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Real World: Boston #13: Moving On

realworldboston

Episode #23 – “Moving Out” – December 10, 1997

This is it. After nearly six months, these seven strangers are about to leave The Real World for the real world, and they’re each handling it in their own way. Genesis, sadly, is faring the worst. She is in “total fear” of losing everything she has in Boston (the house, her roommates, the Center) and going home, where all she has is unpaid bills, no apartment, no girlfriend and no job. She scared of never seeing the housemates again, and she regrets that she didn’t open up and share more. For now, she shares a cry and a tissue with Kameelah.

Montana, perhaps realizing that her mistakes, tries to mend fences with Elka, telling her that if her time there was worth anything, it was because of her friendships with her, Sean and Syrus. “When you get married, I will be there,” she promises. In the confessional, we reach Peak Elka: “[Montana] may be a feminist and she may not be a virgin, but we have a lot in common.”

While Sean wants all seven to have one last dinner at Artu’s, where they ate the first time they all went out together. Montana is down: after everything, even if they don’t like each other, they survived the experience together, and she wants to commemorate that. But other resentments are still very real. Kameelah wonders why they have to “relive this nightmare,” and if she doesn’t go, Genesis doesn’t want to go either; they eventually agree to go after some prodding from make-love-not-war Jason.

toast

At Artu’s they toast to five and half months of memories. Elka notes all her firsts: being away from home, having roommates, working with kids, having a relationship with a gay person. They’re “all good” experiences, and it’s going to be hard to leave. Even Kameelah comes around to Montana’s way of thinking: no matter how horrible things got, they’re leaving as a group, and it’s been the best experience she’s had.

Back at the house, Sean notes that his “naiveness” was a big impediment in his relationships with Genesis and Kameelah, and Genesis admits that she was more closed off than she should have been. “We all should have had this conversation two months ago,” Sean says, and it’s the most right he’s ever been on the show.

Sean and Syrus play one last game of pool and, with Montana, they toast to the “three homies.” They’re in a more celebratory mode than Genesis, Jason and Kameelah, who commiserate about not going back home to much. At the airport, they share tearful goodbyes as they leave, one by one. Sean goes to give Kameelah a handshake and she tells him “don’t be retarded” as they hug; she even hugs Montana goodbye. Montana is the only one not flying, and Vaj pulls up in a purple Mustang convertible (for all their drama, it’s as if it never happened). Genesis blows Jason a kiss, and that’s it.

goodbye


Well, my two-month nostalgia trip is over. I’ve found this whole project rewarding, not just as a writing exercise, but as an examination of memory and its various tricks (it’s no The Night Of The Gun, but the principle is the same). Some things I remembered vividly: Montana and the wine, the discussion of homosexuality with the kids, Syrus being a player. Other things were more vague: playing doctor at Martha’s Vineyard, Elka’s relationship with Walter, Sean’s goofiness. And I can’t believe I completely forgot about the Real World / Road Rules challenge. But even now, my memories of what I watched when I was 13 and what I saw for the first time in the past few weeks are starting to blur. Even my opinions of the housemates has changed from my initial memories and impressions, as did their portrayals as the show progressed.

I retrospectively identified with Jason based on his outsider status, and while I would have liked to see more of his story, that same status kept him apart from much of the action. I had remembered Genesis being cool, but I didn’t realize how crucial her journey — not just dealing with her sexuality, but her empowerment in general — was to the core of the season. No wonder so many people I spoke with named her as their favorite. Similarly, I didn’t remember Kameelah as being such a prominent figure and strong personality in the house, and I certainly didn’t realize the Kameelah-ass-list had lived on in the pop culture consciousness.

Sean, Syrus and, to a certain extent, Elka remained consistent from beginning to end, both in my memory and on the show, but their compatriot Montana changed most, both for me and on the show. My first impression was Jessa of Girls, “but on her best day and without the malice,” and while her over-sharing and life sessions had their charms, her manipulative, self-centered behavior (from her relationship with Vaj to her actions at the Center) certainly revealed some malice I hadn’t remembered.

I’m not going to lie: like every other series finale I’ve ever seen, from Six Feet Under to The Shield to The Sopranos to Scrubs, the end of Real World: Boston was emotional for me. For someone who holds television as highly as I do, even happy endings are bittersweet, and while ending my “relationship” with fictional characters is always tough, this was different. Obviously, these aren’t fictional characters (although their portrayals might be fictionalized and finessed by producers and editors), and instead of having to contemplate “what ifs,” we have “where are they nows.”

