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Bitter is the new black, p.3
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       Bitter is the New Black, p.3

           Jen Lancaster

  Courtney and I sit next to each other in the primo cubicles with the lake view in the Chicago office. Since I joined the company, Courtney’s become one of my confidantes, and within the confines of our jobs, we hit every networking event together. Lately, we’ve socialized outside the office, too, which is part of the reason I’m so appalled. I don’t mean to sound self-righteous, but in the seven years I’ve been with Fletch, I’ve never even flirted with another guy,17 let alone stick my foot up his shorts at a company function!18

  I learned about Court and Chad’s little tryst last night. I stopped by her room before heading to dinner, and it took her a long time to come to the door. I knew she was there because I’d just talked to her from the house phone. It’s not like our hotel rooms were huge and she couldn’t hear me. Must be in the bathroom, I thought. I knocked harder and waited.

  When she finally opened the door, I saw that she was dressed for the banquet…sort of. The buttons on her summery cotton cardigan were askew; her floaty chiffon skirt was inside out and the pleats were mashed. Her normally impeccably smooth blond bob was completely bed-headed. Did she get dressed in a hurry?

  “Hey, Court.” I invited myself into her room. “What happened to you? Looks like somebody rode you hard and put you away wet.” HA! I so crack myself up sometimes. “Have you been napping or something?” At that point, I noticed Chad, also in a state of disrepair looking sheepish on her mussed bed. A lightbulb went on in my head as I worked my way through the equation.

  Ohhh…yes, there were napping.


  Napping together?

  Napping together.

  Napping together…Chadifornicators!

  Then I remembered that she was engaged to Brad and got momentarily flustered. I don’t know how to handle it when normally good people go all untoward.

  “Welllllllll, hiiiii there, Chaaaaad. It’s nice to seeeee you again.” I drew out my words because I had no idea what to say next. I started to stammer. “So, um, what have you guys been doing? Been sleeping together? Wait! No! Not like that, I mean, not together, like, you know, nap time? In kindergarten? And, um, no, no—I mean—so, are you going down on each other? Gah! With! With each other! To dinner,” I finally spit out. Subtlety has never been one of my finer qualities.

  Chad turned beet red and busied himself with his shoes. I caught Courtney’s eye in the mirror and raised an eyebrow at her. Her flush confirmed the most indelicate of my suspicions. So busted.

  Witnessing their guilt helped me recover my composure. “Oh, gr-gr-grow up,” I finally sputtered. “What I meant to ask is if you’re going down for cocktail hour?” They nodded in sheepish silence. We stood around looking at one another for a minute, and I realized I needed to take command of the situation lest they fall back into bed. I snapped into drill sergeant mode, determined not to let Courtney’s indiscretion in any way mar my big night. Dammit, I was about to win the market leadership award, and this victory would not be overshadowed by tawdry gossip about my team.

  “OK, you need to fix yourself up, pronto. Take a quick shower because you REEK of Chad’s cologne. And, Chad, really? Drakkar Noir? No.” They stood mute in front of me, not moving.

  “Courtney, when you’re done in the shower, be sure to go heavy on the foundation to cover up the whisker burn,” I said pointedly in Chad’s direction yet again, “and I’ll find you an outfit to mask your—ahem—hickey.” I directed her toward the bathroom with a gentle shove. “GO! Don’t worry. I’ll entertain your gentleman caller.” Reluctantly, she entered the bathroom and closed the door.

  “Well, Chad, we’re faced with the dilemma of covering a hickey because apparently you make out like a high school sophomore. Let’s see…scarves, scarves, does she have any scarves in here? Oh, I see some attached to the headboard, so, yeah, scarves are probably out. My, my, aren’t you an interesting first date?”

  I headed over to her closet to paw through the hanging garments, lingering over each item I inspected. “Let’s see, no…no…cute but V-neck, so no…Ew, this one’s atrocious, don’t you think?” I asked, waving the hideous embroidered tunic in front of me like it was made of kryptonite. “Chad, could you fuck a girl wearing a shirt this ugly? Wait, don’t answer that. OK, no…no…Ooh, this one would look good on me,” I said, holding a blouse up while admiring myself in the mirror, “but, no, it won’t work for tonight. Almost out of options here. No, no, hey…wait, we’re in luck! This will nicely do the trick.”

