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My Fair Lazy: One Reality Television Addict's Attempt to Discover If Not Being A Dumb Ass Is the New Black, or, a Culture-Up Manifesto, Page 2

Jen Lancaster

  His expression is guarded. Maybe it’s a lawyer thing? “Heh. Yeah. You must have grown up on the East Coast.”

  “I lived there till I was ten!” I exclaim. “Anyway, are you any relation?”

  He gives me a crinkly smile that may have been what fueled Stacey’s crush twenty years ago. “Afraid not.”

  “Bummer. I bet you’d get all the blueberry muffins you could eat if you were a department store scion.”

  Except I don’t think I said “scion.”

  I might have said “cyclops.”

  He and Stacey give me odd looks and begin to chat when I’m struck by another thought. “Hey,” I bark, “how funny would it be if your name were Marshall Field? Wouldn’t that be hilarious? You could get all the Frango Mints you want! HA!”

  They politely nod and begin to reminisce about high school. Since this is a reunion of sorts, I find it’s the perfect time to recount my favorite scenes from the WB’s series High School Reunion, but neither of them saw it, so no one laughs when I shout K.K.’s famous line, “I want to peel my skin off !”


  They continue to chat, occasionally grinning in my direction—whether out of genuine pleasure for my company or an underlying desire that I keep my piehole closed, I can’t be sure. I stay really quiet for fear of saying the wrong thing. My Achilles’ heel has always been my mouth. I’m the person who says every single thing she thinks, sometimes to others’ amusement, and almost always to my detriment.

  Before I was a writer, I had slightly more control of my mouth, at least in important professional settings. To keep myself from blurting out whatever crossed my mind in crucial client meetings, I’d make cheat sheets. I’d prepare myself for the social-niceties portion of the gathering by researching the company and their top brass. Whenever possible, I forced myself to say ingratiating stuff like, “I noticed the Mapplethorpe photos in the hallway! What a great collection!” and “Congratulations on making Crain’s Forty Under Forty List!” instead of what I was thinking, which was, “Does your receptionist not totally smell like cabbage? What’s up with that?” I turned into my usual abrasive self once back in the office, but on the road, I was golden, and I eked out a successful niche for myself.

  The problem is that in regular social conversation, there’s no opportunity for cheat sheets. I’m flying without instruments. Plus, if there’s any kind of spark between these two, I don’t want to derail a potential romance with a comment about how I’m considering Botox injections to keep my feet from sweating. Best to just lock my lips.

  Stacey leans conspiratorially into Crush and admits, “You know, you were my Jake Ryan in high school.”

  Crush is confused. “Your Jake Ryan . . . what does that mean?”

  “From Sixteen Candles? Jake Ryan was the senior in some of Molly Ringwald’s classes, and she had such a thing for him even though he had no clue she existed,” Stacey informs him.

  “Huh. Never saw it.”

  Yes!! Here’s my opening! I’ve been waiting for this all night! I mean, I can’t tell you shit about opera or art or law, but I pretty much have a Ph.D. in John Hughes.18 We’ve hit upon one of the few subjects in which I excel, so I unclamp my lips. “You never saw Sixteen Candles?” I blurt. “How is that possible? How could you practically go to high school in John Hughes’s backyard and not see Sixteen Candles?”

  Crush flashes a nervous grin while he runs his hand across his stubbly chin. “I don’t know. I just didn’t.”

  I continue on my tirade. “Anthony Michael Hall as Farmer Ted? Trapped under a glass coffee table, screaming, ‘JAAAAKE!’ Ring any bells?”

  Crush shakes his head. “I’m sorry, no.”

  “Come on!” I insist. “Sixteen Candles is a classic coming-of-age film. You weren’t allowed to leave the eighties without seeing it.”

  “Apparently I was.” He glances over to Stacey for help but she just shrugs. Wonder if she wishes he was talking about masonry right about now?

  “No! Wrong! Think harder! You must have seen it! John Cusack’s first role? The beginning of the Brat Pack? Molly Ringwald as Samantha Baker? And the scene where her grandmother felt her up because she ‘got her boobies’? Nothing?”

  “I’m sorry, no.”