Sean Duffy and his family campaigning this weekend.

Sean is perhaps the most notable: after marrying Rachel Campos from San Fransisco, he got into politics and is currently a Republican congressman; they have seven children. Any insights he gleaned into the lives of gays and blacks in America might have been for naught, as a member of some of the most conservative Congresses ever. And while Sean might be “making a difference,” Kameelah is actually making a difference: she’s an OB/GYN in New York.

All the housemates would go on to participate in various Real World/Road Rules Challenges, but none did so more than Syrus, who competed in five seasons post-Boston. He also turned his MTV celebrity into a career, working in the entertainment industry in various capacities. Jason also capitalized on his reality TV experience, but in the opposite direction: he quickly moved behind the scenes and is a partner at a reality TV casting company that bears his name; he lives in Santa Monica.

Also in California: Montana is an acupuncturist, herbalist and massage therapist. Genesis is a graphic designer and photographer whose Twitter bio describes her as a “Reality TV ‘has-been’.” Elka was engaged to Walter for a time and eventually ended up in California, but is the quietest, internet-wise; I guess that makes sense, all things considered.

Even after rewatching the season, and even after doing a little bit of internet stalking, I have to admit, I don’t know these people at all. Elka touched on this in an interview back in 2001. “Even if they know me for that span of five months, I say, ‘Sure, you know me. You know what I was up to for those five months, but you don’t know me as a person.’” For all it meant to me then (and now, to be honest) The Real World is not the real world.

Best musical moments: After all the old favorites, hit records and nostalgia bombs, the season closed first with Oasis’ ‘Don’t Go Away’ and then — as the show frequently did — with something a little more on the nose: Boston’s ‘Foreplay/Long Time’. “Well I’m takin’ my time, I’m just movin’ on / You’ll forget about me after I’ve been gone.”

Real World: Boston #12: On cliques and conflicts / “That house needs an enema”

3way

Episode #16 – “Pent-Up Emotions In The Pig Pen (a.k.a. Communication)” – October 22, 1997
Episode #21 – “Black, White, And Sunburn All Over” – November 26, 1997
Episode #22 – “Turning to the Other Side” – December 3, 1997

Every friend group in high school and college eventually breaks down into cliques: even if based on shared interests and beliefs, these are friendships of convenience and circumstance, the best-case-scenarios of home towns and college campuses. Lines will be formed, usually over the minor differences that get blown out of proportion by youthful vision. This is no different for The Real World, the ultimate fishbowl friendship. These seven people have been cast specifically for their differences, for the conflict and drama they create.

As the season hits its final stretch, the housemates’ relationships are well established. Other than at work or during their Puerto Rico trip, all seven rarely hang out together. When they finally do sit down and talk at dinner, it becomes clear why. Sean tells Genesis that he feels like she never wants to talk to him; she says she doesn’t have anything in common with him, Montana and Syrus. “We’re not one big happy family,” she explains, “and we’re never going to be.” Sean thinks she’s prejudiced against him because he’s a straight, white male (ha!) and Montana is more explicit: “She doesn’t like being in the house, she doesn’t like hanging out with us, good, then get the fuck out.”

Genesis calls it “high school, reinvented,” and she’s not inaccurate. Cliques have formed with Genesis, Jason and Kameelah on one side and Sean, Syrus and Montana on the other; Elka is the swing-woman. The first group are prone to introspection, and the most likely to seek their communities out of the house, whether that means at gay clubs, black fraternities or artist parties. Sean, Syrus and Montana like to hit the town, have a few drinks and see where the chips fall.

genesism

Since her most recent identity crisis, Genesis has found a well a self-respect and assertiveness, and has made a Kameelah-ass list of her own, except not just for dating, but for living life. Her “Genesisisms” are the accumulation of her beliefs and opinions, turned into life lessons. Examples: “Lesson 75: Using your childhood as an excuse only makes you appear more immature, when you are an adult there are no more excuses,” “Lesson 83: Those that deny are the one’s [sic] more deeply involved.” She prints them in a Gothic font and starts pasting them around the house, and some of her housemates are less than impressed.

