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Bitter is the new black, p.16
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       Bitter is the New Black, p.16

           Jen Lancaster

  “Heh. Sorry about that, though. I know you’re trying.”

  “Well, I hope we get a lot of cash for wedding presents because it doesn’t seem like I’m going to get a job anytime soon.”

  I’m at the Dress Doctor for our weekly fitting. Soheila has constructed my entire wedding gown out of muslin first to get the size exactly right. Once we have the perfect fit, she’ll cut apart the cheap fabric and use it as a pattern for the lush black dupioni we’ve chosen for the actual dress.

  It’s about 90 degrees outside and I happily shed my sticky street clothes. I stand in the dressing room in my underwear for a couple of minutes to cool down. Finally chilled, I strip out of my regular bra and put on my special wedding foundation garments. The last time I was here, Sohelia pointed at my bustline, grabbed my bra straps, and said, “These? Need to be up here,” while yanking everything skyward. The new bra she had me buy makes me look like the prow of a ship, and I can practically rest my chin on my own rack. However, Soheila’s been right about everything so far, and I trust her implicitly. If she says I need to wear a steel-plated bra, so be it. She hands me the bleached muslin dress, and I slip into it.

  When I exit, Sohelia makes the final adjustments before leading me over to the three-way mirror. I step up on the platform and give myself a once-over, and I don’t notice my messy ponytail or smeared mascara.

  I gasp, “I look like a real bride!”

  Sohelia grins a quiet smile. “You are a real bride, my friend.”

  “I mean, I knew the fit would be great, but I didn’t realize the muslin would be so pretty. It’s almost a shame you have to cut it up.”

  “You will love the finished product. The black will take your breath away.”

  “It will if it’s even half as nice as this.” I admire myself for a minute, twirling and inspecting the gown from all angles. I bend and stretch, and holding an imaginary bouquet, I do the retarded step-together, step-together walk I vowed would not take place on my wedding day. “Soheila, do me a favor?”

  “Of course.”

  “Promise if she calls again you won’t tell my mother how nice the dress looked in white.”

  I’m getting married in a week and am still technically not engaged. Surely Fletch didn’t forget about getting my diamond set, right? He’s been really bogged down with work lately because his charming boss thought it would be a good idea to start sending Fletch to Milwaukee three days a week. Although it’s a two-hour commute each way, Clark expects Fletch to be in the Milwaukee office during business hours, so he’s gone from six a.m. to eight p.m. on those days.93

  Fortunately, Fletch is on vacation for the next two and a half weeks, so hopefully he can finally unclench. He was all weird and hyper earlier and gave me the third degree about where I was going. I told him I was getting my hair colored this afternoon, and I’d be back before dinner, and to kindly chill the hell out. He’s normally such a rock that when he gets tense it impacts not only me but also the cats and dogs. Tucker kept nuzzling Fletch’s ankles and Loki pranced and whined.

  I’m at the bottom of the half flight of stairs leading to my apartment when Maisy’s head appears at the door. She’s got something pink by her mouth and my heart practically stops because I think it’s a Kate Spade sandal. Lately Fletch leaves the house in such a daze that he sometimes forgets to shut the closet door. While I sleep, Maisy engages in a leather-goods holocaust. I’m down three purses, one piece of luggage, four of my most expensive pairs of shoes, and even though they weren’t leather, my Gucci sunglasses. When we bought Bitter Apple antichew spray, Maisy simply ate the bottle.94

  I leap up five steps and burst into the house. “Oh, no, Maisy, what have you done now?” I yelp, leaning over to survey the damage. But Maisy doesn’t have a shoe. Instead, she has a piece of pink paper tied around her neck with a plaid ribbon, and in blocky, backward script it says, DeAr MuMMy, PleeAzE mArrY my DadDY…

  “Fletch, Fletch, where are you? What’s going on?” I call. Loki comes trotting over and he’s also wearing a note. I bend down to read it: …becuZ I DoN’T wanNa B a bAStard 4ever.

  It takes me a minute to figure out what just happened.

  How cute is this? We have a proposal! I’m really engaged now! Yay! Except I seem to be missing a fiancé.

