Thursday, December 22, 2011

Maybe Ed Hardy Wasn’t So Bad After All

Last Thursday night, after a long day at the office, I made my way to the airport and grabbed a Los Angeles bound flight. A close friend from college was in the midst of a crisis. And though work was in overdrive and I had plenty of holiday-related tasks to tend to, off I went for a quick 3-day visit.

Los Angeles has always felt like a foreign land to me. My sense of direction is off and I’m repeatedly distracted by the curious way people present themselves. More importantly, I feel like an outsider in LA. I can strut through Bergdorf’s on 5th Avenue like I own the place. But at the bustling Barney’s just off Rodeo, I cower in the corner by a display of expensive French fragrances and hide from the masses.

“That guy looks like such a tool,” I mumbled as I picked at the cheese plate and nodded toward the DJ spinning music.

We were seated in the bar of a West Hollywood restaurant and the scene was defined by fur vests, tight leather pants and Louboutin stilettos. Even the men had a specific look, relying on untucked button-down shirts with textures and patterns not found on the east coast. It was like Rachel Zoe had styled the entire city. Literally.

“Who?” my friend asked.

Having been in LA for over a decade, she was completely immune to her surroundings. The guy ten feet to our right, a guy who was donning a tilted newsboy cap indoors while two chrome wallet-chains dangled off the hip of his skinny jeans, was just another zebra in her animal kingdom.

Over the course of my visit, my cloak of east coast sarcasm eventually melted away. I stopped scoffing at the population responsible for making Ed Hardy a household name. By the end of day two, I no longer flinched at the $100,000+ cars dominating the roadways. Suddenly I was eating fermented probiotic vegetables and purchasing crystals to cleanse my chakra.

“People are curiously friendly out here,” I said as we left a Beverly Hills boutique.

“You’re just used to the east coast where making eye contact with strangers is considered rude.”

It was refreshing to have a stranger invite me to pet her pedicured pooch, an offer triggered by my quiet cooing. It was nice knowing shopkeepers were genuinely pleased to help you, even if you didn’t make a purchase. And it almost seemed normal to invite a solo diner to pull his table next to ours at brunch on Sunday.

“I don’t want to intrude,” he said with a wave of his hand. “You two seem to be having plenty of fun without me.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” my friend and I said as we each grabbed a corner of his table and dragged it in our direction.

Later Sunday evening, I sat down on the floor of my friend’s condo and started packing my belongings. I refolded unworn shirts, tucked small items within my sneakers, and carefully shielded my tan leather jacket from the dirty soles of my black leather pumps.

“I wish you were staying,” my friend said as she sat down on the nearby sofa, a half-empty bottle of Kombucha in her right hand.

I stood up, pressed down on the top of my suitcase and zipped it closed. The quiet hum of Tibetan monk chants echoed through the condo. On the end-table I noticed the rose quartz and pyrite crystals I had bought the previous evening, crystals my friend had blessed on her altar. I set my suitcase to the side, sat down next to her on the sofa and leaned back into the pillows.

“You know, I can’t believe I’m saying this but me too.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I’m Norma Fucking Rae: Sticking It to the Man

I’ve known since July that I needed to find a new job. That my boss withheld my monthly commissions for the first half of the year was one hint. Him suggesting I go on COBRA immediately if I was potentially considering a relocation to Atlanta was another. Ignoring the fact that his COBRA proposal was both preposterous and illegal, the overall tone of the office has also become somber and sad. But I plugged away because sometimes the devil plays nice and oftentimes it is easier to stay put than to make a change. But in the last few days, additional inequity has surfaced.

“I just learned that, though I have been here the longest and have the highest level of education of any of my coworkers, including my boss, I got the lowest year-end bonus.”

“I’m not surprised,” Leslie said.

And to be honest, I wasn’t either. Somehow, it made perfect sense that someone with no college degree got a bonus 250% higher than mine and the guy who has only been here six years and can’t find his way out of a paper bag got a bonus 500% higher than mine. Yes, it would make sense that the only employee who is actually bringing in new clients and thus making the boss more money would be rewarded the least. Realizing there is no reasoning with a corrupt man, I finally started job hunting.

Friday night, drained from the events of the week, I got on the road for a quick weekend in DC. Somewhere in Delaware my mother rang.

“Are you okay?” my mom asked.

“Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?”

