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Bitter is the new black, p.5
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       Bitter is the New Black, p.5

           Jen Lancaster
 

  The last thing Stan said in my final interview was “This is a male-dominated company in a male-dominated industry. I’m talking total boys’ club heah. I never hired a woman to do sales befoah because I don’t wanna deal with complaints. Ya wanna run with the boys, ya gotta let ’em be boys. I need to know, Jen, what would ya do when ya heah the guy sitting next to ya say, ‘I banged my girlfriend in the ayse last night’?”29

  Momentarily stunned, I answered truthfully, “I’d probably laugh.”

  “Good ansah. ’Cause I don’ like bein’ sued. Ya hired.”

  What’s funny is that I was usually responsible for the embarrassing. The other salesmen had graduated from various Ivy League universities and many had been brokers. Although competitive air hockey players, they were as dull as dry toast and spoke endlessly about their portfolios. I’d have welcomed a sodomy story just to break up the monotone ejaculations about market capitalization. Even after I’d been there a few months, I called them all Josh because I couldn’t tell them apart. Franco, everyone’s favorite Lincoln Park barber, gave them all the same haircut, and every day they showed up to work in tan pants and French blue dress shirts. I’m not sure Stan could ever differentiate between them, either.

  Fortunately, cohesion was Stan’s goal. As part of his plan, we were required to take business trips en masse. He liked the idea of all his salespeople out together at trendy eateries, sporting our logo shirts for branding purposes. However, being with these guys every day and most evenings began to wear on me. One can only hear about Cornell’s winning football program so many times, you know?

  On my first joint venture to New York, I got stuck with one of the Joshes for the day. Josh had trained me, and I use that term loosely. His sales pitch entailed boring the customer into submission. The only thing I’d learned from him was how not to sell.

  “Explain to me again why I have to come with you today,” I said during our mandatory group breakfast. I’d already closed three deals on this trip, and dammit, I’d EARNED an afternoon of shopping by myself. The closest I’d come to Fifth Avenue so far was an airport candy bar.

  Josh sighed and paused before answering. He took a handkerchief out of his pocket and used it to wipe his glasses. “Jennifer, I’ve been tasked with training you and I take my responsibilities seriously.”

  No shit, you giant handkerchief-carrying dork. You take everything seriously. You wouldn’t know a good time if it bit you on the ass.

  “I’ve retired my sales goal for the entire year and it’s only March,” I replied. “Shouldn’t that prove I’m already trained?”

  I should be giving YOU lessons on how to work a customer, pal.

  “All it proves is that I’ve done a first-rate job in your sales education. Imagine how much more effective you will be when we reach the conclusion of our sessions together.”

  Imagine how effective I could be at removing your pancreas with my grapefruit knife when we reach the conclusion of this conversation.

  That afternoon, I sulked all the way from our midtown hotel to lower Manhattan. After passing what seemed like a million cool shoe stores and indie coffee shops that I could have been patronizing, we arrived at our destination.

  We were to meet with Lawrence. Lawrence was a vice president at, um, let’s call it an influential business publication. I was, of course, stoked because there’s nobody more interesting than a financial journalist, especially once he’s become management.

  Oh, wait, except everyone.

  It was going to be a long afternoon.

  We gave our names at the security desk and were guided to a bank of elevators. I punched the UP button and waited. Josh pressed right after me. Apparently I hadn’t pushed it to his satisfaction, but I bit my tongue.

  As we entered the elevator, Josh turned to me and said, “Since you’re still learning the sales process, I’d prefer that you not speak in this meeting.”

  “Come again?” Did I hear him correctly?

  “In the meeting, please don’t say anything unless you’ve been addressed. I don’t want the client to get confused. You are not yet up to speed on the way I pitch, and I want to present a consistent message.”

  I had to give up shopping for this?

  “Shall I also walk three paces behind you, Josh-san?” I asked, bowing slightly.

  “Oh, I don’t think that will be necessary,” he replied. Apparently Harvard didn’t teach him to detect sarcasm.

