Rereading My Childhood — The Baby-Sitters Club #27: Jessi and the Superbrat
I like k-pop, and because I like k-pop, I am inundated with emails and Tweets about contests to win five minutes with your favorite idol. I get articles about how to conduct yourself during a fan meet. A friend of mine sends me videos of k-pop stars surprising fans.
And they all fill me with dread. Unlike most people, I have no desire to meet celebrities, especially celebrities I like. I once met Paula Poundstone after one of her shows because my sister wanted to get her CD signed, and I just stood to the side and said nothing with a doofy grin on my face. I do not stay after the concert in hopes of catching a glimpse of the tour bus. When the podcasters say they’re going to a bar down the street, I take it as a sign to go the opposite direction. A convention advertisement featuring the opportunity to meet someone from Star Trek? Absolutely not. The most celebrity interaction I want is a Tweet they never see.
But why am I like that? Why don’t I want to meet people whose work I appreciate? Is it because I don’t want to make a fool of myself? Maybe a little, but I don’t think I’m going to impress them. The reason I don’t want to meet celebrities is that I enjoy that piece of societal glass that separates us. You stay over there and I’ll stay over here. Thank you for your work, but we don’t have to have a personal interaction. I’m clearly projecting my need to avoid people onto celebrities.
That’s certainly not the case in Stoneybrook. A TV star is returning home and he happens to live in Stoneybrook and he’s a kid, so you know what that means! The mother gets an au pair. After all, she can afford it because her kid is a television star. I’m kidding. The BSC drove out the Au Pair Club in the brutal Stoneybrook Childcare Wars.
Becca’s favorite show, P.S. 162, is airing, so the whole family gathers to make fun of Becca’s crush on the black kid on the show, Lamont. The show revolves around a group of young kids in school. I thought the show was some kind of ’80s Degrassi: The Next Generation (so, Degrassi Junior High), but the existence of a laugh track makes me think it’s more akin to the classroom scenes in Boy Meets World. (Unfortunately, it seems that family sitcoms replaced school sitcoms by the time I was watching TGIF, so I couldn’t think of a single non-drama school television show. Also, Welcome Back, Kotter is way before my time and I don’t know if it was a sitcom or if it has a laugh track. I’m under the impression that every show from the ’70s is a cop drama.)
While watching the program, our attention is brought to a character named Waldo, who is a nerd with crazy hair. The Minkus of P.S. 162. I hope he has a backup plan because he’s going to disappear after season two. Anyway, it turns out that a Stoneybrook native, Derek Masters, plays Waldo, and he might be coming back.
At the BSC meeting, Jessi introduces us to all the members, and it’s time for this episode’s “What’s Claudia Wearing?”
She had two French braids pulled back and wound into one. She’s also a wild dresser. At the meeting she was wearing a bright pink T-shirt, a short red flouncy skirt, and underneath the skirt she had on black footless tights that she had rolled up to mid-calf.
It’s not that wild. This is relatively normal by today’s standards. Why she didn’t just get Capri tights, I don’t know. It’s not the craziest outfit I’ve seen her wear, so I’ll give it a 3/10.
The meeting continues with usual club business until Mrs. Masters calls. Jessi is the only one free, so she eagerly takes the job, excited to meet television’s Waldo and “get involved with show biz.” If Jon Peters can go from hairdresser to megaproducer, babysitter to actress is a reasonable trajectory. The only problem is that Peters was in Los Angeles and Jessi is in a city that, if you remember #26: Claudia and the Sad Good-bye, has never seen a kimono before.
And speaking of cultural insensitivity, Jessi makes fun of her teacher’s French accent during her ballet lessons. C’mon, Jessi, (also, Jan Carr, who wrote this book), you’re better than that.
Madame Noelle announces that there will be Swan Lake try-outs at the Stoneybrook Civic Center, and the competition will be stiff, as the Stoneybrook Civic Center is “so good it might as well be [in New York City].” Only one movie at a time plays in town. I doubt the Stoneybrook Civic Center rivals the Lincoln Center. It doesn’t matter to Jessi, who is excited to try out.
Before she can try out, she has to babysit for Derek Masters, who disappoints her the second she walks into his house. He doesn’t have crazy hair or the coke bottle glasses! How dare he not look exactly like the character he plays on tv?
Jessi gets over that quickly and she plays Candyland with him and his little brother, Todd. Derek is just a regular kid — not like the nerd character he plays at all. And there is no such thing as a nerd in real life, anyway. Toward the end of the job, he gives Jessi some pointers for her audition.