“I don’t need someone’s dogma when I’m trying to go to the 7-11,” Montana says, critiquing Genesis’s lessons as poorly-written ideas originally stated (and better stated) elsewhere. It probably doesn’t help that some of the Genesisisms seem to be coupled with a target: Jason thinks Lesson 75 is about Montana, while Genesis claims it’s about herself (even if it’s applicable to nearly everyone in the house). Syrus is on Montana’s side and decides to tear them down. “Wait ‘till hell breaks loose.” (It’s interesting how alliances have changed: when he was under attack, Syrus could count on only Sean and Genesis; Montana was perhaps his sharpest critic and is now one of his closer friends.) Genesis takes it as a “personal jab,” and Kameelah and Jason agree. “Were [the Genesisisms] hurting them?” Kameelah asks. “It was an ignorant thing to do; they’re going back up.”

Meanwhile, tensions have also been building in the house because — in a situation familiar to anyone who’s had roommates – they’re all slobs. Plates are unwashed, garbage piles up and the house stinks. Sean and Syrus clean the place, much to Genesis’s amusement; she’s amazed that anyone but her and Kameelah cleaned up. At this point, Sean, Syrus and Montana get in the sign game, writing a message posterboard (“O ye of much filth,” a pseudo-Biblical mock-up of the Genesisisms, plus a cringeworthy swastika next to “food nazis”) and a food-festooned tribute to the “pig of the day.” The first pig of the day is Jason, and they take his dirty plates and put them next to his bed while he’s sleeping (all captured on the Sean Cam, naturally).

pigotd

Genesis fires the next salvo, flipping their poster and writing, “Just because you cleaned the kitchen once doesn’t make you God. Kiss my ass.” She crowns Sean the “asshole of the year” and the two finally have words while everyone else listens in (Sean stands on a chair in a pretty lame act of intimidation). Sean says she hasn’t spoken up or stuck up for herself before, while Genesis assails his “supremacy complex” and says that’s what she’s finally doing. “That felt awesome,” she tells Jason. “You’re about to see a new side of Genesis and it won’t be pretty.”

Genesis and Kameelah grab lunch with Anthony, who tells them “that house needs an enema.” Instead of an enema, they get another vacation: to Boston’s favorite getaway, Martha’s Vineyard. The tension between the two cliques is apparent by the time they hit the ferry, and — spoiler alert — the trip only calcifies the divisions. There’s no kumbaya moment, no spiritual enema.

At their gorgeous beach house, Jason quickly claims the master bedroom, which he says is perfect for three people — namely him, Kameelah and Genesis — kicking off a weekend of flirting. Genesis teases him, saying she thought he was a “fag;” he jokes that she didn’t notice his “obvious masculinity.” She soon will get a better look at his masculinity: after flashing Kameelah, Genesis wants to see, too (she’s never seen a penis). In a gesture of fairness, Genesis and Kameelah both flash him and they joke about how much closer they feel after seeing each other nude. That’s certainly true for Jason and Kameelah; there’s definitely mutual attraction as they flirt with, tease and chase each other across the house. “You should just have sex and get it over with,” says Genesis.

oldtimey

While Jason, Kameelah and Genesis are playing doctor, the other housemates are having good ol’ fashioned fun, playing charades, cards and taking old-timey photos. They exchange glances as Jason and Kameelah cause a ruckus, and while there’s no actual conflict at the beach, Kameelah is “paranoid” about walking into the house and having all the negativity come back.

They return to the house and begin their final stretch in Boston. There’s a lot of packing up, giving each other gifts and sharing memories — and enough time for some final drama. While Kameelah and Elka have started talking again, Montana stirs shit up, pretending to “look out” for Elka when she’s simply trying to sabotage Kameelah. And she still has no filter: “No offense to you but I’m sick of living with 19 year olds.”

This is where the she said-she said stuff gets complicated. In an effort to clear the air, Elka brings up a conversation where Montana claimed that Kameelah called Elka a “drama queen from Brownsville” that is “so far up Montana’s butt that it’s messing up her digestive system.” Kameelah immediately cops to the latter, but not to the drama queen bit, which sounds suspiciously like Montana. They confront Montana when she gets home but she says she doesn’t remember and that she’s tired of defending herself. Montana then fires back at Elka, telling her she regrets sharing anything personal with her. Elka says she’s being “petty,” and that she thought their friendship mattered more than that. Montana is not so sure.

asshole

Kameelah and Elka may be on good terms, but the same can’t be said of her relationships with Montana and Sean. She overheard them in the confessional room, taking a shot at her eye-rolling habit and saying that she’s immature for her age and that she’s trying to run their lives. Kameelah doesn’t pull any punches when she sees Montana, telling her to “leave my name out of your mouth.” Montana stands her ground: “I have the right to say what I want to say.”

