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Bitter is the New Black : Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass,Or, Why You Should Never Carry A Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office, Page 2

Jen Lancaster

  Anyway, what a lousy bunch of suck-ups most of the folks here are. All those losers were hanging on my every word! Now I’m trying to head to the ladies’ room and even that’s a task. Feels like I can’t take a step without being accosted by enthusiastic crowds of parasitic second-tier sales weasels. And all the kudos? Getting a wee bit old.

  “Oh, Jen, congratulations! You rock!”

  Uh-huh. And your point is?

  “Wow, Jennifer, your presentation was, like, amazing…. You are, like, so gifted at public speaking.”

  Yeah, I’m gifted. My smooth, confident delivery had nothing to do with the fact that I practiced my presentation in my hotel room’s mirror for ten hours the day before I gave it while everyone else was at a poolside luau. Isn’t it, like, a total shock that the most prepared person, like, won?

  “Jenny, hey, um, hi. Do you think you could forward me that awesome PowerPoint you created?”

  Oh, hey, um, you mean the PowerPoint that I worked on at home every single day for a month? The creation of which forced me to give up four entire weekends of my life? Is that the one you mean? Don’t hold your breath. And don’t call me Jenny.

  “Excuse me, but aren’t you the girl who won?”

  How ever did you guess, Nancy Drew? Other than hearing the cavalcade of your colleagues congratulating me, I mean.

  “What will you do with that big cash prize?”

  Funny, but you don’t look like my mother. I wasn’t kidding when I announced at the awards ceremony, “Screw Disneyland. I’m going to Prada.”

  In reality, I smile, nod at all the well-wishers, and keep my acid tongue to myself. It’s tough, but I am nothing if not professional.

  I head to the washroom in the bowels of the vessel. For such a nice boat, the bathroom is small, dark, cramped, and…is that pot smoke? Is Captain Hazelwood our skipper? And, eeww!…they have one of those creepy pump toilets. I think I can hold it until we dock. I’ll just fix myself up instead.

  There’s barely enough room to do a quick twirl, but I manage.7 I lean in for a closer look at my reflection and Angelina Jolie gazes back at me. Well, that may be a slight exaggeration, but my features are nicely placed, my eyes are a stunning emerald (contacts, but who cares?), and my skin is clear and golden brown from the sun. I finally stopped breaking out when I hit thirty, and no wrinkles yet, either. Huzzah!

  Coif? A bit wavy today because we’re on the water, but my artfully applied caramel highlights contrast sublimely with my bronzed visage. Rory, my colorist, does EVERYONE who’s anyone in Chicago and she’s well worth the $300.

  Cosmetics? All by Christian Dior, so my face is holding up nicely in the heat. When you’re out in the sun, the trick is to use a light hand with the shimmer powder lest you want to look like a truck stop waitress. One girl on deck now is so sparkly that I’m tempted to ask her for a pork chop and a side of grits, and a warm-up when you get the chance, hon.

  Body? Tall and strong and lean, of course.

  Or, tall anyway. And I’m confident that the rest will be true as soon as I find time to drag my untoned ass to the gym. But it’s hard given all the hours I work. There’s only so much time, and right now, the bulk is spent advancing my career. Despite my best efforts, I’m not quite perfect. Let’s just say I’m like one of those Hopi blankets where they leave a tiny flaw so as to not affront the Lord. (Don’t want to offend the Big Guy, right?) Besides, after even the most intense grilling, Fletch swears that I’m wonderful just the way I am.8

  Final assessment: If I were a lesbian and had a thing for narcissistic ex-sorority girls? I’d totally do me.

  I take one more peek in the mirror. My trademark marble-sized if-I’m-awake-I’m-wearing-pearls are particularly glossy in the diffused light of the bathroom…sooo pretty! With a steady hand, I apply Dior Brun Swing lipstick (matte, naturally—don’t want to look like I’ve been licking an oily dinner plate), wash my hands, and mist J’Adore Dior perfume on my neck and wrists before working my way through the smiling crowd. More congratulations and slaps on the back. Ah, the price of fame…

  I don’t blame my colleagues for wanting to bask in my reflected glory. Beating more than five hundred other salespeople in the company by winning the national market leadership award yesterday catapulted me to “legend” status. And, fortunately, this should neatly shut down any lingering doubts about my salary. (Like it’s my fault some stupid temp in the New York office left my offer letter in a copy machine? I’m to blame because I talked my way into a fat paycheck? It’s called negotiation. Try it; it works.)

