Stories I'd Tell in BarsJen Lancaster
Stories I’d Tell in Bars
Altgeld Shrugged, Inc.
Copyright © 2017 Altgeld Shrugged, Inc.
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Stories I’d Tell In Bars
1. Back In Black
2. Happy Wife, Happy Life
3. The Long Con
4. Love Is
5. Lose To Win
6. Color Wars, A Timeline
7. High Times II, The Electric Boogaloo
8. Fountain Of Youth
9. Little Pink Houses
10. The Champagne Of Sports
11. Crazy Cat Lady
12. No Cause For Alarm
13. Moms Gone Mild
14. Who’s Afraid Of The Dark?
15. Ride Along
Stories I’d Tell In Bars
BY JEN LANCASTER
By NYT Bestselling Author Jen Lancaster
Bitter Is the New Black
Bright Lights, Big Ass
Such a Pretty Fat
Pretty in Plaid
My Fair Lazy
The Tao of Martha
I Regret Nothing
If You Were Here
Here I Go Again
The Best of Enemies
By the Numbers
For Tracey and Gina, for everything, for always.
Also for Pamela Redmond Satran.
Girl, you don’t even know.
Many know me as “that author with the footnotes.” (I didn’t invent them, I just made them a thing.) However, including footnotes can be a crapshoot in an eBook situation for a variety of boring, technical, stack-overflow reasons. For the paperback edition, I worried footnotes might bleed off the page if I didn’t properly calculate the printing specs.
So, what would have been footnoted material will now be bracketed and italicized within the text itself. I promise this will feel the same. [Swearsies.]
Back In Black
“Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance.”
- David Mamet
I was having a moment.
A meltdown, if you will. I was at the intersection of bitch-panic and rage-stroke. Wasn’t sure which path I’d follow, as both roads appeared equally rocky. The problem was I felt like the only analog girl in a digital world. Except no one would accuse me of being a “girl,” as I was pushing fifty and everyone around me was twenty.
Not hyperbole, either.
The other Young Adult authors on the dais at the book convention that day had barely been out of their teens. Wide-eyed and fresh-faced, they were so young, so exuberant, yet to be worn down by a cynical world. And there I was in the middle of them, easily twenty-five years their senior, like Grandma Goddamned Moses. All I was missing was a Jitterbug phone and walk-in bathtub.
[What’s more distressing is that I secretly covet both products.]
After I arrived home, I viewed tweeted photos of the discussion panel. In some respects, these pictures weren’t as bad as I’d feared. I came across less “crone” and more “coach of a champion high school cheerleading squad.”
Perched there in my sassy jean jacket with the collar flipped, highlight powder on point, lobbed haircut flat-ironed just so, trying desperately to blend, any convention passerby would have thought, “She’s not like a regular mom; she’s a cool mom!”
You know what? Didn’t make me feel any better.
While fifty might be the new forty, and given enough med spa budget, I can work it like it’s thirty-five, the reality remains. The natural state will always be that the upcoming generation shoves the previous one out of its way. The only possible exception to this rule applies those of us in Generation X, where the outnumbering Boomers refused to be budged. (Yeah, thanks for that.)
Anyway, a woman on the panel [or girl?] [or gal?] [what is the acceptable nomenclature for a person of the female variety who is twentyish, I truly do not know] was a debut author and her book hadn’t yet been released.
Small and blonde, she seemed delicate, almost breakable, her movements birdlike. The poor thing was so nervous. This was her first live event. I wanted to knit her a sweater and cook her some soup. I hoped she had the fuzziest of jam-jams back at her hotel, and someone there to tuck her in, to kiss her forehead, and to tell her it was all going to be okay.
Then she said she’d gotten started writing on Wattpad four years ago – literally when she was a teenager – and was up to ninety million views. Or likes. Or hearts. Or something. The audience went wild, having recognized her user name from the app, while I was still trying to work out, “A what-pad, now?”
Again, analog girl in a digital world.
After the panel ended, I continued to ruminate. [Note - I wasn’t mad at the author, she was darling.] Regardless of how many memoirs and novels I’d written or the effort I’d devoted to my career, twenty year olds were becoming instant publishing superstars, despite having never sold an actual book.
Yeah, that felt awesome.
When I told my husband Fletch about this, he made the point, “Isn’t that exactly what all you bloggers did to the old guard fifteen years ago?”
“No!” I barked. But, maybe?
“Are you jealous?” he asked. He was making himself a ham sandwich as we talked. Our brindle pit bull’s soulful brown eyes traced his every movement, from the care with which he spread the mayonnaise to his precision in slicing tomatoes. Libby would do a better job convincing us she was starving if her muffin top didn’t spill over both sides of her thighs when seated.
