Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #5: Dawn and the Impossible Three

Sometimes I wonder how people function. I mean, how specific people function. They always ask you for a pen, as if the idea that they might have to take notes in class was sprung on them that day. When they arrive at the register, they have to dig through a pillow-case sized purse and they pour all the contents on the counter, as if they had no idea the cashier would ask for payment. This goes beyond absent-mindedness as this is a daily occurrence. Simple things that most of us are accustomed to (paying for things, taking notes, a basic level of preparation) in life come as a surprise to them. That might be nice while gliding through life, and they’re probably happy in their little flighty head, but it’s a huge inconvenience to everyone around them.

In Dawn and the Impossible Three, our favorite California Girl meets a person who needs a lot of help and Dawn doesn’t seem up to the task.

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Some books, a shoe, and a dog? What chaos!!!

The book starts with Dawn sitting at the Pikes’. Dawn goes over how her parents got divorced and her mother moved them across the country. Two little kids from down the street come over to play – Buddy and Suzi Barrett. Dawn connects with them because their mother is also recently divorced. After her job is done, she is heading to the BSC meeting when she sees Mary Anne who yells, “Great news!” And we end the first chapter on a cliffhanger.

Did I accidentally read a Goosebumps book instead?

The cliffhanger is quickly resolved. Mary Anne says that her father is going to ask Dawn’s mother out and he won’t be there for dinner. I guess even Republicans have to date, as much as that idea makes me retch. Who the hell would date a Republican? 

At the BSC meeting, the girls hand in their dues and decide to use the money to buy more stuff for the Kid-Kits. The Prezziosos, the Newtons, and the Brewers call. More importantly, there’s a call from a new client! It’s Mrs. Barrett and Dawn takes the job.

Saturday morning, Dawn goes over to Mary Anne’s house primed with stuff for Mary Anne to go through in her endeavor to redecorate her room. Apparently, the Schafers brought a bunch of stuff with them that they were planning on selling. Why they didn’t get rid of the stuff while still in California, instead of packing it all up, paying shipping fees, and unboxing it for the express purposes of a yard sale, I don’t know. 

Kristy catches wind of shenanigans in Mary Anne’s room and the two shout at each other through their windows. Kristy comes over and acts hostile and jealous toward Dawn, refusing to speak directly to her and never laughing at her jokes. This behavior continues into lunch the next school day when Mary Anne and Dawn realize that they’ll be sisters if their parents get married. 

During Dawn’s initial meeting with the Barretts, Buddy, Suzi, and Marnie, she makes a strict “no guns” rule. Good rule, but this is America, Dawn, and in America, we give guns to every God-fearin’ white person who wants one because 2nd Amendment blah blah blah rights blah protection blah blah. Anyway, 

Mrs. Barrett is discombobulated. She doesn’t give Dawn a phone number to reach her in case of emergency (“call the Pikes, okay?”), something called “Pow” is waiting to get inside, and the baby needs stuff

When she leaves and Dawn is in charge, Dawn learns that Pow is “the meanest dog who ever lived.” He’s a lethargic basset hound. So, a basset hound. Dawn figures out a way to trick the kids into cleaning the living room, the kitchen, and the playroom by turning it into a game where they have to break their previous record time. She bonds with the kids more regarding their mother’s divorce. Suzi gets upset that her father isn’t coming back and then she pees her pants. I don’t think the two events are related, but that’s the order in which they happened. 

Mrs. Barrett returns and she calls Dawn the best baby-sitter she’s ever had. Dawn is happy and says that if Mrs. Barrett needs Dawn to come over, she can call on her “any time.” Dawn ends the chapter with the following ominous passage

If I had only known then how often “any time” was going to be, I might not have spoken so quickly.

Meanwhile, Kristy babysits for Karen and Andrew and they all play this game called “Let’s All Come In.” Basically, they pretend to be hotel guests with outlandish personalities. Clearly, this is something Karen invented. It’s not really a “game” if no one wins, but there are definitely losers in “Let’s All Come In.”

Karen’s friend Hannie comes over and the games begin. Hannie pretends to be a woman named Mrs. Nowswimple, who is meeting with her husband in Canada for a party with the queen and the emperor. Strange. Whenever I tell the hotel staff that I’m going to meet my husband in Canada for a party with the queen and the emperor, I’m escorted off the premises. 

While they’re playing, the next-door neighbor, Mrs. Porter, a woman whom Karen thinks is a witch named Morbidda Destiny, comes over and asks for some fennel and coriander. You know, for a kid who pretends to be someone named Mrs. Mysterious (not Miss Terious, for some reason) and makes up stories about ghosts, Karen is awfully judgmental of her neighbor.

Later, in a surprise move, Dawn invites Kristy over. In an even more surprising move, Kristy accepts. They hang out in Dawn’s barn and patch things up through swinging on the rope swing and talking about divorce. By the end of the chapter, they’re friends, Dawn becomes the BSC’s Alternate Officer (a person who fills in for any role if a member can’t), and Kristy’s jealousy doesn’t rear its ugly head. Well, at least until the next BSC fight.

Dawn sits for the Barretts again – this time during an all-day affair that starts at 8:30 in the morning. Claudia calls and suggests a lunchtime picnic with the Pikes. Dawn and the Barretts bake some brownies for the event and there are about four pages of baking. At the picnic, Jordan gives Nicky the Bizzer Sign, which is just pointing at someone and buzzing. The Pike kids created it to flip each other off without actually flipping the bird. Usually, you flip off your sibling behind your parents back and the idea is that they don’t see it. The Bizzer Sign, however, is noisy – it’s obvious when you do it. Maybe it’s more akin to saying “Shut up, shitbrains.” 

Anyway, when it’s time for brownies, Mallory snatches the brownie from Marnie. Is Mallory just being a jerk? No. Mallory knows that Marnie is allergic to chocolate. This infuriates Dawn. Mrs. Barrett should have told her that Marnie can’t eat chocolate. Dawn fully plans to address the issue with Mrs. Barrett, but when the forgetful mother comes home and notices how immaculate the house is, she gushes over Dawn. Dawn forgets any issues she had.

During another baby-sitting job for the Barretts, Mrs. Barrett warns that if her ex-husband calls, Dawn shouldn’t let him talk to the children or tell him that Mrs. Barrett is out. Mrs. Barrett implies that Mr. Barrett is not holding up his end of the custody deal financially.  When Mrs. Barrett sees that Buddy spilled pink water on Suzi, she looks to be on the verge of tears. Dawn insists that Mrs. Barrett get going and Dawn will take care of her moist child. 

Dawn baby-sits for the Barretts “an awful lot” over the next couple of weeks and Mrs. Barrett’s disorganization becomes a bigger issue. When Dawn needs to call her to let her know Suzi has a fever, Mrs. Barrett does not leave the phone number for the temp agency she’s working with, but instead the number for “Hurley’s Garage.” This is a problem that wouldn’t happen today, as Mrs. Barrett would just have a cell phone. But knowing Mrs. Barrett, she probably wouldn’t charge her phone.

Dawn also helps Buddy with his homework – a family tree. While Dawn can’t tell him his family tree, she does help him put blanks for him to fill in with his grandparents and his aunts and uncles. When he comes to Dawn to let her know that he got a good grade, Dawn hugs him while thinking that it should be Mrs. Barrett hugging her son.

Meanwhile, Stacey babysits for David Michael, who is nervous about moving. On a tangential issue, Kristy doesn’t know how she’ll be getting to BSC meetings when she lives across town. 

Dawn’s mom sets up a picnic for her parents to meet Mr. Spier . . . again. Dawn invites the BSC, but only Mary Anne (obviously) and Kristy’s families can attend. Also, the Barretts show up. There’s some food stuff involving the Schafers driving to the grocery store because they don’t have any red meat to serve people, but that’s fixed relatively quickly. When everyone shows up, Dawn notices some tension between her grandparents and Mr. Spier. I sincerely doubt Mr. Spier was a rebel without a cause in high school, so I don’t know why they have a problem with him. At the end of the picnic, Mrs. Barrett asks Dawn if she can babysit on Tuesday. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), Dawn isn’t free, but Mary Anne is there to take the job.

Mrs. Barrett rushes out of the house just as Buddy gives Suzi the Bizzer Sign, causing her to burst into tears. The kids are getting restless, so Mary Anne tells them to put on their bathing suits and “thongs” (the shoes, I’m assuming) and they go outside. There, Suzi and Buddy jump in the fresh puddles. Mary Anne calls this a “puddle walk” and it’s a great way to get worms. She doesn’t even make them shower when they get home – they just have to change their clothes.

While Mary Anne is babysitting, Mr. Barrett calls to ask if he can speak with Suzi or Buddy. Mary Anne remembered Dawn saying something about not letting Mr. Barrett talk to the kids, so she tells them that they’re at a friend’s house. Mr. Barrett gets angry and slams the phone.

When Dawn babysits for the Barretts again, Buddy goes outside and throws a baseball around while Dawn gets Suzi and Marnie dressed. When she finally goes outside, Buddy is nowhere to be found. She calls the Pikes and asks if Buddy is playing with Nicky. No luck. The Pikes rush over, ready to search for Buddy. They try to contact Mrs. Barrett, but she’s shopping and no one can reach her. Finally, Jordan Pike comes back from his piano lesson and says that he saw Buddy get into a strange car. He didn’t say anything because he thought Buddy was going to a lesson of some kind because Jordan was going to his lesson at the same time.