In the BSC Notebook, Mallory proposes a television series called Baby-sitter for the Stars. Y’all have a show already. Y’all have several. One has a theme song that is still stuck in my head twenty years later.
During another babysitting session with Derek, Jessi invites Becca over. Becca is less interested in playing than she is in asking Derek about Lamont who, if you remember, is her crush from P.S. 162.
Quick aside, P.S. 162 is a terrible name for a television show. Naming your show after the school it’s based around is fine. Degrassi is memorable. I read this whole book and I couldn’t remember the number for the school. “162” is a random set of numbers. How could I memorize that? Maybe if the school was “411” or something. There’s a reason it’s called Room 222. I can remember that even though I have no idea what the show is about except that the mom from Sister, Sister is in it. Also, we don’t name our schools after numbers here on the west coast. When I was a kid, I couldn’t figure out why the show was called that. I thought it referenced text at the end of a letter past the “Sincerely” or “LILAS.” In any case, as I’m writing this, I still have to reference the text to figure out the school’s number.
Anyway, Jessi takes Becca and Derek to the Pikes. Mallory gets a brand new affectation and suddenly she’s speaking as if she were a ’50s housewife who is secretly a robot trying to emulate human speech.
“And you must be Derek. I’m so pleased that you could come visit us in our home today.”
“We are very pleased to extend our hospitality, aren’t we, Nicky? Do come in.”
They go into the backyard and play badminton — the most scandalous of Olympic duo sports. The game turns contentious when the triplets tease him about being on a television show, which is pretty much, “Hey, did they teach you that on set?” and serving the shuttlecock.
“Is that what they teach you in star school?” Jordan joined in.
Suddenly, Derek’s face turned bright red.
“Forget it,” he said. “Just forget it. Who cares about your crummy old game.” He threw down his racket and turned to face the triplets. “Anvil Head!” he shouted. “Cactus Brain! Pizza Breath!”
Whoa, Derek, language. You don’t want to say something you’ll regret.
While Derek is back in town, he returns to Stoneybrook Elementary and he doesn’t have a good time. First of all, the girls crowd him and declare their love. A photographer and a reporter accost him in the hallway. Does Derek’s teacher kick them out? Yes, but then the teacher introduces Derek like he is on a late-night talk show and makes him stand in front of the class and answer questions. Additionally, the boys find out he wears make-up while filming and they make fun of him for that and call him a brat.
Derek mentions one specific kid named John. During gym, John ties Derek’s sneakers together and yeets Derek’s lunch out the window. Jessi is so incensed she is speechless, but she does muster the ability to call John the meanest thing she can think of: Superbrat.
Meanwhile, Kristy sits for her siblings. Karen discovers that an actor is from Stoneybrook, so she decides that she is going to use Derek to get on television. Kristy shuts that idea down so Karen wears her “dress-up clothes” and invites Hannie Papadakis and Amanda Delaney over. Then they put on a play designed to convince Kristy to let Karen use a human being to her advantage.
In the play, Karen goes door-to-door begging for an acting job and she’s rejected each time, sending her into furious sobbing. Despite her failure, she doesn’t want to go back home and she knocks on one last door.
She knocked. Amanda answered.
“Who are you?” asked Karen.
“I’m the director,” said Amanda. “We’ve got a show to do here, but my main actress just got sick. I need someone else to step in and be a star.”
“I’m a star!” cried Karen.
“Then you’re hired!” said the director.
So, no starting small. No training. She just needed to knock on one last door.
This is literally the plot of Staying Alive — the sequel to Saturday Night Fever in which a nightmare of a man uses every woman around him and becomes a star by sheer audacity and going off-script, ruining the lives of the people around him.
Back in the world of Stoneybrook show biz, Jessi has her first audition. She reviews her resume (something her mother typed up for her, like, on a typewriter), while her father makes jokes about shaving off all her hair. Then she goes to the Civic Center and encounters a group of snarky girls who criticize all the dancers. In the end, Jessi gets a callback. She calls Mallory to let her know the good news. Mallory relays that Nicky said that Derek got in trouble for throwing food all over someone in the cafeteria. Jessi assumes that John the Superbrat pushed Derek too far.
Jessi isn’t the only one who sits for Derek. Claudia takes the young television star to the playground where Claudia and Derek encounter a group of boys who are in Derek’s class. Then Claudia invites the boys over to Derek’s house, presumably so they can torture him off school hours as well. Why did Claudia do this thing?
Claudia’s idea to invite the boys over was a smart one. She had a hunch that it would be good for them to see where Derek lived. They’d see that he was just a regular kid living in a regular house in Stoneybrook.
