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?

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9780451221254: 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 hates to burst your happy little bubble, but life in the big city isn't all it's cracked up to be. Contrary to what you see on TV and in the movies, most urbanites aren't party-hopping in slinky dresses and strappy stilettos. But lucky for us, Lancaster knows how to make the life of the lower crust mercilessly funny and infinitely entertaining.

Whether she's reporting rude neighbors to Homeland Security, harboring a crush on her grocery store clerk, or fighting-and losing-the Battle of the Stairmaster- Lancaster explores how silly, strange, and not-so-fabulous real city living can be. And if anyone doesn't like it, they can kiss her big, fat, pink, puffy down parka.

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About the Author:

Jen Lancaster is the author of Bitter is the New Black. She has lived in Chicago for ten years with her husband and pets, and has yet to get the hang of the subway or returning library books in a timely manner. Visit www.jennsylvania.com

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

In my former, auspicious career I addressed crowds ofthousands without breaking a sweat. I negotiated withdour, gray-suited hospital administrators so hostilethey’d drag me into the desert and leave me for dead given theopportunity, yet I stood my ground in demanding they acceptmy company’s contract, “Or else.” And I’ve guided corporateexecutives through the most dire of crises with a smile on myface the entire time. So you’d think chatting with a kindlymedical professional in the privacy of her office wouldn’t bebut a blip on my radar.

And that would be true.

If I were wearing pants.

Today I’ve got an appointment with the girlie doctor andI’m nothing less than terrified. I’ve put off my annual wellwomanexam for four years because I’m so cowardly aboutthis sort of thing, no doubt stemming from my Quaker-likesense of modesty. Sure, it’s all well and good to litter myconversations with every variety of f-bomb, but when itcomes to showing my unmentionables to a complete stranger?Regardless of her impeccable medical education, extensiveexperience, and board certification? I think not.

However, I’m really trying to act more like an adult lately, so I force myself to make the appointment. Of course, I haveto down a whole bottle3 of wine to do so. And then I cancel itthree times before Fletch, disgusted by my lack of courage,threatens to (a) drag me to the appointment on a leash like wehave to when we take Loki to the vet to have his nails clipped,and (b) check me into the Betty Ford Center if I don’t stop inhalingboxed wine every time I look at the phone.

I have to honor the appointment this time and the onlyway that’s going to happen is if there’s an elaborate system oftreats and rewards in place. I decide my beforehand treat willbe a trip to the bookstore, so I ask Fletch to drop me off at theMichigan Ave Borders an hour before my appointment.

We’ve just gotten in the car when I start to hyperventilate.

“Funny, but Loki doesn’t start to panic until after we’veexited our parking lot,” Fletch observes. “You need to breathein a paper bag or something?”

“No.” Gasp. Gasp. Gasp. “I’ll (gasp) be (gasp) fine,” Ireply.

“I don’t understand your anxiety. Are they going to cutyou at all?”

“Oh, sweet Jesus, no!” I shriek.“Then they’re just going to look at stuff?”

Gasp. “Right.”

“Alone, in an exam room—just you and the doctor, and noone else, right?” We cross the bridge over the north branch ofthe river at Division and begin to drive past the projects.

“Yes.” Gasp.

He glances at the boarded-up buildings with their brokenwindows and concertina wire and poses a question. “Okay,which would you rather—to be dropped off in the middle ofCabrini Green at midnight with a handful of cash or to seeyour gynecologist for a routine visit?”

I don’t even have to consider the choice. “The Green.Definitely the Green.”

He turns to face me. “You’re kidding.”

“No, really—maybe Florida and J.J. still live there? AndThelma and Ralph, too. But not James. Poor James. He waskilled in a car accident before the family could move to Mississippifor his excellent new job. And that? Was not dy-nomite.” “I wouldn’t know. My racist parents refused to let mewatch Good Times. However, they were able to decipherfantasy from reality, which is more than I can say for youright now.”

I begin to hyperventilate again as we turn down MichiganAve and idle in front of Borders. “Okay, you’re here,” Fletchsays. “Good luck today.”

“Do—do—you have any last-minute advice for me?” Istammer.

He looks thoughtful for a moment. “Yes. Yes, I do.”

“Well?”

“You should try to be less of a pansy. See you later!”

I escape into the safe confines of the bookstore, secure inthe knowledge no one there is going to make me pull down mypants. I linger over the new releases and peruse the sale table.I go upstairs to the café and eschew coffee in favor of herbaltea, figuring the caffeine would make me even jumpier. Beveragein hand, I cruise the self-help section but don’t see any titlesthat might make me “less of a pansy.”

I buy a few new reads before heading down the street. Itrudge past many happy places—Cartier, Coach, Tiffany,and, of course, Garrett’s Popcorn, but window-shopping failsto make me smile because I feel like Dead Man Walking.