  And a ring.

  Where is the ring?

  I look at Maisy again and I notice her ribbon is wet and frayed, like she’s been chewing on it. Please, God, tell me I’m not going to have to wait twelve to fourteen hours to see my engagement ring. It’s bad enough watching bits of my favorite accessories shoot out her backside. Are we going to have to hover over her, rooting through her poop to make everything official?

  “Fletch, WHERE ARE YOU?” I hear a telltale flush and Fletch exits the bathroom looking sheepish.

  “You’re early. I wasn’t supposed to be in the bathroom when you got back.”

  “Rory only did a partial highlight, which takes less time.”

  “I guess you saw the notes?”

  “I did, and my answer is yes.”

  “I sort of assumed you’d say that, what with our leaving for Vegas in two days and all.” Fletch notices I’m not cheering and dancing around like he expected. “Jen, aren’t you happy? You said you wanted a surprise and you got it. What’s with the giant puss on your face?”

  My chin begins to quiver. “I was happy until I realized Maisy ate my ring.”

  “No, she didn’t.”

  “Yes, she did—look!” I show him the tattered ribbon.

  “No, she didn’t,” he says gently. He pulls me toward him. “She didn’t eat your ring. She tried, but she didn’t get it. See?” From his pocket, he pulls out a small velvet pouch and shakes out the contents. A band of white-and-yellow gold with my Nanny’s lovely round diamond channel-set in the center sparkles in his palm. I snatch it right up. It’s not what I expected yet it’s exactly my style.

  “How did you know what I like when I only ever talked about big, fat square stones and multiple baguettes? Did one of my friends help you shop?”

  “No, I found it on my own. I saw hundreds of settings, but this one looked the most like you, so that’s the one I chose. Now would you like some champagne so we can toast properly?”

  “We don’t have any. I think we’ve just got that one sticky bottle of Baileys at the back of the fridge left over from Christmas.”

  “Jen, we have champagne.” He lifts a bottle of Moët & Chandon out of an ice bucket in the freezer.

  “It’s my favorite kind!” I exclaim.

  Diamonds and champagne? I should get married more often.

  After a long, hot, stressful week, we’re finally in Vegas. My parents, Fletch, and I came out on the same flight, although we weren’t seated together. Fortunately when we checked in at the gate, an exceptionally sensitive airline employee heard our conversation, noticed the addition of crazy about mother’s eyes, and placed us at opposite ends of the plane.95

  You see, the previous evening, my mom morphed from a licensed professional therapist with a master’s degree and widely varied interests into some sort of horrific, bat-shit-crazy Japanese anime character named Momzilla. The minute she Velcroed herself to me in the car on the way to the airport, second-guessing every single one of my carefully detailed wedding plans, I knew I was in trouble.

  “Mom, what is the matter with you? Why are you so stressed?” I asked.

  “There are just so many details to manage,” she replied, her foot tapping out one hundred beats per minute while she clutched my hand.

  “Yes, and I’ve already managed them. What do you think I was doing all summer with your credit card? This week has been orchestrated to a T. I told you not to worry about the details. It will be perfect, so please just sit back and enjoy it. All the hard work is done.”

  “What about the flowers? You haven’t even seen them. How do you know they’re going to look good at the reception?” she fretted.

  “Mom, I appreciate your
concern, but it’s unnecessary. The florist told me she does events at Rum Jungle every single week and we discussed the arrangements at length. Between the orchids, birds of paradise, gardenias, and ginger blossoms, they’ll look and smell exquisite.”

  “The first thing we have to do once we get there is to check out the reception site. I want to make sure I like where they put us. What if they place us by the fire pit? It will feel like sitting in a greasy garage. Also, we must make place cards.”

  “Again, Mom, I’ve worked with the manager at length. Everything is confirmed, and it’s going to be great. And I’ve told you a dozen times, seating charts and caged go-go dancers DO NOT GO TOGETHER. I want casual and informal. Place cards will go against the whole ‘bucking tradition’ theme of the wedding.”