  I banged on the bathroom door, yelling over the sound of rushing water. “Yo! You’re going to wear your cream sleeveless Ann Taylor turtleneck. Pair it with those cute Stuart Weitzman snakeskin slides, your khaki Gap Capris, and a wide black belt, and no one will know you’ve been whoring around this afternoon. And you know what would totally enhance the outfit? Your engagement ring.”

  Task complete, I examined the contents of Courtney’s minibar. “Can I fix you a drink?” Chad appeared to be mortified beyond belief. Good. I’d heard through the corporate grapevine he was trouble, and I didn’t want him corrupting my top producer.

  “Yes, please,” Chad croaked.

  I tossed ice in glasses, poured a couple of strong gin and tonics, and grabbed a can of macadamia nuts. I settled on the couch across from him. He clung to his drink like a drowning man to a life preserver. “Oh, Chad, I’m making you nervous, aren’t I? Forgive me. I’m just really protective of my friend. I guess I let the rumors about your lack of ethics affect how I treated you, and I’m sorry. I bet you’re a really nice guy and not nearly as slimy as everyone says. Why don’t we start over, maybe get to know one another?”

  Exhaling for the first time since I’d entered the room, Chad said, “I’d like that.”

  I gave him an angelic smile and said, “Tell me, Chad, what do you like to do for fun when you’re not nailing other people’s fiancées in a sadomasochistic manner?”

  Anyway, I’d thought I’d nipped yesterday’s infidelity in the bud, but Courtney and Chad have been pounding beer today and have completely lost their inhibitions. Right now they’re snuggled up in a sheltered corner of the boat and—are they heavy petting? Fortunately, the way we’re all sitting, I’m the only one who can see them.

  Though it’s probably none of my business, I’m pissed because Courtney’s fiancé, Brad, is such a nice guy. He worships her. Sometimes we do couple stuff together and that obligates me to protect him. Hell, he took her to Hawaii two weeks ago, and she didn’t get back until right before we left for Florida. I doubt his credit card statements have come yet. Besides, her slutty behavior makes the whole Chicago office look bad.19 Their mashing gets more heated. I see tongue. Ugh. I stand on my chair and shout, “WAITRESS! DRINKS! NOW!”

  Oh, Court, just because you look like Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct doesn’t give you license to act like her. C’mon, guys, these are your coworkers and this graphic public display of affection is both embarrassing and unprofessional, and…wait a second—Courtney, WHERE DID YOUR HAND JUST GO?

  GAH! This is a company function and in broad daylight, you are giving Chad a—

  The waitress returns with beverages at this exact moment. I can tell from the look on her face that A) she also witnessed Courtney’s busy hands and B) she’s utterly mortified. Bad touch! The rest of our group notices the waitress’ discomfort and cranes to see what she’s gawping at.

  For God’s sake, now I’m going to have to something noble to distract everyone from Courtney and Chad and what looks like the beginning of a porno movie. And chivalry is SO not my style.

  “Hey!” I bark so abruptly that the server almost drops all the drinks she’s carrying. It’s also loud enough to bring Ron Jeremy and Jenna Jameson to their senses. Everyone looks at me while the horn dogs pull themselves apart.

  I yank a crisp hundred-dollar bill out of my coordinating floral Kate Spade wallet and smack it on the waitress’ tray. “Next time, could you please serve our drinks a little faster?” I tap the face of my TAG Heue
r watch while my enormous Lagos Caviar jeweled ring catches the light. “The clock is ticking, you know.”

  Her eyes narrow, but she accepts the tip. White lipped, she tucks my Benjamin into her cargo shorts while glaring hot-red death at me. But I had to divert everyone’s attention somehow, right? Had I been thinking, I would have yelled, “Shark!”

  I arrange a smirk on my face for the benefit of my companions and shrug. “I just don’t like to wait,” I explain as the waitress retreats. Everyone hoots in appreciation, except for Courtney, who silently mouths thanks at me.

