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Bitter is the new black, p.30
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       Bitter is the New Black, p.30

           Jen Lancaster

  * * *

  I’m on the bed hugging Maisy. I’ve been shaking ever since I found the notice on the door when we went outside for our walk. I should be packing right now, but I’m completely paralyzed. Yes, I’d like to live elsewhere, but because I elected to do so, and not because I’m so worthless that I can’t even manage to keep a roof over our heads.

  It’s over.

  We lost.

  We’re moving home.

  Fletch enters the bedroom and comes to sit beside me. “Jen?” He bends down to kiss my forehead. I ignore him. I know we’re about to have the “what’s next” conversation, and I just can’t bear it. To avoid looking at him, I bury my face in the pillow I’m sharing with Maisy.189 Maisy—the traitor—leaps on him and begins to lick his face. “Jen. You’ve been up here for hours. We need to talk. JEN. LOOK AT ME. This is important.”

  I sigh and my voice catches as I say, “I’ll get started packing in a minute. If you want to work on the den, I’ll do the bedroom.”

  “Why? We’re not moving.”

  “Yes, we are. You saw the notice.”

  “I did. But we’re not moving.”

  “I’d prefer to not go to court or get arrested for trespassing, thanks.”

  “Listen to me—we’re not moving. When you went upstairs, I called the hiring manager and told him our situation. I said I needed an offer letter today. And…” Fletch pulls a sheet of fax paper from behind his back. I bolt upright, snatch it out of his hands, and begin to read. We would like to cordially extend you an offer with a starting salary of…

  “Oh, Fletch, that’s wonderful, but we still have the eviction issue and—”

  “What issue? I explained to Bill’s secretary that we were having a cash-flow problem because I wasn’t getting any consulting gigs. I told her that because of this, I got a traditional job so we’d never have an issue paying the rent again. I sent her a copy of my offer letter and arranged to pay rent and associated late fees when I get my first paycheck, so they rescinded the notice.”

  “We’re going to be OK?”

  “We are.” We hug while Maisy tries to worm her way between us. I say a quick prayer of thanks and silently pledge never to allow us to get that close to the precipice again. “You know, I couldn’t have gotten through all this without you.”


  “Yep, so now I want to do something for you. When I go to work on Monday, I want you to sit down at the computer and start writing.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “You’ve talked about becoming a writer for the past six months. This is your chance. If you’re really serious about this as your career, start writing and let’s see where it goes.”

  “Really? But what about temping?”

  “Don’t worry about taking any assignments for the moment. Besides, I’ll need your help getting out of here in the morning. If I’m going to be in the suburbs by eight a.m., I’ll have to be up really early. I probably won’t be home until seven o’clock every night, so the dogs will be depending on you, too.”

  This is it.

  We got our “do-over.”

  I promise I’m going to be a different person—a better person—from now on.

  “Thank you, honey.” I smile contentedly with my head resting on his shoulder. “Hey, Fletch?”


  “When you get paid, do you think…would it be possible…could I get some new shoes? Wait…wait…Fletch? I WAS KIDDING!”

  Weblog Entry 8/11/03


  If you hear the hoof beats of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, there’s no need to worry. They’re simply hanging around to herald the fact that FLETCH STARTED HIS NEW JOB TODAY.

  ::cues the Halleluiah chorus::

  The company that hired him took a couple of lifetimes to extend him an offer, and then one more to wait for the offer to be official, pending a background check. Don’t know why I was nervous that he wouldn’t pass, as his resume was non-fiction and there aren’t a lot of skeletons in his closet.190 Armed with a travel mug of coffee, an anticipatory smile, and a kiss on the cheek, he was off to the bus stop this morning, thus beginning a new chapter of our lives.

  And it’s about damn time, as we have something like $5 left, most of it in coins.

  Now that I don’t have to spend my days actively worrying about basic needs, I’ve decided to rearrange my career goals and focus on finding a way to get paid to write. But before I embark on my great writing career, I’ve got to get this out of my system.


  Hey, all you companies that decided not to hire me in the past 685 days…remember me? No? Well, I’m the one who sent you all those resumes and clever cover letters. I’m the one who called your VPs of Sales relentlessly to alert them to my availability. It was me who went to every lame, horrific, and uncomfortable networking event just to try to meet some of you live. Those were my ads you saw in the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Reader just to show you I existed. (And if you recall, I was the gal who received nothing for my efforts except emails from perverts.)

  To refresh your memory, I’m the lady who submitted to your pre-employment quizzes, allowed you to query my credit and education records, peed into your plastic cups, and was grilled by person after person at your company. Remember when you had me interview with six different people? And when you had me present a business plan that you eventually stole?

  It was me who smiled through gritted teeth, nodded and said with my heart in my throat, “That sounds great!” when you told me about base salaries $40K less than I had just made doing the exact same job. And I’m the one who stood by the mailbox, cordless phone in hand, waiting for you to tell me something…anything. Seriously, you don’t know that I’m the woman who moved to the ’hood, and sold her jewelry, her car, heck, most all of her stuff once her unemployment checks ran out so that I could pay rent while I kept trying to attract your attention?

