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Bitter is the new black, p.7
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       Bitter is the New Black, p.7

           Jen Lancaster

  “Does no one listen to me when I do product training? We went over pricing two days ago. MNOWs don’t have a per-user cost, remember? We charge a flat $7,000.”

  “Yes, but if they weren’t willing to pay $70,000, then they wouldn’t have signed the contract,” she argues.

  It takes me a moment to process what she’s saying. “You knew you overcharged them?”

  “You said in our training session there’s no margin on this product. W-H said they always paid a per-user fee so that’s how I billed them. Now at least we’re making a reasonable profit.”

  I quickly multiply my commission. Holy cats, I could buy my couch TOMORROW with a sale like this! Let’s see, it would take a couple of months to build it and maybe a few weeks to ship the piece, so I estimate I could be eating peeled grapes from the comfort and elegance of my prize possession by late August! That would give me enough time to make stylish new friends and buy cool new martini glasses and take tango lessons and—oh, wait. Hold the phone.

  I can’t do this.

  I can’t willingly bilk a 900 percent profit from a client. It’s wrong. God knows I want the commission, but I just can’t do it. All of a sudden, I’m a kid again, and my dad is taking bids to build his company’s new warehouse in Indiana. He’s back from his business trip, disgusted a shady developer offered him a 10 percent kickback on all construction costs. Although he stands to gain about $400K, he won’t even consider it. Dreaming of ponies with braided manes and Barbie dream homes with built-in swimming pools, I tell my father he’s crazy for not taking the offer. Big Daddy replies, “Jennifer, at the end of the day, all I have is my integrity.”

  At ten, I didn’t understand what he meant.

  But now I do. Dammit.

  I have to do the right thing even though I REALLY, REALLY don’t want to. I sigh deeply and shake my head. “Courtney, we can’t.”

  “Of course, we can—we’ll be heroes!”

  “Read my lips: No. We. Can’t. We’re redoing the contract with the correct price.”

  “But, but,” Courtney begins to protest.

  “Believe me, W-H is going to be thrilled to spend so much less. If you need to save face to maintain the relationship, tell them we’ve done away with a per-user cost. Yes, it’s a lie, but it’s a $63,000 lie in their favor, so it’s OK.”

  “They already said yes! They agreed to the price—they think it’s a fair deal!”

  “We both know it isn’t.”


  I blame Courtney’s newly amorphous ethics on her relationship with Chad. Back in the Brad-days,39 she would have never pulled something like this. “Enough with the buts. This is my decision, it’s the right thing to do, and I don’t care if you don’t like it.”

  “Kathleen already signed off on the deal. She was really pleased about it and congratulated me for thinking outside the box.” Courtney is clearly conflicted.

  Ugh, Kathleen again. Kathleen took over the Chicago office a few months ago when Will was fired. (The dumb ass left his résumé in the copy machine, and someone put it on the conference table the day all the VPs were here.40) Although she was from the Chicago office, I didn’t know her very well. She worked for a different division of Corp. Com. and went on an extended maternity leave shortly after I joined the company. A few times last fall I noticed her napping in her office, but I assumed it was a side effect of a difficult pregnancy.

  When she came on board a few months back, I was not disappointed. She was smart, creative, and unlike Will, not allergic to success. Finally, the AEs had a proven leader!

  Right out of the gate, she was fantastic…totally strategic and motivated. Every Monday in our staff meeting, she had the most revolutionary thoughts about driving sales. She was so sharp I regretted privately questioning the company’s decision to hire a new mother; she blew every unflattering stereotype out of the water.

  Naturally the salad days never last.

  Not long into her tenure, she started going out with some of the account executives after work, getting sloppy drunk and pouring her heart out about the intimate details of her marital problems.

  And then she started grad school.

  Our once worthwhile staff meetings became a chance for her to trot out textbook management theories and ridiculous buzzwords. Suddenly, I had to rearrange my plans on a moment’s notice because Kathleen needed to discuss “paradigm shifts” and “synergistic methodologies” with us as a group. After having to cancel my third appointment in a week, I finally figured out the problem. Kathleen was using our team to do her homework assignments. Her statistics projects took precedence over sales forecasts, and her unpredictable emotional outbursts put everyone on edge. Uncomfortable! Then due to nanny issues, she started arriving late and leaving early.

