10/27 recap: "Zen and the Art of Dustbunny Maintenance"
Once upon a time, I agreed to go on a date with a man who wasn’t my usual "type." (Ok, ok, I really had no idea what type he was, as I'd met him in a bar while I was celebrating my birthday, and if you think I was sober, then I have some swampland in Arizona to sell you.) Anyway, it turns out he was very into New Age-y stuff like meditation, chakras, auras, crystals, whatever. I thought, ok. It wasn't like I was having huge success with the usual snarky sorts of men I was dating. I figured I’d give him a shot.
So we were at dinner, and he just KEPT talking about his meditation schedule, and whether his chakras were aligned right – or some such nonsense. But at some point I actually got a word in edgewise, and at that point the conversation had also turned to parentage. I said that I looked like my mother, and that we have the same nose. He peered at my nose for several long seconds, before asserting that people with “larger” noses have a “greater psychic awareness.” And it quickly dawned on me that this man had just said I had a big nose. I don’t care whether I do or not, but there are just some flaws you don’t point out on a first date, you know? Or, like, ever. Psychically, I sensed there would be no second date. For weeks afterward, I would dramatically sniff and then try to guess what my friends were thinking. You’re thinking…. "when will she get to the point?" *sniff*
Ok. I share that story just to point out that I’m a little biased against that New Age sort of spirituality. But then again, I’m also biased against cleanliness nazis. So let’s just say they cancel each other out, and I’m going into this week’s Wife Swap with a clean slate.
Maybe Cleanliness Isn't Next to Godliness. Maybe It's Either/Or
This week, our swappers are the Stallones, of New Jersey – yes, really. The Stallones -- and the Ghanis, of California.
The Stallones consist of Paulette, Michael, Mike Jr., and a daughter whose name I forget. Paulette is a superfreak when it comes to cleaning – she does it at least five hours a day. She says if she spots dirt, she cannot sit still, she must clean it – even in someone else’s house. Already I’m thinking Paulette could perhaps use a hobby or something – maybe a job – because she obviously has too much time on her hands. Junior is a picky eater and seems to survive entirely on chicken nuggets – that and his hours spent watching TV and playing video games more than adequately explain his rotund appearance. Even though Junior is 12 years old, Paulette dresses him every morning AND puts gel in his hair so he doesn’t have to get his widdle hands all sticky. Paulette also serves her teenage daughter breakfast in bed.
Michael, the father here, works long hours and isn’t home a lot. (Also, Michael looks freakishly like actor Eugene Levy, who has been in lots of things but who I mostly remember from various Christopher Guest mockumentaries, such as “Best in Show”, “Waiting for Guffman” and “A Mighty Wind.” And if you haven’t seen these movies, you don’t deserve your DVD player. Get thee to Blockbuster!)
Paulette feels taken advantage of, and says her family expects her to do so much. Oh, Paulette. This is what you get when you raise people’s expectations. If you do everything, they expect everything and anything less is bad. If you do nothing – my personal modus operandi – then anything you DO do is perceived as good.
As is typical with this show, the other family lives a lifestyle in complete contrast to the Stallones. The Ghanis are an interracial family in California who put spirituality over such earthbound concerns as cleaning. Elizabeth and Adofo are the parents of three kids, whom Elizabeth sees as “manifestations of God.” She also thinks Adofo is Buddha – maybe THE Buddha, maybe not, I didn’t catch that – and has been reincarnated numerous times. The family meditates together for two hours every morning – give or take, because time-keeping is also too mundane for this family. Adofo proudly tells us that he “used to be in the world of time, and I abandoned that.” Being in his own little timeless world is made easier by the fact that Adofo works from home, as a poet and an artist. “The true art is my life,” he proclaims. The less true art seems to hang on the wall, in the form of a bizarre stucco face thingy. I made something very similar out of half a milk jug in art class in sixth grade.
