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Authors: Jessica Cutler

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The Washingtonienne

BOOK: The Washingtonienne
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For Alethea

Chapter 1

J
ust between us girls, Washington is an easy place to get laid. It’s not like I was the prettiest girl in town or anything. I usually wasn’t even the prettiest girl in the
room
. But I can tell you that it wasn’t my personality that brought all the boys to the yard.

It was a simple matter of economics: supply and demand. Washington lacks those industries that attract the Beautiful People, such as entertainment and fashion. Instead it has the
government
, also known as “Hollywood for the Ugly.” And without the model-actress population to compete with, my stock shot up when I moved to DC.

It didn’t take much to turn heads there, and everybody was on the make and pretty damn obvious about it. Washington was a town full of young single people and bored married people, all desperate to connect with, oh, anyone. All you had to do was say hi to somebody and they were yours. You could go home with a different man every night of the week if you wanted to. So many men, so little time. How could I lose?

The downside was that almost everyone in Washington was an insecure nerd. Even the better-looking ones had nerdy skeletons in their closets. This was especially true of anyone who worked in politics. Only a nerd would be attracted to
legislative
power, of all things. Nerds love the idea of ruling over people, don’t they? They truly believe that they should make all of our decisions for us just because they went to graduate school. I mean, can you name even
one
cool person in politics? There just aren’t any. If any of us were truly cool, we would have been living in New York.

I CAME TO WASHINGTON
by way of Manhattan, and I had made a nice little life for myself there before I shit all over it. In New York, I mean. And, yes, I suppose that happened in Washington, too, but that was later. New York came first.

We all grew up with big dreams of moving to New York City and living the Glamorous Life, but I was stuck with a four-year scholarship to Syracuse University, while my friends took off for NYU, Columbia, or one of the several “art and design” schools in New York. Between classes at Syracuse, I would trudge through the dirty snow to check my e-mail at one of the campus computer clusters. The brown slush on my practical, reasonably priced L.L. Bean boots would turn into a puddle as I read about the clubs and crazy situations that my friends were getting themselves into in New York. They were all there, having fun and being fabulous without me, while I languished at keggers and struggled to meet my deadlines at the college newspaper.

I could never get past the feeling that I was missing out on something: I had to get out of Syracuse as soon as possible, before I went insane with boredom.

On the merits of my resume alone, I was granted an interview at Condé Nast Publications in New York. I had beat out countless wannabes (which included many of my classmates at Syracuse) for a highly coveted chance to become a Condé Nastie.

These were the Big Girls:
Vogue, Glamour,
and back then,
Mademoiselle
, the one that hired my best friend, Naomi, right out of journalism school at Columbia. I had known Naomi since the second grade, when we were OshKosh B’Gosh-wearing tomboys who wiped boogers on the other kids when they weren’t looking. How cool would it be if we
both
ended up at Condé Nast? I called to tell her the news, and she congratulated me on getting an interview, but warned me that if I didn’t “look the part,” Human Resources would send me home with nothing but a stack of complimentary magazines.

“Make sure you look good, Jacqueline!” she told me. “Get a blowout and a manicure before you come in. And you might want to tone up a little, too.”

I knew that the girls in New York looked like models, but this was a
job interview,
not the velvet rope at Spa. Nevertheless, I had an outstanding resume and a charming personality. How could they
not
hire me?

Obviously, I had much to learn.

“SO HOW DID IT GO?”
Naomi asked. We met outside for a cigarette after my interview. I didn’t smoke, but I liked to pretend that I did. Smoking looked so good on me. Besides, it gave me something to do whenever I felt like goofing off and standing around outside.

I opened the L.L. Bean Boat and Tote that I used as a handbag, realizing that it didn’t look right with the heavy gabardine pantsuit that I was wearing in June. It was the only suit that I owned at the time, and it was all wrong.

Everything about me was wrong: I had put my hair up in a messy ponytail because I was sweating in all of that wool, and my clunky Nine West shoes needed shining, but why bother shining $40 shoes? No makeup, no tan, no manicure:
wrong, wrong, wrong.

I showed Naomi the stack of free magazines that the Human Resources manager had given me before she showed me the way out.

“They would have given you a
job,
” Naomi told me, “if you had put yourself together like I told you to.”