Dawn panics as the Pikes enlist others to help search for Buddy and they call the police. The police interrogate Jordan, seemingly to the point of traumatizing the poor kid. They also go through the Barrett household, looking for clues. Yeah, I wouldn’t trust the cops, but I guess Dawn doesn’t think she has any other options. Dawn bursts into tears and her mother tries to console her. Dawn gets a phone call on the Barrett family phone – it’s Buddy. He’s calling from a gas station. He says he got into his father’s car, but he thinks he’s not supposed to be with his father. Then the connection goes dead.

Mrs. Barrett comes home to find the police and neighbors swarming around the house. Not long after that, Buddy sheepishly enters the house and we get an explanation.

Apparently, earlier in the week Mr. Barrett had become angry when he’d realized that once again, Mrs. Barrett had confused the dates and had forgotten that today was to be Mr. Barrett’s day with Buddy, Suzi, and Marnie. He had decided to teach her a lesson. His plan was to come by on Saturday, simply take the children, and wait for Mrs. Barrett to figure out her mistake. So he drove over to the Barretts’ house. There he found Buddy by himself in the front yard. At that moment, he decided that the easiest course of action would be just to take Buddy without bothering to look for the girls. So he did. He drove Buddy to an amusement park and took him out to lunch, but Buddy didn’t seem to be enjoying himself. When he asked him what was wrong, Buddy said he was worried about me. He didn’t think I knew where he was. That was when Mr. Barrett realized that Mrs. Barrett wasn’t even home. Concerned about what a baby-sitter might do when she discovered that one of her charges was missing, he headed home immediately, stopping briefly at the gas station on the way. He’d tried to call before that, but had gotten only busy signals, and didn’t even know Buddy had phoned until they were on the highway again. (Buddy had called while his father was in the men’s room.)

Good Lord, Mr. Barrett. You think it’s okay to just kidnap kids to teach their mother a lesson? No wonder Mrs. Barrett left you and you lost custody. You should lose unsupervised visitation also. “Hey son, if a bitch pisses you off, scare her into learning.” It is not a husband’s job to “teach her a lesson.” I know she’s scatterbrained, but that’s no reason to treat her like one of the children of whom you lost custody. 

After the whole kidnapping debacle, Dawn finally tells Mrs. Barrett that Dawn can’t be a mother to her children and in order for Dawn to be a good babysitter, Mrs. Barrett needs to help her out with things like visitation and allergies and correct phone numbers. Mrs. Barrett promises to do better.

Mrs. Barrett is no angel, but Mr. Barrett’s behavior is inexcusable. Mrs. Barrett is absolutely one of those people who needs a lot of help in life. However, her problem is fixable – she should get into the planner lifestyle. Mr. Barrett should be a lonely divorced man who only sees his children while an actual adult supervises. 

I wish the best for Mrs. Barrett and Dawn – I really do.

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #4: Mary Anne Saves the Day

I’m conflicted when it comes to incredibly strict parents. My parents were pretty hands-off when it came to my sister and me – as long as we got good grades, we were allowed to do almost anything we wanted without too much parental oversight. I firmly believe that this helped my sister and I determine who we are and what our values are because we were able to explore these topics without our parents meddling. On the other hand, this made an environment wherein we (mostly me) made mistakes that were entirely avoidable if we had more guidance besides “it’s your life, you need to decide for yourself.”

As for stricter parents, I had a friend who lived with her grandparents and they were so strict that she wasn’t allowed to watch PG movies and The Simpsons, as if one whiff of Bart Simpson would have her blaspheming the Lord and breaking windows. Despite this, when she became a teenager, and her mother regained custody, she rebelled in a major way that included drugs, drinking, and teenage pregnancy – three things I didn’t do in high school despite my parents letting me watch the wretched Lisa Simpson question authority and any rated-R movie I wanted.

I think it comes down to parents understanding their children – some kids need rules and regulations, whereas others can thrive in a laissez-faire upbringing. Some need their parents to tell them that their school counselor, whom they have met exactly two times, doesn’t know them well enough to suggest dorm life, because if they knew you well enough, they’d know that the dorms are the worst thing for an introvert.

Mary Anne of The Baby-Sitters Club has an incredibly strict father, and frankly, he’s ridiculous. Mary Anne is the one member of the BSC who doesn’t need any restraints, but it takes Mary Anne to exhibit wisdom beyond her years just for her father to treat her like a basic twelve-year-old. Let’s get to it.

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The true villain of this one is whoever chose that couch.

The first thing we learn about Mary Anne’s father is that he forces her to wear her hair in braids each day paired with a corduroy skirt and sweater combo set. The thought of my father choosing my outfit when I was in the seventh grade makes me both laugh and fill me with dread. Laugh because my father would hate it. Dread because he could make me wear a pair of Levi’s 501 jeans and a plain t-shirt with a pocket. That was his uniform and there would be no reason for him to alter it for his daughter. Anyway, Mary Anne’s father really should have sent her to Catholic School if he wanted her to have such a constricting wardrobe.

By the end of the first chapter, the BSC is having a fight – a common trope for the BSC. This time, it’s about Kristy accepting a job without asking the others first. They all blow up at each other and storm out of the meeting.

Mary Anne’s father also makes her eat dinner with him every night, including saying grace. My family tended to just eat at the same time because if we didn’t, the food would be cold. The food is made when it’s made and it’s up to you to get to the table in time or heat it up later. During dinner, Mary Anne’s father is a lawyer and he says that the case he’s working on it of the utmost importance:

“This case is interesting because it demonstrates the extreme importance of honesty in business dealings,” he said finally. “Always remember that, Mary Anne. Be scrupulously honest and fair. It will serve you in good stead.”

Yeah, okay, Mr. Spier. Be honest but if you really want to get ahead in business, you should open a bunch of businesses, don’t pay your contractors, declare bankruptcy, create a fake college to swindle well-meaning people out of their money, get loans from Germany, be in the pocket of Russia, and then become president. I’m not talking about any real-world case in particular.

After dinner, Mary Anne sees her room and remarks that it looks like the room of a child. It’s pink and white, she has nursery rhyme pictures on the wall, framed in pink, and pink curtains. Mr. Spier can’t be that smart if he thinks that an appropriate room for Mary Anne, let alone any human being with sight. Actually, even the blind shouldn’t be subjected to that and I would call CPS on behalf of the blind person.

The next day at school, the BSC is still fractured. Each member refuses to talk to the others. Mary Anne attempts to say hello, but they just ignore her. At lunch, Mary Anne is forced to sit by herself, but the new kid asks if she can sit with the braided wallflower. This is the introduction of Dawn Schafer, a future BSC member. Mary Anne is ecstatic to have someone to sit with. Dawn asks where her regular friends are and Mary Anne tells her that they’re all sick. Yep. That’s not suspicious at all. All my friends got sick except me. I didn’t do anything to make them sick, they were like that when I found them, I swear!

Mary Anne tells Dawn about all the weirdos of Stoneybrook Middle School. I mention this because I need everyone to know that there’s a kid named Alexander Kurtzman who wears a three-piece suit to middle school. Let me repeat that. There’s a kid at Stoneybrook Middle School who wears a three-piece suit. In middle school. I’ve been to middle school. It’s a miracle this kid doesn’t get beaten up in Dog Alley every day. 

Anyway, Dawn invites Mary Anne over to her house. Dawn has a VCR, so how could Mary Anne say no? Dawn’s parents just got divorced and her mother grew up in Stoneybrook, so she moved her daughter, Dawn, and her son, Jeff, across the country to an old farmhouse in her hometown. That’s a pretty extreme thing to do after a divorce. I hate you so much I’m leaving beautiful California, with its theme parks and culture, for a town that is suspicious of black people when they move in

The girls watch The Parent Trap. The Hayley Mills version, I’m assuming. The one where they make sure the girls are always standing on opposite sides of the screen. Afterward, Mary Anne has her BSC meeting.

To call it frosty would be an understatement. Kristy doesn’t even show up to her own damn club. She claims she’s sick. Stacey, Claudia, and Mary Anne distribute the jobs, but it’s not in the friendly manner that the club is accustomed to. When Mary Anne leaves, she looks back at Claudia’s window. Mary Anne waves and Claudia “flashed [her] a hopeful smile and waved back.” Mary Anne goes back to Claudia’s house and leaves an apology note for Claudia with Mimi. Claudia calls her and the girls make up, but the peace is only temporary.

Mary Anne goes to talk to Kristy at school. If the club can’t get along, they have to figure out how to run it. Kristy comes up with the idea that one girl goes to the meeting and takes any jobs that she can immediately and calls around to the other members if she can’t. 

Dawn comes up and Mary Anne takes the opportunity to invite her over. Kristy is flabbergasted because Mary Anne only invites Kristy over. To get back at her, Kristy announces that she can stay out baby-sitting until ten on weekends and nine-thirty on weeknights, further cementing Mary Anne’s position as the “baby” of the BSC.
Mary Anne sits for the Prezziosos. There are a few paragraphs about these freaks, including notes that Mrs. Prezzioso wears cocktail dresses wherever she goes and buys monogrammed handkerchiefs and suits for Mr. Prezzioso. She also has a daughter whom she dresses like a porcelain doll. When Jenny says she likes Mary Anne’s skirt, Mrs. Prezzioso says to her daughter, “It’s a very pretty skirt, I’m sure, but not as pretty as my little angel in her brand-new dress!” 