  We got to reception and a secretary guided us to a lush conference room on the fortieth floor and brought us espresso in beautiful enameled cups. The chairs were elaborately hand-tooled leather jobs and the giant round table had cherrywood inlays. The mahogany paneled walls were covered with Asian-influenced oil paintings, and a variety of interesting vases were scattered artfully about the polished sideboards.30 I took a deep breath and realized that all I could smell was money. The windows of the room ran floor to ceiling, and there was nothing but glass between us and a sun-dazzled Manhattan skyline. Wow, just wow.

  Lawrence joined us momentarily. He was immaculately appointed in Brooks Brothers, and his powerful handshake crushed one of my metacarpals. We exchanged business cards, and I’d barely gotten my name out before Josh gave me the stink eye. Oh, yeah. No noise from the peanut gallery.

  Josh launched into his tedious pitch immediately, and I zoned out. He blathered on about our products and services for a while, and I’d occasionally smile and nod. I didn’t care to listen, and I might not be allowed to participate, but at least I could look like my presence served a purpose. I pretended to take notes in my leather-bound Filofax but was actually penning flattering assessments about myself. Jen is smarter than Josh. Jen is a better salesperson than Josh. Jen is more interesting than Josh.

  Eventually, their conversation turned to Harvard. This was not surprising. Because he was an alumnus, ALL of Josh’s conversations eventually led to Harvard. Frankly, I was shocked he’d kept quiet about it that long. Usually he introduced himself as Joshua, and would add, “But my friends from Harvard call me Josh.” Luckily, he also wore a Harvard ring and rep tie in case the introduction was too subtle. And what a lucky day! Lawrence had gone to Harvard, too. Yay, or boola, boola, or rah, rah, or whatever!

  Josh and Lawrence prattled on about Crimson, Cream, the Boat House, Steve’s mix-ins, the Coop, and Beat Yale! as I stared out the window. At some point, they realized that I was still in the room and Lawrence finally decided to include me in their nonversation.

  He began, “Tell me, Jenny…”

  Whoa, hold it right there. Does it say Jenny on my business card? Did I introduce myself as Jenny? Do I look like a Jenny? No. Strike One, pal.

  “…did you also attend Harvard?” he finished.

  If I had, wouldn’t I have mentioned it at some point in the last half hour?? Stee-rike Two.

  With a sneer, Josh interrupted. “No, she went to some Big Ten school.”

  I tried to smile through my aggravation. I may not have gone to Harvard, but I was proud of my education, especially since I paid for a lot of it myself. “That’s right. I graduated from—” I began.

  But the damage was done. Lawrence and Josh were already exchanging barely perceptible smirks at the idea of a state school. Armed with that little nugget of information, Lawrence deemed that I wasn’t good enough to be included in their conversation and I became invisible again. Strike Three. Thanks for playing. I returned my attention to my notebook. Jen is not a condescending jackass like Josh. Josh sniffs his own farts. Josh has dirty fantasies about Alan Greenspan.

  Eventually, Lawrence gave us a tour of their operations. When we passed by the team of Web developers Lawrence oversaw, I noticed that all of them were busy trolling sex Web sites. And none of this arty, I’m-only-modeling-to-pay-my-tuition stuff, either. I’m talking hard-core with money shots and everything.31

  Curious, I thought. Shouldn’t those developers look guilty having been caught ogling beavercentral.com?

  When we ret
urned to the conference room I still smarted from being silenced and having my college slighted. Who could blame me? I decided it was time to have some fun.

  As we arranged ourselves in the posh softness of the leather chairs, I asked, “Hey, Larry, what’s the deal with the nudie sites?”

  Call me Jenny, indeed.

  Josh gave me that look, but I ignored it.

  “How observant of you. Our developers are attempting to add more subscribers to our online venture. They have been studying how pornographic sites use interstitial windows to capture registrants’ information. They have been working day and night on that technology,” Lawrence replied while nodding his head, agreeing with himself. What an ass.

  “Let me see if I understand this, Larry,” I proceeded. “Your team spends all day looking at pornography.”

  “That is correct.” More nods.

  “You sanction this?”

  “Absolutely.” Bobble, bobble, bobble.

  “Because they tell you it’s for business?” I continue.

  “Affirmative.” Josh started to shake his head, too. They both appeared to have contracted Parkinson’s disease.