  You don’t recall that I’m the one who cried and felt worthless and doubted my once highly sought-after abilities because I couldn’t even get a receptionist job? It was me who spent 22 months having the same uncomfortable telephone conversation with my parents about my lack of progress. And you didn’t know that between buying pantyhose and taking cabs, I spent a thousand dollars for the privilege of doing so, and yet have nothing to show for the effort?

  Well, guess what…I remember you.

  So, to all you companies that didn’t hire me, I say, PISS OFF!

  You had your chance to hire me, you bastards! So don’t you come sniffing around here now. I wouldn’t accept your lousy, thankless sales job on a double-dog dare! I’m taking every bit of competitive information I have to my grave! Ha! You will never benefit from my contacts or expertise or professionalism! Your copy machines and press releases and financial services are going to have to sell themselves because I refuse to ever do it for you again! I gave you every opportunity to bring me on board. You had your chance; you blew it.

  You’re on your own now, Corporate America…

  …good fucking luck.

  Fletch has been at his new job now for a couple of weeks. He gets up at five a.m. so that he can catch the bus by six in order to get the train at six twenty. I’m up with him, making breakfast, packing lunch, fixing coffee, and ironing shirts. I figure if he’s going to be tired all day, I’ll be tired with him. Plus, having the opportunity to pursue my dream of being a writer is a small price to pay.

  Our first priority is getting another car, and we should be able to do so within the next couple of months, if we sock away all Fletch’s commissions. As the downstairs neighbors have declared war on us since my little comment, I’d like to live elsewhere. However, it’s not realistic right now. When we advertised for sub-leasers a couple of weeks ago, no one was interested, so unloading this place will probably be harder than I thought. Thankful as I am to have a Chicago roof over my head, I’m not going to stress about

  I think maybe we’ve come out of this unscathed.

  “Hello?” I reach the phone on the last ring before voice mail takes the call. I almost missed it because I was upstairs wrestling a towel into my overstuffed bag. Shayla and I are about to take advantage of the last nice day before school starts, so we’re off to the beach.

  My brother is on the line. “Jen, I’ve been trying to call you—where have you been?”

  “Showering and taking the dogs out and stuff. I’m going somewhere, and I didn’t want to get stuck having a boring conversation about Indiana basketball with you. Seriously, if I didn’t care about high school sports when I was IN high school, why on earth would I care now?”

  “Did you listen to any of my voice mails?”

  “No, why would I? All you ever say is ‘Pick up, pick up, pick up’ because you refuse to accept it’s VOICE MAIL and not an answering machine. Anyway, is this going to take long? I’ve got to get going.”

  “Dammit, Jennifer, stop talking. Our mother was in an accident this morning.”

  “What? What happened? I thought she was in Connecticut. Is she OK?”

  “Auntie Virginia was driving Mom to the airport in Hartford, and they were hit by a truck. The car was totaled. Auntie Virginia is fine, but Mom’s in the hospital with broken ribs and a punctured lung. They hit a guardrail on her side of the car. The doctor says she’s going to be OK, but it was touch and go there for a little while.” So when I was busy watching The Price Is Right and playing fetch with Loki, my mother was bleeding on the side of a highway? I suddenly want to throw up.

  “Oh, my God, how can I get a hold of her? How is she doing?”

  “She’s really shaken up and she’s in a lot of pain. She’s asking for you.”

  “What should I do?”

  “Dad’s going to drive to Connecticut, and he needs you to come with him. Because of the lung, she won’t be able to fly for a while, so he’s driving her back when she’s released from the hospital. He expected you to be on the road already, so get moving.”

  But I can’t get moving.

  I never told my family about the repossession, so they don’t know I have no way to get to Indiana. The last thing I want to do is burden them with this knowledge. Since Fletch hasn’t been paid yet, I don’t have enough money to take a train or fly, and my credit cards have been maxed out for months, so I can’t rent a car.

  My mom is scared and alone, and all she wants right now is me. But because of all the selfish, foolish mistakes I made in my past, I can’t get to her.

  This is just about the worst feeling in the world.

  Weblog Entry 9/6/03


  “Wait, Jen, I’m confused. How did you get to your parents’ house? Did your dad pick you up?”


  “Did you fly?”


  “Did you take the train?”


  “Did you—heh, heh, heh, take the BUS?”

  Yes. Yes, I did.

  And no, I’m not kidding.

  I was slightly terrified at the idea of riding Greyhound since I’d never done so before. But I also was a tiny bit exhilarated; it just seemed so On The Road, although having not actually read the whole thing, I wasn’t sure if I would be more like Jack or Neal Cassady.

