What is it about Mexico that provokes such drama from reality shows? There's sandy, stupid Real World. The Cabo adventures of the Hills gang. The lonely journey of Danielle from Jersey (mostly made up by me). And now, PC.
Yes it was the winter break episode last night, and all the kids were bundled up and snowy, shivering against a cold world that threatened to consume them. In some cases this was quite literal. Kelli learned the notion of Death in the stony, frozen expanse that some ancient Indians called The Hamptons. Rusty old Rags McTattershanty had to make a frigid, pine needle-strewn Sophie's Choice last night. To save her rep and marry out of the hobo clan, or follow her tin foil heart and get railway hitched to reliable soup seeker Soots McKenzie? Never has a fifteen-year-old been faced with such adversity.
And some of the coldness, some of the arctic mire, was in a more metaphorical sense. There was poor potato-eyed Jessi, awash in a sea of dappled Miami sadness. Eating lonely lunches with her Florida friend, a beanbag chair wearing a wig, all the while missing her one true love. That unresponsive fellow is none other than mop-browed blunderer Peter "PC" Peterson. Yes PC was busy getting lost in the aforementioned Mexico, smothering his furtive, grainy desires—which were rushing up suddenly into his loins and mouth and brains like lava in a burbling Guatemalan volcano. He'd gone to visit an old boarding school chum, the lean and dangerous
Charles Ryder JP, a young Mexican baron of sand and sadness, of louche-limbed sexuality that confounds and brutalizes PC's ever-knotting insides.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves! Let's return to that scene, of that crime, a bit further down. First:
The Tough Tale of Rags McTattershanty
It was glitter, she decided. Glitter that she'd begun seeing in the corners of her yellowed eyes. A bright, quick glint or sparkle there in the periphery when she awoke in the morning, covered in the debris of last night's meal. Chicken bones and magazine scraps. Uneaten sardine tails and flecks of tin. Rags was in love. Or some manner of love, some status-crazed version of adoration that had nestled and clotted in her heart like grease. You see, she and Sebastian were a thing. Of course Rags didn't know that Sebastian had taken his carriage for a day's journey to the countryside and visited with Kelli at her parents' Westhampton manor. That the angular and mismatched pair had played billiards and discussed the nature of pets, Kelli's feeble bat wing heart fluttering and whimpering. Rags didn't know of that visit and, really, she didn't need to. Nothing of note had happened, just feelings being glooped across the floor like the maid's wash water. Sebastian had sat there in the sprawling manse and the only thing that came into his mind was not sympathy for Kelli's ailing dog, Lady Stoutbiscuits (a dog that later died and Kelli shook and shuddered and plead with Death to take her instead but it would not work), but rather Rags. Rags with her squat, gymnastic frame. Her heaving bosom toppling cheaply out of a Target chemise. He needed her, he had suddenly realized. And so he dashed out of the mansion, Kelli calling dimly after him, and ordered his driver to spurn the horses harder, and harder still! To the city! To see his beloved!
Rags had been sifting through the small pile of rubbish she called her bureau, that nagging and delightful glimmer playing in the corners of her vision, when she felt a featherweight tap on her shoulder. And there he was. Her golden tendril'd Orpheus, the sallow stink of boxer shorts and potato chip breath like a sweet intoxicant cutting through the bitter cold air. The pair—reunited, soldered together like circuits on the beautiful motherboard of love—took a walk in the snow and discussed the lay of the land. "So what are we doing?" she asked him coyly. And he'd smiled and taken her hand and said, in verse lovelier than Byron, "I dunno." They kissed and parted ways and Sebastian stood there, shaky in his trainers, a new seed suddenly buried in fertile soil. Is this it?, he thought. Are we gonna do it?
