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Bitter is the new black, p.29
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       Bitter is the New Black, p.29

           Jen Lancaster

  I’m sorry it’s taken a while to get back to you on your question but I had to consult an expert first. Sadly, although I think I am damn cute (as does my mother) I’ve never been the kind of looker to attract unwanted attention. To solve this dilemma, I had to query my pal, The Lovely Melissa.

  Of course, I’m friends with Melissa because she’s as mean as I am. She had me over for drinks this weekend, and after we discussed which ex-coworkers we’d like to hit with a sock full of quarters, I asked about your issue. Her advice was simple. You must insult them when they begin to annoy you. But the key here is that it must be a subtle insult, as it can’t sting until they walk away from your desk, lest you get into an ugly confrontation. Your insult must be delivered with a big smile, so they are never quiiiiiite sure whether or not you’re serious. For example, for the guy that thinks he’s witty—let’s call him Steve, for the sake of simplicity—you could say, “Gosh Steve, do you know any funny jokes? Or is this the best you can do?” Insert grin here, and you’re off.

  Although I encourage you to be pleasant at the initial hello (no one wants to be known as the office bitch), you should begin to deliver the in sults the second you’d like the fellas to move along. Zing them often enough, and you’ll be greeted, but then left the fuck alone so that you can work in peace.

  And that’s all you really want, right?



  * * *

  Woo-hoo, I got another temp job! It’s only a short-term assignment, but I’ll earn enough for a whole week of groceries. I’ll be spending the next three days working as a receptionist. Everyone in the company will be gone on some corporate retreat, so I’m picturing myself running through the deserted halls in my jammies, à la Macaulay Culkin.

  They told me to expect to be bored and to make sure I had something to occupy my time. They suggested I bring a book and said it was fine to use the Internet, although they did request I refrain from surfing porn sites.

  I’m not sure if it was the twinset or loafers that led them to believe they needed to add that caveat.

  Weblog Entry 7/22/03


  I’m here at my temp job literally watching paint dry. A workman from the building came by earlier and said he was here to re-do the ceiling. In my most professional voice I said, “Um, OK?” at which point he hauled in all these brushes and buckets and ladders.

  Wonder if I was allowed to authorize a paint crew?

  As far as temp assignments go, this is kind of a dream. The phone barely rings enough for me to screw it up, although I’ve managed. I had to come in for training yesterday since I’d never used their phone system before. Out of the ten calls I answered, I messed up all but one, leading me to believe it’s a good thing I didn’t get the receptionist job at the architecture firm. Frankly, it’s not quite as easy as I anticipated. Don’t know why I thought it would come so naturally—back in the day, my sorority had to take me off of phone duty because I kept hanging up on everyone’s boyfriend.

  It’s fun to tool around the web on the job.183 However, I’m having trouble dealing with this freedom. I feel like a naughty child each time I get “caught” playing JT’s Blocks when the delivery guys pass my desk. My first impulse is to hide my game, but again, I’m ALLOWED to do this, so I’m just being ridiculous.

  Half the calls I’ve gotten today have been wrong numbers and my patience with them is running thin. They keep trying to dial a company a digit off from this one. I guess it’s not as bad as when my brother’s phone number was one away from the local Domino’s. He finally had to change his number in order to get some sleep.

  Actually, I pity anyone who gets Todd on the phone. This man considers unwanted phone calls a full-contact sport. When he moved to his new house he got a telephone number that hadn’t been out of service long enough. Calls came in constantly from creditors, as the person with the number before had been a deadbeat. He got tired of trying to convince harassing callers that he wasn’t “covering for” Donna Miller.

  One day he received a call from her university’s alumni association for the purpose of updating their yearly newsletter. My brother said he was Donna’s husband and would be GLAD to provide answers. Among other outrageous fabrications, my brother told them that after Donna served a term in prison, she wrote the bestseller Fear and Loathing in Lesbian Loveland.

  As the caller was a $5/hour phone-monkey, he had no clue that Todd was bullshitting him and he updated the directory accordingly.

  You see, a $10/hour phone-monkey like me would have known better.

  “How was your day?” Fletch and the dogs are stationed on our deck, basking in the late-afternoon sun.

  “Eh, it was all right,” I reply.184

  “What happened?”

  “You know how nervous I am to temp in the Sears Tower, right? And how I’m always on edge because I think it’s the next big terrorist target?”185

  “Yeah, you’ve mentioned it a couple of thousand times.”

  “Well, I was relatively calm until this morning when I opened the coat closet to put my umbrella away and—”

  “What you’re really saying is that you were snooping.”

  Was he watching me on closed-circuit TV or something? “Yes, fine, I was having a look around. That’s no crime. Anyway, I ran across all these little nylon packs. I opened one up and saw that they were filled with disaster-relief supplies like flashlights and masks and bottles of water. Do you know what this discovery means? It means that for once my paranoia isn’t unfounded and that scared the pants off of me.”

  “What’d you do?”

  “I spent the rest of the afternoon fighting a panic attack. Every time the phone rang, I practically soiled myself.”

