There was a moment on NYC Prep last night that was just so brutal, so true-to-life, that I feel I just have to get it out of my system and talk about it right now. Camille and her teeth.
Hopefully you remember the moment to which I'm referring. Glass-eyed Camille is sitting at the fancy club birthday party and chatting up the rumply Russ troll that is Sebastian. See, she was trying to get information out of him so she could run and tell poor pointy-faced Kelli, but she's also a teenage girl and he's a teenage boy that everyone's in lurve with so she was also trying to flirt with him, just a little bit, just a little sad, aching bit. So she asked him some dumb question and gave him a big smile and a little coy head tilt and he just said to her: "You have something in your teeth." And there in the still glass of her eyes, something exploded or crumbled. She laughed and said "Wait, are you being serious?" and he nodded and she covered her mouth and ohhhh holy Anything in heaven, it was just so... We've been there. We've all been there as someone is just so flippant and casual about mortifying you. That she'd been leaning in close, trying to act cool (See, I can talk to boys...) and then there it went, up in smoke like flash paper. Oh man. It just hurt my soul and tickled my funny bone and then poor Camille just sat there, deflated and quiet, while the rest of the party raged on. Agh. A primal scream to you, poor Camille.
Anyway. That was toward the end. So let's cycle back, through whole other series of embarrassments, to other moments of kids being precarious kids.
The evening started with PC and Jessi, eating dinner in a fancy kitchen, leaning against the counter, feeling cool and whatevs about it all. They had their snappy little dialogue that they always have, because they are such dear friends, such dear hearts who are so similar, and PC said that everyone thinks Jessi is a bitch and she slapped him across the face (really, she did) and said "I am not a bitch!" and we were meant to see the irony there, or the contradiction, or whatever, and say "10 points to Bravo house!" or something. But instead I just watched it, slack-jawed on the couch, the sticky night cobwebbing my brain, and thought: Man, Jessi is really really in love with PC and it is sad. And it's true, and it's sad, but it's also pleasingly real in a way. There's a soft hurt that's not manufactured. There's something that Jessi will look back on, in the midst of the college sprawl, and say "Oh, yeah. I did feel that once." And then she'll keep walking. For now, though, it's probably miserable. So, sucks for you J.
Speaking of miserable, dim Kelli went on a date with mumbling Sebastian. Well, she thought it was a date—he brought her cupcakes and she loves cupcakes, she's obsessed, she likes them more than cake!!—but he just seemed bored. She smiled and twinkled and giggled and cooed like she'd learned to do from TV but none of it worked. He just sorta smirked at her and then told her that later that night, he was going to a fancy French restaurant with the apple(core) of his eye, the brave hobo princess Rags McTattershanty. Kelli's face fell and she said "Her? Really?" And Sebastian grinned his jerky playa grin and inside Kelli a sad opera aria'd to its end, a cave door started to close and brave Aida held her heart up to the disappearing sun and then it was time for Sebastian to go.
While Kelli was stuck on a park bench, wallowing in the past, old Rags was skibbling down the sidewalk, her skeleton chorus following her in a grim-yet-cheerful dance macabre, dreaming of the future. The date was on! Since she'd never set foot inside a restaurant except to scuttle in and steal dinner rolls from the plates of negligent old dowagers before getting chased out by an angry chef wielding a rollingpin, she decided she needed new garments. She opened her leather coin purse and sifted through its contents. She had two mismatched buttons, a few kernels of corn, and a gold tooth she'd taken from Smokestack McGee after he'd fallen asleep in the storm drain one rainy night and never woken up. Perfect! It was just the right amount to go to a thrift store and buy some dress-like cloth. While perusing the store with her two hobo compatriots, Loretta Jingles and Barnacle Betty, Rags mused that lord Sebastian probably doesn't even know what a thrift store is. Why, he's probably never had whisker stew, either!
Over in richtown, little PC was feeling blue. PC was feeling lost and strange. Something was changing in him, something he couldn't quite explain. He went to see an old girlfriend of his, a wise girl of 19 who said that he just needed a change of scenery. Needed to get out of that cliched Upper East crowd, needed to shake things up, to open himself up like windows in a shuttered summer house. Let the clean air in. The 19-year-old looked as though she had something else perched delicately on the tip of her tongue, a small sparrow of knowledge, and she almost let it flutter out but PC just looked so sad and so worried just then, on that little black couch, and she decided now wasn't the time. But PC still didn't feel better so he went to see a therapist. You know, the kind of therapist who holds her sessions in the I Dream of Jeannie bottle house and lets the session be taped. PC said that he was very hard on himself, that he didn't let himself show feelings, and the therapist too felt that little sparrow alight on her tongue but she swallowed, gulped it down like so many other people in poor PC's life, and he just stared off at nothing in particular and felt the gears of his feelings grind on in their lonely way.
The Seine gurgled on and the Tour Eiffel sent its searchlight beacon twirling around and around and around, and an accordion played softly while two young lovers, be-do'd Sebastian and worried Rags sat and ate fancy French food. Well, OK. Sebastian got steak frites while Rags, who didn't understand the concept of a menu (at first she just said gruffly to the waiter, "I'll have whatever it is you're cookin' back there"), just had a plain house salad. No dressing. That was it. Oh, teenage girls. Just eat! It'll be OK. I promise. Anyway, the pair talked cute and Sebastian grilled her with questions and she swooned at his French. She said she wanted to be a philosopher. Sebastian was impressed. What Rags didn't tell him is that Hobo Philosophy is very different from Muggle philosophy. Hobo Philosophy is concerned with the deciphering of runes, with the mulling over of how to best jump a moving boxcar, with the History of Soups, with the proper way to tie a bindle, with the true meaning of the phrase, coined by Jewish-Hobo thinker Shlomo Slacks, "There's six ways to get a nickel, but only one way to spend it." Rags didn't tell Sebastian all of this, because she was scared he'd be confused and run away. Probably a good idea. That said, Sebastian was smitten. He walked her home and they kissed on her doorstep.
