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Bitter is the new black, p.6
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       Bitter is the New Black, p.6

           Jen Lancaster
 

  She cocks her head and begins to peck away again. I wait while she pulls up another screen on the computer. “Nope, sorry. I don’t see no appointment for a Wells either.”

  AARRRGGGHHH! I’m so tired of dealing with idiots with jobs. People are rude and stupid everywhere I go. At the grocery store, it’s like pulling teeth to get the cashier to say thank you. It would take an act of God or Congress to keep her from packing my toilet bowl cleaner and bread in the same bag.

  Or how about all the buffoons who drive buses in this city? The few times I’ve ridden the 56 route, the driver acts like he’s doing me a favor if he comes to a complete stop when it’s time to exit. Yeah, sorry, Manuel, but it’s kind of hard for me to tuck and roll in a Calvin Klein cigarette skirt. No wonder I always take cabs!

  How are any of these people still employed? And you want to talk about witless wonders? What about the brain trusts I encounter every day on sales calls? I don’t know how these people get to work every day without bumping their heads, let alone make the kinds of decisions that keep their respective companies in business.

  You know what? We need a recession in this country, because that would finally weed out all the subnormal, underdeveloped, stupefied, puerile people in this workforce.

  Before I unleash my secret weapon34 and hurl myself across the desk to throttle Miss Orange Hair for her crimes against me and the English language, Rory appears.

  “Rory! Thank God! I’m about to commit a felony.”

  “Please don’t do that—you’d hate jail. They don’t provide conditioner.”

  “The MENSA members you have working here say I don’t have an appointment.” The handful of clerks bright enough to realize I’m insulting them glower in my direction.

  “Honey, you’re going to have to start taking your hair a little less seriously.”

  “Never.”

  Rory laughs. “Regardless, I have time and I can take you now. It’s the weirdest thing—my afternoon is clear because none of my appointments showed up.” We walk back to her color station.

  “Yeah? Ten bucks says they come in tomorrow.”

  Crash and Burn

  * * *

  CORP.COM.EMAIL

  To: SweetMelissa

  From: [email protected] Date: July 10, 2001

  Subject: No Lunch For You

  Yo, Meliss—

  Change of plans—can’t meet for lunch today. Apparently I’m needed in Cleveland TOMORROW, so I’ve got to spend this afternoon getting ready. Sorry for canceling on such short notice.

  Let’s catch up soon,

  Jen

  **********

  Jennifer A. Lancaster

  Manager, Interactive Products, Midwest

  312-555-2790

  “This communication is for discussion purposes only and does not create any obligation to negotiate or enter into a binding agreement with Corporate Communications Conglomerate, Inc.”

  * * *

  * * *

  CORP.COM.EMAIL

  To: SweetMelissa

  From: [email protected] Date: July 13, 2001

  Subject: FYI

  Melissa,

  Cleveland DOES NOT ROCK.

  How does Thursday, July 19 look for dinner? I’m thinking chopped chicken salad and buckets o’ margaritas at Banderas.

  Si, si?

  El Jen

  **********

  Jennifer A. Lancaster

  Manager, Interactive Products, Midwest 312-555-2790

  “This communication is for discussion purposes only and does not create any obligation to negotiate or enter into a binding agreement with Corporate Communications Conglomerate, Inc.”

  * * *

  * * *

  CORP.COM.EMAIL

  To: SweetMelissa

  From: [email protected] Date: July 18, 2001

  Subject: Mexican Cuisine

  Hola,

  First the good news…tomorrow I’ll be having authentic Mexican food.

  And now the bad…unless you’re going to be in Tucson, too, we won’t be eating it together. Dreadfully sorry and all that.

  Jen

  P.S. Have I mentioned how excited I am to go to the hottest place on the face of the earth in the middle of the freaking summer?

  **********

  Jennifer A. Lancaster

  Manager, Interactive Products, Midwest 312-555-2790

  “This communication is for discussion purposes only and does not create any obligation to negotiate or enter into a binding agreement with Corporate Communications Conglomerate, Inc.”

  * * *

  * * *

  CORP.COM.EMAIL

  To: SweetMelissa

  From: [email protected] Date: July 31, 2001

  Subject: Scratch That

  Howdy,

  Correction: Tucson is NOT the hottest place on the face of the earth.

  Minneapolis, MN is.

  It was 100 degrees there yesterday. I’m pretty sure I saw a bird spontaneously combust.

  Who knew?

  Jen

  **********

  Jennifer A. Lancaster

  Manager, Interactive Products, Midwest 312-555-2790

  “This communication is for discussion purposes only and does not create any obligation to negotiate or enter into a binding agreement with Corporate Communications Conglomerate, Inc.”

  * * *

  * * *

  CORP.COM.EMAIL

  To: SweetMelissa

  From: [email protected] Date: August 13

  Subject: This Is Getting OLD

  Greetings and salutations,

  Since it’s fairly obvious we’re never going to catch up in person, I may as well brief you via email. What a miserable couple of days I’ve had. Left for Dallas on Monday and took a long, HOT cab ride to Midway. The AC worked in the front seat, but not in the back. Unfortunately I wasn’t sitting in the front seat and driving—a shame really, as my cabbie was busy eating lunch with a fork while talking on the phone.