  “‘Dong, where is my automobile?’ ‘We have seventy dollars and a pair of girl’s underpants. We’re as safe as kittens.’ ‘Now we’re BOTH on the pill!’ Anything?”


  “ ‘I can’t believe it; they fucking forgot my birthday.’ ” I wait for his flash of recognition, but it never comes. “Seriously, nothing? I mean, come on! EVERYONE has seen Sixteen Candles, so everyone knows who Jake Ryan is.”

  Crush takes a series of small, deliberate steps back from me.19 “If I say yes, will you stop shouting at me?”

  I weigh his request. “Well, no. I can’t understand how you’re unfamiliar with the cultural touchstone that Jake Ryan was for our generation.”

  He remains steadfast. “And I maintain that it’s an esoteric reference.”

  Okay, seriously?

  Them’s fightin’ words.

  I fling my purse off my shoulder and whip out my wallet, which is adorned with a giant Paul Frank monkey.20 “Listen, I have”—I count—“eight dollars. I have eight dollars that say you are flat-freaking wrong. I’m willing to wager these eight dollars that every single woman in this room between the ages of thirty and forty-five knows exactly who Jake Ryan is. Are you in? Or are you a tremendous pussy?”

  He pauses. “I’m not a tremendous pussy.”

  “Ergo, you’re in. Scoot.” I give him a helpful shove in the direction of the stunning girls who’d previously been discussing some guy they kept calling Proost. Not more than ten seconds into the conversation, I hear the lone male in the group squeal, “JAAAAAKE!” Crush catches my eye and I mouth, “I told you so!”

  Stacey and I watch as he hops from group to group, and I congratulate myself each time he shoots me a sheepish thumbs-up. Embattled cries of “JAAAAAKE!” occasionally puncture the otherwise civilized din of the party.

  Crush works his way around the room, and we spy him chatting up a particularly beautiful girl in a raspberry beret.

  Oh, honey, Prince called—he wants his cliché back.

  Crush lingers there for a while. “Huh,” I remark. “I wonder what they’re talking about. We already got the Jake thumbs-up, which means I am totally eight dollars richer. I wonder why he’s not coming back?” Raspberry Cliché giggles at something Crush says, and they put their heads closer together. Her hair brushes his face, and he casually smoothes it back for her. “So, whaddaya think, Stace, you like him or not?”

  Stacey purses her lips. “Definitely as a friend, but I can’t tell if there’s any electricity or not.”

  “Really? How come? I mean, he was your Jake Ryan, for crying out loud.” I gesture so grandly that half my Diet Coke sloshes out onto my boot.

  Stacey swipes at a stray curl on her forehead and levels her gaze. “Um, because before we got a chance to connect, you and your eight-dollar bet sent him off to talk to every single attractive girl in this place.”

  This? Right here? Is exactly why you can’t take me anyplace nice.

  “Oh, no! I’m SO sorry!” I gasp. “It never occurred to me that I just provided your crush with the world’s greatest opening line!”

  Stacey pats me on the shoulder. “Jen, it’s fine. I’m not mad; it’s funny. But you really are the worst wingman ever.”

  I’ve got to make this right. “Want me to help you meet someone else here?” My mind begins spinning. Maybe I can get one of the elbow-patch academic guys to talk to her? I know Stacey saw Syriana because she’s the one who had to explain it to me.

  I take a bracing sip of my Diet Coke. Okay, here’s what I’ll do. I’ll find the tweedy blazer guys, and I’ll tell them that Stacey’s not only cute but totally smart because she wasn’t all distracted by Clooney’s child-bearing hips and double chin in Syriana, and she�
��s actually able to see him as a serious actor and doesn’t just think of him as the guy who starred on the later seasons of The Facts of Life and had that stupid mullet and—

  She quickly throws her hands up into the universal symbol for stop. “NO! No. Thank you. I’m okay on my own.” At this point Fletch arrives. He’s shaking the snow out of his hair, and his face breaks into a sweet smile when he spots us.

  He kisses me, then gives Stacey a hug. “Hey, sorry I’m late. I had a client issue that took forever to resolve. What’d I miss?”

  “I just made an eight-dollar bet with Stacey’s high school crush and, in so doing, accidentally sent him out to talk to every woman at this party.”

