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The Baby-Sitters Club #18: Stacey's Mistake by Ann M. Martin
In which Kristy is hilarious, Mary Anne returns from a ho-down, and I write a sitcom episode.
I have never been to New York City. I would like to visit someday, particularly the Natural History Museum because I love dinosaurs. However, I don’t have the same reverence that others have for the home of Central Park. I love the west coast. I’ve been to Los Angeles, which is kind of like New York City, but with better weather, impossibly beautiful waiters, and a sheen of friendliness that may be fake, but it really doesn’t matter for the three minutes you interact with someone. New York City seems cold and unfriendly and another city with skyscrapers — nothing to revere as the pinnacle of American ingenuity. (At least, not while sourdough was invented in San Francisco, which is my favorite city with an unsustainable cost of living.)
The Baby-Sitters Club, and seemingly Ann M. Martin, disagrees with me. New York City is a treasure. It is a place to be heralded as a new Athens, a new Constantinople, a new Babylon. Many songs have been written about the city — and even whole musicals. And even through all that pop culture, I still think of New York City as a place that seems cool, but is no more special than Los Angeles. Maybe our favorite New York Girl Stacey will change my mind about the city. Maybe I’ll come out of this book review with a fresh admiration for the east coast. I mostly want to know why everyone seems so grumpy over there.
Even though Stacey moved back to New York and away from the BSC in #13: Good-bye Stacey, Good-bye, Stacey is still baby-sitting. In fact, she’s the resident babysitter for most of her building.
The community announces a meeting to discuss Judy, a “bag-lady” and other people like her, and every parent needs a baby-sitter on the same night. This meeting is the social event of the year! Come have hors devours! Talk about a homeless woman with an obvious drug addiction! Gentrify the neighborhood and get her arrested!
Stacey comes up with a familiar idea — a day camp with her best-friends from Stoneybrook! And since the meeting is for only one day, Stacey can treat the BSC to a New York Weekend complete with a party.
However, if you read the title of this book, you know it isn’t going to be smooth sailing for the rest of the book. In fact, this book falls under the BSC trope of “infighting.” What are they going to argue about now? Let’s find out.
The second the BSC arrives, they’ve established who they’re going to be in this book. Dawn will be playing the part of “Scared Person,” Kristy will be “Big Mouth,” Claudia will be “Too Much Luggage,” and Mary Anne will be “The Tourist” (not the movie). The girls are excited to see their long-lost friend, and after they drop off their luggage at Stacey’s apartment (the Scared Person Dawn is thankful that Stacey has a doorman), they go to get lunch.
Mary Anne wants to eat at the Hard Rock Cafe. Dawn asks if it’s in a safe neighborhood. Stacey remarks that Dawn used to live in Los Angeles, to which Dawn clarifies that it was outside Anaheim, not Los Angeles proper. I’ve been to Anaheim — it’s not exactly Mayberry, but when the biggest building in the city is The Tower of Terror (now the Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: Breakout!, because Star-Lord is better than Rod Sterling, for some reason I don’t understand) the 100-story skyscrapers of New York that loom over the dark streets are imposing.
The girls are impressed when Stacey says to the host, “‘Five for lunch, please.’” I guess girls in the ’80s didn’t normally go to restaurants by themselves. And I thought Reno was backwards. I remember having lunches with my other thirteen-year-old friends at Applebee’s, and we all asked for separate checks. It’s embarrassing, I know. I apologize to every server to whom I’ve ever said, “Can we get separate checks?” It’s a shameful act and I have no excuse other than that I was thirteen and stupid.
During lunch, Kristy orders “fill-it mig-nun.” I ignored the obvious pronunciation error and instead wondered how much Kristy brought with her. Like, I know Watson is rich, but I wouldn’t send my thirteen-year-old to New York with enough to consider filet mignon for lunch.
After lunch, Mary Anne gets everyone to buy T-shirts from the Hard Rock Cafe — even Stacey. Kristy tries to give a homeless person some money, but Stacey tells her to never open her purse on the street because someone could snatch it. That freaks out Scared Person Dawn.
The girls go to Bloomingdale’s and Mary Anne shoplifts some eye shadow. She thought it was a sample. Sure, Mary Anne, a “sample.” I’m kidding. Mary Anne couldn’t shoplift a five-cent Jolly Rancher from 7–11. Kristy does what I usually do in these stores:
Kirsty kept exclaiming things like, “Look how expensive this is! In Stoneybrook it would only cost half as much,” or “Mary Anne, come here. Look at this — a hundred and sixty dollars for one pair of shoes!”
