I haven’t looked my best at work lately. Over the last few weeks, I’ve gotten into the habit of immediately hitting “snooze” when I hear my alarm go off at 6:30am. Forty-five minutes later, I’ll force myself out of bed, pull on whatever jeans and t-shirt I can find crumpled up in a heap on the floor, and ease my feet into my blue and purple Adidas. After rolling some deodorant against my stubbly pits and rubbing cornstarch into my oily, sweaty scalp, I’ll consider myself good to go. The t-shirts are usually stained, the jeans are usually smelly, and, while it may be a great alternative to dry shampoo, the cornstarch tends to leave a powdery build up in the part of my hair.
I’m sexy. And you know it.
My appearance doesn’t affect anyone else’s workday. That is, I didn’t think it affected anyone else’s workday until the foxy Frenchman made a comment about it on Tuesday.
The Frenchman is one of the most amusing people in the office. He asks hilariously European questions, such as,”Stéphanie, if I were to put a banana in ze freezer, what would happen?” When I first started at this company a year ago, he used to ask me questions about the bun I would wear in my hair: “How deed you make eet so pear-fect? Eet eez like a dough-nut!” He has great arms despite his claims that he never works out. He rides a motorcycle. He’s classic.
“Stéphanie,” he said to me on Tuesday when I passed him in the hall, “Remember when you used to dress nice at work?”
I flipped him off.
“No, really,” he continued. “Do you remember?”
My only indication that this was an earnest question lost in translation as opposed to an outright dig was the fact that he was smiling the same doofy smile that was plastered across his face when he once asked me if his pants were too tight. Still, I wasn’t thrilled to be put on the spot.
I said, “Fuck you” and walked away.
Maybe he should have kept his mouth shut. Regardless, I knew I didn’t look nice. Far from it. For weeks. I asked myself, Would you like to put more effort into your appearance? The answer was Yes. I asked myself, Is this for the foxy Frenchman, or for yourself? The answer was, For my damn self!
Wednesday went fine. I got out of bed at 7:00 instead of 7:15, which gave me just enough time for a quick shower. I put on a black tank top, a blue cardigan, jeans that had been hanging up in my closet, and knee high boots. The foxy Frenchman told me, “See? You are like a new person!” I flipped him off.
Thursday was the same. I got up at 7:00, sprayed sweet-smelling dry shampoo in my hair, and put on a clean dress. When I got home that night I took a shower, blow dried my hair, and selected a dress to wear the next day. I chose a Free People dress I had splurged on in July during an intense “Oh My God, What Am I Going To Wear To All The Nick Cave Shows I’m Seeing This Week?” shopping spree. I didn’t end up wearing it to Nick Cave, but I did wear it to Neutral Milk Hotel. I felt like a Harvest Moon Princess.
“Look at me,” I thought to myself as I got into my bed at 9:30 on Thursday night. “Look at how much better I feel about my appearance, all because I am making an effort to make a minimal amount of effort.”
This morning began as the two previous mornings had. Up at 7:00. Contacts in. Deodorant on. Sweet-smelling dry shampoo sprayed. After I put on my Harvest Moon Princess dress, I heard my roommate call my name and ask if I was ready to leave. I wasn’t ready. Not quite. Still, I grabbed my car key from my purse and followed her downstairs to the garage. We each have a place to park, but our spaces are tandem — one of us is always blocking the other in, regardless of how convenient that is. It’s a bit of a pain, but my roommate and I seem to have an understanding. There’s not much we can do besides communicate with each other when one of us has to get the hell to work.
She pulled away. I re-parked my car. When I got out and walked to the door that leads to the lobby, I saw that it was open ajar. This door is usually shut and locked. Shit, that’s lucky, I thought. I don’t have my key with me. I pushed the door open, walked through the lobby, and stepped into the elevator. I felt the weight of my car key in my hand. My one key. My car key. I gasped.
I didn’t have the key to the lobby, which meant I didn’t have the key to the apartment, which meant I was in a situation. About a month ago, my parents warned me that if there were too many keys hanging on my keychain, the weight of everything could mess up my car’s ignition. Ever since that conversation, I have been keeping my car key separate from all the others. In my hurry to move my car so that my roommate could leave for work, I had forgotten to grab all of my damn keys. (Note to self: come up with a slightly better way of keeping your keys organized.)
I arrived at my floor and ran to my apartment. Locked. I ran around the corner to where the apartment manager lives and knocked on his door. No answer. I knocked a bit more assertively. Nothin’. I banged on his door with both hands. Still nothin’. I got down on my knees, opened the mail slot in his door, and yelled, “HELLLOOOOO?”
I gave up and ran back to my apartment. I tried the handle again. Still locked. I thought that since only the door handle lock was locked (as opposed to the dead bolt), perhaps I could force it open by jiggling the handle repeatedly and slamming my booty against the door. I tried this for a few seconds. It worked about as well as one might suspect it would.
