers’ movies. Rarely do I meet people so articulate and erudite, so I put aside my usual neighbor-hating stance, and on a mad impulse, I invited them over to watch The Big Lebowski with us. Keeping in theme with the movie, we decided to serve White Russians.

  I zipped around the place, making sure everything was perfect for their arrival. The floors were waxed, the couches sucked free of pet hair, the toilet was so clean I could use it to serve punch, and the whole place was delectably fragrant, thanks to my special mélange of tulip, clean cotton, and lilac Yankee Candles. Fletch set up the bar and somehow scraped together four matching rocks glasses. They sparkled and twinkled in the candlelight, ready to be filled with our evening’s libations.

  We took great pains at getting ourselves ready for the night, too. Fletch’s khakis had a knifelike crease down the front, and he sported a jaunty Joseph Abboud shirt. I chose a pair of linen Capri overalls and paired them with a nautical-striped, summer-weight Ralph Lauren turtleneck and Joan & David loafers. The look said, “When not in the courtroom, I enjoy a day of yachting.” Perfection! I even managed to arrange my hair in a straightened pageboy, with just the right amount of body. (My trademark pearls completed the look, of course.)

  The dogs, renamed Maisy and Loki because Bull and Bear didn’t flow properly, sensed the night was important and fell fast asleep in their crates. I didn’t trust the cats not to lick their genitals openly, so I gave them extra rations of catnip; it seemed to do the trick.

  Lisette and Jake rang our doorbell bearing those mouthwatering little shell-shaped Belgian chocolates and an impressive bottle of wine. I told you they had class! Jake shook Fletch’s hand and kissed my cheek, and Lisette complimented me on our decor. I knew that this was to be the kind of mature, urbane evening we’d hoped to spend ever since we moved to Bucktown.

  Fletch chilled the wine and expertly mixed the cocktails. We chatted for a bit, and our conversation was that same snappy repartee generally found in Woody Allen movies or the New Yorker. I, in particular, was witty and debonair, and I could already envision the fashionable soirees we would throw ensemble with our new best friends.76

  We settled in to watch the movie, and Fletch served the first round of White Russians. I adore White Russians because they dare to combine my favorite ingredients: sugar, fat, caffeine, and alcohol. I do so love empty carbohydrates. Anyway, I slugged my first drink down a trifle quickly, but I couldn’t help it. It was creamily delicious, and I was a touch nervous. Caring whether someone likes me is definitely new territory.

  Fletch obliged to make me another, and I chugged it down as well. Ah, the velvety-smooth coffee mellowness…And, my goodness! The second one disappeared before Jeff Bridges’ rug was stolen! But I figured they were White Russians—how strong could they be? I mean, it’s just a dash of Kahlua and mostly cream and ice—so, yes, please, sweetie, I would have another. Mmm, that’s the stuff….

  After I downed my fourth, I began to experience profound thoughts. Naturally, I had to immediately and loudly share these trenchant ideas with the group. For example, Fletch and I don’t want children, so I suddenly decided it would be good to announce that I was going to have Fletc
h “fixed” and he should “get me a steak knife. I can do it right now!”

  I noticed that the room had grown quite warm, so after declaring I was “sweatin’ like a whore on dollar day” I proceeded to the bedroom and stripped off my turtleneck, although I left on my Capri overalls and bra. I looked at myself in the mirror and decided I was almost a dead-ringer for one of the cute girls in Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer” video. But there was something missing….

  I remembered the long clip-on ponytail, which I had been so pleased to find the month before, as it had been an ideal match for my highlights and hair texture. I could simply clip this to my existing ’do, and the long tresses would cover up any part of my bra peeking through my overalls. But instead of making my own small ponytail and then tucking it inside the fake one, I fastened it to the top of my head so that it flowed over my existing hair, creating some sort of long, perverse mullet or a hairy dorsal fin.

  “Oh, yes,” I said to my reflection, “this is the Look to Impress.” And the Queen of Entertaining went out to address her minions.

