New York Times bestselling author Jen Lancaster has lived a life based on re-invention and self-improvement. From Bitter Is the New Black to The Tao of Martha, she’s managed to document her (and her generation’s) attempts to shape up, grow up, and have it all—sometimes with disastrous results…
Sure Jen has made mistakes. She spent all her money from a high-paying job on shoes, clothes, and spa treatments. She then carried a Prada bag to the unemployment office. She wrote a whole memoir about dieting…but didn’t lose weight. She embarked on a quest for cultural enlightenment that only cemented her love for John Hughes movies and Kraft American Singles. She tried to embrace everything Martha Stewart, while living with a menagerie of rescue cats and dogs. (Glitter…everywhere.)
Mistakes are one thing; regrets are another.
After a girls’ weekend in Savannah makes her realize that she is—yikes!—middle-aged (binge watching is so the new binge drinking), Jen decides to make a bucket list and seize the day, even if that means having her tattoo removed at one hundred times the cost of putting it on.
From attempting a juice cleanse to studying Italian, from learning to ride a bike to starting a new business, and from sampling pasta in Rome to training for a 5K, Jen is turning a mid-life crisis into a mid-life opportunity, sharing her sometimes bumpy—but always hilarious—attempts to better her life…again.
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“Don’t get a tattoo.”
I glance over at my husband, Fletch, who’s grudgingly agreed to ferry me to the airport at this ungodly hour. We left the house so early that it’s still basically night outside, with only the palest streaks of pink on the eastern horizon. In the dimness of the driver’s seat, his features are barely illuminated by the dashboard lights. Still, even in the dark, I can detect his smirk and I’m aggravated. “How do you figure tattoos are likely with this crew?”
“Because you’re going on Adult Spring Break.” He says this all matter-of-factly, as though it’s already a fait accompli and the artist will begin inking as soon as I decide between the shoulder tat of Calvin whizzing on a Chevy logo or the rainbow-hued butterfly across my butt cheek.
I’d choose neither, obviously.
(Sidebar: I’d especially not choose the butterfly. To keep proportionate with the rest of the real estate back there, that thing would have to be the size of a pigeon, which . . . no.)
Anyway, I don’t want to lose my patience with him because he’s doing me a favor. Still, I’m offended he feels he has to issue warnings. “If this trip’s considered Adult Spring Break, then I’m pretty sure we’re doing it wrong. Julia had us all read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil in anticipation of our trip. No one delves into what critics call ‘a lyrical work of nonfiction’ to get ready for Spring Break.”
He snorts. “Yeah, you say that now. Talk to me in forty-eight hours.”
“This is going to be a bona fide grown-up girls’ weekend. We specifically rented a place with a veranda, where we’ll drink modest amounts of excellent wine. Rachel’s husband’s an oenophile and he’s sent along a few of his favorites, which we plan to savor. When was the last time you heard anyone say ‘oenophile’ in reference to Spring Break, Fletch? Hmm? No answer? Didn’t think so.”
Fletch flips his blinker and glances over his shoulder before merging into the right-hand lane. His silence speaks volumes.
“Whatever you do, don’t get the tattoo somewhere visible. Nothing reads ‘I make minimum wage’ like neck art. You’re never going to run into an allergist with THUG LIFE stenciled over his Adam’s apple. You don’t meet a lot of investment bankers inked up Henry Rollins–style.”
For all our years together, sometimes it’s like he’s never even met me. “Why so danger-danger-Will-Robinson here? If you were to say, ‘Avoid eating a bowl of cheese grits larger than your head,’ or ‘Maybe you have enough handbags,’ I’d be all, ‘You’re right. Yeah, gonna be better about that,’ but this is nonsensical! From a logistics standpoint, when do you propose we hit these mythical tattoo shops, anyway? After we tour historical sites? Before our tasting dinner? Between jaunts to antique stores? I haven’t been one tequila sunrise away from Girls Gone Wild in almost two decades. I guarantee none of the women coming plan to party like it’s 1999. Or, considering most of us are mid-forties, 1989.”
“Mark my words: Trouble’s a-brewing.”
I begin to fume in earnest. “You’re infuriating! Which of us is Ferris Bueller here, making the good kids do bad things? Joanna? You mean, the kindest, most gentle person to ever send a handwritten thank-you note? You know at three out of the last three weddings she’s attended, she and her husband were purposefully seated next to the minister at dinner? Ladies selected to buttress the clergy aren’t ladies who’d willingly give their undies to a geek. I assure you, there’s no Ferris in this group.”
“You’re mixing your John Hughes metaphors. All I’m saying is every time you and Joanna get together, you’re both eighteen-year-old freshmen again, spilling trash-can punch all over your Keds. Be careful.”
(Sidebar: I miss my old Keds.)
As we get closer to O’Hare, the sky lightens, but the pinkness morphs into gray. Looks like something’s about to blow in, but hopefully not until after we’re in the air. Julia has a full day of activities planned for our nine thirty a.m. arrival, starting with a group bike ride, of which I’ve opted out. Supposedly, the bike’s more like a big trolley with a table and everyone pedals and apparently you’re encouraged to bring your own snacks and libations. I told her I refused to be part of a hydra-headed jackass, careening down the streets of Savannah in the sweltering heat, even with the benefit of my own sandwich. (Also, I sort of don’t know how to ride a bike, but that’s not the point.) Instead, I plan to take the convertible I’ve rented to the grocery store to stock up on healthy snacks.
You know where they don’t worry about providing healthy snacks? Spring Break.