Elizabeth cleans for 15 minutes a day – she, being still in the world of time, actually sets a timer to monitor herself – and whatever doesn’t get done in that 15 minutes just stays dirty. This would explain the dishes in the sink, the clothes in the floor and the dustbunnies in the corners. The Ghanis have a TV but don’t watch it during the week – I assume they made an exception for this episode (and in fact, how did they even know about this show if they DON’T watch TV during the week? Hmm? Riddle me THAT, ABC) -- and they’re vegetarians. Elizabeth says she came on the show because “the spirit told me I needed to do it to grow and be a better person.” I am wishing that spirit would interfere in a lot of other reality show contestants’ lives, and spare us from a large number of people on the Bachelor series.
That Aura is Filthy
Under the rules of the show, the wives swap houses for two weeks, living by house rules the first week and imposing their own the second week, etc., etc., yadda yadda.
Both women get some time to adjust to the other’s house before meeting the families. Paulette’s adjustment period is brief and brutal. The sight of the dust, unwashed dishes, piled-up clothes, and general non-spotlessness of the Ghani household appalls her. She describes it as a “big challenge,” possibly the world’s largest understatement.
Paulette also looks at the pictures on the wall, full of grinning, non-Caucasian kids, and says she’s not sure if it’s a black family, and wonders whether they’ll accept her because she’s white. Little does she know, of course, that Elizabeth is white, but I just thought the whole thing was a bit biased of her. I mean, I’m glad she worried about whether they would accept her, instead of the other way around, but still.
Meanwhile in New Jersey, Elizabeth is impressed with how antiseptically clean the Stallone residence is. She wanders around a bit, then goes outside to hug trees. She finds her “meditation spot”, and there we will leave her for a bit.
Both women prepared manuals describing how they spend their day and the running of their households. Predictably, Paulette and Elizabeth are bug-eyed at the things they’ll be forced to do in the other woman’s stead. They’re both in shock at the other’s TV habits (none in the Ghanis’ all the time in the Stallones’) and cleaning habits (again, none at the Ghanis’ all the time at the Stallones’. Paulette is a bit taken aback by the idea of meditation at 6:30 every morning, while Elizabeth reads about meals and shrieks, “Oh crap, I gotta touch raw meat!”. Elizabeth also notes that Paulette’s cleaning schedule reminds her of her own mother. Paulette is channeling her own mother too – she says that if her mom could see her in the Ghanis’ house, she’d tell her to run. We’ll be meeting Paulette’s mother here in a bit, and I think you’ll agree that running is something everyone would like to do after encountering that woman.
She’d Have Brought the Horns, But They Were in the Hamper
Both women meet the families amicably enough. Paulette is shown pictures of Elizabeth, and is amazed that she is white, “like me.” Has she never heard of interracial couples? She is saying this to a Ghani child, who looks a bit surprised. I’m guessing that in the Ghani house, no one ever makes such a big deal about race and skin color. Nevertheless, Paulette says Adofo is making her feel at home.
In New Jersey, Elizabeth is telling Michael that she and Adofo aren’t married, although they’ve been together 11 years. Michael seems a bit surprised; he keeps asking why, and Elizabeth keeps saying they just haven’t gotten around to it.
But overall, so far so good in the Stallone house. Michael says he expected the new wife to be a fruitcake, and he’s “still waiting for the horns to pop out.”
It’s the first morning, and Paulette has to sit through a two-hour meditation session. Adofo goes into some long-winded riff about blessing Paulette, and she raises her eyebrows and looks skeptical. She’s busy meditating on the time, and she wants to hurry up and get the kids ready for school. That’s the problem with Adofo’s “leaving the world of time” – he can’t take everyone else with him into his timeless void, and the school day definitely runs on a clock.
Across the country, Elizabeth is up early to make breakfast, serve it to the daughter in bed, and dress Junior and fix his hair. She then dutifully spends five hours cleaning the house, something she considers a complete waste of the time allotted to her on this planet. “I don’t want to clean house, and know I died with … a clean house,” she says.