  I made my grand reentrance to what I thought was applause, but in the harsh light of day now realize was laughter. I basked in my company’s adoration and slammed another White Russian. At this point, the room, which had grown warmer despite my abbreviated outfit, became a virtual oven, and worse yet, it was spinning. I politely excused myself and headed to the bathroom, where I filled up my squeaky-clean commode approximately fourteen times.

  I woke up shivering on cold tile floors the next morning at five a.m., completely disheveled in my stained and tatty overalls. For a moment, I thought my vision had magically been restored to 20/20, but then realized I’d passed out in my contact lenses. I extricated the fake ponytail from my nest of hair, washed my face, brushed my teeth, and crawled off to bed.

  I wake again later in the day. I don’t know what time it is, but I do know that Fletch is poking me with a wooden spoon.

  “Why are you using a kitchen utensil to wake me up?” I ask.

  “Because you’re too ripe for me to touch with my bare skin,” he replies.

  “I feel like death,” I say. “My hair hurts. My cuticles are dizzy. My pores are nauseous. I sprained my spleen. Every inch of me is in distress right now.”

  He snickers. “That’s nothing compared to the smell.”

  “How come you didn’t put me in bed after I passed out?”

  “I tried, but you wouldn’t budge. When you woke up, you wouldn’t stop jabbering about your minions, so I left you there.”

  “Fletch, I can’t figure out why I had such a bad reaction to those stupid White Russians. Yeah, they went down a little fast, but don’t you remember how I could knock them back in college? I could drink fraternity guys under the table, and I was the only twenty-one-year-old girl at Harry’s Bar who properly appreciated Johnnie Walker Black Scotch. So why on earth did a little Kahlua and cream give me such a kick in the ass?”

  “Because they were White Russians, Jen. They’re Kahlua, milk, and a double shot of vodka.”

  “So how much liquor is that?” I am too hungover to do math.

  “About nineteen ounces.”

  “Sweet Jesus.”


  “Do you think Lisette and Jake noticed?”

  “Um, Jen, I don’t know how to tell you this, but they probably aren’t going to come over again. Ever.”


  “I do have some good news for you, though.”

  Hopefully, I suggest, “Scientists have discovered a cure for a coffee-liqueur hangover?”

  “Better. I found out what’s been happening to your newspapers.”

  I sit up so fast I get vertigo. “Who was it? Was it President Jugs? Or the Trashmores? Tell me!!”

  Trying to keep a straight face, he says, “Well, I ran into the maintenance guy this morning when I was out with the dogs.” Unsuccessful, he shakes and sputters with suppressed laughter. “And he told me that in an effort to keep the atrium clean, he tosses out any leftover newspapers at nine a.m.”

  I want to die. Or kill.

  Who Says Romance Is Dead?

  * * *

  To: SweetMelissa

  From: [email protected]

  Date: August 27, 2002

  Subject: Goin’ to the Chapel


  For your amusement, here’s a list of people I have yelled at in the past 24 hours.

  1) Fletch

  2) The idiot at Walsh Park who thought it was a good idea to bring her toddler in the gated dog run and then got mad when dogs (OK, Maisy) jumped on the child. IT’S A OGGIE PARK—WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU EXPECT THE DOGS TO DO? PLAY GIN RUMMY?

  3) Fletch

  4) The Mandalay Bay reservations people. They tried to make me believe the Honeymoon Suites would only be available on a one-off basis, and we’d have to swap rooms every day, and was that all right? (BTW, if you repeat, “Not acceptable; find a way to make it happen” enough times, you will get what you want.)

  5) Fletch

  6) Our landlord. I do not care if a central air-conditioning unit is really expensive to replace. We pay thousands of dollars a month in rent precisely so we DON’T have to worry about replacement costs. Again, our apartment is 89 degrees so FIND A WAY TO MAKE IT HAPPEN.

  7) My mother. I am NOT driving out to your hotel by O’Hare the day before we leave for the wedding simply so you can see/criticize my dress because I am busy GETTING READY TO LEAVE FOR MY WEDDING.

