On a street right near my house sits a church with a sign on its expansive front lawn. I’m not sure who actually changes the letters on the sign or at what time of day the newest message to the public is thrown up there, but I do know that every few weeks new words appear. I’d think maybe it’s God himself, but sometimes things on the sign are spelled incorrectly and my guess is that God’s got fact checkers and editors and at least three wise men up there who would never let a “your” pass for a “you’re.”
The messages on that church’s sign are usually vaguely threatening, at least the way I read them. They are always blunt – as I guess a sign should be – and they involve commands like, “Kneel. He wants you to,” and I cannot help thinking in return, “But are you sure he wants you ending a sentence with a preposition?” This week the message on the sign is far more tempered than I’ve ever seen. There’s no verbal insistence that, “He died for your sins!” up there right now. Instead, the church just wants to remind all of us that we need to put the “Christ” back in “Christmas” and I’d probably be far more okay with that command if it didn’t remind me of the kind of thing Kathy Lee Gifford used to say back when she hosted that old morning show with Regis and she had her former face.
It is with those staunch instructions about Christmas and what it should mean in my mind that I entered the salon I go to at a quarter to nine a few nights ago. I figured that just as we ought to put the “Christ” back in “Christmas,” I also should probably put some highlights back in my hair. When I moved a few years ago, I realized that I would need a new pedicure place and a new dry cleaner and a new Trader Joe’s and a new vet and I called my friend Shannon every time I needed to know where I should go. “Where’s a waxing place that’s located near a bar so I can get a drink to numb the pain of having hair pulled off my nether regions with either hot wax or sugar?” I’d text her – and she would send back an address and a reminder to exhale through the pain. And since she steered me in the right direction when it came to hair removal, I figured she might be just the person to recommend someone who would tend to the hair I actually want to flash to the world.
Andrea did Shannon’s hair and she started to do mine also. The first time I sat down with her, I laid it out straight:
“Listen,” I explained slowly, seriously. “I don’t like major changes with my hair and I really don’t like inches being hacked off that we didn’t discuss for hours prior. Once I called in sick after a bad bangs experience. I don’t really bounce back from hair-related trauma very quickly.”
She nodded confidently and flung me around in the chair to take a look at what she was dealing with in the moment. My hair hung far too long down my back and there were seven greys at the top of my head – and I know that because I’d counted them that morning with tears in my eyes.
“Can you give me three inches?” she asked assertively, which was exactly the tone to take with me just then, right before I could become hysterical.
“Where will three inches leave my ends when it’s dry?” I responded. She pointed to a spot above my chest and I shook my head and we negotiated and then settled on two and a half inches instead and then she pulled out some foil and some dye and some scissors and the next thing I knew, I left that salon with hair the exact length we had agreed upon and blonde highlights I didn’t know I wanted in the first place.
(That one gorgeous guy who can cook aside, Andrea might be the single most important relationship I have formed over the last couple of years, and I say such a thing with no embarrassment in the slightest.)
Since it’s holiday time and my hair likes to look like I didn’t just rub my entire body against an electrical socket for kicks, it was time to carve out a few hours to get everything done again so Shannon and I decided to ask Andrea if we could go to the place after hours, if she’d keep it open for us. She agreed and that’s why I found myself trudging outside in the pouring rain late one evening to get into Shannon’s car. I brought my new puppy with me.
“Are you sure I can bring her to a salon?” I asked Shannon. She was the one who suggested I bring the dog in the first place.
“Of course!” she trilled back. “It’s just going to be us there!”
We arrived – and the place was packed. Apparently, other stylists had been contacted by their friends who wanted to look presentable in the coming days and so I walked into a crowded salon clutching a member of the canine family. But here, of course, is the thing: there’s nobody who can look at a three-pound happy puppy and not immediately move from the thought, “Why is there a dog here?” to “I need to hold that thing this instant!” I did what I needed to do and I pimped my dog out and let everyone pass her around and marvel over her ridiculous level of cuteness – which is staggering – and eventually everybody except us left. I’d been holding her the entire time, but I placed a wee wee pad on the ground and she went right to it and Shannon and Andrea and I applauded. Then she went tearing around the place, finding the pedicure station the most interesting. While I was getting highlights, I didn’t want her to breathe in the chemicals so I tasked Shannon with watching her and handed her the bone the dog likes to gnaw upon at all hours of the day and night. The next thing I knew, she was underneath the salon’s Christmas tree, reclining across the tree skirt near the nativity scene while nibbling on her bone.
“Is she okay?” I kept asking.
“She’s fine,” Shannon would respond.
“Are you sure she’s eating her bone and not the Baby Jesus?” I inquired at one point. “Are all of the shepherds still where they’re supposed to be?”
