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Bitter is the new black, p.15
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       Bitter is the New Black, p.15

           Jen Lancaster

  “How did you get the bat out of your place?” Kim inquires.

  “I called my fraternity brother Tim. He brought over my lacrosse sticks and umpire mask. Between the two of us, we caught the bat and let him free outside,” Fletch finishes.

  Disappointed, Courtney says, “That’s possibly the least romantic thing I’ve ever heard.”

  “Think so? Then wait till you hear how Jen proposed.”

  I told my parents about getting married, careful not to mention anyone else knew before they did.82 Surprisingly, my mother was totally rational and didn’t cry or carry on like I expected. I figured she’d be all clingy and emotional. Perhaps the idea of writing all those checks was a sobering thought. My parents decided if Dad agreed to give us the car, he’d be off the hook for financing the wedding. (Of course, if he had his way, the wedding would be in the backyard, hot dogs on this side of the pool, hamburgers on that side, and try not to step in Nixon’s towers o’ dog poop.)

  In only two weeks, I’ve managed to plan and book almost everything. Armed with my mother’s MasterCard and a promise to “not go completely crazy,” I started researching Las Vegas wedding venues. I thought it would be a riot to be married by Elvis but Fletch flatly refused, so I looked into hotel wedding chapels. I picked Mandalay Bay because it’s classy and private. The Venetian had a lovely wedding spot on the Ponte al di Piazza bridge, but I didn’t want a bunch of strangers gawping at me while I exchanged vows. You want to watch a show? Buy a ticket.

  As Mandalay Bay’s chapel is located in a building outside of the hotel, I figured there’d be less danger of people wandering in during the ceremony, looking for the buffet. And thus, I’ll neatly eliminate the danger of my head whirling around like Linda Blair in the Exorcist, yelling, “Excuse me, but I am making a solemn promise in front of God and everyone, so could you kindly get the fuck out?” at an innocent stranger.83

  We decided we wanted a nontraditional event. You see, a while back, my friends Michael and Amy had the most spectacular wedding. First, the decor was amazing. Everything took place in the Chicago Cultural Center. It used to be the Chicago Public Library, and the main room had a vaulted ceiling much like a church. Every surface was mosaicked, but instead of religious iconography, all the designs were literature-based. The rooms had sweeping three-story windows and breathtaking views up and down Michigan Avenue, and without one piece of ornamentation, it was among the most beautiful places I’d ever seen. Add thousands of dollars’ worth of flowers, crystal, and linen in a roomful of folks in black tie, and the whole scene was something out of a Martha Stewart book. Then include a forty-foot dessert table with at least a hundred different treats,84 gracious hosts, a top-shelf open bar, and you have my fantasy wedding. During the bride’s speech, Amy told a touching story of being in her late thirties and having given up on love. But one wrong number later, she and Michael found each other and the rest was history. And at that moment, Navy Pier’s fireworks began exploding in the giant window right behind them with nary a dry eye in the house.

  I figured I’d never be able to compete with what I considered the most perfect wedding in existence, so I concentrated on making mine superfun. I booked our reception in Rum Jungle, a Brazilian-themed nightclub at Mandalay Bay, complete with walls of fire and water, rum bottles stacked fifty feet high, and cages full of go-go dancers.85 Since the music in Rum Jungle is all Latin techno, I don’t have to bother booking a DJ and, subsequently, threaten his life for playing “YMCA” and the chicken dance song. We’re encouraging people to dress resort-casual, and I bought my dad an adorable Hawaiian print shirt for the occasion. We’re skipping silly old practices, such as feeding each other cake. Also, I refuse to toss the bouquet because rounding up and pointing out all the single women is cruel and unusual punishment.

  Since I’m sure I’d turn into a Bridezilla, I decided not to have wedding attendants. It recently occurred to me it’s all well and good to be a bridesmaid in your twenties, but by the time you hit your thirties, it’s less of an honor and more of a chore. Besides, Carol has three kids, Shayla is finishing grad school, and Melissa just started a new job after being unemployed for a few months. I like them all too much to stick them with the financial and emotional burdens involved. And this way, I won’t have to attend any bridal showers. I’d rather receive fewer gifts than be forced to craft a gown out of toilet paper.