Then I remember the argument that would win this case if we were in front of a judge. “You realize Joanna holds our medical power of attorney, right?”
Unfair! The rest of our holiday crew is equally sane and staid, particularly since most of them have kids. I mean, Julia tries so hard to maintain a balance between motherhood and a career that she doesn’t have time to watch television. She’d never even heard of The Bachelor before I told her about it! As for Rachel, she’s Joanna’s cousin and they’re both so beatifically calm it’s uncanny. (I wonder what it’s like to come from families where yelling isn’t the default mode?) I haven’t met Julia’s friend Trenna, but hear she has a master’s degree in theology.
You know who didn’t have a master’s degree in theology?
Kathleen’s the only participant besides me who’s not a mom, but she and her husband are actively trying to adopt. Plus, she’s so organized and savvy that she once mentioned how she’s able to subtract dry-cleaning costs and museum entrance fees from her income taxes.
You know what doesn’t scream punk rock?
“What about my Girls Gone Mild life leads you to believe I’m a body shot shy of debauchery? Is it the pearls? Is it my vintage trophy collection? Is it the knitting? Are they just throwing down way too hard for you at the Three Bags Full yarn store?”
“You’re like that line from Men in Black,” he says. “Remember the part where Tommy Lee Jones complains about how unpredictable people are?”
I reply, “Obviously. It’s only one of the five finest films ever made.”
(Sidebar: I’m not kidding. Will Smith is my spirit animal. From “You Saw My Blinker, Bitch” to I Am Legend, I celebrate his entire body of work.)
“Remember when Will Smith says something like, ‘How can you say folks will do stupid things? People are smart.’ And Tommy Lee replies, ‘No, a person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it.’ You are a person who’s smart. In a group, you’re a panicky, dangerous animal. And that’s my thesis statement.”
“You know where they don’t say ‘thesis statement’? Spring Break.”
“Let me ask you this—when was the last time you went away for this long with this many women?”
It’s . . . been a while. Outside of traveling to book events, I haven’t been much of anywhere in the past few years. From 2009 when our pit bull Maisy was diagnosed with cancer to when we lost her in 2012, Fletch and I spent a total of only one night together away from her. We rearranged our entire lives around that magnificent little girl, from buying our first house within ten miles of the specialty clinic where she was treated to limiting the number of tour cities I’d visit. I even figured out how to make my previous book take place entirely under the roof of my own home so that I’d stay close.
I wouldn’t change a single action in caring for Maisy and I’d have gladly kept that schedule for many more years. However, as sad as I am to have lost her, there’s something liberating about finally leaving the house without worrying the entire time.
Come to think of it, it’s been a while since anyone in the group’s cut loose. A couple of the women have special-needs children and they’re busy being advocates on top of their other duties as wives and professionals and moms to all of their children. Between IEPs and therapy sessions, there’s not a ton of time for fun.
You’d think that as we get older, our lives would become easier because we’ve had the chance to master the learning curve, but that’s not the case. Our issues have grown more rather than less complex, especially when you add in factors like health and aging family members and planning for the future during an economic downturn. A couple of my friends are at the age where they thought they’d be empty nesters, only to find their adult children living back at home with them.
Ain’t nobody got time for that.
We all have a million different demands on our days, like Kathleen, who’s starting a new business while pursuing adoption. Each of us is busy going in ten directions at once. We realize that it’s easy to get so weighed down by the minutiae of the day that we forget to take time to recharge our batteries. All of us need a hard reset to come back to our lives refreshed and that’s what we believe this trip will do.
Not long ago, I went to lunch with some of my other girlfriends. Each of us had some small mid-forties malady that day, like a stiff back or a sore knee. As we went around the table comparing notes on our favorite brand of ibuprofen, we had to laugh at how far we’ve all come from whatever our version of Sex and the City was back in the day.
“How sad is it we’re talking about NSAIDS and not hookups?” Gina had laughed.
I’m lost in thought when Fletch prompts me. “Well? Do you remember? Let me give you a hint—‘I licky boom-boom down.’”
“Huh?” The nonsensical words seem familiar but it takes me a second to connect the dots. He’s referring to how the song “Informer” played nonstop for the whole spring semester of 1993.
(Sidebar: I actually still giggle about the Canadian reggae band’s entendre-ridden album title—12 Inches of Snow. Get it? Snow was the guy who sang it and he was saying he had twelve—oh, fine. Forget it. Only funny to me.)
“That song was everywhere in Clearwater that year. I loved how all the kids in the bars wanted to sing along, but no one could get any of the words right. Kind of like how the only lyrics of The End of the World as We Know It anyone nails is the ‘Leo-nard Bern-stein!’ part.”
Fletch continues with his smug nodding.
I ask, “Wait, is this what you mean? Is your point that the last time I went away with this many girls was in 1993?”
“Spring Break, baby.”
I exhale loudly. “You’re not going to let this theme die, are you?”
“Let’s discuss what happened while you were in Florida.”
Demonstrating more patience than I feel, I reply, “Um . . . I slept eight to a room, I got a great tan, and I hooked up with a guy from some really random college, like Southeast Missouri State University. FYI, I’m still bitter that Purdue’s break was always so early in March. We were back in class long before MTV’s coverage began. I never got to meet Ed Lover. I feel I was gypped. By the way, making out on the beach is overrated. I was rinsing off sand for days. I mean it. DAYS.”
“What else happened?”
Exasperated, I look over at him. “Why don’t you simply tell me what you’re driving at and save us both the aggravation?”
“You’ll figure it out.”
