Things disappear so quickly these days. They just fleet past, like car lights out on the Turnpike. I'm speaking, of course, of the premature end of Real Housewives of New Jersey, a show that we'd only just gotten to know.
When first we saw our girls last night, mighty Teresa had the servants unfurl the banners, the fountain creaked into life, various scullery maids and houseladies scurried about, making preparations, while the Queen de Medici herself stood anxious in the foyer, rubbing little imperfections off the granite walls with her stubby little thumb. See, Dina was coming to tour the new palace built of cash that Teresa now rattles around in, and T.T. wanted everything to be just right. As the heaving three-hundred-pound door swung open and Dina stepped in, she was smacked in the face with the stench of money and marble. Everything was shiny and smooth. Teresa lives at the Sheraton near the airport. I half expected Dina to walk up to a counter and check in with somebody.
As the tour went on, Dina became more impressed with the opulence of the chateau. Teresa was so proud, relaying how she had designed everything, how there would be two grand chandeliers there, a beautiful twisty column here. It was a house designed by someone who doesn't understand anything. Really, anything at all. She just sort of blinks and breathes, waiting for the wind to blow her in one direction. I'm amazed she can tie her shoes in the morning. The coup de grâce of the studio tour was a visit to the wine cellar where Teresa's squat bulldog husband will make various wines and hopefully not explode himself. Teresa was proud of a little sign that hung on the wall that made it seem like a real vineyard or restaurant or something. She pointed at it, smiled. There it was. A little sign. She liked it. She liked it a lot. Sometimes she'll be driving somewhere, on the highway or just through the woods, and that little sign will pop up in her mind. And she'll smile then too. The Giudice family vineyards. Ristorante di Giudice. It's her favorite sign.
Dina thought the wine cellar smelled bad, so they decided to leave.
So they went outside and sat at a table near the fountain, the staff grooming the green, green grass, an old yardswoman shooing away birds with her big white apron, the lazy Italian sun dolloping pockets of light on everyone through stands of skinny cypress trees. The ladies sipped wines and Teresa yammered about how she wanted to have a big housewarming party. The only problem is this: the house isn't ready! So she's decided to have a housewarming party at her favorite ristorante. Dina smiled that mean smile of knowing everything and said "OK." Teresa then informed Dina that she was planning on inviting old Garbanzo Bean herself to the upscale soiree. Because, um, it was her idea! Sure, sure her idea. Allll her. There was no one else, off camera perhaps, pulling those strings. Dina frowned then smiled then frowned again and gulped her wine. She looked off, out onto the Umbrian hills, rolling out like shadowy curves of a post-surgery woman. In the distance she saw four people, kids really, running wildly into the hills. They were fleeing the plague, she realized. They'd stay up there, making love and reciting poetry and being young, while below them the city festered and died. Teresa's cat, Boccaccio, curled around Dina's feet. Everything felt very familiar all of a sudden. The world was ending.
After a small pause, Dina turned to Teresa and smiled yet again. "It's good wine," she said, nodding. "It really is." And Teresa beamed.
Over at Jacqueline's sad deflating funhouse, there was much talk about grades and automobiles and odd, lumpy daughters who feel they deserve everything when probably the exact opposite is true. Jacqui's well-reasoned parents were in town from the sizzling horrorscape of Las Vegas, and darned if her dad wasn't sensible and smart and wise. What he, a retired army colonel, must think about all this brown and stone and Botox and bullshit is a wonder. I'll bet it makes him sad. Sad that he's eager to get back in the RV and watch New Jersey fade to pebble size in the mirror. Sad that his daughter suddenly woke up one day speaking a whole different language, that she was separated from him suddenly by a thin sheet of onyx. Where do people go, when they disappear? They go to New Jersey, I guess.
Anyway, Puffenstuff has been doing well in charm school and there's that blazing white Jeep Grand Cherokee just collecting dust in an old dingy warehouse that Jacqui's husband suspiciously has access to, so maybe we should just give her the damn car?