  “What if the service is bad? My sisters will never let me hear the end of it.” With eight children in the family, most of my mother’s siblings have been locked in a lifelong competition with one another. Usually my mother doesn’t play along, but she’s finally thrown her hat in the ring with this event.

  “First of all, it’s Vegas and there’s no such thing as bad service. Second, I actually spoke to the waiters working our event, and they were really enthusiastic. Stop obsessing, please.”

  “What about your dress? Are you sure you packed it? And how are you going to get it pressed the day of the ceremony?”96

  “Mom, we’re going to Las Vegas. They have EVERYTHING there, OK? I could call the concierge and request a crack pipe and a thirteen-year-old male prostitute, and both would be delivered to the room within the hour. Getting help ironing my dress will not pose a problem.”


  “Mom, I’m using hyperbole. You HAVE to lighten up.”

  “What about your hair and your makeup?”

  “Have you even looked at the itinerary I prepared for you? Our salon appointments start at noon on the day of the wedding. I booked them two months ago at Robert Cromeans. It’s one of the best salons in the country.” My mother had clenched fists and a line of perspiration over her top lip. “When I booked our appointments, I told them the time of the wedding, and we spaced out our services accordingly. Remember, they have brides in there every day, and they know what they’re doing.”

  This news did not seem to soothe her. I continued. “Mom, please, please, please calm down. You’re going to make me nervous.”

  “There are just so many details,” she repeated.

  “Yes, I KNOW. And I took care of ALL OF THEM. As I see it, you have a choice. You can travel back in time and actually become involved in the planning process instead of having me do everything, or you can simply have faith in me and trust my level of competence.” At this point, we reached the airline’s check-in desk. Slyly the attendant raised her left hand at me and gestured to her own engagement ring. We exchanged a quick flash of understanding—with one glance, she appreciated my valiant fight in the Battle for Black, and I immediately recognized the loss she suffered in the Great Salmon Debacle. Without uttering a word, she assigned us separate seats.

  On the bright side, for once I wasn’t worried about terrorists commandeering the plane. If Al Qaeda attempted to disrupt our scheduled flight path, I was confident Momzilla would swat any hijackers down like flies.

  Fletch and I sit back by the galley, and another nice flight attendant keeps us in free Bloody Marys the whole way. She even situates the drinks cart between us and the aisle so my mother can’t get to us. By the time we hit the tarmac, my Mom-induced tension has melted away.97

  We meet up in baggage claim, and my father is completely frazzled, unusual because he used to defuse land mines in Korea because of his unwavering calm. But denied the opportunity to obsess at me, Momzilla turned her attention to Big Daddy. They bickered for three and a half hours about the twenty pounds of chocolate coins we special-ordered as guest favors.98 Dad didn’t see why he wasn’t allowed to check the coins, and Momzilla couldn’t understand why a man with crippling arthritis in his shoulders couldn’t just carry the candy and be quiet about it already. Momzilla would have carried them herself, if she hadn’t insisted on transporting my dress.

  Their underlying tension begins to affect Fletch, and my lovely calm evaporates. I’m forced to throw down the Bride Card and I demand détente. Under a tentative truce, we make our way out to the limousine. Our driver greets us warmly and starts grabbing our luggage, although my mother refuses to turn over the bag of coins.

  “So how is everyone today?” he asks.

  “Sick of talking about goddamned chocolate,” mutters Dad.

  “Contemplating homicide.” Mom glares in Dad’s direction.

  “Not nearly drunk enough,” Fletch responds.

  “We’re all great, thanks,” I say, shooting everyone the dirtiest of looks. The driver arranges our bags in the trunk while we climb in the limo. The second we’re seated, Mom begins to second-guess the dinner menu, Fletch whines about needing a martini, and Dad complains about poor Mr. Nixon staying all by himself in the kennel.

  And I? Have had enough.

  “People? GET IT TOGETHER. We’re here, OK? We’re about to see fifty of our closest friends and family, and we WILL have a good time. Why? Because every single detail has been thoroughly orchestrated and lovingly micromanaged by my own hand,” I shout. Gaining steam, I continue. “This wedding is going to be PERFECTION, so I do not want to hear one more word about chocolate or catering or flowers or anything else. As of right now, all the bitching and complaining stops. We are going to paste big, fat smiles on our faces, and we are going to be a happy, normal, functional family IF IT KILLS US. Nothing can go wrong because I have addressed every single possible contingency. So, please, everyone, cease and desist. It’s going to be great.” Everyone whispers timorous apologies, and I settle back with a triumphant smile on my face.

