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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 Officeby Jen Lancaster
Every high school has a Lissy Ryder—you know, the girl whos absolutely untouchable. She goes by many names, but you might have known her as the Prom Queen.
The Head Cheerleader.
The Mean Girl.
She was the richest and the prettiest, with the blondest hair, the thinnest thighs, and the hottest car, and she never let you forget it. Nothing made her happier than stealing your boyfriend, just to see if she could.
And she could.
Of course she could.
She was Lissy Ryder.
Lissy Ryder spent her teen years making yours miserable. Shes the one who accidentally” tripped you on the bus, mocked the sweater your sweet old Nana knitted, and told the boys you stuffed socks in your bra, despite being the one who taught you how to do it. (Ankle socks. The trick is using ankle socks.)
Every time she looked at you, sighed, and rolled her eyes, a little piece of you died inside.
You hated her.
You wanted to destroy her.
But you were satisfied just to graduate and get away from her.
So you went to college, grew up, and now live a successful, fulfilling life, vaguely wondering if that thing called karma” ever comes for the Lissy Ryders of the world.
Hmm . . . lets find out.
Perfection Is Overrated
Oh, honey, no.
I scan the womans outfit up and down. A thong-bottom leotard worn over neon tights? With high-top Reeboks? Seriously? Im sorry, were you possessed by the ghost of 1983?
I sigh into my Bluetooth. What are people thinking when they come here dressed as extras in an Olivia Newton-John video? This is the West End Club, not some nineteen-dollar-a-month Boys Town storefront, full of old StairMasters and HPV germs. So shameful. So inappropriate.”
glance at my properly clad self in the mirror across from where Im paused on the elliptical machine. Lululemon Wunder Groove cropped capris paired with a Back on Track tank in Heathered Pig Pink?
Long blond layers of honey and ash (never platinum—I mean, who am I? Holly Madison?) pulled into a messy, yet attractive high pony?
Smashbox O-Glow blush and a swipe of MAC Lipglass in Early Bloomer?
I continue. The West End Club is a sophisticated place and youre pretty much nobody in Chicago if you dont belong. I mean, Oprahs a member, for Gods sake. I wish the Big O were here right now, because shed be all, My friend Jane Fonda called and she wants her leg warmers back.”
Nicole is my go-to person for phoning when Im working out, because shes always home. Id urge her to get a life, but frankly its kind of nice being able to chat with her whenever I want. She hesitates on the other end of the line, finally saying, Um . . . Lissy, I thought you werent allowed to come within five hundred feet of Oprah.”
I slowly begin to pedal. That was a suggestion, Nicole, not a law. Like its my fault she thought I was too aggressive for sneaking into her massage room. I mean, the world of PR is all about differentiating yourself. Youd think shed want to work with the publicist who tried something different to catch her attention.” I begin to pedal harder. Whatevs. Doesnt matter anyway, because shes totally passé now that her shows over. Enjoy your obscurity!”
Okay, the truth is that unpleasantness with Oprah still stings even though it was years ago. I know Id have done an outstanding job for Harpo, Inc., but she wouldnt even hear me out, which is rude, considering I forked over ten thousand dollars I didnt have back then (thanks, Daddy!) to join this place to get close to her.
To be fair, she didnt have my club membership revoked. I grudgingly give her credit for that.
I blot my face with a thick Turkish towel and pat the area around my Bluetooth so I dont, like, accidentally electrocute myself. Theoretically Im not supposed to use a cell phone in here, but I think thats because the management wants patrons to keep both hands on the machines. Liability and all. A couple of the regulars are shooting me dirty looks, but if they cant multitask while getting their cardio on, thats not my prob.
Who else is there today?” Nicole asks gamely.
Um . . .” I scan the room. Theres the Chris Colfer doppelgänger who lip-synchs to the Glee sound track and is always talking about his girlfriend. Youre not fooling anyone, sweetie! The closets wiiiiiide open! Come out already!” I take a swig of filtered water from my skull-print SIGG bottle. Lets see . . . Hey, theres Cougar Town who takes Pilates with me. She told me she can wrap both her ankles around her neck. Im all, Really? Did you do porno back in the sixties or something? And there are the two fake-titted twenty-somethings who date Bulls players. Theyre totally fat.”
This, of course, means theyre totally thin.
I dont tell Nicole that, though. Dont want to shatter her illusions about me. But how could they not be in perfect shape? These bitches have no responsibilities save for workouts and waxing. I mean, SOME of us arent a size two anymore because SOME of us have day jobs.