  “And you BELIEVE them? HA!” My laughter bounced off the urban canyons of lower Manhattan while Lawrence and Josh blanched, realizing that the emperor was as pants-free as all the girlies on those Web sites. Our meeting ended shortly after that, as did my formal training sessions with Josh.

  Diss my alma mater, indeed.

  I’m thankful for my time at Midwest IR. Working with all those boys taught me to compete like a man.32 I gained the confidence to look my present employers in the eye during salary negotiations and ask for a sum so outrageous that they should have laughed me out of the interview.

  Should have.

  But didn’t. I refer you again to the careless temp.

  Suckers.

  My work ethic being what it is, I’m always the first person here in the morning and the last one out at night. Since we returned from Florida, I’ve been especially buried. I’ve done three appointments today and can’t count how many calls I’ve taken. Which is why it’s four o’clock and I have yet to eat lunch.

  I catch a glimpse of myself in the mini mirror hanging on my cubicle wall. Yikes. My lipstick is a distant memory and my mascara is everywhere. And, ugh…the chlorine in the resort’s pool completely bleached out my highlights and my roots are overgrown. I look like one of the easy girls at my high school who’d sit on the hoods of their boyfriends’ Monte Carlos wearing roach clip earrings and eyeliner heated with a lighter for maximum smudge-ability. All I’m missing is a Billy Squier tape, a Virginia Slims cigarette, and the desire to cruise Dairy Queen’s parking lot.

  I glance over at Courtney’s desk. Earlier she was weeping, but now she’s whispering into the receiver and giggling flirtatiously. She’s still wearing her engagement ring, yet I get the sense she’s not speaking with Brad. Courtney has tried to catch my eye numerous times, but I’ve been on conference calls. I contemplate slipping some lithium into her frappuccino because I don’t have the time to ride her emotional roller coaster; I have sales to close, proposals to draft, and hair to fix.

  I look in the mirror again. Sales and Courtney’s mental health can wait; my hair takes precedence.

  I pick up the phone.

  “Good afternoon and thank you for calling the Molto Bene Salon on North Michigan Avenue. How can I help you?” a pleasant voice asks.

  “Hi, this is Jen Lancaster. I need to make an appointment with Rory for highlights. If you have something sooner rather than later, I’d really appreciate it,” I say.

  “Let’s see…” As I wait, I hear a keyboard clicking efficiently in the background. “You’re in luck! Rory just had a cancellation and can take you at three thirty tomorrow if that works for you,” the voice asks. Ding, ding, ding, score! You can never get an appointment on Saturday this late in the week.

  “That would be so great. Thanks very much,” I gush.

  “All right, that’s three thirty p.m. tomorrow for full highlights with Rory. Thanks, and we’ll see you then, Jenny.”

  I’m going to let that one go.

  I arrive at the salon early so that I can commit a little commerce in the shops located next to it. Spring has finally sprung and I’ve got a hankering for some mules. I kill about an hour in an upscale shoe store ogling the newest kicks from BCBG and Via Spiga. I can’t decide if I want the strappy black alligator sandals or the glossy brown kitten heels, so I buy both. I tell myself that I will return one pair, but even the crazy homeless guy I saw earlier today wearing a burlap sack and a garbage can lid knows that’s a lie.

  Laden with packages and a white chocolate mocha, I make my way down the escalator at three twenty-five. I may be late on occasion for other events in my life, but never a hair appointment. Having good hair is too important to my mental state, and if it costs me the GNP of Guam, so be it. That’s why I work hard.

  I was born with the kind of tresses that would frizz on a bet. I had fourteen years of bad hair days until I discovered vent brushes and styling mousse my freshman year of high school. Thank God, I figured it out before class pictures were taken.

  In college, I had a great big eighties mane. When I graduated, I decided I needed professional hair, and that meant short. I cut almost sixteen inches off when I started at the insurance company and it’s the only time I’ve ever seen Fletch close to tears. Biggest mistake ever. It took FOREVER to grow it shoulder-length and the next fall when my Brazilian ex-stylist accidentally cut layers in it because he was high on Sudafed, I tried to have him deported.

  Prior to this job, I wore my curls bobbed and dyed them black. I made a point to wear nerdy, Italian cat’s-eye glasses so I’d blend in when meeting with dot-com chicks.

