Lunch Crowd

I’m sitting in the food court at the train station, carelessly flipping through what is a very uninteresting newspaper. Across from me sits a table of young professionals – five in total – and I suspect that wherever they work is most likely their first job out of college.
It is their enthusiasm for lunch that betrays them – like they are still expecting there to be recess as soon as they finish their cartons of milk and scrape clean their pudding cups. The two men: bright-eyed, with just a hint of acne, and necks a bit too skinny for their big-man shirts and ties. The three women: bubbly, with nighttime makeup, and more than a bit of discomfort in their skirt suits.
Seeing these youngsters in their business attire reminds me of when I first met my friend Dee-Dee. We had both just been hired on as interns in the marketing research department at a company in Milwaukee, and were eager to make a good impression. Me with my nude pantyhose and long skirts, and Dee-Dee with her shoulders. Well, shoulder pads, really, but the image of her grand entrance into the office was that of a Donna Karan linebacker sashaying down a catwalk.
I was in earth tones and tasteful pearl earrings, but Dee-Dee meant business in her head-to-toe black. On her initial tour of the company, she was mistakenly led into the CEO’s office as he was meeting our new General Counsel.
“Dave! So nice to see you again! Great to have you as part of the team. We’re going to have to get you involved in our annual golf outing – we could use some fresh blood! And hello, I’m sorry… I don’t think we’ve met yet…”
“I’m Dee-Dee… the new intern in the marketing research department.”
With her powerful handshake extending from her even more powerful suit, it was clear from that moment that Dee-Dee would quickly climb the ladder at this company.
Years passed and dress codes grew lax. Professional Attire led to Casual Fridays which became Business Casual Always and finally Jeans Fridays. But still, Dee-Dee kept the suit. It hung in her closet like Excalibur, the source of her strength and symbol of her rise to power. She couldn’t give it up, nor the flowy chiffon pants that she and her college roommate Natasha bought on sale at Banana Republic in 1990, convinced that they would cut them up and sew them into curtains for their first apartment.
A few years ago, when Dee-Dee was rearranging her apartment, she decided to finally clean out the closet in her spare bedroom. Natasha, who had long since traded the rolling meadows of Milwaukee for the towering skyscrapers of Chicago, was in town for a visit. I was at home watching TV when Nat called me in a semi-coherent panic, yelling at me to come over to Dee’s house immediately. I expected to discover a fire or flood, but instead, found a fashion show. Natasha’s eyes were puffy from crying, as she sat in a heap of clothes on the floor of Dee-Dee’s bedroom, a half-empty bottle of wine at her side.
“Ohmigod! Jenny – get in here now! Dee’s trying on her old work clothes!”
I walked in just as Dee-Dee was buttoning up her pirate blouse. I immediately let out a most unflattering cackle, and made a bee-line to the closet. Rifling through her clothes like a madwoman, I threw one outfit after another at her.
“Here – put on this paisley vest with that collarless shirt! No wait – this short jacket with the gold buttons – try this one on!”
There were bursts of hysterical laughter followed by long periods of silence as we tried hard to pull air into our lungs. By the end, every square inch of Dee’s floor was covered with a period piece of some sort. Just as we started to pack things up and put them into bags for the Salvation Army, Dee-Dee yelled for us to stop. She crawled deep into the darkest corner of her closet and emerged bearing the pièce de résistance: hounds tooth plaid stretch pants. I blacked out shortly thereafter.
The table of young upwardly mobile professionals is laughing loudly, nearly choking on burgers and Chinese food. Lunch is still a thrill for them. One of the men has packed a lunch from home and takes big bites of his sandwich followed by gulps of Dr. Pepper.
I look down at my Caesar chicken wrap and blame Dee-Dee for my own inability to pack a lunch. During the near decade that we worked together, I can count on one hand the number of times we brought in our lunches. Even when I would try to be healthy and save money, Dee-Dee would tempt me with soup and sandwich specials at the local deli, or sushi lunch boxes in the strip mall. I grew to need the physical escape more than the food itself.
I am finishing up my lunch as the table of future executives crumples up wrappers, straightens ties, and shuffles back to work, laughing the entire way. I continue flipping through the paper and notice a headline: “Stretch pants are back!”
And so the cycle continues.

19 Responses to “Lunch Crowd”

  1. sandra Says:

    “hounds tooth plaid stretch pants”
    Are those back, too? Or just stretch pants in general? I need to know these things when I go shopping next…

  2. sween Says:

    God. Thinking back to unfortunate workplace fashion choices of the 90s. I remember everyone wearing Looney Tunes ties — my coworker with the foot-high Tweetie Bird always stood out to me.
    And then there was me with my pechant for *vests*… [shudder].
    I’m much more fashionable now.
    It’s not hard to be. There is no where to go but up.
    And roughly sideways.
    And in the odd swirly circle.

  3. Pants Says:

    Does this mean I don’t have to throw away my nude stirrup pants? Only kidding, I would never throw away my nude stirrup pants, they’re part of my white trash costume. They match my beer cozy that says “These ARE my dress clothes.”

