It was probably somewhere around the fifth hour of watching the Senate hearing on Hillary Clinton’s role in the Benghazi attacks when a series of revelations began to sweep through my mind like a brushfire caused by an aerosol can of Resveratrol exploding inside the bidet of a marble bathroom that is Coto de Caza-adjacent:
1. There’s the ability some of us have to keep calm under pressure – and then there’s the way Hillary Clinton reacts under pressure. That woman did not so much as lightly perspire the entire time she was being grilled under hot television lights by political foes who would probably rejoice in literally roasting her over a bonfire like she was a rotisserie chicken. No matter what she was asked, her composure was nothing short of masterful.
2. And speaking of masterful, I want the name of Clinton’s makeup artist toot sweet and I’d like to buy stock in whatever company produces her matte face powder and blotting papers because – holy shit – those are clearly some excellent products and perhaps our greatest hope in the fight to make unintentionally shiny skin a thing of the past.
3. Anyone who can walk away from watching the coverage of these hearings without fully understanding the term “bipartisan” at this point is either an idiot or was too busy checking the US Weekly website so as not to miss the latest pearl of wisdom that has fallen from the inflated pout of young Kylie Jenner, a girl who now more closely resembles a blow-up sex doll than a human.
4. And speaking of the Jenner girls, it was just yesterday when I helped a student come up with an idea for her college essay. She wants to study fashion merchandising so I inquired about her inspirations. “Are there any designers whose work you really respect?” I asked. She stared at me blankly so I rephrased the question in the way they never taught us how to do in graduate school but should have, as it’s quite an essential skill for uncovering information from teenagers who fear deep thinking might cause breakouts. “For example, when Fashion Week comes around in New York, is there someone whose work you like to see?” Silence. “Which designers have you heard of?” Silence. “Not one? Um, okay. Well, is there a particular celebrity who has a style you find bold or interesting?” “I like Kylie Jenner,” she responded – and she didn’t pause and then start to laugh and that was right about the time when I almost started weeping. My tears formed for humanity in general and for the understanding that, with all this information available at her disposal, my student still sees Kylie Jenner as a role model. I cried for a celebrity’s lost childhood and for the fact that I know who Kylie Jenner is in the first place. But salty water streaming down my face could not stop me from offering this student some constructive criticism, and that criticism was delivered thusly: “Yeah, I’m not letting you write an admissions essay to F.I.T. about the ways in which Kylie Jenner is a style icon because I actually want you to get in.” And then I told her to pick up a copy of Vogue and to page through an issue of W and to go into a nail salon and not leave until she looked at all the advertisements in a September issue of Marie Claire and that advice is also something I never learned in graduate school, but it’s yet another thing I should have taken an entire course in.
5. I think it might be very nice if all of my conversations ended with the participants saying, “I yield back to Nell” like they did in the hearing so the people who never shut the fuck up are given a time limit. I’m not sure how I can enforce such a thing, but I will quit my job so I can devote the proper time and attention to figuring out how to put this idea into practice.
6. Speaking of people in my life, it’s probably a very strong sign that a guy is not my true soul mate when he texts to see how my day is going and I write back, “My day’s been tough – but at least I’m not being grilled in a congressional hearing like Clinton right now,” and he responds, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” He does have really nice eyes and arms though.
7. Focusing back on Clinton, I couldn’t help but notice – since it was glaringly obvious – how the Democrats on the committee all but sat on her lap and braided her hair while the Republicans sharpened hatchets and prepared to scalp the woman. I think we can all agree that a bald female Presidential candidate would snare all kinds of press attention, so perhaps the Republicans should give their plan a little more thought because the last thing a party that supports Donald Trump needs is more press coverage of his main opponent who can form full sentences made out of words that aren’t insults.
8. And while we’re on the subject of party lines, I spoke to my very Republican stepfather while the light outside disappeared beneath the trees and Clinton continued to answer the same questions and offer the same responses she’d been giving all day, the ones that many clearly believed to be either lies or very detailed excuses, and I told him that I thought she might have just gotten my vote due to her never-ending decorum under pressure. “Keep listening,” he instructed me – and that advice was something I took to heart, unlike the advice given later that night by my mother who said, “Stop being naïve and vote your pocketbook!” My response to her was that I only use the term “purse” and besides, I can’t only vote based on economics and part of the reason for that is because I was raised by her and did she remember that she used to be a hippie with long braids who did shit like march for minor things like a woman’s reproductive freedom? And so we agreed that we were at a stalemate and we both sighed and then finally resolved the issue when she promised to make me a batch of the whole wheat muffins I like that don’t leave me feeling guilty after I shove four into my mouth at the same time.