  Somehow Fletch doesn’t seem surprised by this news. He tells Stacey, “She’s truly the world’s worst wingman.”

  “Agreed.” Stacey nods.

  “What are you drinking?” he asks me.

  “I’ve had, like, nine Diet Cokes,” I admit.

  Fletch turns ashen. “Stacey, you can’t let her have that much soda. Ever. You think she’s a handful when she drinks? That doesn’t hold a candle to her with a caffeine buzz.”

  But I’m pretty sure she already figured that out.

  Crush eventually joins us again,21 and while the grown-ups discuss the mayor’s latest budgetary follies, I discuss this week’s follies on the first-ever winter edition of Big Brother. As they debate the merits of a flat tax, I debate how flat the top ten female semifinalists were on American Idol. While they grouse about their jobs, I grouse about who was just fired on Celebrity Apprentice.

  At some point I interrupt my own personal version of Talk Soup to mention the delicious brisket I had at lunch. Turns out Crush hates brisket, and I argue that it’s impossible to hate brisket and that EVERYONE loves brisket and that I now have sixteen dollars22 to prove it, and before you know it, I manage to turn the argument into a chance for Stacey to cook him brisket.

  We hang out for a little while longer until Fletch notices I’m practically levitating after too much soda and not enough protein. The four of us decide to grab some grilled cheeses at Four Moon Tavern, which is now a bonus date for Stacey on top of the brisket date.

  See? I’m NOT the worst wingman ever.

  We make our way through the crowd to say our good-byes, and I can’t help but notice how almost every conversation in the room now revolves around either reality television or John Hughes movies. I even hear Patches and Tweedy grudgingly admit how much they identified with the boys in Weird Science.

  As we head into the snow, I begin to wonder how the evening might have gone if I’d been there with my pre-9/11 brain. Maybe I couldn’t have kept up with everything, but I definitely wouldn’t have brought an entire room down to my level.

  On the one hand, it’s funny that everyone got dumber by having been around me.

  On the other, it’s a bit of a hollow victory.

  from the desk of ms. jennifer ann lancaster

  Dear Alderman,

  Yesterday I said good-bye to my husband and made my way upstairs to get dressed so I could work. But before I got a chance to sit down at the computer, something caught my eye. I noticed chunks of snow and ice flying . . . almost as if they’d been hurled. I heard the rev of an engine, over and over, growing more insistent. And, despite the room’s triple-paned glass, I heard obscenities.

  Oh, so many obscenities.

  Four-letter words filled the air in capital letters, with exclamation points, like one of the fight scenes from Batman, the Adam West era.

  Our alley had claimed another victim.

  I threw a fleece on over my flannel nightgown, stepped into my woolly Crocs, grabbed my coat, and headed outside, where Fletch was in a state of what can only be described as “bitch-panic.” Fletch had gotten his car stuck in an eight-inch-deep ice valley, formed in the perfect storm of snowing, hailing, melting, refreezing, and non-storm-drain-cleaning-despite-having-asked-your-office-twenty-times-to-please-please-please-do-something.

  Unfortunately, I was the one tasked with rocking the vehicle rather than the more desirable job of steering, what with my propensity to hit the side of the garage even when the pavement is dry and clear. Pajama-clad, I spent the next forty-five minutes throwing my weight against the trunk while the useless back tires sprayed me with a mixture of road salt, ice, and liquefied kitty litter.

  Finally, he stopped swearing long enough to remember we had roadside assistance—a service not only included in the purchase price of the car, but also the main argument he’d used to convince me it was fine to get the rear-wheel-drive model—and the nice folks at BMW quickly dispatched Sherpas bearing crullers, hot brandy, and a tow truck. OK, they didn’t bring liquor or donuts, but they did arrive promptly and free of charge.

  Later, my husband brought home a big box of pastry to apologize for being all shout-y.

  So I guess what I’m saying is, the alley drain that you promised was fixed?


  As I see it, you have two options. You can use your position as Alderman to pressure the city water department to actually do what they said they did, or you can supply me with a nice box of éclairs so I don’t go all Dick Cheney in your office at the next ward meeting.

  Your choice.


  Jen Lancaster


  So You Think They Can Dance?

  “What’s the problem?”

