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Bright Lights, Big Ass: A Self-Indulgent, Surly, Ex-Sorority Girl's Guide to Why it Often Sucks in theCity, or Who are These Idiots and Why Do They All Live Next Door to Me?

Jen Lancaster

  Raves for Jen Lancaster

  Bright Lights, Big Ass

  “Lessons we’ve learned from Jen Lancaster: Bitter is the new black; Target is the new Neiman’s; pit bulls and surly neighbors are the new Samanthas, Charlottes and Mirandas; and midday whiskey is always a good idea. Bright Lights, Big Ass is a bittersweet treat for anyone who’s ever survived the big city.”

  —Jennifer Weiner

  “Refreshing, hysterical, illuminating! From the title on, Bright Lights, Big Ass is an anti-haute hoot. In a voice that’s charming and snarky, hilarious and human, Jen Lancaster tells the ultraglamorous truth about real big-city living. And it’s better than anything on TV. Jen Lancaster does not teeter around on Manolo Blahniks or have lobster for breakfast. She eats pork chops and Lucky Charms. She dreams of shopping sprees at Target. She works temp jobs and spends too much time Googling things online. She wears footie pajamas. In other words, she’s a lot like the rest of us. Thank God! And this wonderful, sweet, funny book proves once and for all that Carrie Bradshaw and her Sex and the City cronies are big, fat liars. Of course. Of course they are.”

  —Lori Jakiela, author of Miss New York Has Everything

  “Bright Lights, Big Ass is brightly crafted and big on laughs. Jen Lancaster is wickedly funny, refreshingly honest and totally unapologetic.”

  —Caprice Crane, author of Stupid and Contagious and Forget About It

  “Jen Lancaster may be one of the few authors around capable of writing her own sitcom; she’s smart, wry, and never afraid to point out her own shortcomings while letting us into her uniquely funny world.”

  —Melanie Lynne Hauser, author of Super Mom Saves the World

  “Jen Lancaster is the Holy Trinity of funny.”

  —Nicole Del Sesto, author of All Encompassing Trip

  “After reading Bright Lights, Big Ass, I’m convinced Jen Lancaster is the illegitimate love child of Nora Ephron and David Sedaris. She’s simply that great—a genetic hybrid of two of America’s most loved writers. In Bright Lights, Big Ass, Jen Lancaster gives the proverbial ‘finger’ to the Carrie Bradshaw lifestyle trading Barneys, Manolo Blahnik, and Bergdorf’s for her very own shopping Holy Trinity: Target, Trader Joe’s and Ikea, allowing women everywhere to rejoice in their $60 Issac Mizrahi Target coats.”

  —Robert Rave, author of Conversations & Cosmopolitans:

  How to Give Your Mother a Hangover

  “Jen Lancaster is like David Sedaris with pearls and a supercute handbag.”

  —Jennifer Coburn

  “Part Seinfeld, part antidote to Sex and the City, Bright Lights, Big Ass is the must read for anyone who has ever suffered through a regretfully torturous workout with her trainer, a run-in with irrational, perhaps psychotic neighbors, a long-winded, insipid telemarketer or the black hole known as Ikea. (And really, isn’t this everyone?) Nothing and no one is spared from Jen Lancaster’s acerbically sharp wit, as she gives voice to all of the things we wish we could say, but don’t. I defy you not to laugh out loud on nearly every page. Someone give this girl her own show, already! That would be must-see TV.”

  —Allison Winn Scotch, author of The Department of Lost and Found

  Bitter Is the New Black

  “The funniest new author from the blogosphere. A must read.”

  —Jessica Cutler, Author of The Washingtonienne

  “A wry account of job seeking peppered with scathing one-liners.”

  —The Washington Post

  “An irreverent, abrasive, and funny self-portrait.”

  —Chattanooga Times–Free Press

  Bright Lights, Big Ass

  A Self-Indulgent, Surly Ex-Sorority Girl’s Guide to Why It Often Sucks in the City, or Who Are These Idiots and Why Do They All Live Next Door to Me?

  Jen Lancaster

  New American Library

  Published by New American Library, a division of

  Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street,

  New York, New York 10014, USA

  Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2,

  Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.)

  Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.)

  Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110 017, India

  Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore,

  Auckland 1311, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.) Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue,

  Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

  Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  First published by New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

  Copyright © Jen Lancaster, 2007

  All rights reserved



  Lancaster, Jen, 1967–

  Bright lights, big ass / Jen Lancaster.

  p. cm.