Uh-huh . . .” Nicole sounds distracted. Shes got three rug rats under the age of six and theyre always screaming in the background when were on the phone. Not cool. Plus her husband brought a stepdaughter into the marriage, and I swear I want to slap the smug right out of that brat. Last time I was over, Charlotte was all, Wait, you guys were alive before the Internet? How old are you?!” I told Nicole to go all Snow Whites wicked stepmother on her, yet for some reason shes got a soft spot for the kid. I dont understand it.
Actually, Im less than thrilled with a lot of Nicoles decisions. For example, she traded her adorable Audi coupe for some hideous, multirowed family truckster with automatic sliding doors and built-in video monitors. I was like, Whats next, mom jeans?” I wont ride in it on principle. I wait for her to say something else, but shes quiet, possibly because of all the banging and shuffling in the background.
Nicole! Are you even listening?”
Oh, gosh, Im sorry! Bobby Junior just poured his own milk for the first time. Hes so independent lately!” Her voice goes up a couple of octaves. My little man, Im so proud of you; yes, I am! Lissy, you wont believe it—he pulled up a chair and got the fridge open all by himself, and almost every drop made it into his sippy cup! Every time he accomplishes something on his own, I feel this incredible surge of—”
Ive found that if you give a mother an opening, shell yammer on about her boring offspring all damn day. Like I care that little Madison or Isabella can wipe her own ass. I feel its my job as a friend to keep Nicole from spiraling into the Mom Zone, where its nothing but sensible haircuts, soapbox derbies, and organic carrot sticks. Thats just super, Nic. But lets talk about tonight instead.”
That shut her down right quick.
Nicole exhales a little loudly on the other end of the line. Okay, Liss, so what are you doing later?”
Tonights our anniversary dinner!” I gasp. Its not that Im all pumped about the evening. Rather, Im slightly winded from having ratcheted up the resistance on my machine after watching the stunning red-haired Bulls consort sprint on the elliptical like a goddamned gazelle.
Wheres he taking you?”
Were going to MK on Franklin Street. I made Duke book us in the private room. I dont really want the Great Unwashed in the regular dining area honing in on my joy.”
If you want to be all nitpicky, Duke and I have been together off and on since our junior year of high school, but weve been married for only three. Yes, before you say it, were that breakup” couple. We know. Weve had more splits than Real Housewives Taylor has had lip injections, but we always find our way back to each other. I mean, yes, I dated all kinds of people when we were on a break—and even when we werent, like when I hooked up with my neighbor Brian for a few weeks—but ultimately we were fated to be a couple. Our not being together is like a manicure without a pedicure—sick and wrong and not of the Lord.
Also, his real name is Martin Connor, but everyone started calling him the Duke of Hurl back when we were seniors at Lyons Township High School in La Grange, Illinois. His clueless family still believes its because he was a quarterback with a golden arm, and not due to the night he mixed Jack Daniels, Jolt cola, and Jägermeister. Seriously, do you know long it took my dad to get the smell of vomit out of my car? I had to drive with the top down for a solid month!
While I mentally cycle through my wardrobe for the perfect dress, the timer dings on my machine. Woo, one point five hours! Yay, me! I just burned one thousand and eighty-three calories!”
Which should make up for the three lattes I had this morning.
Listen, I want to catch a little peak tanning time, so Ive gotta bounce.”
Shouldnt you get back to the office soon?” Nicole sounds characteristically worried. If fretting were a sport, shed be a gold medalist.
Um, thanks for your concern, Mom, but its fine. I told my boss I was going to a meeting, and thats not really a lie. This place is filled with potential clients.” I glance over at the Bulls girls. I mean, escort services need publicists, too, right?”
Still, maybe you should make an appearance.”
I blot the thin sheen of sweat from my unlined brow . . . TGFB! (Thank God for Botox.) Please, I can do whatever I want in that place. They love me there. Im kind of a legend.” After all, I brought in so much new business during the dot-com era that they hired me an assistant.
Of course, that assistant eventually became my boss, but thats only because I refuse to be an ass kisser. Later!”
I hang up and step down from the elliptical, staggering for a second before I get my legs back. One of the Bulls sluts smirks and I may or may not make an obscene gesture back at her. I head to the locker room to change into my bathing suit (a tasteful tankini, natch) covered with the sheer floral sarong I bought in Bora Bora on my honeymoon, and I run up the stairs to the rooftop pool.
This is my favorite spot in all of Chicago. I love being here during the workday because its practically deserted. The decks all done up in just-bloomed hibiscus bushes and prairie grass and theres nothing but empty loungers as far as the eye can see. The pool is placid, with wisps of steam rising from it, making it warm enough to use even though its still early summer. The skys an impossible shade of blue today, and because the clubs next to the river, none of those pesky office buildings casts shadows and blocks my sun. Its heaven . . . if heaven served cocktails. (Of course theres a bar in this gym. You think Oprah would join a place that didnt boast every amenity?)
