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Bitter is the new black, p.27
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       Bitter is the New Black, p.27

           Jen Lancaster

  I didn’t get the job and I still don’t have a job, nor does my wife, but I solved a problem that I know has been getting to you, Jen. Now we know why the idiots have all the jobs!!


  * * *

  * * *

  To: David

  From: [email protected]

  Date: June 13, 2003

  Subject: RE: Idiots with Jobs


  I am infuriated for you, although I can’t say I’m surprised. I hear this kind of story a lot lately. One of my doggie park buddies (ex-consulting firm employee) had an interview at Neiman Marcus and the interviewer didn’t see how her previous experience controlling work flow, communicating with the client, supervising employees, and managing time and budget had properly prepared her to ring up scarves, key rings, and pantyhose.

  It’s completely insane out there—try to stay strong,


  * * *

  * * *

  To: [email protected]

  From: Ickey

  Date: June 13, 2003

  Subject: get off ur fat ass

  Jen, seriously, do you put as much energy into looking for a gig as you do bitching about the whole world on your website and why they are not as cool as you? There is a good job waiting for you at Starbucks…I can feel it. BTW, stay away from the scones. It’s obvious you’ve already had enough.


  * * *

  * * *

  To: Ickey

  From: [email protected]

  Date: June 14, 2003

  Subject: RE: get off ur fat ass

  Ickey, this site is definitely not for you. And by ‘you’ I’m guessing you’re the kind of 25 year-old Advertising/PR flack who was always too hungover to listen when I came to your agency to present you with the tools you needed to better serve your clients and do your job.

  Now I may have your industry wrong, but I’m sure you’re employed as it’s obvious to me that you have NO FUCKING CLUE what it’s like to lose your job, your status, your lifestyle, and subsequently, your whole sense of self. You can’t fathom the humiliation of having to beg off visits to your parents’ house because you’re too ashamed to tell them your car was repossessed, nor can you understand what it’s like to live in the dark like a Pioneer for a week until you can pay your electric bill. If you could, you’d have never sent me this email.

  You’re probably also in the dark about my job search techniques and don’t know that I spend every morning reading every new job posting on every single search portal. Or that I spend a good hour each day making pitch calls to sales directors alerting them to my availability. Or that I’ve practically alienated all my friends and ex-colleagues by pestering them to see if they’ve heard of something…anything…

  As for the coffee shop career you suggested, don’t think for a minute that I haven’t tried to get one. I’ll work hard wherever I’m hired, just like I did when I worked my way through college. That’s right, I paid for much of my college education by waitressing and working retail.168 No one sent me off to school with a brand new Jetta and a credit card like I’m sure yours did. I’ve worked damn hard to earn every single thing that I have.

  But I digress.

  A while ago, I took the VP title off my resume and left off the part where I sold upwards of $10 million worth of goods and services for my employers. I figured if I dumbed-down my resume, maybe I wouldn’t look so overqualified. Although I don’t agree with the idea of censoring my accomplishments, I did it anyway. By so doing, it means that maybe, just maybe, I can secure a job serving coffee to slackers like you who squander their employers’ resources cruising Internet bulletin boards instead of doing the job they’re paid to do.

  BTW, Ickey, if I do land that coveted job at Starbucks, I assure you, I WILL spit in your latte.



  * * *

  My friend Katerina e-mailed me about a stunt a job-seeking nurse pulled in Sweden. She posted an ad stating she was ill-tempered and mean and probably wasn’t terribly compassionate, but she needed a job working as a home health aid anyway. After her ad ran, her phone wouldn’t stop ringing.

  Thusly inspired, I’ve taken out classified ads in both the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Reader. The following hits Wednesday: I am cautiously optimistic that something good will come of it. Then again, I am usually wrong.

  * * *


  Sarcastic ex–sorority girl seeks high-paying job in an idiot-free environment. Must allow employees to wear cute shoes. Interested? Contact [email protected]

  * * *

  I am cautiously optimistic that something good will come of it.

  Then again, I am usually wrong.

  Who knew so many foot fetishists read the Tribune?

  “Sweetie, wake up. It’s after one o’clock.” Fletch barely stirs. “Come up, wake up just for a minute. We need to talk about the dogs.”

  Fletch mumbles, “I’m listening.”

  “I already took them out this morning, and they should be fine for most of the day. Can you please walk them around four p.m.? They should be ready by then.”

  Fletch burrows deeper under the covers. “Where are you going?”

  “Don’t you remember? I’ve got another interview for the part-time receptionist position at that architecture firm.” Again, thank God for Shayla. She temped at this firm last summer, and they tried to get her back this summer. Instead, she referred them to me. I went for my first interview a couple of days ago, and I found out they received more than six hundred applications for the job. And while I was waiting for my interview, five people walked in looking for applications. One of them was a girl with a Burberry purse—when we made eye contact, we exchanged wry smiles. Welcome to the age of doing what you have to do.