  ISBN: 1-4295-3414-1

  1. Lancaster, Jen, 1967–2. Authors, American—21st century—Biography. 3.

  Chicago (Ill.)—Social life and customs. I. Title.

  PS3612.A54748Z466 2007


  [B] 2006032863

  Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.


  While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers and Internet addresses at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication. Further, publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.

  The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

  For Angie, Carol, Jennifer, and Wendy,

  who were there from the very first word

  and who promise to host an intervention

  (complete with umbrella drinks)

  should the need arise


  Author’s Note

  Sucks and the City

  Church of the Magnificent Mile

  The Butterfly Effect

  All Quiet on the Westerville Front

  Tuesday Afternoon Drinking Club

  The Neocon Express

  The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Rachael Ray

  Jen Hollywood

  Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’ (and Bruisin’)

  Loathe Thy Neigh

  If the Werewolves Are in London…

  My So-Called (Superficial) Life

  Loser? Yes, but Not the Biggest

  I Love the Smell of Cardboard in the Morning

  Maisy and Me: Life and Love with the World’s Most Spoiled Dog

  No Molestar The Attack of the Sock-Monkey Pajamas

  The Holiday Drinking Season

  The Marquis de Sade in Mary-Kate Clothing

  Be Witch


  Author’s Note

  These stories are true, and the characters are real, as are the events. However, I’ve changed names and descriptions to protect the innocent and to keep my stupid neighbors from egging my house.

  Where skin-deep is the mode, your traditional

  domestic values are not going to take root and flourish.


  You’re moving to Chicago? Ha!

  You’ll come crawling home the first time

  you bounce a rent check.


  Bright Lights, Big Ass

  * * *

  from the desk of Miss Jennifer A. Lancaster

  Dear Carrie Bradshaw,

  You are a fucking liar.

  And for that matter, so are Jay McInerney, Bret Easton Ellis, and everyone else who’s ever claimed city life to be nothing but a magical, mythical, all-around transcendent experience chock-full of beautiful, morally ambiguous people lounging around at fabulous parties, clad in stilettos, and offering up free piles of blow.

  Because, seriously?

  No one’s ever offered me anything more provocative than a cough drop or a hug in my ten years here in Chicago. Which is fine. I mean, I really don’t want cocaine or a threesome. Frankly, I’m too busy trying to scrape up rent money to engage in that kind of stuff, anyway. (But it might be nice to be asked, for crying out loud.)

  My point is you and the rest of your ilk on Sex and the City painted an inaccurate portrait of city life. Most of us don’t spend our days getting buffed and polished at the city’s finest spas and then ripped at the most au courant watering holes. And we don’t hunker down in trendy bistros over $40 breakfasts while discussing spanking an investment banker with Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte, either.

  Real urbanites are way more likely to have a collection of shopping bags from Target than Prada. The majority are never going to know what it’s like to get a chemical peel by a meaty-armed Swede named Inga.

  And they’re okay with that.

  And you know what?

  I am, too.

  The thing is, although metropolitan living can be fabulous at times, more often than not it’s just me watching reality TV with my husband, Fletch, seeing rats so often I’ve named my favorites “Bitey” and “Señor Skinnytail,” and accidentally reporting the guy next door to Homeland Security.

  In no way, shape, or form does your fictional existence mirror my real urban life and I thought you should know.

  And if you don’t like it, you can kiss my big, fat, pink, puffy down parka.



  * * *

  * * *

  Dear Alderman,

  I’m writing you regarding the condition of my block on Racine Ave. In the past four months, the amount of garbage littering the street has increased dramatically.

  I’m particularly concerned about the sidewalk area bordering the empty lot on the west side of the road. Last year the area was neatly maintained with gravel covering most of it. Recently it has become a dumping ground for take-out food containers, empty beer bottles, condom wrappers, and this morning, the pièce de résistance, a single woman’s slipper and an old pair of men’s pants.

  I have no idea what’s happening on my block while I sleep, but if it involves someone losing their pants, it can’t be good and I would like you to make it stop.

  Thanks in advance,

  Jen Lancaster

  * * *

  * * *

  Dear Yellow Pages Customer Care,

  I’m writing to inform you of the Leaning Tower of Phone Books you saw fit to station outside the gate of my condo complex last week.

  There are sixteen townhomes in this development. Most of the residents here are single professionals (read fat girls), although a few of us are married or, um, partnered. But in total, approximately twenty-two people live here.

