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Bitter is the new black, p.24
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       Bitter is the New Black, p.24

           Jen Lancaster
 

  One of us has to find a well-paying job soon because we simply CANNOT stay here.

  Since our neighborhood doesn’t have an official name, we’ve settled on “Sucktown.” We’ve been in Sucktown three weeks and we’ve yet to meet any of the building’s other tenants. I’m pretty sure I won’t like them. Bill’s going to have to paint lines in the parking lot because none of the residents can figure out how to park their cars on an angle without a guide, so half the time we’re stuck leaving the Caddy on the street, which is SO not acceptable.

  I’m particularly concerned about the people downstairs. They have tapestries on their windows and Grateful Dead stickers on their door, so I fear they may be hippies. Plus they crank up their music every time our dogs trot across the floor, so I wonder if their ceiling isn’t properly soundproofed. What am I supposed to do, crate them like veal? Dogs run sometimes; deal with it. Ya lives on the first floor, ya takes your chances, you know?

  The dogs and I are thundering down the stairs for our evening constitutional when I finally bump into Hippie #1. We introduce ourselves and make inane small talk, which has nothing to do with what we’re both thinking.

  “Hi, Bobby, I’m Jen. It’s a pleasure finally to meet you!” So you’re the jackass who pays half the rent I do and yet still hogs up my parking space.

  Bobby gives me an insincere, fishy handshake. “Nice to meet you, too. How do you like living here?” Jesus Christ, do you people keep a herd of water buffalo up there? What’s with the noise?

  “It’s great, thanks. Oh, this is Maisy and Loki. We’ve really been trying to keep them quiet. Hope they don’t bother you!” HA, HA, HA, MOTHERFUCKER! Keep parking in my space and SEE how much louder we can be.

  “Oh, no problem, we love dogs.” You enjoy that loooong walk back to the house from your parking space down the street? Why don’t you bring the noise level down a couple of thousand decibels and maybe I’ll move my car?

  “What do you do for a living?” What kind of job allows you to smoke so much pot that I get a contact buzz every time I walk into my den?147

  “I’m a bartender and my girlfriend, Holly, is a poet.” Did I mention that we hate yuppie scum like you?

  I guess Holly’s unemployed, too? While reining in the dogs to go outside, I say, “I guess they’re ready to go. See you later!” Hope you like show tunes ’cause I’m buying tap shoes.

  “Nice to finally meet you!” Vengeance is mine, sayeth the downstairs neighbor. When he opens his door, I catch a glimpse of the six-foot bong in his living room. Nice.

  The dogs and I wend our way down the street and, because another dog is coming toward us, veer off to walk by the tenement. As we pass, a flock of birds scatters. I look down to inspect this evening’s treat and see they were gathered around a pile of chicken bones, which means…the birds in this neighborhood are cannibals!!

  Seriously, that’s it. We can’t stay here.

  It’s time for drastic measures.

  * * *

  To: Sandy Case

  From: [email protected]

  Date: March 8, 2003

  Subject: Senior Account Manager

  Sandy,

  I see that Birchton & Co. is looking for a new Senior Account Manager. If you recall, I was set to interview for this exact job on 9/11/01. When weighing the events of the day, I chose to cancel our appointment rather than risk the unknown by going downtown.

  Because of the cancellation, you decided against giving me another shot at an interview. A year and a half later, I look back on that day and am confident I made the right choice. I took the most sensible, prudent action I could based on the information I had at the time. I stand behind my decision.

  Now you’re faced with a choice, Sandy. You can simply delete the email from the pushy girl, or you can interview the woman who’ll make the same kind of discerning and savvy judgment calls when it comes to your clients.

  Should you choose the latter, I can be reached at the contact information below.

  Best,

  Jennifer A. Lancaster

  ***

  * * *

  Holy shit, I got the interview.

  “How’d it go?” Fletch asks from his spot on the couch. Next to him are a pile of mini candy bar wrappers and half a glass of bourbon. I swear I don’t know how Adult Protective Services has not yet intervened in our lives.