Mrs. Prezzioso’s first name must be Karen. (It’s actually Madeleine, but I refuse to call her that. It is clearly Karen.)

Jenny goes through Mary Anne’s Kit-Kit and inspects the Colorforms. She eventually settles on one of those coloring books where you put water over the page and, magically, dull colors appear. It takes the choice out of coloring!

After the babysitting job, Mary Anne asks her father if she could stay out later. Predictably, he says no. Mary Anne continues:

I’d like to be allowed to choose my own clothes. I’d like to take my hair out of these braids. I’d like to wear nail polish and stockings and lipstick. And if a boy ever asked me to go to the movies or something, I’d like to be able to say yes – without even checking with you first. You know what? Sometimes you don’t seem like my father to me. You seem like my jailer.”

These requests are perfectly reasonable but not to Old Man Spier. It does not go well. You can’t reason with Conservatives – they don’t listen to reason. They only care unless it directly affects them. And even then, they’ll just get the secret abortion for their mistress.

Mary Anne meets with Mimi and asks what to do with her father. She basically tells her to try to find another way. In the process, she calls Mary Anne, “my Mary Anne.” Claudia overhears and says, “But I’m the only one you call yours.” Mary Anne and Claudia’s tentative truce is clearly over.

Mrs. Newton invites the entire BSC to help with Jamie Newton’s fourth birthday party. Mary Anne is also forced to ask Kristy if they want to sit for the Pikes. Kristy doesn’t want to work with Mary Anne, so Mary Anne says she’ll get her new friend Dawn to sit with her. Kristy relents and agrees to the job because the only thing she can’t stand more than her former best friend is a baby-sitting job going to someone outside the BSC babysitting monopoly.

At the Pikes, Kristy and Mary Anne speak through Mallory. Then they play Telephone, followed by a play. The suggestions for what play they should put on include Peter Rabbit, The Phantom Tollbooth, and Chuck Norris. What the hell is “Chuck Norris,” Adam? Huh? Do you just do bad karate while wearing a hat? Or do you just try to sell exercise equipment?

The next day, Dawn invites Mary Anne over. They venture deep into Mr. Spier’s yearbooks, looking for Ms. Schafer (or Ms. Porter, as that’s her maiden name). It seems that their parents knew each other in high school and may have dated. Well, they at least went to prom together. 

Mary Anne sits for the Prezziosos again. This time, they’re going to a basketball game in a suit and a cocktail dress. These two seriously subscribe to the axiom “It’s better to be overdressed than underdressed.” 

Jenny is quite lethargic all afternoon and falls asleep on the couch. Mary Anne notices that Jenny is hot and mumbles when Mary Anne tries to wake her up. She takes her temperature and it’s 104. She calls Jenny’s doctor and leaves a message. She calls the Pikes. Nothing. Her father. Nope. The next-door neighbors. What? Those nameless no-faces? Do you think some no faces are going to help Mary Anne?

It’s Dawn who comes to assist Mary Anne. She suggests they call 911 and ask them for advice. The operator sends an ambulance. In the meantime, Dawn makes a cold compress and gets Jenny’s coat while Mary Anne calls the gym and leaves a message for the Prezziosos. 

When they get to the hospital, it turns out Jenny has strep throat. The Prezziosos arrive. The gym was paging them for a while before they arrived and heard the announcement and they immediately went back to Stoneybrook. Mr. Prezzioso drives Mary Anne and Dawn home and pays them ten dollars each – a fact that Mary Anne is very excited about. Those ten dollars is the spending power of $20 today. That’s pretty good for half a night of baby-sitting. 

Mary Anne finally tells Dawn what has been going on with the other members of the BSC. Dawn is upset because Mary Anne originally claimed all her friends were sick, starting the friendship on a lie. Now Dawn is mad at her also. Okay, Dawn, it’s not like Mary Anne said she’s a vegan just to impress Dawn but it turns out she just loves bacon and the taste of death. 

Mary Anne tells her father what happened with the Prezziosos after they call later to update Mary Anne. Then he makes a weird analogy:

“But twelve means different things for different people. It’s like clothes. You can put a certain shirt on one person and he looks fabulous. Then you put the shirt on someone else and that person looks awful. It’s the same way with age. It depends on how you wear it or carry it.” 

That’s a convoluted way of saying that people are different. All that so that Mary Anne can finally wear the clothes she wants, decorate her room in a way befitting someone over the age of four, and she doesn’t have to wear her hair in braids. 

In the BSC Notebook, Stacey remarks that the fight is stupid and has been going on for a month, but that doesn’t stop the BSC from almost ruining Jamie’s birthday party. Mary Anne steps on Kristy’s foot and over pours a drink for the BSC president. Kristy cleans up the mess and throws the napkin in Stacey’s face. Then Stacey smashes the napkin in Claudia’s face. This causes Jamie to cry and the girls realize that they almost ruined Jamie’s party if it wasn’t for Mrs. Newton. The rest of the party goes fine.

The girls have yet another emergency meeting at Claudia’s house after the party and we have the big apology scene where they all recognize their pettiness and makeup.

Mary Anne also makes up with Dawn. And Mary Anne’s father even lets Mary Anne have a BSC party at her house to formally ask Dawn to join the BSC. However, Mr. Spier insists that the girls eat dinner together. With him. During the party. I can think of a million things I’d rather do than have dinner with a group of 12-year-olds, I don’t care what tradition I have. He is a grown-ass man and his daughter deserves a little privacy. 

During the dinner, the BSC formally invites Dawn to join the club. 

After all that, in order for Mr. Spier to treat his daughter like the responsible person she is, all Mary Anne had to do was save a little girl’s life! I’m not a parent, but that’s a ridiculous lesson. She has to be extraordinary just to be treated as ordinary. No one should be held up to this standard. I mean no one. 

Mr. Spier is entirely too strict. My childhood best-friend’s grandparents were also too strict, but her mother wasn’t strict enough. Maybe Mr. Spier should take his own analogy to heart. Making sweeping rules for your child is a good way to ensure your child won’t speak to you when they get older. But not having enough boundaries can create undue stress on a child, either by making avoidable mistakes or detrimental life decisions. The key must be in knowing your child – who they are and their priorities and proclivities – in order to create appropriate boundaries. But that would require parents to actually speak to their child as if they’re equals, and who has time for that? (Nervous laugh.)

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #3: The Truth About Stacey

One of the most deplorable things people can do is convince someone to give up their life savings in exchange for quack medical cures. People will do anything to save their lives, and it’s unconscionable to take advantage of their situations. The American health care system already takes advantage of people (#medicare of all). That might be why people look for cheaper alternatives to proven healthcare.

Stacey’s parents want to cure her diabetes and are willing to drag her around to charlatans to do so. Stacey has to stop them before they drop ten grand on some crystal bullshit. That’s not in the book, but if this were written today, they’d be blaming vaccines and spending their money on crystals and essential oils.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

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She’s different because she can see secret cameras in candy stores.

As usual, the book starts with a BSC meeting where they discuss the impending birth of Mrs. Newton’s second child. They want to make sure that one of them is always available in case the Newtons have to go to the hospital since they’re “such good customers.” Solid plan. Consistent, good customers should receive some special privileges (but the customer shouldn’t expect it – my thoughts on this are complicated). The meeting turns south when Janine enters with a flyer for the brand new company “The Baby-Sitters Agency.”

After some digging (including a pretend baby-sitting inquiry) it turns out that the business owners, Liz and Michelle, have a network of friends they can call, some of them older, and act more like a liaison to the parents. The way it works is that the parents call the phone number, Liz or Michelle calls around to see who is available, and then call the parent back with a sitter. They don’t do any baby-sitting themselves (neither do the baby-sitters they send, really, but we’ll get to that).

Stacey talks about her previous life, including her former best friend, Laine Cummings. They had a falling out after Stacey wet the bed they were sharing because of Stacey’s undiagnosed diabetes. After a series of doctor visits, Laine accused Stacey of faking it for attention. Laine is the type of person who says that people with depression should just exercise and go vegan if they want to “get happier.” After that, Stacey and her family moved to Stoneybrook.

Later, Stacey’s mom wants to speak with her. She tells Stacey that she wants her to see a TV doctor named Dr. Barnes in New York. Apparently, Dr. Barnes has some new treatment that Stacey’s parents think will cure Stacey of her diabetes. Stacey doesn’t want to go because she’ll miss three days of school and she has no desire to see a new doctor, especially one that her Uncle saw on television. Imagine Dr. Phil attempting to cure your lupus. I’m surprised Dr. Barnes doesn’t go by Dr. Brad.

During a special BSC meeting, Kristy proposes the idea of Kid-Kits in order to make themselves more appealing to their babysitting charges and their parents. This is one of the few ideas that Kristy has that actually sticks, and Kid-Kits are a staple of subsequent Baby-Sitters Club books. Kid-Kits are basically toys and games and activities for the children that each babysitter can take with them on jobs. This is a good idea. However, Kristy’s other ideas aren’t so great.

The other ideas Kristy has are rate cuts, free housework, and giving away jobs to their older brothers and sisters. Claudia and Mary Anne refuse. They go forward with the Kid-Kits, but the other ideas are considered last resorts.