Don’t you love it when the book has to tell you that something is a good idea? Well, I guess it was because the boys have a good time. This is more fantastical than Tolkien. In real life, if those kids were really bullies, they’d hang around your house all day waiting for you to leave so they could give you a hard time. In this book, the group has a good time, and afterward, Claudia asks which one is John. Derek says that none of them are friends with John.
During Jessi’s next audition, Derek and his mother tag along. Jessi gets a callback, and Derek is excited for her, but he has a few notes. Suddenly, he’s Baryshnikov, something he acquired on the set of P.S. 162. Not really. He listened to the snarky girls and took some notes. And then they engage in some light assault. Derek also announces that he is going back to Los Angeles soon and he wants Jessi to come with him. Everyone knows that the home of true ballet is in Los Angeles. Well, he floats the idea of doing commercials and modeling. Jessi is interested in selling sugary drinks and heart medications.
It’s time for the BSC meeting and Jessi proposes an idea to help Derek. She wants to have a party and invite every kid in Derek’s class — including John the Superbrat. Unfortunately, not everyone likes parties so they scrap the idea. No, that’s not right. I don’t like parties. The real problem is they are all busy except for one morning, so they make it a breakfast party. It’s novel to them but I’m more familiar with “breakfast party’s” common parlance: brunch.
While the party planning is going on, Jessi talks to her parents about going to Los Angeles to become a model. They shut down the LA idea, but they say that she can be a model as long as it’s in Stamford. Jessi also has another audition and she says that it isn’t a big deal if she doesn’t get a part because she’s going to be a big commercial star, um, oh, you know, that guy. You know, that guy with the face who’s in all those commercials. Oh! Wait! You know, I think the pretty lady from Birdemic was in an IHOP commercial. Dream big, Jessi.
One page later, it’s time for the breakfast party — the culmination of sentences of planning. The BSC dress up in pajamas and bathrobes, and the kids compete in morning-themed relay races. Ugh. A party with a bunch of people, doing morning activities, and competitive running. I had a nightmare about this once. Derek eats with all the kids and everyone has a good time. Strangely, there is no kid named John. Girls, I know you’re twelve, but c’mon.
Toward the end of the party, Jessi has to leave early for her final audition. She won’t learn until Wednesday whether or not she’s in the ballet. It doesn’t matter to her — she has to call agents in Stamford! I’m sure they would love to be solicited by an eleven-year-old with no acting experience.
But that doesn’t matter either! She’s in! She’s one of the swan-maidens! She only had to wait for one page. Jessi admits that she really did want to be in the play and she only said that stuff about commercials because she was worried she wasn’t going to be chosen. She goes over to Derek’s to share the good news and to reject his offer to come with him to Los Angeles as a tutor or whatever.
Derek says he liked the party and Jessi asks about John. Finally, Derek tells us what’s going on.
“See, what happened,” he said, “was that the kids were bothering me so much that I had to get back at them. So whenever they did something mean to me, I started doing mean things back to them.”
“Well, why’d you say it was John?” I asked.
“I don’t know.” Derek shook his head. “When I told you, it was like I had to tell somebody what I’d been doing, but I didn’t really know how to tell. And then once the boys started actually being friends with me, I didn’t have to do those things anymore. So John just kind of disappeared.”
And that’s it, folks! Derek says goodbye as he leaves for Los Angeles. Kids, if you want to make friends, bully some unwitting target. And don’t worry, after the kids befriend you, you don’t have to torment the target anymore — unless you want to stay cool.
I took theater for years and I knew kids who wanted to be on Broadway or movies or commercials. Not me. I barely wanted to act. I was there because it was dangerous and adrenaline-rushing and fulfilled an art credit, but I wasn’t doing anything that could land me in the hospital or required me to learn how to play an instrument. Admittedly, I’m a terrible actress. If there were enough kids in drama, I would have preferred to be on the tech crew, but I’m reliable when it comes to memorizing lines, so I was in a few productions. However, I still think of actors as some untouchable, faraway, beacon. A star, if you will. They are not “just like me.”
This middle-of-the-road BSC book didn’t make stars more accessible for me. But I also wouldn’t have talked to Derek at all. His life is none of my business and I would like to keep it that way. Truthfully, if I were a TV star, I wouldn’t want everyone up in my shit, so why wouldn’t I want that for the actors and actresses who bring me joy?
But it all worked out for Derek I guess. Break a leg, kid, and make sure you come back for another season.
For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I have written, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.