12/8 recap: "Pierced Punks and the Puritans Who Pray For Them"
Every week, I sit down to write these things, and try to think of some sort of semi-snazzy intro, like an anecdote that relates (sometimes) to the events in the show.
This week I’m torn between telling you about the time I dated a guy who had a tattoo on his neck of a rat skeleton praying (thus linking to the tattooed punk family in this week’s episode) or about how my ex-fiance in college was the son of a South Carolina Baptist preacher (linking to the South Carolina Baptist family this week). Tattoos? Baptists? Which story is better? Which do you want more? Alas, I can’t decide. So you pick your favorite. It’s like “Choose Your Own Adventure,” except without any consequences -- nor, really, any adventure.
This week we’re swapping puritans with punks. Wendy and Bill Ray live in South Carolina with their teenage daughter Brittany and their son Dustin (I think that’s his name. He will barely speak throughout the next hour, so I don’t really care enough to look it up). The Rays, who are Baptist (and are NOT my ex-boyfriend’s family, thank goodness) live their lives according to the Bible, particularly the part that says the man is in charge and the woman is to be submissive. (Where does it say this, by the way? I mean, I’ll take the Baptists’ word on it, I’m just curious. I remember the brouhaha a few years back when the Southern Baptists got together in one of their big meetings and decided that wives should be submissive, like in the Bible. I also remember when they decided it was their job to convert the Jews, but that’s neither here nor there).
Bill takes the “my house, my rules” approach to his patriarchal duties. When he gets home from work, he expects dinner to be fixed, homework to be done, clothes to be clean. Wendy says she’s cool with that; as per biblical teaching, she thinks the woman’s place is in the home. Bill and Wendy extend this attitude toward their children; Brittany helps her mom with household chores, while Dustin’s jobs in the house consist solely of taking out the trash. I had no idea the Bible included a trash exception in the women’s-work rule.
Brittany, who is 15, is not allowed to date, wear heels or tank tops, or dark eyeshadow. Wendy says the dating rule is handed down by Bill, who knows what young men have on their minds. I think Brittany could dress like a 20-year-old hooker, and still Bill would scare off any boys brave enough to come calling. Brittany seems like a nice enough kid, and she doesn’t even sound too teen-angsty. But she tells us that her parents call her the “bad child,” and Dustin is the “good child” and that her mom thinks she’s trashy and rednecky. If that’s the case, I’m thinking there must be a lot about Brittany we’re not seeing here, because she looks like your average youth-group leader to me. Then again, I’m *still* the bad child in my family, so maybe I’m just biased towards Brittany.
Wendy and Ray, by the way, can’t wait until their children grow up and move out of the house. Oh, and they punish the kids, when needed, by making them copy out Bible verses. And I think that pretty much takes care of the Rays.
Cristina and Allan Aguirre live in Texas with their three teenage kids – Xaundelle, Saphraine and Corin. (I had to look the first two up, and will now go to great lengths to avoid having to spell them again.) Unlike the super-structured, uber-upright lifestyle of the Rays, the Aguirres are laid-back free-spirits. They have no set schedule. None of them. No one goes to school (the kids homeschool themselves for two hours a day, which we will get to later), no one (seems to) go outside the house to work (Allan manages punk bands from the house) and all in all there seems to be no need for these people to even own a clock.
Cristina and Allan’s approach to parenting is to be a friend to their kids. As a result the kids have a ton of freedom, and can come and go as they please, even if they please to stay out all night. They all seem to be very close, and Allan says he would never want to live a life in which his kids weren’t part of his day every day. I guess when one of them tries to get married or move away, Allan will just tie himself to their ankles by his dreadlocks until they relent and move the new spouse in with the rest of the family. The entire family has an assortment of piercings and tattoos, which Cristina thinks are all beautiful. They have their own punk band, which Allan manages. Chores are done democratically or not at all – Cristina says life is “too much fun to worry about cleaning up the house,” which explains why the kitchen table and counters seem largely decorated in early-American empty drink can.
Cristina says she has never really been taught to run a household, and I guess that’s what she wants to get out of the Wife Swap experience. Wendy would like some pointers on dealing with a teenage daughter.
They Make Gothic Churches, You Know
As always, the two swapped wives get to check out each others’ houses first, and then meet the families. Cristina says the Ray house is small but cute, but she is put off by the plethora of Bible verses decorating everything that would stand still (I think I saw the Lord’s Prayer cross-stitched on the dog, actually). She enters what will be her room only to find a Bible propped up on the bed, and is somewhat offended because she interprets this as a suggestion that she needs saving.