Stacey babysits for Charlotte and we are introduced to Dr. Johanssen, Charlotte’s mother and the only doctor in all of Stoneybrook. The city only needs one doctor, but they have competing adolescent baby-sitting agencies. Stacey and Charlotte take a walk downtown. After a quick stop in the candy store from the cover of the book, Charlotte sees some children who call her “teacher’s pet” and tease her. Stacey shares that she was also teased in school before she moved to Stoneybrook. On the way home, Liz gives them a balloon with the Baby-sitters Agency phone number, mistaking Stacey for Charlotte’s older sister.

Suddenly, Mrs. Newton is in labor! Mr. Newton rushes her to the hospital while they leave Jamie with Kristy. They decide to hold a Big Brother Party for Jamie because the kid is apprehensive about having a sibling. A bunch of the usual kids show up and the baby-sitters put on a record and play musical rug. Mr. Newton calls and talks to his son. Jamie reveals that he has a new sister named Lucy Jane and Jamie storms off.

Kristy chases him down and asks him if he’s sad that it’s a girl and not a boy. Jamie says that he’s upset because now Kristy can’t babysit him and his mother is going to switch them to a sitter named Liz because she’s older. Jamie doesn’t seem to like Liz and Kristy vows to do something to help Jamie.

The BSC finds a flier for the Baby-sitters Agency with the words, “Want to earn fast money the easy way?” Well, sign me up! They find Michelle Patterson signing people up. Kristy decides to allow eighth-graders into the BSC.

Stacey’s mother schedules tests for Stacey with Dr. Barnes. Stacey has to be in the hospital for five days sometime near Christmas. Despite Stacey’s protests, her parents think that Dr. Barnes’s “holistic approach” will cure her. While Stacey is babysitting Charlotte, Stacey asks Dr. Johanssen if she’s heard of Dr. Barnes. Dr. Johanssen has and warns Stacey about the man, whom she calls “a faith healer.”

“What he is going to do – I can practially guarantee this – is recommend all sorts of expensive programs and therapies designed to make your life as positive and fulfilling and healthy as possible. He’ll tell your parents that this will enable you to rid your body of the disease…It’s just that – well, it’s my belief that no special program is going to rid your body of diabetes.”

Stacey begs Dr. Johanssen to help her get out of meeting with Dr. Barnes. The doctor promises to figure out a way to help her. Probably without a caper, but let’s hope for a caper. (There isn’t a caper.)

So Kristy gets this idea to put the BSC in sandwich boards to advertise that their club is looking for new members. It goes as well as you’d expect an idea involving cumbersome wood would go. A girl says that she just uses the babysitting time to watch TV. A boy said that he doesn’t want to show up to meetings three times a week. Some guy named Pete Black flirts with Stacey.

Kristy ends up finding two eighth-graders to join the club: Janet Gates and Leslie Howard. They were once friends with Liz, but they had a falling out. Or so they claim. Jeez, Kristy, for someone smart enough to come up with the club and the Kid-Kits, you’re awfully dense when it comes to obvious sabotage tactics. Even Stacey sees through the ruse, but she goes along with it anyway, because if she raised objections or put restrictions on the new members, there wouldn’t be a plot.

The BSC gives presents to Mrs. Newton presumably for the new baby. They also give presents to Jamie, which Mrs. Newton appreciates since Jamie has been jealous of the presents the baby has been receiving. They also ask about babysitting for them again, but Mrs. Newton says that the BSC is too young and when Lucy is older, she hopes they can sit for her again.

At the BSC meeting, they meet the new members and give them jobs. I’m sure the new members will be fine and responsible and not try to sabotage the BSC’s reputation at all. They don’t need to send another more established member to the job as well to make sure everything’s okay. Not at all. This will in no way hurt the BSC and their new clients.

Also, Stacey remarks that she’s impressed by the simple fact that the new members are thirteen and fourteen. Stacey is impressed by the passage of time, instead of how we should all feel, which is dread.

And, as expected, the new girls don’t show up for their babysitting jobs. The BSC confronts them at school and it goes as well as the sandwich board idea. It ends with Kristy crying in the girls’ bathroom. Things really suck when Kristy is crying.

While Stacey is at Jamie’s while Mrs. Newton and Lucy are in another room. Jamie’s demeanor is noticeably different. Stacey asks if it’s because of the new baby. Instead, Jamie laments that babysitters used to read and play with him, but his new sitters just watch tv and invite over their boyfriends, and one of them smoked in the living room and burned a cushion. Stacey encourages Jamie to tell his parents about what his sitters are doing. It’s my experience that if someone tells a kid to keep a secret or hide something from their parents, that person sucks and should be shot into the sun.

Later, Stacey babysits for Charlotte and the poor girl explodes at Stacey, saying that babysitters only care about money.

Charlotte looked at me sadly. “Ellie said, ‘Oh, Charlotte, you are the teacher’s pet, teacher’s pet,’ and I said, ‘I am not,’ and she said, ‘Are, too, and you don’t have any friends.’ And I said, ‘I have baby-sitters. They’re my friends.’ And she said, ‘They are not. My sister Cathy doesn’t like you.’ And I said, ‘Then how come she sits for me?’ And she said, ‘Because your parents pay her a lot of money, stupid.'”

Stacey is able to convince Charlotte that she’s different because Stacey actually plays with her and doesn’t ignore her the way Cathy does.

The next day, on their way home from school, the BSC finds Jamie Newton just hanging out in the street. By himself. A three-year-old. Alone in the street. Apparently, his sitter, Cathy Morris, told him it was okay to go play outside. Even Disneyland doesn’t let someone shorter than 54″ drive a car by themselves in Autopia, which is the only place I’ve seen an eight-year-old living his life. The BSC walks him back home and they wonder if they should tell the parents and if that would be interpreted as them trying to sabotage the Agency. Stacey asks her mother for advice, to which her mother says, “I’d say the person who’s going to tell something should risk ‘looking bad,’ if a child really is in danger.” Oh, now Mrs. McGill shows some measured thinking as opposed to when she’s channel surfing to find Stacey’s new doctor.

The girls go to Mrs. Newton’s and tell her how they saw Jamie and how a babysitter burned one of their cushions and asked Jamie not to tell her. She’s pretty horrified and won’t use the agency again (except some seventeen-year-old boy sitter, I guess, that was thrown in).

The BSC confronts Liz and Michelle. This time, it goes a little better. The BSC demonstrates how much they know about their babysitting charges and the behavior of a good babysitter.

Stacey leaves for New York, which includes a reunion between Stacey and her former best-friend. Laine and Stacey fight. The next morning, Stacey has her tests – strangely, without her parents expressly present.

I was examined, poked, and prodded. Blood was drawn. I was fed a specifically prepared lunch and more blood was drawn. Then this woman holding a sheaf of papers asked me to do weird things like draw a picture of my family, make up stories about inkblots, and build towers of bricks. I ran on a treadmill and tried to do sit-ups and push-ups. I rode an exercise bicycle. At last I was given a written test. It might have been an IQ test, but I wasn’t sure. Whatever it was, it looked long.

They let her go back into the custody of her parents. I would be suspicious at the “draw a picture” phase. What does that have to do with diabetes? Blood, food, exercise. Okay, maybe. But, inkblots? Also, her parents should have been there the entire time. She’s twelve and these people are all, “Let us do tests on her without y’all here.” Hey, TV doctor, don’t just touchkids without their parents there. That’s creepy!

Luckily, they let her out in time for her appointment with a real doctor, Dr. Graham. She springs the appointment on her parents, and they are forced to go see this real doctor with Stacey. After all, Dr. Johansson helped Stacey get this appointment with a renowned physican. Frankly, after her parents sprung this weird, IQ testing doctor on Stacey, Stacey has every right to spring a reputable doctor on them.

After the meeting with an accredited doctor who speaks to both Stacey and her parents, Stacey finally stands up to her parents, telling them that it’s not fair for them to switch doctors without her and force her to switch schools. Her parents say that they trust Dr. Graham more than Dr. Barnes, who is suggesting “unusual” treatments with exorbitant costs.

Back with the Cummings’, the two families go to the movies. Laine and Stacey talk while getting snacks. Laine was jealous of Stacey because she was getting all this attention from teachers and school administrators and she was permitted to miss so much school. She apologizes and things are copasetic between the two again.

The next day, the families hang out again, this time while traipsing around New York. They watch Paris Magic, which Stacey calls “the best musical” she’d ever seen. It is not a real musical because I Googled it and found nothing. It was a ridiculous title for anything and it turns out that the only appropriate use for that title is hair care products, which is the only search result I received.

When Stacey goes back to Stoneybrook, she learned that Charlotte and Jaime told their parents everything, and it turns out that there were other unhappy children. The Agency folds.

On a final note, the problem with Charlotte’s bullying is resolved as well – she’s skipping a grade.

I understand Stacey’s parents’ desperation. They just want their daughter to have the best life possible. That’s what makes Barnes, and people of his ilk, so dangerous. People seek radical and expensive treatments because they provide a little bit of hope where there is none. Snake oil salesmen are taking advantage of people in the most blatant way. It’s all about how much can they charge for this thing that probably won’t work but has a cheap cost. It’s monstrous.

I can’t believe I have to say this, but don’t trust miracle cures and panacea. Don’t digest bleach or aquarium agents or shine light into your veins. When I started writing this, I wasn’t worried about people doing anything of those things, but it turns out that there are still salesmen peddling miracle cures to their cult and scared members of the populace. Just, please, be safe out there. Don’t rush things.

