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Bitter is the new black, p.28
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       Bitter is the New Black, p.28

           Jen Lancaster

  And then I saw it.

  Holy shit.

  Heather is not in high school. Heather is in college. And not only does she have a BA in English from the University of Illinois, but she’s also only a year away from having her MASTER’S degree in Education.

  And she was sending out misspelled resumes in the laziest format possible.

  From her parents’ North Shore mansion.

  While I slaved away for less than a hundred bucks a day in a grunt job in order to buy food and medication.


  Evict This, Motherf*cker

  Weblog Entry 7/1/03


  Missing: One sidewalk, approximately 30' in length and 3' in width. Color is industrial light gray.

  Last seen leaving Westside neighborhood with members of the Russian Army. May also be in the company of two light gray cement stairs.

  Reward if found.

  If you get this job we’re totally sending Mike a fruit basket.”

  Fletch is back from a second interview out in the suburbs, arranged by one of his old colleagues. “Overall, I feel good about it. I like the way the manager leads his team, plus the job’s less technical than what I had before, so I’d have an advantage over the other sales engineers.”

  “What about getting out there?”

  “The commuter train practically stops in front of their building, so it was no problem.”

  “And taking the bus to the station was fine?”

  “Smooth sailing through calm seas.”

  What a relief! I was worried he’d somehow miss his connections and wouldn’t get to his interview, and then he’d be all bummed out again. Although the meds and therapy are working wonders, I’m still cautious about potential setbacks, and I’m doing everything in my power to prevent them, like not keeping any liquor in the house (even though Fletch’s doctor says the drinking is a symptom, and not the main problem). I’m dealing with all the bills and bill collectors, so he doesn’t have to worry about them. I’ve even started cooking dinner. Each night we have a meat, a vegetable, and a starch lovingly prepared by my own hands.175 And instead of spending the money I got from selling my coats on fresh highlights, I bought Fletch a couple of new dress shirts and ties to wear to his interviews, despite the fact that my hair is really scary at this point.

  “I have a good idea. Since it’s so beautiful out, let’s take the guys for a walk and dissect your interview.”

  “Let me get out of this suit and change into play clothes.”

  While I wait, I watch the Russian Army. They’ve been working next door for months, yet they just got a Porta Pottie. I shudder to think of where they were going before. They’ve also procured a radio, and earlier today I heard a bunch of Slavic accents singing along to the Strokes. It was rather cute and made me hate them a bit less.

  Fletch bounds down the stairs with the dogs. “Ready, Freddie.”

  “Let’s locomote.”

  “Wait. Grab the other set of keys because I want to go out the side door.” We generally use our back door because we only have to work one set of locks. “The Army’s got a huge pile of debris out there, and I don’t want to have to maneuver the guys over it. The last thing we need is a trip to the emergency vet.”176

  I lock the first door while Fletch and the dogs bound off ahead of me. At the foot of the stairs, he stops to check our mail while I unlock the main door. I’m dying to know more about the interview because it’s the first solid lead Fletch has had in months. I’m afraid to get my hopes up, yet this one feels so promising.

  “If they offered you a job, when would they want you to—AHHH!” Air whooshes past me as I free-fall for what feels like ten minutes before hitting the ground with a resounding thud. The impact throws up a huge cloud of dust and rattles every bone in my body.

  “Jen! Are you OK?” Fletch asks, coughing and wiping grit out of his eyes.

  From my spot in the dirt, I look up at Fletch standing in the doorway as I try to figure out exactly what just happened. “What—why—how did I get down here?” I look in incomprehension at my skinned palms and filthy knees. “What happened to the stairs? Where’s the walkway?”

  “They’re gone. I guess that’s what’s in the pile out back.”


  “I don’t know.”

  “Shouldn’t someone have warned us?”

  “You’d think so.”

  I run tentative hands over myself, assessing the damage. “Fletch, do you see little cartoon stars and birds flying around my head, too?”

  He bends down to look in my eyes and places a hand on my forehead. “Are you sure you’re OK?”

  “I’m kind of scraped and I got the wind knocked out of me, but I should be fine.”

  “Good. You scared me.” The dogs want to comfort me but they’re not willing to jump off the ledge to do so.177

  Fletch leans down and gives me his hand. I right myself and brush all the dirt off my clothes. “That was like base jumping, except without a parachute.”

  “Yeah, one second you were right ahead of me, and the next you’d completely disappeared. Boom. Gone. Tiiiiimbeeeeeer!” I notice a twitch at the side of Fletch’s mouth. Then he has a quick chest spasm. His eyes sparkle wetly and he coughs into his hand. How adorable is that? He’s so concerned about my well-being that he’s crying. He’s more sensitive than I ever imagined. Bless him, he’s trying to hide his tears.

  I hug him as he silently quakes in my arms. “Honey, it’s all right to feel your feelings. Let it out. I’m just a little dirty and dazed, no worse for the wear. It was only a couple of feet—I couldn’t have been hurt very badly.” I hear him suppress a snort. “Really, I’m OK. I won’t be leaving you anytime soon.”