Later that night – just as I realized that I really loved my highlights and my lowlights – my puppy peed underneath the Christmas tree.
“Tallulah!” I yelled. “That is not where you go to the bathroom! You go on your pad!”
She ran over then to the pad and she peed there too and as Shannon and Andrea congratulated her for being a belated good girl, I wondered if her act could in any way be considered a hate crime since she’s Jewish. And if it was intentional, I’m thinking that perhaps I can bring her with me to SUR so she can squat on Jax’s shoe, piss on a fried goat cheese ball that will be served directly to Kristen, and point her paw and laugh at all the people who flit in and out of the action on this show who have still never made it into the opening credits.
(I won’t do any of those things, of course. There’s no way I’d expose either one of us to that place in real life.)
It is with thoughts of possible puppy hate crimes dancing like a deranged clan of elves through my mind that I realized (thanks to my DVR) that Vanderpump Rules is airing a day early this week – in what is either a Christmas miracle or the direct result of not putting the Christ back in Christmas – so I settled Tallulah on her favorite velvet pillow (I know) and asked her to please nap for an hour or so in a one sided conversation that went a little something like this:
“Tally, please close your eyes for a while, okay? I have to write a recap. Mommy has a deadline. And please stop looking at me like that – I put on educational programming sometimes too! Didn’t you just watch 60 Minutes? Stop judging me!”
Eventually, she curled up in a ball the size of my hand and went to sleep, but I caught her giving me the side-eye. Her judgment might very well be warranted.
Last week on this show, the guys fled to Vegas so they could drink until they turned sweaty and give each other lap dances while the girls slobbered all over one another to make their drunk and absent boyfriends jealous. After such a wide and public display of critical thinking, there’s a part of me that believes that none of them will be able to even form a single sentence tonight due to mental exhaustion, but it’s still holiday time and I’m feeling generous and I have hope – and my dog just woke up and laughed at me for typing that sentence.
We begin back in Vegas. It’s 11:00AM, Sandoval still has a beer in his hand, and Schwartz tattooed his pet name for Katie across his ass. Not to be outdone, Sandoval got a flaming “A” for Ariana inked across his right ass cheek and I have officially never been less attracted to two men before in my entire life. Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles, the SUR staffers are doing God’s work by lighting candles and setting out forks. Over by the bar, Katie and Ariana chat about how the guys are headed back into town. They have no idea that the tushies of the men they love have been altered forever or that the guys are probably driving home while sitting on plush pillows to offer them some comfort, but there’s no time to think about any of that anyway. It’s way more pressing that Ariana – an actress who understands comedy – is going to be in a show where she reads passages from her old diaries and Sandoval is going to join her by reading some of his song lyrics. I have a few questions here:
1. Where is this event taking place?
2. Why has nobody procured me tickets for such a thing?
3. How many of Sandoval’s songs are about the way Kristen scares him out of his fucking mind?
4. Is there any doubt Kristen listens to all of those songs on repeat because she believes that if he’s talking about her, that means he misses her?
On the drive back, Peter calls Lisa to tell her that they have hit some traffic but that they will be arriving at SUR soon for their shifts. Sure, they smell like tequila, perspiration, and Jax’s scrotum because he rubbed it all over each of them, but none of that is an actual health code violation so eat away, SUR diners! Upon arrival, Jax persuades the guys to show off their ass tats to their boss who marvels about their chronic stupidity and Schwartz begs Lisa to send Katie outside so he can see her for just a second and it’s kind of sweet but it’ll take me a good long time to get over the fact that the guy has “Bubba” etched permanently into his ass. Schwartz kisses his love hello, tells her that they were all very well behaved, and then pulls his pants down to show off his permanent adoration. Right about then is when Ariana and Sandoval come outside and it appears to be time for Sandoval’s unveiling of the single letter he had tattooed across his ass that was done in the kind of font only Tony the Tiger would have chosen while he was hammered. “Why did you ruin your ass like that?” asks Ariana – and it’s very possible that someone should get him a knit beanie and a stack of tissues but quick because Sandoval could very well burst into torrents of tears at any moment.