  “Where to?” the chauffeur asks as he slides into the front seat.

  “To Mandalay Bay, please,” I reply.

  “Should be a pretty wild weekend at Mandalay,” he says, as we merge onto Paradise Road.

  “Really,” I say magnanimously. Normally it annoys me to have a chatty driver, especially when I’m with other people, but I’m trying to demonstrate to my family what it means to be a good sport. “Why is that?” I ask, feigning interest.

  “That hotel always gets freaky this weekend.”

  “Because of the holiday, I assume.”

  “Partially, but mostly it’s because of the strippers and porn stars.”

  A confused silence emanates from the backseat.

  “You folks ARE aware the Adult Entertainment Expo is being held at your hotel, right?”

  My father spends the next three days hiding from my mother. And, coincidentally, as she’s barely left my side, Fletch also disappears. We catch glimpses of them occasionally in the hotel’s restaurants and bars, whooping it up with their friends who got here early. I’m glad the men are having a good time. My mother’s anxiety has reached dizzying new heights and we’ve squabbled nonstop about everything. (“Walking to Treasure Island will take an hour even if we do get on the people movers.” “No, it won’t.” “YES, IT WILL.” “Why aren’t you using sunscreen?” “I want to get really dark.” “You’ll get cancer.” “I’m sure heart disease will kill me first.” “Should you really be wasting all your money in the slot machines?” “It was $5 worth of nickels!”) Fortunately, my brother arrived last night, and even though he’s usually an ass, he helps defuse the situation. He and Mom are off somewhere right now. I don’t know or care what they’re doing because I am finally, blissfully alone.

  Because we’re on a budget and I haven’t gotten any presents yet, I can’t take advantage of my precious downtime by doing my usual Vegas activities. Denied the opportunity to shop and gamble, I’m working on my tan. I love it here because Mandalay Bay’s outside area is second to none. Scattered throughout the lush landscaping are scads of regular pools and hot tubs, although I pref
er to lie on the gigantic natural sand beach by the wave pool.

  However, I’m not having a good time today. Apparently I’m the only one poolside without an Anal Pirates II screen credit, and I am more than a little uncomfortable. I don’t mean to stare, but I can’t help it. Seriously, I’ve never seen so much plastic in my life! The sleeping gal to my right appears to be carrying flesh-colored watermelons under her eye patches, and on my left, the woman is wearing two thimbles attached by dental floss. Earlier, a gentleman smuggling a flotation device in his pants had a chat right next to me at eye level with Thimbleina regarding their most recent film. I feared one wrong move could put my eye out, so I didn’t hear everything they talked about, although I believe it included something called a “rim job.”99

  Strained from too much stimulus, I close my eyes and keep them closed until a large shadow passes over me. When I look up, instead of a seeing a puffy cumulus cloud, I spy a hairy, fat, yet somehow comfortingly familiar belly.

  “Hey, Peeg!” my brother calls cheerfully.

  “Todd! What are you doing here?” His plane got in so late last night, I’d already gone to bed and hadn’t yet seen him.

  “Gimme $20.”

  “For what?” My brother has plenty of money and wants for nothing. However, he takes great pleasure in attempting to squeeze cash out of me and has perfected his craft over the years.

  “I kept Mom out of your hair all morning, and I just sent her off to lunch with Auntie Virginia so you won’t see her until the rehearsal dinner tonight.” I told you he was good.

  “Done,” I reply, grabbing my beach bag. I give him my last $20 bill. “Thanks. I consider this money well spent.”

  Thimbleina offers Todd her chair because she’s off to her own lunch with the Astroglide people. I thank her, because, really, what else do you say? Todd eases into his chair with a Sports Illustrated, a Sporting News, a Baseball Digest, a Golf Magazine, today’s sports page, and a towel.

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