  Now that I have to deal with media people, I’m practically blond and do a full blowout every morning. I like it, but it takes an awful lot of maintenance to look good. I get it cut and colored every month, and every two weeks I do a deep conditioner. And since I’m already at the salon on those days, I indulge in spa services. Although I get a lot of specialty services like wraps, scrubs, and mustache removal33 my favorite is the simple manicure/pedicure. They work on your hands and feet at the same time while you sit in a vibrating chair. I call it the sorority girl’s version of a threesome.

  I walk up to the check-in area. Half a dozen anorexic twenty year olds, clad entirely in black, chat and pose behind the chrome-and-frosted-glass desk. I look at them expectantly and smile. I’m a regular here and a legendary tipper, so I expect them to snap to attention. They gaze back at me with their dead-doll eyes and my presence doesn’t register. My mistake: I forgot that a lot of wannabe models work the desk on the weekend. I’ll need to use small words.

  “Hello, how are you? I’m here for a three thirty with Rory. The name is Lancaster.” I grin again. A couple of them blink lazily back at me and continue their scintillating conversation about the do-ability of Justin Timberlake. Such pretty faces, such empty heads.

  “I’m getting my color done,” I say.

  No response.

  “With Rory,” I clarify. I can almost hear the wind rush through their ears.

  “At three thirty.” Maybe if I break the information down into bits, it will be easier for them to digest.

  Nothing.

  “My name is Lancaster.” I wait. That should do the trick.

  It doesn’t.

  “Hello!” I exclaim while banging on the glass counter with one of my rings.

  “Oh, what? OK,” finally replies a tall girl with orange bangs and almond-shaped eyes. She’s stunning but vapid. She starts to tap at the desktop computer. “Are you checking in?”

  “No, I’m here to discuss quantum physics with you. Tell me, what are your thoughts on the Heisenberg uncertainty principle?” I ask.

  “Huh?”

  “Yes. Yes, I’m checking in.”

  “What’s your name?”

  “Lancaster.”
<
br />   “And who are you here to see?” More tapping.

  “Rory.”

  “For what?”

  “Full highlights and a base bump.”

  “At what time?”

  “THREE THIRTY.” I start to speak in capital letters. Did I not just cover all of this?

  “For what again?”

  “COLOR. I’M GETTING MY COLOR DONE WITH RORY AT THREE THIRTY.”

  “What’s the name?”

  “LANCASTER. THREE THIRTY. RORY. COLOR.” I point at my head for emphasis and fight the urge to swing a shoe box at her. She pecks away at the computer.

  “I’m sorry, Miss Lancaster, but I don’t see nothing in the computer for you. Do you wanna reschedule?”

  “Are you kidding? I just booked this yesterday. Check again! I’m sure it’s there.” I begin to panic. I cannot spend one more day looking at these platinum streaks and dark chestnut roots.

  “Ooooh. I see the problem. Your appointment was yesterday at three thirty. You’re mistaken. You gotta reschedule.”

  OK, deep breath, I tell myself. Let’s not go to jail for punching an aspiring model. They won’t let you wear cute shoes in jail and you’re already someone’s girlfriend. Maintain, maintain, maintain.

  “No, you’re mistaken,” I say as calmly as I can, resisting the urge to get all Sean Penn on her. “You see, I didn’t call to schedule until after three thirty yesterday. My appointment, FOR COLOR, WITH RORY, was for today at three thirty.”

  “You sure?” she asks.

  “Positive.”

  She does some more tapping. She swivels the monitor toward me and points to the time with a French-manicured nail tip. “See? We got you down for three thirty yesterday. So you musta got the day wrong. Care to reschedule?”

  Good air in, bad air out. Good air in, bad air out. I force my hands to stop making fists and I mentally talk myself down from the bell tower. She can’t help it if she grew up eating lead paint chips, right? I force my pulse to slow as I gulp down air. OK. I’m OK. Crisis averted.

  I clear my throat and speak in tones so clipped I could cut my own hair. Very slowly, I say, “It. Would. Have. Been. Impossible. For. Me. To. Have. A. Three thirty. Yesterday. Unless I had a time machine. But, unfortunately, I am not a character in an H. G. Wells novel. So, my appointment is at three thirty TODAY.”

 
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