Contrary to what some rather fortunate guys in my life might think, I do have a gag reflex. And I know this to be the case because last week, when I accidentally DVR’d (and then on-purpose watched) The Real Housewives of Orange County, continual and violent gagging was the result.
Let me be clear: I don’t employ the word “gag” as a compliment the way it’s used in the commercials I always see for RuPaul’s Drag Race. When exactly did “gag” happen? And is there some kind of mystical candle lighting ceremony I can perform that involves me waving around a piece of sage in the air while I strap crystals to my body and chant some kind of incantation in order to reach the linguistic gods to ensure that “gag” as a synonym for something positive will last only as long as “mint” and “tubular” did back in 1982?
When it was still in production, I watched every single episode of The Rachel Zoe Project, and I won’t apologize for it even for a second. It was like watching porn. I have never seen peep-toe slingbacks and luxurious leather clutches more gorgeously organized. I would stare at the television set, mouth agape, fantasizing about having her closet as my own. Looking at her setup made me want to strip off every stitch of clothing from my body – just so I could figure out how to accessorize it better before putting it all back on. In fact, I recently changed my home office into a closet annex/dressing room after being inspired by how Zoe laid out her wispy blouses and her platform heels, and even if that means that from now on I'll have to do my writing while crouched into a corner next to my bathtub and those used Q-tips that I thought I had successfully tossed into the garbage, I stand by my new feng shui.
But I digress.
On that show, I remember that Rachel Zoe’s hair stylist used this sentence when describing a jam-covered sausage Zoe prepared for a gathering:
“I gag for Rachel’s sausage.”
There are seriously so many things that are confounding about that sentence, including the vast amount of money any person with working vision would have lost in a bet if the wager involved whether or not Rachel Zoe had a sausage recipe. But my mind first went to the new vernacular within the statement. “Gag” was about to be the new "fetch”?
But gagging for me recently turned quite literal. I returned home last week after a long day of work. It’s May, and I teach high school seniors. They have felt done with school since October –
of junior year. That I haven’t killed one of them or that a motley band of eighteen year olds (to whom I just assigned a paper) have not killed me means my teaching is nothing short of “highly effective,” but, as it’s the end of the year, I’m fucking tired. So at 4pm on a Tuesday, I happily settled onto my sofa to watch something both mindless and familiar.
Scrolling through what I had recorded, a new episode of The Real Housewives popped up. I thought I had recorded the lovable loons from New York, but my days were off. (My days have been confused a lot lately. Am I the only one who thought there might really have been two Thursdays last week?) Anyway, it turned out that when I pressed play, instead of an emaciated Carole lolling on her tiger-print sofa or a cleaning-a-bidet-while-wearing-curlers Sonja, the very blonde women of the OC appeared and began to down vodka on my television screen.
Now I swore off the Orange County ladies some time ago. It’s hard to remember exactly when I stopped watching, but I think there might have been some woman named Peggy who appeared on the show, and I missed her season entirely. I sort of saw a few episodes with the ridiculous Alexis, in so much that if someone screamed to me, Jeopardy-style, “Who is Jesus Jugs?” I’d know it’s the stacked, religious one with the creepy husband.
But, though they were the first cast of this (ushering-in-the-apocalypse) groundbreaking series, I stopped enjoying even hate-watching the OC episodes. The participants have been part of a revolving door of casting, and though a few have been on for a while now, I genuinely don’t root for any of them.
Let’s take Tamara. Tamara scares me. Everything about her strikes me as hard: her steely eyes, her curled-into-a-sneer lips, her breast implants that hover just under her chin. I find her let’s-get-wasted behavior odd for someone her age and kind of inappropriate for someone who has kids – at least when you’re a parent who is on a reality show and your kids will see you reclining on someone’s countertop, drinking giant tumblers of tequila. She’s also vicious in her anger. She’s the kind of adult woman who fights like an 8th grader, and I just can’t cheer for her – though I agree that her former husband seemed terrifying, and bravo to her for skirting away, and good luck during the custody battles that are becoming more and more public as each day goes by.
Even the supporting characters on the show were terrible back when I watched. That sweaty guy, Slade, who has banged every woman who even appeared in a background shot at a Jamba Juice during production? He made me nauseous. He was all slimy and opportunistic and he had terriblehair and he woke up next to Gretchen every day without screaming uncontrollably, so I’m pretty sure that he’s not fully human – and I have always been scared of hybrid creatures, especially one whose actual name is “Slade Smiley.” If I were being paid, I couldn’t create such a ridiculous name for such a ridiculous man.
But it’s Vicki who made me officially stop watching the show.
It’s Vicki who made me call my mother once to thank her for only reaching the decibels a small Maltipoo can hear back in those days when she used to be a screamer – instead of the gerbils and the hamsters that I’m pretty sure communicate with Vicki when she devolves frequently into shrieks, the likes of which I have never heard.
It’s Vicki, with her oddly mushed-together eyes, her deep dimples, the hideous blouses she wears with the oddly-placed cutouts near or around her ample cleavage, and the utterly evident desperation she wears like a Paxil patch who made me stop following the series completely.
And it’s Vicki who made me gag last week.
Just so you know, I feel like I’m about to open a carton of milk that has been left in a refrigerator for so long that it’s turned into gouda, and that I’m turning to the unassuming person in my kitchen to ask him to smell it. That’s what describing the date Vicki went on feels like I’m about to do to you, my dear reader, right now.
