My Fair Lazy: One Reality Television Addict's Attempt to DiscoverJen 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
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First published by New American Library,
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First Printing, May 2010
Copyright © Jennifer Lancaster, 2010
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REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA:
Lancaster, Jen, 1967-
eISBN : 978-1-101-18741-8
1. Lancaster, Jen, 1967- 2. Authors, American—21st century—Biography. 3. United States—Social life and customs—21st century—Humor. I. Title.
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Some characters have been combined for storytelling purposes. In addition, other names and identifying characteristics have been changed for privacy reasons with timelines compressed.
Progress isn’t made by early risers. It’s made by lazy men
trying to find an easier way to do something.
—ROBERT HEINLEIN, Time Enough for Love
It is only the wisest and the stupidest that cannot change.
And as usual, what happens next
is all Carrie Bradshaw’s fault.
—JEN LANCASTER, My Fair Lazy BOOK PROPOSAL
Subject: today’s Jen-point quiz
It’s late in the evening and you’re just about to head upstairs, take a bath, and read a bit before bed when you hear a noise in the front yard. Upon drawing the curtains, you come face-to-face with a hipster who’s using your lawn/the corner of your house as a urinal.
What do you do next?
a. You smile and shake your head. Ah, the capriciousness of youth!
b. You frown and shake your head. You don’t like it, but you understand this kind of thing happens sometimes when you live in an urban environment.
c. You call the police, knowing full well if they even bother to respond to your call, the hipster pisser will be halfway through his can of Pabst Blue Ribbon at the neighborhood watering hole before they arrive.
d. You throw open the front door and scream profanities at the hipster, causing the stream of urine to soak his skinny jeans. And as he egresses at a brisk pace, you shout, “Doesn’t matter if you run, motherfucker, because I know where you’re going!”
e. You spend the rest of the evening standing by your open front door, shaking your garden shovel at everyone who’s unfortunate enough to park on your street.
f. Answers D and E.
Award yourself zero points for Answers A-C, five points for Answers D-E, and ten points for Answer F.
Give yourself one bonus point if your shovel is rusty.
(Not My) High School Reunion
Beyond the gracious picture windows, snow falls gently, glistening in the halogen glow of the streetlights. We’ve reached the point in winter when city snowdrifts turn grimy and sharp, held together primarily by a strata of dirt and salt and crumbled asphalt. But tonight, perhaps in honor of the author’s special event, big, airy flakes drift down, forming a thick buttercream blanket that softens the edges of Halsted Street one story below.
This is the perfect place from which to witness the gathering storm. The windows reach from floor to ceiling, but the room is warmed by incandescent lighting and plush rugs. Rough wooden beams span the ceiling and the walls are exposed brick, providing an elegant contrast to the minimalist animal-print chairs and sleek, low tables. Artfully scattered candles twinkle around the room.
Inside the party the guests are equally radiant, as many are glitterati in their own right. The private event is full of important people, most of whom seem to have stepped out of the pages of Chicago Social Magazine to gather in celebration of the author’s newest tome.
Some of the men have come straight from the office and wear finely tailored suits in muted shades of black and gray. Other guys, perhaps the more artistically minded in the crowd, sport high-concept shirts and jeans by designers like Dolce and Gabbana, topped with beautifully battered leather coats.
As for the women, their looks vary—they run the gamut from couture cocktail wear to bohemian chic. The author herself oozes glamour in a crimson wrap dress that appears to be both couture and vintage. And despite the absolute certainty that all the women here will have to trudge through snowy streets later, their shoes are of the open, strappy, and impossibly high variety.
The thing is, tonight isn’t just an event for people who look beautiful. The author’s invited revelers are decidedly academic. Their repartee sparkles just as much as the weighty diamonds on the women’s necks, wrists, ears, and hands.
Throughout the room, snatches of Important Conversation can be heard on a variety of highbrow topics: this season at the Lyric Opera; a new piece of surrealist art b
y someone named Claude; and the best vintage of Mouton Rothschild. Guests discuss amending sections of Chicago’s municipal code and the risks commercial paper carries because there’s no collateral behind it. The author holds court in the corner by the bar, detailing the ways in which the Italian legal system differs from our own.