Kameelah isn’t the only one that finds out how her housemates actually feel about her: Sean finds a note that she left in the bathroom, and shares the shit-talking contents with Montana before giving it back to her, saying she should be more careful with things like that. Kameelah is generally over Sean’s shit, and she’s tired of representing all of black America for the “whitest of white boys.” Sean actually thinks Kameelah is some sort of black supremacist, which would be funny if it wasn’t so clueless.

They eventually have it out, with Sean raising the same concerns he had with Genesis: he feels like she’s building a wall and not letting him into her life, and Kameelah doesn’t deny it: why would she let him in when he refuses to see her as a person but as a spokesperson for her race? Sean’s confrontations with Genesis and Kameelah are telling, as he feels persecuted by women who are gay and black, respectively. Maybe his future as a Republican congressman isn’t so shocking, after all. What is Congress, if not a group of conflicting cliques?

Best Musical Moments: These episodes, more so than the others, sounded like the mixtapes I’d make by recording The Buzz: alt-rock radio staples Beastie Boys (‘Sabotage’) and Soundgarden (‘Fell On Black Days’) next to personal favorites like Our Lady Peace’s ‘Superman’s Dead’, David Bowie’s Reznor-assisted ‘I’m Afraid of Americans’ and Blink-182’s ‘Dammit’. And while I never would have copped to it at the time, the Spice Girls’ ‘Wannabe’ (which Elka gives Kameelah) is possibly the best pop song ever.

Real World: Boston #11: Bad volunteers, karma police

llcoolj

Episode #20 – “Homeless Is As Homeless Does” – November 19, 1997
Episode #22 – “Turning to the Other Side” – December 3, 1997

In the show’s fifth season, the producers of The Real World gave the housemates something they had never had before (on the show, at least): a job. Miami’s season-long assignment was to start up a business with $50,000, which they failed to do (predictably, drama resulted anyway). Producers set their sights lower in Boston, with the housemates assigned to the East Boston Social Center as volunteers with an after-school program.

Later seasons would see casts work in media (at a Seattle radio station, New Orleans public access TV) and low-level retail (a Hawaiian apparel store, a San Diego boating company), but it would be a while until they worked with children again (they helped some inner-city kids on a mural in Chicago in season 11 and on Outward Bound in season 18).

That’s no doubt because of the trials and tribulations of Boston, which made producers (and youth advocates) weary of introducing children to The Real World. Halfway through their time with the program, housemates had dated parents, used the center as an excuse for a trip to Puerto Rico, and talked about their sex lives (Their mentorship on homosexuality was no doubt positive but still raised concerns). Amazingly, this wasn’t even rock bottom for them.

The Center plans an overnight ski trip to Mount Snow, about 90 minutes away in Vermont. Center director Anthony takes each housemate aside individually to make it “absolutely, crystal clear” that they need to be with the children at all times. Inevitably, Sean and Jason disobey this simple standard: bored by the basic instruction, they ditch the kids to ski and snowboard by themselves. Genesis, after predicting “total chaos,” uses the trip to get away from everyone and be by herself. When confronted by Anthony, Sean has lame lame justifications for his selfish behavior and doesn’t apologize.

skiing

Back in Boston, Anthony surveys half of the kids and the picture of the volunteers isn’t pretty. Several kids say they never listen to them; when asked what they like best about the volunteers, one says “I like when they’re not yelling.” It’s a wake-up call for Jason, who says they’re getting more credit than they deserve and have not pulled their weight at all. Montana, of course, takes it personal and gets defensive; she asks for personal feedback from Anthony because it’s so hard for her to believe that she’s not getting anything right.

Anthony sits her down and lays it out: she knows her stuff and, for the most part, she’s pleasant. But she’s also a busy-body, melodramatic and hyper-defensive. None of this is untrue, and Montana takes it as well as expected, saying that asking for feedback didn’t give him an “open invitation” to insult her. “The more criticism I get,” she confesses, “the more I want to say ‘fuck you’.”

Thinking that the housemates have learned their lessons, Anthony enlists them to chaperone a select group of kids at the Presidents’ Summit for America’s Future in Philadelphia, which features all the living presidents along with Oprah, Colin Powell and other notables. They approach this with the usual blasé attitude: Sean wants to know if the lodging will have a hot tub, while Elka and Jason beg-off entirely. Again, the expectation is that everyone will stay with their assigned children for the entire time. Simple enough, right? To quote The Simpsons, what could possib-lie go wrong?