As Rags puttered off in her jalopy made of popsicle sticks and stolen leprechaun wishes, she felt that nothing could be finer than a rich boy in her 'giner. But little did she know that something wicked her way was coming (is that a sentence?). That something came at her gymnastics meet. Hobo gymnastics meets consist of three events. There's Upside-down Pie Cooling on a Windowsill Stealing, the Vertical Knife Fight, and something called Chicken Tickling that, for FCC reasons, Bravo was unable to air last night. So this was Rags' first meet ever and she was very nervous. She twisted her kerchief in her fingers and lulled herself with soft vagabond melodies but still something rattled her. And then she realized what it was. There, perched in the bleachers like a scrawny vulture in an overcoat, was Soots. He'd come not just to watch her deft nabbing of a delicious rhubarb pie (which she aced, btw) but also to woo her back. After the meet he took her to a vegan restaurant and, after Rags stuffed all the silverware up her sleeves and filled her pockets with loose sugar, he rat-a-tat-tat gave her a laundry list of reasons why she should come back to him. He was so weird, a little young Woody Allen, all confident and forceful in that neurotic, nebbishy way.
So he wanted her to break up with Sebastian and she looked at him with her pursed, strawberry features and the wood and iron gears of her fraught hobo mind turned and turned. Next week it looks as though her music box romance with Sebastian will crumble. Which isn't surprising. Lord Sebastian had earlier gone to lunch with his terrible red-eyed father—a pierogi slump of a man in sad shiny brown pants, wisps of math-teacher-comb-over hair grimly foretelling Sebastian's inglorious future—who had prodded and probed him repulsively about his luck with the ladies. He wanted Sebastian to buckle down at school but also to party and fuck, to do the things one cannot do once the years have clumped and molded you into some land-wealthy Gollum, some zombie husk stretched over withered muscle that was once taut and defined from tennis games played in the browning 70s. Yes, maybe there was never really any hope for a bottle cap beauty like Rags and this vicarious teen boyangel. But still: Will she actually make the choice? Or will it just be made for her? Only time will tell.
And now for Part II.
A Corona Is a Glow, Coming from Millions of Miles Away
It was glitter, he decided. This strange shimmer sticking to his skin. PC picked at it, the silver speck on his forearm. It was the thick, dull part of morning and he was sprawled out in a bed, in his briefs, something rude and unfriendly taking root in his stomach. What had happened last night? He couldn't remember. But we can.
As mentioned before, PC was in Mexico. He'd gone to meet the dashing JP for a wintertime romp in shitty, slitty, glitzy Cancun. It was a strange place to find PC, the affected snob young hen of Upper East Side TV society, but it worked really well for the show. Because it stripped him of context and clout, reduced him to a sad, scared boy teetering on the brink of some wide chasm. And chasm, thy name is Homosexuality. Yes, last night we got our first substantial particle waves of the inexorably unfolding gay plotline and, I must say, it was done in far more interesting chamber piece fashion than I'd thought Bravo capable of pulling off. While PC and JP and RT and QV and DMX and the gang did their cock-and-ball strut through the booze-filled feeding trough, we saw poor PC just get angrier and sadder, sadder and angrier. That scary fugue of abandon was flickering full behind PC's beady hazel eyes, and a troubled character began to emerge. He just seemed to unhappy and frightened and botched and blocked.
See nothing really happened. And that was sort of the point. PC and his buddies were besieged by flock after flock of wayward vacationing girls, drawn like moths to the magnet glare of camera crew lights. Is there some homing beacon installed in the youngs nowadays that just seeks that shit out, like pigeons or computer-guided missiles? It's sort of uncanny. Anyway, tortured PC wanted nothing, I mean nothing, to do with them. Because, ew gross, they were from Texas or wanted to dance or wear sombreros or do Yaeger bombs. No Peter Chesley Malificent Peterson is wayyy better than that, plus there's JP.
There's JP, a tall "beautiful" Mexican, all sinew and strut, chest puffed out like a sail pointing towards Eden. Oh gorgeous JP who rumpled PC's hair on the beach as they sat, shirtless and free, and made jokes to boring girls about how PC was bisexual and had a gay boyfriend back home and PC just sat there and took it, just sat there and dreamed a thousand What Ifs, bundled them up like flowers or tissue paper, made houses of them, made children of them, made slow beautiful waltzes toward death of them. Here's the truth of it, plain and bald like Sebastian's ghoulish father in five years: PC is in love with JP and is struggling terribly with it and it is sad but, oh, it is also such compelling television. I hope Bravo isn't teasing us, I hope they don't cop out on us. We'll see.