  Now, when I sit down with her, I get the distinct impression she’s out to get me. It feels like she’s gunning for me. You wouldn’t think she’d plot against her top producer; then again, it makes sense because I’m the only one who’s figured out how much she’s been slacking.

  “I’m sure it was an oversight. Kathleen wouldn’t want us to rob our clients, right?” That bitch is SO trying to set me up. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it with her. Now give me the old contract so I can shred it while you generate a new one.”

  I watch as my new couch turns to shards in the shredder, and I want to cry.

  Shouldn’t doing the right thing feel good?

  Operation Make More Money is in full swing! And were it not for my recent Luggage Emergency41 my couch kitty would be fat indeed due to my genius idea earlier this summer.

  Right after the MNOW debacle,42 I gave my millionth presentation to one of our public relations agency clients. And for the millionth time the twenty-four-year-old PR girls were too hungover to focus on my pitch. Clad entirely in black and accented by silver jewelry, this pack of anorexic ladies sat blank-faced and empty-headed in my meeting, completely oblivious to attempts to engage them in my investor relations presentation.43

  “So, Meagan, Bethany, Kirsten, Sasha, Lynsey, and Monique,44 do you all understand how using product X will satisfy your clients’ desire to reach the institutional investor?” I asked.

  “Oh, Meagan had to dash to the lav,” Bethany volunteered cheerfully. “She drank a whole pitcher of frozen sangria by herself at Uncle Julio’s last night and she was about to vom.” I rolled my eyes in exasperation.

  “Ewww, please don’t mention sangria or I’ll totally get sick, too. Casey and I hit dollar-beer night at Barleycorn’s and we totally—” began Lynsey.

  “Yes, I’m totally sorry to hear that,” I interjected. “Like I was saying, product X will—”

  “Um, excuse me?” Sasha with the Cleopatra-cut bangs interrupted.

  “Yes, Sasha?”

  “I just wanted to tell you I love your bracelets.”

  Like a pack of magpies, these girls were fascinated by small, shiny objects. They probably would have paid more attention to me if I came in flashing bits of my Nanny’s sterling tea set.

  “Thank you. To continue, product X is key when your client needs to get—”

  “And your big lapel flower. It’s soooo Sex in the City!” Kirsten added.

  Why did I feel like I was trying to herd a pack of cats?

  “Great, thanks. AS I WAS SAYING—”

  “I love Sex in the City! Carrie Bradshaw is my idol!” squealed Monique, her voice barely overpowering her Eternity perfume.

  “Me, too!” chorused the rest of the group, looking at one another under lashes darkened by a variety of Lancôme products.

  I hated these girls so very much.45

  “If we could please get back on topic. PR professionals like you have found—”

  “I saw you arrive when I was outside smoking. Was that your husband who dropped you off?” Lynsey asked.

  “No, he’s my boyfriend. In regard to institutional investors—”

  Lynsey was undeterred. “He’s WAY adorable! He
looks just like Ed Norton, only with darker hair!”

  “I guess he does a bit.” Personally, I always thought he looked more like Ron Livingston in Swingers. Something about his sardonic brows, or maybe the way his eyes crinkle when he smiles.

  Sasha asked, “Did you meet him here?”

  “No, we met in college.”

  It was all I could do to not stab each of them in the neck with the sharp end of my classic Chanel camellia brooch. I wasn’t there to chat about my personal life. I wanted to talk about investor relations! But if I yelled at them, they’d never buy anything from me.



  “How did you meet him?”

  Incredulous, I asked, “Let me get this straight—you’d rather hear how I met my boyfriend than how these tools will make you more effective at your jobs? You’re more interested in a silly, embarrassing college story from seven years ago than learning how to best serve your clients?”

  “Yes!” “Definitely!” “Please!” Since any chance to educate them washed away after the third round at Barleycorn’s last night, I decided to humor them in an effort to build the relationship.