  After a long, HOT wait in the one un-air-conditioned part of the newly rehabbed airport, I boarded the plane and sat there for 1.5 hours—again with no AC—until we took off. At one point, I think I fainted.

  So imagine my pleasure at coming back to the Great Midwest Swamp. It’s actually worse here, and it was 98 degrees in Dallas, but not humid. I demanded my cab driver last night crank the air conditioning which he did, but he only left the partition open a crack. I sweated like it was my job the whole way home. I guess what I don’t understand is WHY THE HELL COULDN’T HE OPEN THE FREAKING PARTITION? Was he afraid of the well-dressed white woman with luggage going home to her upscale neighborhood? And why does no cab driver help me with my suitcases any more?

  Did I mention that I worked/traveled for 18 straight hours on Monday, then worked/traveled for 16 hours yesterday, and spent a solid 10 of those hours giving back-to-back presentations? I am so tired I can’t even see straight.

  Now I have to grab a cab so that I can sweat on a client during a lunch before I head to New York. Which, of course, means we can’t meet today YET AGAIN. Want to cry, but more likely will punch someone. Oh, and how are you?

  Jen

  **********

  Jennifer A. Lancaster

  Manager, Interactive Products, Midwest 312-555-2790

  “This communication is for discussion purposes only and does not create any obligation to negotiate or enter into a binding agreement with Corporate Communications Conglomerate, Inc.”

  * * *

  Perhaps my first mistake was taking financial advice from a book titled Confessions of a Shopaholic. But when you’re desperate to raise sixty-five hundred dollars, you’re willing to embrace even the craziest of ideas.

  Like spending an entire summer sweating your ass off in the back of a cab.

  Or living within a budget.

  Following in the divine Miss Becky Bloomwood’s Louboutin-clad steps, I decided I, too, would Spend Less Mone
y.

  “A lot of innocent muppets died for this piece,” Fletch says, running a skeptical hand over a hairy lime green ottoman in the too-trendy-for-words Gold Coast furniture store. “Tell me again what’s wrong with the couch we have now.”

  “It’s icky,” I reply.

  “That’s not what you thought a year ago when you threw a fit in Pottery Barn. If I recall correctly, you claimed your life wasn’t worth living if you didn’t own the Charleston model. You even threatened to stab yourself Dracula-style with a wooden slat from the back of the futon if I refused you.”

  “I never said anything of the sort,” I say, attempting to look innocent.35

  He laughs. “You’re a terrible liar. Then you were so excited when it arrived, you tried to shove the deliverymen out of the way to carry it up the stairs yourself.”

  “Their overalls looked dirty, and I didn’t want their grubby paws on my clean new upholstery. Besides, I hated that futon more than pleather shoes and acid-washed jeans combined, so I was just trying to speed the process of getting it out of the living room and into storage.”

  “I was glad to be rid of the futon, too,” he concedes. “That’s why we bought the soft, down-filled couch. I still don’t get why we’re here looking at furniture we do not need.”

  “Everyone and their brother owns our stupid sofa now. I’m tired of stepping into every apartment in the city and seeing my generic old furniture. It may as well be white with a black bar code and a label reading Couch. Where’s the originality? Where’s the creativity? I don’t want people looking at my furniture and thinking, ‘Oh, great, another yuppie lemming who ordered off page forty-three.’ I want them to exclaim, ‘What an exquisite collection! Jen, as always, your taste is second to none.’”

  “Who are the ‘they’ in this scenario?”

  “The stylish people we’re bound to meet sooner or later.”

  “But we don’t know them?”

  “Not yet. And we won’t ever if we don’t get some trendy new pieces.”

  Fletch throws his hands in the air, completely resigned. “I certainly can’t argue with your logic.”

  “See? I knew you’d agree.” Actually, he’s a lot less disgusted with me than he sounds. The way we bicker, people always think we’re on the verge of a breakup, but that’s totally untrue. We simply communicate better by arguing. We spend so much time fighting tiny battles, e.g., which was the better Darrin on Bewitched,36 that we never seem to have any steam left over for big ones.

  We wander around the store for a few minutes until I spot something that takes my breath away.

  “Oh, Fletch, look, isn’t it dreamy?” I ask, caressing the side of the loveliest couch in the entire world. This magnificent piece of craftsmanship is covered in creamy taupe leather and shaped like a twin mattress standing on glossy cherrywood legs. Dotted with tufted buttons, the ends swirl up into delicate rolled espresso-colored suede armrests. I’m not sure if I want to lie on it or lick it.

  “You certainly have the eye,” says a salesman, appearing out of nowhere. “The MOMA featured this couch in a minimalist design exhibit.”

  “Fletch! Did you hear that? The MOMA! A MOMA couch would definitely suit my, er, I mean, our needs,” I gush.

  “Do you even know what the MOMA is?” he asks.

  “Shut up! Of course, I do,” I snap.37 “Don’t you love it? Don’t you want to have it right this minute?”

  “This is the finest piece in our collection. Each one is handcrafted by a master carpenter in Italy,” notes the salesman.

