As someone who has always believed heartily in the concept of evolution – you know, since I value shit like logic and I wasn’t raised a Duggar – I find it fascinating sometimes to trace how one moment in life can directly lead to the next. It’s not always possible, of course. The passage of time and the slugging down of wine can blur those once clear linear patterns, but one thing I know for sure is that writing recaps of reality shows caused one of my sweet readers to recommend to Kate Casey that I appear on her podcast. For those of you who have yet to hear of Casey, she’s a phenomenal interviewer who manages to snag every single reality participant you have ever heard of (including those, like Spencer Pratt, you are trying desperately to forget) and then she pounds them with direct and probing questions People and US Weekly would never even think about asking because Casey’s legitimate inquiries in no way involve how Kylie Jenner’s lips might change due to her unplanned pregnancy.
I was on Casey’s podcast a few months ago talking about my experience watching a show about twins who once lost The Bachelor. Now, I’ve seen my share of terrible TV, but this show was beyond idiotic, a televised travesty greenlit by a programmer at a network who is clearly in the midst of a personal or existential crisis that sadly manifested itself with a total loss of sanity and taste. The Twins, Happily Ever After? is the shitty title of a shitty show you should never watch unless you feel the need to be reminded of the sad state of the world and you are somehow unable to tune in to a White House press briefing. Still, three truly positive things came directly out of dedicating what felt like a year of my life to watching a truly mindless show:
1. I really enjoyed being on my first podcast and discussing just how clearly constructed this “reality” show happened to be. I also feel that if I managed to stop just one person from tuning in to a show about twins who have accepted “stupid” as their brand, I have done a bit of God’s work.
2. I was approached by a writer who heard me on the podcast and thought me witty enough to ask me to contribute to a piece she was writing about the Kardashians – but nothing about lip enhancement via a fetus needed to be included.
3. I contacted my own mother and thanked her profusely for reading to me when I was a baby because after watching those idiot twins attempt to feed a fish that had been dead for well over a decade, I realized the exposure I was given to literature during my toddler years is probably directly linked to why I have never tried to feed a dead animal.
The call with my mommy was nice, but I suppose it’s Positive Thing #2 that is my focus here. Soon after the podcast I guested on went up, I was contacted by Shira Weiss, a dynamo who writes for the Huffington Post, asking me to collaborate with her on a piece. Shira is a gifted writer and she somehow manages to be prolific as hell, even though she has countless children who also need her help with stuff like baths and homework. (Okay, so she doesn’t actually have countless children, but there are a bunch of them and two are twins and I’ve always struggled with math, so let’s just say she’s got an indeterminate number of kids and still manages to write constantly.) We emailed back and forth a few times so I could understand the kind of content and tone she was looking for and then I wrote my portion of the piece, sent it off, and watched in awe as it popped up on one of my favorite sites a few weeks later. Since then, I’ve worked with Shira on two more articles. One was about my favorite podcasts and the other involved trying out beauty products made by reality stars. My review of Pop of Color, a nail polish I’m not actually sure is even being made anymore but is still available on Amazon and caused my nails to look fantastic, went up a few days ago, but it was my experience testing other products created by that odd strand of woman, The Real Housewife, that led to the more interesting of my findings.
When I was first approached to experiment with products shilled by reality participants, I spun quickly through the mental Rolodex I keep in the way back of my brain where I hide the questionable information I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve accumulated. The gallons of slop Big Brother contestants have consumed? That number lives in my Rolodex. A crystal clear memory of what Vicki Gunvalson’s first face looked like? I keep that image there too – and I break it out whenever I feel the need to experience a moment of abject terror. Also engraved in that mental Rolodex are the endorsement deals Real Housewives have signed over the years for lines of chardonnay and wrinkle-erasing serums and jewelry that looks like it would turn your neck green and books that invariably include a cover portrait of a Housewife as she is draped across the kitchen table, her hair splayed out across Versace plates so garish with ornate patterns, just staring at one could cause me to eschew food for the rest of my life, which is perhaps how Bravolebrities manage to remain svelte.
I decided not to try anything ever made (or looked at…or touched by…or vomited on) by any of the Orange County Housewives. Besides the fact that the entire cast needs to be overhauled because they can’t stomach one another long enough to even get along on a sunset cruise to celebrate an upcoming vasectomy (really), I also cannot imagine looking to them for recommendations on anything besides where to get a bejeweled workout tank, how to hire a private investigator who can gain access to a patient’s cancer records, or where to find a mime school that specializes in teaching horrible people how to mimic the crucifixion. I also ruled out the women from Beverly Hills. I’d have to be freezing to death in a snowy tundra with Idris Elba to ever consider donning a single caftan from Kyle by Alene Too – and even then I’d request that he put it on and then lay down on top of me. (For those fortunate enough to have no idea what Kyle by Alene Too is, it’s a store owned by Real Housewife Kyle Richards that smells vaguely of ground-up Xanax and showcases overpriced tops in jewel tones, all with cutout shoulders or split sleeves.) I considered heading over to the Housewives in Atlanta and perhaps testing a tube of Kandi Burruss-endorsed edible lube, but I’m a girl who’s had some bladder infections in the past and what those miserable experiences mean is you spend your life doing things like popping cranberry tablets and peeing immediately after sex and never – and I mean not ever – sticking anything even vaguely peach-scented anywhere near your nether regions.
