Saturday, November 17, 2012

Campfires, ghost stories-- summer vacations are the best!

The Baby-sitters Club Super Special #8: Baby-sitters at Shadow Lake

Good God, y’all. I know it’s been a while, but a lot has been happening in my life since I last abandoned you. I finished grad school. I attended my college reunion. I cheered on more friends than I care to count as they took the next steps that so far continue to elude moi: weddings, babies, book contracts, home ownership, laser eye surgery. I knew I had to do something, so here it is: I moved halfway across the country to take a new job, one where I am not disrespected and mistreated on a daily basis. I pulled a Stacey McGill (Original recipe and version 3.0)—I woke up one day and found myself leaving behind my comfortable, New York City life—a life of brunch and bridges and Broadway—and venturing back into Tinytown, USA, a world of SUVs and Applebee’s and carefully cultivated elm trees. I live in the Midwest again. Please don’t hate me.

The Tinytown library is a lot different from the NYPL and it contains very few BSC books. Plus, it took several months for me to work up the courage to venture inside. The people there… talk to you. It’s very awkward, if you believe, like me, that libraries, and indeed most public spaces, should be spaces of silence. They’re… friendly. It’s weird. Check-out lady, I don’t know you from Adam. I don’t need your views on the county fair. They’re… kind of slow and inefficient. (Must be all that talking.)

So, yeah, I’m pretty sure I’m known around here as “That bitch from New York.” But you know what? I’m okay with that label, because I’m pretty sure a certain Ms. Stacey McGill was also known by that moniker. Of course, lucky duck that she was, she eventually got to return.

Okay then! All that said, we’re diving back in with Super Special #8: Baby-sitters at Shadow Lake. I have reread this one many times. It’s long been one of my favorites, but until this read-through, I never took the time to pinpoint exactly why. It’s got all sorts of great stuff: sappy Stacey/Sam (Stam? Samcey?) moments, everyone treating Mallory like the dipshit she is, Dawn freaking out about ghosts, and minimal Mary Freakin’ Anne. Most importantly, everyone in this book is hysterically bitchy to each other. It’s phenomenal.

So Watson gets a letter from his ostensibly long-lost aunt and uncle with whom he used to spend summers at their cabin on Shadow Lake. Right off the bat I think there’s something weird about this, because the aunt (whose letter is written out as a prologue, and may I just say, she has lovely handwriting.) is all “Your uncle and I hope to meet Karen, Andrew, your new wife, and her children… We want to see what the boy we remember has become.” Well Aunt Faith, for starters, he’s become a millionaire. But if he’s that important to you, why haven’t you seen him since he was twelve? Were you not at either of his weddings? You only live in Pennsylvania, and you don’t seem to be particularly infirm, even if you are re-evaluating your will. Anyway, this is another example of me getting hung up on the first two pages of the book when there’s so much more goodness to come, so long story short: Aunt Faith and Uncle Pierson want to leave Watson their summer cabin on Shadow Lake in the mountains of western Massachusetts  (there are mountains in Massachusetts? My geography knowledge is further evidence of the decline of America’s schools) when they die, but only if he wants it. They suggest that he take his family on a vacation there to see if they like it.

So Watson not only takes his family, but 10 of his children’s nearest and dearest friends, including all six BSC-ers and 2 friends each for David Michael and The Insufferable Karen Brewer.  Luckily, this cabin sleeps 20-some people.

Usually with Super Specials I just outline each individual’s storylines- that doesn’t work quite as well with this one because it doesn’t adhere to the formula quite right in that not everyone has a really clearly defined plot. However, I’m just gonna run with it and see how this shakes out.

Kristy: Has a hand in a bunch of different plots, actually, but primarily, she creates the overarching framework when she decides to make everyone write in a trip journal that she will ultimately present to Watson in the hopes of influencing him to accept the cabin from his aunt. She also pops up in other stories to make random snarky comments and get snarked at by others. My favorite example: the girls have decided to eat dinner alone at the lodge restaurant in another attempt to prove how grown up they are (and also because everyone else is barbecuing and Kristy makes an impassioned yet over-exaggerated plea to her mom and Watson about how Dawn the (sometimes, when it’s convenient for the plot) Vegetarian can’t possibly enjoy anything off the grill (although Kristy does concede she could eat salad and corn-on-the-cob, but I’m just over here wondering why the hell they wouldn’t have just picked up a box of Veggie Burgers at the supermarket.) And anyway, as part of this plotline, Kristy and Stacey have this snarky exchange that ends with “She [Stacey] might as well have said ‘Where did you leave your brain, Kristy? In the lake?’” And I don’t know why, but that struck me as hilarious, perhaps because I have so often wanted to ask Kristy a similar question.