  “That sucks.”

  “No kidding. By tomorrow, I’m going to need a defibrillator to revive myself after my four hundred thirty-first heart attack. Or possibly some dry pants.”

  Weblog Entry 7/31/03


  While trying to take my mind off the fact that rent is due tomorrow and we have NO POSSIBLE WAY TO PAY IT, I got an email asking for more neighbor gossip. I’m thrilled to oblige and temporarily escape worrying about more pressing matters.

  A couple of days ago I heard the awful people downstairs doing it at 5:30 in the afternoon.186 OK, when I’m in the middle of a finance-induced panic attack, the LAST thing I need is to hear a couple of dirty hippies going at it like guinea pigs. So you can’t really blame me for shouting, “Maybe if you ate some meat you’d last longer!” when they’d finished, right?

  Anyway, today I was rewarded with a beautiful clear blue sky and I spent the afternoon outdoors. I was on my lounge chair facing the alley when I observed the 12-year-old Chinese gymnast/millionaire pull up to the new house next door.187 Her car was packed to the gills with possessions and it looked like she was ready to move stuff into her new mansion. But guess what…it still wasn’t ready! I know this because her tiny lungs were surprisingly powerful and I heard her shouting at the contractor. The girl was FURIOUS.

  Anyway, she sped off with the words “breach of contract,”

  “attorney,” and “tomorrow or else” hanging in the air. At this point, I closed my book and stopped pretending to read, because real live drama trumps literature any day. I watched the contractor freak out while barking commands into his cell phone. In less than five minutes, a dozen of his relatives showed up at back door armed with cleaning supplies.

  First off, I saw a handful of little kids with the gorgeous Slavic complexions and naturally highlighted hair for which I would kill. Next I saw an old Polish hippie trudge past with his trademark tie-dyed shirt, Birkenstocks, and salt-and-pepper ponytail.188 He was joined by the guy we call Uncle One Shirt, due to his penchant for wearing the same top each day. I’ve seen him in a half-dozen different outfits, but for some reason he chooses to vary them by week and not on a daily basis. He’s the only one I’ve seen doing any work on the house lately, and that’s
consisted of pushing an empty wheelbarrow back and forth across the alley. Very strange.

  A few other relatives filed past, with Grandma bringing up the rear. She’s in her 70’s and generally sports a babushka which is why I almost busted a gut when I spied her wearing a t-shirt featuring Robert Smith of The Cure. I wondered if Grandma wasn’t actually some very hip indie rocker, so I kept murmuring lines from “Boys Don’t Cry” and “Head on the Door” and “Just Like Heaven” at her while she worked in the backyard. I’d hoped for a flash of recognition, and perhaps a thumbs-up, but since she ignored me, I’m pretty sure she didn’t understand a damn word I said.

  I spent the rest of the afternoon sipping a grape soda and covertly observing the action from my table with the umbrella bent down for maximum spy-ability. At one point, Cousin Simpleton thought it would be funny to hose the group down Gestapo-style with the power-washer and I had to go inside the house so they wouldn’t hear me laughing. Ditto when I saw Grandma scrubbing the rough-hewn pine fence with Murphy’s Oil Soap. Seriously, though, I thought it was pretty cool to watch the family pull together to get the job done. They kind of rock.

  Although they annoyed the bejesus out of me, I’m a bit sad to see this particular chapter come to a close. However, my adventures in spying aren’t over. A Mexican construction team just started working on a project one house over and those bastards stole one of our garbage cans from the parking lot…

  …game on.

  “Sorry, Jen. I’m not trying to be unsympathetic; I’m simply telling you the truth. The well is dry. I’ve done all I can. I can’t spare anything else,” my mother says.

  “Are you absolutely sure? We’d be able to pay you back really soon. We’re still waiting for Fletch’s background check to clear, and as soon as it does, the company will give him a start date. It’s going to happen any day now.” I am begging—unsuccessfully—for a loan from my mother to cover our rent. Although we’ve been told that Fletch has the job, everyone is dubious, particularly my mother.

  “As is, half my check each week goes to pay for your wedding, and I’ve already lent you everything in my savings account. I wish I could do more, but I can’t. I suggest you start packing. You’re welcome to live here until you get back on your feet. The guest room is all ready for you.”

  “What about Dad? Would he consider a short-term loan? With interest? Can you ask him? Please?” She sets down the phone and I hear a muffled conversation, punctuated by laughter. That can’t be good.

  “I guess you heard. If not, he gave a definitive no.”

  “I appreciate your trying. Thanks, and I’ll keep you posted.”

  Asking my parents for a loan was my last hope. At this point, I’ve officially tried EVERYTHING to raise the money for rent. No one would buy my eggs at the donor place because I’m too old, despite the fact I told them it was a fire sale and they could have them ALL for five thousand dollars.

  I even attempted to sell my engagement ring, but since I don’t have a receipt for the diamond, no one will pay me its full value. I’m so frustrated because I know we only need about one thousand dollars to make it, but I’ve exhausted all my resources. The only other ways I could raise the cash are A) illegal, B) dangerous, and C) incredibly icky, and therefore are D) out of the question.

