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Jeneration X: One Reluctant Adult's Attempt to Unarrest Her Arrested Development

Jen Lancaster

  Other Titles by New York Times

  Bestselling Author Jen Lancaster

  Bitter Is the New Black

  Bright Lights, Big Ass

  Such a Pretty Fat

  Pretty in Plaid

  My Fair Lazy

  New American Library

  New American Library

  Published by New American Library, a division of

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  First published by New American Library,

  a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

  First Printing, May 2012

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  Copyright © Jen Lancaster, 2012

  Froot Loops is a registered trademark of Kellogg North America Company Corp.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.



  Lancaster, Jen, 1967–

  Jeneration X: one reluctant adult’s attempt to unarrest her arrested development, or why it’s never too late for her dumb ass to learn why froot loops are not for dinner/Jen Lancaster.

  p. cm.

  ISBN: 978-1-101-58520-7

  1. Lancaster, Jen, 1967– 2. Authors, American—21st century—Biography. 3. Maturation (Psychology)—Humor. 4. Conduct of life—Humor. 5. United States—Social life and customs—Humor. I. Title. PS3612.A54748Z46 2012 814′.6—dc23 2011048451 [B]

  Set in Bulmer MT

  Designed by Spring Hoteling

  Printed in the United States of America


  Penguin is committed to publishing works of quality and integrity. In that spirit, we are proud to offer this book to our readers; however the story, the experiences and the words are the author’s alone.

  The recipes contained in this book are to be followed exactly as written. The publisher is not responsible for your specific health or allergy needs that may require medical supervision. The publisher is not responsible for any adverse reactions to the recipes contained in this book.

  The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.

  For former slackers everywhere and

  for Karyn, who gives good title



  Author’s Note

  1. Involuntarily Voluntary

  2. The Evolution of a Bad Idea

  3. Flipping the Script

  4. Lucky Nineteen

  5. The Queen of Kings

  6. Get Off My Lawn

  7. Generation Y Don’t You Do It for Me?

  8. A Barbie Girl in a Barbie World

  9. I Wish I Could Quit You, Gladys Kravitz

  10. The Old Dog Whisperer

  11. Don’t Blame Mii, Japan

  12. As Seen on TV

  13. Role Models

  14. Peer Pressure

  15. How Do You Talk to Girls

  16. Ring of Fire

  17. Bond, Jen Bond

  18. The One About The Monkey

  19. It’s Not Like Texas Didn’t Warn You

  20. Quickbooks, Quicker Shovels

  21. I Know Why You Fly

  22. That’s the Night That the Lights Went Out (in Lake County)

  23. The Five Stages of Grief

  24. Generator X

  25. When Bad Things Happen to Bad People

  26. Death and Taxes? Can I Select Neither?

  27. Distinguish Myself



  We were stuck between meanings. Or we were the last dribbles of something. The fall of the Soviet Union, this was, the death of analog. The beginning of aggressively marketed nachos.

  —Milo Burke, Sam Lipsyte’s The Ask

  Generation Xers were brought up on television, Atari 2600s, and personal computers. They are the generation that was raised in the 1970s and 1980s, and saw this country undergo a selfish phase that they do not want to repeat.

  —Jennifer Jochim, Outpost

  We’re the middle children of history . . . no purpose or place. We have no Great War, no Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives.

  —Tyler Durden, Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club

  Note: Due to formatting issues in electronic files, the footnotes now appear within the text, bracketed and italicized.


  January 2010

  “Thanks for completely ignoring me.”

  I’m standing here in my cashmere coat, shaking. Whether it’s from cold or from fury, I’ve yet to determine.


  “I said thank you for completely ignoring me. I sat out there with my hazards on for the past twenty minutes.”

  The valet blinks heavy-lidded eyes that don’t quite function in unison. “Guess I didn’t see you.”

  “Didn’t see me?”

  I am incredulous. How did he not see me? I was in an SUV the size of a school bus and let’s just say I was liberal with my use of the horn. I was impossible not to see. Helen Keller could see me. Andrea Bocelli could see me. Stevie Wonder would be all “Do I Do see you!”

  I’m trying hard not to punch this guy smack in his red windbreaker, so I’d wager it’s the anger that’s making me shake.

  “Didn’t see you,” he confirms, not meeting my glance. Instead he scans the street looking for other vehicles he might park.

  This is exasperating. Not only did I wait twenty minutes for his attention, but once I realized he was never getting to me, I had to park myself. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, but a) because I’m very, very lazy I specifically get my hair cut here since they have a valet, b) he’d already made me late for my appointment and c) the nearest garage was blocks away.