  “Pretty well, I think. Sandy wants me to come back later in the week to talk to another one of the partners.” I toss my briefcase onto the kitchen table and flop into the chair next to the television. “At one point, though, I knocked her socks off. Literally, I’m talking socks FLYING across the room.”

  “What was the question?”

  “The usual ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ foolishness. What Sandy doesn’t know is that I just finished reading an article by Peter Drucker in the Harvard Business Review on Managing Your Career.148 Instead of giving the road map of career progression from point A to B to C like everyone else does, I totally took Drucker’s words out of context and said, ‘It’s rarely possible to look ahead more than eighteen months and still be reasonably clear and realistic. Instead, I choose to focus on where and how I can achieve results that will make a difference in my present position within a year and a half time frame. After that, I’d be open to whatever change and growth these results presented.’ I’m telling you, she sat there with her mouth hanging open before she finally said, ‘That’s the most articulate answer I’ve ever gotten to that question.’”

  “She have any idea how full of shit you are?”

  “Not yet. So what’s been happening around here?” I eye his cocktail. “Are you celebrating something?”

  “I am. I got a call from that ISP, and they want to fly me out to New York for a second interview.”

  “That’s fantastic!! When?”

  “Probably Friday.”

  “How great would that be if we both got offers in the next week? We could be out of Sucktown and back in a normal neighborhood before summer.”

  “Amen. I just hope we’re gone before one of the members of the Russian Army dies on the job site.”

  Oy. The Russian Army. Not the real one, mind you. We’re talking about the ones next door doing construction. Actually, I think they’re Polish, but Fletch says he’s heard them speaking Russian. We’ve taken to calling them the Russian Army for simplification purposes because we discuss them A LOT.

  The Army is building an $800,000 home next door to us, which will be nice. This neighborhood needs to be gentrified, like, yesterday, and expensive real estate will help. However, I’m not sure we’re going to survive the building process, as I’m concerned this may be their first job ever.

  I’ve always lived in city neighborhoods on the rise149 so I’ve seen an awful lot of construction in my time, but I’ve never witnessed a project like this one. First off, no one wears hard hats—unfortunate because they drop stuff ALL THE TIME. Bricks, beams, pallets, you name it, it comes crashing down with frightening regularity.

  Last week I had to put my hood up when walking down the breezeway to my mailbox. Their welding created a virtual blizzard of falling sparks. And when I got to the front of the house I noticed my LAWN WAS ON FIRE. Later, I smelled singed hair and saw their foreman yelling and hopping around, clutching the back of his head. Call me a jerk, but when I spied his bald spot, I laughed out loud.

  They aren’t using a Dumpster, instead choosing to stuff construction debris in all the neighbors’ garbage cans up and down the alley. Since the cans are full, the other residents are simply throwing their trash on the ground, and it’s a virtual rodent fiesta!

  “I think one of them lost a finger today,” Fletch tells me. “I half expected to see a rat run off with it in his mouth.”

  “Serves them right. I’m still mad about the phone.” Recently we lost phone service, coincidentally right after they bumped into the pole with their big machine with the shovel on the front of it. I heard the noise and wen
t outside to inspect the damage and saw a ton of loose wires hanging from said pole. The one guy who can speak English on the crew swore they had nothing to do with it.

  I, um, politely disagreed.

  Let’s just say after I mentioned the Department of Naturalization and Immigration, he suddenly remembered the accident and got it fixed. What’s nice is I now know how to say Bitchy Fat Girl in Russian.

  Or possibly Polish.

  Weblog Entry 3/10/03150

  IT’S ALL GREEK TO ME

  Did you know that Lifetime has a separate movie network now? I made this happy discovery when our satellite dish was installed at our new house. I’d always figured that Lifetime was a repository for Tori Spelling movies151 but had no idea how many of today’s most sought-after actresses got their start here. Presently they’re running a Road to Fame series featuring B movies with A-list talent. Although I missed the Gwyneth Paltrow/Robert Urich opus, I caught Dying to Belong, starring Hilary Swank.