Repeated troublemakers Sean and Syrus skip out to hang with (and, as suggested by editing, hook-up with) some college kids. The next morning, they’re nowhere to be found (it’s the pre-cell phone era) and the group heads to the Summit without them. “If they don’t want to be a part of our team, they shouldn’t be with us,” says Anthony. When they finally show up, they end up sleeping during the speeches, as does Montana.

sleep

Things go from bad to worse at the Taste of Philadelphia. Montana and Sean drink wine in front of the children, a fact which quickly makes it back to Anthony. When they’re back in Boston, he suspends them and Syrus, but won’t tell them why until he has all the facts. Syrus figures it out, but he’s in the clear because he wasn’t drinking at the event (a brief moment of responsible behavior!).

Sean gets reprimanded yet again and realizes he needs to turn it around in the last five weeks of volunteering. Montana’s punishment is harsher: she wasn’t watching and two 11-year-old kids tried wine. “It blows my mind that they tasted alcohol in our care,” says Anthony, flabbergasted. “I could lose my license for that.” She’s kept on suspension while Anthony figures out his next steps, and she can only focus on how much it would “suck” to get fired for the first time; she feels like the “worst person in the world” but if it’s unclear if she means for endangering her job or for endangering the kids.

When rewatching these episodes, I thought I had misremembered the alcohol incident: I could have sworn that Montana gave the kids a sip of wine. My memory was soon vindicated: Anthony questioned both kids, separately and repeatedly, and they both said that they begged for a sip of wine and Montana gave in. Montana maintains her innocence, but her story has changed: she says they asked for wine, but she said no. She’s terminated immediately, inevitably running into the kids as she sees them for what she thinks is the last time, unable to tell them that she won’t be back.

Montana spends the next few days moping around and reveling in her depression, but she has to get it together soon: she needs 20 hours a week to not be in breach of her Real World contract. Not only that, but in a grand bit of irony, the housemates are discussing whether or not she should be able to live in the house since she got fired — the position she held (vocally!) when Syrus got in trouble for seeing one of the kid’s mothers.

wine

Kameelah thinks Montana should practice what she preached, and wonders aloud to Jason if she should throw Montana’s previous stance back in her face, to let her know that she knows what kind of person she is, that “this type of shadiness is why I stopped talking to you four months ago.” Jason, as he has previously, stays neutral, although he does joke that he’ll “get some popcorn” for the confrontation. That’s definitely what Kameelah doesn’t want, and she decides not to say anything, relying on the Golden Rule for once.

Syrus seems to find the role reversal humorous: “Karma’s a bitch ain’t she? ‘Cause she came back harder than a motherfucker.” Still, he doesn’t want to make a move on her (they’ve grown closer in the weeks since their confrontations) and neither does her closest friend in the house, Sean. However, that doesn’t prevent them from having some fun at her expense, pretending that the housemates are serious about making her leave. They can’t hold it for very long, bursting out laughing. “That was mean but very well executed,” Montana admits.

Montana hopes to volunteer elsewhere so that she can redeem herself. After some frustrating games of phone tag, cancelled appointments and bad fits (her squeamishness around blood makes the Red Cross a no-go), she finally connects with Shelter, Inc., an organization that helps get the homeless back on their feet. She picks up supplies, cooks meals and makes arrangements for haircuts; while she misses the kids, she says it’s a better fit. “Maybe I was fired for a reason,” she says, a metaphysical bit of sour grapes justification for the whole thing. Even more ridiculously, she says that she’s made a difference at the shelter “if only with her presence” — as if having a twentysomething narcissist around is all that homeless people need to succeed!

With only a month to go, everyone feels bad that they haven’t done anything of note at Center. The lone exception is Kameelah, who has been the only one to take it seriously, repainting the facilities and finessing a meeting with LL Cool J on the Philadelphia trip. The evalutations, Montana’s firing and the inevitable end of their time at the Center eventually gets the group to take their volunteering seriously.

logpool

Sean says he doesn’t want to be a “total turdball” anymore and pushes back on Syrus’ lame excuses for not giving his all. He pulls out a dollar bill, dramatically telling him to “Quit. passing. the buck.” Sean takes Syrus and Jason with him on a roadtrip to Maine to pick up a log for a log-rolling program (and for some male-bonding over axe-throwing and air-guitaring). The kids dig log-rolling and he feels good that he’s finally making an impact. The feeling is contagious: Syrus finally starts his basketball program when he realizes that the point of volunteering isn’t to give him a challenge, but to help others however he can.