  This man is a saint.

  He gasps and shakes harder. “Fletch, I’m perfectly fine. You don’t have to be so—Wait a minute. ARE YOU LAUGHING AT ME?”

  My temp assignment is bumping along. The job is unbelievably boring, but I have no right to complain about doing data entry when others are busy fighting a WAR right now. I recently got an e-mail from an Army officer who bought a DVD from me. He and his troops are stationed in Iraq, and they’re buying up movies and books like crazy because between brief episodes of terror, there are LONG stretches of boredom. The officer told me everyone wants comedies because they all need to laugh right now. When I shipped his DVD, I also included a bunch of other funny movies and books. I figure they deserve this stuff, considering they’d probably give their eyeteeth to work a lousy temp job rather than being shot at.

  I’m trying hard to make a good impression here because I’d like to land a permanent job with the company. I’m working really diligently and am not ashamed to brownnose the manager. He now loves me, although I can’t say the same for others in the department.

  I’m in a bathroom stall when I hear two coworkers enter.

  “Her tan is ridiculous. Melanoma is never pretty. And what’s up with her hair? Ten inches of blond and two of black? It’s so natural…NOT!” says the one named Stephie. Yesterday I heard her and her cohort Angie prattling on about their upcoming trip to Cancún for HOURS. Stephie gloated about being such a great negotiator because she finagled a discounted rate for their September stay. Yeah, like it’s real tough to get a lower rate during hurricane season. I had to put on my headphones and crank up Henry Rollins to drown out their incessant self-congratulations.

  Angie adds, “Did you see her bag? Nice Prada knockoff, sweetheart. Did the street vendor promise you it was real?”

  The people at this company have been decent to me except for these two. Stephie and Angie resent me because we’re all working on the same project and I’m showing them up. Of course, I don’t spend half the day scheduling bikini waxes and shopping for swimsuits online, so I have a natural advantage.

  I flush and exit my stall, positioning myself between them to wash my hands. I smile at each of their pale reflections in the mirror while I slowly line my li
ps and blot my nose. In the old days I’d have gone all Columbine on these girls. Now I’m finding it’s kind of fun to take the high road.

  I say, “Enjoy your vacation, ladies,” as I exit the lavatory in the wake of their stammered apologies. Because, really? The idea of them cowering in their hotel’s storm cellar during Hurricane Whatever is satisfaction enough.

  However, when I get home, I am burning this bag.

  Weblog Entry 7/6/03


  I just received a lovely thank you letter from the Army Warrant Officer listed on my home page. I want to share an excerpt from his note in hopes that it will sway you to send the brave men and women in Iraq a nice treat.

  Thank you for your generous care package. The books and DVDs will keep the troops entertained for weeks. It’s really hard on the soldiers here; no showers, no flush toilets, or hot food. These are great Americans, these Army kids. I’m proud to be with them.

  We are in Balad, Iraq, about one hour north of Baghdad and have been in the country three months. We travel all over Iraq, visiting Army medical units and repair medical equipment. It is getting very dangerous now. Hope I get my troops home safely.

  Come on, don’t you have a nice book or DVD that you’d like to donate, knowing the pleasure it would give these folks, especially when they’re enduring these hardships in the name of the United States?178

  My temp assignment has ended, so I’m back to tanning compulsively, freaking out about money, and spying on the neighbors. The Russian Army is almost done with construction on the McMansion next door. Since they apologized profusely and replaced the sidewalk,179 we’ve had no additional incidents.

  I’ve not felt quite as much animosity toward them since I had a nice chat with the developer. He came to this country ten years ago with something like thirty-five cents in his pocket, and now he’s building and selling million-dollar properties. He says he wants to write a book someday and tell his story because it will be an inspiration to the people back in his home country.180 Despite my best efforts, I rather like this guy and am going to have to find a new outlet for all my residual bitterness.

  The developer told me that people already bought the place for something like $875,000. He says they’re in their twenties and it’s just the two of them. That blows my mind. How can two KIDS buy a house worth almost a million dollars in this economy?

  Now that I think about it, I imagine these two will fill my bitter bill nicely.

  * * *

  To: [email protected]

  From: Kelly from Canada

  Date: July 12, 2003

  Subject: Unemployed and bored

  Hey Jen;

  I’m sitting in front of the Internet at home. I’m unemployed, bored and just spent my remaining credit on a TJ Max tube dress. I was wondering if you have any advice on how to keep active, fit and fun while at the same time juggling VISA, VISA and VISA bills. My brown hair is growing in over the blonde and I’m going nuts.



  * * *

  * * *

  To: Kelly from Canada

  From: [email protected]

  Date: July 12, 2003

  Subject: RE: Unemployed and bored

  Hi, Kelly,

  Thanks for writing! The good news is that if you are still more worried about getting fat than getting evicted, you aren’t yet at the hopeless stage. (The bad news is that it’s coming.)

