When I was just seventeen years old and a freshman in college, I pledged a sorority. I was only on campus for about a week before Rush started – by the following year, the university decreed that Rush become a second semester event so impressionable freshmen girls could focus on shit like passing Finance 101 instead of on how to best decorate bottles of Boone’s Farm Wild Cherry Wine with puffy paint – and after dozens of parties populated by clapping and singing girls finally ended, I was given a bid.
My days became jam-packed with sorority events: Mai-Tai Mixers, Dressy Date Parties, Make Your Own Sundae With Your Purchased Sisters. Most of it was pretty fun, but for me the most exciting night of all of those many exciting and exhausting nights was the night I got my Big Sister.
Cherisse was a junior, funny as hell, and so pretty that she looked like an animated character come to life. That she had chosen me to be her Little Sister was exciting and flattering – and dangerous, because I arrived at college without much of a tolerance for alcohol and she was a girl who liked to drink. (I also graduated college without much of a tolerance for alcohol. Even today, one glass of wine and I’m a touchy and happy drunk, which makes me a wonderfully cheap date.) On the evening that Big Sisters revealed their identity after leaving us clues taped to our dorm room doors for a week, Cherisse presented me with a bottle of what I think was probably champagne, but I can’t be sure since much of my memory from that night has gone entirely missing.
Feeling bold and festive, I began downing the maybe-champagne straight from the bottle. After about seven swigs, I remember turning to Cherisse with a great big gummy smile spread across my face.
“This champagne tastes like water!” I exclaimed.
“Then drink it like water, Nellie!” she said with an encouraging smile – and so I did.
Somehow we all wound up at Sig Ep, one of the fraternities. I can still vaguely remember dancing in the front dark room, though I have no idea who I was dancing with. I know that I was wearing a white tee because it was a highlighter mixer because combining underage drunk people in a crammed dark space wasn’t enough; you had to get filthy things scrawled across your tee shirt under a black light to make the night really memorable.
I don’t remember writing on anybody and I cannot recall anybody writing on me, but in the pictures I still have from that night, I can see that sentences like, “I want to fuck you” were printed in block letters on my shirt’s neckline. I’m more concerned today that it must have taken someone a long time to write that sentence in block letters across my chest – and that I still can’t remember it happening.
An unknowable amount of time later, I was throwing up into the flowerbeds former Sig Ep pledges had once toiled over. One of the guys held my hair from my face and I remember him taking me home and being very sweet and not crossing any kind of line while I was so out of it. My Big Sister called the next day to see if I was okay, and I croaked that I would be fine as soon as my friend Mike went to the dining hall and brought me back a trough of fries, the only thing I believed would help me get over what I’m quite certain was alcohol poisoning.
My friends, that story is one I like to call A Cautionary Tale. Everything turned out just fine, but my very drunken evening could have unfolded quite a bit differently and quite a bit more dangerously. I was seventeen. I wore a size nothing. I’d never met the guy who drove me home before I got into a car alone with him. I’d never glugged down an entire bottle of champagne.
That I ended up okay is actually quite extraordinary.
I couldn’t help but recall those nonlinear fragments of memory I still have from that long-ago evening as I watched this latest episode of The Real Housewives of New York because the action begins on Carole and Heather strolling near the High Line and Carole telling her friend her very own cautionary tale. See, Carole has been spending a great deal of time with the twenty-nine year old personal chef she met at Luann’s house. There was a spark that was lit in that Sag Harbor kitchen that didn’t come from the stove or from a burning s’more, and Adam the Chef knew an opportunity when he saw it and he called Carole once they returned to the city. The unlikely pair went to a Halloween party where Carole did several shots of tequila and then gnawed on a gummy bear given to her by a sweet dealer who she managed to mistake for a sweets dealer, and the combination of the two things hitting her delicate system caused her head to spin and made her experience visions of witches and vampires moving in a languid slow motion. Before she lost her shit entirely, Adam – who I hope was dressed as either a real-life Prince or as a slice of buttered cucumber so Carole would be more inclined to lick him – found them a pedicab and attempted to get poor Carole and her drug-induced hallucinations to safety. Unfortunately, she puked all over him, herself, and her boots, but young Adam remained completely nonplussed and just reached forward and held back her hair like that Sig Ep stranger did for me when I was seventeen.