9. But the biggest revelation I had during the hearings was one that probably wasn’t a real revelation at all. Watching Hillary Clinton testify before Congress is tantamount to taking a Rorschach test. All that’s measured is what it is you already believe. There’s not really a chance that too much of what she says in that room will change your mind about how you feel about her. If you think she’s the closest thing we as a nation can get to political perfection and you fantasize daily about receiving emails from her illegal server, you will not be dissuaded from feeling that way. And if you believe she is a lying and wretched human being who has been cankle-deep in illegal activities and a willing participant in all kinds of indiscretions for decades, not a single thing she uttered during that interminable hearing will alter your thought process. And it is with that understanding – that some opinions cannot be changed – that I began to think about The Real Housewives of Orange County.
On the surface, there aren't too many similarities between the congressional hearings about an attack that killed four innocent Americans and a Reunion show on Bravo, but look a little deeper. Both events seem absolutely interminable and both center around a divisive blonde woman half the population would probably line up to pummel. Hillary Clinton has been suspected of fraud, security breeches, and an involvement in some deaths – and that's all terrible stuff to be tied to, but I'm still going to hedge a bet that she's never chosen a man over her own child or fled a friend's baptism while bellowing that she's off to attend a different party where the guests love Jesus.
I’d call it a draw.
Last week, the Reunion started slowly. We got to relive scintillating discussions about whether or not a thirty year old has the right to tell a fifty year old that she’s a total asshole and we learned definitively that Tamra’s relationship with her daughter remains estranged. It was confirmed that Vicki wears more foundation than any drag queen suffering from vitiligo on this or any other planet and that Housewives from the past can claw their way back from relative obscurity via email to question the devoutness of a current Housewife. Other than that, not too much happened. Brooks’ name wasn’t even mentioned. But those calm Reunion moments where all the women momentarily pretend like they don’t hate each other while giggling about that delightful time Vicki’s mother was arrested? Yeah, those moments are dead. Now it’s time to talk about a guy who could potentially croak from a lot of things, but it’s unlikely that his demise will be from cancer.
Tonight kicks off with references to circle jerks, colonics, and enemas and really, that’s all fine and good. Who doesn’t enjoy a good circle jerk reference? But there are bigger issues here and I could live forever without hearing Vicki say the word “butthole” ever again and I’m mildly certain that this segment exists as karmic payback for that time I took my sister’s favorite jeans when I was in middle school, got a grass stain on the knee (not from partaking in a circle jerk, mind you – it was a spirited game of kickball), and then lied and claimed it wasn’t me who ruined her jeans. I’d like to once again apologize to my sister and then beg Sir Cohen to stop making his viewers visualize the large intestines of his Housewives once and for all.
Moving on to lighter topics, it’s time for the HEATHER IS FUCKING LOADED sequence where we hear about her ginormous mansion and her busy husband and that time Terry didn’t appreciate her every aesthetic choice. There’s a viewer question that criticizes her for having a luggage room, but that viewer can suck it because who wouldn’t have a luggage room if the option presented itself? Hell, I’d build a luggage room right next to my brand new petting zoo and I’d allow my llamas to store their garment bags as well! Look, this woman’s got an obscene amount of money, but she doesn’t typically behave like a demonic heathen and she appears to be a loyal friend whose children won’t end up in therapy forevermore so I say we give Heather a break. You don’t have to agree with me about any of this, but if you want to confront me directly so you can disagree, you’ll have to find me first. I’ll give you a clue as to my whereabouts: I am hiding in one of the twenty-seven bathrooms at Dubrow Manor where I am warming myself by the light of a platinum towel warmer.