  It’s not that living in my parents’ house again would be so bad, although I would miss my friends here in Chicago. But I feel like if we move home to Indiana, there’s no chance we’ll ever be able to get back to where we used to be. I don’t mean materially; if we were given the chance again, I think we’d live our lives very differently. Our values have changed completely and our wants are now vastly different. I could care less about Dior’s newest line of lip gloss. What I want is for my husband not to get those furrows in his brow every time the phone rings. I want to see him walk in the door, whistling after a pleasant day in the office. I want him to put his dirty travel coffee mug in the sink instead of the dishwasher, where he’s supposed to leave it. I want to go to my parking space and get into my car—what kind it is doesn’t matter anymore—and be able to drive somewhere. I want to get up in the morning and have a purpose, whether it’s answering phones or writing the great American novel. We’ve learned what is and isn’t important, and all we need is one more chance to prove it.

  I’m deep in thought when the phone rings again. Maybe it’s my mom and she’s had second thoughts about lending us the money! I knew she’d come around!

  I swivel to look at the caller ID and the smile fades from my face.

  It’s our landlord’s secretary.


  * * *

  To: [email protected]

  From: Kelly from Canada

  Date: August 5, 2003

  Subject: More advice, please!

  Dear Jen:

  My boyfriend and are in our mid-twenties. We’ve been living together for two years and he hasn’t proposed yet. We’re happy, but still a bit worried because I long for more of a commitment. Was my mom right when she said, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”


  Kelly (aka Waiting for the Ring)

  * * *

  * * *

  To: Kelly from Canada

  From: [email protected]

  Date: August 5, 2003

  Subject: RE: Advice, please!

  Dear Waiting Kelly,

  if-it-ain’t-broke-should-I-still try-to-fix-it question…I know it well. First off, I don’t agree with your mom. The milk-for-free stuff was relevant to her generation, but no longer to ours, considering gratis milk abounds. One simply needs to go to a bar around closing time—it’s a veritable dairy aisle out there.

  I also don’t agree with the experts who say you shouldn’t live together first. Their theory is that this is less of a commitment, and couples that live together are more likely to break up. Um, yes, and I think that’s a good thing. Better to have one skirmish over who gets the toaster upon move-out then to fight about the custody of your children every weekend for the next fourteen years.

  As I’m a fan on interpreting Judeo-Christian ethics to my own benefit, I think it’s a much bigger “sin” to marry and divorce on a whim than to just give it a trial run by cohabitating. (I made this determination while living with my own boyfriend for almost seven years, BTW.) More couples divorce over non-dramatic issues like money and communication, rather than affairs and abuse. Living together is an excellent proving ground where you can work this stuff out without worrying about having to return everyone’s wedding presents if you can’t.

  I’m slightly concerned about your age and your need for more commitment. If you are presently worried about your boyfriend’s level of involvement, then marriage isn’t going to give you any guarantees. Conversely, please don’t let the fact that he hasn’t asked you yet cast aspersions on the depth of his feelings for you. Maybe he’s waiting to be more established in his career, or perhaps he’s not financially ready to make the commitment. Although it’s not the answer you want to hear, my best advice is to give this more time.

  Does this mean that I sat by patiently for seven years, waiting for my boyfriend to pop the question after proving that we were compatible? No. I badgered him relentlessly for the first few years. You see, I desperately wanted a big Michigan Avenue wedding with the Vera Wang dress and the Tiffany princess-cut rock and your choice of prime rib or lobster tails. And I wanted it all to happen before I was 30, as that seemed like the old maid cut off date. When we got married last year, we chose a simple ceremony in Vegas.

  Turns out that the big production stopped being important to me; just being married was enough. What’s interesting is that after living together for so long, nothing seems that different now, except the addition of rings and a license to harass single people.

  Bottom line? It’s far better to let the commitment happen naturally than to force it simply because someone else says you should. If you’re truly compatible, then when the time is
right, everything will fall into place.



  * * *

  * * *


  You are hereby notified that there is now due the undersigned Landlord the sum of One thousand six hundred twenty-five dollars ($1625) being rent and late charges for the premises situated in the Village of Chicago, County of Cook, and State of Illinois, described as follows: 1513 West Superior, 2R, Chicago, IL, 60622 together with all buildings, sheds, closets, out-buildings, garages and barns used in connection with said premises.

  And you are further notified that payment of said sum so due has been and is hereby demanded of you, and that unless payment thereof is made on or before the expiration of five days after service of this notice, your lease for said premises will be terminated. Keller, Macon, Goldberger, & Associates, One IBM Plaza, Suite 46, Chicago, IL, 60611, are hereby authorized to receive said rent so due for the undersigned.

  Only full payment of the rent demanded in this notice will waive the Landlord’s right to terminate possession of said premises under this notice, unless the Landlord agrees in writing to continue such possession in exchange for receiving partial payment.

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