  Thankfully Camille’s found someone else to annoy, so now it’s just my crowd at the back of the boat. These guys were my pals before I became the company rock star, not like the rest of the sycophants buzzing around me for the past few days. The fish aren’t biting, so we’ve set aside our poles in favor of drinks and dish.

  Ryan gossips better than any of my sorority sisters, so I sit next to him. I love Ryan…. He is SO my style icon. He’s always Dolce& Gabbana’d from head to toe and his grooming regime puts mine to shame. His eyelashes are a mile long9 and he appears to have no pores whatsoever. With his exquisitely maintained stubble, I swear he looks just like George Michael back in his Wham! days. I aspire to be as pretty as Ryan. As he works in the Manhattan office and lives in the city, he’s my arbiter of everything trendy.

  “Hey, Ryan, what’s the hot drink in New York these days?” I ask.

  “This week, it’s all about the mojito,” Ryan says.

  “Ooh, fun name! What is it, exactly? Is it good?”

  “Absolutely delish. It’s made from Puerto Rican white rum, the premium stuff, of course, but I don’t need to tell you, now, do I?” He snorts. He knows I don’t do well drinks. Life is too short not to top-shelf. He places a hand on his chin and the other on his hip with his head cocked to the side in an exaggerated thinking pose. “Anyway, um, there’s muddled mint leaves, superfine sugar, club soda, and a lime garnish.” He leans in to emphasize his point. “Oh, and, sweetie, this is key. It must be served in a highball glass with a raw sugarcane swizzle stick.”

  “But what if the bar doesn’t stock raw sugarcane swizzle sticks?”

  I ask because I’ve been here before with Ryan. The last time he suggested a cocktail, I ran all over the city looking for a bar that carried cane-fermented cachaca because I “wouldn’t possibly know the meaning of life without having sipped a proper Woody Woodpecker.” Apparently light rum would have been an acceptable substitute, but the point turned out to be moot because I couldn’t locate the shaved navel of a buff young Cuban boy out of which to quaff this particular libation.

  Exasperated, Ryan says, “What kinds of savages don’t carry sugarcane?”

  Patiently, I explain, “Ryan, although Chicago is a really progressive place, the possibility does exist that sugarcane has not yet come to every single Windy City watering hole.”

  “Then you should move out of that cow town.”

  “Humor me, Ryan. Let’s say I’ve been dragged to a bachelorette party in some god-awful suburb at the one bar in the metro area not hip enough to carry sugarcane. What do I tell the bartender when he says he’s sorry, they don’t have it, and is that OK?”

  “Then you are obligated to roll your eyes, sigh deeply, and tell him, ‘I guess it will have to be OK, won’t it?’”

  “Unless he’s cute, of course.”


  “Ryan, you are SO my gay boyfriend.”

  “I know, honey. I know.”

  I cannot wait to order a mojito at the Hudson Club when I get home. I just love being more cutting edge than the arrogant dot-commers who still hang out there. Yeah, guys, the Internet boom? It’s over. And your team? Lost. Why don’t you get jobs at a real company? You know, the kind that actually makes things and turns a profit.

  OK, so selling to those hateful dot-coms in my last job made me kind of rich. And because they threw so much of their venture capital at me, I earned sweet perks a
t my company, like a great title, my own office, and a pack of assistants to fetch me vanilla lattes10 on demand. But I left those things to join this organization with its super-stable client base. And I manage a new product line, so it’s as exciting as a start-up, only without the threat of bounced paychecks. And it’s not like I don’t have the opportunity to remind others that I used to be a vice president at Midwest Investor Relations Company.11 Prediction? I will spend the rest of my career here.

  I earn now in a day what I used to make in a week when I started my professional life doing data entry at a health insurance company. And my first shitty studio apartment in the city? Long gone. Fletch and I live in THE hot Chicago neighborhood of Bucktown—known for its trendy coffee shops, chichi boutiques, and the most fashionable clubs, in a twenty-five-hundred-square-foot timber loft with tons of space for my burgeoning shoe collection! With exposed-brick walls, fifteen-foot-high ceilings, spiral staircases, marble and granite finishes, etc., we’ve got the world’s coolest pad. Best of all, since we’re in the penthouse, I’ve got an uninterrupted skyline view from my private roof deck.12 My brother, Todd, tells me we’re insane for spending what amounts to five of his mortgage payments on our monthly rent, but I’m not worried about it. He’s just jealous, and besides, my bills? Are paid.