  “Fletch! An Italian master carpenter!” I am practically swooning.

  “Do you notice what it’s missing?” he asks.

  “Nothing! It’s perfect!” I exclaim.

  “Jen, there’s no back. This is a backless couch. How do you get comfortable on a backless couch?”

  “Oh. I think you lie flat on it.” I sit down with a thud for a trial run. Ow! For such a pretty piece, it’s surprisingly uncomfortable. When I lie down, each tufted button digs into my back. I sit up, and that’s not so nice either…. It kind of feels like I’m straddling a bucket of golf balls. But so what? It’s still exquisite and I must make it mine. “Or, um, we can put it against the wall and not really sit on it. We could just admire it and use it for company. Maybe once in a while I’d pose on it and eat a peeled grape or something? You really wouldn’t want to sit on a couch this beautiful every day.”

  “Let me get this straight…. You advocate we trade our like-new and incredibly comfortable down sofa for one we can’t use to impress people we don’t know?”

  “Handcrafted!” I bleat, mesmerized by the thought of me supine, sipping a dirty martini and entertaining my haute couture minions.

  The salesman chortles at us. “You married couples are all alike. She wants style, he wants substance.”

  “We’re not married,” I reply.

  “And we never will be if we spend”—Fletch pauses to pick up the price tag—“almost seven thousand dollars!” He clutches his heart in what I think is mock terror. Turning to the salesman he says, “Please excuse us for a moment.” He waits while the salesman sails away in a really yummy pair of buckskin Kenneth Cole loafers.

  “Jen, seriously, no. Listen to me, N-O. No, no, no, no, no. There is no way in hell I’m paying for a couch I’m not allowed to sit on. Absolutely not. I’m putting my foot down. Completely out of the question. Get it out of your mind.”

  “But why not?” I whine.

  “Because we could buy a used car for the same price.”

  I’ll admit he’s got me there. But what of my minions? No self-respecting minion is going to kneel at the foot of a khaki canvas chain store divan.

  “Fine! Then…then…then…I’ll buy it myself! I don’t need YOUR money!” I say, a bit louder than intended.

  “How? You have no room left on your Visa, you destroyed your credit rating with your ‘They don’t really expect me to pay in full each month’ American Express experiment, and you spend all your cash shopping during your lunch break.”

  “I’ll economize. I’ll stop taking cabs to work,” I pledge.

  “Ha! You were the one who said, ‘The thing about mass transportation is it transports the masses.’ You won’t last five seconds on the el, Your Majesty.”

  “Then I’ll ride the bus. It’ll be fine. You’ll see.” As we retreat from the store, I call over my shoulder to the salesman, “Remember us—we WILL be back.”

  Public transportation doesn’t quite work out as planned. To save a thirty-cent transfer, I walk up Michigan Avenue to catch the express bus to Bucktown just past Neiman Marcus. Inevitably I need change, so I end up stepping inside to buy something little. Like a pair of trouser socks.

  Or a wee handbag.

  Or a five-carat white topaz ring.

  Riding the bus has been a bit of a false economy.

  I guess it’s time for Plan B: Make More Money.

  Courtney sashays up to my desk with a giant smile on her face, waving what looks like an MNOW contract. MNOW is the abbreviation for one of the products I manage. Once I tried to list all the acronyms we use here and I gave up around seventy-six. Alphabet soup has nothing on us.

  “Guess what, guess what, guess what!!” she shrieks, doing a small victory dance.

  “You sold an MNOW?” I correctly surmise. “Congratulations, Court! Well done.” Woo-hoo! That commission is going straight into the couch kitty.

  Courtney is the only account executive who moves my line without major hand-holding. In theory, my AEs should sell to clients, and I support the effort by creating marketing tools, training, strategy, and giving the occasional presentation, but it never shakes out that way. The last time Retard-y Arty sold an MNOW, I uncovered the lead, scheduled the appointment, conducted the meeting, did the follow-up, drafted the contract, and closed the deal. Yet he still paraded around the office exclaiming, “I made a sale!”38

  Courtney hands me the signed agreement with a flour
ish and says, “Check it out.”

  I scan the contract for the project details. “Let’s see, client is Wake-Hammond…nicely done! Once your other clients hear W-H uses the MNOW, they’ll want it, too. OK…MNOW needs to be live by August first…uh-huh, I’ll get the technicians on this immediately…. They expect to have around one thousand users…a little bigger audience than usual, but certainly within our parameters…and we’ll bill out at $70,000.”

  I hold the contract up to my eyes and it still looks like it says “$70,000.” Whoa, I’m seeing extra zeroes. Aren’t I too young to be going farsighted? Am I going to have to get those ugly half-glasses that hang on a gold chain? And start doing needlepoint? And complaining about my bunions and no-account grandchildren who never call their nana? I hold the paper out at arm’s length, and although it’s blurry, the number doesn’t change. Yes, I definitely see “$70,000,” which is totally wrong, but thank God, I don’t need bifocals.

  “Hey, Courtney? You have a typo here. These cost $7,000.”

  “No, that’s right. They have one thousand users, so I took one thousand times the selling price,” she explains.

 
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