And wear a damn mask, please. It shouldn’t be this hard to get people to do something so simple that will help so many.

Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Legend of the Lost Legend

Previously on Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Night of the Living Dummy

When I was a kid, treasure hunting deep in the woods seemed like a completely plausible endeavor. I thought I could go on some grand fantastic adventure with wood nymphs and sprites. I quickly dismissed this idea because I lived (and continue to live) in Nevada, where we have more imported trees than any other state. Why do we have so many imported trees? Because we don’t have thick forests. We have sagebrush and ATV tracks. And frankly, the first I went camping, which was as an adult, I realized why my father never made us go camping – he knew it sucked.

This is not the case for the kids in the next Goosebumps installment I’m covering, Legend of the Lost Legend. These kids are out for adventure and treasure hunting – with their writer father. Yes, like Stephen King, writer R. L. Stine has added a writer character into his own novel, so let’s dive right in and see what exactly is the lost legend?

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

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Goosebumps: Legend of the Lost Legend by R. L. Stine – The Lost Legend is the Lost Garbage Pail Kid on the cover.

The book barely starts and we have a signature cliffhanger on page four. Our protagonists are a set of siblings – Justin and Marissa. They’re trying to find their father but are lost in a snowy tundra aided only by Balto and the rest of the Iditarod. The sled dogs go off on their own, taking Marissa along for the ride! Of course, at the very beginning of chapter two, Justin saves her and is fine. However, on page nine, we have another cliffhanger! They’re floating on a piece of ice that broke away from the mainland!

It doesn’t matter. It was just a story their father, master storyteller and treasure hunter, made up about his children. It’s going to be one of those, isn’t it? The children ask how they’re going to get off the ice block. The father replies, “I haven’t thought of an ending to the story yet.” Well, Stine, you have 120 pages left, so you better get cracking.

They are camping in a fictional European country together while their father, “famous writer, storyteller, and story collector” Richard Clarke, is looking for the Lost Legend – which is a manuscript hidden away in a silver chest that has been lost for five hundred years. Justin reasons that if he were to find the legend himself, he’d win affection from his father as well as fame and fortune. In the middle of the night, a giant dog enters their camp with a note that says, “I KNOW WHY YOU’RE HERE. FOLLOW SILVERDOG.” There wouldn’t be a story if the children refused to follow the dog, so of course, they follow him deep into the woods.

There are some shenanigans while they follow Silverdog, including one where they get lost because they were following a deer instead. But the dog always howls and they get back on track. They also fall into a hole that they think is bottomless, but they easily climb out of it so I think it was more of a pothole than a bottomless pit. The dog eventually brings them to a house and when they enter, a woman yells, “I’ve caught you!”

The woman is the woman on the cover and she just has “a bad sense of humor.” Her name is Ivanna and she was the one who sent Silverdog and she wants to help the kids, but first, it’s time for lunch. After they eat, she tells them that she has poisoned them!

Just kidding. It’s that classic attempted murder sense of humor. Anyway, she sends them on a quest into the Fantasy Forest, apparently the only thing she doesn’t joke about. They’re told to follow another dog named Luka.

After they enter the Fantasy Forest, Luka proceeds to STAND UP LIKE A HUMAN!

If he shaved off all the fur, put on some clothes, and got a haircut, he’d look like a young man, I thought. As I stared at him, he started to wave and point.

This explains the emergence of furries in the millennial generation who read these books.

Ivanna leaves them with a note that says they should follow Luka and not lose him or they will be doomed. Of course, they lose him and fall into a pit of nuts. However, they’re not nuts. They’re rat eggs that start to hatch. Turns out the mice are just little wind-up toys. They get away and a tree falls on Marissa.

Marissa is fine, of course. It’s a fake tree, probably made out of styrofoam. They also run away from bats and find a river with a plug. And finally, they battle giant cats that try to eat them. Justin is swallowed but climbs his way out and distracts the giant cat with one of the wind-up mice from earlier.

So, we have furries and now the swallowing of a boy. This is some serious vore shit and this continues to explain my generation.

The siblings find they way back to Ivanna’s house and when they enter, they find her asleep and unresponsive. We have the triumphant return of Luka!

He was literally a dude in a suit. He takes off the suit in front of the children and expresses his congratulations. He proceeds to tell the children what has been happening.

“My family has lived in this forest for hundreds of years,” Luka explained. “It became our job to protect many of the treasures. And so we built a test forest, to keep out those who were unworthy. To stop the people who don’t deserve the wonderful treasures.”

Everything in the forest is fake, or a wind-up toy, or a marionette – like Ivanna. That’s correct. Ivanna is a puppet. The trial was to figure out what is real and what isn’t in the forest and our siblings have passed. They are given a chest and Silverdog, who is an actual dog – not a man, leads them back to their camp (not before getting lost for a second).

With their father, the children open the chest to receive their gift – an egg. The ungrateful family marches back to Luka’s house and demands an explanation. See, Luka thought they were in search of the Eternal Egg of Truth. If they want the Lost Legend, they need to find the Wanderers of the Forest. Luka will tell them where to find the Wanderers, but the Wanderers might not part with the legend.

The family finds the Wanderers and the second they ask for the legend, they gladly hand over a chest and leave. The family opens the chest and finds the manuscript. Excited, they unroll the piece of paper and read aloud the contents:

“WHOEVER OWNS THE LOST LEGEND WILL BE LOST FOREVER.”

The family looks around and realizes that they don’t know where they are.

Ha! How’s that for a twist ending!

I liked this one – although it took some reflection. While I was reading it, I thought of the words of the father, “I haven’t thought of an ending to the story, yet.” As the children were dealing with random women in the forest and man dogs and rat eggs, I wondered if R. L. Stine had an ending to the story. The children are always getting lost – while following Silverdog, during the trials in the forest, and even toward the end of the book after they pass the trials. Stine is telling us early on that it’s a legend about being lost, not a legend that is lost.

The idea of a legend about being lost makes up for most of the book. However, without the twist, this book is a seemingly disconnected set of random events. The twist is great and the kids’ constant direction mishaps are a wonderful bit of foreshadowing, but the man with a fake forest has nothing to do with being lost. I wish that aspect was incorporated more into the legend itself.

That being said, this book was a fun read and brought me back to those days when I was a kid, looking out the window and wondering if there was a magical creature calling out to me, if only I would look hard enough.

Next Time on Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: The Scarecrow Walks At Midnight

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #15: Little Miss Stoneybrook…and Dawn

Previously On Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club: Super Special #1: Baby-Sitters on Board!

There’s no point in trying to conceal my bias – I think child beauty pageants are creepy and gross. I don’t like the idea of forcing children to compete against one another for really no reason. They’ll have enough competition in their futures. However, I don’t blame the children. I blame the judges who are willing to rank children on an arbitrary scale, and I blame the parents who want to slap ten pounds of make-up on their child to make them look sixteen and, finally, I blame the industry that perpetuates this activity – including the trainers who teach the children how to win over judges, the make-up industry that caters to these parents, and the institution itself.

That being said, this month the BSC gets into a fight over a child beauty pageant, so it’s going to be one of those blog entries.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

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“Hey, there’s some girl who is obviously from California peaking from behind the curtain, Janet. Can you do something about her? Just toss a granola bar out the back and she’ll chase it.”

Like most BSC books, it starts with a BSC meeting. Dawn is announced as the new treasurer and she thinks to herself, “I like Stoneybrook, but I’m a California girl at heart. I like hot weather, not cold, and health food, not junk.” The flex is that stark and it is in the part of the book where each member is given a page-long paragraph detailing everything we need to know about each member. I’m starting to skip these. And as for the remarks about California – the hot weather is on point except for Northern California, Tahoe, Squaw Valley, Mammoth, and every other ski resort. We can say that Dawn is a Southern California girl. And have you seen the junk food at Disneyland? Clearly, Californians love their Mickey-shaped donuts. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I don’t think Ann M. Martin had been to California before writing these books.

Anyway, Mallory and Jessi are sworn in as members, and the BSC oath, as introduced in this book, goes like this, “I promise to be a good, reliable, and safe sitter, and to be true to the Baby-sitters Club forevermore.” Sounds like a good oath. Mary Anne cries. Claudia and Dawn roll their eyes, which I think is a little rude. She’s just happy for them, and while I may be an emotionless gargoyle, I think it’s wonderful that Mary Anne feels still things.

Back at home, Jeff is having some problems adjusting to the house. Jeff’s teacher calls and tells Dawn and her mother that he got into a fight. Jeff wants to move back to California and their mother reluctantly agrees to work out a deal with their father and their lawyers, which, frankly, is probably the best solution for everyone. Unfortunately, Dawn does not agree.

“You little twerp!” I said to him hotly. “You are a rotten, spoiled baby.”

“Dawn!” cried my mother.

I ignored her. “Can’t you see what you’re doing?” I yelled at Jeff. “You’re breaking up what’s left of our family.”

“No, I’m not,” Jeff replied quietly. “I’m giving Dad some of his family back. It’s time we evened things up. Besides, I have to try this or I might end up in jail.”

Mom and Jeff and I all began to laugh.

This is the tenth time reading this and I still don’t quite get it. I guess Jeff going to jail is hilarious. Probably because he’s a white boy and if certain rapist swimmers won’t go to jail for being rapist swimmers, then this kid in Connecticut isn’t going to go to jail for fighting. Hell, white men don’t go to jail for stealing billions of dollars from the American people – this kid isn’t going to jail. Now that’s commentary!