It was through the process of elimination that I decided to try out products created by the New York Housewives, a cast I generally view as collectively smarter and savvier than the others. This group of women has had their hands in everything over the years and some have seen legitimate success. To narrow it down, I left out Sonja Morgan’s invisible and bidet-washable clothing line and anything endorsed by Ramona Singer because I truly believe she’s not even a real lady and was instead created in a Bravo laboratory out of a strand of Kim Zolciak’s hair, a glob of Danielle Staub’s saliva, and a shot glass filled with Kim Richard’s tears. Instead, I selected products by Bethenny Frankel, beauty advice doled out by Carole Radziwill, and a book written Luann de Lesseps.
No reality star has created more of a financial windfall for herself than Bethenny Frankel. Her SkinnyGirl empire is for real and it’s afforded her a loft so humungous that she can do cartwheels through her living room. Snarky, sardonic, and cynical, Bethenny is not everyone’s cup of low-calorie tequila, but I respect the hell out of her – and that respect existed even before I saw footage of her taking four private planes down to Puerto Rico that were stuffed with food, water, and medical supplies. A few years ago at a party, I tried the SkinnyGirl Margarita, the product that put Ms. Frankel on the map. I liked the shape of the bottle. I liked the cute logo of the slender and stacked woman. And I really liked how my mouth tasted after I brushed my teeth seven times and gargled with undiluted Windex after taking just a sip of the noxious fucking concoction that made the woman a fortune because the drink itself tasted like what I’m quite certain evil must taste like. Those heightened and unpleasant sensory memories still come rushing back to me whenever I clean one of my mirrors, so I was therefore a bit nervous to try out the SkinnyGirl Tangerine Pink Grapefruit Water Enhancer and those nerves did not exactly dissipate when I squeezed some of it into my water bottle and it came out looking like runny paint mixed with just a touch of hemoglobin. Still, the stuff didn’t taste all that bad! I tend to like my water plain, but the flavor created by the SkinnyGirl Water Enhancer was sweet and fruity and comfortably bland. It didn’t taste completely like chemicals, but it also didn’t taste like either tangerine or pink grapefruit. Instead, the water enhancer drops tasted like something I can’t quite put my finger on – maybe red Sprees? – and if you can ignore the fact that it looks like you’re gulping down pale blood, those droplets could get you to drink at least eight glasses of water per day.
I didn’t gag from Bethenny’s water enhancer and I kind of loved Kristen Taekman’s nail polish, but when it comes to living in The Aspirational Age, I crave aspects of Carole Radziwell’s life far more than that of any of the other New York Housewives. Pop of Color is lovely, but it’s nothing compared to the gloriousness of Radziwell’s perfectly taut fifty-something-year-old ass that she brandishes frequently across the airwaves – and I don’t blame her for flaunting that thing for one single second. She mentioned on the last Reunion that she’s taken up running, but for several seasons we heard her claim to do zero exercise and I once read an interview where she revealed she had just eaten a hot dog off the street. There must be something else to her daily routine besides reclining on her threadbare couch and chomping on nitrates, I’d think to myself late at night, and that’s when I remembered that in the same interview where she announced she’d eaten street meat, she’d also recommended fasting one day per week. Had anyone else recommended voluntary starvation to me, I would have just giggled nervously and begged for a Twinkie, but I trust Carole Radziwell. Her book What Remains has stayed vivid in my mind many years after reading it with its haunting and lyrical prose and the devastating descriptions of living through the deaths of those closest to you. Further endearing her to me, Radziwell also looked properly alarmed upon hearing that one of her fellow castmates didn’t bother to vote because it’s not her “thing” and I felt enough of a kinship with her to follow her food-restricting advice.
