Like all bad mysteries, this week’s episode begins on a cold, gray day. As the artists are being driven to New Jersey for their challenge, I think of Ahab’s words about Moby-Dick: “He tasks me.” I guess this makes China and Simon the artists’ white whales. Zonked, perhaps, by the Bravo house arrest under which they live, they peer out of the van, shell-shocked by the open spaces and real life going on around them. Some look punch-drunk; others, strung out. Bayeté and Michelle look like they’re planning a breakout. Sarah K. cackles (ah, mute alert, Bravo?!). Listening, I learn that some of the artists don’t like Lola. This takes me back. In the short bursts during which I saw the group during taping, Lola seemed moody and intense, and looked at people through her hair a lot, but she struck me as a canny, kind, sensitive soul whose circuits had been slightly singed from her mom’s dating Al Pacino for ten years while she was a kid. Onscreen, Sara calls Lola “crazy” and “childish.” Kymia says that she’s a “drama queen.” Maybe this is why Lola forlornly says she doesn’t want Sucklord to go home: “I see romantic potential there.” This pathos almost makes me renounce my vow to quit the show if the two of them hook up. Almost.
Since artist vulnerabilities are coming out, I’ll share one of my own. An hour before taping, I’m standing in my underpants in front of the show’s gorgeous twentysomething stylist, Zoe, thinking to myself, Drink in the macho, baby! Zoe quietly looks me over and says, “Um, Jerry. Do you like spanks?” Wow! The old male magic is still sizzling! I heard this generation is kinky! She wants to spank me! Here. In a reality TV dressing room! With the door partly open! Then she holds up a teeny-weenie doll-sized elastic undershirt thingy. “This is a Spanx,” she says. A girdle. My ego retracts, turtlehead-like. Ditto my genitals. Reality TV isn’t just making me look fat. The free food I’ve been grazing on for weeks is showing! I ask Zoe if this garment is “a fat repressor.” Carefully not using terms like “muffin top” or “s’more,” she says, “Spanx are trimming.” I wedge myself into it. I had no idea what kind of constricting strangulation goes on under some women’s clothes.
This week’s challenge is issued to the artists amid the amazing automated New Jersey plant of the New York Times. The artists are to pick a headline from a mountain of newspapers and make a work of art incorporating the newspaper and the story. Michelle looks around at the whirring conveyor belts and papers whizzing around, observing, “Your newspaper has so much fun before it gets to you!” So far Michelle has consistently made great work. When she doesn’t I still see in her considerable talent and the mystical spirit of a true artist. This week she chooses a powerfully personal story: Accident victims unable to prove they’ve been in accidents. This happened to Michelle when she was struck last year by a hit-and-run driver while riding her bicycle in Brooklyn. Although she was severely injured and her legs were disfigured, and she still walks with a limp, the law hasn’t yet acted. Her painting this week of scarred legs makes me quake.