Naomi was wearing a giraffe-print Tracy Feith dress, gold stiletto-heeled sandals, and huge gold bangles on her arms. This was what entry-level employees wore to the offices at Condé Nast. She looked like
Vogue
, she looked like
Mademoiselle.
Naomi looked the part. Then I realized just how dumpy I looked in comparison. I needed a makeover ASAP.

“Did they make you sit in one of the Skinny Chairs?” Naomi asked, but I wasn’t sure what she was talking about.

“They have these chairs in there,” she explained. “If your ass goes over the edges when you sit down, they won’t hire you.”

She glanced at my posterior.

“I don’t think you fit in,” she concluded.

“Too much pizza and beer up at Syracuse,” I explained, embarrassed that I was too big for the Big Girls at Condé Nast.

Naomi looked horrified.

“New York girls don’t eat,” she said. “Learn it. Live it.”

Chapter 2

I
f Washington’s dirty little secret was sex, New York’s was its epidemic of eating disorders.
Everybody
had one. It was de rigueur. It was just a part of the Big City makeover that every girl got when she arrived in New York and realized that she needed to step up her game. You start getting your hair blown out and your nails done, and you buy yourself a Kate Spade handbag and a whole new size-zero wardrobe at the Tocca sample sale. When you’re done shopping, you have no money left to buy food anyway, so it’s just as well.

Not that I was paying for anything anymore. Now that I was thin and gorgeous, New York was the friendliest city in the world: Guys held doors for me, I no longer had to stand on line for
anything,
and it seemed like rich men were always looking for an underfed waif who needed a benefactor.

Why would they be so generous with a girl they hardly knew? Because, unlike their ungrateful wives and spoiled mistresses, I showed these men some
appreciation
. And the nicer I was to them, the nicer they would be to me. It was win-win.

I considered all of this a learning experience. No matter what girl power bullshit you read in
Sassy
magazine, or what your ivory tower women’s studies professors at university try to tell you, this world is no meritocracy. It revolves around looks and money. Period. When I was in New York, it was the age of Britney Spears and
Maxim
magazine. You could either miss out on all the fun, or you could make the most of the fact that people were so fucking shallow and take them for all they were worth. Maybe you could even make them see the error of their ways, if you wanted to be moralistic about it.

So I was going out
every
night, and, yes, I was taking drugs and having one-night stands and all that “crazy shit” that young, gorgeous people do. I was unemployed, living in the city that never sleeps, so why not go out and have a good time? I almost didn’t
want
to be employed. I didn’t want to be one of those dreary people who had to get out of bed at eight in the morning to go to some pain-in-the-ass job every day.

Nevertheless, I once again felt like I was missing out on something. I mean, every time you meet someone new, the first question they always ask is, “What do you do?” I could only be a “party girl” for so long. After I hit twenty-two, it just looked sad. I needed a career, if only for appearance’ sake.

My friend Diane hired me for a high-paying copywriting position at an Internet start-up some rich dude had put her in charge of. Of course, they were fucking, so she could do whatever she wanted, and
I
could do whatever I wanted because I was good friends with my boss.

Diane met Naomi and me when we were interns at MTV Networks the summer before my sophomore year. Diane was the one who took us to Twilo for the first time. Naomi and I weren’t into the club scene back then. We didn’t understand what all the hype was about. Twilo was just a big black room with a disco ball, filled with sweaty people and thumping trance music. If you were sober, it was a living hell. Then Diane gave us our first hits of ecstasy, and we understood
everything.
About a half hour after dropping, Twilo suddenly became Heaven on Earth, and Diane became our new best friend.

Naomi eventually left her shit-paying job at
Mademoiselle
to join Diane and me at the dot-com, so it was the three of us, working and partying together again. We were paid huge salaries to nurse each other’s hangovers in the morning and shop for party outfits at Century 21 in the afternoon. And we ran a Web site, when we weren’t too busy.

During the dot-com era, there were IPO parties every night of the week on Wall Street. I eventually met my fiancé at one such party. He thought I was a waitress because I was carrying a tray full of drinks, but I was really stocking up before the open bar ended. I gave him a vodka gimlet from my tray, and he gave me a twenty-dollar tip, which I thought was very nice. I gave the twenty back to him, shoving it down his pants. He invited me to his table, and we hit it off right away.

Mike was a boy from Woodside, Queens, a son of a cop who had made good on Wall Street. With his big blue eyes, I found him absolutely adorable, and he wasn’t an asshole or a pervert, like most of the Wall Street guys I had met. I felt very lucky to have found a normal guy in New York and believed that Mike was the man I would marry. He was a great catch.