I pray to get hit by a bus as I turn down St. Clair Street,figuring the doctor could check out my girl parts while I wasunder sedation to fix my broken leg, but no such luck. I arriveat the office not only intact but early, damn it. As I climb thewide marble steps to the front door, I’m overwhelmed by thedesire to run. However, my inner adult forces me to press onand take the elevator to the eighth floor, likely because my inneradult fears running slightly more than pants-dropping.

With a quavering voice, I check in at reception. The officeis gorgeous—clean, sleek furniture, lush plants, and an unobstructedview of Lake Michigan through enormous picturewindows. The skies are steely gray and it’s windy today so thelake is choppy with whitecaps and is kicking up six-footwaves. Water crashes and foams over the concrete barriersprotecting Lake Shore Drive, launching huge plumes of icyspray all over the abandoned running path. If I didn’t know Iwas in Illinois, I’d swear I was looking at the Atlantic Ocean.This magnificent body of water is precisely one of the reasonsI choose to live here. Were I not about to show a stranger myyahoo, I’d be enthralled by the vista5 and likely to break into achorus of “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” but todayit barely registers.

The receptionist gives me the insurance form clipboardand a pen sporting an Ortho-Novum logo. I feel like I’m goingto throw up and my hands are shaking so badly I can barelyscrawl my name on the paperwork. I’m about to toss the clipboard,dash out the door, and catch the first steamer toVenezuela when some girl comes in with a “problem.” I can’thear everything but I do catch the bit where she tells the receptionist,“I don’t know what it is, but I want it gone immediately.”I snicker so loudly the entire desk staff shoots memurderous looks, but I don’t care. Laughing at someoneelse’s misfortune makes me momentarily forget my fright andI remain in my seat, keeping a healthy distance between myselfand Miss Scratchy McUnderpants. (Because, really?What’s funnier than venereal disease?)

I’m barely on the second page of the new Janet Evanovichwhen my name is called, so I gather up my sack of booksand head down the Hallway of Doom. The nurse is wearingDansko professional clogs and my loafer heels are rubber, sothe only noise I hear as I’m walking down the hall is that of myown pounding pulse.

The walls leading to the exam room are covered withbeastly graphic charts of internal workings. Squeamish as Iam, the idea of all those pipes and tubes and fluids makes meweak in the knees. I prefer to think of myself as having a thickpeanut-butter center. Or possibly creamy caramel.

Once I get to my room, the first thing I have to do is stepon the scale. “Well,” I tell the nurse, “you certainly know howto add insult to injury in this joint.” And it’s no surprise whenshe points out I’ve gained fifty pounds since my last visit.“Really,” I exclaim, “is that why I can no longer get my oldpants past my knees? Goodness, I’d simply assumed I’d hadtwenty-seven separate dry-cleaning incidents!”

Note to self for future reference: Tubby girls with smartmouths will be given paper robes, not cloth, by nurses who lacksenses of humor.

Nurse Ratched advises me to strip completely, and as Iundress I wonder if “completely” includes my socks. Erringon the side of caution, I toss them aside first, pleased withhaving the foresight to have given myself a fresh pedicure.Earlier this morning, I also brushed my teeth a second timeand flossed. Fletch noted my excellent dental hygiene andasked, “Is that the end they’re going to examine?”With much trepidation, I take off my sweater and bra andbegin to struggle into the miniature paper gown. Because ofmy rampant modesty, I’m trying in vain to keep everythingcovered. While I wrestle with the tiny plastic belt-tie, I burstout of the left side of the robe, thus exposing my long, flat,completely non-gravity-resistant breast to the wall of YourCervix and You brochures. Gah!

So, I do what any good little prude would do in this situation. . . I grab a stapler from the doctor’s desk and attempt toput the side back together in a panicked frenzy. While I twistaround to work on fixing the left shoulder, I burst out of theright side of the robe.

I begin to get very angry at the exploding clothing. Exactlywhen did I turn into the Jen-credible Hulk?

In my haste to cover my naked parts, I then staple the rightside of the robe all crooked. I glance at myself in the mirrorand see that what I’m wearing no longer resembles anythinglike a robe. Jagged bits of paper are sticking up everywhere,with random clumps of staples littering the sides and shoulders.I look like a mental patient who escaped to a paper factoryand crafted a paper suit before attempting to create apaper getaway car to drive to paper Mexico. All I’m missing isa touch of (paper) crazy about the eyes.

After inspecting my handiwork, I inadvertently bend overlaughing, thus causing the one untorn part of the robe to explode.And in trying to fix it, I accidentally staple the back ofthe robe to my khakis. I’m hunkered over in my paper straitjacket,struggling to remove staples from my pants, when mygynecologist enters.

The doctor then excuses herself while she tries to stopcrying.