  I admit I cheated a bit while making wedding arrangements. When planning, I knew I wouldn’t have the two to three hours it takes to keep Maisy and Loki entertained and happy, so I shipped them off to a doggie day care from eight a.m. to five p.m. Although we can barely afford it, having that much uninterrupted time made all the difference. Plus they get so much exercise while at Doggie Day, they come home happy and exhausted. And everyone knows, a tired dog is not a dog that will dig around in your closet, find your precious Chanel slingbacks, and EAT BOTH OF THEM WHOLE.86 Now I’m sending them a couple of days a week since the bulk of the planning is done.

  My only remaining task is to find a dress, and really, as much as I like to shop, how hard can it be?

  Hate stupid dresses.

  Hate stupid bridal shops.

  Hate stupid bridal shop employees.

  Hate stupid bridal shop owners.

  Hate stupid entire bridal industry.

  Hate stupid Modern Bride, Bride’s Magazine, and Chicago Bride.

  Hate stupid salesgirls at Escada, Saks, and Neiman’s, who eyed my waist and clucked their tongues, saying, “Nope, sorry, nothing over a size twelve. But good luck to you.”

  Hate stupid fat self who can’t fit into any pretty designer gowns.

  Hate stupid weddings.

  Apparently it pays to have a nervous breakdown in the middle of Bloomingdale’s.

  While my favorite clerk got me a glass of water, an exceptionally stylish plus-sized society woman dug around in her bag until she found a card for Dress Doctor. So now I’m getting my gown made by an exclusive seamstress, and all those anorexic whores on Michigan Avenue and Oak Street who made me feel like I was the Goodyear blimp can kiss the very fattest part of my ass.

  I have my first appointment with Soheila at Dress Doctor this afternoon. Her assistant answers the door and leads me into the showroom. Her shop is more like an office, and it’s quiet, private, and orderly. While I wait, I scrutinize the intricate stitching on one of her design displays and find her work to be flawless.

  Soheila enters from the back of the shop and greets me warmly. I suspect I’m in capable hands. I show her pictures of dresses I like, and we discuss what features I want. Immediately we rule out strapless because with the recent addition of fat on my broad shoulders, I look like more of a linebacker and less of a fairy princess.87 I prefer classic design and eschew anything with ruffles or sequins. Also, my ankles are surprisingly shapely and I want them to show because I plan to get great shoes.

  While flipping through a design book, Soheila asks me a series of “do you prefer this or this” questions and it reminds me of visiting the eye doctor. But within minutes, she shows me a dress in a vintage Vogue pattern book, and it encompasses everything I love. It’s retro and glamorous without being weighed down with extraneous lace or beading. Its perfection is its simplicity. I gaze adoringly at a glorious A-line, tea-length gown with a short tulle bustle and a portrait collar and I fall in love. And yet…

  “This is it, Soheila,” I say, tapping the page.

  “Yes. Are you quite sure? I have many books and we can look at them until you are positive you have found the perfect dress,” replies Soheila kindly.

  “No, this is it. I’m sure. It’s just…” I trail off.

  “Just what? Jennifer, is this truly your choice? Please do not rush your decision. I will have plenty of time to make whatever you want.”

  “It is, I do, I love the dress. I’m just not sure of the color.”

  “If you do not care for the snowy white, we can use ivory or eggshell.”

  “No, those co
lors don’t really do it for me, either,” I respond. Soheila retrieves a book of fabrics and lays it across my knees.

  “What do you envision? Here is a beautiful ecru dupioni silk. The heavy texture would work well with the lines of the dress. Or perhaps you would prefer something softer with an undertone of blush?” she asks, holding out a baby pink taffeta swatch.

  “Yeah, these are nice, but…”

  “Jennifer, this is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Tell me what you see when you picture your wedding in your dreams.”