  I was not disappointed!

  In the movie, Hilary is a college freshman who goes through sorority rush with her nerdy, wannabe roommate Jenna Von Oy.152 They pledge Pi Gamma Beta and thus the drama began and anything resembling reality ended.

  Seriously? I laughed my ass off.

  I have rushed, pledged, and held leadership positions within a sorority, so I’m intimately familiar with collegiate Greek systems. It was painfully obvious to me that the writer/director/producer of this masterpiece couldn’t say the same. They took every bit of negative, stereotypical anecdotal evidence and smushed it together to make this movie.153 Anyway, the gist of the movie is that Six dies during a hazing incident and all the sisters clam up in the Pan-Hellenic version of omerta to protect Pi Gamma.

  Yeah, right.

  I pledged to protect my sorority’s rituals to the grave, too. But I have to tell you the minute I had a couple of drinks in me, I was comparing handshakes and secret knocks with the rest of my Greek buddies. The stuff that seemed so solemn when whispered by candlelight was

  HILARIOUS after ten Miller Lites. So I guarantee these sorority girls would have thrown the guilty party under the bus the second the cops started to question them.

  If you want a real picture of what life in the Greek system is like, check out MTV’s Sorority Life. I watched this program over the summer and found the cattiness, the bullshit, and the liability discussions so much like my own experience that I sweated for a minute over whether I’d gotten all the signatures on my pledge paddle.

  Point? The real “secret” of these secret societies is why we joined them. It wasn’t for sisterhood or ritual or lifetime commitment or the privilege of sharing a bathroom with 87 other girls. The secret is…

  …we joined them to meet boys.

  “Good morning! Are you in?” Fletch greets me from his station on the couch. He’s parked in front of The Price Is Right.

  “I still don’t know.” I’m back from a breakfast meeting with Chris Birchton. I’ve had four more interviews with the company, bringing me to a total of six so far. I’ve met three vice presidents, two partners, and today, a founder. “I mean, yes, I’m dying to work for these guys. I know their client base, I love their approach to doing business, and I’m so impressed with their integrity. Every person I meet makes me want this job more. I’m just not sure how I did today.”

  “How come?”

  “The founder was walleyed. I tried to maintain eye contact, but I didn’t know which one to look at—they were kind of all over the place.”

  “They won’t hold that against you.”

  “I guess. We talked about compensation today and he hinted about making an offer, so that’s a good indicator. And how about you? Anything happen while I was gone?”

  It’s been two weeks since Fletch’s trip to New York. While he was out there, he met the entire executive board of the company. They treated him to a swanky lunch at a private club and pretty much fawned all over him. With the battering his ego’s taken lately, I’m glad an employer finally recognized what an asset he’d be.

  After he made the rounds, the recruiter told Fletch they were going to hire him and to expect an offer letter any day now. Normally this would be cause for great celebration, but the whole situation strikes me as a little off. The recruiter didn’t tell him any terms, like salary, benefits, or start date. If you’re going to make an offer, you make the offer and then back it up with a letter, you know?

  “I called them and they said everything was proceeding as planned. I definitely have the job, although they’re still checking references.” Fletch shrugs and returns his attention to Bob Barker.

  “Wait a minute. It’s been four days. What do they need to know that they can’t find out in four days’ time? You should have them talk to me; I can tell them whatever they want. Not only am I married to you, but I met you at work, so I know your work ethic. It’s good.”

  “Thanks, but I don’t think so.”

  “Why not? I’d be totally honest. I’d tell ’em your drawbacks, too. Your taste in music sucks, you have an obsession with keeping your car clean, and you still haven’t unpacked the boxes in the den. On the upside, you’re a snappy dresser, you’re smart, and you always pick up the lunch tab. What’s not to like?”

  “When you put it like that, I’m a shoo-in. By the way, Courtney called. She and Brett are having dinner tonight and she wants us to join them for a drink afterward.”

  “Can we afford it?”

  “We’ll manage. After all, we’re both about a week away from starting work, right?”