I replied, “Please. I am peanut butter and jelly at this point. What kills me is that publishers are dying to put out Millennials’ books and if I want to keep working, I’ve got to cater to them, appeal to them. I have no idea how to do that! We speak entirely different languages. But I could learn theirs. I picked up Italian, right?”
He relied, “Yeah, but you forgot it immediately.”
He selected the greenest, most crisp piece of lettuce from the bunch of romaine, rinsing the leaf carefully before blotting it dry with a paper towel, while Libby did her best to look like one of those despondent, wet pit bulls you always see shivering in a drainage pipe in the ASPCA commercials.
[If those ads don’t make you send a check, or at least dive for the remote, then congratulations on having no soul.]
“I forgot how to speak Italian because I stopped taking lessons. That teacher was a con artist.” [This can’t be said enough; the twelve dollar Italian lesson is a lie.] I continued. “My point is, Millennials give zero fucks about learning our language. No one’s running seminars in the office on ‘How to Work with Generation X.’ If today’s any indication, people that age think I’m dinosaur. I’d be better off trying to write books for dogs.”
Fletch tossed a piece of ham to Libby. She happily snapped it up with great delight, dancing and wagging before realizing she’d broken character. I could practically see her internal monologue: “Okay, Libs, you’re cold, you’re damp, you’re living in a big pipe. Go!”
“People love books about dogs.”
“I meant books for dogs to read to themselves.”
He asked, “
Is that why you’re filling your McDonalds cup with wine?”
It was. I’d dumped my Coke, rinsed off the ice, and swapped it out for some of Italy’s best screw-top vino.
See? I still knew one word.
I told him, “I hate feeling too old to matter. Advertisers are falling all over themselves to find ways to sway the Millennials. Yet in a great twist of irony, they are the least materialistic generation out there. They DGAF, which I had to look up the first time I heard it because I thought it had something to do with the Air Force. They don’t want to accumulate, they don’t want to acquire, they want experiences, they want to put good back into the world. Hey, pitch to me, marketers! Woo me! I love stuff!”
He laughed. “You had my sympathy... and then you lost it.”
I was crabby and felt like sulking, so I said, “I’m taking my dog and my McGrigio to go watch the big TV.”
[Many Millennials don’t even have a big TV, if they own one at all. This, I’ll never understand. How do they watch Game of Thrones on an iPhone screen? Author George R. R. Martin put a lot of love into all that raping and murdering and pillaging and I feel these images should be viewed on no fewer than sixty inches of high definition.]
I stuffed my pocket with a handful of treats to convince Libby I was the better bet than Fletch and his sandwich. We headed up the stairs.
Had Fletch understood how demoralized I was, he’d have been more sympathetic. Honestly, I felt like a former Kentucky Derby thoroughbred with a lame ankle and modicum of self-awareness, all, “Nah, don’t bother with the pasture, bro, just send me to the glue factory already.”
Normally, I have much more chill about the whole aging thing, to the point that I volunteer my birthdate even when no one’s asked. “I was born in nineteen sixty-seven,” I’ll say.
“O-kay,” the barista will reply. “Venti almond latte, then?”
I know I’m not over the hill, far from it. This is the healthiest I’ve been in years. I’m more fit now than I was at thirty. I look better, I live better, and I can run a mile without stopping. Not so impressive, except I couldn’t do that when I was twenty. The world is still wide open to me and I’m just getting started in so many ways. It’s my theory that you start to decline, that you truly begin to “age” when you decide, “That’s it, it’s over, there’s no turning back now, this is my slow, steady descent.”
That day, I worried I was rapidly approaching that point.
I swore to God, if I had to learn, say, one more new TV remote, I’d cross the Rubicon. No exaggeration, we have twelve of them and they’re all the same exact size and shade of black and I can’t read a button on any of them. I tell them apart by touch. The sticky one (from the time I had more spare ribs than napkins) switches it from satellite mode to PC; that’s key if I want to watch anything other than what’s on the Dish. If someone in this house ever invests in a box of Clorox wipes, I’m screwed.
[I would buy the shit out of a Jitterbug remote, just so you know.]
For a while, I thought texting was going to be my personal Waterloo. To be clear, this not a technology thing. I understand texting just fine; I simply don’t like it so I won’t use it, except to tell someone I’m running late. In my opinion – which no one shares – texting is for, “Do you want me to pick up lunch, yes or no?”
I hate texts.
Texts are not for evergreen conversations, especially those better served by punctuation.
A text says, “Whatever you’re concentrating on is less important than what I’m about to say so immediately stop and indulge me, me, me now, now, now.”
Unless you’re on fire and you require my bucket of water, no.
Send me an email.
Text me an evergreen conversation and I’ll get back to you when I’m good and goddamned ready, which might be two weeks from now. If your text is nothing but emojis – if you expect me to decipher your message like I’m Howard Carter reading the hieroglyphics on the walls of King Tut’s tomb – then I will get back to you never.