At this point, it should be fairly obvious that I’m not the author in question, and this isn’t my event. I mean, my last book release party was held around my tiny kitchen table and in my microscopic living room with everyone drinking Two Buck Chuck, eating bricks of cheese from Aldi, listening to the GoGos, and playing Scattergories.13 At some point in the evening, I went upstairs and changed into my lightest pair of pajama pants because I got sweaty.
So this here? This tonight? Is so not my scene. My friend Stacey, another writer (but not the host), invited me. She keeps encouraging me to mingle so I’m not bored while she says hello to other guests. Unfortunately, small talk is not my forte, unless it involves my hair or a solid rehashing of that time Pumkin spit on Miss New York in the first season of Flavor of Love. (My academic summation? Them bitches be crazy and shit!)
I quietly slurp my Diet Coke and contemplate what I’ll say if I’m asked a direct question about any of the topics floating around in here. I get superanxious when I’m put on the spot about subjects I don’t know much about. What am I supposed to say about municipal code? It’s good? It’s bad? It’s Dan Brown’s new book? I have no freaking clue.
As for opera, the extent of my familiarity comes from Dan Aykroyd in Trading Places saying, “La Bohème—it’s an op-er-a.” Perhaps I should interrupt the surrealist conversation dudes to let them in on my theory that all contemporary art is a huge scam? I mean, last time I went to a museum, there was a barbell sculpted out of Vaseline. Seriously. You think a piece like that’s going to make the curators at the Louvre go all, “Ooh, let’s put the greasy barbell next to the Venus de Milo! Maybe we can even build out her stumps with Vaseline!” Right.
I notice Stacey nodding encouragingly at me from across the room, so I steel myself. I’m determined to at least try . . . so then I can quit legitimately. I start grinning awkwardly at the people around me, attempting to catch their eyes and be invited into a conversation. But no one bites because I’m pretty sure I come across as desperate and freaky as the chicks at an open-casting call for Rock of Love, minus the boob job and inflamed downstairs lady parts.
This would be so much easier if I were drinking. A little social lubricant would go a long way to make me feel more at ease. But Fletch is joining us later tonight, and I lost the rock-paper-scissors on who’d be the designated driver. Why do I perpetually remember too late that the bastard always throws scissors?
I’m on my third lap around the party14 when I hear a couple of professor-looking guys talking about Syriana.
Hey! Here’s my opening!
I saw that movie!
I can join in!
Look at me go!
So . . . apparently when two men wearing tweedy jackets with leather elbow patches are discussing the geopolitical ramifications of the creation of an artificial state, à la Iraq, they aren’t looking for someone to interject, “I totally saw that movie! And if you ask me, Clooney really needs to lay off the pie!” They stared at me as though I was insane, and I slunk off back to the safety of Stacey’s side.
I tried, it was hard, I quit, the end. Story of my life.
This deal tonight could be classified as less of a party and more of a soiree.15 Boring fusion jazz, which I despise, plays in the background. If I want to hear metallic clattering, I’ll wrongly install my pot rack again. I hate jazz so much that I won’t even go to brunch most places. Thanks a lot, Miles Davis. You’ve totally ruined waffles for me.
Waiters circulate with shiny silver trays covered with something yellow and trendy and lovely served on a bed of something green and crisp. Is it a cube of cheddar? Because I’m all about cube cheese! I glom onto a toothpick as the waiter cruises by and stuff the contents in my mouth when I hear someone exclaim, “Ooh, fois gras!” Then I promptly hawk it back up into my napkin and hide the whole thing in a potted plant.
I’m pretty sure no one saw me.
Scratch that: Stacey saw me.
Fortunately, she just laughs.
Even though we get along famously, I suspect I wasn’t her first choice of companion for this evening. She says I’m a bad wingman because whenever we’re together in public and someone weird corners her with something like four thousand handwritten pages about the history of masonry, I run and hide in the bathroom, giggling until the coast is clear, while a good wingman would swoop in and explain to the bricklaying scribe that our publishers don’t let us read unsolicited work. Fortunately, this is a private event, and the only one liable to create a socially uncomfortable situation is me.
Stacey’s having an animated conversation with one of the clever, pretty people about Chef Grant Achatz. She had the twenty-course tasting menu at Alinea in Old Town recently and tried to explain it to me, but I didn’t quite understand all the fuss.
