This season, each episode has centered on a particular Housewife, and this episode seemed to solidify the trend as we got almost an entire episode fixated on Bethenny Frankel, Our Lady of Perpetual Squabbles. She is by and large Andy Cohen’s favorite Real Housewife of all time, and the centerpiece to this season, though she seems like she would rather be getting a Brazillian wax by a blind man in a tornado than she would show up and be present for one good scene with the rest of the women.
Luckily, she didn’t have to talk about her problems with the rest of the cast because she has a therapist who is willing to go on camera with her and have sessions. Now, I am highly suspect of any therapist who would allow himself to be photographed on a reality-television program giving a session. My therapist would never go for that. It’s not like I don’t spend a bulk of each of my sessions talking about the Real Housewives, but no one wants what we talk about to air on television. My problems are boring, and they’re usually about how awful my mother’s cooking was when I was growing up. No one needs to hear that.
Bethenny’s childhood was a lot worse than some macaroni and cheese and some steak tips that were so chewy they were rendered inedible. To hear Bethenny tell it, her mother and stepfather were always getting drunk and doing drugs, her mother tried to commit suicide in front of her, her stepfather abused her mother, and he carried her mother down the hall and abused her and then had sex with her so loudly that Bethenny could hear it. She eventually meets up with her stepfather, a gem who once moved a 5-year-old Bethenny out of their apartment because he was $300,000 in debt to the mob and they were trying to kill him. You know, this all just sounds like your very normal childhood.
Those of us at the Real Housewives Institute who attended the Frankel-ly Speaking exhibit held in Spring 2010 know this whole story inside and out. If you haven’t heard it, there’s an E! True Hollywood Story that will catch you right up. But the rehash this episode was because Bethenny traveled to Miami to hang out with her old girlfriends and to visit with John, her stepfather, whom she considers her real father. They haven’t spoken in 25 years because the last time she saw him he physically attacked her. Doesn’t that just happen all the time?
While she was down in Miami, Bethenny met up with Countess Crackerjack and her daughter Prize Inside because little Prize had an art piece in Art Basel. Okay, it wasn’t at Art Basel, it was in the Select art show, which is a tent on the beach during Art Basel. And it was just one painting hung up with a bunch of other feminist paintings. It’s very sweet of her mother to travel all that way to see her (and Prize’s one nude self-portrait was actually quite good, and the best thing on the entire wall where it was stationed), but it is sort of like saying you’re going to see your child play at Yankee Stadium when you’re just going to watch her and her friends play tee ball in the parking lot.
While they were at the festival, LuAnn took Bethenny on a lap around the joint, both to tell her that her castmates think she should be making more of an effort to hang out with them and to look at all the art-school atrocities there were on display. There was a naked man with words scribbled on himself and a tinfoil fig leaf covering his no-no spot. There was a zebra head with a fake gold horn mounted on it so it looked like a unicorn. There was (and I am just guessing here) a lot of dark paintings about how much everyone’s parents suck.
There was one exhibit, however, that was utterly fascinating. An attractive young man called out and asked Bethenny and Crackerjacks if they wanted to feed the clown. He pointed to a man who looked like Patton Oswalt’s ugly younger brother with some clown makeup smeared all over his face and wearing a Party City clown costume. It was open in the back, and though you couldn’t see it, you know he was wearing a diaper. He looked like the worst thing in a Poltergeist movie, or Courtney Love on her best day.
Bethenny, always up for an adventure, said that she definitely would want to feed the clown. The cute young man told her that she would have to pay $3 to feed him. She asked if she could give him $30 and a bottle of Skinny Girl Vitamin Syrup to hold while she did it, but he said no and just took her $3. She was given what appeared to be a Chipwich ic- cream novelty and put it in the clown’s mouth. (If you ask me, this whole thing would have been a lot more successful if they used Choco Tacos instead, but no one asks me anything about clown-related activities after what happened with that go-go boy that night at Circus.) The clown didn’t just eat the Chipwich, he shoved it all in his mouth, smearing the makeup further on his face and losing his round red nose, revealing the tip of his nose underneath was not painted. He smiled and grinned, like a gorilla about to attack, and chewed frantically on that Chipwich through his smirk. Crackerjacks clutched her statement necklace and then clutched Bethenny’s arm, dragging her away. “Wait, I paid $3 for this,” Bethenny said, still watching the clown gum on his cookie and ice cream as LuAnn carted her away.
That’s when it struck me that this, though inadvertent, might be excellent art. At least it was indicative of these women’s lives. Here they are, feeding this grotesque figure of entertainment, stuffing its mouth full of a sickly corn-syrup treat that is surely going to kill it, but they are giving it what it craves, making it gag on its own sickly desires. Not only are they doing this, they’re paying for the pleasure and they’re getting nothing in return. It costs them money and dignity and morality, and still, they can’t look away. They want to spend all their time with that sneering clown, even as it spits up half-chewed ice cream all over the industrial carpet of an impermanent structure somewhere on the beach in Miami.
What else happened this episode? Ramona had her birthday party, which wasn’t on her actual birthday because Ramona is one of those people who does not just signal out one day for her selfebration (that’s when you celebrate yourself) but blocks out a whole week instead. That means that 0.52 percent of the entire year is dedicated to the remembrance and adulation of Ramona Singer. The only remarkable thing about the party was that Sonja Tremont Morgan of the Gowanus Canal Morgans met Robin, a Swami princess who told Sonja that she could access a vortex of positive energy in Sonja’s home. Then she told her that she knows a Nigerian prince who has millions and millions of dollars and can’t access them yet, so if Sonja will only light her Abundance Candles and write him a check, it will all come back to her a thousandfold.