Wendy looks at Aguirre family pictures and notes that Allan has dreadlocks and “an earring in his eyeball.” As she goes through the house, she comes to the conclusion that the Aguirres are “hippies” and that’s fine with her, as long as she can convince them to be neater hippies. However, eventually she finds a room that has a few gargoyles lying about, and surmises that they’re into “gothic-type stuff.” She looks nervous.
What Good Little Punks They Are!
Both women left each other a manual describing their daily lives. Cristina notes with trepidation that in Wendy’s life, the man rules the house, and is amazed and saddened that the Rays can’t wait for their kids to move out and that Wendy says she loves Brittany, but doesn’t like her much right now. I would have thought that was the reaction of just about every mother of a teenage daughter. Although my own mother has never said so, I feel quite certain she could not have liked me much from the ages of 13 to 16, at least. I was very much a “mope in the bedroom” sort of teenager.
Wendy reads that Cristina doesn’t do much cleaning, and is less than surprised, as she can see the evidence all around her. She’s touched, however, by Cristina’s description of how close the family is. “They are a good little family, they’re just filthy,” Wendy says. She’s less thrilled to read about how there are no restrictions on the kids; she says this is why they’re so wild-looking. Here I wrote down a quote from Wendy – “I’d rather be in labor with triplets,” she says – but I did not write down what that would be preferable to. Hmm. Well, sorry.
The Family that Pierces Together, Stays Together
I don’t know why I bother every week to note that the swapped wives meet the other families. Of course they do. And every week, it’s quite friendly, for about 10 seconds. This week, Wendy wastes little time in informing Allan that she thought the Aguirres were “devil-worshipers”, presumably because they have piercings, tattoos, and lots of black clothes. Oh, Wendy, you can’t assume someone’s a devil-worshipper because they have a ring in their nose and Doc Martens. You should always withhold judgment until they sacrifice a chicken. Just a handy rule of thumb.
Cristina quickly decides Brittany is fighting the strictness of her surroundings. And it doesn’t take her long at all to figure out that Dustin is spoiled, and probably likes his little spoiled life just fine.
The first morning, Wendy wakes up to chaos in the kitchen. There are beer and soda cans everywhere, and it looks like there was a party. Or, it was just an average Sunday night in the Aguirre household. Wendy, however, isn’t expected to clean it up, and while the mess bugs her, she manages not to touch anything.
Cristina, meanwhile, is learning that women’s work is never done. She’s cleaning and cleaning, with Bill offering detailed instructions. I know he works, but I never heard where, and it appears to be someplace that gives him time off to breathe down a swapped wife’s neck. Cristina tells him that her family cleans together, on Tuesdays. He doesn’t really react.
Back in Texas, it’s Corin’s 16th birthday. To celebrate, the family all go with him to get his septum pierced. Wendy is highly uncomfortable, and begs Corin not to do it, pointing out – redundantly – that there’s no way she’d let her own children do that. Regardless of Wendy’s protests, a few minutes later Colin has tears in his eyes and metal in his nose.
In South Carolina, Cristina attempts to get Dustin to do his one chore, taking out the trash. He claims to be cleaning his room, but is really sitting on his perfectly-made bed, pouting. He tells the camera that Cristina is “getting worse and worse” about asking him to do things he doesn’t want to do. Because he’s SO put-upon, having to take out a bag of trash. This little snot is only a few years away from making some little Baptist girl’s life miserable.
All Forms of Pantyhose are Evil. Discuss.
In Texas, the Aguirres are preparing for a family outing – to the local punk-rock club. Wendy gamely goes along, but reacts like she’s been dropped in a nest of Jehovah’s Witnesses – i.e. uncomfy. She can’t help but comment on the Aguirre daughters’ going-out clothes: fishnet stockings and Army-style boots. Wendy says they “give the appearance of evil.” Huh? Wendy must be sadly misinformed as to the appearance evil tends to take. I mean, I wouldn’t assume that everyone dressed like an uptight church lady IS an uptight self-righteous church lady. No matter how tempting it might be.
Anyway, Allan sets her straight, pointing out that some of the most evil people in the world wear three-piece suits. Heh. A daughter pipes up to suggest that Wendy shouldn’t judge people by their clothes, a point that Wendy concedes, at least out loud.
The bar is noisy and someone onstage is performing a screamy number, and Wendy looks distinctly out of place. She says she’d never take her kids to that bar, or any bar. By the next morning, the punk bar appears to have been the last straw; Wendy breaks down at breakfast, admitting that the Aguirres’ appearance scares her and that she’s out of her element. Crying, she tells us, “if you walk around looking like a freak, we’re going to call you a freak.” I’d suggest Wendy look around her and think about who-all she’s calling “we”? Because right now it’s looking like she’s the odd person out in the “which of these is not the same” game.