No fears there. Paulette is “nauseous” when confronted with the grimy Ghani bathroom. And she’s having a tough time sticking to Elizabeth’s 15-minute cleaning routine; it typically takes her 15 minutes just to make a bed, Paulette says. I guess you could *stretch* bed-making into 15 minutes. If you had, say, one of those round beds they sometimes have in movies, and if it had lots of pillows. And… satin sheets that kept slipping off, or something.
Luckily for Paulette and her weak stomach, she brought her own towels. Yes. Her OWN towels. Six of them. She keeps one to stand on in the tub. Maybe I’m biased here, but I have an aunt who used to bring her own sheets when she’d visit her own mother’s house. It hurt my grandmother’s feelings deeply. So I view bringing one’s own linens to someone else’s house as just tacky.
In New Jersey, Elizabeth is confronting her own squeamishness. She has to make the Stallones a four-course Italian meal, complete with meat. Cooking meat gives Elizabeth “butterflies” in her stomach, but when Michael asks if it bothers her, Elizabeth says no. She explains that she can’t put “yicky” energy into the meal when Paulette makes it with love.
Nobody Warned Me There Would Be a Harridan
Speaking of yicky energy, it’s time to meet Paulette’s mom, whose name I don’t know or care about, and who I’m going to call Grandma. And if she reads this, and it makes her feel old, then good. This woman is a beast. Also, Grandma – for the love of god, lay. Off. The. Eyeliner. I’ve seen hookers with less kohl around their eyes.
I don’t know if Grandma regularly dines at the Stallone house, or if Elizabeth is just suffering from some bad karma. But she’s there now, and unfortunately Elizabeth has made a mess of the kitchen while cooking in it. I’m sure all the rest of the world manages to make a four-course meal without spilling anything or dirtying anything, but not Elizabeth, and Grandma zooms in on the mess.
“Paulette would turn over in her grave,” Grandma proclaims. I presume she means some future grave, as living with hippies in California does not precisely equal death, although I think Grandma would prefer the latter to the former. She goes ON and ON about the horror of spilled chocolate and spattered grease. “This is terrible. Terrible,” she adds. “I’m just so upset right now, you have no idea.” Oh, I think we get the picture. And I think we know which parent Paulette takes after.
Elizabeth handles Grandma’s ravings calmly, trying to explain – futilely – that cleaning just isn’t a priority of hers. She tells us that Grandma is “quote opinionated” and that she’s not used to being spoken to like that – I would hope no one is – but she seems ok. No tears, at least. Good girl.
There are Ants in My Pants! Literally
In California, Paulette is not in her grave, but she may be wishing Adofo was. His disregard for the mundanities of time-keeping is driving the super-prompt Paulette crazy. We see him playing some patty-cake game with one of the kids, while Paulette, waiting to take the child to school, checks her watch with mounting frustration.
In New Jersey, Elizabeth is fretting about Junior. As mentioned earlier, his activities consist of sitting on his butt and watching TV, or sitting on his butt and playing video games, or sitting on his butt and eating. Elizabeth also worries about the Stallones’ eating habits – she says they eat way too much sugar and processed food, and there appears to be hardly a vegetable in the house.
Switching BACK to California – I swear, I try to collate this stuff without all the scene-switching, but it’s hard work – Paulette’s problems have just multiplied by … well, probably hundreds, if not thousands. The Ghani house has become infested with ants. Including – and this is so gross – ants crawling over one of the kids’ underwear. Ew. Just ew. Paulette is just as appalled as me. She says she cries herself to sleep at night because she feels so bad the children are living in such filth.
“It’s tears of joy,” Adofo claims, surprisingly out of tune with the aura in his house. He thinks Paulette’s crying because this is all just such a rich experience. Um, dude. Get your head out of your chakras and look around you. You’ve got a dirty houseful of ants and a weeping New Jersey housewife who never meditated a day in her life. This isn’t a “rich” experience. It’s a trainwreck.