Claudia: Claud doesn’t have much to do this time around—she meets no boys, nor falls in love! She does, however, decorate the tiny speedboat owned by Watson’s family to participate in a boat show on the lake with all the other yachts and huge boats (Yachts? On a small inland lake? I don’t think so. And I grew up in the Great Lakes State, which actually has more lakes than any other (take that, Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Lakes! Ha!) so I know that of which I speak. Shadow Lake doesn’t have yachts. Maybe pontoons. But anyway.) Claud dresses the boat up as “The Lake Monster” (we’ll get to that when we discuss Dawn’s craziness in a few minutes) and wins an award for “Most Spirit.” And that is pretty much it for Claudia.

Jessi: This time, it’s Jessi who gets the obligatory “meets a boy” storyline. She meets this kid named Daniel who’s a year older than her. He stalks her while she does her ballet workout early in the morning at the lodge, then introduces himself, flirts with her, and asks for a dance lesson, which he is really bad at. Jessi, despite realizing they have nothing in common, still enjoys hanging out and flirting with him, but feels bad about Quint, her one true love back in NYC. Finally on the last night of the trip, at a dance at the lodge, Jessi gets up the nerve to tell Daniel she only wants to be friends because “Quint, the other man in my life, means more to me than I’d realized.” I almost spit out my wine when I saw Quint referred to as a “man.” Whatever, Jessi. Then Daniel says that he never wanted to be anything more than Jessi’s friend because he has a girlfriend back in Boston, and they seem to go on enjoying the dance, but then later there’s some cryptic comment from Kristy about how “Jessi shrugged. She wasn’t ready to tell us what had happened between her and Daniel. Not then. She told us several days later.” Um, I’m sorry, did something happen? Because in the book I read, NOTHING HAPPENED between her and Daniel. I know middle school is super over-dramatic, but come on.

Mary Anne: Pretty much has no story. Because she’s boring! Hahaha. Anyway, all she does is baby-sit Karen and her friends and I hate Karen, so I will give this plot as little consideration as it deserves. Basically, Karen et al run away from Mary Anne (as I would too, in their position) and find a garden shed in the woods not far from the cabin and decide to turn it into a secret playhouse. MA finds them, yells at them, etc. Then David Michael and his crew find the playhouse, want to turn it into a fort, get into an argument with the K-crew and end up making a bet that they can build a better playhouse by the time the vacation is over. I bet that I can finish this entire bottle of wine before this book is over. Anyway, turns out the boys can’t build for shit and the girls get tired of their playhouse and turn it over to the boys. And Mary Anne continues to baby-sit and be boring. Seriously, that’s about it.

Mallory: Mallory’s entire plotline consists of her being a dipshit about bugs. Pages and pages of her complaining about the multitude of biting insects at Shadow Lake, that are affecting no one but her. The upside to this contrivance? Pretty much every single character gets to judge her for it, make fun of her for it, or yell at her for it. It’s awesome.
            Sample Mallory bitching: “Ow!… Ow, ow, OW!... I’m being eaten alive!... Honest. Last night I got five mosquito bites, and now these tiny little bugs are stinging me or something.”
            Sample awesome responses from everyone else:
            Stacey: (When Mal insists on wearing her insect (and, let’s be honest, boy) repelling headress, consisting of a safari hat, dish towel, and mosquito netting, to dinner at the lodge) “You have to walk ten paces behind us then. Or ahead of us. But you and that headdress cannot walk with us.” (This is awesome. I have remembered this all these years, and I still sometimes say this to embarrassing family members.)
            Nicky Pike: (Again when Mal insists on wearing the headdress) “Oh, no… you’re not putting on that beekeeper outfit, are you?”
            Kristy: (When Mal is sitting by the lake in her beekeeper outfit, complaining about how no one will come near her) “You’re an embarrassment.” (AGREE!)
            Claudia: (When Mal’s all cranky in her insect gear) “Nice outfit… I like the gardening gloves. They’re a lovely touch.” Mal: “Oh, shut up.” Stacey: “Ooh, testy.” (HA! Bitch, but I love it!)