Fortunately, when she returns she’s carrying a cloth gown,which I manage to put on upside down and backward. However,she’s got access to all the forbidden zones, so we leave itas is. She apologizes for giggling and says this sort of thinghappens all the time. Yeah. Of course it does. Ten bucks sayssix months from now an entire table of conference-going,Chardonnay-swilling, lobster-tail-eating OB/GYNs will belaughing at me when she recounts this scene.

To the good doctor’s credit, she senses how scared I am,although perhaps my inability to clothe myself tipped her off.Or possibly me shrieking, “I am fucking terrified!”

Which is why I’m not surprised her first question is, “Doyou use recreational drugs?”

I think for a moment before replying, “I don’t know. Doyou consider NyQuil recreational?”

“I guess that would depend on the frequency,” shereplies.

“Maybe every couple of months?”

“I’d say that’s okay. Any other drug usage? Marijuana?Ecstasy? Cocaine?”

Ha!” I reply. “Look at my butt; is this the ass of a cokefiend? I think not. However, sometimes when I’m tense, Ihave an OTC sleeping pill and follow it with a champagnechaser. Actually, it’s my signature drink and I call the combination‘The Judy Garland.’ ”

After the doctor explains why she can’t just “remove thewhole shootin’ match so I don’t ever have to suffer throughthis again,” she puts on her rubber gloves, at which point Imay or may not pass out.

When I snap to, I inform her, “My middle name is Ann,my favorite movie is Pulp Fiction, and I have a naughty pitbull named Maisy. Seems like if you’re going to poke arounddown there, you should know a bit more about me.”

She nods thoughtfully and tells me, “My middle name isElizabeth and I like Law and Order reruns. I backpacked inEurope after I finished undergrad and I adore Indian food.Now can you please uncross your legs so I can get a look?”The whole exam takes less than five minutes and . . . yes,I realize I probably overreacted. No matter how unpleasantthe circumstance, if I can hold my breath for the duration, itcan’t be so bad. After I dress,7 the doctor reenters the examroom and wants to discuss breast health. The only thingslightly less mortifying than being naked with a stranger istalking about it.

Stab me in the eye with a fucking fork, why don’t you?

Anyway, the doctor tries to give me a little kit that includes ajournal to document my monthly cancer-screening self-exam.

A journal?

What the hell am I going to record in a boob journal?

January 1—Got to second base with myself. Heh.

February 1—Got to second base with myself. Heh.

March 4—Forgot about the screening and only remembered

four days later when I almost slammedmy boob in the car door. Got to second base with myself.Heh.

Sorry, but I do not possess the kind of maturity required to writeabout me ol’ knockers on a regular basis. I politely refuse theoffer, claiming I couldn’t see me using it, what with all the giggling.Although I have to wait for the pap results to come backfrom the lab, everything else looks fine and I’m free to go,thank God.

Pants securely on, bags packed, and sock-free, I leave thescary, scary office with a spring in my step and a bit of aspeculum-induced waddle. I did it! It’s over! I congratulatemyself for being brave, so very brave,8 and decide it is treattime. Woo-hoo! But what to get? When I was a kid, my momwould take me to Dairy Queen after a particularly traumaticallergist appointment, but (a) she’s 150 miles away, and(b) it’s fourteen degrees today. So a Peanut Buster Parfait isprobably out.

I practically dance the ten blocks from my doctor’s officeto One Magnificent Mile and spend the whole time vacillatingbetween the idea of high tea or a cocktail. Sure, orange pekoeand finger sandwiches in the vast parlor at the Drake Hotelsounds lovely, but that’s really more of a shared experience.Also, my hands are still trembling and I’m not sure I couldkeep my tea in its bone china cup. Instead, I choose the warmembrace of my old friend alcohol.

I head to the gorgeously appointed mahogany-and-leatherbar at the Four Seasons on Delaware and I survey the array ofsquashy couches and brocaded chairs. Oh, how I love theFour Seasons! We used to come here all the time during thedot-com era, but now that we’re barely middle class we save itfor very special occasions.

I’ve always adored the service here; I guess I appreciateany place that lets me make an ass out of myself without raisingan eyebrow. One time a group of us came here after somedrinky-drinky event downtown. Right as we were about topour ourselves into a cab, I spotted a gigantic laminated“George Bush Is Hitler” poster and I thought, “Oh, hell no.”Sure, I get why people don’t like him and I’m fine with that. Iunderstand those who protest his decisions and can totallysee why folks might think he’s a dummy. However, I cannotagree with comparing him to the fiend who almost singlehandedlyexterminated an entire race of people. So I tore theposter off the telephone pole and was barely able to wedge itin the taxi with us.

Anyway, we spilled out of the cab and washed onto thesidewalk at the Four Seasons. Valets helped us up and out,gingerly handling my mammoth placard. “Here you are,miss,” they said without batting an eye. They acted as thoughdrunken girls carried giant posters of a swastika-covered presidentinto their facility ten times a day. We paraded past all thestaff—doormen, bellho...

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