  So, can you please explain the math that led you to believe that sixteen units/twenty-two people require forty-eight sets of White Pages and forty-eight sets of Yellow Pages? Although I understand the rationale of dropping off a few extra books, leaving sixty-four extra is not only patently ridiculous but also incredibly wasteful.

  Should you care to salvage any of the phone books that have not yet been peed on by my dog, I suggest you do so quickly before something unfortunate happens to them, which may or may not involve a book of matches and a bonfire. (And possibly a pair of pants, although I do not hold you responsible for their presence.)

  Looking forward to a speedy resolution,

  Jen Lancaster

  * * *

  * * *

  To: angie_at_home, carol_at_home, wendy_at_home, jen_at_work

  From: [email protected]

  Subject: party over, oops, out of time


  I wasn’t yet close to most of you guys during my fabulous old life, so you’ll have to take my word for it when I say back in the dot-com era Fletch and I were true social butterflies—not a weekend went by that we didn’t see friends. Our calendars were filled with dates for dinners, drinks, parties, mixers, gatherings, brunches, etc. We were Paris Hilton (minus the skank).

  Of course, now we’re old, fat, and far less liquid, so those days are long gone…which brings me to my present dilemma.

  A nice couple is coming over tonight. It’s the first time we’ve had anyone here since we got our lives back and I don’t really remember how to entertain anymore. Sure, I can still handle the physical aspects of having guests—thorough cleaning, fresh flowers on the mantel, cookie-scented candles, proper lighting, delicious snacks, etc.

  But the interaction aspect?

  Not so much.

  I’m afraid since I’ve used proper conversation skills so infrequently in the past couple of years, I’ve become socially retarded. I fear when our guests get here I’ll blurt something Peter Griffin–like from The Family Guy, e.g., “Bob Crane of Hogan’s Heroes had his skull bashed in by his friend who liked to videotape him having rough sex.”

  Then Fletch will play a Helmet album while demonstrating our awesome new vacuum, a cat will jump on the buffet and lick the cheese, Maisy will crap on the floor, and we’ll call it a night.

  But I’m probably just being paranoid, right?


  * * *

  * * *

  To: angie_at_home, carol_at_home, wendy_at_home, jen_at_work

  From: [email protected]

  Subject: party over, oops, out of time, part 2

  10:03 p.m.—Fletch whips out the Dyson.

  10:03 p.m.—Guests remember a previous engagement and leave.

  And you all thought I was kidding.

  * * *

  Sucks and the City

  I’m clad in my favorite power suit, crafted from the wool of cosseted Australian sheep (of course) and lovingly pieced together by the finest tailors ever to lay thread to silk. My portfolio gleams in an equally polished and manicured hand and my Chanel sunglasses hold back a perfectly arranged coif. Poised on the edge of my seat in the senior vice president of Operations’ office, I’m crushing my interview, or at least I am until he asks the one thing I’m not sure how to answer:

  “If you’re a former vice president, why exactly do y’all want a job gittin’ my coffee?”

  An excellent question.

  For which I have no response.

  I take a deep breath and surreptitiously glance at my surroundings in order to buy a
minute. The senior vice president’s office is mostly chrome and glass and skyline, yet it’s not cold or impersonal. Likely it’s because Mr. James, the man behind the title, radiates such warmth. First, his accent is incredibly disarming. How do you not love anyone who says “y’all” without a trace of irony? Perhaps it’s an inaccurate prejudice, but it seems like almost everyone with a Southern accent is nice. With their slow, long consonants, I bet they have a really hard time yelling at anyone effectively. By the time they’d get out the appropriate epithet about goin’ straight to Hades for cutting them off in traffic, the offending driver would already be halfway down the off-ramp.

  This office really speaks to Mr. James’s personality. A couple of deeply green rubber trees soften the light from the window and lush, variegated ivies trail down from the top of his credenza. I read an article once about the effects of plants in the workplace—supposedly they not only clean the air but also reduce employee stress.1

  All the surfaces in his office are littered items that speak volumes about his personality. There’s a two-foot-long paperclip chain draped over the corner of his computer monitor, likely constructed during a boring conference call. There’s something oddly appealing about someone who’s not too professional to fidget on occasion. Under a pile of paperwork I see the end of a familiar pink wrapper, telling me he was probably eating Almond Roca before our interview. (I sort of love anyone who thinks there’s nothing wrong with candy for breakfast.)