  I close my eyes and try to envision the day. Fletch, happy and handsome in his white dinner jacket, gracefully twirls me around the parquet floor.88 With his short hair and funky horn-rimmed glasses, Fletch reminds me of an old-school astronaut. My whole look is Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy of the Camelot era, and I’m sporting an adorably bubble-shaped up ’do with gardenias in my hair. On my face, I’m wearing thick black eyeliner, doelike false lashes, and frosty pink lipstick. No, scratch that. Light lipstick makes me look like I’ve been eating powdered donuts.89 We resemble Barbie and Ken, circa 1962. I float in his arms, swirling around in a fitted—I’VE GOT IT!

  “Black! That’s it! I see myself in a black dress.” I pause, waiting for her reaction. I have never heard of anyone wearing black to her wedding, particularly in the case of a first marriage.

  Soheila stares into the distance for a moment before starting to nod her head. “A black wedding dress. Yes. Yes, I think this is a good idea. It will be striking, but nontraditional.”


  “Then we shall take your measurements now,” she says.

  My mother launches straight into negotiation mode. “But you’d look so beautiful in a white dress. I’ve always pictured you getting married in a pristine white strapless dress with a long train and intricate beading on the bodice.” I’m home to address wedding invitations and to pick up the Cadillac. Every time we spoke on the phone for the past month, I changed the subject when she asked about the dress. I purposefully didn’t tell her specifics about it until today, since it’s now too late to make changes. She is less than enthused with my choice.

  “Not one bit of what you just said is appealing or would look good on me,” I reply. I use my feet to push off the side of the pool and I paddle my raft toward the sunny part of the deep end. With less than two months to go, I’m coated in SPF 0 oil, fully committing myself to tanorexia. I might not be skinny on my wedding day, so I’ll compensate by being dark.

  “What if you had the dress made in white for the ceremony and wore the black one for the reception?” she suggests, swimming right along behind me.

  “How many times do we have to go over this? I already told you I’m wearing the black dress. I want nontraditional,” I argue. Except for wardrobe, my mother has been delightfully hands-off in regard to wedding choices. Her only suggestion involved the invitations. I thought something Vegasy would be appropriate, but both Mom and the stationer convinced me otherwise. I ended up selecting a thick cream William Arthur card with flaps that fold open like doors to expose embossed vellum over a painting of a topiary. The invitation ties together with a green tulle ribbon and comes with a green parchment-lined envelope. They are truly stunning.90

  “But I’ll pay for both dresses.”

  “Which is exceptionally generous of you,” I reply. “Although it’s a waste of a thousand dollars. With that money, I’d rather keep the bar open for an extra hour or give each of the guests a gift basket. Remember, you’re the one who says a wedding is as much about the guests as it is about the couple.”

  “Jennifer, don’t worry about the money. We can extend the reception time and get the second dress if you want.”

  I peer at her over the edge of my raft. “Who are you and what have you done with my mother?” I ask. Having grown up struggling, Mom’s always kept a tight grip on her cash. This woman would rather die than pay retail.

  “All I want is for you to have a wonderful wedding,” she huffs. “Is that so wrong?”

  “No, Mom. It’s a lovely thought, and I’m very thankful for your offer, but having to change dresses midstream will be nothing but a hassle, so it’s not happening.”

  “What about wearing that green color you like so much? Or maybe pink? Why does it have to be black?” she badgers.

  “Because I like and look good in black. What’s nice is I’ll actually be able to eat, drink, and circulate at the reception without worrying about someone spilling a tropical drink on my white dress. My outfit will be pretty and functional, so I know I’ll be comfortable. Besides, I’ve always wanted a fancy black cocktail dress, and this gown is something I can wear again.”

  She snorts. “To my funeral, maybe.”

  “Mom, let it go. You were the one who allowed a saleslady to talk you into a wedding dress you didn’t like. You said every time you see your wedding photos, you get mad. You’ve held a grudge against Priscilla’s of Boston for the past forty years. That’s not going to happen with me. The black dress is what I’m getting, and it’s not going to change.”