  4. egan Says:

    I still have all my flannel shirts from the early 90’s Seattle grunge rock scene. I can’t wait for that look to be in again.

  5. jenny Says:

    sandra: I don’t know if stirrups are back, but according to the Sun-Times, leggings are…
    sween: oh, the vests. were they sweater vests, or like 3-pc suit kind of vests? Because I wore the 3-pc suit kind. yes. yes, i did.
    pants: you must never throw away the nude stirrup pants. in fact, i would pay good money for you to post a picture of yourself in them on your site!
    egan: did flannel ever really go out? i used to go to thrift stores to get the really nice pendleton flannels. (okay, i might still have one or two of them…)

  6. Kevin Says:

    People eat lunch in Union? I never realized that.

  7. Jessica Says:

    Jenny…love the post but I really came by to tell you that I had a dream about you last night…you were hanging out with some people and when you left, you forgot a bag you had been carrying. I picked it up and was keeping it for you – and then thought it would be funny to wrap it up and give it to you for your birthday. Weird, huh?

  8. Tracy Lynn Says:

    Dude, the leggings, Oh My God, the leggings…I had them in velvet. And I had a sort of suit-at-the-top-leggings-at-the-bottom-one-piece thing as well.
    *gasp* I just remembered my favorite outfit: Giant sweater, leggings, and cowboy boots.
    I’m going to go lie down now.

  9. Denny Shane Says:

    Hey Jen…
    I came here from Deni’s blog and your comment and glad I did. I found myself chuckling with your posting. But those were the good old days… lol
    Stop by my blog anytime and give a shout!

  10. eclectic Says:

    Aw, there you go being all sage and wise mixed in with your make-me-laugh-out-loud. So not fair that you can unwind a story like that, but one of the reasons I blove you so! However, I will not wear my flap-pocket stirrup pants ever again, even if they circle back in, and not even if you offer me good money to do so.

  11. dee-dee Says:

    Sometimes the truth hurts, and sometimes it hurts from laughing so hard — as I recall at you at one point tried on the very tapered, tapered so tight that we could barely get a foot in black high waisted linen pants that went with the shoulder pads…didn’t everyone have 4 variations of the pirate shirt from Tweeds catalogue?

  12. jaymarie Says:

    how cool is it that you have girlfriends that will call you up for a fashion show, wine included, to laugh at each other (or at least to laugh at Dee.) i love it.

  13. jenny Says:

    Kevin: people do all sorts of things at Union that you probably don’t want to know about.
    Jessica: why are you such a thief in your dreams? what if i had something really really important in that bag? i can’t wait until my bday!
    Tracy Lynn: NOO!! Leggings with cowboy boots, only slightly better than the leggings with short black shoe boots with the buckle on the side!!
    Denny: Hey – thanks for stopping by. I’ll swing by your place later!
    shari: “Flap pocket?” Where was the flap? I might need a diagram, please.
    dee-dee: I actually just started crying-laughing because I had totally forgotten about the super tight tapered legs that I couldn’t get out of. Oh man… those were the days!
    jaymarie: It’s sooo cool. And believe me – I had more than my share of laughable clothes, including a pair of super wide legged sailor pants that are the reason certain members of my circle, to this day, still call me Jenny Funpants. (Or Jenny Crazy Pants, or Jenny Kookie Pants, or some variation thereof)

  14. Jessica Says:

    Jen – In my dreams, I’m only a thief of hearts.
    Also, I’ve decided to keep your bag of tricks; perhaps you shouldn’t comment that you actually like a bad art submission so closely to your birthday (NOW guess whatcha gonna get?!).

  15. Anonymous Says:

    Dear Jenny,
    Remember how thanks to my anti-fashion nonprofit jobs, I was able to make good use of your and Dee-Dee’s corporate hand-me-downs? In fact, I still do! I’m not too proud to admit that just last week I wore Dee’s superthick kinda floods Land’s End navy wool dress pants. How old are those pants? In any event, I miss you ladies and your clothes!

  16. jenny Says:

    jess: Excellent! You fell right into my trap!
    Viv: Now, were they “hand-me-downs” or “steal-me-outta-Jenny’s-closets?” Because I know full well that you still have my all-purpose black short-sleeved top that never wrinkles and is perfect for business trips and looks great under a blazer. Don’t try to deny it. ;)
    [ps – when I come to NYC in April, we’re soooo going jeans shopping!]

  17. sween Says:

    Jenny, I wore BOTH kinds of vests. I went through a veritable vest *phase*.
    I also once owned a Loveboy album. *shudder*

  18. ms. sizzle Says:

    some fashions should just stay in the past. did anyone ever look good in stretch pants? really?
    :) sizz

  19. romy Says:

    i have MISSED leggings !
    you just made my day. i have one pair that i use for running, and believe me, nothing is better to run in. oh, leggings. i had them in dark-red velvet, beige, hunter green, charcoal grey, navy blue, black, dark green-and-blue plaid with tiny red flecks in the pattern, brown, black, black, black, black. the last black ones, purchased in paris in 1999, have survived.
    come back, leggings, come back.