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 sur-prise 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 ever-changing 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.
I just can’t use Morgan, though. Not after watching her own father toss her out into society to be devoured like she was a piece of meat thrown to lions. Morgan has been used enough. Her father actually asks her to preen when dirty old men salivate over her—thinking perhaps the additional testosterone will pry open their moth-ridden wallets. Ick! No, I just can’t do that to Morgan. If anything, I need to help her escape her gilded cage. Not add padding to the nest.
Morgan is so beautiful, so put-together that when she befriended me in college, it made me forget I was an object of scorn, laughed at for my hair. Hanging around Morgan Malliard made me feel like the princess she is. She made me feel important. Naturally, I knew Jesus loves me for who I am, but in college, having Morgan and Poppy as friends was like having Jesus in the flesh, right in the dorm. They made me feel loved and accepted more than anyone ever had. They still do.
“She’d put a sack on for you, Lilly,” Kim says of Morgan, and I know it’s true, which is the exact reason I won’t ask. Kim always seems like she doesn’t pay attention to anything going on around her, but she sees a lot more than she lets on. She’s the first to claim ignorance in any given situation and go on about her GED or lack of good breeding, but she’s got more sense than half the men in the Financial District, generally speaking. That’s not to say she doesn’t have her issues.
My Spa Girls seem to inhabit a different universe from Kim and me. Morgan Malliard lives in a mansion on Nob Hill, wearing her father’s jewelry for a living at different social events. Poppy Clayton heals people by cracking their bones and doling out sage biblical wisdom, along with botanical herbs. I live a different existence, with debt the size of California itself, a futon, and an expensive education—that’s doing what for me again?
My Nana, who raised me, is living in a six-hundred-square-foot attached studio, for which I feel fully responsible. She sold her house when my undergraduate scholarship ran out—never even told me she was selling, though it had been my childhood residence and the only place I knew as home. She didn’t put a sign out or anything. Just one day she had her crumbling foundation, Formica-countered house, and the next day she had a cashier’s check for $375,000 after taxes and mortgages. Welcome to the Bay Area. Doesn’t that sound like a mint? Yeah, it did to us too. Once upon a time, before I slept on a futon.
I grab my bag, a freebie that has Sara Lang written across it. Ugh, like I needed that. I spray it with Lysol just to show Sara what I actually think of her. “I’m going to the spa this weekend,” I say to Kim. Translation: Don’t get drunk. I won’t be here to drive you home. “Morgan’s paying for it yet again. You’d think with all the spa dates I need, God would have seen fit to provide me a better income.”
Kim is moving around the room with an iPod bud in one ear. “Quite frankly, if I had a friend like Morgan, I’d harass her to no end until she wore my designs. What would I have to lose?”
This from the woman who thinks being the designated driver is the job description for roommate. And I don’t even have a car!
“Is this what you planned for your life? Living in an airplane that never leaves the runway? That’s what it sounds like.” Kim yanks her hair up into a ponytail, pulls out the earbud, and changes the now-heated subject. “What are you doing until this weekend? Are you showing up at work tomorrow? What are you going to wear?”
“Of course I’m showing up. I can’t pay for all this luxury,” I sweep my hands around the dumpy room, “without a job.”
“I’m going out with the gang tonight,” Kim explains. “We’re going to diss Shane at Happy Hour. Want to come? Free food.”
“No thanks.” I look down at my Bible and a twinge of guilt suddenly explodes within. “Maybe Shane deserved that promotion.”
She lifts an eyebrow. “Being a Christian doesn’t mean you should lie just to be nice. Am I right? Besides, he’ll be worried about our opinions tomorrow, so I figure that gives us this one day to vent, but good. And what better way than over cosmopolitans and free food?”
I toss the Sara Lang bag on the bed and grab some microwave popcorn while Kim gets dressed in her “bedroom,” better known as behind the Chinese silk screen partition—a Poppy hand-me-down. I chug my first Diet Pepsi of the binge. My eye wanders to a picture next to the fridge: Poppy, Morgan, and me in Stanford sweatshirts with mud packs on our faces.
What a weird threesome: Morgan, the aloof, nearly friendless princess everyone loved to hate; Poppy, the flaky, hemp-wearing Stevie Nicks of the late 1990s; and me, at Stanford on a government grant, meeting their “affordable-education” quota. Three misfits brought together out of sheer necessity (no one else wanted anything to do with us). It’s amazing what social ineptitude can do for female bonding.
We three dateless wonders somehow all ended up at a Stanford social, but there must have been something better going on somewhere else because we were the crowd. We had a dorm lounge, a TV/VCR combo and Edward Scissorhands all to ourselves. We bonded over Johnny Depp sighs, Now & Laters, and our love for Jesus.
Most importantly, that night we learned that all of us were raised without a mother. Mine ran off when my dad was killed and left me with my Nana. Poppy’s was in and out of her life in between communes, and Morgan’s died young from an un-expected stroke. It was enough to bond us for life. And it did.