At Claudia’s house, Dawn and the young Miss Kishi see the advertisement for the pageant. The girls will be judged on “poise, talent, and looks.” “Looks.” “Looks?” They’re eight, don’t be gross. There is a short discussion on how sexist it is, surprisingly not from our favorite health-food vegan California girl, but from Claudia. In fact, Dawn says she did child beauty pageants and won when she was a child.

The rest of the BSC shows up and there is a quick conversation about how sexist pageants are, which I guess is progressive for when this book was written (1988). Kristy says, “I guess a pageant could be sexist . . . but fun.” Well, Kristy, if it’s fun, then we should keep doing it! Men have a lot of fun slapping flight attendants’ asses, we should just keep doing it! You’re disappointing me, Kristy, but I guess we have to have a central conflict in the book and it can’t be Jeff and Dawn, it has to be the BSC fighting over their separate pageant contestants.

Luckily, Jessi and Mallory refuse to participate on the basis it’s sexist. You stick to your convictions, girls. Thank god you’re here. However, Mallory’s sisters Clare and Margo hear about the pageant. Mallory sticks to her beliefs and refuses to coach the girl, so Mrs. Pike asks Dawn for help, to which Dawn enthusiastically agrees.

The first handwriting chapter we have is for Kristy watching over Karen, Andrew, and David Michael. Karen hears about the pageant (from Kristy) and wants to enter. Her talent will be singing and tap dancing, although she has no training. Then Watson and Kristy’s mother return from their birdbath auction.

Jeff is confirmed to be moving back to California after an effusive week for the kid. They argue again, even though they were laughing just a few days before. This really doesn’t have anything to do with the pageant. Although, Dawn is using the pageant to distract herself from Jeff. It doesn’t matter, as it’s a B storyline.

We have an A storyline! Dawn is at the Pikes’ house, coaching Margo and Clare.

Clare and Margo raced into the bedroom they share. Before I could say a word, they opened their closet and began peeling their clothes off. Margo reached for her bathing suit. On the front was a gigantic alligator, its mouth open in a grin full of big triangular felt teeth.

“This is what I’m wearing,” she announced.

“For what?” I asked

“The pageant,” Margo replied impatiently.

Fuck yeah, she should wear whatever the fuck she wants, but Dawn is playing this ridiculous thing straight and asks that they don’t think about outfits at the moment. They switch to their talents. They don’t play instruments, they can’t dance, and they can’t sing. Margo chooses to recite a poem from memory, but she doesn’t think it’s enough. She wants to recite the poem while peeling a banana with her feet, which grossed me out. Then she took a bite from it while reciting the poem and I retched a little.

Mary Anne babysat for the Perkins’ and, of course, the girls hear about the pageant. It turns out that Myriah can both dance and tap. Myriah has also taken gymnastics and theater. When their mother comes home, the girls ask her if they can participate in the pageant, to which she says,

“In any pageant, or in any game or contest, there are winners and there are losers. You might be a winner, Myriah, and that would be wonderful. Daddy and Gabbie and I and even Laura would be very proud of you. But you might be a loser, too. There are going to be lots more losers than winners. And I want you to know that we’ll be proud of you if you lose. We’ll be proud of you for having the courage to be in the pageant, and for the work and rehearsing you’ll do.”

That is a very good way of putting it. No sarcasm here. It’s the best lesson in the book, besides the final lesson, but we’ll get that soon.

When Claudia sits for Charlotte, they decide to give Stacey a call. These were the days when you had to have a calling card and it cost, like, fifty bucks a minute or something, so this is a big deal. After the call, to distract from separation from their best-friend, Claudia somehow convinces Charlotte to join the pageant as well, even though Charlotte “would rather read” (a girl after my own heart).

Mallory and Jessi sit for the Pike kids and Margo is still rehearing “The House That Jack Built” complete with banana. I’m disgusted just by thinking about it. Tarantino I am not. All the children start to argue as Adam tries to screw up Margo and Claire tries to sing louder to cover up the fighting. Mallory attempts to quiet them down but it doesn’t work and the chapter ends with headaches.

At the next BSC meeting, there’s a bunch of pageant talk, especially about the last question. You know, the one where the contestants either shine with their brilliance or become an internet meme.

It’s obvious that Charlotte really doesn’t want to do it, Margo and Claire are the only interesting girls entering because they’re so wacky, and Myriah is the only one who has the stage presence and talent to win. Claire would make any pageant awesome and I have the receipts.

“Margo,” I said, “What is your greatest wish?”

“Global peace,” she replied immediately.

“Yes, but say it in a nice sentence.”

“My greatest wish,” Margo said, looking rapturous and angelic, “is for global peace. That would be very . . . nice.”

I only hoped the judge wouldn’t ask her to explain what she meant. Margo didn’t have the vaguest idea what global peace was.

“Great,” I told her. “Now Claire, if the house were on fire and you had time to rescue three things, what would they be?”

“I would rescue,” Claire began sweetly, “my family members, global peace, and the first extinguisher.”

Ha! If I were the judge, I’d say she wins.

Jeff leaves for California. Remember when you could just walk all the way to the gate before you had to say goodbye? It’s weird to see on television shows and it’s weird to read in books. It’s certainly more dramatic to say good-bye at the gate, your loved one looking back wistfully over their shoulder as they wave and pass into a long hallway away from you. It’s not the same if you drop them off outside as they fumble with their luggage, all while an attendant is yelling at someone, “Hey! This is the drop-off you can’t wait here! Get to the cell phone lot!”

Finally, the big pageant day arrives. The girls line up, including a girl named Sabrina Bouvier, who, besides being a distant relative of Marge Simpson, does the pageant thing all the time. It starts with the introductions and Claire immediately starts saying hi to everyone she knows in the audience and is promptly cut off, to which I say, “LET HER SPEAK!” and then I would be promptly cut off and kicked out of the pageant.

During the talent portion, Karen sings, that Sabrina girl sings “Moon River” and is bad, Margo does her banana poem, and Charlotte runs off the stage in tears. I blame you, Claudia. Myriah gives a good answer to the interview portion (“I would say to the people who were making the wars, ‘Now you stop that. You settle this problem yourselves like grown-ups. Our children want peace.'”) and Claire says that her greatest hope is that Santa Claus is real. Karen says that if her house were on fire, she would save her stuffed cat, her blanket, as many toys as she could carry, and finally her brother Andrew or her pen that writes in three colors. Sabrina does the “global peace” answer and Margo goes after and freezes up since Sabrina stole her stock answer.

Myriah ends up coming in second with Sabrina first – just like when Lisa Simpson enters the Little Miss Springfield contest. Of course, Sabrina isn’t struck by lightning, causing Myriah to take up her duties.

The girls learn that while Myriah should have won, Sabrina had the look that the judges like and the make-up of a twenty-five-year-old. Claudia realizes that she forced Charlotte to participate. Jeff calls and seems to be in a better place after moving.

I didn’t hate this one as much as I thought I would. Some of the reasoning for the BSC to participate in the pageant is flimsy, but Mallory and Jessi were always there to point out the stupidity and sexism of the whole endeavor. Beauty pageants are a common storyline from many episodic shows (and book series), from Parks and Recreation to the aforementioned The Simpsons. Just like those properties, the beauty pageant participant usually learns that it’s not about the one with the most talent, but the prettiest.

That being said, I would like to leave you with this:

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #16: Jessi’s Secret Language

Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street Super Chiller: Broken Hearts

Previously On Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: Fear Street Sagas #1: A New Fear

It will surprise no one that I’m not the most romantic person and Valentine’s Day is not a particularly important holiday to me. However, to my partner, Valentine’s Day is very important and he makes an effort to do something for me every year. He is clearly the hopeless romantic and I am not. This dynamic helps us to keep a stable grasp on the holiday. We neither take it too seriously, but we do take time to appreciate each other.

This is not the case for the teenagers in R. L. Stine’s Fear Street Super Chiller: Broken Hearts. They are having a pretty crappy Valentine’s Day. Murder would ruin anyone’s Valentine’s Day – or any day really. Anyway, let’s just get right into it.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

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Fear Street Super Chiller: Broken Hearts – The ketchup got on her pictures of poor man’s Emilio Estevez, Billy Icon, and Flea from Ratt or Rat from Flea or Gnat from Spat.

In typical Fear Street fashion, we have a prologue where we meet our main characters and there’s a tragedy. First of all, we have the twins, Josie and Rachel. Josie’s horror movie stereotype is “the slutty one,” while Rachel would be “early victim.” Erica is their little sister and she would be “annoying little sister.” The last one is Melissa and she is “the nice one.” The girls are driving out to a stable and are having fun talking about boys, because in the world of Stine and the early ’90s, all girls talk about are boys and whether they have boyfriends and how they feel about those boyfriends. Erica refuses to get on a horse and the girls leave her behind.

By the end of the prologue, the one without a personality, Rachel, falls off her horse and lands on her head. We get a “The Following February” and that’s when the first part of our story actually begins.

Melissa has a dream about the horse accident. We learn that Josie blames Melissa for Rachel’s accident and their relationship is strained, if not nonexistent.

Across the street, Josie and her new boyfriend, Steve, are throwing snowballs at each other when they are interrupted by Josie’s dog.