I am genuinely sorry in advance.
But really, what is human suffering if it cannot be shared?
So Vicki had a romantic evening with this smarmy guy who speaks in an Arkansas accent and calls her “honey” and tells her she’s beautiful with a straight face.
His name is Brooks.
Brooks is gross.
She asked him if he was going to “fill her love tank.” I’m not completely sure what she meant by that horrific choice of phrasing, but I do know that the question made me curl into a ball and watch the remainder of the scene through my fingers like I was watching a horror movie – which I evidently was. Because the icky man said yes, yes, a thousand times yes; he was going to fill her love tank. And again, while I’m not certain what that means, it cannot possibly mean anything good.
She also asked him if he was going to be “a good boy.” I’ve got two things to say to that:
1. Brooks has not been a “boy” for a score of decades.
2. And if you have to ask in the first place, you might as well admit to yourself that he will never be “good.” Men don’t really change that much, especially when “change” means all of a sudden developing traits like being honest or loyal.
I experienced the wine-soaked dinner these two people shared, pretending as though they were having a private moment while all the time wearing mic packs that picked up their every coo to one another, and it all seriously made me feel ill. Remember, I didn’t know much about this Brooks guy other than a few scandalous things I’ve read about him on Radar Online, but have you ever seen someone smile onscreen and that smile takes both your intuition and your stomach and twists them until they become pretzels – the saltless kind that suck – and the reaction you have is visceral and it’s brought forth just by taking one glance at a person? Looking at Brooks made me feel those things, and each time the camera cut to Vicki’s hopeful face or to her talking head shots where she discussed how much she loved this repulsive creature, gagging – and not the good Rachel’s-sausage-rules kind – happened.
I called a guy I sometimes like – it really depends upon the day – who is masculine as can be and who just happens to watch Bravo’s entire lineup. The first time I was over his house and saw he had a Real Housewives saved on his DVR, I laughed and, when he tried to explain, I told him there was no way to talk his way out of it. He was a Real Housewives fan. He had to own it. And own it he does, because when I told him of my accidental exposure to the ladies of the OC and asked him about the Brooks Backstory (I think capitalizing it makes both the story and the man sound more profound), he told me how, for seasons, the guy has been a creepy presence who has alienated Vicki’s children and all of her friends, and every single physical reaction I had while watching that one solitary scene was validated.
So The Real Housewives of Orange County was, for me, bile-inducing, and I actually turned the episode off soon after the dinner scene and erased it permanently from my DVR, hoping all shreds of reminders would also leave my brain in the process. No such luck. But I have been making an effort to remove the truly low-quality entertainment from my life to make room for the good stuff, of which, evidently, there is a ton. (I finally started watching House of Cards; I just made it through season one. Holy awesomeness. How I wish there was a camera I could turn to throughout the day to expound upon my every wicked thought. Life would be so much more fun.)
I started by removing the easy stuff. The Bachelor? That drivel is gone from my life for two reasons. One: the way those chicks spell their names annoys me. I know; I should blame their parents –as I'm sure they do for the rest of their emotional shortcomings – but I just can't root for the happiness of a girl whose name is spelled Ashzlee. The second reason? Actual dating is uncomfortable. I don't need to experience stilted small talk vicariously, let alone dates that include scaling the side of a skyscraper so that the shitting-in-her-carefully-selected-thonged participant can make clichéd, producer-fed verbal parallels between the terrifying scaling experience and how love can also be scary. It hurts my brain to watch these women try to wax profound.
Because let's be clear: that girl is on that particular date because, on her application to get on a show to fight for the love of a stranger, she wrote that she was afraid of heights. The producers aren't stupid; the Heights Date goes to the one most likely to go catatonic. They've got a storyline to create. But what I don't get is that these shows have been on for a long time. Why don't these contestants realize that everything and anything they admit to fearing will be exploited? If I went on that show, I'd write that I feared diamonds – being near them, looking at them closely – that merely slipping one on to my finger might cause me to crawl into a fetal position and begin sucking my thumb while mainlining tequila. Ladies, if you're going to enter a scenario where your Internet is ripped from your lives for a few months so you can focus only on fighting to make eye contact with a man you probably wouldn't even deign to speak to at a bar, make the situation work for you – and stay off of spinoffs like Bachelor Pad, cause I'm pretty sure you can get HPV just by watching the show.
Like I’ve had to do with some people, there are certain shows I have to, for my benefit as a member of the human species, completely cut out of my life. If I’m watching reality, I need a series populated by people with at least one redeeming quality, even if it’s only that the person has a fluffy caramel-colored dog who looks genuinely excited to greet his duplicitous mistress at the end of her exhausting day of bitchery. Seems I’ve lost the gene that allows me to enjoy witnessing entire episodes of entire series where content can be summed up as “stupid people fight.”
I think that aversion means that I might, without having realized it, become a grown-up.
And I think it’s the reason why witnessing a woman like Vicki, who has remained on a series that goes through cast members like she plows through bottles of Wine By Wives for nine continuous seasons, makes me sad. The hysteria she has had to produce to keep her job and to make her seem relevant has never ceased. She has lost friends and disappointed her children and gotten divorced and publicly dated a dipshit. She has used the term “love tank” without vomiting. She has lost all sense of what is Normal World behavior since she’s spent so much time in Reality Land.
I’m sure she’s making good money. I hope it’s worth the price she seems so willing to pay.