I’m back in my parents’ house after graduating—with a BFA—during the worst economic downturn in decades, and now, while in need the escape of reality television bliss the most, I was instead witnessing the Bravo producers physically run out of ideas, getting away with making “_____ is thinking of moving to the beach!” into a full-fledged storyline for not one, but two products from their reality factory—all in the same week. As if I, jobless in ripped boxers, have any frame of reference for such a decision, or know what the hell it means. As if that is even constitutes a story. Maybe it’s because I’ve lived in New York my whole life, I don’t know, but to me, thinking about moving to the beach was having all the same impact as thinking about renting The Beach, which, sure in the past would have definitely sufficed for a subject of focus for an hour of my laziness, but like everything else in the wake of college, my mindless media consumption was already in the throes of an existential crisis, and in dire need of redefinition.
After all, what was the purpose of The Real Housewives of Atlanta if not to help me bond with my revolving door of forever-awkward ambiguously-straight NYU roomies, I’ve been left to wonder? Or Miami Social if not a distraction from classes I accidentally found myself in due to panic-induced schedule changes, and the knowledge of thousands of dollars wasted? With these and innumerable other college-coated purposes since blown away in one May day, I have found myself having to face the challenge of processing these programs only for their entertainment value—and failing out.
I didn’t expect a bunch of television producers to know what I’m going through, but couldn’t they at least meet me halfway like they used to? Ozzy Osbourne is addicted to burritos—that was a reality storyline. Ally Hilfiger wants a burrito, and its her maid’s day off—that was a reality storyline. Moses eating his very first burrito while his crush Ariel refuses to participate on the grounds of being on a raw food diet (I really do miss Amish in the City)—that was a reality storyline. All of those things I could wrap my head around, and had an urgency that’s easy to relate to. But moving to the beach? Is Bravo inventing a new stage in its constructed life of prep school student to real housewife, or is this a really sensitive decision people go through I just had no idea about? Because unless we were talking about someone with sun allergy, or J.D. Salinger, I didn’t see myself giving much of a shit. Or, sadly, even a fuck.
See, unlike every other pain-staking, shiftless, summer in my life thus far, where I’d be masturbating minimum three times a day as if though the action was actually helping turn the leaves green again—I’ve barely laid a hand on myself since I cupped my mouth to shout for speaker Whoopi Goldberg’s attention at my commencement. I can hazard that it’s just due to puberty finally calming down at 22, but it feels more like my body is following the lead of my now-unpredictable future. Either way, sexual need has essentially counted itself out as an entry in my rolodex of excuses to sit through crap; for me, a practical deal-breaker.
Don’t get me wrong, my respect for the idiot box is complete, and you won’t catch me coming close to spitting on my life-long love affair with it for anything. All the same, an essential part of that love, and keeping it alive, was being able to say to myself that some of the programs in which I would partake in were just on as background noise while I satisfied an even more pressing addiction. Deceitful? Yeah, perhaps. But it worked for us. And now that I’ve been thrown out of the comfort of school-driven seasonal cycles and into the Alaskan-like abyss of “the real world,” my biological functions have gone haywire, my relationship with the TV is suffering, and I can’t enjoy The Real World.
So now, being faced with the most useless and unpalatable array of viewing I think I’ve come across since this year’s Oscars, I realize I can’t let this continue, and I make a decision. I’m not going to go down without a fight. I’ve already gone from the “number one dream school” to my number one nightmare, and if the TV was going to do nothing but blow beach sand in my face, I would do have to do something all on my own. I mean, who was stronger, man or machine? Enough was enough. As difficult as it may be, I’m going jerk off to Flipping Out‘s Jeff Lewis.
At first, I try to focus on the promos during the commercial breaks. In those, Lewis just poses, wears sneakers with his suit and has his hands tucked casually in his pockets, belying the insecurity-ridden, fussy personality edited together during the show to keep me otherwise boner-free. And it’s so far so good, but as the eyebrow-raising experience that is this character study/home-improvement show continues, I soon realize there will be no shortcuts. Maintaining whatever progress I make during the breaks is fruitless when confronted with Lewis’ de-sexualized ex-boyfriend following behind him, interjecting bland, sound bite-able comments, or with Lewis’ Kristin Chenoweth Second Understudy of an assistant narrating the tale, telling us exactly how zany her OCD boss is, and congratulating herself for putting up with the zaniness and oh my god it’s all so zany.
With every shrill confessional I go harder and faster, knowing what’s at stake. With every business discussion between the two mildly attractive, yet repressed, germophobic men, I strain my gaze into the subtext, invent new meanings behind the show’s title, and pray that just because my life is in limbo it doesn’t mean my dick has to resemble the stick. I can do this. I can enjoy reality. It’s what I’ve always done. I’m still me. Not everything has changed because of graduation… has it? And then I hear the moan. It’s the garage door. My mother’s home.
Instinctively, I shove myself back into my pants, turn off the TV and run upstairs, apparently my shame so intense it never let me even consider just putting a pillow over my lap, or switching to Dance Your Ass Off. I had to pretend I didn’t even inhabit space. Not on a soft seat. Not in front of any images. In college masturbation was almost disturbing in its openness, but now, without thinking, I brought it down to the level of obscurement and fiction I was just railing against.
Scurrying up the steps to my bedroom on my hands and knees, it dawns on me that I might have picked the wrong battle to put my energy towards. Maybe instead of rebelling against the recession in quality reality, I should try to face up to that other one. Getting a job and out of my house is so much more important than being able to enjoy television. It’s obvious. After all, once I have a job, and I’m starved for things to talk about with my co-workers, or ways to cope with my overbearing boss, it’ll be so easy to love Jeff Lewis, whether or not he is thinking of moving to the beach.