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she's all that
By Kristin Billerbeck
Copyright © 2005 Kristin Billerbeck
All right reserved.
Bad hair ruined my life. Oh, I know what you're thinking: it's physically impossible for bad hair to ruin your life. But if I didn't have frizzy, bushy, mushroom-shaped hair, I wouldn't need thermal reconditioning every four months. And if I didn't need thermal reconditioning, I wouldn't have been at the salon for five hours when my boss gave my promotion to another designer.
My boss, Sara Lang: "I'm sorry, Lilly, but you just don't have the distinction in your designs."
I beg to differ. My designs cover every pertinent part. How many others can claim that simple fact?
"Okay, thank you." Wimp. Wimp. Wimp.
Here's the kicker, though, the determining factor in my day of total humiliation and ruination: if I hadn't gone to my boyfriend's house after the news to cry on his shoulder, I would have never known about Katrina. Katrina, who is apparently his new girlfriend. The one he claims he's been trying to tell me about, so that I would know that I am officially, oh-by-the-way, the ex-girlfriend. Minor oversight on his part, I'm certain.
I'd like to say I'm crushed about Robert being my ex. I mean, it's sort of pathetic that he was part of my life for a few months, and my only answer to this unexpected Katrina surprise was a wave of the hand and a thoroughly disgusted, "Whatever" (with a shrug for emphasis). Robert was more dinner companion than boyfriend, and that's about it. He was straight and a Christian. Let's face it, living in San Francisco and working in the fashion industry, that was really all he needed to be.
In terms of a long-term romantic future, I had higher hopes for myself-despite being continually stymied by my lack of speaking ability in the presence of men I find attractive. Generally, I date men I'm not all that attracted to. It's just easier, because at some point you have to talk to them, and with a mouth that doesn't function properly in front of guys I find, well, hot, this is an issue. Whereas, if I'm not looking at potential husband material, the words flow like Niagara. Granted, this dilemma doesn't bring me the passion of a Cary Grant movie, but it does suffice if I want to get out of the house once in a while.
So currently, I am Lilly Jacobs, single girl nearing thirty and fledgling fashion designer. Not Lilly Jacobs for Sara Lang Couture, or even the future Mrs. Robert Hazelton-but I am still, and most importantly, a card-carrying member of the Spa Girls.
I unlock the litany of latches on my loft studio apartment, flop onto my futon, and call Morgan, my best college friend and fellow Spa Girl, on her cell. "I need a spa date! Fast."
"Lilly, just a minute," Morgan whispers. I hear some shuffling, and then Morgan is back on the line. "I'm at a political luncheon for a would-be senator. Woefully boring, and really, will the Republicans ever win in San Francisco? Talk about a waste of time."
"What are you there for, then?" I ask, annoyed that the Republicans are interfering with my crisis.
"I'm wearing this fabulous teardrop necklace with an incredible pink diamond. Daddy just got it in from Australia. I've already had a few comments," Morgan says. "I bet it's sold by dinnertime."
I sigh aloud. Could our lives be any more divergent?
Morgan Malliard is a tall, willowy, blond jewelry heiress officially known about town as the "Ice Queen" for her everchanging diamond collection provided by her father's fashionable Union Square store. And what better item to soothe an aching Republican in Liberal Central than a fabulous diamond, the cost of which would bring many people's problems to an end? And most small countries' problems, as well.
"Which do you want to hear first?" I ask. "The bad news? Or the really bad news?" Personally, I think the fact that I'm still sleeping on a futon and am about to turn thirty speaks pretty loudly for my fate. But wait, there's more!
"Give me any bad news that involves Robert. I never liked him. Too blah-like a white wall amidst Ralph Lauren paint colors. He gives nerds a bad name. There is bad news about Robert, isn't there?" she asks hopefully.
I sigh again. "Yes, that's the pseudo-bad news. He has a girlfriend."
"A girlfriend who is not you, I'm assuming."
Morgan lets out a restrained, "Yes!"
"Could I get some sympathy here? I have been seeing him for three months." But even I have trouble feeling too sorry for myself. This is the equivalent of saying I've been seeing my second cousin for months. It doesn't really invoke sympathy. Just sort of a sad disgust.
"Seeing him only when you had nothing better to do," Morgan retorts. "Give me a break. It's not like we're talking about the great love of your life. What's the really bad news?"
"Shane Wesley got my promotion today."
"No! Oh, Lilly!"
"Yep. Another bald, gay man who represents the fashion industry better than me. It's my hair, I just know it."
"Would you stop? You have great hair. Felicity made a mint on hair just like yours. Remember, she even got in trouble for cutting it off."
"Um, back to me here," I say, looking for my dose of sympathy and wallowing in my narcissism for the moment. After all, I earned it fair and square.
"Sorry. I'm sorry about the promotion." Morgan sounds like she's going to cry for me. "I know how much you wanted it and deserved it. I wish you'd let me help you, Lilly. I've told you that a million times. I'll wear anything you ask. Your designs would be mentioned in the society pages. For the four people who read that page, it would be great!"
