Not So Model Home - By David James


The Cold, Hard Bitch Slap of Reality

We open on a woman sitting in a chair in a Spanish-style home living room. She is very beautiful and, contrary to popular opinion, does not look like Kathleen Turner punched in the face.

AMANDA: What have I learned from doing this reality show? Hmm . . . that you never know a person, even when you think you know them. And that people wear these masks that hide who they really are. You can never know if the person you are talking to, or trust, or love is a saint, a sinner, or a murderer.... (There is a dramatic pause; then the woman continues.) And that you have to remember that when you’re saying good-bye to someone, you really are saying good-bye.

A single tear escapes her azure-frosted, luscious eyes and rolls down her porcelain skin. She blots her eyes with an unimaginably expensive handkerchief. She looks into the camera and we are struck by her intelligence, pathos, and beauty.

That’s how I wanted it all to happen. But life doesn’t always turn out that way. Two people were murdered. There was sabotage, incest, treachery, and the destruction of several expensive wigs. And we all came out smelling like something, but it was definitely not a rose.

Now, back to reality.

Regina Belle, my sexagenarian neighbor, and I are watching The Cougars of Santa Barbara at her house on a TV still housed in a Mediterranean-style faux-wood cabinet. This is not a nature documentary on the indigenous felines of California’s Santa Ynez Mountains. No, this is a program about rich, bitchy, overindulgent women from the port city of Santa Barbara whose antics and bad behavior would put Paris Hilton to shame. Regina loves the program, and since I’m looking to get out and be more social, this fits the bill. Plus, her home is right next door, so it’s within staggering distance after several blenders of tequila sunrises. Regina is wearing a new T-shirt sporting the phrase: BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED. SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED.

Me, I normally avoid reality shows precisely because there’s so little reality in them. This is something that seems to escape most people. The dead giveaway is the fact that there always seems to be a camera ready to catch a tempestuous bitch storming out a door, or to be there at the exact moment an awkward meeting just so happens at a local restaurant. The other thing that gets me is that no one ever seems to flub a line when speaking. I can see the director asking for numerous retakes to get the line right, to capture the perfect pout or sneer. Let me tell you, life never works out that way. Because of my Catholic upbringing, I never have the ability to say the perfect comeback, packed full of venom like a pissed-off puff adder. Let me correct that last sentence. I always have the perfect comeback. Unfortunately, it comes to me three hours later, after I’ve stewed and fumed about a testy encounter and congratulated myself in not owning a gun. But it does no good to get in your car, drive over to the offending person’s house, ring their doorbell, and let ’em have it. It’s lost the impact, the immediacy; even if you top it all off with a biting bitch slap.

The weird thing about all these reality shows is they’ve turned the idea of a protagonist upside down. When I was a kid, you were supposed to look up to a show’s main character. He or she was supposed to have redeeming characteristics. They were supposed to be smart, witty, sympathetic, kind, or at the very least, likable. Not anymore. You only rise to the top if you’re vain, selfish, emotionally stunted, and above all, ready to act out for the cameras. Big time.

Regina, however, loves The Cougars of Santa Barbara for one reason only: “I love the fact that here are these vulgar, nouveau riche women horrifying the local Episcopalian stuck-ups with their antics,” she would confess.

“Okay, Regina, how many times were you thrown out of Santa Barbara?”

“Twice,” Regina replied.

“So Cougars is your revenge?”

“Partly. I also like the idea of owning a younger lover.”

“Regina, from what I can see going in and out of your house, you have younger lovers.”

“Amanda, I’m old—all my lovers are younger, comatose, or dead.”

“Well, someone should call social services about some of these boys on Cougars. Some of them can’t even be twentyone.”

“Amanda, the age of consent in California is eighteen.”

“You seem rather