  Kudos on getting the dress…utility bills can wait up to three months before they are shut off (don’t ask how I acquired this knowledge) but there’s NO WAY that dress would still be there the next day. Generate your own electricity by wearing the dress for an evening out! Work it and maybe you can even score free drinks or, better yet, a rich boyfriend that can pay for stuff. (Did that sound sexist? If so, I apologize. But surely women deserve some compensation for having to wear underwire bras.)

  The highlights are a big deal. You must do what you can to get them fixed. I understand that some of the drug store boxed colors are pretty good. I think they go on best when a friend helps you. I was going to try this route, and then remembered some of the paint jobs my friends had done in their apartments. No, thanks. (I still love you guys, but seriously, this is my hair we’re talking about.) Anyway, I think you’re best off calling the better salons in your area to find out if they have workshops/seminars where you can have a good colorist attack your head for $15 in the name of learning.

  As for VISA, I say screw ’em. If you have no job, they can’t call you at work to harass you for not paying. In my opinion, the only reason to pay them is to keep this from happening. So if you can avoid them now, I don’t see a problem! Of course, if you aren’t free-spirited enough to want to savage your credit rating, pay the minimums, but only after you’ve made sure you’ve taken care of your basic needs: food, shelter, and style.

  Ac-tive? Fit? I’m sorry but I am unfamiliar with these terms.

  I have the perfect solution to cure your boredom! My Rx is free, fun, and four-worded…

  …The Price Is Right.



  * * *

  “Guess what!” I exclaim, rushing in from the deck.

  Fletch raises a beleaguered eyebrow at me.181 “Is this going to take a while? If so, can it wait? I want to get this”—he holds up his application and consent for background check—“faxed back to HR by four-thirty.” We are cautiously optimistic that Fletch will be getting this job. The hiring manager told Fletch they were going to make him an offer pending management approval, but it’s been almost two weeks and, really? We’ve been down this road before.

  He gets his last unemployment check this week and then we’re officially screwed. If he doesn’t land this job, we’ll have to sublet our apartment and move in with my parents. My mother, who has zero faith in us, keeps telling me she’s cleared out the drawers in the guest room. She’s also saved the local paper’s want ads because she feels it would be much easier to find a good job in a chiefly agricultural and industrial economy in a county of thirty-five thousand, rather than a metropolitan area of almost ten million. No delusions there.

  “It can wait.” I go back outside and hear voices coming from the deck below. I squint through the slats and spy the hippies downstairs having a barbecue. On their grill, I see corn, zucchini, eggplant, and what appears to be tofu. I’m completely flummoxed as I thought that all the pot they smoke would be giving them the kind of munchies only animal fat could satiate.182

  A few minutes later, Fletch joins me. “What’s up?”

  “I just saw the new people next door. The guy is approximately fourteen years old and looks just like Opie Taylor from Mayberry. I wonder if he’s Ron Howard’s kid? Anyway, at first I thought he was there to cut the lawn until I saw him yelling at the contractor.”

  “They’ve got to be behind schedule. I’ve only seen one guy working on the place for the past few weeks.”

  “His wife was with him, too. She appears to be a twelve-year-old Chinese gymnast.”

  “They look young…. This is breaking news how, exactly?”

  “Because I can legitimately hate them now!”

  “Why is that?”

  “Even though they have their own two-car garage and driveway, they parked their Land Rover in OUR parking spot!”

  “What’s the big deal? We have no car—it’s not like we need to use it right now.”

  “I don’t care. It’s the principle of the thing! They have a million-dollar home and a garage, yet they had to hog up our space. It’s not right! What are we going to do about it?”

  Fletch considers this heinous wrong. He looks from the new house to our parking space. I just know he’s crafting the perfect plan to punish the neighbors for their avarice. What is he thinking? Lining the space with giant nails? Or broken glass? Surrounding their vehicle with breadcrumbs to encourage the cannibal birds to gather and, thus, pepper their shiny SUV with bird bombs?

haps we could use some of those leftover two-by-fours over there…” He points to the ever-growing pile of debris. See? I know we’re totally on the same page about this. “…and erect you the cross you so richly deserve.”

  * * *

  To: [email protected]

  From: An Aussie Fan

  Date: July 15, 2003

  Subject: Can you help?

  Dear Jen,

  I work in a site office which is an obviously male dominated workplace. I’m a 20 year old blonde girl surrounded by mostly over 35 labourers, operators, and middle management who seem to think they’re funny. I’m subjected daily to bad jokes about boring subjects that have been recycled so much I can tell what they’re going to say before they say it. I will often get the same “witty” comment from the same person day in day out.

  What do you think is the best course of action? I usually smile politely and move the subject along hoping the employee will get the point but I’m obviously being too subtle for these brutes. Any advice?

  Asking in Australia

  * * *

  * * *

  To: An Aussie Fan

  From: [email protected]

  Date: July 22, 2003

  Subject: RE: Can you help?

  Dear Asking Aussie,

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