Elka wants to go out with a bang, helping the kids to do a play (“Country Mouse and City Mouse: A True Story,” an appropriate pick for the house’s true country mouse) at the final assembly. Jason, perhaps realizing that the model car kits weren’t enough, decides to share his true passion with the kids: writing. He gives them books and journals and gets them to write diaries and stories; when one of his kids reads at the assembly, he “doesn’t feel like a lazy butthole anymore.”

“What started off as very rocky,” Anthony says at the assembly, “is becoming very emotional, and we will miss every single one of you guys.” The kids make a surprise appearance at the firehouse, waking them up with a performance of ‘Put a Little Love in our Heart’. Even Genesis, who struggled to make connections at the Center, gets emotional; so does Syrus, who breaks down during his confessional. “The next few days are going to be tough for all of us,” Anthony admits.

While the housemates eventually made a difference at the Center, I can’t imagine that Anthony would have allowed them to volunteer if he knew what he was in for; it often seemed that he had to reprimand the housemates more than the children. It seems that the producers of The Real World learned a similar lesson, quickly realizing that drama would happen whether their casts were volunteering with children or working at the Palms in Vegas, so why bother making a difference?

kidshouse

Best Musical Moments: Once again, Third Eye Blind continued their soundtrack dominance (‘How’s It Gonna Be’), with additional songs I didn’t like by bands I didn’t like (Smash Mouth’s ‘Walking on the Sun’) and songs I didn’t like by bands I loved (Smashing Pumpkins’ ‘Thirty-Three’). But the winner has to be Radiohead’s ‘Karma Police’ for Montana’s date with irony.

Real World: Boston #10: “It’s difficult to be a 19-year-old virgin in the 1990s”

walter-poster

Episode #17 – “Honor Thy Father And Mother” – October 29, 1997
Episode #18 – “Leather Pants In Virgin Territory” – November 5, 1997
Episode #19 – “The English Rocker, the American Rapper, and the Renegade Redhead” – November 12, 1997

While several of the housemates dealt with long-distance relationships (with varying levels of success), no one is dealing with a longer-distance relationship with Elka. Her boyfriend Walter is an Irish musician with a slight resemblance to Skeet Ulrich who lives in London; the pair met in Greece on holiday and, apart from their week together, have built their relationship over the phone. (The poster that hangs over her bed is promo for his band Bazaar’s lone album, which — alas — isn’t available on the internet.)

Elka says it’s the closest she’s ever felt to love, but not everyone is so sure. Jason “seriously” doubts that he’ll visit her in Boston, while Sean tries unsuccessfully to convince her to date someone in town. When Montana describes her relationship with Vaj as “the most honest” of anyone in the house, she adds, “No, your relationship with Walter counts,” her words dripping with sarcasm.

Her father is generally dismissive of the relationship, but he does offer to pay for half of Walter’s trip to Boston. Walter declines the offer, as he’s going to try his best to make it over on what we can only assume are a struggling artist’s wages. As she waits for Walter to decide if and when he’s going to visit, she plays darts like she’s trying to kill the dartboard. Genesis’s friend Adam is, as always, the voice of reason, telling her that artists get focused on their own work and she shouldn’t be worried that he hasn’t given her an answer either way. When Walter calls to tell her he’s going to visit, she literally jumps for joy. Adam storms over and mock-lectures Walter, “You know she’s been stressing about this all week?”

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But before Walter does, her father and brother Brian visit Boston. Elka’s father is conservative and domineering; even though she’s 19, he still controls her finances and she’s weary of disobeying him. His issues run from the personal (he flat out says “no” when she says she wants to get her eyebrow or nose pierced) to the interpersonal. She tells him she’s accepting of Genesis and would go to a gay club if it makes her happy, but he gives her a gay panic guilt trip: “What happens if you like it?”

Walter’s visit looms large. Elka knows that her father wouldn’t approve of him staying in her bed, but admits it would be ridiculous if he crosses the Atlantic and then sleeps on the couch or in a hotel. While she waits for his visit, she dips her toe in the waters of independence, getting her eyebrow pierced. She says she will always respect and honor her father, but she knows she’s old enough to make her own decisions.

Elka realizes that her father is “worried, nervous and sad” that she’s growing up, especially with the death of her mother, who died from cancer just months before she came to Boston; it’s a loss that she’s still processing, obviously. Elka describes her mother as a wonderful woman who touched lives, and her passing has left her family scrambling to assume her roles: Elka’s father has struggled to be “Mr. Mom,” the one she confides in, especially with regards to relationships, and Elka has tried to be a supportive, protective figure for both her father and her brother.

at-show

Elka goes back to Brownsville to attend a “style show” dedicated to her mother. She didn’t want to go because she knew it was going to be painful, but didn’t want to look selfish. Plus, she realizes she can’t stay away from home forever. The show goes well and it allows her to honor her mother’s memory and connect with her father, as she continues to chip away at his conservative resistance towards her relationship with Walter. Despite his objections, her mother’s death has put everything in perspective. “I have to start living life for Elka.”