I scan my other memories of that trip. Let’s see, my friend Penny lost one of her K-Swiss sneakers at a gas station and demanded we drive back to Tennessee to see if we could find it. Our collective response to that was, “Tenne-see you in Hell!” Also, the guy from SMSU wanted to hang out with me the whole week and I kept trying to ditch him, exclaiming, “One-night stand means one night!” Come to think of it, we packed a lot in those five days that accidentally turned into eight.
Oh, wait, I get it.
I ask, “Is it The Storm of the Century? It took us two extra days to make it home. Total nightmare.”
“And what? And I should have taken a cab to the airport this morning?”
“You’re so close. Keep trying.”
“I give up.”
He crows, “You got a tattoo. You went on Spring Break and you came home with a tattoo.”
That? That’s only significant in that in 1993, collegiate women who weren’t art majors didn’t get tattoos. I was so proud of myself for being an iconoclast.
I was a trendsetter.
I was a tastemaker.
I was very pleased with myself.
Turns out, I was the drop that preceded the deluge, because within a year, everyone was inked up, their bodies turned into so many canvases, covered from head to toe like Maori warriors. Suddenly, my silly little above-the-ankle sorority letters weren’t quite so evocative. Rather, they looked like something I’d done myself with a ballpoint pen.
In my thirties, I was still vaguely amused by my tattoo, laughing about my tangible reminder to not make rash decisions. But in my forties, I realized the thrill was gone the day I crossed my legs in front of my banker when discussing a business line of credit, leaving nothing but Greek-alphabet-shaped regret in its place.
I consulted a plastic surgeon about having that tattoo lasered off and discovered that a session runs about $250. I’d need somewhere between eight and ten sessions to make the whole thing finally disappear like so many Southeast Missouri State University hookups.
Let’s do the math—the ink that cost me twenty-five dollars to put on could now run up to three thousand to take off.
This is why I wasn’t an economics major.
Tattoo removal has become a huge growth industry in the past few years. Makes sense. Kurt Cobain’s been dead for two decades, Snow’s now writing hold-music jingles for Yahoo, and a healthy portion of Generation X desperately wishes they could finally wear arm-band-revealing short sleeves to the company Cubs outing without some wiseass commenting, “Hey, what tribe were you in, Skip?”
So, getting re-inked on this trip? Not going to be an issue.
In the most serene tone of voice I can muster, I say, “Honey, I’m on the wrong side of forty, I own a home, I buy season tickets for the opera, and one of my dearest friends has her AARP card. My days of going on Spring Break are over. Don’t worry, I’m not doing anything stupid in Savannah.”
Grudgingly, he replies, “If you say so.”
Somehow I don’t feel he’s convinced, but I’ll delight in proving him wrong when I come home on Sunday. Given all that I’ve learned about myself/others/life in general in the twenty years since that fateful trip, I’m done making bad decisions. Fortified with the knowledge of my forty-six years, I’d have certainly approached my youth differently, starting with making out with guys from better colleges and ending with not getting a tattoo.
Am I glad I lived through what I call The Wonder Years, as in I Wonder What the Hell I Was Thinking? Of course, and I’m grateful for having made the kind of game-changing mistakes that led me to my current path. Doesn’t mean I don’t still cringe when I look back at my choices, like The Birkenstock Semester or the time I got into a shouting match with a now ex-friend over my passionate love for Wham! and its clearly heterosexual front man, George Michael.
(Sidebar: I wanted to apply to law school after graduation, so I used to practice arguing in bars.)
(Additional sidebar: I clearly wasn’t smart enough for law school as evidenced by my exceptionally shitty taste in music and lack of gaydar.)
Given the choice, I’m not sure many of my generation would go back and do it all again. Sure, if you told me I could have my twenty-year-old body again, I’d jump at the chance, but if it came with my twenty-year-old mind?
Not for all the Prada bags in the universe.
If I may, I’d like to take a moment to praise Mark Zuckerberg’s parents for not procreating sooner. Praise be to all that is holy that Facebook didn’t exist when I was that age and the Internet then was but a Usenet group for Star Trek fans. I feel like the luckiest person in the world to have grown up when cameras used actual film because the only thing that stood between infamy and me was the clerk who developed photos at Walgreens.
Thank God for him.
In fact, photo developers everywhere are likely the reason my entire generation didn’t devolve into total chaos.
I often consider the line in the movie The Social Network that goes, “The Internet’s not written in pencil, Mark—it’s written in ink.” That’s the message I’d give to the younger generations today, but I doubt they’d listen to some middle-aged lady with opera tickets and snow tires.
Seems like the youth of America believes that having the sum total of all human existence at their fingertips equates to knowing everything. Truth is, they’re no more or less clueless than we were at that age, only they’ll have the pictures to prove it.
But my generation figured it out, as did all of those who came before us. Today’s kids will, too, because that’s the natural cycle.
Someday soon those in their twenties will discover on their own exactly how expensive it is to remove that ironic rasher of bacon or can of PBR inked on their sternum, probably around the time they shop for their first set of snow tires.
Welcome to the dark side; we have Bridgestone.
Fletch and I arrive at the United terminal and wait for a hotel shuttle to move so we can park closer to the curb, as it looks like it’s about to pour. My phone chimes and I glance at a text from Julia.
“Julia and Trenna are on the road,” I say. “They’re driving up from Atlanta.” We all could have flown into Atlanta instead and ridden with them, saving two hundred dollars off our airfare, but we figured direct was the most expedient route. And honestly, spending five hours each way crammed six to a car really did seem a bit too Spring Break-y.