Give her the damn car they did, and as it rolled up into the driveway, gleaming white like a blimp made of bird poop, Puffenstuff clapped and jumped and wept and moaned. "How long have you had this???" she squealed. Jacqui grinned and said "Remember that day you got upset? Well, Daddy felt bad for you." And then, really, everyone seemed nice and normal and happy. Puffenstuff called her stepdad "Dad," which is nice, and laws were laid down about when the turdmobile could be driven, what her responsibilities were, and Jacqui's father stood with his arms crossed, watching the whole thing unfold. And he thought to himself She may as well be driving away in that thing right now, because it all felt very far away from him in his slacks, standing next to his trusty old lady. Ah but the pine trees swayed and it was time to go inside for dinner and so everyone did, Puffenstuff giddily eying the car keys the whole time, a new itchy urge suddenly full bloom inside her.
Over at Dina's rambling, ramshackle pile of bricks, it was time for Lexie to grow up and throw out her approximately four and a half million stuffed animals. They filled bags and bags and bags with the creatures—little stuffed purple bats named Leon, a giraffe named Sue with a lazy eye and a drinking problem, a pair of lions who had fallen out of love some time after the last cub was born, a sneaky little stuffed monkey who takes pills in wee fistfuls, an elephant named Gladys who's quiet and dull. Out and away went all these plush lives, back to the landfill mystery that had created them, or, one hopes, to a charity. A child always has use for a finicky triceratops named Albert or a stuffed flamingo who has dreams of being a dancer. But then that child gets older and they're just stuffing in a bag, replaced by important adult cares, like bubbies. Bubbies are way more important than you, Dennis the epileptic alligator. Sorry to say it.
Elsewhere poor Garbanzo showed her even poorer kids her modeling photos. Unfortunately they were all blurred out, but you could tell from the girls' expressions that there was something primal and horrifying about them. Danielle talked wistfully of modeling, and planted a seed of hope in her girls' hearts for their futures. But she also cautioned that it's a tricky, dangerous game. Suddenly it's 24 years later, and it all begins to seem like a mistake.
Other things happened, I think. There was maybe something with Dina quitting her job and something with Strega Nona, I don't really remember. But it's not important. No, what's important is where we were all headed from the very start. From the first moment we laid eyes on Lady Teresa Giudice, in a preview special months and months and many long months ago. Of course we are heading into the dinner scene, nodding politely at the busboys and waiters standing at attention, observing the paintings on the wall on the way to the private room in the back, seeing our table lavishly set, finding our seats and sitting down, ready to watch the explosion we've long been promised. But first, of course, we had to talk about bubbies.
See, T.T. was being silly. T.T. was clearly nervous that her big fancy grownup dinner party that she did nothing for except make reservations was going to go awry. So she started telling "funny" stories about her husband wanting to pull over to the side of the road and play hide the sopressata the day that T had gotten her new bubbelehs. He's always wantin' it these days! He wants it in the morning, in the afternoon, in the eveningtime too. He wants it on Ferris wheels and rollercoasters, in line at the movies and at the Yankee Candle. He wants it in strangers' beds, in the backs of various vans. He wants it at stationery stores and at the onyx quarry. He wants it poached, fried, and over-easy. He wants it on trolley cars and in the swinging, precarious baskets of hot air balloons. This is to say that he wants it a lot, he wants it all the time. And Teresa just laughs and laughs and laughs about it, while the rest of the guests cackle in Dina's case or shift awkwardly and blush, like poor Albie. Poor Albie who had such screen potential but was given short shrift. Poor Albie who could have been a golden god of reality show arcana but instead is just a sputtered start, a dusty misfire, a meme deferred. Ah well.
Anyway, after all the sex talk died down and the children at the other end of the room stopped having blood pour out of their ears while they wept, it was time for old Garbanzo to pounce. Oh, see, she did accept the invitation and sauntered in late with her two girls and everyone said awkward hellos and Teresa sat the head of the table, slurping wine after wine after wine, so scared that her dinner party was going to go off the rails, and oh if she'd only known then. In the great play August: Osage County (go see it with Phylicia Rashad right now, she's incredible), there's a line that goes something like "Thank God we can't tell the future, otherwise we'd never get out of bed." And oh Teresa, thank God you couldn't. Because then you never would have had this masterful dinner table blowdown, much like the dinner table blowdown that happens in that play! Oh wheels within wheels! Seamus Heaney would be proud.