Diane’s dot-com inevitably went bankrupt and the rich guy dumped her. We lost our cushy jobs, putting an end to all the fun we were having. The party was over, and we had to get real jobs in the real world. But I was able to put off my job search indefinitely when Mike asked me to move in with him. He paid all of the bills and gave me a shopping allowance, which begged the question: Why bother working when I can be a wealthy housewife?

I had plenty of leisure time to work on my backhand, read every Harry Potter book in print, and try the recipes in the
New York Times Magazine
. Mike took very good care of me. It was my reward for looking pretty, smiling all the time, and cooperating in the bedroom.

I was ready to marry young and retire from the Fly Life. I already had the typical “when-I-was-young-and-crazy-and-lived-in-New-York” experience that included excessive drug use, group sex, crazy boyfriends, and lots of dancing. At this point in my life, cooking spaghetti dinners and renting movies with Mike every Saturday night felt
good
, like I was in rehab or something. I wasn’t fighting hangovers every day or waking up in strange places anymore, and I pitied my single friends who still spent their Saturday nights waiting on line for hours to get into Twilo.

But as the months passed, I started to feel like a mental patient, watching television and reading magazines all day. Naomi and Diane had settled down with careers and pseudohusbands of their own, so I had nobody to go out with anymore. I asked Mike to take me out, but he hated the club scene. He was an awful dancer and drugs frightened him. My nightlife was ruined and it was all Mike’s fault. He was obviously robbing me of all the fun I deserved to have as a young, gorgeous female in Manhattan, so I began acting out: I stopped cleaning and the apartment turned to squalor; I quit cooking and insisted on eating out every night; I made him watch
Gone With the Wind
with me instead of the Super Bowl.

I guess I knew that I could get away with all of this because Mike loved me so much, but I was really in no position to pick any fights with him. I had no money of my own, no prospects, and a growing employment gap on my resume. I had no security until we made it legal. Therefore, I had to get him to marry me.

And
what
year was this? Couldn’t I get a job? Sure, I just didn’t want to. Remember, I had my heart set on becoming a wealthy housewife. Ever since we started living together, everyone kept asking me when the “Big Day” was. Apparently, when you’re female, your wedding day is the big moment that your entire life is leading up to. So I waited for Mike to propose.

I waited and waited. Finally, he did, while we were on vacation in the Virgin Islands. (Where he could buy my engagement ring tax-free.) But I wasn’t waiting all this time to get
engaged.
I wanted to get
married
: run down to City Hall, fill out the forms, and move on with our lives. But no, we had to plan a wedding, my Big Day. But to me, an engagement was just a way of stalling, and the four-carat ring on my finger was just Mike’s way of buying himself more time: time to bail out on me, time to change his mind. I cradled myself in resentment toward him for making me wait.

While I was busy stewing in my own juices, life was passing me by. I hadn’t been to Twilo in months. Then the city shut down the club suddenly one Saturday night. I heard it on 1010 WINS the morning after, while I was making breakfast for Mike. It was the end of an era, the official end of my young adulthood. The greatest megaclub that New York had ever seen was closed forever, and I would never drop E beneath its big disco ball again. From now on, I would spend my Saturday nights watching DVDs, going to bed before midnight, and having mediocre sex with the same person. Was that what my entire life had been leading up to?

The months passed, and I was still unmarried, still unemployed. I felt myself getting old, my youth and beauty fading. I was twenty-five years old and had nothing to show for it. There had to be more than this, or I was going to end up killing myself by the time I turned thirty.

So when Kevin, an ex-boyfriend from college, called me unexpectedly, I agreed to meet him, out of melancholy nostalgia.

Kevin and I had had an ongoing flirtation via e-mail since graduation, which was culminating in this visit. Kevin was flying halfway across the country just to see me again.It was the most exciting thing to happen to me in months.

That afternoon, I told Mike I was going to the movies with a girlfriend and then snuck off to meet Kevin at Bemelmans Bar, in the Carlyle Hotel.

After a couple whisky smashes, it was like we never broke up. The piano player provided the usual evocative background music (“As Time Goes By”), and I totally forgot what an asshole Kevin had been in college.

Then he told me that he had a room upstairs with a great view of the Manhattan skyline.

“I’d love to see it,” I told him, and I forgot all about Mike.

BOOK: The Washingtonienne
12.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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