Yeah, that’s me — I’m the one screaming, “Who the hell pays full price at Bath & Body Works?”
And when they get in the elevator in Stacey’s building, Kristy continues her role of Big Mouth.
“Have you ever gotten stuck in the elevator?” Dawn wanted to know. “It took a long time for the doors to open when we came up to your apartment.”
“Never,” I told her firmly. “I have never been stuck. You aren’t claustrophobic, are you?”
“She’s just a worrywart,” said Kristy. “For heaven’s sake, Dawn, I can think of worse things than getting stuck in an elevator. What if the cable broke and the elevator crashed all the way to the basement?”
“Kristy!” exclaimed Claudia, Mary Anne, and I. (Dawn was speechless with fear.)
I laughed, but I tend to diffuse tense situations with laughter. Elevators used to freak me out, but it’s not the fear of getting stuck or the cable snapping (there are security measures in place in case something catastrophic happens). I mostly hate elevators because I hate the feeling of descending. You won’t find me on those drop rides.
The BSC members meet all the parents of the kids they’ll be babysitting during the meeting. It’s a list of names and parents with various eccentricities. We’re never going to see these kids after this book, so I don’t think it’s necessary to introduce you to each one of them. Let’s just say that there’s more diversity in this building than in the entire history of Stoneybrook.
Now it’s party time! Of course, the first thing the girls do is plan their outfits. Mary Anne insists that they dress as “New York” as they can to fit in.
“Maybe we should wear our Hard Rock Cafe T-shirts,” said Kristy. “They’re as New York as you can get.”
Kristy! I know she’s supposed to be saying the wrong things, but Kristy is giving me life in this book.
In the end, Claudia wears a black outfit, Dawn wears an oversized sweater-dress, and Stacey wears a yellow dress. Kristy ends up in a sweater and jeans. Mary Anne ends up, well, let’s let Stacey tell us.
I had chosen a bright, big-patterned sweater and a pair of black pants for her. She’d looked at them, shaken her head, replaced them in her suitcase, and put on this other outfit — a ruffly white blouse, a long paisley skirt, and these little brown boots. It was very mature and attractive but, well, Mary Anne was the only one of my friends who, when dressed up, actually looked like she came from Connecticut. We could tell, though, that the clothes were new and that she really wanted to wear them, so no one said anything to her, despite the grief she’d given us earlier.
Does she look like she’s from Connecticut, or does she look like she spent the night line dancing at the Achy Breaky Canteena? A paisley skirt is the epitome of New York to Mary Anne. Who wrote her travel guide? Foghorn Leghorn?
The girls continue their party preparation. Claudia goes through Stacey’s cool-ass tapes to choose music. Stacey’s Dad (who doesn’t have it going on) buys a bunch of sandwiches and the girls pour out chips and snacks into bowls. Meanwhile, Laine, Stacey’s New York best friend, shows up to help. Claudia and her snipe at each other, a grim portent for the rest of the evening.
The guests start to show up. Mary Anne is apprehensive about “New York boys,” but gets over that pretty quickly when she shows off her New York knowledge to anyone who will listen, including fun facts about the height of the Empire State Building and (I can’t believe I still had a physical reaction) the Twin Towers. This book was published in 1987, in case you were wondering for no particular reason.
Meanwhile, Stacey introduces a boy to Kristy and they hit it off. They share a love of sports and even dance together. For reasons that I’m assuming are purely conflict-related, Claudia cockblocks Kristy and asks to dance with the boy.
By eleven, the kids start to leave, indicating that the invitations clearly did not say, “From six to ???”
Laine was going to spend the night, but after the disaster of a party and Claudia’s obvious jealousy, Laine decides to go home, but not before rightfully calling Claudia a jerk. Kristy joins in and says that Claudia is a jerk for butting in between her and the sports boy. Then Dawn calls Mary Anne a jerk because Dawn heard Mary Anne make fun of Dawn’s belief that there are actual alligators in the sewers. Mary Anne cries and everyone’s a jerk. Then they go to sleep in separate rooms.
Stacey wakes up and goes over the problems with the New York trip. She concludes that the infighting is due to three things: the BSC has been displaced from their usual surroundings, the BSC wants to impress her New York friends, and Claudia and Laine are jealous of each other. Stacey is thankful that none of these problems are with her, so she thinks she can fix this. But first, they have a bunch of New York kids to take care of.