Danielle reaches into her gaping purse and pulls out a copy of The Book. (The Book is: a tell-all written by an old husband of G's who was an informant for the FBI called The Watcher in the 'Hoods) There it went, almost in slow motion, spinning and plummeting down on that white tablecloth like an atom bomb ready to burst. It fell with a deafening thud and everyone fell silent. Was this it? Was this the moment just before they'd all pause and explode forever? Yes! Yes it was! Garbanzo basically yelled like George's dad on Seinfeld "I have a lot of problems with you people!" and she launched into a tirade about the book, about how the book was shown to everyone in town, how it was brought into the Quaker meeting house that is the Chateau salon "behind the Market basket and next to starbucks" so all the ladies of the canyon could gawp and be horrified. How dare anyone, she shriekingly wanted to know. How dare anyone.
After Teresa had her girls Fendi, Berlusconi, and PrinceSpaghettiDay ushered off into the dark recesses of another room, the fight was allowed to continue. G was aiming all of her venom at Dina, who played innocent and said "I never touched that book!" while Strega Nona began to curl up into attack mode, her glare getting sharper and more focused with each passing, enraging second. In the corner Jacqueline wept and thrashed at herself, tearing at her hair and clothing, shrieking "stop it just stop it please please stop it!!!" over and over again, while the older children shifted awkwardly in their seats and learned a lesson about who their parents are, about who adults are. About how life is full of things that will make you angry and unhappy and some bury it and contain it, and some keep it loose but tight and eventually work their way through it, and then some scream, let it come rushing out like the doom of Herculaneum. Their parents were screamers, they realized. They were more porous than some. Their parents were sieves.
Eventually Caroline made her move and bellowed "I did it!!! It was me!!!!" and everyone knew that she was just circling the wagons to protect her babybird sister, who was still indignant and big-boobed about the whole thing, pouting with a vague smile. Dina thought the whole thing was hysterical. Teresa just kept drinking and drinking, fairly convinced that the dinner party was not, in fact, going well at this point, but maybe there was still hope! If you listen closely, you can hear her start to tell another bubbie story, talking to no one really, but it gets lost under the din of Garbanzo spewing acid from her mouth and Stregz shooting flames from her fiery hair and Jacqueline gnashing her teeth and gnawing on the furniture.
G became more and more cornered, losing traction by the second. But finally Jacqueline, sensing a moment to be a friend and not just a bulldozed sister-in-law, yelled at Dina "Liar!!!!" And she kept yelling, saying that it was Dina that had passed around the book, that it was Dina all along, that it's always been Dina. Always been Dina sending whispers about Danielle over the lakes of Franklin. Always been Dina saying snide quiet things while getting foils at Chateau. Always Dina who comes over to her brother's house and makes jokey little comments about the decor and about the food when Jacqui is sitting right there, I mean right there, and she makes me feel like a little dog or a bug or something, and she's just so mean and I feel like I'm stuck in pudding, like I can't swing my arms or my legs or do anything on my own, I feel like I don't have any bones, and it's all Dina's fault and I—Oh, hah. Where was Jacqui? Oh, yes, Jacqui was protecting Danielle from the Sisters Helliwell and with one blazing look from Dina to Jacqui, you knew that there'd be a reckoning for old J. A reckoning the cameras couldn't have caught if they'd tried, because the howling and light would be too great to capture.
So we didn't really get anywhere on the affair of the book, but at least it's out now. It didn't matter anyway, because the biggest fireworks were yet to come. Teresa was pretty drunk at this point, and as she watched Jacqui set herself ablaze and throw herself crashing through a window, she realized that this wasn't the most successful dinner party in the restaurant's history, probably. And this made her angry. This made Teresa very, very angry and from some new energy pulsating out of her new bubbies, a rage erupted in her the likes of which no one had ever seen. "Book... it's true... prostitution whore!!" she screamed at Garbanzo, who just slightly raised her antennae eyebrows in bewilderment. Teresa then decided to thrash the table, it was all the table's fault, which sent glasses clanking and wine spilling and you were glad that Puccini and Arlequino and Beatrice were elsewhere, spirited away in some place of serenity, because their mother was not their mother anymore. Their mother was a hissing, olive-oil beast with spills of squid ink hair and glowing garnet skin. She continued to scream and lunge at Danielle even as her husband ran up and tackled her and immediately started trying to have sex with her. "Not now," Teresa moaned, and suddenly, just as quickly as it had started, like a summer squall, it was gone.