"Thanks for the offer, Morgan, but no. I want to do this by myself. I want to be so good that I can write my own ticket. Like Tom Ford. Only not male. And not gay. More like Vera Wang, I guess. Maybe I could do for the bolero jacket what she did for the wedding gown."
"The bolero jacket?"
"Okay, what about the woven hat?"
"Like J.Lo and Mariah Carey? Not exactly strutting down the couture runway, Lilly. You do need a spa weekend. You're delirious."
"Yeah. I'm desperate, Morgan. I need truffles, exfoliation, and gallons of Diet Pepsi to drown my sorrows. And pickles. Could we get some pickles too?"
"You better warn Poppy if you're bringing the hard stuff. She'll want you to sip detox tea, you know that. There will be ginseng and chamomile for all, but there will definitely not be Diet Pepsi. Somehow I'm thinking cured, dead cucumbers are not on the menu either."
"Can you call Poppy for me?" I whine like the worm I am. "It's been a really bad day."
"Lilly, I've got news for you. She knows you drink Diet Pepsi-and the pickle thing? Well, you're on your own there, because that's just weird." Morgan pauses for a moment. "I wonder how many people in this ballroom have ever even eaten a really good pickle."
"Have you?" I ask.
"No, not really. It's not the most feminine of snacks, Lilly. I mean, if you were here at this Republican soiree with me, would you feel comfortable chomping on a pickle?"
"It's the most feminine of snacks. Think of all the pregnant women who will settle for nothing else. I'll bring you one this weekend."
"That's all right, Lil. If you were pregnant, maybe I'd understand, but as a consolation for losing Robert? Please. He's not even worth good chocolate. A Hershey bar and I'd be over him."
"If I'm going nowhere in my career," I remind her, "I might as well be bloated, but happy, from a salty foodfest. I just hate to upset Poppy. You call her. She wants me to be healthy and 'in touch with my temple as God created it.' She'll think I've fallen off the wagon if she hears about the soda."
"I'm hanging up now. The senator wannabe is wrapping up. Call Poppy, and I'll make the reservations for the spa. But no more whining over Robert. I'm not wasting any more energy there."
I hang up and shift on my lumpy futon. Who invented this trash piece of furniture anyway? It's so college years. So I-can't-afford-life. Yet I have an MBA from Stanford-granted, it's a degree currently gathering dust since I chucked finance for fashion three years ago. I bet you I'm the only MBA from Stanford sleeping on a futon! Can you spell L-O-S-E-R?
I imagine that if I'd had two parents, or even if I grew up in a mansion like Morgan with only one doting parent, I wouldn't still be sleeping on a futon. Life is full of inequity, I suppose.
I dial up our other friend from college and Spa Girl extraordinaire, Poppy Clayton.
"Dr. Poppy's office."
Poppy, a chiropractor, won't let people call her Doctor Clayton. She always was an open book. At Stanford, they called her "Granola Girl." She was the Birkenstock-clad, tie-dye-wearing freak show who seemed entirely too flaky for her biology major. Poppy was the girl who missed the turnoff for Berkeley and ended up on Stanford's campus by mistake. After college, the medical community and its lack of heart soon broke Poppy's, and she ended up in alternative medicine. I can't imagine her really doing anything else. She thinks pharmaceuticals are of the devil.
"Hi, Emma," I say to her front desk gal. "Is Poppy there? It's Lilly."
"Yeah, hang on." Emma is munching some kind of food in my ear. That woman, while lithe as a bean pole, never stops eating. She'd make a great model, but alas, she doesn't believe in the false Hollywood image. Neither do I, but I'm not averse to simple vanity. If I ate nothing but sawdust so I could somehow end up looking like Emma, I'd at least use it to my advantage. Emma is thin, yet she actually has a figure. I admit it; I covet the image. I'm thin, but in a lanky, childlike way, definitely not an Uma Thurman/Jennifer Aniston way. More like a "Have you entered puberty yet?" sort of way.
Poppy comes on the line with her deep, breathy voice. "Lilly? Is everything all right?"
"Spa weekend," I croak dramatically, in the kind of voice you use when you call in fake-sick. Not that I've ever done that, mind you.
"Oh, no. What's happened?" Poppy immediately goes into doctor mode, ready to cure my ails with some sort of foul-tasting herb.
"Shane got my job, and Robert has another girlfriend-a Katrina," I add for emphasis. I'm hoping giving her a name will allow Poppy to ignore my soon-to-be-confessed need for pickles and diet soda.
"Robert had extremely bad energy. You didn't want to marry him, so I'm glad to hear this. He would have sucked the life right out of you. He was an energy vacuum, utterly ruthless, like one of those new Dyson versions with the continuous suction. He would have removed everything."
"Whatever," I say, not willing to listen to her "light is energy" mantra. "It's my hair. It's all because of my hair. I was getting it straightened when the promotion happened." Why did God bless me with this "crown of glory" anyway?
Poppy's voice is low and calm. "I imagine they took advantage of your being gone, not that you lost the job because you were gone. And, Lilly, your hair is a gift. Remember, God made you special," she says, sounding remarkably like Bob the Tomato. "Your designs are fabulous, Lilly. I think God's just giving you a place of rest before He launches you, so you're ready to take off. He wants you to stay humble."