I arrive at the check-in area and present my club ID to the buff teenager working the desk. Hey, James, Ill be in my regular seat. Bring me extra towels, a piña colada, and an order of fries.” He taps in my information and an odd look crosses his face. Oh, please, Im not going to eat them all. I just want a few.” (Moderation” is so the new binge and purge.”)
James gets all flushed and flustered, and he keeps a king fu grip on my card when I try to grab it back. Um, Mrs. Ryder—”
Ms.,” I correct him. Its Ms. Ryder.” Ive always been hesitant to let go of the name I had in high school. Otherwise how would anyone even know who I was? Were I to call myself Melissa Connor” on Facebook, everyone would be all, Who?” But Lissy Ryder? Queen of the Belles, the best clique in school? No one forgets her.
James clenches his jaw. Ohhhh-kay, Ms. Ryder. There seems to be a problem with your membership.”
I nod. Um, yeah, the problem is Im standing here without a cocktail.” He continues to tap in information for so long that I attempt—and fail—to wrestle my card back. Listen, were burning daylight, and if I dont get color on my shoulders I cant wear my new Akris goddess-sleeve dress tonight. So I may or may not lunge at him to speed the process.
Ms. Ryder! Please! Stop that!” he exclaims, launching into bitch panic mode.
A steroid-addled trainer waddles over to us. His legs are so muscular he moves in tiny, mincing steps. What is going on over here?”
Whats going on is that Im losing my tan by the minute! And he wont let me have my French fries!” James turns the computer monitor toward the side of beef in gym shorts standing next to him. I bet this guy hasnt seen a carb since the Clinton administration. Or his nut sac.
Then, in a manner far less gentle than merited, Captain Roid Rage takes me by the arm and escorts me to the membership service desk three floors down. I suspect the manhandling might be due to my inquiry on exactly how small his marble bag is. (Hey, I watched the MTV True Life: Im a Juicehead Gorilla special, and Im well versed in exactly what anabolic steroids do to your junk. I cant be blamed for merely stating what everyones thinking.)
When we get to the membership office, some minimum-wage desk monkey tells me my membership hasnt been paid in three months.
Oh, I know someones accountant whos about to be fired.
(Do I have an accountant? I should check with Duke.)
I slap my well-worn Visa on the desk. Put whatever I owe on here. But make sure my fries are ready when were done with this nonsense.”
The desk girl runs my card. Its been declined.”
Um, thats an awful lot of smug coming from someone who makes six dollars an hour. Run it again,” I demand.
I already did,” she replies.
Is a shit-eating grin appropriate at this time, really?
In the next ten minutes, Im a lot less haughty as each of my cards is systematically rejected. And when she takes out an enormous pair of scissors and snips my prize gold AmEx, I get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Um, whats happening? Duke makes plenty of money, despite the current economy, and were always on top of our finances.
I mean, arent we?
I kind of cant be bothered with all that stuff. Numbers. Ick. My mom always said I was too pretty for math. But this has to be a mistake. I keep dialing Dukes office number, but each time the phone goes straight to voice mail.
Im summarily escorted out of the club without even being allowed to change from my bathing suit. When I get down to the parking garage, my Infiniti is missing. The parking attendant blathers something in Mexican about a tow truck.
What the hell?
I immediately dial Nicole and tell her to come get me. I give her explicit instructions not to drive the van, but when she arrives twenty minutes later the family truckster is full of little bastards watching a show about a big gay dinosaur.
The side door swings open and Im suddenly overwhelmed by the stench of Cheerios. I point at her demon spawn. Why are they here?”
Because Ill end up on Dateline if I leave them home alone,” Nicole cheerily replies. Hop in!”
I attempt to climb in the front, but Charlottes already stationed herself in the shotgun position and makes no indication that she plans to move. She pretends Im not standing there while she busies herself sending texts about important shit like Justin Biebers most recent haircut. When I try to nudge her out of my seat, she plants herself and rolls her eyes while Nicole grins at me like theres nothing wrong with this scenario.
Really? Were letting the fourteen-year-old stepchild run the show now?
Fine. Ill just get in the backseat like some snot-nosed little asshole on her way to T-ball practice.
I attempt to launch myself into the back of the hateful van, which is almost impossible with this slim-cut sarong. I hike it up and try again. Ugh. This place smells like juice box and desperation. As I attempt to clamber into the far back row in order to avoid the sticky hands coming at me from car seats on all sides, I catch a glimpse of an enormous blob in the side-view mirror.
Upon closer inspection, I realize the big, fleshy moon eclipsing the mirror is actually how my ass looks while Im bent over.
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