“Dad told me everything.”

“Oh, that. I’m fine.”

“PJ, you really should just screw him. You’re a smart, resourceful woman and he is clearly threatened by you. ”

It was perhaps the first time my mother ever genuinely built me up. This after years of being told my hair looks better straight, that I shouldn’t eat dessert, and that I should spend more time on the treadmill. It took someone else throwing the punches for my mom to truly mother me.

“I’ll be fine. I have a nice chunk of change on hand if things implode. But my goal is to keep my head down until I have a new opportunity lined up. Then I’ll tell him to fuck himself.”

“And Dad and I can help if you get stuck.”

It’s always nice to know you have a soft place to land. Leslie has outright said I can come live with her indefinitely. And my friend Samantha just moved into a gorgeous two-bedroom condo in Beverly Hills and offered the same. In a time dominated by economic turmoil and troubling unemployment numbers, it’s comforting to know I have the support of friends and family if things go haywire.

I got home from DC Sunday night and Monday morning I mustered the energy and courage to show up to work. The mere thought of being there for much longer left my shoulders tense and my head throbbing. Tuesday morning, I did it all over again. Except this time I considered bringing along a sippy cup of vodka to ease the pain. Then, just shy of noon, I received an email from a tech company I had applied to. The regional hiring manager had seen my resume and now wants to interview me.

Realistically speaking, I know that this is just the first hurdle of many. Even if I make it to the end of the interviewing process with an offer, it may not be an offer I am comfortable accepting. I am fully capable of being realistic and reasonable at a time when one can easily get distracted by excitement. So after one quick squeal and a samba shimmy in my chair, I closed the email and went back to work. Because if I’m really going to stick it to the man, I have to keep my plan to myself.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Keeping It Real

For the last few years, there has been some uproar about the way magazines and advertisers digitally alter photographs. The argument is that it presents a false sense of beauty that both girls and women can’t achieve. Jezebel, a pop-culture website, every so often posts a photoshop-of-horrors, the picture depicting a missing arm or a knee so small it couldn’t technically balance the weight of a pea. And sometimes they show a photo before and after it has been doctored.

I’m always amazed at the flaws you can see in the before picture. There are blemishes and scars along with crows feet and uneven skin tone. And it isn’t that I expect otherwise. It’s reasonable that Angelina Jolie has darkness under her eyes and Kim Kardashian’s thighs are dimpled with cellulite. You just never see it. This would explain why I’ve come to accept the portrayed perfection as real.

December marks the boom of another illusory presentation to the public: romance. From now through February, films like Bridget Jones’s Diary and Love Actually will play on a loop. He is aloof and she is flawed. But in the end he always gets the girl. Shit, even Buddy the goddam elf gets the girl. This time of year, that happy ending usually makes me cry.

For the most part, I don’t go through life feeling lonely. I have a group of close friends who can entertain me for hours on end. And I admittedly relish my alone time when I can disappear with a good book or go up and down every aisle at DSW without apology. But as the days shorten, as the temperatures dip, a hint of loneliness can sometimes bubble to the surface.

“Do you ever feel alone?” I asked my coworker as we picked at our Chick-fil-A sandwiches.

“Of course.” She answered without pause.

“Last night I cried myself to sleep,” I said as I reached for my diet lemonade. “And admitting that makes me feel so utterly pathetic.”

“You wouldn’t be human if you never felt lonely.”

I’m not sure she knew how much I needed to hear those words. It helped me swallow down the lump that was forming in my throat. It helped me stop beating myself up for once foolishly dubbing Alaska ‘Big’. And it helped me see that this perfect world where Mark Darcy returns to Bridget is nothing more than a digitally enhanced presentation of two made-up characters on a sound stage in Hollywood.

When I got back to my desk, I realized there are probably many people who, like me, fall into that trap of believing the falsehoods more than the truths. If I didn’t have cellulite, of course Alaska would have flown me to Paris and, at the top of the Eiffel Tower, admitted his mistakes and pleaded with me to marry him. And yes, in this scenario I am back-lit and a fan beyond the frame gently blows my tresses. But just because everything I see isn’t real doesn’t mean I’ll give up on a romantic ending. Reach for the stars and you just might touch them. But wear good concealer. Because it helps to feel pretty. And that minor tweak results in a far more beautiful image than anything created with Photoshop.