Since that time, I’ve realized that it wasn’t all that accidental that the three of us are dateless. Morgan runs everything past her overbearing and ridiculous father, who never approves of anyone without a solid portfolio and an advanced age. Poppy, meanwhile, often runs dates off with her alternative-medicine diatribe, telling them how their headaches are caused by poor liver function and the like. She makes men feel completely emasculated, as though she’s saying, “You are absolutely void of testosterone. I cannot find a male hormone within you.”
Me? As I’ve said, I am incapable of speaking properly when attracted to a man, so I tend to stick with men I’m not attracted to. With all our quirks, this makes for a rather passionless existence for all three of us. So rather than plan our weddings, we go to the spa and whine about the complete and utter lack of available men in San Francisco. When crises arise, we head to Spa Del Mar in central California. It’s a pretty cheesy spa, as far as luxury goes, but now that we (meaning Poppy and Morgan) can afford better, we’re too attached to our precious, dumpy Del Mar. Morgan always pays for my portion of the spa. She insists, and I’ve stopped fighting her. It’s like paying for 7-11 coffee for me: insignificant to her bank account. If we were going to the Golden Door or something, I could understand, but Spa Del Mar? Not an issue.
Kim emerges from behind the screen wearing a micro-mini skirt, a faux fur jacket, and a matching furry purse. She takes notice of my silent disapproval. “Just never mind. It’s what I’m wearing. At least I have a place to go.”
“Suit yourself,” I say. Or not, I add silently, unwrapping the popcorn and putting the bag in the microwave.
Someone knocks at the door. “That must be my ride.” Kim opens the door, and her expression visibly falls. It’s Nate, our upstairs neighbor. He looks at Kim’s skirt, or should I say lack of skirt, and I see his face contort in confusion.
“Hi, Nate,” I say from the kitchenette.
“Hey, gals.” Nate lets himself in, as Kim has deemed his presence unimportant in her life and has walked away with the door open. “I just wanted to come by and let you know someone tried to break into my place today. The police came, but if you hear anything suspicious, just call them, okay?”
Nate has completely remodeled his loft, and it looks like something out of an architectural magazine. He’s also an engineer, so the entire contents of his office look like a Best Buy store. Ah, the soothing style of slick, black particle board. Trendy, and oh-so-practical.
We, by contrast, have a TV set. An old nineteen-inch TV set. With rabbit ears—pointed ineffectively at the raised window.
“I don’t think the burglars will be by here, Nate,” I counter. “I mean, I bet they could get a whopping fifty cents for that sewing table on eBay. With shipping, it’s completely worthless. Sadly, I think we’re safe.”
“I just don’t like you two down here alone. You want to borrow Charley for a couple days?” Nate asks.
Charley, his mutt who smells worse than my musty loft? The dog with a draining ear issue? “No, thanks. I’m going away this weekend, so just keep an eye on Kim. Kim, do you want Charley?”
Kim wanders back into the loft. “I can handle myself. I’ll wait for my ride downstairs.” Kim rolls her eyes. Nate is about as mainstream as they come, and therefore of no interest to Kim. She tends to lean toward bad boys who ride “hogs” and who are more covered by tattoos than not.
Kim breezes by Nate, and he watches her go down the hallway. “She’ll have plenty of offers for rides in that getup.” He shakes his head.
“You’re probably right, but you can’t tell Kim anything. At least she’s not driving, so I can keep my ten o’clock bedtime. Come on in for some popcorn. It’s almost done,” I say, listening to the quick succession of pops in the microwave.
Nate saunters in, wearing his UC Davis sweatshirt and a pair of holey jeans. He’s just heavenly to look at, sort of a cross between Hugh Grant and Bill Gates. I wish he was my type, but he’s too into electronics and technological advancements for me. A conversation with him always includes acronyms that make me think he’s speaking another language. MIS, IT, JPEG—it all gives me a vicious headache.
Maybe working with creative types is warping me, but life with Nate has got to be exasperating. And with Charley as part of the deal? It’s simply not negotiable. There’s not enough Lysol in the world. Nate has a view of the Bay Bridge and a complete lack of desire to “venture out” into the beautiful city he takes for granted. He’d rather see the world through the Internet, international phone calls, and ethnic takeout. His speed dial reads like a mall food court:
Pradeep (chicken tandoori)
Rupert (shepherd’s pie)
Hao (sweet and sour pork)
Junien (brie—not mall court fare, but what else do the French eat?)
“So where you going this weekend?” Nate goes to my fridge and pulls out a Diet Pepsi for himself.
“It’s a Spa Girls weekend.” Even as I say it, I feel my body relax.
“Ah, girls and goop. Doesn’t get much better than that, huh?” He takes a swig of soda.
It sure doesn’t. I flop onto my futon and grin at him. “If you’re destined to be a loser in this lifetime, a chemical peel can at least make you look good while you’re at it.”