This Kid Needs a Spanking
As the ladies have lived by the house rules for a week, it’s time to shake things up and let them impose their own rules. Elizabeth is excited, Michael forsees trouble with his children, and Adofo says he trusts Paulette. Fool.
Elizabeth’s new rules are predictable: she releases herself from cleaning duty and forbids the children from watching TV or playing video games on school days. The tears flow a split-second later, as the kids think this is horribly unfair. No TV! Oh, the horror! When I was a kid, we were allowed to watch one hour of TV a day. One. Video games? Pshaw. Didn’t exist in my house. And no matter what you may have heard, I grew up to be relatively normal and well-adjusted. Stallone kids, suck. It. Up. You can live without Mario, or whatever’s cool with kids these days.
Elizabeth also decrees the family will meditate, and that Junior will have to dress himself and do his own hair. Predictably, Mr. Spoiled freaks out and protests. Elizabeth calmly points out that if he gets around her rules, or changes them to suit himself, there’s really no point to the whole exercise. That’s exactly Junior’s point as well, except that he doesn’t understand the word “exercise.” Junior whines that their rules were easy, while her rules are hard. Sure, kiddo. Five hours of cleaning – piece of cake. Turning off the TV – monumentally difficult. Little twerp.
Elizabeth tries to sweeten the pot by promising that they’ll have fun, AND they’ll dance. Amazingly, this does not win anyone over. Finally, Michael shoos his weeping children from the room. Elizabeth sighs and rolls her eyes, while upstairs the daughter promises Junior -- in tones that suggest she’s promising to take care of him now that their entire family is dead and their home burned -- that she won’t let him go to school looking like an idiot. She’ll pick out his clothes and gel his hair. Why do I think this kid is going to be babied until the day he meets some girl who’ll marry him and KEEP babying him? Maybe it’s because I’ve just watched a chubby 12-year-old glare into the camera and grunt, “I’m trying to control my anger. She’s such a stupid moron!” Sticks and stones, Junior.
In California, Paulette’s rules are equally predictable. She’ll be cleaning, of course. The kids will make their beds, put clothes in the hamper, and flush the toilet. She singles out one kid by name, telling him she doesn’t want to see what comes out of his body. I think she could have spared a little humiliation here, but whatever. Also, Paulette wants the kids to be allowed to watch TV or play games.
The World of Time Trumps the Infinite La
The new regime begins immediately, as Paulette directs the children around their bed-making with all the warmth of a drill sergeant. Adofo has finally noticed she’s a bit of a stickler for time. Well-spotted, man. We see the kids lollygagging at breakfast while Paulette calls out every time the minute hand swings around. Finally herding them into the car, she scolds, “we’ve got to leave by 7:49 and we’re five minutes late.” Oh no! Not five whole minutes! *hides under desk, awaiting imminent end of world*
Um, yeah. Back in New Jersey, Liz is meditating with Junior, who she thinks enjoys it and who I think is asleep. She also meditates with Michael, who seems to be pretty open to the experience, although he says he’s meditating on his 8 a.m. meeting and his tax returns.
Less open to the experience in general is Junior. He comes home from school wanting a snack, to find that Elizabeth has rid the house of all processed foods. He rejects non-chicken nuggets, an apple, a pear, and a veggie burger all as unworthy of his palate. He claims to the camera that Elizabeth is “giving me an attitude.”
The food changes are going over better in California, where Paulette has made baked ziti for dinner. The kids love it. Her own kids, meanwhile, are eyeing a dinner of broccoli, tofu and some sort of beans as if Elizabeth is trying to feed them poison and poo. Junior spits everything out, declares there’s something wrong in how it was cooked, and runs off to the bathroom. Elizabeth rolls her eyes. “It’s not like they’re Muslim and I’m feeding them pork,” she says. “These are vegetables.” Yes, well, they’re obviously foreign objects in the Stallone household.