Finally, Walter arrives, in all his long-haired, leathered-panted glory. He charms the housemates the same way he has charmed Elka, making jokes about how it’s “tough riding a Virgin for nine hours.” They might be opposites, but the cliché holds true. The pair spend the days holding hands, making out and picniking; they even go to church. “There was no way I could say goodbye after that,” Elka admits, as Walter crashes on the couch.

Then the inevitable happens: they hook up on the pool table and in the adjacent bed. Montana and Genesis watch on the monitors (again, with the freaking monitors…) but Jason goes down and puts a sock on the camera. Even if he has his doubts about Walter, he thinks they deserve a little privacy.

Eventually, Walter must return to London; Elka wonder why they’re always saying good bye. Walter has plans to visit and work in Vegas, and Elka tells her father that she wants to visit him. Again, he says no outright, because that wouldn’t be “acceptable behavior.” Elka says that she has “all this pressure to be somebody” while in Boston, from her father and her community in Brownsville, but ultimately she has to be true to herself. “I’m going to follow my heart on this one and do what I think is right.”

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Best Musical Moments: There were a few obvious musical cues over the course of these episodes: Puffy and Faith Evans’ ‘I’ll Be Missing You’ during the tribute to Elka’s mother, Robyn’s ‘Show Me Love’ for the Elka-Walter love montage, and LeAnn Rimes’ chart-dominating ‘How Do I Live?’ for their tearful goodbyes.

But no song is more evocative of the era than The Prodigy’s ‘Breathe’, which plays as Elka attacks the dartboard. It was also one of the songs that ignited my interest in “alternative” music. I’m not sure if I heard it on The Buzz 103.1 or saw the video on MTV (probably the latter), but I know The Fat of the Land was among the CDs I would get for my 14th birthday, next to Korn’s Follow the Leader and Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral, because I was finally allowed to own CDs with Parental Advisory stickers. Talk about conservative parents…

Real World: Boston #9: 200 Simple Rules for Dating Kameelah

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Episode #15 – “Noises & Rumors” – October 15, 1997

For all the iconic Real World moments that have lived on in the collective consciousness, there’s one from Boston that I didn’t know had found a second life: Kameelah’s list, the scroll of 200-plus requirements for anyone who wants to date her, better known as a Kameelah-Ass List on the OkayPlayer boards and in certain corners of Black Twitter.

The numbered list ranges from the simple (sings to me, teaches me sports, financially stable) to the specific (weight more than 190 pounds, name must have more than one syllable) to the bizarre (has never entertained worshipping the devil). As established, Kameelah has a problem with men, having been abused, abandoned and otherwise mistreated by the men in her life. In that way, the list is a defense mechanism — make it hard enough to date someone, and you don’t risk getting hurt by them — and it works. “Maybe there’s not a mister right,” Montana advises, “but maybe there’s a mister good-enough.”

Kameelah finds some Misters Good Enough when hanging out with local Alpha Phi Alpha members. She’s finally in her element, discussing the issues of the day (ebonics etc) and going to step shows, but she admits that it’s “intimidating”: she’s actually meeting men who fulfill her requirements, something she thought would never happen. She goes on a few dates with the nerdy, overeager Aaron, but cuts it off because he fails two rules: he can’t take a hint and he can’t dance.

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Her next suitor is Doug, an Alpha who’s studying mechanical engineering. “He’s a cool cat,” she says, a “very intelligent brother.” Unfortunately, he fails rule #147: have no children. It’s a red flag, because even though he takes responsibility for his daughter, Kameelah is worried about “a mother lurking” somewhere. Even if the situation gives her pause, she’s still disappointed when she doesn’t meet his daughter at Doug’s step show. “Maybe we’ll have to do a little give and take,” she says. “He’s a keeper.”

Doug having a child is not the only problem. Kameelah hears that he was “kicking it” with another girl, and when she repeatedly gives him chances to tell the truth of what happened, he drops the ball. He says nothing romantic or sexual happened, but admits that they “wrestled.” That isn’t enough for Kameelah. “I’m sitting here waiting for you to tell me the truth,” she tells him over the phone, adding before hanging up, “You’re lying to me and you disgust me right now.”