  “OK, it’s 1994 and we both got jobs at a bar and grille on campus. After the grand opening, a group of us went out together for a new employee bonding session. Everyone ended up at my apartment after the bars closed because I had a deck. Fletch, that’s his name, and no, he’s NOT named after the Chevy Chase movie,” I added, anticipating their next question, “made terrible martinis, drank too many of them, threw up in my shower, and finally passed out. The next morning he woke up full of regret and wanted to make it up to me. So I had him put up shelves in my apartment. He took me to dinner that night and we’ve been together ever since. The end.”

  “Ooh! That’s so ro!” shrilled Bethany.

  “Yes, Bethany,” I replied, “because every romantic fairy tale ends with Prince Charming woofing up blue nacho chips on the princess’ floral shower curtain from Target.”

  Anyway, I knew if I were going to Make More Money, I’d have to find a way to convince these ninnies to use my products. But since my audience was always more concerned with my accessories, they hadn’t learned how to use them and, hence, didn’t buy them.

  I came up with a concept to educate them in a less formal setting. I created an after-hours seminar that not only gave a hands-on demonstration but also included an open bar, thus allowing the girls to booze it up while they learned. I figured this situation would neatly simulate their college careers.

  I don’t know if it was the show-and-tell or the chardonnay, but the seminar worked. Drunken PR monkeys lurched up to me after the program, wobbly on their stilettos, slurring, “Heeeey! Call me Mondayyyy! My client can TOTALLY ussshe thiss sshhtuff! Let’ssh do businesssh!!” To make a long story short, sales rose 35 percent in my product lines in two weeks. The vice president of sales was so impressed she sent me to roll out the program at our offices across the country. (Somehow Kathleen has been less enthusiastic about my success, but WHATEVER. She’s just jealous.)

  And that’s why I’ve spent the summer sweating my ass off in the back of cabs.

  “Gosh, I can’t decide,” I tell Sylvie the Dior girl, while we both scrutinize her summer line of lip glosses scattered all over the counter. Ooh, I just LOVE being at the real Saks on Fifth Avenue. New York is the best! We’re going to move here the minute I convince Fletch it’s a good idea.

  Earlier I went to the adorable epicurean shop by Lincoln Center so I could stock up on Big Daddy’s favorite lime marmalade. While I was juggling my bags and hailing a cab, a group of tourists asked me for directions. They thought I was a New Yorker! The best part is I actually knew how to get them to their destination.

  But right this second, I’m in a major quandary. I’ve been working on a project with a big-time magazine and there’s a chance I’m going to be on Good Morning America. OK, technically they want to interview the magazine’s editor, but that’s only because the producers haven’t met ME yet.46 That’s why I’m having such a tough time choosing the proper lip gloss. Which one would look best on camera? The shimmery peach one is deliciously summery, but the iridescent petal pink one showcases my tan. I’d simply take the clear and be done with it, but it’s really thick and my hair sticks to it every time I move my head. I don’t want to have to pick my coif out of my mouth in front of Charlie Gibson and the rest of America.

  I glance down at my watch and realize I’m twenty minutes late for my lunch date with the magazine woman. Oh, no! I hate when I lose track of time like this; it’s a grievous wrong. Being late for a business meeting is practically criminal in my book. I feel awful for making such an important person wait, and I’ve got to wrap this up right this second. I make an executive decision.

  “You know what, Sylvie? I’ll take them all.”

  I’m not back in the office from New York for two minutes when I get a call.

  “Jen Lancaster speaking,” I answer, lunging over my striped luggage to get to my phone.

  “Jen!ItsRyanandLaurelandwe’reonaconferencecallandohmyGod youwon’tbelievewhathappened!!!” Ryan shrieks into the phone.

  “Ryan, you’re in full-on drama queen mode. What’s the matter? Did the cute clerk at Barneys take you up on your lascivious offer?” I ask. OK, did we not just spend the evening drinking appletinis in the Village together last night? Why is he calling me with his panties in a bunch? What could have happened in the last twelve hours? “Or did MAC discontinue your favorite eyeliner?”

  “Noooo!” he howls. “It’s nothing like that!”

  “Then slow down and say that whole sentence again, please,” I request.

  Laurel breaks in, “Jeeeen, this heah is a seeeerious cawl. Y’all, we ahh ’bout to undahgo a cohprae-muhger.” When she’s upset, her accent gets superthick. Whatever’s happening must be bad, because I can’t understand a word she’s said.