I think we’re meant to see Carole’s vomit-filled evening as a cautionary tale that is designed to warn us all against consuming drugs hidden inside of candy, just as we are meant to see Sonja’s entire life as a cautionary tale of what could happen when you marry a hundred-year-old business scion who then tires of you and you decide you must retain some form of relevance or power and you decide to achieve it by bedding children who claim they are models and enjoy appearing on camera next to a fifty-year-old woman who often refers to herself in the third person. But back to Carole’s cautionary tale. The story ended with her cuddling up with a hot chef who will one day turn thirty, so the night was actually a success. Still, it would be irresponsible of me not to toss out the idea that randomly accepting drugs from strangers could lead to problems like public vomit, though I’m way more of the belief that it was the shots of tequila rushing through the system of a woman whose jean size hovers somewhere around negative twelve, so if we have learned anything, it’s really to eat something besides a gummy bear before doing shots – and that it’s best to never leave the house without a hair band, lest a scruffy chef not be in the vicinity to pull your hair away from your face.
Speaking of walking and talking cautionary tales, it’s Bethenny’s birthday and she’s about to throw herself a little dinner party. I cannot help that my reaction to watching an assistant carry around her boss’ thong was a series of mild convulsions, but look – not everyone can pull off a bondage-style jumpsuit, so let’s give credit where credit is due. Bethenny is smiling as she (and her assistant) arrive at the birthday dinner that takes place in a room crammed with every Housewife except for Dorinda and Kristen, but who can miss them when there are male models at every corner of the table who are drawn to these women for reasons that include their sparkling effervescence and the fact that they travel with camera crews? Sure, models have been known to appreciate a silly little thing called exposure, but who cares about that or the fact that these models are so young that they have never even heard of Jordache Jeans? They look pretty, they are willing to go down on Sonja if that’s what it takes while protecting her from the nonexistent TMZ cameras she fears and, should the night get monotonous, they can probably procure some Molly-filled gummy bears that might turn out to be a way better gift than whatever Yummy Tummy item Heather gave Bethenny as a birthday present.
I know I’m supposed to react to the fact that Dorinda and Kristen weren’t invited to the festivities, but I rarely include people I’ve met twice into my birthday plans. I realize that the rules are different in The Magical Land of Housewives, and I know that Bethenny will get shit for her exclusion/oversight, but I understand where she’s coming from. Birthdays are meant to be celebrated with dear friends, beleaguered assistants, and men Sonja will bang in the pre-dawn hours, and something that special really should not be monkeyed with.
Kristen, however, doesn’t understand why she was excluded from the birthday guest list of a person she met twice. After Heather tells her that basically everybody besides Kristen was there, Kristen asks her housekeeper how she would feel in a similar situation, and her housekeeper’s response is, “Who cares?” I now love that woman and I would like to make a public plea that she become our newest Housewife. Seriously, someone get that woman an apple to hold! She can take Dorinda’s slot; I’m quite certain that none of us have become all that attached to her yet.
Speaking of Dorinda – who received a shitload of screen time this episode – she goes from being a pretend guest of honor at one meal to not being invited to another meal and then all but castrating her boyfriend when he takes her to dinner at a restaurant. But before we get to the dinner that made me lose my appetite just in time for me to pull on my scanty springtime attire, first we get to watch Dorinda and her daughter loll around their apartment. Hannah is twenty-one and extremely thin and her eyebrows are nineteen shades darker than her hair and, like Kristen was earlier, she is wearing a bold matte red lipstick that I now think must have been in some bag of swag handed out after a taping of Watch What Happens.
Hannah doesn’t have any sort of relationship with her mother’s boyfriend, John. It’s been over two years now, and he never sleeps over the apartment if Hannah is there. Now, I was a child of divorce too, and there’s maybe nothing more uncomfortable than watching your parents begin to date and there were a couple of men over the years my mother was involved with who made me contemplate how difficult it might really be to emancipate myself and then move someplace far like Texas or Guam. And I can also see how this guy John might not have made the best impression on Hannah since he has yet to make all that great an impression on me either. But see, I’m torn – and only part of that internal struggle raging inside of me is due to the fact that Dorinda wore a bedazzled skull tank top to dinner and there are some things that cross a line so entirely that I’m not sure I’ll ever be okay again.
Over dinner, Dorinda and John discuss some business they are going in on together and then Dorinda invites John to stay over because her daughter is either away from home for the night with friends or attending some eyebrow seminar somewhere. John is excited to actually get to spoon his girlfriend, but he does bring up how damaging it is that Dorinda keeps him completely separate from her life with Hannah and he doesn’t much love that he will always be her second priority and never her first. Dorinda’s response is one I read as appropriately defensive; I think mothers should put their children before a boyfriend, and when he presses the issue, she tells him to “back that shit up and back it up quick.” Something tells me that I might not need to worry about whether or not the wine glasses I buy for Dorinda’s wedding come affixed with rhinestone skeletons that are dishwasher safe.