  Ryan gets up to scope out cute shirtless boys and their pale pectorals, so I turn my attention to Jeff. He’s a product manager on the West Coast and dresses like an extra from Up in Smoke. Don’t get me started on his disgustingly crusty feet…. He could climb trees with those toenails. Does this man even own shoes? I notice he’s just drib-bled beer on his tie-dyed top. Again. This annoys me.

  “Jeff,” I ask, as he blots himself with a towel, “do you know what year it is?”

  “Huh?” Jeff is puzzled. He’s been zoning out of conversations all afternoon and taking inordinately long pauses between thoughts. From his bloodshot eyes and the way he inhaled the crudités tray, I’d wager that he’s stoned. Again.

  “I’m asking because I thought it was 2001, but judging from your shirt and your patchouli-scented cologne, I’d say it was more like, what? 1969?”

  Like the swordfish today, Jeff doesn’t take the bait. He languidly exhales a stream of Marlboro smoke, slightly jarring his tarnished nose ring. “Wardrobe pointers from a chick who brought a”—he lifts my bag and reads the label—“Kate Spade purse on a deep-sea fishing trip? Yeah.” Then he goes to take another drag on his cigarette and entirely misses his mouth. He giggles.

  I lean in and exclaim in a hushed voice, “Ohmigod, YOU’RE the one who got lit in the bathroom!”

  No response except for more giggling. Houston, we have a stoner.

  “I can’t believe you’d do THAT at a company function! What could you possibly be thinking?”

  Jeff does a full-body stretch and says, “Guess someone’s still bitter that my sales were higher than hers last month. Again.” Ouch. He’s right. It makes me crazy that Cheech-freaking-Marin’s team sold more than mine.

  And what a bang-up team I have. Out of the twenty people in my group, my “shining stars” are: Courtney, the only one who’s normal; Camille, who’s decent in front of clients but unbearable otherwise; and a few gals from Texas who might be good if they didn’t consider their sales calls to be husband hunts. The rest of my account executives are wholly incompetent. When I first complained about them, Fletch was skeptical. He doubts my credibility because I tend to throw that word around a lot… about cab drivers, sales clerks, bartenders, etc. But A) my driver got lost on the way to Wrigley Field, B) it took the cashier twenty minutes to ring up one shirt, and C) how could a bartender not know what’s in a dirty martini? So he didn’t quite believe my bitching.

  Until he met Arthur.

  Arthur, the BB gun in my arsenal, ran into Fletch at my office one day when he was picking me up for lunch at our private dining club. While we enjoyed miso-glazed sea bass and crystal goblets of Chalk Hill chardonnay, Fletch remarked, “It’s nice to see Corp. Com. mainstreaming people.”

  Huh? I looked at him quizzically with a mouthful of julienne carrots. Finally swallowing, I asked, “What are you talking about?”

  “You know, your company. Mainstreaming. They hired that nice kid with Down syndrome,” he replied.

  I shook my head and dabbed at my mouth with a linen napkin. “Fletcher, I have no clue who you’re talking about.”

  “The tall kid. He was blond with a striped shirt and gapped teeth.”

  “In MY office?”

  “Yes. He was walking by the reception desk when I came in. When I asked for you, he got nervous and started to pace back and forth. I felt bad because I think I confused him.”



  “How much wine have you had?” I picked up his goblet and inspected it. Honestly, I always have to monitor that boy’s intake. He gets into his cups a little too easily sometimes.

  “Whatever was in the glass you’re holding.”

  “Well, if you’re not drunk, then you’re hallucinating. The Chicago office only has salespeople in it. Maybe you’re thinking of one of the suburban offices.”

  Fletch insisted, “Jen, you saw him. He took me to your desk.”

  “Noooo,” I said slowly, the puzzle beginning to piece itself together. “Arthur brought you over to me.”

  “Yes! Arthur. That was his name. Striped shirt. Eager to please. Nice kid.”

  “Fletch,” I said, shaking my head, “he’s one of my salespeople.”

  “But I’ve never heard you mention him.”

  “Yes, honey, you have.”

  Fletch sat quietly for about thirty seconds, until he finally understood.

  “Holy shit…was that…was that…was that Retard-y Arty?”