The fasting did not go well. I should have expected such an outcome. One year on Yom Kippur, I sucked down half a tube of spearmint-flavored toothpaste to combat the rumbles in my tummy. When food is off the menu, food is all I can think about. I tried to distract myself. I did lunges while visions Pringles tubes went dancing a jig in my head. I cuddled with my dog and mentally considered if I could still claim to have fasted if I gnawed slightly on one of her bacon flavored biscuits. I craved sugar. I craved salt. I craved any sort of sustenance and that’s when I decided to ditch Radziwell’s advice about fasting and instead try to be more like her by getting myself some Botox. Yes, I had a bit of that solution injected straight into my forehead, and though I had the fleeting thought of This might be a VERY bad idea as the doctor came at me with a sharp needle, a smile, and a shrug, I’m here now to say that my forehead is perfectly smooth and fasting is for crazy people – or, you know, people with willpower – but the lure of Botox in moderation is something I now understand. Please, however, feel free to thump me hard in the head with a SkinnyGirl Margarita bottle if I ever decide to pump that shit into my entire face causing my eyebrows to move to the back of my head like Ramona’s were this last season because that kind of thing is freaky as hell and it was hard to tell if she was even surprised by her pronounced hideousness without her eyebrows there to properly indicate her emotions.
As for Radziwell’s other talents besides implicitly selling the benefits of Botox, it should be stated that What Remains will probably forever be the finest thing written by a Real Housewife, but a few others have taken their shot at literary greatness. Though rumors abound that Truman Capote was brought back to life through a séance to write Aviva Drescher’s autobiography, I chose to check out Luann de Lessep’s Class with the Countess: How to Live with Elegance and Flair. This guide to relative nonsense was written back in 2009 when Luann still spelled her name “LuAnn,” but the passage of the years – and probably the hiring of a publicist – apparently caused her to drop that capital A because nothing says class like lowercase letters.
Class with the Countess is chock full of affirmations that, should you follow them completely, will allow you to also bag a minor royal and then record terrible songs with producers who are paid not to laugh at you as you sing solemnly into a microphone. The book contains advice about how elegance can so be acquired just as long as you never point your finger directly at someone, refrain from combing your hair in public, tear pieces of bread with your fingers instead of heating an entire hunk of it at once, and always remember to lower yourself into a chair gently because only heathens slump. Additionally, to live a life as gilded as the one Luann-with-a-lowercase-a pretends to live, memorize the following:
1. High heels are sexy – and, dammit ladies, don’t tromp around in those suckers! You must glide. You should also always arrive at events in appropriate attire, but I skimmed that section because it annoyed me as it made me seriously reconsider if wearing a Nevertheless, She Persisted tee to Father’s Day after my stepfather voted for Trump was the right move. Still, I stand by that tee and wearing it on that particular occasion and I am willing to burn it in the fucking town square if my stepfather ever denounces this psychotic President or turns off Fox News for at least one full hour.
2. Going back to the necessary escapism inherent in the Countess’ decrees, remember that candlelight looks fantastic at parties and everyone looks better when it’s sort of dark in the room.
3. Coasters are for amateurs. You must use cocktail napkins or you run the risk of self-proclaimed socialites whispering that you’re a Neanderthal as they blow coke in your lovely powder room.
4. Soup must never be slurped. (I agree with this directive completely. My stepfather is a slurper and I always tell him that, had I been my mother, I never would have gone on a second date with him after living through just one soup course.)
5. One should never reach for food. Instead, sit at the table and pray for the plate of asparagus to make its way towards you.
The book also contains pronouncements that make good sense, but it’s not like every single one hasn’t been stated – and far more eloquently – approximately six zillion times before. Ms. de Lesseps reminds us to be open to adventure, to “jump on the train or you’ll miss it.” I’m guessing she’ll eventually add an epilogue to this tome which states that women should avoid any and all trains carrying men named Tom as those trains have been ridden far too many times by far too many women, but our former Countess is very busy designing a line of bedding these days and hasn’t gotten around to that epilogue quite yet. She also informs her readers to “be curious and learn from everything and everybody,” that “being interested is what makes you interesting,” and how it’s perfectly acceptable to ditch the man you’re in a committed relationship with the second a wealthier man who does not live with his mother comes along. And though I don’t know if the author was intentionally going for laugh-out-loud comedy, she produced in me a full minute of roaring laughter when I came upon an actual diagram of the proper way to place utensils on a plate when one is finished not reaching for dinner. I tell you, when it comes to divine comedy, Dante’s got nothing on Luann.
My favorite bit of advice in the book is that parties should have a theme. I love the theme party idea! And I’ve been so inspired by de Lesseps that I plan to throw a theme party next week! The theme of my party will be Debate Night. Drinks will be served from a podium and the matter up for discussion will be why – for the love of all that is holy, why? – do I keep dating men who may not have voted for Trump, but are Trump Sympathizers? Sure, the current man I’m smooching has excellent lips and he’s smart and he just smiled when he saw me taking notes on Class with the Countess: How to Live with Elegance and Flair. He never leaves his fork in the wrong place on the plate. Still, I hope the girlfriends I’m inviting will help me arrive at the real reason I choose men who periodically sympathize with monsters and, continuing to heed the Countess’ sage advice, I know that favors are integral to a party’s success.
All of my guests will leave with their very own roll of paper towels that I will heave at them from clear across the room.
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. Her Twitter is @nell_kalter