  “Good luck.”

  “Thanks, hon. Don’t forget—dogs go out at four o’clock.”

  Although I manage to snow the office manager, the managing partner at the firm believes I’ll be bored by the job and tells me as much in the interview. I swear to him there’s nothing boring about paying my rent, but he doesn’t buy it. Deciding to make the most of my cute interview outfit, I hit up every retail outlet on Michigan Avenue for applications.

  It’s almost six forty-five when I get home, and the dogs greet me sheepishly at the door, tails tucked, ears pinned back. Someone pooped in the living room, and they’re both terribly upset about it. When I walk into the kitchen to grab paper towels, I notice another pile.

  “Guys, what happened? Didn’t you go outside?” I ask. “Fletch? Where are you? What time did you take the dogs out?”

  I walk up the stairs, and I find Fletch in the exact same spot I left him in. I shake him awake. “Fletch? Are you taking a nap?” I notice he’s still in his pajamas. “Honey? Did you even get out of bed today?”

  He lies there, staring at the wall. “No.”

  “Are you OK? Are you sick?”

  “I just don’t see any reason to get out of bed.”

  “Are you sad? Depressed? What are you feeling right now?”

  “Nothing. I don’t feel anything.” Fletch got like this to a lesser extent when we first started dating. I quickly convinced him that depression was no big thing. I explained that if he had diabetes, he’d take insulin. Since depression’s a disease, if he needed a drug to cure it, there’d be no stigma in taking it. I sent him off to the student health center for meds, and it was smooth sailing emotionally for years.

  “Isn’t your medicine working? Do you need a stronger dose?”

  “We can’t afford my pills and groceries. I made a choice and I chose to feed us.”

  “How long have you been off of them?”

  “A couple of months. I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to worry.”

  Fletch sacrificed his mental health to provide for mine.

  I do not deserve this man.

  It’s time I start shouldering some of
the emotional burdens around here. I don’t know how, but I’m going to find a way to fix everything.

  “Hi, I’m calling to find out if your hospital offers mental health services on a sliding scale….”

  “Yes, I’m looking for a low-to no-cost depression management program for my husband….”

  “So you’re not sure if your clinic is accepting pro bono patients? Can you check, please? It’s really important….”

  “I read about your experimental treatment program, and I want to find out if my husband is eligible to enroll…”

  “You guys are my last chance—can I get him into this program or not? Uh…OK, well, please don’t think me rude for saying it this way—but FIND A WAY TO MAKE IT HAPPEN.”

  OK, he’s in.

  Next up, find anything that will provide a paycheck. And until then, I’m practicing Microsoft Word tutorials.

  * * *

  To: Staffing Manager

  From: [email protected]

  Date: June 17, 2003

  Subject: Marketing Coordinator Posting on

  Dear Sir or Madam,

  Attached you will find my resume sent in con sideration for the open Marketing Coordinator position. And before you say it, please allow me…

  “This person is overqualified for this position.”

  Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let me explain why I’m an ideal candidate for the job. Since I was laid off from an executive position back in 2001, I worked a variety of temp assignments while searching for a ‘real’ job.169 I’ve built my office skills and I can answer phones, collate, and plan executive travel with the best of them. Taking these assignments170 has instilled a sense of humility I’d previously been lacking and now I’m certainly not above fetching your lunch or dry cleaning. The added bonus for your organization is that in a pinch I can also manage your ad campaigns, write your press releases, and target new clients. But you’re still probably thinking…

  “She’s going to split the second she finds something better. She already alluded to getting a ‘real’ job.”

  Not true. My priorities have changed since I was laid off. Now my goal is to get my writing published, not to pursue the kind of career I used to have. I’m looking for a position that will allow me to leave my job at the office at the end of the day so that I can go home and write.

  “We’ll never be able to afford her.”

  Try me. You might be surprised to find out exactly how cheap I am.


  Jennifer A. Lancaster

  * * *

  “Gah, what am I supposed to wear to this thing?” I am rushing frantically around our bedroom, trying to decide what to put on for my interview. By the time the hiring manager received my note, she’d already found a full-time person for the marketing job, but she liked what I wrote so much that she wants to talk to me about a three-week temp assignment. If I got it, I’d bring home about $1500 total, which means we could cover July’s rent!

  Fletch sits on the end of the bed, watching me. He was actually up and out of the house with the dogs by nine thirty a.m. His meds have regulated and every day he seems a little more like himself. Last night, stone sober, he actually laughed out loud at the scene on The Family Guy where Peter Griffin turns his house into a huge puppet. I’ve never heard a more beautiful sound.

  “What’s wrong with what you’ve got on right now?” he asks, completely deadpan. I’m wearing a towel turban, a ratty old bra, and a cutoff pair of sweatpants. I paw through my antiquated wardrobe and settle on a summer dress and lightweight cotton jacket.

  I throw on my makeup and dry my hair. “Hey, Fletch, do you have any girly-smelling cologne?”