Kelli, meanwhile, was sitting in a pile of mud with Camille. They were at a spa. Kelli's insides felt muddy, too. All thick and gloopy and brown. She talked to Sebastian on the phone and he told her about the date and the kissing and Kelli wanted to just sink down there into that mud and disappear forever. Float through the Earth and out the other end and then there'd be outerspace where, sure, there are no boys but at least there's no pain, either. Later, she and Camille asked a post-date Rags to come meet them at Intermix so Camille could act like a total weird-o-matic and dig, vicariously, for details about Sebastian. Rags was just amused by the store, saying she could "buy" (i.e. have Phineas Fingersticks cause a commotion while she stuffed it under her tophat) the same shirt at Target for a way lot less. And I liked her then. She was charming and real. But anyway, she eventually let it spill that she'd kissed Sebastian and Kelli fell over dead, her sad, fake "I don't care" smile frozen on her face. Camille and Kelli's corpse invited Rags to a party that a girl named Zoe was having, because Sebastian was coming too and Kelli wanted to see them together. Why, Kelly, why?? Why are you torturing yourself so?? Oh, kids. So dumb.
Zoe is a girl who lives in a hip loft downtown and is friends with Jessi. She and Jessi just have a wacky time together, talking about clothes and doing jokey-joke dances and making fun of bridge-and-tunnel folks and their stupid big SUV limos. Zoe is one of those girls, so stuffed and matted with insecurities and prickly city miseries that she ends up letting herself spill out on the world and be mean. She's the kind of girl who you become friends with in college because she's interesting but then you slowly realize that she's cruel and spoiled and woefully unhappy and you quickly try to unknot yourself from the friendship. And years later, around the time that you're lazy and drunk and nostalgic and about to graduate, you sit with friends somewhere sharing old stories and someone says "Remember Zoe?" and everyone laughs and said "Oh God, Zoe! Whatever happened to her?" And of course she went abroad and never came back and someone saw her at a New Year's Eve party in the city last year and she was just doing coke all night. So, Jessi, I'm glad you have friends who you aren't secretly in love with, but Zoe... I dunno about her.
At Zoe's birthday party, obviously, yes, the horrible incident of the teeth happened and Camille's life was forever ruined. Also at the party: Jessi was mean to Kelli and Camille because that's what the producers have told her to do. Sebastian and Rags danced and sat next to one another and fell blissfully in love and Kelli watched all this from the sidelines and was miserable. She started to tear up and then stormed out and it was just sort of like... But, Kells, m'love. You made this happen! You knew it was going to happen if they both showed up at the same party, but you willed to happen nonetheless. Because teenagers like to hurt themselves sometimes just so they know they are feeling something. Kelli is an emotional cutter. It's sad, but true.
It wasn't all sunshine and posies for the Royal Couple, oh no. Rags was sitting there all happy until she felt a knobby finger tapping on her shoulder. She turned, and oh crap, it was Soots McKenzie, her old flame. They weren't "quite over" or some such nonsense. The child is 15 for God's sake. And yet this wealth of history she has! Oh do come sit with me by the fire, Rags, and tell me tales of old. Of adventures at sea, of knife fights, of loves won and lost, of bathtub gin exploding. Sebastian was really unhappy that Rags and Soots were talking, so he went, like a robot with one particular set of programming, and chatted up other girls, plunking their numbers into his phone, collecting things he would never use, like marbles or decorative plates, that at least look good on the shelf.
But his efforts weren't necessary, as Rags really only had eyes for Sebastian. She shooed Soots away and he went tinkering into the night, whistling a vagabond song and twirling his bone-topped cane. Rags and Sebastian strolled down the street and professed that it was all about them, it was only ever about them, and they kissed and somewhere in another part of town it snowed cold wet snow in Kelli's bedroom.
While all of this drama was going down, lonely PC was waiting for a blind date. He went to some vast restaurant along the park and sat with a bottle of wine, waiting waiting waiting. And she never showed up. After 50 minutes, the date never arrived, and you had to figure that Bravo was just being cruel to this poor lad. And crueler still they will be, when next week the Question becomes concrete and two girls assume he's gay. So this is where PC's story is headed, whether we like it or not (we do), and isn't Bravo wily for trying to trick us.
So, this episode was pretty good, right? I mean, with the dating intrigue and gloomy, torturing Kelli and the ascendancy of Rags McTattershanty to the vaunted halls of Those That Made It Out, those that transcended and skipped up into a new plane. The Hobo folk call these people Mulligans, those that get a do-over at life. Those that marry a Pullman car worker, those that stumble upon a cache of gold bullion while sifting drunkenly one night through the tall reeds down by the docks. Rags has landed herself a richie, and by Hobo law, she'll have to leave all of her old world behind. Goodbye Loretta Jingles! Goodbye Barnacle Betty! Goodbye forever, Smokestack McGee! Thanks for the tooth.
What do you think it was like for poor Camille to watch that misery unfold last night? I wish she was in college now and that it didn't matter, but she's not. She's still moored in high school, still easy prey for all those high school nasties that, unfortunately, gnaw at you forever. But they do dissipate some, dear Camille. I promise you that.
For now you'll just have to gulp it down and try to move past it. And check your teeth. In the mirror or in a polished butter knife. Just to be sure. Be vigilant. Be brave.
And, most of all, carry a toothpick.