Nervousness began to kick in. What time is it? How unimaginably horrible is the traffic getting with every passing second? Should I go out and find a pay phone and call the office to tell them I’m running late? How the hell will I get back inside the building if I do that? I’m not wearing shoes! I can’t go to work without any shoes! Underwear! I didn’t have time to put on underwear before I went downstairs!
Staring down at the lock, I tried to think of ways to force it open without slamming my booty against the door. Never in my life had I successfully picked a lock, but what if I could do it now? Along with all the other innocent, yet miscalculated things I regretted doing that morning, I cursed myself for removing the bobby pins I had used to pull back my bangs while I washed my face. Guess lock-picking is out of the question.
Suddenly, I remembered a scenario that took place in an episode of Friends I had once watched when I was a kid. The three women (I don’t remember all of their names) were trapped outside in the snow. They were with some guy (not any of the main guys — it was someone else), and they needed to get inside of somewhere (either a cabin or a car). The man asked which of them wore the biggest bra size, and he explained that he could use a part of a bra (underwire? clip?) to pick the lock. He said he needed to know who wore the biggest size, because that woman would have the biggest…the biggest lock-picking tool. Jennifer Aniston and Courtney Cox argued with each other over which of them had bigger boobs (neither of them wanted to have the biggest boobs, which made me feel very insecure as a pre-teen with significant breasts), and then Lisa Kudrow was like, “Shuttup bitches, I’ll give him my bra.” I changed the channel after that. Did the bra trick work? What part did he use? No idea.
Standing in the hallway at what was now probably 7:45am, I carefully pulled my left arm out of its sleeve. Then, I reached both hands around my back and undid my bra clasp. I slid the bra off my left arm, and then quickly put my arm back in my dress sleeve. I repeated the process on the right side, slipping my sleeve off, slipping the bra off, and then covering up as swiftly as possible.
Once I had the bra in my hands, I wasn’t sure what to do. It was a flimsy old thing that needed to be replaced, so I wasn’t too upset about having to destroy it. Still, I wasn’t sure where to start. At first I tried to force my car key under one of the clasps in hopes it would help it slide out of the fabric. When that didn’t work, I took the bra in both hands and started to pull in opposite directions. After a brief, yet furious struggle, the tip of one of the underwires popped out. It was too big and too blunt to fit in the lock. Curses. I hooked the bra clasps together, and, once again, pulled in opposite directions. After a few seconds of twisting and pulling the pathetic bra while contorting my face into all kinds of ridiculous expressions and aggressively whispering, “Fuck, fuck, fuck,” one of the clasps popped out of the fabric. I bent the small piece of metal into a straight line, and then gently stuck it in the lock. Unsure of what to do next, I started wiggling the metal up and down, side to side, clockwise, and counter clockwise. When I tried the up and down motion again, the damn thing snapped, leaving half of it in my hand and half of it lodged inside the Godforsaken lock.
The feeling of defeat was palpable. I had no shoes, no underwear, and now, thanks to a desperate, half-formed idea inspired by an old episode of Friends I never finished watching, no bra. My purse was inside my apartment, along with my phone, my makeup bag, my black sandals I had planned to wear, and the food I had planned to bring with me for lunch.
Should I just go to work?
I remembered I had a pair of brown boots in my trunk. They would work. I still had my car key, which was a good thing. This doesn’t have to be that big of a deal.
I walked back downstairs and opened my trunk. I zipped up my boots and got in the car. I put on my sunglasses, slid The Pogues’ Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash into my CD player, and thought about how much easier this morning would have been if I had the ability to walk through vaulted doors.
I got to work on time. Early, in fact. I had time to drink a cup of tea and enjoy the silence of an empty office. When I was finished, I walked into the bathroom to check out how my boots coordinated with the dress. I was pleasantly surprised. I will definitely be wearing this outfit again. With socks, next time.
For a few more seconds, I admired my appearance in the mirror. My hair looked polished. My outfit was groovy. My makeup-free face looked pretty great, too. I felt confident. I didn’t feel like an artificial, overly done-up version of myself, nor did I feel like the lazy, slightly smelly version of myself I had recently been showcasing. I was just me. Silly old me, with a pretty dress, no socks, and a torn up bra in my trunk.
When I returned to my desk, I opened up my email. I threw a few old messages away and printed out my boss’ daily edition of The Hollywood Reporter. I was about to get up to get a second cup of tea when I heard someone enter my doorway.
“Stéphanie,” said the foxy Frenchman. “Zat eez a great dress.”
I flipped him off. As he walked away, I smiled as I imagined how I must have looked while I was struggling to tear my bra in half. Maybe after I get my next paycheck I’ll treat myself to Chantelle. And a keychain.