  Wheeeee!!! Drunkieee like a Monkeees! Courtnneee and Bretttt are cuttttte. KISSY KISSY. And stoooopid, stoooopid Kathleen is beeeingg meeeeannn to Court!! I tolle you she’s BAAAAADDD. I talllked and taaalked about Birchycompany and saidddd it was GGGGRRRRRReeat! Court saysss Brichtooom LURVES me and I haaaaavve a jooooobbb! Wooo hooo! Ricccchhh aaaagaiiin!!

  “Hey, sweetie, guess what,” I call, walking in the back door. “It must be Take Your Child to a Dangerous Construction Site Day! There’s a ton of little kids crawling all over the haphazardly stacked pallets of bricks and Mount Garbage. I’m going to stand on the porch with the cordless phone so I can call nine one one when one of them gets flattened like Wile E. Coyote. Fletch, you’ve got to see this!” Silence. “Fletch? You here?” More silence. “Honey, where are you?”

  I walk up the stairs and find Fletch sprawled facedown on the bed. “Fletch? What’s up?”

  Face in his pillow, he mumbles, “I didn’t get the job.”

  “WHAT? How can that be? What happened? Did you get a bad reference?”

  “No, the recruiter said my references were great. They said an internal candidate came up late last week, so they gave the job to him.”

  “No! They can’t do that! They can’t tell someone they have a job and then NOT GIVE IT TO HIM. They can’t! I don’t know if it’s illegal, but it’s totally unethical.”

  “They did it anyway.”

  “But why are you just lying there? Why aren’t you up in arms? This is infuriating! Why aren’t you mad?”

  “I give up.”

  “You can’t just give up. What does that mean, anyway? You give up?”

  “I’m tired of fighting.”

  “But this is bullshit. Can’t you sue them or something?”

  “They never gave me anything in writing.”

  “Honey, if this is a joke, I’d sure appreciate it if you’d spring the punch line on me now. Really, you got a six-figure salary and an office, right? Right? Fletch? Right??”

  Fletch looks at me like he’s carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. “It’s no joke.”

  “What if you’d quit a job contingent on them making an offer? What if we planned to move because they said they were hiring you? They simply cannot do this.”

  “Jen, it’s done. I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Just leave me alone so I can take a nap.”

  “Those motherfucking weasels. I want revenge.


  “Jen, let it go. It’s over. It doesn’t matter.” He pulls the covers up to his ears and turns to face the wall. I try to hug him but he pulls away.

  I head downstairs to pace and plot. After practically wearing a path across the floor, I realize there’s nothing I can do to settle the score that isn’t dangerous and illegal. I lie down on the couch, take off my glasses, and have a cathartic cry.

  I’m not sure how much more stress I can take. My stomach is constantly in knots over our financial situation and I hate all this uncertainty. I’m filled with regret over my old lifestyle. Why did I make such bad choices? Why didn’t I listen to my dad when he said the bubble was going to burst? Why didn’t I acquiesce to my mother’s pleas to sock away 15 percent of my paycheck each week? What, exactly, led me to believe I was invincible? Why didn’t I follow my brother’s advice to buy a cheaper place somewhere less fashionable instead of pissing an ocean of money away on a trendy rental?

  How come I never realized that my compensation was a fluke and I had no right making the money I did with the experience I had? I used to base my self-worth on what I did and how I lived, but now that times are different, I’ve propped myself up by being proud of my abilities. But what if I’m really not as smart and competent as I thought? Then what? The tears come hard and fast.

  Loki wedges his way in next to me, and Maisy positions herself next to the couch, munching on a bone. I bury my face in the ruff of Loki’s neck and allow the self-pity to wash over me.

  I hate feeling sorry for myself. In the scope of things, I’ve been pretty fortunate and this self-pity is weak and contemptible. I force myself to stop crying and decide to go to the gas station for a Dolly Madison fruit pie. There’s almost nothing sweetened apples and frosty pie crust can’t make better. I reach for my glasses and they’re not where I left them. On my hands and knees, I look for them under the couch but they’re gone.

 
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