What else happened? Oh, Carole took everyone (minus Bethenny) to a boxing match at BB King's, which is otherwise a music venue, on 42nd Street, across the street from the 25-screen AMC that goes up about eight stories and is the best theater in Manhattan to watch a movie if you want to, how can I put this delicately, experience a lot of audience participation during the movie. Also, if you go in the afternoon, there are often strange men snoring in the front row.
Anyway, they go to this fight because Carole is really into boxing. She says it’s either because she watched a documentary about boxing once and got really into it, but it might have been because she was experimenting with testosterone at the time. Um, excuse me? What sort of medical trial was Carole undergoing that might have required testosterone? Was she trying to turn herself into a She-Hulk? Was she auditioning for the reboot of American Gladiators? Was she transitioning and then changed her mind?
At the fight, Kristen got really into the action, and I found it quite curious until I realized that both the boxer they were rooting for, his entire entourage of trainers, and the friend of Carole’s who manages his career were all wearing shirts and hats emblazoned with the logo for E Boost, the vitamin snake oil company owned by Kristen’s husband, Josh, the pile of vomit you slip in while walking from a tailgate party to the football stadium. What exactly is the connection between E Boost, Carole’s boxer friend, Kristen, and having this broadcast on Real Housewives? It’s not as a direct of a connection as jamming a Skinny Girl product into every shot, but there is something fishy going on here.
After the fight, the ladies all went out for drinks, and there was some discussion about Carole continuing to date Adam, the young hot chef that she picked up at Crackerjack’s house. It’s obvious that Crackerjacks isn’t too happy about this, not only because he is significantly younger than Carole, but also because he is her niece’s ex-boyfriend. Now, I think it’s fine that Carole is dating him, but the Countess is right, he is very close to home for her. In fact, Adam was off in Nicaragua with LuAnn’s niece when this was filmed. I don’t think that Carole has to explain or apologize, but I don’t think she’s being as sensitive as she should be about LuAnn’s feelings. I have an inkling that we’re going to be hearing a lot more about this as the season progresses, so let’s wait until then to really get into it.
The episode ends with Bethenny finally paying that visit to her stepfather John, and whoa, Nelly, was it awkward. It was mostly a rehashing of things that Bethenny had mentioned earlier in the episode, about the abuse and the unstable environment that she grew up in. She says that she’s not angry and she’s not blaming anyone, but it was clear that she was really angry and wanted to blame everyone. And justifiably so! Bethenny wanted to dredge up all that murk and look back down in the water and see what became clear and what remained cloudy. She needed a good stew in her own juices.
Bethenny got her apology from John, which she genuinely seemed to appreciate, but there was something not jibing about this whole visit. She said she wasn’t angry, but then blew up at him at the slightest confrontation, telling him that she can’t have sex because of what she had to witness happen to her mother. Then she complained about her distant mother and John said, devastatingly, “Well, she never wanted a child.” While it may have been the truth, something that Bethenny sensed innately, like the dew point on a humid day, she didn’t know what to do with that admission when it was said out loud.
They both had a lot to work through — anger and resentment and love and need — that horrible slurry of emotions that only our family can bring out in us. They retired to the hotel bar and drank beer from the bottle while a steel drummer played somewhere nearby, or maybe it was just a reggae Spotify playlist that one of the bartenders put together the night before. Whichever. After a couple of hours, Bethenny announced that she had to get ready for dinner and that she would talk to John soon. She walked across the bar and headed back up to her room. John pulled out his wallet, peeled $40 out of it, and left it on the bar, picking up Bethenny’s beer bottle, wrapping it in a handkerchief, placing it in his pocket, and walking toward the hotel.
John marched through the lobby, looking both ways as he approached the revolving door at the front, as if someone was going to try to prevent him from leaving. He pushed through the door, and by the curb of the hotel it was waiting with its hazard lights on: a black SUV. He walked directly from the front door to the car, opened the rear passenger-side door, and got in.
“What did you bring me?” the woman in the backseat asked.
“I got you her beer bottle. She drank out of it. That should be enough,” he replied. The woman unwrapped the bottle and then dug around in her purse for something. She pulled out a cotton swab, ran it around the inner and outer rims of the bottle opening, and then snapped a plastic case around the cotton of the swab.
“That should be perfect,” she said, throwing the sample, almost haphazardly, back into her purse. “That’s all I needed. Now your debts are forgiven.” She didn’t tell him to leave, she just tilted down her large, round sunglasses and he got the idea. He exited without saying a word. The car started and pulled away from the curb. The woman looked out the rear driver’s-side window and saw the pastel-colored façades of Miami roll on for blocks and blocks ahead of her. The car was waiting at a red light, and she rolled down the window just a bit, even though the A/C was on. The SUV lurched forward and started driving quickly down the street. She smiled just a little bit as the breeze started to pick up some stray strands of hair, blowing them off the shoulders of her caftan. Yes, she smiled. Because there was only one thing Jill Zarin loved more than to feel the wind in her hair — and that is triumph.