“Molecular gastronomy is foams, like what Marcel kept using on that season of Top Chef, right?” I asked. “Did you eat a whole meal made of foam? Because that sounds gross. What, were they all, ‘Hey! Have some Caesar salad. It’s foam! Would you like a steak? A thick, juicy, foamy steak?’ How about some pie? It’s foam-tastic. Finish up with a cappuccino. (No foam.)”
Patiently, Stacey explained, “There may have been one dish with foam, but that’s it. You know, Jen, molecular gastronomy’s more than just food infused with air. It’s really about changing the chemical makeup. For example, it can take a solid and turn it a liquid.”
“I can do that with a blender,” I countered.
“No, you can puree something, but you can’t change its physical properties. Each of the tiny bits is still a solid. Chefs use liquid nitrogen to make liquids into solids—”
“I can do that in my freezer.”
“—solids into gases, et cetera. For example, one of the dishes was ‘the soup course,’ which was a tiny bubble filled with tomato water. You put it in your mouth, and the second it hits your tongue, it transforms into a liquid.”
I can do that with my teeth—it’s called chewing—but I suspect Stacey is not so interested in my editorial commentary. Instead, I said, “Like the juice on your cutting board after you slice a tomato?”
Stacey considered this for a moment. “Kind of, only condensed and amplified.”
“And you just get one bite? Wouldn’t you rather have a whole bowl of delicious soup?” I asked.
“I might not be explaining this right. Another course was a lozenge made out of pineapple and bacon. What looked like a tiny piece of candy turned out to be an explosive mouthful of flavor.”
I simply shook my head. “I understand the words you’re saying individually, but together as a concept? No.”16
“Try it sometime and you’ll get it.”
“Sure,” I agreed. But, honestly, why would I spend four hundred dollars for a bacon cough drop when I can get a beautiful, nonexplode-y steak dinner for two at Morton’s for a quarter of the price? No, thanks.
While I shift awkwardly and mainline my Diet Coke, Stacey’s conversation partner eventually drifts away. She turns back to me expectantly, so I lean in to ask her the one question that’s been plaguing me all night.
“Hey, can you smell my feet through these boots?”
Food snobbery aside, she’s still a great friend. She leans closer and inhales. “Nope, you’re good.”
“Excellent. I was worried because the only boots I could find to fit over my stupid calves are pleather, and they usually reek after I stand around in them for a while. I’m just hoping their funk doesn’t permeate the room.”
Stacey gives me a wry smile. “No worries.”
“Although I’m probably one of the only ones in here who won’t lose a toe to frostbite tonight.” Then I suddenly remember why we came i
n the first place. “Hey! Where’s your boyfriend?”
She stands on the balls of her feet and scans the crowd. “Not here yet.” Stacey recently reconnected with a high school crush via Facebook, and it turns out they’re both friends with our hostess. Stacey hasn’t seen Crush in twenty years, but still remembers how she’d swoon every time he walked into geometry class. Having transferred schools and lost credits, Crush found himself the only senior in a roomful of freshmen, of which Stacey was one. She says she spent the entire semester gazing at him the same way Samantha Baker stared at Jake Ryan in Sixteen Candles.
“I have no idea if I’d even want him as a boyfriend. Adult Stacey may have very different taste than Young Stacey. I’m not wearing Love’s Baby Soft anymore. I’m also not into slap bracelets or white Ray-Bans or asymmetrical haircuts.” Stacey shrugs and looks around the room again. “It’ll just be fun to see him again, though. Hey, wait—there he is!” Crush spots Stacey and jogs over, practically picking her up with the force of his hug.
This? This guy is Jake Ryan? But where are his plaid shirt and work boots and forward-brushed haircut? Is his Porsche out front? And what of his sweater vest? I mean, this dude’s a perfectly normal-looking forty-year-old guy. I suppose he’s handsome enough, but nobody’s heart is exactly going to skip a beat at the prospect of sharing a birthday cake with him on a glass-top table.17
Stacey introduces us. Interestingly, Crush shares a name with a famous department store. While we shake hands, Stacey briefs me on Crush’s life and various accomplishments. I learn about his advanced degrees and his big-deal job in human rights law and how he leads a weekly discussion group in an upscale gastro pub about the various ills befalling our fair city, to which I reply, “Your blueberry muffins kick ass.”