While we wait to pull into our spot, Fletch notices what the rest of the text says. Julia’s compiled a shopping list of all the liquor for me to pick up while I’m running errands.
“Fifteen bottles of wine? Fifteen? Plus, she’s bringing the moonshine you were given in Atlanta, but you should still pick up gin, tequila, and vodka?”
“Organic vodka,” I offer, as if that makes a difference.
He reaches over to kiss me good-bye, his hand lingering on my shoulder. He looks me straight in the eyes and says, “When you come back with your dead dog’s name inked on your neck, you can’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Kathleen, Joanna, Rachel, and I meet up for a leisurely breakfast before our flight since we’re all early-arriving airport nerds. We’re set to land in Savannah around nine thirty, pick up our convertible Mustang, and drive ourselves to the house by ten o’clock. At that point, everyone else will take their hideous self-powered trolley ride, while I peruse the local Whole Foods because nothing makes me happier than seeing how much paper towels and ground beef cost in other sections of the country.
In the past, I’d have just gone along with the group and grudgingly participated in the stupid bike ride, but I feel like I’m finally at the age where it’s okay to say, “Sorry, that doesn’t work for me.” At my age, I feel like I’m halfway to the finish line and life’s too short to do what I’m sure to hate.
My friend Gina agrees. She says we’re at the beginning of our second act in life and it’s up to us to make the most of it. While I’m still trying to figure out exactly what my second act looks like, I know now’s the time to take action, to make a bold move, to forge a new path, which is probably why Fletch is so worried that I’ll get inked again.
This whole second act business feels like it came out of nowhere, though. I mean, wasn’t I in my twenties, like, last week? Maybe it’s that I spent so long in a state of arrested development that I feel like I’ve barely had time to be a grown-up, let alone come to terms with middle age.
Laurie, a dear pal who’s a decade older than me, says that at a certain point in a woman’s life, likely when she transitions from being called “Miss” to “Ma’am,” she becomes invisible. A part of me wants to mourn for my lost youth and gravity-defying rear end, and yet a larger portion wonders exactly what it is I can do with all this newfound freedom during my second act.
While we’re eating our eggs, the storm hits hard, so we check our phones for flight delays. We don’t receive any messages until we arrive at the gate, which is now empty because our flight’s been canceled. Damn it! Now the two hundred people who were also on our flight are in line at the United service counter, trying to rebook.
The scene is, in a word, pandemonium.
You know what’s great about being over forty? Finally having more than twenty-six dollars available on my credit card. In 1993, I barely had enough scratch for Arby’s, much less a plane ticket home in lieu of driving through the snow for three days. But today? Today I have options. Today I happily bypass the line, instead going to the United Club where for the price of a day pass, we’ll find four customer service agents for every passenger, instead of two agents for two hundred passengers. Also? Free cappuccino and all the Biscoff cookies I can cram in my carry-on. Win, win.
The club’s agent is able to place Rachel on a one p.m. direct flight to Savannah, but can’t do the same for us. Kathleen, Joanna, and I have to take an eleven thirty to Atlanta first, but then we should all arrive in Savannah at the same time. The only casualty from the delay will be the scheduled bike ride, which everyone else agreed to do because they’re polite. (Clearly, I’m the first to discover the “sorry, that doesn’t work for me” mantra.) The general mood is that of relief.
Sure, we’re a few hours off track, but it’s no problem. Shit happens when you travel, and no one wants to fly in dangerous weather. We’re just going to enjoy one another’s company here on the ground and drink our free cappuccinos.
This is going to be great!
But this is not going to be Spring Break. I can’t stress that enough.
• • •
Fourteen hours after arriving at the airport, we land in Savannah.
Rather, three of us land in Savannah. We’re now a man down. Rachel’s headed back to Grand Rapids because her one p.m. flight was canceled and United couldn’t get her on another plane until Saturday, which is three days from now.
(Sidebar: That’s right, United. We in a fight.)
We’re overcome by the general WTF-ery of the situation and devastated to have lost Rachel, but she has a fine attitude—her anniversary is this weekend and she says that maybe this was the universe’s way of saying she should spend it with her thoughtful, wine-loving husband.
We could have easily and quickly devolved into three very cranky travelers, or maybe trashed the lounge Axl Rose–style in protest, but Kathleen, Joanna, and I make the best of the situation. We more than compensate for the cost of club entry in gratis snack and drink consumption.
The minute I learn of our flight snafu, I call the national number for Hertz to tell them we’re delayed. I still very much want the convertible and ask for it to be held. I should have predicted there’d be trouble when the customer service agent has me spell the words “Savannah” and “Georgia,” as he’s never heard of either place before.
(Sidebar: Did I mention he was in an American call center? I weep for the state of our public education.)
I also check in with the local Hertz branch at the airport to make sure our car will be waiting. The agent assures me again and again that the Mustang is indeed ours and that no one can touch it because I’ve already paid for it. With a delightfully rich and melodious accent, he says, “Really, ma’am, we do this every day and y’all needn’t be so worried.”
I’m telling you, the Ma’am-ing is beginning to take over.
This is why, after fourteen hours that included an O. J. Simpson–worthy sprint through Hartsfield to make a ten-minute connection time, the Yankee in me finally comes out when the slack-jawed, teased-haired, gum-chomping lady-clerk explains she’s “gone ahead and given away your Mustang ’cause someone else wanted it somethin’ awful” but instead has a “real nice new Buick for y’all.”
As I stand there, silently seething, she adds, “The best part is, it’s not a convertible so it won’t mess up your do!”
