Here are some of my all-time favorite birthday memories:
· One year, my mother rented out a chocolate store and some of my best friends and I dipped marshmallows that were on sticks into whatever flavor of chocolate we wanted and then we coated the entire thing with pastel sprinkles and made molds of our initials out of creamy white chocolate and no fifth grader has ever had more fun than I did that day.
· I turned sixteen wearing a red gown and white opera gloves that looked dramatic as hell and felt sweaty as fuck. And I danced for the entire night and looked across the room and saw everyone I loved writing on a message board with sparkly paint pens and I really wish I had that message board still, but I’ve always been really bad at saving things.
· I have no idea what age I was turning, but I do know that I decided to just have a slumber party and there were sleeping bags laid out across my living room floor at it looked like football field decorated with Snoopy and flannel and Wonder Woman and not one Disney Princess because my party occurred during another time and my mother brought in chicken nuggets and cheeseburgers and fries from McDonald’s – the most exotic food I could think of because my mother was a certified heath nut who did stuff like try to pass off sprouts as candy and just a few days ago she handed me “cookies” made out of Fiber One cereal – and I was never allowed to have McDonald’s and that’s what I wanted for my birthday. And you know what? The McDonald’s was delicious, especially the fries. Someone (I have no idea now who) once told me that their fries are covered in both salt and sugar and obviously that means that the head chef of McDonald’s is a culinary genius and I need to remember who it was that told me the fast food secret because maybe that person also knows how to remove the fat content from a box of Munchkins and has the number of a person willing to deliver sixty of them to me within the hour.
· I was turning twenty-one and at school in Delaware where the bars were required to close at one in the morning and all I wanted was to make it until then and not be one of those girls throwing up underneath a table or into a snow bank. And at one o’clock on the dot – after the beer and the tequila shots and the Mind Eraser I drank through a straw and the dancing when there wasn’t any music on – the lights of the bar came up and I announced, “I made it!” and I was then all but carried out of the place and I fell into a sleepy unconsciousness for the next six hours and I woke up to several feet of snow on the ground and I feared I’d actually been asleep for about a week.
But the thing is, I don’t really like my birthday. I think it’s because it falls during the first week in January when it’s cold and dreary and the holidays have just ended and everyone is kind of celebrated out and most people are poorer than usual and I just feel like it’s always an anticlimactic kind of day. Whatever the downside, next year I plan to take a moment of silence to appreciate my birthday and I will ignore that it arrives at a shitty time of the year and I will give real thanks that at least I won’t be spending it at Dorinda’s country manor surrounded by people I hardly know and barely tolerate while sipping Ramona Pinot before slipping quietly into one of the twelve bathrooms to Google what’s in a Mind Eraser because probably only the absence of continuous thought could get me through that kind of festivity.
Still, a very happy birthday to you, Dorinda! May your year bring you joy, continued health, a different hairstyle (at least in the back), seventeen new fur vests with one made entirely out of hamster, a live-in brow specialist for your dear daughter, and a boyfriend who is not universally loathed by both you and all of your friends. And yes, I know that you publicly defend him – and that’s sweet and all – but when it’s just the two of you and a camera crew, you look like you are imagining the most brutal way to kill him and I’m going to give you a little birthday present right now and tell you to either break up with the guy or just use a carving knife and then bury the evidence and frame Sonja for the entire thing. She will be fine. She will hire the best imaginary lawyer in all of Monaco and fly him to the States in her invisible jet and her legal intern will take care when selecting the jury and try not to pick people who are jealous because they have never lived the life and her Swami Priestess will light abundance candles until both space and time are moved and Sonja, clad in the one dress that actually exists from her global luxury clothing empire, will be set free. In other words, if you off the guy, it’ll probably all end up okay but it’ll save you a ton of time if you just break up with him – though that will make for way less interesting TV and you are a Housewife now, Dorinda. You have responsibilities. We’ve currently got one incarcerated Housewife and one rehabbing-again Housewife and we also have NeNe, who is scary enough just standing in a dining room and doesn’t even need to be in jail or currently experiencing a detox to scare the bejeezus out of me. What I’m hinting at here by mentioning the Psychotic Grand Dames of this illustrious franchise, Dorinda, is that it’s officially time to bring it.