  “A what?”

  “A COHPRAE-MUHGER,” she repeats.

  Now I’m aggravated and ready to kill both messengers. “What the fuck are you two babbling about?” I demand.

  “A merger! We’re about to be merged with our biggest competitor!” Ryan cries.

  “My God, you’re kidding me. Are you sure?” Please, please, please let them be wrong. Because if they’re right, this is AWFUL news. I feel weak in the knees.

  “I wish I weren’t. The story just crossed the newswires and they’re already talking about it on MSNBC. It’s official,” Ryan sadly confirms.

  “Shit, what are you guys going to do?” I ask.

  “Ahm goin’ to mah husban’s haidhuntah latah,” Laurel says.

  “I’m headed straight to to post my résumé,” says Ryan as I mentally revise my own CV.

  “Laurel, Ryan, thanks for calling me. I’ve got to go. I need to start working on a contingency plan right now. I say we hope for the best but prepare for the worst.”

  “Lahkwise,” sighs Laurel.

  “Take care of yourselves, guys.”

  “Ditto. Bye, Laurel. Catch you on the flip side, Jen.”

  My hands are shaking as I hang up the phone. I went through four mergers when I worked for the insurance company, and each resulted in mass layoffs. Fortunately I was never affected, but I won’t be so lucky this time. See, our competitors are much better at what my group does because we’re new to the marketplace. If we merge with them, there’s no way Corp. Com. will keep my team on, no matter how much past success we’ve had. The bottom line is they are the established brand. And ever since the dot-com crash, it’s been harder and harder to get hired anywhere in my industry. Too many good people, not enough good jobs. This is bad. This is really bad.

  I’ve been working the phone like a telemarketer for the past few weeks trying to miracle up some interest. This is a lot tougher than last time I looked for a job. When I posted my résumé in June of 2000, I got ten calls a day. Now it’s like I have the plague.

, I’ve managed to score an interview next Tuesday at a big investor relations firm called Birchton & Co. Birchton is one of Courtney’s clients and she’s been talking me up to them. Yay! Although she doesn’t want me to leave the company, she knows I have an expensive apartment to support. Besides, if I get in there, Courtney will count on me to throw a lot of business her way. And since it’s a consulting job, the base salary is really high, so I predict I’ll be parked on my new couch in no time flat.

  Why was I so worried? Everything’s going to be fine.

  The people at Birchton & Co. will hire me on the spot when they meet me because my interview outfit is just WAY TOO CUTE. After much deliberation, I decide to wear my stunning black-on-black Jones New York suit jacket with the matching tank dress underneath. I plan to wrap my citrus green leopard-print scarf around my neck for that added touch of pizzazz. And my pièce de résistance, new Kate Spade kicks! They’re trimmed with a tiny bit of citrus piping and the whole look says, “Competent, Professional, and Worthy of a Six-Figure Salary.”

  And, yes, I remembered to shave under my arms this time. Last time I wore this outfit, it was a DISASTER. First of all, it was un-seasonably hot. Retard-y Arty wrote down the wrong address and didn’t realize it until we were already late and we had to RUN to the Prudential building. Between the dress, coat, each item’s silk lining, panty hose, my Nancy Ganz strangulation-city slip,47 and the client’s faulty air conditioner, I baked like a meat loaf. Since I skipped the shave, I couldn’t even take the jacket off. I channeled the Albert Brooks scene in Broadcast News with perspiration pouring rivers off my head and onto the conference table. I tried to sop it up with my notebook, but no dice. It was humiliating and I’ve yet to forgive Arthur.

  My interview isn’t until noon, but I’m so excited I was awake at five thirty this morning. I had coffee on my roof deck and watched the sun rise over the city. As I surveyed the buildings from north to south, I thought about how much I love my skyline: the Hancock Center, the AT&T building, the Merchandise Mart, Aon corporate headquarters, 311 South Wacker, and the city’s crown jewel, the Sears Tower. I must know someone on every floor of the Sears Tower. Every time I’m there, I bump into friends, clients, old classmates, etc. It’s like Chicago’s town square.

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