After the first commercial break, Jim Edmonds appears on the couch and smiles for the first time all season. To be accurate, he doesn’t smile because he’s sitting next to his beloved wife but because Andy makes a reference to the fact that he’s a baseball legend. Still, I am pleased to report that the guy has teeth and that grinning does not kill him. What could potentially kill him is being referred to as “Meghan King Edmonds’ husband,” and I might pay to watch such an interaction transpire because this guy strikes me as many things but “proud husband” and “equal partner” probably wouldn’t make the list. Still, he’s there to discuss how his portrayal on the show wasn’t accurate and that the misery he projected all season long isn’t the whole story. We all watch a montage of how much of a dick Jim was and Meghan claims that seeing it makes her uncomfortable, but she maintains that she doesn’t allow him to get away with treating her poorly. Unfortunately, we saw no footage of her standing her ground against a man who looks like he seriously hates her. As for the rampant condescension he displayed towards his wife, well, Jim tries to explain that sometimes he was really tired. He didn’t like the cameras being around. He also might have been hungry one time. Or maybe he’s just a douchebag who will hire himself an image consultant to prepare for next season. What’s that guy Slade been up to? Is he still unemployed? Maybe he can help Jim appear mildly less loathsome, even if it’s just by standing next to the guy.
And here it is, everybody! Brooks’ name is finally brought up and it’s all because Andy asks Jim if he really told Brooks that he and Meghan were struggling after only two months of marriage. Shockingly, such a statement was never made, but it’s not Brooks who lied, you guys! Brooks would never lie! See, Vicki is the one who made the mistake here. She misquoted her man and changed the vernacular of the statement to make Meghan’s marriage look even worse than it appeared. But she wasn’t lying, at least not on purpose. It was just a mistake, as was the moment when she watched Tamra flinging around a strap-on at her bondage party and commented, “She pretty much lost custody of one. She doesn’t want to lose custody of two more.” Now typically I would need for the apocalypse to be arriving imminently to ever agree with Vicki Gunvalson about anything, but the woman’s got a point here. Tamra’s kid has been pretty vocal about the ways in which her mother has humiliated her on television with her bold sexuality – something nobody wants to associate with a parent – and a mini moment starring a strap-on wasn’t wise on Tamra’s part. Was it kind of Vicki to say such a thing? No. Would Tamra have said it if their roles were reversed? My bet is she would have turned the comment into a song and asked her church choir to perform it every single Sunday. Still, we are in Kill Vicki mode right now and these women are out for fucking blood and Heather says she felt physically ill hearing a custody comment come from Vicki and that she should be ashamed for how viciously disloyal she was at that party…the one where Tamra premiered workouts that masqueraded as sex tapes…while she wore a strap-on.
Moving on to the prediction she made about Meghan and Jim being divorced in five years, Vicki says she didn’t mean it. She was annoyed after hearing all of the anti-Brooks comments all night and she snapped and now she says it was wrong for her to speak those words. We are barely into hour two and Vicki already looks defeated and exhausted and resigned to the fact that she is about to be destroyed on camera, on the show in which she has willingly appeared for the last freaking decade.
Jim finally leaves the couch after declaring his love for Meghan and announcing that maybe he’ll knock her up one day because of how much she means to him. With that blissful union covered, it’s time to explore THE AFFAIR. David’s infidelity, as we now know, kicked off the day after filming began and the time has come to watch Shannon relive her total and complete emotional agony. It’s heartbreaking, all of it. I still can’t personally agree with the televised sharing of all that pain with the world when there are children involved who I’m betting have already experienced far too much because of their parents, but I’m rooting for Shannon. David creeps me out completely and he always appears to be in the process of deciding if he should fake his own death or not, but maybe that behavioral pattern of his will end one day and they will feel only joy. Listen, not for a second do I buy Shannon’s claim that she goes weeks now without thinking about the affair, but I hope she gets the happiness she craves and that she made the decision to fight for this marriage out of love and not out of fear of being alone.
On a side note, Andy Cohen is a total cock for pretending even for a millisecond that the woman David left Shannon for was waiting backstage and was about to join the women on the sacred couch. That was fucking low. And the immediate pallor that overtook Shannon’s face made me think that perhaps she should call Dr. Moon so he can construct her a pacemaker made out of broccoli to get her heart rate back to normal.