[I’m aware that everyone else on the planet prefers to text, even grandparents, if adorable BuzzFeed listicles are any indication, so it’s a lost battle. But this is my windmill and I’ll tilt at it all I want.]
Anyway, that day, I wasn’t my usual Almost Fifty, Fuck Yeah! self. The event sent me into a shame spiral. Were all my skills suddenly useless? Was I on the verge of extinction? Had I mastered what no one needed anymore, having become adept at all the wrong things? I was great at driving a stick shift car. I could pen a letter in cursive like no one’s business. I could dial a rotary phone lickety-split. I crushed it on the word processor. I could program a VCR - wait; I could never actually do that.
What’s sad is that I felt far too young to have to fight to remain relevant. I hated worrying that I’d be written off because I’m not covered under warranty anymore, even with all these miles left, even though I still have some [metaphorical] new car smell left.
I was also a bit blue having come to a professional fork in the road. While interesting things were happening in Hollywood, I was struggling with traditional publishing. Editors said no one wanted my brand of humor anymore; levity and fun were out of style, like so many pair of harem pants. Readers sought a deep emotional dive now. They wanted capital-I Issues. In my head, I was all, “Have women stopped taking beach vacations? Are pedicures illegal? Have wine-and-book clubs been disbanded?”
One editor told my agent, “You’re showing me vintage Jen Lancaster; unfortunately, I want new Jen Lancaster.”
As a memoirist, the stories and the person are one and the same; they’re co-mingled. Hearing I couldn’t be me anymore if I wanted to write was a bite in the ass. [P.S., if I could please be completely different and appeal to Millennials? Even better.]
Seemed to me the whole universe was chasing after that which was shiny and new and [in my opinion] still unformed, that people like me, people my age, we were being forgotten, that our experience was no longer valued.
I groused to Libby, “Why not just put us in warehouses or something for the next forty years or so until we die, get us out of the way, you know, off the roads and all? Ooh, even better, they could do a Logan’s Run with us!”
She kissed my nose. At seven, we’re about the same age in dog years. She knows how I feel. I gave her a treat, which she chewed with great gusto.
I wondered, was I obligated to apologize for being on the cusp of fifty? Did I need to seek permission for still taking up my square foot of space? For even considering anything I had to say to be of relevance?
Then I thought, “Fuck. That. Noise.”
Wine in hand, emotional support pit pull at my side, I reached for the stickiest remote and settled in to binge watch. I was a few seasons behind on Younger, a show where Liza Miller (Sutton Foster), a forty-year-old divorcee, pretends to be twenty-six to get a foothold again in the publishing industry, having previously left to raise her daughter. Lying about her age was the only way she could be hired.
This show was exactly what the doctor ordered.
A few points to make here: first, one would think that in an industry predicated on words, not image, age wouldn’t matter, but one would be wrong. Liza absolutely must maintain the lie to keep her job. Shame on you and your ageism, Empirical Publishing. Nora Ephron would not be your friend right now.
Second, this is the only television program I’ve ever seen that’s based on a book that I haven’t read. Shame on me.
[Get on that, self.]
Third, do me a proper and watch this, please. The show is so well-written and acted. Sutton Foster’s comedic timing is a thing of beauty, but Diana, the VP of Marketing, played by Miriam Shor, may well be my spirit animal. In real life, most of her publishing peers are being “right-sized,” which is a fancy way of saying “being replaced with someone younger and less expensive, experience be damned.”
What I particularly loved is how they demonstrate the situations in which Gen Xers feel cast aside and un
der-appreciated for having paved the way.
[Wait, what is it I’m expecting here? A cookie? A hug? Additional wood for my cross?]
However, I didn’t anticipate getting a sense of how tough it is for Millennial women right now. Things aren’t all fixies and tats for them, either – there’s this enormous mantle of expectation on them and they’re literally never, ever going to be done paying student loans. Some of these kids are taking jobs in big cities making thirty bills a year [that means one thousand, yes?] and they’re forced to share a single bedroom with three other people and eat canned tuna every day because they have six figures’ worth of debt from an Ivy League education that got them a job where they make thirty bills a year.
I guess it’s not easy out there for anyone, at any age.
Viewing the show altered my mood so much that my fog of depression lifted. I packed away my self-pity. I realized I’m not such an old dog; I’m a middle-dog, if that. My best tricks are yet to come.
Younger was an object lesson in opting for the unconventional path. Had Liza not taken a leap of faith, had she done what everyone else told her to do, she’d be selling ties at Neiman Marcus, not helping Kelsey launch the Millennial imprint. She followed her gut and her reward was everything she wanted, including a smokin’ hot twenty-six-year-old boyfriend. [More thoughts on this in Chapter Two.]
The show reminded me that I’ve never faltered when I’ve just been me, when I’ve been true to myself, when I’ve set my own course, instead of trying to follow what others have dictated.