Stacey: So Sam spends the whole vacation, from the very word go, flirting with Stacey in that very peculiar 15-year-old boy way that mostly just amounts to endless teasing and pigtail pulling. Literally, one time he sat next to her at breakfast and spent the whole time tweaking the end of her permed hair. Sam even gets to narrate a chapter where he mostly goes on and on about shaving (which he doesn’t need to do) and how Stacey’s not just beautiful, but something in her spirit appeals to him. It’s… sweet, but also slightly creepy. Also, he has a heart-to-heart with Charlie about how he should just talk to Stacey, which is also rather sweet (and less creepy), but I have to wonder what Charlie could possibly know about girls, since he spends all his Friday nights chauffeuring his little sister around Stoneybrook. He doesn’t exactly seem like a debonair ladies man. Anyway, Sam does talk to Stacey and tell her seriously that he likes her. She’s not sure what to do with that information, since she used to like him last year but now he’s been such a pest to her, she’s not sure how she feels. But then at the final dance at the lodge, he asks her to dance and she says okay and then she “wordlessly” “fell into his arms” for a slow dance and suddenly, she’s in LUV. His arms tighten around her. She lays her head on his shoulder and closes her eyes. Then they “drifted through the rest of the evening together.” And, as Kristy informs us later, they didn’t stop dancing until after the band had left, so for a while it was just the two of them, drifting alone around the dance floor, without music. Ummm, no one thought to just tell them to cool it? Watson, where are you? By the way, all of this comes straight from the book and when I write it out like that, DIRTY! Also slightly creepy. But you know what, I don’t care. In my mind, Stacey and Sam are married now. LUV!

Dawn: Now, finally, we get to Dawn, my friends, who I truly believe is the star of this book. Dawn is looking for a mystery at Shadow Lake, and as happens most often in BSC land, she finds one. Oh, but first, she is looking for a Lake Monster, a la Nessie (Stacey: “Nessie?” Dawn: “The Loch Ness Monster. That’s her nickname.” Stacey: “Nessie is a close, personal friend of yours?” LOL. Love bitchy Stace!) She does not find one, but she spends lots of time freaking out about potentially seeing one in the lake, and everyone else spends a lot of time making fun of her for it, and it always turns out to be a boat or an island or whatever.

Speaking of islands, the moron club (also known as the BSC) decides it would be super-fun to camp out overnight on the mysterious island in the middle of the lake. This sounds like a patently stupid idea to me. For starters, how do they even know the island isn’t some sort of meth lab or den of thieves or something? Actually, someone does point this out, but Watson plus Mitch the caretaker decide it’s okay, as long as Sam does a quick walk-through the island before he drops the girls there. I’m sorry, since when is SAM the picture of responsibility? If Sam comes across a meth lab on the island, is he going to take on all the meth producers and save the entire BSC? Doubtful. He’d probably only save Stacey. Although actually, I would probably be okay with that.

So they decide this is a good idea, even though it very obviously is not, and head out to the island, which by the way, is also the setting for Dawn’s Shadow Lake mystery/ghost story. See, there used to be this family, the Bayards, living on the island all alone, but one night they disappeared along with all their servants. When their daughter’s fiancé went to the island the next day, nothing was disturbed but all the humans were gone. Spooky! Actually, the night spent on the island is kind of creepy. They hear all these noises and find the burned out remains of the Bayard house (which later burned down) and at one point, Claud and Mary Anne swear they see a ghost (“Something whitish. And wispy.") And so even though it’s 2 am, everyone wants to jump up and go back to the mainland, except Kristy, the voice of sanity (how rare are those words??) who reminds them that the boat can only hold 4, so 3 of them have to stay behind. And at that point they realize how ridiculous they are and go back to sleep. Except for Dawn, who goes exploring and finds a locket with AB inscribed on it (presumably Annie Bayard) and decides that someday she will learn the truth. And also that she will give the locket to Annie’s erstwhile elderly former fiancé, who now works at the general store.

Also, Mallory’s explanation for what happened to the Bayards is that they were abducted by ghosts. Everyone makes fun of her some more. I love this ghostwriter for hating Mallory as much as we all do!

So that’s our book! Oh, except for at the end, I get all these warm fuzzies (because contrary to popular belief, I am not, in fact, made of stone) when Watson sends a copy of the trip journal Kristy made to Aunt Faith, and calls Kristy his daughter!! LOVE!! Warm fuzzies. So cute. Kristy likes it too. She says it’s even better than looking forward to more vacations at the lake (which, incidentally, we never hear about again.) But still. Love.

Best Super-Special ever? Potentially. I still have a fondness for Snowbound (primarily for the “Stacey and her mother get trapped in the snow and almost die because Stacey just had to get a perm that day” plotline) and the Sea City hurricane episode (Sandy, you’ve got nothing on Hurricane Bill!) but definitely a strong effort. Any book with ghosts, Samcey goodness, and everyone hating Mallory is A-OK with me!


  1. Fact: After I reread this as an adult, I wrote a Linny/Nicky fanfiction based on their pissing contest for David Michael's affections.

    Poor Mallory, the butt monkey of the series. I hope she grows up gorgeous and rich.