  8) Fletch

  9) The vet. Did I not pay you HANDFULS OF $100 BILLS to get all the dogs’ medical needs addressed, only to find you forgot to give Maisy the Kennel Cough shot and Chicago Club Canine initially wouldn’t board her without it?

  Anyway, see you soon, provided I don’t wind up in jail first.


  * * *

  “Maisy, we’re fucked.”

  Always the optimist, Maisy responds to the sound of my voice with a full-on body wag, shaking her spotted backside so hard that she falls over. Undaunted, she rights herself and nibbles my toes with a vengeance. Ugh. I don’t know how she can stand to look at them, let alone lick them. My disastrous attempt at a home pedicure left me with two oozing ingrown nails and, until they heal, a slight limp. Now on top of being unemployed, I’m a gimp, too. Fabulous.

  “Maisy, I’m serious. We are in deep financial shit here. How are we going to fix this?”

  Maisy’s idea is to lick my deeply gashed knees. Ahh, the joys of shaving. When I tried waxing them myself—following my esthetician Petra’s motions exactly, mind you—the pain was unbearable. I wanted to slap myself for hurting me, and I yanked up more flesh than hair. The wax she uses at Molto Bene must be different from the el cheapo brand I bought at the drugstore. Raising dogs is way more expensive than we’d anticipated, and we’ve already blown a couple of grand just on vet bills and hundreds more on supplies. So I’ve been forced to give up all nonessential spa services. I’m down to professional cut and color only. When I see everyone else at Bene walking around in robes and pedicure flip-flops between treatments, I feel an actual ache in my chest.77

  We’ve been in a financial pinch ever since the Justice Department launched an investigation into Fletch’s employer’s accounting practices. His five-figure monthly commissions have shriveled down to nothing over the past couple of months. Apparently, nobody wants to do business with the organization they see testifying on C-SPAN every day. Go figure. He says if our financial situation doesn’t change before my unemployment checks run out, we might not be able to keep our apartment. When he told me that, I ran to the bedroom and pulled the covers over my head. The thought of living anywhere else chills me to the bone. The very idea of moving to some tawdry little two-flat out in the unfashionable suburbs makes me want to drink bleach.

  I HAVE to stay here. I simply have to. To be honest, too much of my identity comes from possessing this space. As my job used to define me, living here’s all I have left. Th
is apartment makes it OK that I can’t buy Prada’s newest anymore. I can be content going on lousy interviews and begging for positions that pay half of what I used to earn as long as I know at the end of the day my glorious penthouse awaits. The minute I climb into my Jacuzzi tub, all the day’s unpleasantness is rinsed down the drain. When I step onto my deck and survey the city, I feel like anything is possible. This apartment keeps me centered; it keeps me sane. Without this place, I’m just another nobody from Indiana with a worthless state college degree.

  Before I was laid off, we talked about buying our apartment. Now it’s possible we won’t even be able to live out our lease. It boggles my mind but, like Scarlett O’Hara says, I’ll think about that tomorrow when I can stand it.

  Instead, I’ll wallow in depression because today is Cinco de Mayo, and I’m stuck here in Illinois. It’s the first time in years that I haven’t spent this weekend recharging my batteries in Las Vegas, gaming, relaxing, and jump-starting my summer tan. How can I carry off the citrus green color I love so much if I’m not deeply bronzed? Self-tanner just makes me look like an Oompa Loompa. Sure, I’ve caught a few rays this spring while outside with the dogs, but it’s not the same. I look in the mirror and think, Hi, Casper, it’s nice to see you. Had I the opportunity to lounge poolside in Vegas, I’d be positively homeless tan by now. Sadly, Fletch curtailed my travel plans, reminding me of the Marco Island/Com Ed debacle.

  Everything would be resolved if I could just land a decent job. However, I’m finding it almost impossible to get an outside sales position that doesn’t require owning a car. The coolio travel management company was all set to make me an offer until I told them I didn’t have wheels. At my Corp. Com. and Midwest IR Co., my meetings entailed plane tickets, and the few that didn’t were a cab ride away. Before that, I had a company car, so I haven’t needed my own vehicle in almost five years.

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