(Sidebar: Hertz, we in a fight now, too.)
Joanna catches me before I lunge across the desk and she and Kathleen wrestle me to the car that’s housed in a pitch-black parking lot. We stow our gear in the dark, grumbling about the stupid Buick the entire time, and as we’re climbing in, Kathleen can’t see the line of the car’s roof and ends up whacking her head so solidly against the doorjamb that the entire vehicle shakes.
“Oh, my God, are you okay?” I ask.
Joanna rushes back to check for blood. She uses her iPhone flashlight app to determine that Kathleen’s not bleeding, but an enormous goose egg has already begun to form.
“I . . . I don’t think I can spell anymore,” she finally says.
“Should we find a hospital?” I ask.
“No, no, I’ll be okay,” she replies stoically, yet I can practically see the little cartoon exclamation points and ampersands circling her head.
If we were still in college, there’s no way we wouldn’t have sought emergency care immediately. Everything seemed so much more life and death back then, particularly since we weren’t concerned with the cost of health care; none of us was paying for our own insurance. (If we even had it.) Of course, the only other people in the ER would have been testosterone-charged fraternity boys who’d broken their wrists punching walls and the whole place would take on a party atmosphere as we tried to determine which of our friends was there for the dumbest reason. Chances were good that we would come home with a cast and a date.
“Are you sure, Kathleen?” I ask.
“I think so.”
“Then spell Buick for me.”
“Shit! We have to go to the ER!” Joanna exclaims.
Joanna has too many positive qualities to name and she perpetually amazes me with her abilities, like when she replaced a leaking U-joint on her powder room’s sink. However, she is to spelling what I am to math. At Purdue, we used to help each other compensate for our weaknesses. I’d proof her papers and she’d explain my geoscience homework. That’s why we became so close so fast—she excelled in areas where I lagged and vice versa. Alone, we were fine, but together we were invincible.
I ask, “Are you good, Kat? Do we need to seek medical advice or are you fine being the walking wounded?”
“Get us the hell away from this airport,” she replied, digging in her carry-on for aspirin.
“Hey, Joanna, can you grab my phone and ask Siri directions to the house?” I request.
“I can navigate,” she insists. Joanna firmly believes there’s nothing she can’t do better herself, even though there was a slight problem on her second go-round with a U-joint and her husband confiscated her wrench. (She has a second one hidden in the ceiling tiles of her basement, though. Shh, don’t tell.) Joanna puts the address in Google Maps and tells me to take a left to exit out of the parking lot.
“You don’t have to do that—you can just ask Siri,” I explain, trying to familiarize myself with the unfamiliar car.
(Sidebar: The Buick is actually really nice. We not in a fight.)
Joanna is resolute. “No one can read maps anymore. It’s a lost art and I plan to bring it back.”
“Maybe you could bring cartography back after we get to the house, when I’m not having a brain bleed back here,” Kathleen suggests.
“I can read a map better than Siri,” Joanna insists.
I say, “I’m willing to wager that’s not true.”
“Please, I’m highly competent. Oh, wait, you were supposed to turn back there,” Joanna says, as we whiz past the exit on the right.
“I thought you said we should turn left.”
“I must have had the map upside down,” she admits.
“Siri, get directions to EAST JONES STREET,” I shout in the direction of my phone.
Joanna clutches the device to her chest. “No, Siri, don’t listen to her! We’re doing this ourselves, like the pioneers did!”
“Siri, what does it mean when I can’t feel my molars? And how important is a functioning frontal lobe?” Kathleen asks. “Also, Siri, are there two sets of headlights over there, or do I have double vision?”
“Whoops, wait, turn here right now!” Joanna exclaims, and I barely have time to cut across two lanes of traffic to make it. “Now veer right and stay on this road.”
“For how long?”
“Um . . . this long.” She holds her thumb and forefinger an inch apart to demonstrate the distance on the map.
“Is that an hour? A minute? A mile?”
“Do you guys hear sleigh bells? I hear sleigh bells,” Kathleen says.
“You, lie down,” I call over my shoulder. I turn to Joanna. “And you, either tell me how far in actual distance or please ask Siri.”
“You’re going to want to . . . exit back there!”
I have to swerve again and I’m really glad there are no other cars on the road. “You’re not making your case, Joanna. You can’t give me turns in retrospect. Now you have to let me know how long we’re on this portion of the road or I’m pulling over.”
She squints at her screen. “You’re going to travel on this road for . . . three times longer than you were on the last road.”
“And how the fuck long is that?” I’ve been trying to curtail my use of f-bombs because once I arrived in Ma’amsylvania, swearing lost its charm. Well-groomed sorority girl spouting profanity? Totes adorbs. Middle-aged woman doing the same? Next stop, the Springer show.
However, swearing in this case is wholly necessary.
“This much.” She holds up her thumb and forefinger again, as though she’s about to pinch someone.
“Do you want me to solve for X? Is that what you’re telling me? These aren’t directions, Joanna. This is Euclidian geometry!”
From the backseat Kathleen is quietly singing to herself. “Just hear those sleigh bells jingling, ring-ting-tingling, oooh.”
Joanna slips on her reading glasses and examines the phone some more. “In exactly one and one-tenths mile, you will turn right. How’s that for accurate?”
“That’s perfect,” I admit. “Thank you. Kat, how we doing back there?”
I assure her, “Don’t worry, we’ll be at the house soon.”