  I know it’s a mean nickname, but before you judge me, I challenge you to look at Arthur’s empty sales funnel. I’ve taken my valuable time to coach him in the field for six whole months, but he’s just hopeless. He hems and haws and stammers in all our practice sessions, and despite the fact that I’ve yelled at him a million times, he never seems to improve.

  I’d fire him, but I don’t have that authority. Technically, although I’m responsible for getting my people to push my products, they report to Will, the totally feckless sales manager. I secretly refer to Will as Won’t, as in “I won’t force the account executives to meet their numbers because I’m more interested in having them like me.” Or “Jen, you won’t ever make the cover of Fortune magazine as one of the fifty most powerful women in American business leading this uninspired team.” And one time? He asked Camille if any of her granola friends sold pot because he needed a new dealer.13 The bottom line is if I want sales, I have to make them all myself, and this is precisely why Jeff’s team beats mine.

  “That’s right, Jeff…. No one’s ever higher than you,” I scoff.

  He takes another indolent pull off his cigarette and shrugs philosophically. “Hey, it’s relaxing. You can’t argue relaxing. You ought to try it. Maybe help you sell more.” He smiles beatifically and gives his scraggly goatee a good scratch. Random bits of crud fall out when he does this. Gack!

  “Honestly, thanks for the offer, but if I need to relieve stress, I’ll call on my old friends Little Debbie, Dolly Madison, and Johnnie Walker.”

  “OK, whatever, Nancy Reagan. Just say no.” This cracks me up, so I raise my glass in a toast to him.

  “Here’s to you, Potty O’Tokes-a-lot,” I say.

  “Back at you, you ball-breaking hag.” We clink beverages.

  “Waaaaait, what ah all y’all talking ’bout?” Laurel chirps from her perch on the end of the boat.

  “Laurel, take some of that shit off your head and maybe you’ll be able to hear us,” I yell back at her.

  Laurel, from Charlotte and in charge of the South, is swaddled in a straw hat, a scarf, and huge Jackie O sunglasses. Her nose is coated with an inch of zinc oxide, and she’s wearing a Windbreaker with a towel wrapped on to
p of it while holding an umbrella.

  “You are aware that it is almost eighty degrees out here, right, Laurel?” Ryan asks. He’s back from cruising. Apparently no one was hairless enough for him.

  Jeff inquires, “Are you, like, allergic to UVA rays? That would be a bummer.”

  “Or has a recent bat bite made you an unholy creature of the night?” I query.

  “Y’aaaaaalllll,” she whines in a honeyed North Carolina drawl. I wish I had an accent like that. The Texan girls on my team can tell you to go to hell with such a lovely magnolia-and-molasses twang that you look forward to the trip.14 “Don’t make fun of me. Y’all know my weddin’ dress is strapless and ah’m trying to avoid unflatterin’ tan lines.”

  Ah, yes. Her weddin’. How could we forget Laurel’s upcoming nuptials? She’s not only discussed this topic TO DEATH for the past three days, but also weekly on our group’s conference call, and monthly in our New York meetings. I enjoy Laurel’s company, but if I hear another word about bridesmaids, tulle, or “the most gorgeous little petite filet mignons y’all ever did lay eyes on,” I’m pushing her over the back of the boat and I am not kidding.

  “Laurel, I was asking Jeff if that was St. Augustine over there,” I say, pointing at the distant shore. Oh, please. Like I’m going to share Jeff’s recreational drug use with the rest of the class?15 Besides, I am curious to know more about St. Augustine. Meri says they have great shops, so I make a mental note to check out the stores when our conference ends tomorrow. I haven’t shopped at all while we’ve been down here. When I get back to the resort, maybe I’ll do a bit of eBaying before dinner. I considered buying a few items in the Sawgrass gift shop yesterday, but it’s mostly golf-related, and I do hate me some golf. Any “sport” where you can smoke and drink while playing is not exercise.16 Why not just go to a bar and save the greens fee?

  Speaking of Meri, she’s a shoo-in to be named manager of the year at the final banquet tonight. She runs the Houston office and helped her team raise sales almost 400 percent last year, so the fact she’s sleeping with her director is totally irrelevant. (Although don’t think for one second it’s not what we talk about every time she leaves her seat.) And who starts sleeping with their boss AFTER they get promoted, anyway? However, I’ll cut them some slack because they’re both single.