See? This is why my Spa Girls are my best friends. With Poppy and Morgan, I am already Vera Wang. It's just a matter of proving it to the rest of the world. They were like that in college, too, when they thought I'd be the next Greenspan or Forbes, trumping those men in the finance world. You know, with friends like this, I've slowly begun to forget all the ugly names I was called in my childhood, the taunting for my out-of-control hair piled atop my lanky frame. Names like "Q-tip" and "Don King" and, my least favorite, "Einstein." I'm mostly over it now, but I have to admit, one look in the mirror on a bad hair day, and I still hear the echoes of those kids calling me those names. And I feel like an awkward fourth grader again.
"I've got four patients right now; can we talk later?" Poppy asks peacefully. Poppy doesn't know stress. She's probably got four people freaking out, waiting to get back to work while she calmly moves about her office at the approximate speed of those last five minutes of winding down in yoga class. She is shavasana personified.
"You go, Poppy," I say, out of mercy for her patients. "Will we see you tomorrow afternoon?"
"Count me in for the spa. It's time we all detoxed together." She hangs up on me, and I'm deliriously happy for the moment. I didn't even have to start the Diet Pepsi excuses, and I'm going to smuggle in chocolate truffles on my Spa Girl getaway while I drink green tea with a smile on my face.
So here I am. Three years have passed me by since I left a "real job" to start at the bottom of the fashion world, and so far my name-well, my designs-are not up in lights. I am alone in a dingy apartment with only the roar of the nearby freeway and the musty stench of the moist San Francisco air to keep me company. I grab my ever-present can of Lysol and spray with vengeance. The antiseptic smell soon stings my nose, and I can breathe again. I wonder if you can get addicted to Lysol.
I look at the fabrics splayed all over my cement-block, fashion district loft/warehouse. Remember how in old schools, the windows were up where you couldn't actually see out of them? You got it. That's my loft. Cement. Ugly. Windowless. Well, not windowless if you're willing to climb a twenty-foot ladder for just the freeway view.
The colorful fabrics-scraps from work-almost make the place livable. They remind me I am at least working in my dream industry. The dream job will come. My big break is just around the bend. It has to be. See, there's an ugly little secret in the couture industry: the geeks of the world rule the runways. And I, most certainly, am a geek. I did not live firmly planted in the world of dweeb in high school for nothing. My fame awaits me. I am getting closer. All the snickering laughter from the homecoming princesses, and now-although they don't know it yet-I am telling them what to wear. Chock it up to all those days spent drawing, creating the magical outfit that would make the doofs of the world, like me, suddenly acceptable.
Sophisticated. Elegant. Flawless. Best of the Season.
These are the words used to describe the gowns in my employer's current collection. Actually, the gowns I created under her name, Sara Lang. Lilly Jacobs. Doesn't it just sound like a Saks Fifth Avenue Collection? Then the loft door jingles, and my passionate daydream is cut short.
Kim Robinson, my roommate and fellow grunt at Sara Lang Couture, comes in and tosses her keys on one of our lone pieces of furniture: an old sewing table retrieved one time from near the dumpster. "Are you all right?" she asks.
"I'm fine," I say, thinking, How fine can I be? I'm the most overeducated, underemployed person on Sara Lang's payroll. "Did anyone say anything about me not getting the job?" I ask.
"Just murmurs. No more than normal when someone gets promoted. We meowed and then cleared out."
"I have to leave Sara Lang, don't I? I mean, it's now or never."
"It's obvious what Sara thinks, Lilly. You'll find something else. Maybe under someone else's wing, you'll find more options. Or you can always go back to fi-"
"Don't even utter the word!"
I start pacing the whole twelve-hundred square feet of our loft-my high-heeled feet clacking on the cement floor with an eerie echo. "Nana's gonna pass out when she finds out I didn't get the promotion. I've been telling her this is it for us." My Nana sold her house to pay for my education. She put up with my little design stint, thinking I'd be over it by now and back to finance-and good shoes. Alas, I'm a stubborn thing, and I really thought this dream was what I was meant to do. Nana, who raised me since I was a baby, seems to take a more practical view of God at work. "What does Sara Lang know anyhow? I can do this."
"Please, Lilly. Spare me the Evita speech. You're best friends with Morgan Malliard. Let her wear your stuff, for crying out loud! Then, you'll know if you have the talent or not, 'cause you'll read about it on the society pages the very next day." Kim's got her head in the fridge, looking for a nonexistent snack. "That ridiculous pride of yours is going to keep Nana in a rental the rest of her life! If I had a friendship like yours, I'd use it! I sure wouldn't let Sara Lang get any more of the credit. The last time that woman touched a sewing machine, it had foot pedals! She couldn't use a computerized model if you locked her away with it for a year."
I sigh. "You're probably right." Of course she's right. No one likes a whiner, and I'm sort of dwelling in that place right now. I'm the antithesis of yoga-calm Poppy. I'm Jazzercise on steroids.
Excerpted from she's all that by Kristin Billerbeck Copyright © 2005 by Kristin Billerbeck. Excerpted by permission.
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