I make the turn and only then do I read the name of the street we’re merging onto. “Joanna, are you aware you’re having us take Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard? Now, I don’t know how to say this without sounding like an a-hole, but, um, traditionally this very good man’s name is not always attached to very good neighborhoods.”
“But it’s a shortcut,” she insists.
“Ring-ting-tingly!” Kathleen offers.
I grit my teeth. “Then I’m sure in no way will we regret this route.”
However, Joanna’s right on this one and it’s the most expedient way to get where we’re going.
“I told you so,” she offers, a bit too smugly for one who not sixty seconds ago sent us the wrong way down a one-way street.
“And we didn’t mess up our dos,” Kathleen adds.
We arrive at the house minutes later. I wish Fletch could see this place so he’d understand how Not Spring Break this stunning wedding cake of a home is. Our new digs are a Victorian town house in the middle of a picturesque neighborhood where the trees are all draped with moss.
We can gather in the antique-strewn living rooms on the first or second floors and there’s plenty of space for us all to hang out on one of the multiple verandas. And, instead of sleeping on a blow-up raft like I did in Clearwater, we each have our own bedroom. Trenna and I have our own bathrooms—hers with a claw-foot tub—and there’s a whole separate dressing room for those sharing the other baths. I can’t imagine any place more grown-up or civilized. The best part is that Julia’s a bargain shopper and the house costs less than if we’d booked our own rooms at a budget hotel.
Julia hands us each a glass of wine when we walk in and once we unpack and have a moment to decompress, we finally begin to relax and enjoy our grown-up girls’ weekend.
Everything is going to be great!
“Remember to set your alarm clocks, girls—we’re doing Zumba first thing in the morning,” Trenna says.
With a clear commitment to my own convictions and with zero regrets, I reply, “Sorry, that doesn’t work for me.”
“How’s Adult Spring Break?”
“When are you going to stop asking me that?”
“When it stops being funny. Hey, you realize I can see you rolling your eyes, right?”
Damn you, FaceTime, foiled again!
Perhaps threats will cease Fletcher’s endless mockery. “Do you want me to spoil the next episode for you? Because I will.” Almost five years late to the party, Fletch and I have started watching Breaking Bad. Our goal is to catch up with everyone before the series finale, so we’re currently ODing on all things Walter White.
We’ve since discovered that binge-watching is the new binge-drinking, at least for us. I’m sure College Jen and Fletch would call us pathetic for subbing TV for cocktails, but College Jen and Fletch also sat on a couch they found by a Dumpster and ate Beefaroni straight out of the can. Besides, Breaking Bad is masterful and I just want to take Jesse home to hug him and make him a nice stew.
(Sidebar: Why do we hate Skyler so damn much?)
Also, between this show and having plowed through Weeds earlier this year, I’m now secretly convinced that everyone sells drugs. EVERY. ONE. Whenever I see a weird business like a still-operating video rental store, I swear up and down that it’s actually a grow house. I have no reason to ever enter one of these stores, save for making a citizen’s arrest, but I always shake my fist at them when we drive past, like, I’m onto you.
“No! I want to be surprised,” Fletch pleads. “New subject, are you having fun?”
“Yes, this was such a good idea,” I tell him. “Thank you for encouraging me to come.” Fletch was the one who helped motivate me to shift my plan-canceling, sticking-close-to-home, why-don’t-you-all-just-come-stay-here paradigm and I’m so glad that I did. The last couple of years have been nothing but stress and tours and due dates and I’m wound pretty tightly right now. He’s been very conscious of my needing some kind of outlet, lest I explode.
The fact that he now gets to spend a number of days sitting on the big couch alone, not watching endless episodes of Big Brother, likely motivated him as well. Still, I appreciate how he’s almost better that I am at gauging my moods, and inevitably, he helps push me to make the right decisions.
Since I’ve been in Savannah, I’ve started to ponder what else I might have been missing over the past few years of being a deadline-ridden semihermit. For all my “seize the day” resolve, I’ve too often allowed myself to be bogged down by boring household bullshit, like spending countless hours trying to figure out what kind of tile I wanted in the upstairs bath. In fact, the funds for this trip were originally earmarked for said new tile, but Fletch asked me what was going to be more important when I looked back on my life—creating new memories with people I love or upgrading to travertine. Put like that, the choice was clear.
There’s an expression about how there’s what you know, what you don’t know, and what you don’t know you don’t know. I have a feeling my second act should be all about exploring what I don’t know I don’t know.
Again, I need to forge a new path.
The time has come to make a bold move and I may have just figured out the way to make one.
“Hey, I had an idea, but it might be dumb. What do you think about bucket lists?”
Hambone, Maisy’s sequel, suddenly appears on-screen. This extraordinarily silly red pit bull has planted herself next to Fletch and keeps trying to lick his brain by way of his ear.
(Sidebar: No matter how much you might love Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, it’s never quite as good as the original, is it?)
“Augh, this dog. She’s been glued to my side ever since you left.”
Her enormous monochromatic melon takes up the whole screen and the picture quality is so clear I can see the tiny dimple in the middle of her nose. As always, she makes me melt.
(Sidebar: Wait, what about Godfather II? Perhaps there’s hope for her yet.)
“Aw, Hammy misses her mumma! You miss your mumma, sweetie? See? This is why I stay home; it’s too hard to be away from her precious widdle face. Hello, Hammy! Hello, Hammy baby! Give your mumma some sugar!!”
“You have the world of technology at your fingertips and you use it to talk to the dogs.” He sighs and positions the Ham away from him on the couch. She sits up next to him on her haunches, with her back pressed into the couch, aw . . . just like people!
“What about lists now?”