During the commercial interlude, we discover that Vicki doesn’t know the different between mammals and reptiles. Who cares? Isn’t it far more important to find out if she knows the difference between real and doctored PET-scans?
Now it’s time for Vicki’s daughter Brianna to join the ladies. I’m trying to imagine what it would take to get me to sit on a plush sofa beside women who have publicly stated their hatred for my mother while telling a talk show host/producer our family’s deepest, darkest secrets. I’m guessing it would involve a cocktail of morphine and whatever substance might cause temporary amnesia, but I think I just live in a different world than these women and my world is governed by pesky emotions like loyalty. The Housewife Universe is different. That said, I can’t help but enjoy the quiet terror dancing across Vicki’s face as her daughter takes her seat and I’m thinking she’s got good reason to be terrified.
The emotional carnage starts immediately with Andy bringing up the Facebook post where Vicki announced online that she and Brooks were living together before she had broken the news to her own daughter and then it comes up that she and Brooks have broken up and she is living alone for the first time ever and it feels weird. For quietly asking the question, “Why do you need somebody so badly?” directly to Vicki’s face, I’m about ready to forgive Andy for the pretend attack by The Mistress, and if Vicki had a good answer, maybe I’d pretend to forgive her too. Alas, she does not have a good answer (her actual answer is that she likes companionship because that’s how God designed her) and it’s entirely clear that this woman is apparently allergic to truth, self-reflection, and really high-end BB creams.
As for why the love story between Brooks and Vicki finally ended, it was Brooks who finally called it off. The main issue, at least according to Vicki, was the undying conflict between Brooks and Brianna. That conflict was formed when Brooks was recorded telling Brianna’s husband to beat her up to keep her in line – you know, normal marital advice – and her hatred for his has continued unabated. As for whether Brianna buys her mother’s latest claim that she was always her mother’s top priority, she does not and she actually calls bullshit on that one. See, it seems that any time Brooks did something repulsive to Brianna and Brianna told Vicki about it, Vicki would call her daughter a liar. Asked for a clear example, Brianna tells the little tale of the time that Brooks hit on her at Vicki’s birthday party while Brianna was pregnant and, when Brianna told her mother what occurred, Brianna was accused of lying and was told that Brooks would never want her anyway. I guess these are really the same issues that occur in any household. Housewives…they’re just like us!
So why didn’t Vicki get rid of such a repulsive creep after hearing that story from her daughter? Well, she just didn’t want to believe it was true that her debonair boyfriend wanted to flash his dick in her daughter’s face so she could see for herself that his nickname was “Girth Brooks.” And now please excuse me while I vomit up my pancreas due to the nausea that has completely overtaken my entire being.
Now that I have lost nine pounds after expelling several of my inner organs, can we just go back for a second and talk about the look on Vicki’s face when Brianna brought up Brooks’ adorable nickname? Anyone else want to tell me that it is not a nickname Vicki’s heard before from her awesome and truthful boyfriend? Because the look on her face gave it away and I’d watch her reaction play on repeat until the end of time, but I can’t because my television is a really high-definition and I simply cannot punish myself so viciously.
As for how long it’s been since Vicki’s spoken to Brooks, it’s been less than twenty-four hours since the exes have chatted. It’s also been that long since Meghan has heard from Brooks, or at least his lawyers. Yes, the healthiest cancer patient in the land is threatening to sue Meghan for defamation – and Brianna too, but that’s just for sport – and he and Andy recently sat down for an interview that cannot possibly matter in the least. Are we to expect the guy is now going to suddenly tell the truth? Will he whip out his dick so we can see if his nickname is accurate? What exactly is the point here of talking to this monster? In any event, Brooks’ interview begins with him saying that he blames the women and Brianna for ruining his relationship with Vicki. In fact, he is still in close touch with everybody else in Vicki’s family! Everybody else is a liar, not him! Brianna’s response to watching these statements is to say that he’s a fucking liar, to which the Mother of the Year mother implores her not to swear because it’s profanity that’s the real issue here.
Oh, and Vicki’s claim that her mother adored Brooks? That was yet another lie.
Next week it finally all ends with even more questions about Brooks’ illness and a revelation that Vicki is scared of the guy. Perhaps it’s his massive girth that terrifies her.
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.