Ramona might actually have herself another wedding at some point. Our crazy one has herself a business partner/potential suitor, and all of it is so very confusing to watch. Turns out that Ramona’s going into the restaurant business and her new partner – some guy named John – met her at a social event and liked everything about her and wanted to partner up with her. So just so I can work this out for myself, some man saw Ramona out, which meant she had to have been mainlining Pinot directly into her veins, and he found her personality to be so wonderful that he wants take a financial risk with her and spend more time with her, which means that what my sweet old grandmother used to say is in fact true: for every pot there is a cover. The other thing going on in this business meeting for a restaurant I would never enter – not even on a dare – is that John flirts with Ramona and she seems to like him a little too and I think I can make that call because she can’t look at him while she is talking to him. It was actually kind of cute – like in the way a hamster running on that plastic wheel is kind of cute until you remember it’s just a glorified rat.
Over at the apartment of a single woman so cool that she doesn’t have a kitchen even though she’s sleeping with a chef, Carole picks a wedgie and gets ready for a night of ping ponging with Adam, and I’d love it if I was making a clever innuendo by saying that, but they are actually going to play ping pong. The chemistry the two have is fun and it’s obvious and maybe the only issue they will have to deal with besides the fact that there’s little doubt that Carole is older than this guy’s parents is that Luann might react badly to this new relationship since Adam used to seriously date her young niece. There are obviously going to be difficulties, but I hope Carole and Adam make it, if only so I can continue to watch him onscreen because he looks exactly my type in that he appears to only bathe sometimes. The two of them ride off into the distance on Adam’s bicycle after playing a rousing game of ping pong, Carole sitting her teensy ass on the handlebars, and I hope that she tells me what happened after the scene faded when I see her later on today in Social Studies class.
The last scene of the night is where it all kind of falls apart. Bethenny, Dorinda, Heather, and Carole meet for dinner, and Dorinda is the first to arrive. This is a woman who has not had a whole lot of luck in restaurants lately, and I’m thinking that maybe she ought to become a shut-in who only orders take-out. Bethenny gets there next, and Dorinda is clear that her first impression of Bethenny wasn’t great and that she hopes her opinion changes, and for a moment – frenzied and cold though Bethenny’s greeting is – it looks like everything might go well. Dorinda tells Bethenny about a sample sale that’s going on, and Bethenny is genuinely excited about the news and I think it’s kind of sweet that a millionaire like Bethenny still gets excited about getting a good deal, but when the other women join them, the conversation becomes strange.
Both Carole and Dorinda are widows, and they discuss how they use the term “my late husband,” which Bethenny thinks makes them seem old. Playing a joyful game of experimental linguistics, Bethenny inquires whether or not it would be better to use the words “my dead husband,” which doesn’t go over all that well, but since she’s surrounded by a relatively sane bunch, Bethenny’s head is not shoved through a wall.
Feeling happy and confident that she is around calm-ish people who won’t overreact – which means she very badly misread the room – Heather brings up that Kristen really felt badly about not being invited to Bethenny’s birthday dinner since everybody (except Dorinda) was invited. Bethenny’s reaction to hearing that she hurt the feelings of a woman she is contractually obligated to dine, travel, and brawl with is to respond with what can only be called Sarcastic Charades, in which she pretends to fall asleep so she doesn’t have to hear the nonsense being said to her. The spontaneous and exaggerated narcolepsy annoys Heather big time. She presented the discussion in a way that was more than logical and peaceful, but Bethenny is not about to answer for anything she doesn’t want to discuss. As far as she is concerned, she doesn’t even know Kristen, she barely knows Dorinda, and she nods when Heather asks if she was actually not a fully-invited guest but really Carole’s plus-one.
“I don’t see anything wrong with any of this,” Bethenny sighs to a tableful of women who are now either terrified of her or entirely disgusted by her.
It’s actually not easy to systematically offend so many people so quickly. Bethenny is indeed a pioneer.
Next week, Luann wears a necklace that looks like it was constructed from gold-dipped human scalps and Sonja launches her imaginary business that will yield her imaginary zillions that she can share with her imaginary model boyfriend.
Maybe Kristen will get invited to that party.