“Bucket lists—the things you want to do before you die.”
“Are you dying?”
“Eventually, but hopefully not on this trip. Bucket list items are stuff you want to achieve, like write a book or be on television.”
“You’ve already done both.”
“So those won’t go on my list, but there’s plenty other stuff I’ve always wanted to do but put off until later. Maybe now is my later.” I shift on the bed so now I’m facing the fireplace. My room has a fireplace! Sure, it’s twelve-hundred degrees outside right now, but nothing beats the option of having a fire.
Technically, I suspect this whole place may be flammable. As luxurious as our rental looked online, clearly we received the deal we did because the homeowners are borderline hoarders. We’re finding really weird stuff crammed into every nook and cranny. For example, we noticed that one of the big Chinese vases on the landing between the second and third floor is packed with dirty men’s shirts. There are fifteen different types of cutting boards in the kitchen, so many that there’s not actually any counter space left to use a cutting board. And the dresser in the front hallway has what looks like a Steve Buscemi doll nestled in a tiny coffin among tons of junk.
I opened one of the bedside tables and it is stacked full of hundreds of old copies of Entertainment Weekly. Mind you, I love EW, but the point of the magazine is timeliness. Is it really necessary to save the fall preview guide from 2008? (Although, is that when Breaking Bad debuted? Maybe I actually should read that issue for other viewing suggestions. Otherwise, though, no.) We’ve been having little treasure hunts for the weirdest stuff we can find squirreled away. Thus far Dead Steve Buscemi wins, but the trip is still in its early stages.
From his spot on the big couch at home, Fletch teases me. “‘Now is my later’? Is that like ‘How babby is formed’? You sound like an Internet meme.”
“All I’m saying is I’d have put ‘rent a house with friends’ on my list if I’d had a bucket list previously.”
“Well, you do love a list.”
He’s right. Nothing makes me happier than putting pen to paper when it comes to what I want to accomplish. One of the things I learned from my year of attempting to live by Martha Stewart’s dictates is that not only am I perfectly capable of cleaning my own house, but I like doing it. So, every week I make a big list of all the housekeeping tasks and I take great delight in systematically scratching them off when complete. And when I end up scouring something that wasn’t on my list, like bleaching the grout in the bathroom or lemon-oiling the wood paneling in the living room, I write the item down just so I can immediately cross it off.
I did the job, it counts, and I want credit, even though the fact that it’s done should be credit enough.
For years, I’ve been marveling at the brilliance of writer/director Mike Judge. From Office Space and Idiocracy to Beavis and Butt-Head, no one has a keener eye on society. I’ve been doing the retroactive list cross-out for years, but it wasn’t until I saw King of the Hill’s Peggy do the same in regard to teaching a bird to talk that I truly recognized his genius. My only regret now is that Peggy Hill (my other spirit animal) is gone from the airwaves because I’d have liked to see how she coped with middle age, largely so I could copy her.
I keep coming back to Gina’s notion that we’re starting our second act in life. I’ve dreaded acknowledging the whole aging thing, inoculating myself with as much botulism and filler as my face can hold in an attempt to hold back time. But I wonder if instead of avoiding the inevitable, maybe I should be embracing this time in my life?
I tell Fletch, “I’m going to do it! As soon as I get home—after I clean out our closets, that is, because damn. Hoarding really is a thing.” I hear footsteps and I begin to panic. “Shit, they’re coming for me. I’ve got to sign off and hide in the bathroom.”
“Because Trenna wants to teach us to do The Wobble and I’m not sure how many more times I can tell her, ‘Sorry, that doesn’t work for me.’”
• • •
We’re having the most marvelous time together, even though the house has inadvertently divided itself into two factions that I’ve dubbed Team Butter and Team Lettuce. Team Lettuce (Julia and Trenna) do indeed rise at dawn to Zumba (I assume this is a verb but refuse to ask for fear that it might come across as enthusiasm), which they follow up with kickboxing, and then some light yoga. In the meantime, Team Butter prefers to start the day eating chocolate croissants and drinking cappuccino on the veranda.
Fortunately, we can all agree that it’s wine o’clock right now, so we gather under the Haint Blue ceiling of the veranda. On the Mercer House tour, we learned that the Lowcountry Gullah believed ghosts couldn’t travel over water, so they’d paint this color of blue on ceilings and under furniture to prevent the spirits’ passage. As we look down East Jones Street, we note that every other porch’s ceiling is the exact same shade of pale, cloudy blue. I so love this all-encompassing nod to tradition and wish we had more of this in the North. (Also, more cheese grits.)
“What’s the plan for tonight?” Kathleen asks.
“Ghost tour!” Julia our cruise director exclaims.
“Savannah’s supposed to be one of the most haunted cities,” Trenna adds.
“Then it’s a good thing we have our Haint Paint to keep us safe,” Joanna says.
“Are we taking one of those hearses we’ve seen around town?” I ask. “How fun does that look?”
“No,” says Julia. “This one’s a walking tour.”
“As in outside?” I ask. “We’re walking outside? In this weather? Are you kidding? I’m on my third shirt of the day because I keep sweating out all my spray tan. It’s going to be a thousand degrees.”
Team Butter perspires more than Team Lettuce.
I’ve said it.
Perhaps taking better care of myself will be a part of my eventual bucket list.
Until then, I plan on swimming in a pool full of shrimp and grits.
“No worries, it’ll get dark fast and cool off,” Julia assures me. “Plus, we have tons of cold wine!”