For now, PC just seems upset and agitated all the time, happy and calmed only when JP has wrapped his tawny arms around his shoulders and urged him on into the night. For her part, boulder-faced Jessi sat rotting away in Miami Beach, calling and texting and BBM'ing and all other manner of communicating with PC to no avail. PC was ignoring her. "She isn't my girlfriend," he kept saying. And then he would say it once again inside his head, softer and more meaningful this time, She isn't my girlfriend. And she never will be. No one ever will be. And the finality of it, the fact of it, would just thud on him like coconuts in a 50s beach comedy, like the sproingy thwack of a tennis ball hitting the sweet spot of a Wilson. When he got back from Mexico—when the drinking and yearning had ended (or begun???)—he and Jessi stood in her room, unpacking. PC held up a rainbow-striped teddybear and asked "Is this a gay pride bear?" And she shrugged it off, thought nothing of it, ignored it, swept it away. But it lingered and hooked in PC and now suddenly there was a whole new freighted vocabulary. How the world suddenly handled differently, like a new car.
Jessi looked him, sure that something was different. "Were there skanks in Mexico?" she asked, all fake in her chillaxitude and whatevsness. PC laughed darkly and told her no, not at all, they were all gross. Jessi seemed mildly satisfied but was still confused by the new flint she saw in her old friend. PC sat on the bed and felt himself retreating into darkness, into the cold peculiarity of a life he'd never planned.
Meanwhile elsewhere Camille was there, still cockled and strange, buying chocolates and whispering nasty things into Rags' ears. Hooting in her I-don't-wanna-be-a-nerd-anymore way that Rags should create as much boy drama as possible, so Camille can leech off of it, suck it deep inside herself so it can nourish and preserve that wicked tickle that now clamors more loudly than Grades or College or The Future combined. (Years later, when Camille is bundled up in a weekend rental Vermont ski house, Camille will turn to her partner Ruth and confess to her that that was the day, that winter afternoon in the chocolate shop, when she first felt her life yawing sideways, felt it dip then soar—a swallow fleeting a barn—into a brand new sky.) Rags listened to Camille's advice and mulled it over while playing her hobo harmonica—a contraption fashioned from dust and glass and old fireplace bellows—under her favorite bridge. What mystery awaited her, she thought. And that was just her next meal.
Kelli meanwhile lingered in a graveyard. She missed that skittering, yippy thing. She missed its silly hair, its cute noises and smells. Other than Sebastian, though, she also missed her dog Lady Stoutbiscuits. How hard it is to say goodbye to something! What pain God's given us and called it a life. She stood there, paying mournful tribute, until she got cold and she saw the cameramen getting disinterested and this episode was over for her. "Come on, let's go back. I'll have the maid make us some lunch."
But yes, back. We'll go back. Back to the bright silver blot on PC's arm. This bed, here in Mexico. This new thing in him a worm or an organ. At first he was confused, disoriented, unsure of the walls and drapes and sad sailboat painting framed beside a muted TV. But then there it was. Sense. Sense like sense has never been. Framed in a doorway, bent and beautiful. The smooth bulb of an Adam's apple, the rolled glens and hillocks of shoulder and collar, the crisp taper of stomach and waistband. JP. The legend to a map. A key. A beacon. A lighthouse.
A lighthouse perched on a precarious Yucatan shore, amid rocks and palms and finely-ground shells. The old elements and matter of dangerous Mexico. But it wasn't these things that destroyed PC. It wasn't disease. It wasn't villains on furlough from Juarez. It wasn't the burnished metal of a conquistador—not Cortes, not Pizarro, not eternal Ponce de Leon. No it wasn't any of that which felled proud, mighty PC. It was nothing simpler or purer than love and abandon themselves. Those things that eat from within and without. Here they were. Here we go.
PC scrambled out of bed while JP waited impatiently. He pulled on some shorts and a shirt and grabbed his wallet, his hotel key, his near-empty pack of cigarettes and they headed off for breakfast. Halfway down the hall JP threw his arm over PC's shoulders, pulled in him tight and asked, exuberant, "Ready for another day in paradise?"
And there, for just a second, while still in the warm pocket made by two people, faraway and safe in another country, PC felt ready for anything.