Garbanzo straightened her hair and calmly collected her daughters. It was time to leave. She'd said her piece. And then she'd had a table thrown at her. Caroline and Dina stayed close together, glowering and hissing at poor Jacqui, who was just lying in a smoldering heap on the pavement below, her nice, beleaguered husband sifting bravely through the ashes. He found her wedding ring, put it in his breast pocket, and walked off into the evening.
Teresa and Bulldog made quick rabbit love in the broom closet and then collected their three cara mias and it was back to the marble mansion. Back to slip on those floors and imagine those chandeliers. As she was leaving, Teresa told us that she considers herself "a classy person," and you felt so bad for her then. That she'd tried to have a nice sophisticated dinner party so the viewers at home could see how upper crust she is, but all it ended up being was sex talk and a table fight. It's a sad thing, that. But oh well.
So here we are. Done. Done like dinner. Done like Dominick. We got tiny little uninformative updates about the girls. There are babies being had and jobs being quit and all the things that happen in lives, all over the world.
I wonder what the girls think about this short, truncated experiment. Was it what they'd hoped? Did Danielle find her fame, did she find the recognition she's always craved, all these years? Did it make her daughters love her more or less, did she find a man, did her face finally settle, did she give up the ghost of 20 and embrace the fact of 50? Who knows. I suppose we might find out during the next go around.
I wonder too did Caroline feel plucked out from everything. She got so little airtime and not one story of her own. Do her cherished sons sit by the phone, anxiously, waiting for Bravo to call and offer them a series? Does that other one, the girl one, do anything at all? And does Dina stay golden and her daughter weird? Are they adept at the camera, or are they really that kinda... well, fun? Does Jacqueline still get scared of the dark, does the rumble of approaching thunderstorms still make her heart leap into her throat, does the quiet still remind her of that desert that haunted her dreams for so long? That coyote-flecked tundra, that hot merciless thing. In the dreams she'd be running, even though you can't run in dreams, she was running through the brown dirt deserts of Nevada and finally, after miles and miles and miles, she'd spot what she'd been looking for. As she approached it she'd begin to make out its form: a person, small, brown hair. And as she got closer she'd realize—with a terrible dread, with a snapping elastic hope—that the figure was her, but older. It was her she'd been chasing down in that desert for so long. I wonder if she still has those dreams.
And I wonder of Princess Teresa. I wonder of that castle that she built. The house must get cold and lonely sometimes. All that echoing. What will it be like once Gia, Gabriella, and Milania grow up and go away? When those black tendrils have faded to gray, when the Bulldog just keeps expanding in all the wrong directions. That house, fashioned from marble and granite and onyx, is forever. In Italy you can still find the Roman ruins, built of similar stone, and though they're weathered and beaten, they still remain. Is that what Teresa the Master Builder was building all along? A permanent fortress, a buttress against time. Something that will stand eternally, there in New Jersey.
Among the pines and maples, the quiet roads rolling into busy, ugly towns. The names, Elizabeth and Edison and Princeton, the Lakes, the caucus of seas. Among the tollbooths and turnpikes, the drawls and the stutters, the pinched features and orange hide, the wish to make rougher things smooth. The shore, the casinos, the Devil.
The Jersey Devil who stands somewhere in the Pine Barrens, heaving his heavy breaths, his eyes glowing dim red, the dark pulse of this fearsome state. And he thinks about them—about Danielle, about Jacqueline, about Dina and Caroline, about Teresa—and he worries. He worries the worry of any old thing, he worries the worry of time slipping away.
The Devil, you see, worries that he's been replaced.