Nicole – aha! That’s the Stallone daughter’s name – cannot stand the house being unclean. Personifying every woman’s worst fear, she practically turns into her mother before our very eyes, cleaning fanatically and crying about how she can’t stand to see “her” house dirty. Elizabeth isn’t happy; she wants Nicole to relax and to dance. But Nicole is determined to vacuum. Elizabeth notes that the family welcomed her while she was acting like them, but now that she’s behaving in a different fashion, the welcome mat is rolled up.
That’s certainly evident in the next scene. Part of Elizabeth’s rules is that Junior has to read for 20 minutes a day. I cannot conceive of being around a child who viewed this as a chore. I used to hide in my room, nose stuck in a book, while my mother tried to shoo me outside to play. But Junior again proves himself a different breed. He doesn’t want to read a book Elizabeth chose for him – a short novel about the Holocaust. He protests that her rules didn’t state that she could choose his book. I’m guessing she had to buy him a book because he didn’t own any.
Elizabeth says Junior is being rude and disrespectful, and when Michael comes home – sweetly hugging her and telling her she looks nice – she tells him what his son has been up to. Michael, to his credit, sides with Elizabeth. “It’s her rules, you agreed to abide by her rules,” he tells Junior, adding that the kid would never backtalk his own mother that way. Eventually Junior gets sent upstairs to read for another 20 minutes, despite his whining that his dad isn’t sticking up for him. No, bucko, he’s disciplining you. Sounds like a first to me. Maybe if Michael spent more time at home his kid wouldn’t be such a whiny snot.
In California, Paulette is frustrated more with Adofo than the kids. She just can’t stand his constant communicating-with-the-gods stream of chatter. “He babbles,” she says. We cut to Adofo, babbling, “I release this word into the infinite and absolute la.” Paulette says she’d shake him if he were shorter, but as his stature would put her reaching around his waist, she’ll abstain.
I Just Have to Acknowledge You as Readers
As the swap ends, Elizabeth is appreciative of her own kids and their freedoms. Paulette leaves the Ghanis’ reminding the kids to clean. And Junior grabs his Gameboy before Elizabeth is even down the stairs with her suitcase.
The two couples reunite with the usual assortment of hugging, kissing and crying, before they proceed to sit down across a table from each other to judge the experience.
Elizabeth said she had a good time, but that Nicole started spontaneously cleaning. Paulette says she had trouble living in those conditions, what with the ants on the clothes and all. Elizabeth claims she cleaned up before she left, but acknowledges they do get ants sometimes.
Adofo, rejoining us on planet Earth, says he doesn’t know what to say to Paulette’s gripes, and it’s like he doesn’t know her. She retorts that he knew she was unhappy.
Michael says it was a positive experience, and that the families just have different philosophies. Adofo says he knew Michael was a good man because of how Paulette was.
And Elizabeth wraps things up by saying to Paulette, “I just have to acknowledge you right now as a woman.” Paulette doesn’t know quite how to take this, and looks bewildered.
As Foretold By the Planets
At some undefined point later, we check back in with the Stallones and the Ghanis.
At the Stallones’, Junior has finally learned to dress himself and do his own hair. Next year they hope to teach him how to wipe his own butt. Nicole is helping her mother clean the house, and Michael is more appreciative of what-all Paulette does. He says they sure noted the difference when she was gone.
At the Ghanis’, Elizabeth has changed her hairstyle, and thinks God created “Wife Swap” to teach her a new experience. I think if this show is the best God can do on that front, He’s getting rusty. We all know he created Survivor, but I think he should have stopped there. Anyway, Elizabeth has hired someone to clean the house – Adofo must make more money with those stucco face-things than I thought. And the big news – Elizabeth and Adofo got married finally. Surprisingly, while I’d expected some batik and tie-dye, Elizabeth wore a traditional white dress. White like Paulette.
Weight-lifters versus potato-chip lifters. Feel the burn. Or don’t.
HEY! Vote Nov. 2. Or Grandma will pay you a visit. And she’s packing eyeliner. email@example.com