It’s a new day and asses are healing all over town. Meanwhile, the gang is all back at the restaurant (because that’s where the cameras are) and Jax’s hair is slicked back in a way that makes him look like a twelve year old who went as a pedophile for Halloween. He tells Scheana and Katie that he didn’t have sex in Vegas and he didn’t get a new tattoo and they wonder if Kentucky Brittany is the reason for what I shall hereby call Jax’s Renaissance in which he is reborn into a new man who doesn’t cheat and doesn’t even consider doing so. Brittany is moving to L.A. to be with the guy and he’s slowly coming to terms with the fact that he’s got himself a girlfriend and that, short of killing her, there might be no way out of having to share his futon with the same chick every night. But Jax is sort of okay with Brittany’s arrival because everyone he knows is coupled up – besides Kristen. Jax thinks Kristen is so great (because he’s an idiot) and he really wants to invite her along on the joint birthday venture he and Sandoval are throwing and what’s absolutely bonkers is that Katie and Scheana agree that Kristen should totally come! Why shouldn’t she be there? She’s so fun! Besides, she’s only tried to ruin some of their lives and she never fully committed to any of it. I mean, she never actually purchased the embalming supplies, right? Why should Sandoval’s troubled ex-girlfriend who has threatened physical violence against his new girlfriend not join the festivities?
Unaware that both his birthday and his girlfriend’s life will soon be threatened, Sandoval is preparing for the arrival of his mother. He and Ariana cleaned the house and she hid her bong and now they’re all going to SUR for a meal. Shay is joining them and Scheana is their waitress and Tom’s mom tells all kinds of stories about his past and how he was never shy. She seems like a cool lady, though I did giggle a little when Tom explains that his toughness comes from his mother because I have never once looked at the guy and had the word “tough” enter my mind. It’s right around then when Ariana brings up the tattoo. She fucking hates it and she might hate Sandoval a little bit now too and I hate to be superficial and all, but the woman’s got a point.
Then Kristen appears, clobbering down the street in a tiny little dress or romper or whatever it is that will show off the thigh gap that comes from never eating and instead surviving on Merlot. (Note to self: buy more Merlot.) She arrives to meet Jax because she has decided that if anyone can teach her about how to date, it’s him. Please take a moment to laugh your own ass tattoos off or to throw something at the screen now that it’s clear that somebody so foolish walks amongst us. As you do that, I will beg my puppy to still love me after making her sit through this show. Anyway, Jax gives her some tips:
1. No guys in their twenties.
2. The guy needs to have a job.
There may very well have been another nugget of wisdom that fell from Jax’s lips about excelling in the world of dating, but Kristen interrupts to explain that she is looking for someone who has his shit together in much the same way that she has her shit so tidied up now. In fact, she would even like to have a conversation with Ariana! And of course she will stay calm during said conversation. When is she Kristen not calm? (Honestly, that any of this is said with a straight face makes me believe that Kristen is either the single finest actress to have ever lived or is the craziest loon on this sprawling continent.)
“I now realize that James was my rebound,” says the always-calm lunatic who definitely has her shit together and clearly knows herself so well. Instead of pointing at her and bursting into uncontrollable laughter that it took the woman over a year to admit that the twenty-year-old douchebag DJ wasn’t her truest love, Jax is just so grateful that someone else hates James too. These two together are the most terrifying duo I have seen onscreen since I watched Mickey and Mallory in Natural Born Killers and I have to say that, just like how it went in the movie, I don’t see this little Jax/Kristen partnership being all that beneficial to anybody.
Now it’s time for Kristen and Jax to meander their way through a bar filled with people, none of whom are recorded asking, “Why do you have a microphone shoved into your cleavage?” The guys are all actors or models and there’s one guy who is twenty-four and Kristen says hello to him against the bar and then grabs his face and kisses him and I can only hope that somewhere the guy’s friends are deleting his number from their phones or preparing him for the witness protection plan.
And just when I thought that there could be no worse twosome than Kristen and Jax, Lala and James slither their icky way onto the show for really the first time all night. They hug hello because she’s done with being mad at him just because he fucked someone else (someone she has to work with and see every day) and she tells him she doesn’t hold grudges (because she’s a moron, and on that one I speak from experience) and she calls him “my love” and I’m sort of hoping that this entire scene is a really bad dream. It only gets worse when James has but one small request for Lala: that she not flirt with Jax. It makes him so angry because he knows that he’s just so much better than Jax and a small smile flashes over Lala’s face as she realizes that James is jealous when it comes to her and other guys and all of this is shaping up to be a very healthy relationship.