  Yeah, you’re welcome. Because that waitress is SO spitting in my next cocktail.

  Our conference ends without incident and we head home to Chicago. Fletch will pick Courtney and me up from O’Hare. Even though we’ve been together forever, he still voluntarily does the airport run, and if that’s not a true sign of love, I don’t know what is. Except maybe a princess-cut Tiffany engagement ring…

  Actually, our not being engaged is my fault. I keep upping the ante on the cut, color, clarity, and carat that I require, and I think he’s afraid to price rings. Yes, he’s successful, but I doubt that Bill Gates could keep me in the kind of jewelry that I want. Besides, a ceremony isn’t necessary for him to prove his feelings to me, especially since we have a very expensive apartment to support.

  OK, I will admit the idea of a big Michigan Avenue production, complete with all my sorority sisters in hideous matching satin dresses,20 a scrillion yellow tulips tied with pink-and-mint-plaid ribbons, and a big catered to-do at the Drake with a top-shelf open bar and peapod-wrapped shrimp trays circulating while a string quartet plays right before your choice of prime rib or lobster tails is served may have crossed my mind. But only once or twice.

  Courtney and I meet up at the baggage claim to wait for Fletch. Until now, we haven’t had a chance to talk. She sat with Chad on the bus from the resort and dawdled with him so long in the Jacksonville airport that we couldn’t get seats together on the flight. At one point, I noticed her quietly crying on the plane. Out of guilt, I assumed.

  I interrogate her about what happened with the Chadifornicator, and Courtney blurts out that she’s in love.

  “Of course, you’re in love. That’s why you’re getting married. It’s not uncommon,” I say.

  “No, with Chad. I’m in love with Chad,” she sniffs.

  “WHAT?!?” I shout, attracting the attention of every single person on flight 973 from Atlanta waiting around carousel five in the baggage claim. “You met him five freaking minutes ago! That’s not enough time to fall in love. That’s not even enough time to fall in like. Lust? Maybe, but definitely not like. And what about Brad? Did you NOT just get engaged?”

  “I know,” she weeps. “I’d been planning to break up with Brad because things just weren’t working anymore between us. But then Hawaii was so romantic and the sun was setting and waves were crashing and we were drinking mai tais and his proposal was so sweet…I didn’t think. I just let myself get swept up in the moment. I knew it was wrong the minute I said yes. I haven’t even told my family about our engagement yet,” she says. Her eyes get watery and she begins to sniffle. I root around in my bag to find her a Kleenex. Ooh, look, I have gum!

  I remember something. “Wait, weren’t you drinking mai tais with Chad at the sales conference when you hooked up?”

  Courtney blows her nose while nodding yes.

  “Essentially, you allowed a fruity rum punch to alter the course of your life TWICE? Oh, my God, you’re such a WHORE!” This brings a fresh spate of tears. I know I should be more compassionate, but when you sleep around while wearing someone else’s ring, I have trouble mustering sympathetic noises.

  “Court…Court…COURTNEY! Listen to me. You have to be honest with Brad. Not later. Now. You cannot string him along anymore. It’s just not right.” Courtney begins to cry huge racking sobs.

  “People are looking at us. Can you please make them stop?” she begs.

  “What do you expect? Acting like a whore attracts attention. They probably think you’re here to go on Jerry Springer.”


  “OK, OK, I’m on it.” I look around. Although everyone from the Atlanta flight has collected their luggage, they’ve yet to leave. A sweaty fat man with an orange flowered vinyl bag has moved right next to us to hear better. I whirl around to face him. “Yo, Marlon Brando, yeah, with the ugly carry-on, move along. Also? Burn that bag when you get home.” I see an older woman with stop sign red hair pretending to tie her shoes. Perhaps if they weren’t LOAFERS her ruse would be more credible. “And you, Red? Aren’t you old enough to know better? FYI, a six-dollar box of hair color is NOT a bargain. Get going. And the rest of you?” I sweep the crowd with an accusatory finger. “Seriously, piss off. This does not concern you.” I stomp a pony-skinned mule and make shooing motions.