Kameelah reiterates how she feels about most men: they’re inconsistent and inconsiderate, and that often leaves her playing the fool; she doesn’t like the loss of control. “When I take the time to let someone in, I don’t expect you to trash it,” she tells Jason. “All the men I’ve met have just trashed it.” He notes that it’s awful getting cheated on. (At this point, Jason and Timber’s co-dependent relationship has hit the rocks: Timber “stayed with” someone while on a coke binge, and Jason hooked up at a party to balance the scales.)

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The next time she sees Doug, he maintains that she’s the only person he’s been seeing, and notes that they’ve stayed away from girlfriend-boyfriend tags because of the inevitable end of her time in Boston. She believes him in the end, saying that it’s not in his nature to be shady and recognizing how sorry he was about the whole thing. They retire to her bedroom and Sean and Elka hear some “strange sounds,” which scandalizes the two most conservative members of the house.

While Elka was quick to condemn Kameelah and Genesis for talking about homosexuality with the kids, she is less concerned with speaking about Kameelah’s supposed sex life in front of them. She’s convinced that Kameelah and Doug had sex, and she tells Montana about the “moaning and groaning, bumping and grinding” — all within earshot of the kids! Kameelah maintains she didn’t have sexual intercourse (pre-dating President Clinton’s “sexual relations” presser by over a year), and tells her to mind her own business.

Sean, Montana and a holier-than-thou Elka keep talking about what happened as Kameelah gets increasingly pissed, telling Elka that she will knock her out if she doesn’t stop. At this point, voices are raised and the other staffers kick them out of the center to cool off. Kameelah thinks this is Elka’s payback for her “outing” her as a smoker; Elka thinks Kameelah was dishing out all her frustration towards her at once.

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When they return to the Center the next day, Anthony wants to know what was said. That’s good, because viewers have been screaming “why are they having this conversation in front of children!?” for the entire episode. The only thing that Elka remembers is Kameelah threatening to knock her out, somehow forgetting the non-stop gossiping that preceded the threat. This is an appearance of the Angry Black Woman trope (different from the Angry Black Man one), as Elka’s conservative upbringing again rears its ugly head. Clearly, Kameelah was not going to get violent — she was frustrated that everyone was speculating about her sex life — but because of prejudice (or in an attempt to avoid blame), that’s the only thing that Elka remembers.

Anthony says the obvious: “Melodramatic outbursts can’t happen here.” He tells a remorseful Sean and Elka that he was going to suspend them; instead, he gives them a reprieve, with their next incident resulting in immediate termination. When he talks to Kameelah, he says that she’s the only one of the housemates committed to the kids (she’s been working to repaint the community center to make it bright and more stimulating) and that it’d be a shame to lose her over “petty” arguments; she says the beef is squashed.

The incident leads to some soul searching. Kameelah tells Genesis that her goal was to stay true to herself no matter what, taking positive things from the others and leaving everything else. She contrasts herself to Elka, whose goody-two-shoes facade has started to fall, and wonders if she’s done a 180 as well; Genesis says she has kept the same values, opinions and attitudes. Kameelah says she doesn’t “pretend to be holier than thou,” although how she’s treated some of the other roommates (especially Syrus) would contradict that. In her confessional, Elka wonders who Kameelah thinks she is. “Everyone has to fit this mold — she’s way too demanding.”

Elka and Kameelah might be in conflict now, but it’s not because they’re different — it’s because they’re so similar. They both have high standards for everyone: Elka’s religious conservatism and Kameelah’s pragmatic approach to personal responsibility may be miles apart, but they are both demanding and often holier-than-thou. High standards aren’t a bad thing, but having them isn’t always pretty, especially when they’re thrown back at you.

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Best Kameelah moments: On the subway, Kameelah steps up against street harassment, confronting a guy who hollers at her: “That is so rude, why do you guys do that?” she asks. “Tell all your friends, ‘psst psst’ is not how you attract a woman.” Later, when Sean gets hives, she tells him a story about a girl who got herpes simplex from eating Chinese food that had been ejaculated on by three guys — the type of urban legends we all were trading in our teens.

Best musical moments: Kameelah’s club visits and private time with Doug are soundtracked by neo soul of the era: D’Angelo’s ‘Lady’ and 702’s ‘Get It Together’, respectively. Meanwhile, Doug steps to DJ Kool’s ‘Let Me Clear My Throat’, a ‘90s jam that still kills.