And I can only hope that it’ll all be brought during the weekend the Housewives spend at Dorinda’s Berkshires home in the most terrifying bit of narrative framing I’ve ever seen outside of an Agatha Christie novel or in Part IV of a slasher movie. The arrivals don’t really scream of any upcoming violence or disharmony. Just like in a slasher, it all looks so innocent at first with Ramona and Luann showing up together and neither woman has clawed the other with talon-like fingernails on the limo ride, but my guess is that’s because they are pros who know you don’t scream that the other person is constantly drunk or an absent mother unless there are cameras present. Ramona is completely effusive about Dorinda’s home, so elegant and large and filled with luxuries like air conditioners and nothing at all like the shack Heather forced her to stay in that she initially thought was a garage. As they tour the spacious house, Ramona can’t help but pay her hostess the kind of compliment she usually reserves for either a grape she can turn into really bad wine or her pharmacist who hooks her up with her medication in fifteen minutes flat: “The people who don’t talk about it are the people who have it.”
Anyone want to venture a guess as to what “it” could mean? Could “it” be sanity? Public decorum? A rope ladder to get a guest the fuck out of there should Sonja begin talking about running a P.R. firm for her entire adult life?
Showing up next to the house Dorinda’s late husband bought for her are Carole, Kristen, and Heather. I think it’s time for me to accept that Heather has officially committed to wearing large hats to every event that will take place this season and Carole has given up eating entirely. But Kristen has no time to react to the fedora or the protruding clavicle in her midst as she’s too busy mentioning out how Bethenny is missing out because she’s in New York at a luxury hotel suite with her daughter instead of trapped inside of a large house in the middle of nowhere with people who have done things like throw glass at her face.
What’s so great about these Housewives is they can move on from silly events like assault with a wine goblet and soon Ramona is having an odd conversation with Carole about how she might be dating that guy Peter who is her business partner, the one who looks like Templeton from Charlotte’s Web, but though she’s the one who brings it up in the first place, she refuses to answer any direct questions about whether or not she has kissed the guy. That conversation over, it’s time for her to make sure that everybody hates Luann so she draws Kristen aside and asks her if she attended Dorinda’s Birthday: The Prologue that was held at the caviar place, and I was hoping that Kristen would respond, “No. That’s another event I wasn’t invited to,” but I think Kristen gets a little bit afraid when she’s around the woman who once cut her entire lip and then blamed her for it because Kristen knows that Ramona can’t get her hair wet after she’s had a blowout and Kristen splashing her was akin to cold clocking Ramona across the face and perhaps it’s because of all her post-traumatic stress, but Kristen’s comebacks are a little bit delayed. It doesn’t mater anyway; Kristen could be a bare wall. Ramona just needs to talk to something sort of neutral so she can build her very own anti-Luann army, and she tells Kristen that Luann announced at a lovely event some news about Ramona criticizing John right in front of Dorinda.
“Why would Luann bring it up at a beautiful dinner party?” she wonders, and again I was hoping I could put words in Kristen’s mouth like she’s my very own wooden dummy who rocks a bold lip and shoes of two different colors and make that dummy say, “Luann brought up something bad at a beautiful birthday dinner because she is on The Real Housewives and the Countess almost got canned last season and she’s not about to let that shit happen again.” But alas, Kristen just kind of nods and agrees with Ramona and I’m starting to fear that pretty is maybe not as smart as I’d hoped.
It’s Ramona’s carefully thought out opinion that Luann is just threatened by how close she is to Dorinda, which is a ridiculous charge for several reasons including the fact that Luann has no desire to get close to Ramona and she and Dorinda are already chummy and, frankly, it is kind of weird that Ramona seemed to fall in a sit-on-her-lap-in-public friend love with Dorinda the second the woman was gifted with her very own microphone pack. But maybe their bond is nothing but genuine because it appears Dorinda and Ramona might have a lot in common. They both have blonde hair and they have both probably been blocked on Andy Cohen’s iPhone and they both can fly off the handle and lose every bit of their shit at a moment’s notice and Dorinda proves she’s got that power by walking into the room during the conversation between Kristen and Ramona and demanding to know what they were speaking about because she heard her own name and that’s when Kristen tells her that she felt kind of uncomfortable when John was grinding against her the night she met him in front of her husband like he was a drunk nineteen year old at a foam party in Cancun. But though she herself has complained about her own boyfriend’s habit of pawing at her in public, Dorinda tells Kristen that she is just as much to blame for what happened and she felt embarrassed for Kristen because Kristen is a mother and a wife to one of the biggest douchebags in New York (and I live here and would like to inform anybody who does not that the douchebag contest in New York is fierce) and Dorinda also felt embarrassed and it’s all Kristen’s fault for “acting coquettish,” which I guess is the new term for desperately trying to peel the hands of a stranger off of your ass and not stabbing him in the eye with one of your various colored stilettos.
It’s not until Heather walks into the room and wants to know what just went down that Dorinda begins to soften and to explain how difficult it’s been being a widow and that the last few years would have been far more painful if John hadn’t been around to hold her hand and lick her face in public and dry clean every garment she owns and it’s her tears and her vulnerability that makes everything stop for a second and even Ramona has a moment of clarity and declares that she judged John too quickly and that she’s not going to do that anymore – and that means that there better be a Duane Reade up in the Berkshires because Ramona might need to be fully medicated to put away her judgment for a man who seems to have repelled everyone he has recently come into contact with.