  I had to drive down three stories into the belly of this semiabandoned building to find a cavernous parking area where the only light came from a handful of fifteen-watt incandescent bulbs hanging from the ceiling thirty feet above. I never met a parking garage that didn’t feel all CSI and like a sexual assault could happen any minute, but this? This was the rapiest rape garage that ever raped.

  Then after I took the elevator upstairs I foun
d myself in the atrium of an eight-story, vacant shopping mall. The only reason I could even see where I was going was because a few stores up front were still open and casting light, but ninety percent of the rest of the stores were dark and empty and foreboding. George A. Romero wouldn’t have to make a single change if he wanted to film another Dawn of the Dead movie here. That no one tried to eat my brain is nothing short of a miracle.

  Which is why I can’t let this go.

  I level my gaze. “Listen, I was in a six-thousand-pound SUV fifteen feet away from you right next to the sign that says VALET PARKING. I beeped, I waved, I sent up little smoke signals from the tepee in the backseat. Then, when I got out of the car to talk to you, you jumped into the car behind mine. When you came back, you ran over to the car next to me, yet you walked so close to my car that you set off my parking sensor. So, with all of these factors in mind, how do you claim to have not seen me?”

  He shrugs. “I don’t know.” When he exhales, I smell Snoop Dogg’s tour bus. Ah, that would account for the slow blinking and vision obstruction and serves to piss me off more. Seriously, in an economy with people begging for jobs, this asshole thinks it’s kosher to get baked at work and then drive my car? [In theory, I mean.] Unacceptable.

  I fight the urge to ask if he knows who I am.

  Because I suspect that if I don’t walk away, who I am is the lady who gets her car shat in the next time she valets.

  A·U·T·H·O·R’S N·O·T·E

  When Douglas Coupland wrote Generation X, he was writing about me.

  I mean figuratively, not literally.

  I read Generation X in my second [Of six total.] senior year of college, in the time in which I briefly traded my loafers for Birkenstocks, khakis for flannel, and Wham! for Nirvana. As a poster child for all things considered “slacker,” [Including cynicism, apathy, and un-cute plaid shirts.] I clearly recall nodding my head and saying, “Yeah, man. You get it.”

  Until I stumbled across Bridget Jones’s Diary six years later, I’d never identified more with a novel. Coupland gave voice to the ennui that every twentysomething felt at the time, back in the day when we were long on promise and short on opportunity. He understood us because he was one of us—trapped between the perpetual, collective optimism of those he labeled “Global Teens” [Later characterized as Generation Y or the Millennials.] and their Baby Boomer parents, our generation defined ourselves by… nothing.

  Technically, that’s not true. Our generation defined ourselves by our perpetual fear of a Soviet invasion, playing Cold War mixtapes on our Walkmen. Oh, Sting, we’d lament, we also hope the Russians love their children, too. If iPods were around back then, we’d have had entire thermonuclear war playlists, filled with songs like “99 Luftballons,” “Wind of Change,” and “Toy Soldier.”

  Before John Hughes made them household names, we had Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy in War Games trying to persuade a Soviet supercomputer via dial-up modem that the only way to win a nuclear war is not to play.

  We had Red Dawn and a pre–Dirty Dancing Jennifer Grey carrying not a watermelon, but an AK-47.

  We had “Wolverines!”

  Then, just like that, the Cold War ended and we lost the one thing that made our generation unique.

  Those of us born between 1965 and 1980 had none of the benefits of the generations that came before or after us. We know nothing of the kinder, simpler America from the Camelot days, nor were we born with an innate understanding of how to operate Microsoft Windows.

  Today, we’re a beeper generation in a smartphone world.

  Complicating matters is that neither the generation that came before us nor the one that’s come after has demonstrated any real desire to act like adults themselves. Financial planning advertisements show Baby Boomers running away from corporate life to pursue dreams that, in this economy, are downright ridiculous. This is not, in fact, the time to quit your job with your 401K and health insurance to go build custom boats. I know Dennis Hopper told everyone it was okay, but he’s dead now. [And he had the kind of cash and cachet only Hollywood could create.]

  On top of that, we’ve got folks in their late twenties to early thirties so wrapped up in quasi-political Facebook friend requests and Spotify and Farmville that Soviet troops could actually roll down Main Street and they’d never even notice. Or care.

  Of course this doesn’t pertain to every member of Generation Y, [Baby Boomer, for that matter. Or you, no matter what your generation, as you’ve shown remarkably good sense in having picked this book.] but it’s not that far-fetched either. Um, hey, Counselor, can you stop streaming Gilmore Girls on Netflix long enough to present your case to the jury? KTHXBAI.