Allan is frustrated by Wendy’s rigid “piercings/tattoos/fishnets/punk equals satanic and evil” point of view. He points out to the camera that he’s wearing a polo shirt and slacks, and even stretches his dress-shoe-shod foot up to the camera. Props for being limber there, Allan. But Wendy’s breakdown continues – she cries that tattoos and piercings aren’t “proper” for kids.
The Bible Takes No Position on Barbecue
In South Carolina, Cristina is trying to break through Brittany’s Baptist mindset, telling her that some men are actually capable of cooking and cleaning, and that gender roles don’t have to be so stridently defined as they are in the Ray house. She says Wendy is probably enjoying a vacation from all the chores at her house.
Well, not so much. The Aguirres are having a barbecue, and it’s killing Wendy not to be able to cook or clean anything. She surveys the disaster that is the kitchen, saying that if this were her home, she’d have it all cleaned up by the time everyone left. I’m wondering, if that’s the case, when would she have time to enjoy the party?
Now, poor Wendy has undergone some shocks so far. But the biggest one is yet to come – the Aguirres and their guests pray before the meal. Yes! They pray! On purpose! To God, not Satan! No chicken sacrifices in sight. Wendy is shocked. She decides perhaps she’s been too judgmental. Too bad she couldn’t figure that out through getting to know them, and it took them doing something that she does.
Thou Shalt Not Be Such An Ass
It’s time for
revenge the wives to impose their own rules. Wendy – who really looks like the Church Lady in that dress – institutes a 10 p.m. curfew for the Aguirre kids, hands out conservative khakis for them to wear, and tells Corin he’ll have to shave his beard and comb his hair in a less “swoopty-swoop” fashion. Also, she’s hiring a tutor to help home-school the kids, AND they’re all to do some cleaning. The oldest daughter says that if she were Wendy’s daughter, she’d probably leave home. In general, the family doesn’t look thrilled, but they also don’t erupt in tears of protest. So far, so good.
Not so good in South Carolina. Cristina says Bill is to clean and cook. He says no. She says Dustin is to help do chores, and Bill snidely says that she’ll see how it’s done right when they do it. I don’t know how, given that I doubt Bill – and certainly not Dustin – would know a mop if they were hit in the head with one. Oh, what a tempting thought. Cristina gives Brittany a guitar and Dustin a drum set, saying that music is a good way for people to express themselves. If you hate an adult, giving their child a drum set is just about the best revenge imaginable. Cristina also says she will home-school the kids – another “no” from Bill, who reiterates that it’s “my house, my rules.” Nope, sunshine, not when you go on a television show where the entire premise is to live by someone else’s rules.
In that vein, I would like to take this moment to address the Wife Swap production staff. (If my email is to be believed, which is not at all for sure, they occasionally peek at these recaps.) Please, production people, please – either stop picking people with righteous sticks up their butts like Bill, or (better) put a clause in whatever 900-page contract you probably require them to sign that punishes them in some way for not playing fair. I think we’d all rather see someone like Bill attempt to live a lifestyle totally foreign to his own, than to sit on his couch like a (short) king and refuse to even play the game. I, for one, wouldn’t mind seeing burly jackbooted men with “Satan is My Co-Pilot” T-shirts forcing Bill to scrub the bathroom floor with a toothbrush. But, you know, some sort of cash-related punishment for not following the rules would be ok, too.
The Tattoo May Be Temporary, But the Pissiness is Permanent
The Aguirre girls dutifully wear their new clothes, and the son is somewhat clean-shaven. Bill, however, puts his cooking duties off on Brittany. Wendy insists that the Aguirre family clean the house, and Allan shouts that he’s in hell. Oh, suck it UP. You can run a dustcloth once in a while, it won’t kill you. (Bill, are you listening?)
Cristina has lost the battle to homeschool the kids, but she meets them after school with an idea – to get them temporary tattoos. Why they would need temporary tattoos, and what that would prove, is beyond me. Brittany’s game, but of course Dustin doesn’t want one. In fact, Dustin’s such a party-pooper that he calls Bill to tattle, and Bill evidently has a meltdown (which, sadly, we don’t get to see). All we see is Cristina and Brittany bundling back into the car, as Cristina tells us that Bill threatened to call the police if they didn’t come straight home.
Obviously it’s confrontation time. Bill’s sitting on his
throne lawn chair when Cristina barrels into the yard (having sent Brittany into the house). Bill launches into a diatribe about how she is not to take HIS children “to a tattoo parlor, a porno shop or anything else of that nature.” It’s sad that his life has lacked the experience to inform him that tattoo parlors (or, as they prefer to be called, tattoo studios) are not, generally, in any way related to porn shops. Seriously, most tattoo places are regulated by the health department. They’re full of people getting tattoos, not people fulfilling sexual fetishes (fetishi?) that only get mentioned in the Sodom chapter of the Bible. It’s apples and oranges.