By dinner, all of the chaos has settled down and the women arrive at the festive Red Lion Inn. Luann is wearing a choker similar to the one I thought looked good on me at the Alanis Morissette concert in 1994 and there is a quick ban placed on anyone eating raven and it’s right about then when Kristen asks Carole why Bethenny left her poll result party so quickly and there’s just something kind of weird to me about why Kristen seems to care so much. The only reason I can buy is that one night, as their children slept, Kristen’s husband Josh donned his finest fedora and presented his beloved with charts and graphs that proved that the only thing that really matters on The Real Housewives of New York is Bethenny and that’s why she gets to stand in the center holding that apple in the opening credits and that’s why she gets to announce, “I’m not a housewife, but I am real” last and that’s why she’s making a fucking fortune just for showing up on this program and if Kristen wants to remain on this show and maybe one day have to fight for less alimony, she better bring Bethenny up every hour on the hour whether she and Bethenny are in the same room or in the same state or in the same hemisphere.
It’s actually not the worst plan that was ever hatched.
Ramona, a woman who proudly counts her girlfriends weekly so that she will be able to announce the exact number of them to the masses, jumps in then to say that Bethenny is just not a girl’s girl and the evidence that supports that is the people at her birthday party were her stylists and assistants and nobody who really cares about her. It’s not all that incorrect an observation, but it’s an odd one to make while sitting at Dorinda’s Birthday Dinner: Chapter One, and the birthday girl herself is surrounded by people she only recently met. It’s Luann who comes to Bethenny’s defense and explains to everyone that Bethenny has had to scratch her way through life and that experience has limited her ability to trust people and get close to them and some of the women nod because what Luann is saying is true but what Heather says next is also true: there comes a time when you have to stop blaming your past for who you continue to be. And I was just about to hop on the Heather Train and declare her the most rational Housewife on the entire east coast (which is saying almost nothing since the east coast Housewives include everybody from New Jersey and Atlanta), but then the woman lost me big time when her voice caught a little bit in her throat and she explained that everyone has experienced trauma and she just had to say goodbye to her nanny of nine years so she knows what it must be like to be like for Bethenny who spent her childhood listening to her stepfather call her mother a cunt and being ignored by her real father even on his deathbed.
The next morning, Heather manages to face the day even though her nanny is still gone and Sonja arrives dressed head to toe in animal prints like she’s Mrs. Robinson with even worse luck. The women all head into town and Sonja has tossed an enormous fur hat on top of her head and in the back of a store, Ramona corners Luann to ask her why she brought up anything unpleasant at Dorinda’s very first birthday dinner. (What month is it on this show? Is it December? Should we all just take a quick vote and agree to give Dorinda all of December as her birthday? Jesus seemed like a benevolent guy; he’d probably be willing to share the month with the Housewife who gives the Upper East Side a whole new name – though he might not like what names she’s given that part of the city.) What’s interesting here is that Luann apologizes and says the comment just popped out and Ramona laughs because that’s always been her excuse and they kind of agree to just let it go and it’s borderline stunning because last year Ramona would have heaved Luann into that rack of clothing and then peed down her neck while her eyes bulged out until they became larger than Sonja’s hat.
We are witnessing an evolution, my friends – or we are witnessing a very fine advertisement for Xanax.
And then it’s evening and it’s time to celebrate Dorinda once again with a fancy dinner party downstairs. Dorinda declares (before she even blows out her candles) that her greatest birthday wish is that everyone accepts John. My greatest birthday wish is for a pony and I might have a better chance of my wish ultimately coming true.
When John arrives, he looks genuinely happy to be there and it’s pretty obvious that he worships Dorinda and she allows him to give her three slobbery kisses in the way that usually she would strangle him for, but now she is in front of a mini audience and she has spent the last day singing the man’s praises and so she just has to take the kisses and I applaud her for getting through it without exploding. Everybody goes upstairs to get dressed and that’s when all the men arrive. There’s Heather’s husband Jonathan and Dorinda’s brother and his husband and Josh shows up in another stupid fucking hat and Sonja wanders into Dorinda’s bedroom in a silk robe and kisses John hello and sidles up beside him because I really think she just can’t help it and she’s stranded in a place without interns and nobody has told her how plump and firm her skin looks in over five hours. But Sonja is not there for compliments. She needs a dress because she forgot hers (behind a dumpster where she flashed a twenty-year-old model last night because, at twenty-four or so, Dominik is getting up there in the years) and Dorinda lends her something to wear. I’d love to describe her borrowed outfit, but I have no idea what it was because I was literally transfixed by Luann. The Countess was wearing a busy dress and black lace gloves and enormous statement earrings and her hair had what I believe she thought was a Veronica Lake wave and there was so much going on that I immediately took two Advil to stop the spins that began to take over. Yes, Luann looked exactly like an overaccesorized soap villain from the eighties – until the real villain arrived.