  Watching this generation operate makes me very glad that people my age understand that tools like technology and social media are a means to an end and not the end itself.

  My generation didn’t play soccer so we know that when the game is over, not everyone gets a trophy. Yet here we are, trapped in middle management between two massive cases of generational arrested development.

  And what we’ve determined from watching everyone else is that deciding to grow up has been our ultimate act of rebellion.

  So that’s what those of us in Generation X have done to define ourselves. We’ve become the only adults in a world full of children.

  I mean, if I could finally grow up? Anyone can.

  Maybe I’ve moved to the dark side, but it’s clean and nice and we never run out of toilet paper. And honestly, getting here wasn’t that hard. All I had to do was make the conscious decision to grow up.

  Whether you’re a Boomer, a Millennial, or a still-reluctant Xer who’s not yet read the memo because you don’t understand how to download attachments on your phone, Jeneration X is your invitation to join me because it’s never too late.

  I know it sounds hard, but fear not: I’ve done the legwork for you! Each chapter in this book illustrates a painful lesson I learned about becoming more of an adult, so I hope you’ll find this guide useful.

  Although this book will help you navigate the treacherous waters of many aspects of reluctant adulthood, if I leave you with no piece of wisdom but this, please understand that at a certain age your body can no longer efficiently process all the artificial colors in a dinner-sized serving of Froot Loops, regardless of how delicious they may be. [Particularly with a dash of half-and-half.]

  And you won’t realize this until it’s already too late.

  Far, far too late.

  Unless you have a particular affinity for crying on the toilet, you may just want to trust me on this one.


  Jen Lancaster

  C·H·A·P·T·E·R O·N·E

  Involuntarily Voluntary

  I’ll often yell at homeless people. “Hey, how’s that homelessness working out for you? Try not being homeless for once!”

  Okay, fine.

  I’ve never actually said this. Coach Sue Sylvester on Glee did. But considering the first line in my memoir Bitter Is the New Black reads, “Camille said you stole a bag from a homeless guy,” imagining my saying this isn’t such a stretch.

  Having come within five days of losing my apartment and moving back with my parents not so long ago, you’d think I’d be a little less glib about other people’s circumstances.

  You’d be wrong.

  The thing is, my life is good right now… I suspect a little too good.

  I fear that I’m starting to forget what it felt like to struggle. My memories of the bad old days when the bank took our car and ComEd disconnected our electricity are fading and sepia-toned. So when Coach Sylvester offered her suggestion, I found myself nodding in agreement. Why don’t they try not being homeless for once? You know, get a job and such. How hard could it be, right?[Plus, there’s probably some cake somewhere. Let them eat that.]

  Success has paved the way for me to revisit some old, bad habits. I’m concerned that my confidence is quietly morphing back into arrogance and my h
ard-won humility is turning to hubris. More often than not, snotty has once again become the new black. My tolerance is nil and last week while shouting at the valet I’d deemed incompetent, I realized how dangerously close I was to asking him if he knew who I was.

  This is not good.

  Instead of asking someone if they know who I am, I should be asking myself who it is I want to be.

  The last time I behaved in such a childish, petulant manner, Karma knocked me out of my penthouse and onto my ass. Although I learned to appreciate those lessons in retrospect, at the time, life sucked. And I’d like to never live through anything like that again.

  Thankfully I finally have the ability to take one giant step back from myself and right my terrible attitude before my life tumbles like so many houses of cards again.

  I need to give back the good I’ve been so selfishly taking in.

  I need to repay the karmic debt I’ve incurred.

  I need to actually grow up instead of just saying it.

  And now my job is to figure out how.

  You know who volunteers?


  Also, people sentenced with community service after a DUI.

  But mostly grown-ups.

  Doing charitable work seems like it would be soup and sandwich to my desire to give back as well as my need to mature, so I’m looking into it. The only volunteer work I’ve done previously was with shelter dogs and I really enjoyed it, but it turns out I’m a “take work home with me” kind of gal. As my husband, Fletch, and I live with a pit bull, a German shepherd, and five cats, we are at capacity in the stray pet department. Until we lose some members to attrition, I should stick to groups of creatures I don’t want to bring home. Like children and the homeless.

  I sign up on a couple of Chicago volunteer databases, so I figure finding projects should be a snap. I mean, I’m smart,[Relatively.] I have skills to offer,[Limited.] I’m willing and able,[In theory.] so surely there’s some stuff out there at which I’d excel. Or, barring that, at least wouldn’t hate. I log in to the first calendar and begin to peruse volunteer listings. I’m free all week, so let’s see what’s available.