  I’m here getting therapy, or at least my version of it, perched on the couch in Stacey’s living room in front of her flat screen. For the past few years, ever since we met on a book event panel and discovered we may well be the same person,23 we have a standing date on Wednesday nights to watch whatever’s on Bravo. At the moment we’re onto Top Chef 4 but we’ve done multiple seasons of Project Runway. Last year we even tuned in to Shear Genius, a hair-cutting competition. That’s right: a show about haircuts and we’re not hairdressers. Apparently I will watch whatever Bravo tells me to.

  I drove over here tonight with the windows open. Winter’s finally over and spring’s arrived. I’m feeling somewhat melancholy about the change of seasons. Winter’s my favorite time of year because it’s the one time when I’m not all wrapped up in deadlines. Early spring is spent getting ready to promote whatever new book I’ve written, and in late spring, I tour and do publicity. Summer’s when I write and fall’s all about the edit.

  After I finally put Such a Pretty Fat to bed this last November, my friend Angie asked me what I was going to do with all my free time. Would I travel? Spend some time enjoying all the cultural offerings of my city? Start working for charity? No.

  My response? “I’m going to watch so much television!”

  And I have. This winter’s been nothing but an endless stream of American Idol, America’s Next Top Model, The Biggest Loser, Super-nanny , Wife Swap, Beauty and the Geek 5, The Apprentice, The Bachelor, My Super Sweet Sixteen, The Real Housewives of Orange County, The Real Housewives of New York, The Ultimate Coyote Ugly Search 3, Bad Girls Club 2, Rock of Love, Make Me a Supermodel, The Gauntlet III, Big Brother 9, Survivor: Micronesia, Step It Up and Dance, The Janice Dickenson Modeling Agency, Crowned: The Mother of All Pageants, Millionaire Matchmaker, Paradise Hotel,24 Randy Jackson Presents: America’s Next Dance Crew, A Shot of Love with Tila Tequila 2, Gene Simmons Family Jewels, I Know My Kid’s a Star, My Fair Brady . . . Maybe Baby?, and, of course, Scott Baio Is 46 . . . and Pregnant.

  I don’t watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians, though.

  I do have some standards.

  Anyway, at this very moment, I’m not paying attention to one of my favorite reality programs and am instead having a panic attack about going on book tour.

  I take a big breath, and when I exhale, it comes out sounding ragged. “I’m not worried about the tour, per se.” Right now my problem isn’t some abstruse struggle about poise and self-assurance in unfamiliar or urbane circumstances. My issue is a little more pedestrian. “I don’t have good lugga
ge. I had to sell all my adorable, matchy-matchy Kate Spade pieces years ago to pay rent when we were broke. What I’ve got is a packing dilemma, and no one seems to want to help me figure it out.”

  Stacey, always sagacious and sweet, won’t let me struggle alone. “I’ll help you. What you want is a Travelpro bag. I’ve got the platinum series and it was worth every dime.”

  “Yeah,” I agree, “but . . .” I scratch at the faint chocolate stain I left on Stacey’s couch cushion last year when I accidentally sat on a Raisinette.

  “Too expensive? Average out the price versus times you use it, and I guarantee you’ll make up the cost over the bag’s life span.” She grabs a scratch pad, ready to do the math, but I wave her off.

  “Well . . . it’s just that I saw these really cute suitcases in a catalog and they’re flowered and striped and all the colors in them would match my polo shirts. They’re dreamy! My favorite one comes covered in big pink polka dots on a chocolate background, but I also like the one with grosgrain ribbons and a monogram, and I could totally see Elle Woods carrying . . .”

  Stacey’s indulgent grin slowly fades into the kind of confused expression Loki gives us when he hears another dog bark on television. “Um, wow,” I observe, “you should see the look on your face. What are you, like, the Henry Ford of luggage or something? You can have any color you want as long as it’s black?”

  “No . . . no, not at all,” she finally responds unconvincingly. “I’m curious, though. What catalog was it?”

  “Well . . . when I got it, I didn’t notice the company name on the cover. I was just thumbing through it, looking at the furniture and linens and decorating items, and I was all, ‘This stuff is so the real me!’ Turns out it was a Pottery Barn TEEN catalog.” I pause to consider the implications. “Meaning I have the design aesthetic of a twelve-year-old girl.”