  “Um, no. Why do you ask?”

  “I’m completely out of perfume and this jacket reeks of mothballs. I need something to mask the scent.” I throw open all the bathroom drawers and paw through my old accessory cases, hoping to stumble across one of those free miniperfume vials that clerks used to toss in my bag when I’d buy my J’Adore Dior. I’ve got none, and I mentally kick myself for throwing them all away in a fit of undying love for my signature scent. And I don’t have any fashion magazines, so I can’t even rub a scented sample page across myself.

  In a flash of inspiration, I pull open the pantry door and begin searching. I remember reading once vanilla extract could double as perfume. Aha! Here it is! I splash it all over myself and for good measure, run a fingerful of Crisco across my lips to compensate for being out of gloss.171

  “Well, how do I look?” I go back upstairs and twirl for Fletch.

  “You look nice.” After I hug him, he has a puzzled look on his face. “But why do you smell like cupcakes?”

  It’s the first day of my temp assignment. Earlier, I found myself waiting at the bus stop, grinning like a Miss America contestant at the prospect of going to an actual JOB. (With my big, sun-bleached hair, savage tan, oily pink lips, and pastel outfit, I looked more like Barbie’s older, fatter sister, but still, having a purpose made my smile large indeed.)

  Of course, when the bus didn’t show up after two seconds, I freaked out and hailed a cab. Five minutes later, I was in front of my temporary office, which meant I had forty-five minutes to kill before I was due to start working. So I crossed the street to Starbucks.

  Here I am with my half-caf latte, sitting at the faux-granite counter, taking in the scenery. It’s strange, but if I look straight ahead, I can see the building where I’m about to temp. To the right of it is the insurance company where I worked when I was fresh out of college. And to the left, the building housing Midwest IR.172

  Years ago, while at the HMO, I’d run over here for a sandwich and a hot tea before they closed because I knew I’d be working through dinner. Later in my career, my assistants would dash over to fetch my coffee. Yet today, it may be me who comes here on the coffee run. I sit and wonder how, no matter what my professional standing, I keep winding up at the same damn Starbucks.

  Weblog Entry 6/26/03


  I’m presently temping in the Customer Relationship Management department of a very nice multinational corporation.

  I know the company is nice because they’ve apologized profusely about the major yawn of a task they have me doing. I’m cleaning up their customer database. My job is to go through approximately one zillion emails that have stacked up since they fired their last temp for sleeping at her desk—when she wasn’t busy surfing online dating sites—and make appropriate changes to their records.173

  About 90% of what I deal with is bounced emails. If an email bounces, I go into the database and unsubscribe that customer. The bulk of my job is OPEN, COPY, DELETE, PASTE, QUERY, DESELECT, CLOSE, and then repeat approximately three times per minute.174

  I live for the opportunity to read the 10% of the emails that are actual customer responses. Most of these are requests to be removed from the mailing list, and this is where the fun starts! People compose angry and profane notes to get off a mailing list that they signed up for voluntarily. One of my favorites was from a woman who sent a multi-paragraph missive about the nerve of the company sending her email to her work address when she was a busy professional that didn’t have time for our foolishness and she could not understand why she had to make the effort to respond to us about something that blah, blah, blah. It must have taken her at least fifteen minutes to write this note on her company’s time. Quelle dumb-ass.

  The angry letters are fun, but best email I’ve seen so far was from a girl named Heather. Apparently Heather is looking for an internship with this company, so she made the very wise move to send an email to a generic customer service address and not, oh, say, Human Resources or perhaps a specific person.

  I read her cover letter and I was appalled. Not only was it written in three different colors (fuchsia, turquoise, and black), it was also done in three separate type-fonts, making it obvious that she had cut and pasted the “best parts” from other sources.
  Oh, Heather, bad form.

  And you know those formatted letters in Microsoft Word where you fill in your own information? You highlight the area that says “street” and you fill in your own street information? Well, apparently Heather doesn’t, so her cover letter says that she lives on Street, City, State ZIP. (I should mention here that one of her selling points was that she was (sic) “detail orientated.”)

  Heather must be a busy girl because she sent this heinous cover letter/resume out in a blanket email. I know this because I could see all the other recipients in the “To” line. More than 20 organizations’ email addresses were listed. Oy.

  But no one knows more than me how tough it is to get a job now, so I felt empathetic. I figured that she was a high school girl with big ambitions but not much training on job-finding protocol and I honestly wanted to help her.

  I opened her resume attachment to find her contact information with the intention of sending her a friendly and informative “here’s how your communication can be more effective” letter.

  I glanced at her address and saw that she lived on a street in one of Chicago’s richest suburbs where the home prices start in the seven-figure range. This surprised me because even the public schools up there are of higher quality than most of this country’s private institutions. Although she should have known better, I gave her the benefit of the doubt and decided that I would still be a Good Samaritan and help her in her quest.

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