Anyway, all that said, Brittany is a minor and Cristina probably shouldn’t be taking her to places that Bill so strenuously disapproves of, even if he doesn’t really know what he’s talking about. Cristina does point out that tattoos and porn are not interchangeable, and that Bill is small-minded. Bill retorts that she shouldn’t “come in here and try to enforce your rules on someone else.” Cristina notes that that would be, oh, say, the POINT of the show. Bill yells some more and stomps off.
Cristina tells us she’s sure Bill is feeling very satisfied with his little self. But Bill is inside, admitting to the camera that he’s been told he can be hard to get along with – the hell you say! – and that he gets emotional and mad and can’t even remember what he said. (That’s what I’m here for, little Napoleon-complex man). He seems to feel a bit bad about being so harsh, but he never says so to Cristina; I don’t see them exchange another word the rest of the swap, actually.
Let’s Get Punkified
It would be impossible for there to be MORE drama than this at the Aguirres’, and of course there is less. Wendy has hired the tutor, who questions the kids about their home-schooling and tells Wendy that they’re not up to their grade level. Well, on two hours of self-taught stuff, I wouldn’t think so, even if they’re really smart kids. The kids do seem to appreciate the tutor; the girl says she learned a lot more than she thought she would.
Since Cristina’s not talking to Bill, and Dustin is mute if he’s not whining, she’s talking to Brittany. They take a golf-cart ride, and poor little Brittany pours her heart out. She says her parents say they prefer Dustin, which upsets Cristina, who thinks Brittany is a normal teenager. I’d say Brittany is actually much nicer than the average teenager – when I was 14, or 15, or whatever, you couldn’t have paid me to tell an adult anything. Cristina tells Brittany that her differences make her her, and Brittany seems to feel better.
Back in Texas, the Aguirre girls have decided they’ve had enough of frumpy church-lady. No, they’re not kicking her out or having a brawl; they’re giving her a makeover. Wendy goes along, putting on fishnets, a short skirt, and even letting them slather dark makeup on her eyes and tease her hair. She says, wistfully, that she and Brittany never do this sort of thing, and that Brittany would love it. The girls tell her to talk to Brittany and to trust her more.
You Can Put Her in Heels, But You Can’t Make Her Stand Up For Herself in Them
Finally, it’s time for these women to go home. Cristina says she liked getting to know Brittany, but that Bill wasn’t interested in getting to know about her, and she doesn’t care if she ever sees him again.
Wendy tells the Aguirres she hopes she and Brittany can bond when she gets home. She says she spends more time in her garden than she does with her daughter, which is kinda sad. Allan tells her she should try to make sure Brittany doesn’t resent her. I’ll give that a hell yeah. If things go on the way they appear to have been going, Brittany’s going to wind up a 17-year-old runaway stripper in Atlanta.
Wendy says that as a result of her Swap experience, she’ll be more open-minded toward Brittany; she thinks she and Bill have been overprotective. Cristina is glad to be going home, but is worried about Brittany.
The couples reunite with the usual hugs, kisses, etc. They then sit down to hash out the experience.
Cristina says she was saddened by Brittany’s conviction that her parents hate her; Wendy says Cristina only heard Brittany’s side, and that the fights and the “I hate you’s” went both ways.
Wendy adds that Cristina’s kids were great. But Cristina says she felt like she had no voice in the Bill house. Bill brings up the tattoo incident, and Cristina says that the kids and possibly even Wendy are afraid of Bill and Bill’s reactions to things. Wendy admits she doesn’t like conflict.
Something else is said, and Allan says he doesn’t see a reasonable man in front of him. I don’t know if that set Bill off, or if we missed something, but Bill declares that they’re done, stands up, calls Wendy to heel, and stomps off. And, um, that’s it.
Since the swap, the Aguirres have tried to clean more. Allan is proud of his family, and Cristina realized that her kids cannot teach themselves everything they need to know for college tests by themselves; they’ve hired a tutor. Cristina also thinks Allan appreciates her more, and is happy that her family values human relationships over a clean house.
At the Ray house, Bill helps out a bit around the house. Brittany says Wendy is more lenient, and mother and daughter are spending more time together. Wendy thinks it’s a better relationship. She let Brittany buy high heels, with the result that Brittany discovered what every woman discovers – that high heels hurt your feet. In a couple of years she’ll figure out that bunions or no bunions, heels still make your legs look sexy. Maybe by then Bill will let her date.
A drill sergeant versus a doormat. In other words, same-old, same-old.
I want a tattoo. firstname.lastname@example.org