The dog yipped and started toward Josie, as if coming to protect her from Steve. But the wet snow on the rug distracted the little dog, and it stopped to sniff it, then lick it.

“How can you stand that little rat?” Steve teased. “Why don’t you step on it and put it out of its misery?”

Ladies and gentlemen, we have our first red herring!

It’s also here we have our first Valentine’s Day letter. Josie opens her mail and finds the letter with the following poem:

“Violets are blue

Roses are red.

On Valentine’s Day

Josie will be dead.”

She believes that a guy named Jenkman, whom she dated a while ago, sent the messages since he seems to be stalking her ever since they broke up. Steven encourages her to ignore it, in typical horror movie red herring fashion.

We finally learn the fate of Rachel. She did not die in the equine accident but she is not the same. She sustains extensive brain damage and can’t be left alone. Rachel’s boyfriend, Luke, and Erica have been taking care of her. Josie is supposed to watch Rachel also, but Josie has failed to do that on multiple occasions, causing Erica to confront her.

Erica wants to try out for Brigadoon but she can’t if she has to watch Josie.

“You’ll have to try out some other time,” Josie said brusquely. She started to pull away from Erica, but Erica held on.

“No way,” Erica said angrily.

A gust of wind made the powdery snow swirl all around them. Josie closed her eys and tried to slip her face down into her wool scarf.

Go away, she thought. Please. Just go away, Erica.

“You’re supposed to help me take care of Rachel when she gets home from her school,” Erica scolded. “You know that, Josie. It’s not supposed to be my full-time job.”

“I know. Give me a break,” Josie said, starting to walk towards the street. “I’ll take care of her tomorrow. Promise.”

“No. Today!” Erica insisted, following her. “I don’t want to miss the tryouts. It’s just not fair. This is my first year in high school. It’s supposed to be such a big exciting year for me. And instead-”

“Tomorrow,” Josie told her, picked up her pace. “I can’t leave Steve waiting there.”

“Yes, you can,” Erica told her. “You can call and leave a message for him.”

“I don’t want to,” Josie said nastily. She began to jog across the snow.

Erica caught up to her. “I don’t believe you, Josie,” she cried breathlessly. “I can’t believe you don’t take more responsibility for Rachel. After all, it was your fault-”

Erica stopped herself.

Josie screams and falls to the ground. Did she have a sudden realization? No, she was hit by a snowball thrown by another red herring named Dave. She composes herself and leaves to meet Steve, further alienating herself from Rachel’s situation and her sister is forced to miss the Brigadoon tryouts.

Melissa and Dave, the boy who threw the snowball, seem to be a couple. I say “seem” because they’re not very affectionate. You know, there are several couples in this story, but none of them are particularly affectionate. For a story that takes place around Valentine’s Day, there isn’t much romance. Granted, this is a horror novel, but My Bloody Valentine had a love triangle so I don’t think it’s too much for some kind of heartstring-pulling. I would even settle for literal heartstring-pulling.

Back at the Josie household, Luke confronts Josie. He says that she “ruined Rachel’s life” and now she’s trying to ruin Erica’s life. Josie fails to show any remorse, insisting that Luke is “hiding behind Rachel” because he’s “too big a loser to face the real world.” Josie is actually talking about herself – Luke has no problems recognizing Rachel’s condition, while Josie is actively avoiding her so she doesn’t have to see her twin in a deteriorated state and how easily Josie could be the same way. Neither Josie nor Luke realizes this – instead, Luke stabs a desk by Josie and storms out, red herring-ing all over the scene (Did I just verb “red herring”? Yes I did). In fact, after the storm out, Josie insists to the reader that she has done nothing to warrant the behavior towards her. R. L. Stine is certainly not setting up a sympathetic protagonist.

After some house intercom shenanigans, Josie gets another Valentine:

“This Valentine’s Day

No memories to save.

The only flowers for you

Will be on your grave.”

The intercom shenanigans continue. Josie hears Rachel calling for her, so she goes to check on her only to find her asleep.

Later, while Erica is brushing Rachel’s hair, we get a new red herring.

“Josie is my sister, right?” she asked, wrinkling her forehead in concentration.

“Yes,” Erica replied. “Josie is your sister. Your twin sister.”

Rachel thought about this for a long while. Then she surprised Erica by saying, “Josie doesn’t like me anymore.”

“No!” Erica protested, letting the brush slip out of her hand. She bent down to pick it up from the carpet. “Josie still likes you, Rachel. Why would you say such a terrible thing?”

“No. Josie doesn’t like me. Josie doesn’t talk to me.”

“That’s not true-” Erica started, but Rachel interrupted.

“Well, I don’t like Josie anymore!” Rachel cried, her green eyes lighting up. “I hate Josie!”

The scene abruptly ends when Jenkman shows up at the house and asks if Josie received his Valentines and that’s the end of the chapter. Does this continue in the next chapter?

No. No, it doesn’t. Dave tries to cheat off of Josie’s math test and she turns him in. He gets mad and says that he’ll lose his wrestling scholarship since that test accounted for half of his grade, prompting him to yell, “I hate Josie McClain!” I don’t know who is worse: Josie for being selfish or Dave for attempting to cheat on a test he should have studied for and redirecting the anger that should be on himself instead at Josie. Also, if he can’t pass a high school math class with at least a C, how the hell is he going to pass college math? High school math is not hard. I am an English major, but I still had to take two semesters of college math. What was his plan? Maybe college isn’t for you, Davy-boy. You know what, it’s not going to matter soon, anyway.

We’re back to Josie and Steve and Josie gets another Valentine:

“Who’s sending these cards?

Don’t bother to wonder.

On Valentine’s Day

You’ll be six feet under.”

There’s some discussion of who it could be and after their ice skating date, they return home and Josie’s dog is dead on the floor. R. L. Stine usually kills off innocent dogs just to ramp up the stakes and that’s a common plot in ’80s and ’90s horror. I’m grateful we stopped doing that. There are better ways to write in stakes besides killing off an innocent bystander, especially when there are so many other reprehensible characters to kill instead.

The cops arrive and one of them almost pukes. You’d think with all the murder in Shadyside, the cops would be pretty phlegmatic about the death of a dog. On the other hand, maybe they’re throwing up the bullshit way to raise stakes by the needless murder of an innocent animal. Yes – I am more upset about the murder of a dog than a human. I always say – I like all dogs more than I like most people. The 2016 election proved me correct.

There are some red herring things with Jenkman buying Valentines at some kind of Valentine store that exists. It’s either a pop-up store in an old Circuit City or it’s just a Hallmark that is overdoing it with the hearts – I’m not sure, but he’s our herring and he has to herring it up all over the place.

Josie receives another Valentine:

“Roses are black,

Violets are gray.

On Valentine’s Day,

You’ll start to decay.”

This is probably the best poem yet, but that’s not saying much. Rachel is ramping up the creepy now, constantly whispering to Josie, “Someone hates you.”

In the middle of the night, Erica wakes up and does not find Josie. So, she gets a phone book (remember those?), looks for Steve’s phone number, and calls. Steve says he doesn’t know where Josie is and that they had a huge fight. Just as she hangs up, the front doorbell rings and Erica says it must be Josie. Of course, it’s not Josie. It’s two police officers, where they tell the family that Josie has been murdered.

“We found your sister in the alley behind the ice rink,” the older police officer told Erica, speaking in a low, professional voice. “We identified her by her wallet. She hadn’t been robbed. She was dead when we arrived. She had been stabbed in the back. With the blade of an ice skate. The skate was still in her back.”

Okay, old officer, isn’t there a better way to put this? First of all, why did you mention she hadn’t been robbed? It’s like when a kid stands next to a cookie jar and the first things they say to you is, “I haven’t had a cookie.” Secondly, I don’t know if the parents really need to know the grisly details seconds after learning that their daughter has been murdered. If they ask how, let them know, but otherwise, let’s give ’em a day or two, huh? Maybe just start with who she was with, what time she left, where she was going.

In the same chapter, Dave calls Melissa and says he’s in big trouble. He reveals that he sent the Valentines as a “joke.” The teenagers of Shadyside, or the teenagers of the ’80s, have terrible senses of humor and no sense of timing or setups or anything that’s actually funny. Sending death threats disguised as Valentines are not jokes. These teenagers are infuriating. Thousands of teenagers on TikTok are funny every day without resorting to death threats and pranks that involve feigning death.

Anyway, Melissa asks Dave if he killed Josie. (Whenever I write “Melissa,” I say the name like this in my head.) He says he didn’t but the Valentines are going to implicate him in her murder. He decides that the best course of action is to break into the McClain household and steal the Valentines back. While the plan is stupid, it makes sense that a teenager who thinks that death threats are the pinnacle of humor would come up with this plan.

Dave hangs out in the rain outside Josie’s house during the funeral. The door is open and unlocked. How convenient! He wanders around the house, gets spooked by laundry, and it finally culminates in screaming and confusion and Erica in a pool of blood with Dave over her body.

Then, in bold letters, we get a single page of text: “February, One Year Later.”

Apparently, Melissa and Luke are together now and they relay what happened. Erica recovered from the stabbing and Dave was arrested, but Erica chose not to press charges.

Dave told the police that he hadn’t been the one who stabbed Erica. He claimed that he had stumbled over Erica’s body while trying to get to the stairway. She had already been stabbed. Dave was so shocked and horrified, he bent down and picked up the letter opener.