Outside of Vegas, I’ve never been in a city with such lax open container laws. You’re literally allowed to drink in the streets here. This kind of access would likely have ended me in college.
(Sidebar: Julia says that Savannah is what would happen if New Orleans and Charleston had a baby.)
For our evening’s festivities, Julia’s toting a huge thermal bag full of vino for the tour. As a surprise, she bought each of us a large plastic wineglass-shaped sippy cup, monogrammed with our initials.
I chose not to mention this fact to Fletch. I finally convinced him this isn’t Spring Break, so rolling five-deep with travelers wouldn’t exactly strengthen my case.
“Cab’s here!” Kathleen calls. “Let’s go!”
Team Butter begins to file outside, but Julia says she and Trenna plan to hoof it.
“You’re going to walk to the walking tour? It’s like three miles away and ninety-percent humidity! What, did we lose a war or something?” I ask.
“We’ll meet you there!” Julia chirps. “Does everyone have their cups?” We all hold them up for inspection and Julia tops them off before we get in the cab.
“I never drank wine through a straw before,” Kathleen says.
“Eh, when in Rome,” Joanna replies, gamely taking a sip. “What’s the worst that can happen?”
• • •
“Quick! To the firehouse!”
“Firefighters are heroes—they have to help us!”
Joanna and I stumble through the sultry night air to our salvation.
Something went horribly awry on the ghost tour.
By horribly awry, I mean we were bored. The tour had far too much walk-y and talk-y and far too few ghosts. We just kept moving from spot to spot in this park, looking at various trees because they somehow related to something. I mean, where my haints at? Can we unpaint a ceiling so that something supernatural can finally happen? Could someone at least hire college students to cut a couple of eyeholes in some sheets and jump out at us?
Team Lettuce seemed fairly engaged on the tour, but Team Butter just wasn’t into it, largely because we were hot on top of bored.
Which was a problem.
Because it led to our getting shit-housed.
While on the seemingly endless tour, Julia kept telling us we needed to “respect the straw,” but what does that even mean? I don’t live in a universe where fermented beverages are consumed through narrow plastic tubes, so how was I to know how to offer a modicum of respect toward it?
I’m the more sober of the two of us—although that’s a relative term—so it’s on me to approach the firemen.
Table of Contents
1 It's Not Spring Break, Okay? 1
2 The Tao of the Do 12
3 I Am the One Who Knocks 21
4 Is It Cliché to Say I'm Checking It Twice? 32
5 She's the Man 45
6 Divorce Imminent 56
7 I Don't Believe in Peter Pan, Frankenstein, or Superman 63
8 We Be Rollin' 73
9 Living La Vida Martha 84
10 Not the Bullshit, Just the Good Shit 97
11 Italian for Douche Bags 109
12 The Record Shows I Took the Blows
13 What's My Rule? 140
14 Spring Fever 159
15 Parchi E Ricreazione 176
16 Sorry I'm Not Sorry 194
17 Julia Roberts Lied to Me 215
18 Ugly Americans 227
19 Il Cavallo 245
20 Run for Your Life 266
21 See You in Hell, Betty Spaghetti 281
What People are Saying About This
PRAISE FOR JEN LANCASTER
THE TAO OF MARTHA
“Often hilarious (and sometimes surprisingly successful) results.”—USA Today
“Hands down, Jen Lancaster’s funniest memoir yet…a wild ride.”—SheKnows Book Lounge
MY FAIR LAZY
“Hilarious...My Fair Lazy does not ‘suck it.’ It rocks it.”—Examiner.com
“Light and fun and full of pop-culture musings.”—Chicago Sun-Times
PRETTY IN PLAID
“Like that dreamy pair of heels that [is] somehow both comfy and chic…a hilarious tribute to her early fashion obsessions.”—People
SUCH A PRETTY FAT
“She’s like that friend who always says what you’re thinking—just 1,000 times funnier.”—People
BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG ASS
“A bittersweet treat for anyone who’s ever survived the big city.”—#1 New York Times Bestselling Author Jennifer Weiner
BITTER IS THE NEW BLACK
“She’s absolutely hilarious.”—Chicago Sun-Times
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Hilarious read! Love her writing and I tend to like her autobiographies better than her novels although I read everything she writes!
Love all of Jen's books, this one is no different.
Love Jen so much. If you grew up in the 80's its like Jen is writing about your life. She feels like an old friend every time I pick up her books. My girlfriends and I always joke that she is our friend she just doesn't know it. She is sassy, sweet and an animal lover. Always a good time hanging out with her. This book is right up on the display shelf...LOL she will make you laugh!!!
Jen Lancaster is known for her hilarious memoir like books that usually are focused on one topic or another, but this one takes a new route - a bucket list that can encompass many different topics. I loved it! I have read almost all of her books and have loved them all, I just love her form of comedy - it can be crass and in your face, but if you like that kind of thing then grab any of one of her books and laugh until you are crying! I loved that this one covered many topics and maybe I missed something, but I loved how she included her husband Fletch in a few of the stories. If you haven't read any of Jen Lancaster memoir books, you can start at the beginning or anywhere in between!
I truly enjoyed this book. I have read everybook you have written and cannot wait for the next. Thank you for making me laugh out loud that is true talent!! My bucket list ....dinner with you and Fletch I know I would have a ball.
I just finished this book. First of all, it is always the same story. Second, the pictures are annoying. Third, Jen used to put footnotes at the bottom of the page, and is now using the annoying sidebar: instead. She is a frumpy, middle-aged housewife in the Chicago burbs and writes about college. She has already accomplished this four books back. I am returning and getting my money back.