They emulate how they dealt with the kids during their previous venture into daycare by listing each kid. Kristy says that they should make name tags since that was useful last time, and Stacey immediately shuts that idea down. They don’t want strangers to know the kids’ names. This freaks Dawn out a little.
The kids start to arrive at exactly 11:35, a detail I didn’t need. Stacey takes charge, a stark difference from Stoneybrook, where Kristy would usually lead. However, Stacey is the only one who knows the kids and how to get around to the various activities they have planned. Surprisingly, Kristy doesn’t make a fuss, even if she may have been perturbed.
They put the kids in two identical rows a la Madeline and march to the American Museum of Natural History. The dinosaurs excite the kids, a feeling I am well accustomed to (ask my sister about the time we went to the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum or ask my partner about the time his company party was in a museum that featured Sue the T-Rex). Everything seems fine, but something has to happen.
When they reach the giant hanging blue whale, the BSC does a headcount and discovers they’re missing a kid. Mary Anne finds the kid with the Brontosaurus.
After lunch at the Food Express (the museum restaurant), it’s time for Central Park. After winding through the city, they reach a huge park pond and Dawn expresses relief.
“Did you think we were going to get mugged back there or something?” I said.
“Well, you always hear stories about people getting mugged in Central Park,” she said with a little shiver. “And not just at night,” she was quick to add when she saw me open my mouth. “Plus, homeless people live in the park, don’t they?”
“So?” I replied. “Just because they’re homeless doesn’t mean they’re going to hurt you.”
Yeah, Dawn, you’re supposed to be the progressive one. Also, if Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has taught me anything, it’s that you’re more likely to run into a dead body than get mugged.
The kids experience the Delacorte Clock, some musical animals, and finally the children’s zoo. Dawn helps with a potential barfing situation, and the rest of the BSC relaxes. They even let the kids walk ahead of them as the BSC links arms like an early-2000’s teen movie and it seems the girls are a unit once again.
While on the way back to the apartment, the kids sing to their babysitters. The BSC finds this endearing, but the thought of fourteen kids singing “For they’re jolly good sitters” is a recurring nightmare for me.
When the parents come back from their gentrification meeting, they announce they’re going to start a soup kitchen. Unless that soup kitchen gives out cash, job training, and access to mental and physical healthcare, I don’t know if that’s the most efficient way to help, but I’m sure the rich people will feel better about themselves.
Later that night, Laine calls and she has a surprise.
“Well, guess what. You won’t believe this.” She paused dramatically. “I’m not sure whether to tell you about this, but, well, Dad got free tickets — house seats, excellent ones — to Starlight Express. They’re for tonight. He and Mom don’t want to go, but would you and your friends like to go to the play? He could get six seats, all together. And he’d order us the limo. I don’t know about Claudia, but I feel awful about last night, and I’d kind of like to start over.”
Since the BSC is finished fighting, they enthusiastically attend the play. And who wouldn’t want to watch a musical about anthropomorphic trains on roller skates from the same Andrew Lloyd Webber era as Cats?
Laine and Claudia get along. Mary Anne is in her version of Heaven. Dawn is able to tell Laine about California. Kristy is happy to watch tv in a limo, which, admittedly, is the first thing I did when I got into a limo for my senior prom night (the first and only time I’ve ever been in a limo — it was fine — it was a long car).
After the play, the BSC is able to really catch up and have the sleepover they wanted. They recap events like Jeff moving back to California and the pageant. Exactly like one of those sitcom episodes where the show wanted to save money so they show scenes from previous episodes. “Remember when we had to put on that party for Mr. Ramshambuler and you dropped the cake.” And then they’d show the scene of the guy tripping and falling into a huge cake. Then some old lady says, “If he comes with the cake, I’ll have a slice.” Something like that. The book turns into that.
The next morning, Stacey makes their bagels. Kristy is weird about smoked salmon, just like someone from 1987. Then they say their goodbyes at the train station.
Well, I sure didn’t figure out why New Yorkers are so angry, but I appreciated the scenes at the museum. I like most museums, but I especially like museums with dinosaurs. New York City is a place with dinosaurs, so it’s worth the acclaim it has received. Do I think it should be the pinnacle of American ingenuity? I would argue that the presence of Wall Street and a terrible, political-office-stealing mob family stains New York’s reputation, but I’m happy there is a city where rats and pigeons fight each other and there are enough people with cameras to capture it.
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