Then Kristen comes into SUR and the entire restaurant doesn’t spontaneously implode – so bravo to the structural team who built the place – and she and Katie sit outside and have a drink just like they used to do before Kristen was asked to leave the place in disgrace. Kristen tells Katie that she is looking to apologize to Ariana for all those times she blamed the breakup of her terrible relationship squarely on the girl – and, you know, for the detailed death threats she sent her way and those bruises caused by all the times Kristen shoved needles into her Ariana voodoo doll. Kristen realizes that maybe it’s a little too late to right her wrongs, but she’s going to try. She heads right over to the garden bar where Ariana is blessedly surrounded by bottles she could smash and use as a weapon at a second’s notice and she launches immediately into her mea culpa. Kristen explains to her blank-faced nemesis that she was very selfish back then and she didn’t mean to have immature meltdowns or to say cruel things to Ariana or to wish that Ariana was killed by a plane or a train or really any mode of transportation. Ariana does not react to Kristen’s shocking eloquence with anything resembling gratitude or even surprise. She is done with this woman. It’s all fine and good that she’s apologizing now, but Kristen was evil to Ariana and made everything that was already awkward absolutely fucking miserable and I think it’s great that Ariana is listening to Kristen’s apologies and not actually forgiving her. She might so far have behaved rather humorously all season long, but I think Ariana might be my new hero. Suck it, Spiderman!
Speaking of Ariana, Sandoval’s mother adores her. It’s a meeting of the minds between these two no-nonsense ladies and there is an ease to their interactions that I have experienced myself a few times when I met some of the parents of the people I have cared about and there’s something quite nice about that kind of dynamic. Also, it’s very worth noting that Sandoval’s mother all but calls Kristen a lunatic and tells Ariana that she has put up with a lot of bullshit the crazy one has tossed her way. Validation is always appreciated, but Ariana is still struggling with the fact that some of her closest friends are even deigning to associate with a person who has been so fucking hurtful to her for so long.
We have now been away from Schwartz for far too long because we have been forced to go swimming in Kristen’s rivers of insanity – which I hear she pees in – so I’m thrilled to be back with our favorite male model as he gets abdominal muscles painted across his stomach. The guy needs to eat strictly Paleo, do some sit-ups, and repeat “Sugar is the devil” sixteen times a day and he’ll be good to go in about a month. Katie stops by to properly ogle her boyfriend and to tell him that she wants Kristen to accompany all of them on the Jax and Sandoval Birthday Tour, to which Schwartz rightfully responds that Kristen is still a liability to Sandoval, to Ariana, and to mankind in general. (Okay, I threw in the mankind part, but that doesn’t make it any less accurate.)
Later that day, a bunch of our SURvers show up to watch Sandoval and Ariana perform in the diary show. Even James and Lala are there and I think it’s entirely possible that Lisa shut down her own restaurant just so her entire staff could bear witness to a theatrical event that weirdly mirrors one of my longstanding nightmares in which the journal I kept in high school is read to the masses from a stage. Ariana comes up and we find out the riveting information that her college dorm was crammed with Wiccans and lesbians. Then Sandoval raps some shitty lyrics that I hope he wrote a very long time ago and everybody laughs good-naturedly about how terrible it all is except for James, who is staring at Sandoval like he has just seen a superstar with whom he should definitely write his next song.
After it’s all over – the bad lyrics, the flaunting of the ass tattoo – Jax invites Lala to go get a drink with him and Lala tells him that she’d love to go but that he really needs to stop looking so great all the time because it makes it difficult on her. I get it, sweetheart. It’s very hard to hold oneself back from leaping atop the worst guy in the whole world, but it’s impressive that she’s restraining herself so she can keep herself available for the worst guy in the whole universe. Yes, James comes over just then and the look in his eyes upon seeing Lala and Jax together is like someone took every sociopath from a Bret Easton Ellis book and shoved them into a blender and ended up with this furious and scary concoction. Sensing he needs to piss on something to mark his territory like my dog did with the Christmas tree skirt, James all but licks Lala’s cheek to stake his claim. It’s sort of repulsive, as is the way Lala tells Jax that he needs to start kissing her in front of James to get back at him. And as for Brittany, neither Jax nor Lala seem to give a shit about her at the very instant when she is bubble wrapping every single one of her belongings in an effort to move across the country to live in close proximity to these people.
It all ends this week with more unpleasantness. Back at Ariana and Sandoval’s apartment, Jax explains that he doesn’t want James joining the Birthday Tour but he would very much like Kristen to be there. To such a ridiculous suggestion, Sandoval quite properly loses his mind, especially when Katie attempts to equate his refusal to allow his ex to come to his birthday with Stassi refusing to allow Katie to have any friends besides her. Sandoval is right here. He is not stopping anyone from hanging out with the woman who almost caused him to chew his own femur off just to get away from her. There are no ultimatums being handed out like orange Tic Tacs. But he thinks it’s very possible that the rest of his friends have amnesia for even suggesting that Kristen join them for what’s supposed to be a happy experience and I think back now to some of those warnings posted on that church’s sign and I’m wondering if the first visual clue of the End of Days is a woman in a romper who keeps insisting that she is as calm as could be.
Nell Kalter teaches Film and Media at a school in New York. She is the author of the books THAT YEAR and STUDENT, both available on amazon.com in paperback and for your Kindle.