  We attract the attention of airport security. An officer cautiously moves toward us and I see him pat his waist in the direction of his side arm. “Oh, keep your polyester pants on, Rent-a-Cop,” I say, waving dismissively in his direction. “Everything is fine. The situation is handled. My friend here is simply dealing with the ramifications of being a whore.”

  “Please stop calling me that!” she howls.

  “Stop making me. If you know in your heart that it’s over, then you have to do the right thing. Promise me that you’ll end it with Brad before you take up with Chad.21 You owe him that much.”

  She whimpers and nods. “I promise.”

  At this moment, Fletch breaks through the retreating travelers. He looks at their shell-shocked faces and shakes his head. He readily recognizes the victims of Hurricane Jen. “Hey, stranger, welcome home! How was your trip?” he asks while giving me a bear hug. He swoops down to grab my bags. Didn’t I say he was a keeper? “Jen, you left with two bags, but now I see four. You do some shopping?”

  “I had to buy extra bags for all the treats I bought you.”

  “I’ll bet.” His face is wreathed in an ironic smile. Apparently he didn’t care for last present I got him…a pink Ralph Lauren V-neck tennis sweater that just happened to fit me.

  He notices Courtney and says a cautious hello as he takes in her tearstained countenance. I shake my head and whisper, “Don’t ask,” as we stroll to short-term parking.

  On the drive back to the city, Fletch attempts to distract us with boring stories about work. Oh, sweetie, I love you, but do you really think anyone in this car cares about the IP-data-transport-telecom-bandwidth-blah-blah-whatever-it-is-you-do? Your job is to look pretty and keep earning fat commission checks, agreed? Agreed.

  We get back to the city and drop Courtney at her high-rise apartment over by the lakefront. In the rearview mirror, I see her whip out her cell phone and one of our company’s business cards. She’s calling Chad! Stinking liar. I roll down my window and shout, “Get off the phone, whore!” as we pull away. Courtney smiles and give me a wan one-finger wave, phone cradled in her shoulder as her doorman grabs her bags.

  “What happened to Courtney?” Fletch asks.

  I sigh. “Mai tais.”

  The What Street Journal?

  * * *

  Washington Times-Herald Opinion Page, March 6, 2001


  Rarely do I feel the need to skewer a family member publicly, but recently my younger sister made a comment that deserves some scrutiny.

  My sister, a successful high-tech salesperson in her early 30s recently announced that Chicago was “growing a little too small” and she might be ready to move on. Hoping for the best, we thought that she might be ready to move a little closer to home. We were wrong.

  She said that she thought the Big Apple was in her future because Chicago was just “too Midwestern.”

  We decided to dissect this statement over breakfast. Having lived in the New York metropolitan area, I felt I could give my sister some loving advice.

  First we looked at housing. We esta
blished that her old Lincoln Park apartment (one bedroom) would quadruple in cost to $3600 per month in midtown Manhattan. I assume that this prime location would give her unfettered access to the beautiful East River and $40/day parking spots.

  She said she would have better access to Broadway shows. When I asked her how her life has been short-changed by having to wait six months for the three Broadway shows she has actually seen, she quickly moved on.

  On to restaurants. She said that New York has the best restaurants in the world and one can get whatever they want around the clock. I reminded her that no one actually goes to those places, they just talk about how nice it would be if they could. And if the food is so great, then why do all those people stand around eating $6 hot dogs?

  I guess “too Midwestern” would also mean she would get four extra ounces of steak for the same price in Chicago, but she wouldn’t have access to goat tripe at 4:00 AM.

  Books, music, shopping—all were bantered about at the kitchen and I felt like I made a pretty good argument for man’s ability to survive if one had to shop at Marshall Field on Michigan Ave instead of Bloomingdale’s on Fifth Ave.

  The final straw was coffee. She said the Big Apple had better coffee than Chicago and that was an important part of her daily routine.

  So we added up the totals for the environmental bliss of life in Gotham, $3600 in rent, $1200 a month in parking, $12 a day in coffee, $200 a week in Broadway tickets, and $96 a month in hot dogs.

  After explaining that the rest of America goes to about one movie a month, pays an average of $600 a month for a mortgage, and could make four car payments on the $1200 a month parking fee, I knew I had made an impact.

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