  “I just want you to be happy,” she says, creeping dangerously close to the border of the Maternal Martyr Zone.

  “And I am, so thank you again. I couldn’t have done any of this without you. Oh, I almost forgot—I didn’t tell you about the shoes I bought.”

  “Did you get the open-toe sandals I suggested?”

  “No, they were too high and the straps bit into my ankles. I got a really cute pair of Enzos with a heel style I’ve never seen before. There’s a small notch taken out of the back of them, but they’re still sturdy enough that they won’t hurt, and they make my legs look great.”



  “You didn’t get black shoes? But what else could you wear with a black dress?”

  “Well, they were on sale, which should make you happy. As for color, they’re…well, they’re actually leopard print and…” My mother suddenly disappears. “Mom? Mom? Mother, where are you? Mom! MOM! It’s just a pair of shoes. STOP TRYING TO DROWN YOURSELF!”

  “Do you have any regrets that we aren’t inviting any of your family to the wedding?” I ask Fletch.

  “Jen, what have I told you about attacking me with conversation the second I come in?” Fletch stows his computer bag in the front hall closet and enters the kitchen.

  “I’m sorry. I forgot. Anyway, are you sad that we aren’t having any of your people at the wedding?”

  Fletch grabs a cold Miller High Life out of the fridge and joins me in the living area, where I’m working on guest lists. “Not one bit. All my friends are coming, and they feel more like family than my sister or mother ever did. We’d have to seat them at their very own table to accommodate all the crazy they’d bring.”

  “I know, but I want to make doubly sure you’re OK with it. I can call your mom and apologize if I have to.” Perhaps telling his mother the last time we spoke that it’s taken me years to undo all the damage she caused wasn’t my most diplomatic course of action. (Mentioning to his sister there was nothing wrong with her a little Haldol91 couldn’t cure didn’t make me popular, either.)

  “Do that and I won’t marry you. Think about it, Jen. My mother spent her whole life sitting idly by, allowing my father to make me believe I was worthless and I’d never amount to anything.” Fletch stands and begins to pace across the floor. Whenever we discuss his lousy family, he gets agitated.

  “For the longest time, I didn’t realize her inaction was just as damaging as my dad’s abuse. Although the Army taught me I had potential, you were the first person who truly believed in me. You were the one who convinced me anything was possible. If I hadn’t met you, I’d have taken my telecom degree and gotten a job as a $10/hour technician in some small, shitty radio station in Nowhere, Indiana.”

  “Oh, come on. You’re the second-smartest person I know.92 You’d have become successful without me.” Seriously? He can do long division. IN HIS HEAD!

nbsp; “No, I’d never have achieved all that I have if I didn’t have you beside me. So for her to say, ‘You can do better,’ the day I call to tell her we’re getting married, especially as kind as you’d been to her? No way. Unconscionable. Unforgivable. If you hadn’t grabbed the phone out of my hand and said all those things, I would have done so myself.”

  “So you don’t mind if I put big black X’s through their names on the guest list? I’m using a marker, so it’s permanent.”

  “Strike away. They were toxic, and I’m glad they’re out of my life.”

  I stow my guest lists and sit on the ottoman across from him. “What kind of day did you have?”

  “Better than usual. Clark’s been out of the office. He didn’t mention why he’d be gone, but Ernesto told me it’s because the sexual harassment charge against him is finally going to court.”

  “Cool. Can he go to jail because of it?”

  “No, Jen, it’s civil court, not criminal.”

  “What’s the difference?”

  “Do you really want to know?

  “Not really.” Blunt honestly is the cornerstone of our relationship.

  “And how did your day go?”

  “Fan-fucking-tastic. You’ll love this—I got dinged for the dog-walking job Marta at the park referred me for. The owner said although he respected my credentials, he needed someone who was more ‘responsible.’ Then when I called that media company, they told me they were moving in a different direction. I tried to press them by asking, ‘What direction might that be?’ and the girl got all shitty and said, ‘Not yours.’”

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