Right before dinner, just as Ramona’s “friend” Peter showed up, Bethenny popped her head through a door jam. She showed up! She drove to the Berkshires! Her daughter is at a hotel! She’s making an effort! She brought a humongous arrangement of flowers! She’s happy to be here even though she can’t really make herself smile! She wants to murder Heather!
Everyone actually looks pleased that Bethenny showed up, but nobody can react all that much because there is an “investigation” underway and I’m putting “investigation” in quotation marks because I think the primary source of information used was Radar Online, a website that has information almost as accurate as what the Secretary records at The National Conference for Pathological Liars. It appears that Ramona’s date used to bang Mario’s mistress, and that is a fucked up kind of scenario and I guess it explains why some of the women stare at him across the dinner table with their eyes in slits, though maybe that’s just so they can avoid looking at John because they all promised Dorinda that they’d be nice so her greatest birthday wish will come true.
(That reminds me: where the fuck is my pony?)
At the table, Carole is briefly wearing a fur vest I imagine she borrowed from Dorinda after requesting the one made entirely out of bunny and Heather asks Peter how he first met Ramona. Now listen to me because I am completely serious: I no longer care that Peter looks like a rodent from a children’s book or that he has made the insane choice to date Ramona. Peter’s response to Heather is, “Ramona used to take care of me when I was younger,” and hearing that line was the only time I legitimately laughed during the entire episode. Who cares that he’s male and single? Make this guy the ninth housewife! Shove Bethenny over so Peter is in the middle in the opening credits! I want to braid Peter’s hair and share muffin recipes with him and have in depth discussions about life and love and what might really be wrong with Ramona.
And that should have been where it all ended, but when you combine attention-starved women, cameras, alcohol, custody battles, lost nannies, and a show that renews contracts based on the level of discord you were able to create during the prior season, things can’t end on a laugh. Instead what happens is that Bethenny lets Dorinda know that she is allergic to certain kinds of fish, which might complicate a sushi dinner, but Bethenny is very clear that she will find things to eat and that nobody should be concerned. But across the table, Heather is very concerned and she asks if Bethenny would like a meatball because there’s one in the kitchen. It’s sweet that Heather doesn’t want Bethenny to starve to death in her presence, but can we all just silently take a long look at Bethenny? Does this woman really seem to value food all that much?
Heather’s concern annoys Bethenny. She feels like Heather is always tending to her and it’s not like she even knows Heather well and Heather is horrified that her kindness can be brushed aside so rudely and that’s when it all comes out. Heather tells Bethenny that she needs to lighten up and Bethenny throws back that Heather always wants to delve into real feelings with her and they’re basically strangers and Heather tosses back that she’s allowed to say what she fucking wants to say and that’s around the time I feared chopsticks and forks might start flying and if one landed in Luann’s hair, that would definitely be one accessory too many and it also occurred to me that the Human Resources department of Bravo should probably start handing out protective armor for these women to wear to meals.
But back at that table, Bethenny bursts into tears and tells Heather that if she opens up, she will wind up in a ball on the floor because she can’t just chat about her pain. Carole is right; Bethenny has two speeds. One is being wound tighter than a top and the second is bawling her eyes out. Heather doesn’t want to see Bethenny cry, so she rises from the table and walks towards her and Bethenny wards her off like she’s wielding a crucifix and Heather is a demon on speed and I have to wonder why the hell Bethenny is back on this show. She is too raw to talk about anything. She is about to keel over from emotional frustration. She doesn’t want to engage with the other women unless it’s at a volition she controls completely. I get that she’s a businesswoman and all and she’s got a brand to maintain, and I guess she’s back on a show where she’s meant to share her life simply so she can promote Skinny Girl – and because she might tip over and die without a camera pointed directly at her face. I think that attention has become like oxygen to her and maybe it’s because she got no attention from her mother and she craves some now, but all I know is that having a mild case of alcohol poisoning on my twenty-first birthday during a nor’easter was far more enjoyable than it would have been to attend Dorinda’s Birthday Dinner: Part Deux.
But back to the important stuff. If I allow him feel me up without gagging or complaining or ruining Part Eight of Dorinda’s Birthday Extravaganza, do you think there’s any way that Dorinda’s boyfriend would buy me my pony?