And since Erica wouldn’t testify and there was no evidence, the police had to let Dave go. It’s also revealed that Luke has stopped visiting Rachel as much as before. At the end of the chapter, Melissa receives a Valentine.

“Roses are red

Violets are blue,

On Valentine’s Day

You’ll be dead too.”

In the next chapter, Rachel is yelling about Melissa and Luke and how she hates both of them while Erica brushes her hair. Also, Steve calls Erica and invites her to an ice skating party. While Erica was distracted by the phone call, Rachel disappears. She’s just in the front yard, hanging out behind a tree.

Melissa receives another Valentine:

“Flowers mean funerals

Flowers mean death.

On Valentine’s Day

You’ll take your last breath.”

After, Dave’s mom calls and says he ran away from his boarding school. He eventually shows up in her room, because of course he does. He is surprised when Melissa expresses doubt about his innocence, even though all he did was break into her home without her consent and think cheating off a test is okay. Then he promises to go find “the real killer,” which is a promise we’ve heard before from football players who were once held in a penitentiary a hundred miles from my home. Melissa shows him the Valentines she has been receiving and he runs away, saying he knows who killed Josie without having the courtesy to let Melissa and the reader.

Then he’s dead. Sorry, anticlimactic, I know. The interesting thing that happens is that Rachel yells that she goes out all the time, making her suspect number one. The next day, Melissa opens her locker and finds a cover photo:

On the inside of the locker door, someone had painted a large, broken valentine heart. Smeared dots of bright red blood dripped from the heart. Scrawled in thick red paint at the bottom were the words: YOU’RE DEAD.

Given the disconnect between the cover art and the actual contents of these novels, I’m surprised we actually got to see this scene in the novel. Anyway, a little red paint isn’t going to stop these teens from partying at the frozen lake and it’s time to figure out who the killer is!

Using logic, since one of the red herrings, Dave, is dead, and the other red herring is clearly Jenkman, the clear choice is Steve. Now, given that-

Just kidding, it’s Erica.

What? That seems pretty random, you say. Well, I’m sure this all makes sense and is tightly put together like an Agatha Christie novel.

Just kidding again. Erica killed Josie because Josie was the pretty one and then she stabbed herself to frame Dave and then killed him when he figured her out, somehow. She was mad at Melissa because she “took Luke,” because we can’t have a lady killer without some boyfriend stealing apparently.

Erica falls beneath and ice and dies. Again, anticlimactically. Luke, Melissa, and Rachel live happily ever after, I’m assuming. They’re making jokes about Groundhog’s Day in the end, after all.

I wanted to like this one. Valentine’s Day is ripe for murder-y shenanigans – ask My Bloody Valentine, which, now that I’m thinking about it, also has an out of nowhere killer. You know what? I change my mind. This is on par with other Valentine’s Day horror fare.

Although, you know what? My Bloody Valentine has some good death scenes – the ending was just ludicrous. Maybe the problem with Valentine’s Day as a horror setting is that it sounds like a neat, subversive idea. Let’s take something that celebrates love and relationships and murder a bunch of people and send actual, anatomical hearts to people, but the conclusion is never satisfying! So, this is really an allegory for the holiday itself – it starts with a great premise and some of the execution is on point, but the end can never live up to the rest of the night.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! Maybe the day be filled with as much or as little horror as is your preference. ❤

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – Fear Sreet: The New Girl

Rereading My Childhood – A Year With the BSC #50: Self Promotion

A Year With the BSC is an informal series wherein I explore the 1990’s CD-ROM video game The Baby-sitters Club Friendship Kit. The game is more of a personal organizer; it features with a calendar, an address book, a stationary kit, a flyer maker, and a personality profile. I’m focusing on the more interesting aspect of the game: the personalized letters and the journal entries. The full list of entries can be found at rereadingmychildhood.com.

Previously On A Year With the BSC #49: Neither a Simone Nor a Biles Be

Just a few more weeks before we’ve come full circle and it’s been quite the journey! For right now, let’s focus on our favorite babysitters.

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Maybe you should focus more on your school work than on your Kid Kit. Let’s just move on from that.

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Well, if you can’t find it, you’re in luck, my equinophiliac friend! I have a couple posts about Goosebumps! May I recommend my review of Goosebumps classic Night of the Living Dummy?

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I don’t have a father anymore. Can I go bowling?

Next Time On A Year With the BSC #51: Shaving a Doll

Rereading My Childhood – A Year With the BSC #45: Claudia’s Ruse

A Year With the BSC is an informal series wherein I explore the 1990’s CD-ROM video game The Baby-sitters Club Friendship Kit. The game is more of a personal organizer; it features with a calendar, an address book, a stationary kit, a flyer maker, and a personality profile. I’m focusing on the more interesting aspect of the game: the personalized letters and the journal entries. The full list of entries can be found at rereadingmychildhood.com.

Previously on A Year With the BSC #44: Vaccinate Your Damn Kids

So the BSC was awfully chatty this week, so let’s get to it. First of all, Dawn sent me a letter.

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Fun fact: Stacey has not sent me one letter. She must think I’m too snarky. And speaking of snark…

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Mal, buddy, boobalah, don’t say, “a swinging time was had by all!” Not when talking about kids.

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What? After five home runs, they still didn’t win? Who were they playing against? The Monstars from Space Jam?

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Cool, Mary Anne, but they still lost and bravery has nothing to do with winning, which is what we care about as Capitalist Americans.

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What 11-year-old doesn’t love O Henry! Yeah, fuck Frozen, I want stories about old-timey couples in abject poverty selling their prized possessions or body parts so they can buy a gift.

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Gawd, Claudia, you can’t even spell your beloved dead grandmother’s name? It’s “Mimi.” That’s it. You only have to remember two letters and then double it! Now I think she’s just fucking with us. She wants to lower expectations so she doesn’t have to try. That’s the only explanation. This is all a giant ruse. It has to be.

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Oh good, those coupons that kids never fulfill.

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Just stacks and stacks of useless paper. Geez, kids, just clean your stupid room without your parents asking one time and you’ll be set for the fucking year. Pro-tip from a previous child.

Next Time On A Year With the BSC #46: This One’s Weird

Rereading My Childhood – A Year With the BSC #41: A Lot to Unpack

A Year With the BSC is an informal series wherein I explore the 1990’s CD-ROM video game The Baby-sitters Club Friendship Kit. The game is more of a personal organizer; it features with a calendar, an address book, a stationary kit, a flyer maker, and a personality profile. I’m focusing on the more interesting aspect of the game: the personalized letters and the journal entries. The full list of entries can be found at rereadingmychildhood.com.

Previously On A Year With the BSC #40: The Early One!

There’s a lot this week, so let’s just start.

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That sounds like a threat, Abby.

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Kristy sounds almost happy that Cokie Mason came to undermine Mary Anne’s relationship with Logan. Am I detecting some jealousy? Some unrequited love? Between two best-friends? C’mon, you were thinking it, too. The only difference is that I have the courage to circumlocute my way through this post while winking and nudging.

Lesbian. I think Kristy is a lesbian. Don’t look at me that way. Moving on!

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Betsy DeVos must be pissed. She hates underprivileged people thinking they’re just as good as normies. She also hates it when poors breathe on her or do any book-learnin’. Makes the poors think they’re deserving of the same opportunities of the upper-class. The gall!

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This is the first time Stacey has mentioned club dues, so I’m assuming they haven’t been due before.

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WHOA, ABBY! There’s a lot to unpack here. First of all, the Special Olympics also helps people with other disabilities, including physical disabilities. Secondly, whoa, Abby. Don’t use the “R” word. I know this is the ’90s, but man, Abby, just say handicapped or disabled. Abby, c’ mon. You need to stop talking to Betsy DeVos. Another fact about Betsy DeVos: she uses the “R” word to describe anyone who didn’t pay their way into an Ivy League College. She also thinks that whites are the true oppressed minority, despite not being either of those things and that it’s okay to drink cereal with water instead of milk.

Next Time On A Year With the BSC #42: Steez Chomping

 

Rereading My Childhood – A Year With the BSC #39: Time Travel

A Year With the BSC is an informal series wherein I explore the 1990’s CD-ROM video game The Baby-sitters Club Friendship Kit. The game is more of a personal organizer; it features with a calendar, an address book, a stationary kit, a flyer maker, and a personality profile. I’m focusing on the more interesting aspect of the game: the personalized letters and the journal entries. The full list of entries can be found at rereadingmychildhood.com.

Previously On A Year With the BSC #38: Zip Codes and Tickets

I’m back in class and it looks like the BSC is busy with classes also.

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How did Cokie Mason find out about the party? Who fucking blabbed?! Was it you? Yeah, I’m talking to you! Back there! With the face! Did you fucking tell her?!

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That is cute, but it seems like you’re rewarding her for throwing tantrums.

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I hope you talked about this with the parents first, Mallory. Otherwise, even if you know the kids, it’s still kidnapping.

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Oh no! The Teddy Bear Picnic can’t be canceled! I have a teddy bear-costumed character coming and if I cancel, I still have to pay half of the appearance fee. Where is that money going to come from, Kristy? From my baby-sitting dues? The $1.50 an hour I charge for babysitting in the ’90s? I should up my fee. I’m an adult, and that’s better than a child, and every time I time travel I come back . . . wrong. It’s taking its toll, Kristy.

Next Time On A Year With the BSC #40: The Early One!