  As I figured getting to see my mother would outweigh any risks, I booked my ticket. I caught a cab to the bus station and began to get nervous when the driver assumed that I was kidding about the whole Greyhound Station destination. When I assured him that I was serious, he apologized and said I just didn’t look like a typical bus rider. I wasn’t sure whether to be delighted or offended.

  I entered the station and suddenly understood what my cab driver meant. I didn’t look like any of these people. The people in the Greyhound terminal certainly didn’t seem like the same people I’d bump into at O’Hare or Union Station. I’m so used to being around happy travelers…families excited to be on their way to Florida, young sales execs ready to fly out to Houston to “totally NAIL the Pennzoil account, boo-yah!” and amorous honeymoon couples about to jet to Hawaii for a week of never actually getting to see the beach.

  But there’s little joy of travel at the bus station. Everyone looked sad, weary, elaborately tattooed, and pointedly NOT excited to be there. Like on the verge of violently-not-excited-to-be-there. I imagine a lot of this had to do with the atmosphere. The bus station was not a cheery place, and it lacked the charm, warmth, and sanitation of, oh, say, a third world country’s sewage treatment plant.

  Actually, after having a good look around, I realized why the scene was vaguely familiar. It reminded me very much of HBO’s prison show Oz, both in atmosphere and clientele. I broke out into a cold sweat when I noticed that some of the “inmates” were eyeing me. I wondered if I should immediately “take someone out” with a weapon I’d fashioned by whittling down a plastic spork. Then I figured they’d eventually realize I was no better than the rest of them since I was taking the bus, too, and would leave me alone. And even if I had been hassled, nothing was going to keep me from getting to my mother. So, I bought a cheeseburger, opened a book, and waited for my ride.

  Now here’s where I’d like to begin to detail The Journey from Hell…

  …but I can’t.

  The bus was OK.

  No, actually, it was very nice. It was clean, comfortable, and cool. No crying babies. No foul stinks. No erratic driving. As an added bonus, a Greyhound employee was deadheading to a different station, so he sat up by the driver and they quietly gossiped like sorority girls about stupid customers.

  While the miles rolled away, I popped open my roasted almonds and closed my book. I noticed that I had an excellent vantage point; I never realized that from a bus you could see inside of every car! I amused myself for almost an hour by spying on other drivers. I was a bit disturbed to see how many people smoke pot while they’re driving. I started to record their license plate numbers but then realized that I am not the Hall Monitor of the World. I had no idea what I’d actually do with the information. Maybe if I’d had a phone with me I could have called the police? But I’m thinking since these cars were going about 12 miles an hour on the expressway, there’s a good likelihood of them being caught without my help. And if I called the police four hours later when I got to my house, they’d just think I was a kook.

  Besides, Jack Kerouac would have never been a narc.


  * * *

  To: [email protected]

  From: Cal Canter

  Date: September 12, 2003

  Subject: Little Blaster

  Jennifer—aka “Little Blaster,”191

  Some time ago your brother told me about your web site and being the arrogant snob I am, (also very busy and very impressed with myself), I never bothered to look it up. Hopelessly bored tonight, I found a scrap of paper with your web address on it (actually, didn’t even remember that it was yours), so I dialed it up. Several quick observations, if I might—

  1. Credit should be given to your character that being unemployed for almost 2 years has not made you bitter. Heh.

  2. Perhaps you are setting your sites too high for a job in retail. There is always opportunity in fast food that can lead to management positions.

  3. I didn’t get a chance to read all of your web site (specifically the article about Peggy Noonan, and I might add that next to the bible on my nightstand is a copy of Ronald Reagan, When Character Was King ), simply because I do work and could not possibly have to time to read the entire thing. (I will have my secretary read it tomorrow and summarize it in a memo for me.) Try to remember George Orwell’s 6 rules to better writing—1. Never use a long word where a short word will do—2. If it is possible to leave a word out, leave a word out, etc…. This might add a little brevity and make the reading go quicker.

  4. Remember, if you go 5 years without meaningful employment, you live in Chicago, where pa
nhandling is not only an option, it is an opportunity.

  5. Your writing is both good and entertaining, however, Stephen King is the exception to the rule about financial success of writers (while they are living). If you become classified as a successful writer you will either starve to death or someone will turn up some dirt on you and you will go the way of Bob Greene, leaving the literary scene humiliated and divorced, faced with unavoidable litigation.

  Jen, Al Gore invented the Internet. It is grossly overrated. If Survivor wasn’t over, only one episode of The Bachelor left, Joe Millionaire all but forgotten, myself and the rest of the world would not be sitting at a computer tonight.

  Volunteer at the Church, help the illiterate, do something.

  Nice web site,

  Calvin, a friend of your brother’s.

  P.S. I have recently started a management company to manage my portfolio of commercial real estate properties. We are looking for several in-house maintenance people. Feel free to forward your resume, or we can fax you an application. GED or equivalent required.

  * * *

  “Are you going to dignify this with a response?” Fletch asks. We’re in the den, and Fletch is standing over my shoulder, rereading Calvin’s e-mail.

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