We sent Television Without Pity’s Tracie “Potes” Potochnik into the hinterlands of basic cable to find herself, and share the lessons she’s learned along the way. In this edition, a very simple question with a transcendent answer: Whaddayougonnado?
In this era of chaos, instability and presidential candidates offering to grab people by their places, our search for meaning may seem a futile effort. But as I get older, and the world progressively hotter, I find that my quest for understanding … well, anything, much less gaining some semblance of inner peace, becomes rather more acute.
Why am I on this planet? How can anyone be mean to puppies? Can I please just finally unfriend my racist relatives on Facebook? If there is a God, is it Dolly Parton?
I have begun an earnest search for truth and wisdom. But also, I am kind of lazy and have a hard time getting off my couch sometimes (often). And so, I have begun to engage in an earnest search for truth and wisdom via television. My first newfound guru is “The Real Housewives of New Jersey’s” own Joe Giudice.
Wait, you say. Joe Giudice? Husband to the table-flipping Teresa Giudice of “prostitution whore” fame? Joe Giudice who — apparently forgetting what it means to star in a reality television series and wear a microphone at all times — took a “work” call on vacation and uttered the infamous words, “Hold on. Here she comes, my b**** wife,” and then worse things (trust, there are worse things!), too?
Joe Giudice, who once found himself covered with spray-on hair after engaging in fisticuffs with his perhaps equally repugnant brother-in-law who also happens to be named Joe? Joe Giudice, who was indicted on 41 counts of various mail, wire and bankruptcy fraud and sentenced to 41 months in prison? Who was ordered to serve his time following his wife’s own 15-month sentence? Joe Giudice who had his second-youngest daughter, the great and terrible Milania, shave his back while Teresa was away serving that sentence? “Juicy Joe,” who at this point is predominantly juicy in the style of Violet Beauregarde, though when he finally goes to Wonka’s Juicing Room it will be tens of gallons of homemade wine that are extracted?
Yes, that Joe Giudice! The one who isn’t even totally sure how to pronounce his own last name!
Though occasionally affable and hilarious, Juicy Joe has for the most part historically been horrible. He’s also often currently horrible as well (though that might be at least in part attributable to what appears to be mild depression coupled with a moderate to severe drinking problem). His teenage daughter Gia even said, on camera, that going to prison would be a good thing for Joe, because it would help him “get his sh*t together.” Sister-in-law Melissa agreed in his last episode before jail (Oct. 9), saying that prison time for Joe had a “silver lining,” since he’d be compelled to dry out, clear his head and “reset.” You wouldn’t necessarily hire him as your life coach or spiritual director, is what I’m saying, and he will certainly never be featured on Oprah’s “Super Soul Sunday.”
But. On this season of “Real Housewives of New Jersey,” as Joe prepares to go to prison, I’ve found a curious strain of wisdom emerging right from the chewy center of his signature catchphrase: Whaddayougonnado?
Joe has long been fond of dropping a well-timed “Whaddayougonnado,” which I had heretofore interpreted as a conversation-ender, or a way to avoid the deeper emotional implications of a given subject. (In fairness, this is “Real Housewives of New Jersey,” so the given subject is usually something like a plot to expose Teresa’s sister-in-law as a former stripper, the questionable veracity of tabloid stories, or a generations-deep family feud that manifested in a ritual throwing away of sprinkle cookies. Limiting your emotional investment could actually be a fairly healthy response.)
But “Whaddayougonnado” takes on an extra special poignancy now, as Joe prepares for his three-and-a-half-year prison stint, and possible eventual deportation. Because the deed is done. The tax returns have been submitted (or not, as the case may be). The plea’s been pleaded. The clock is ticking. What is he gonna do? He’s gonna go to jail. He’s gonna “Do what you gotta do and just get the f*** out,” as he says: A statement naturally preceded by the words, “Whaddayougonnado?”
In this context, Joe seems to be showing some psychological and spiritual fortitude, in the form of radical acceptance. He’s acknowledging the reality of the situation. He’s not fighting it, not railing against the unfairness of the situation, not abdicating responsibility for his actions, not pretending it’s something it isn’t –- all of these acts that only serve to heighten and prolong suffering.
This stands in stark contrast to his wife Teresa, who still refers to her time in prison as “camp,” and told her children she was going to said “camp” to research a book. “Tre, they knew where you were,” said Joe — who argues too that their four daughters know exactly what’s happening to him: “They know what’s going on. It’s not like they’re stupid. They don’t want me to go, but what am I gonna do?” And, I mean, when you squint, he actually does look a little like The Buddha.
At first I laughed at “Whaddayougonnado?”, and then I started saying it a lot, as a joke. And then I said it as a joke, but in context. I live in New England, where autumn has come with its cold gray rain, the sunset has been inching its way back to 6:00, and Patriots fans extol the virtues of apple picking, wool sweaters and crunching leaves. What fools, I think, For autumn is merely a harbinger of death and doom!
And as my first S.A.D.-related existential crisis of 2016 hit, I started to wallow in gloom from within the dark, depressing confines of a fleece snuggie. Then I paused, took a deep breath, and said to myself, “Whaddayougonnado?” After all, Mother Nature is a “b**** wife” herself, sometimes.
Something I was very much looking forward to was canceled: “Whaddayougonnado,” I mused, shrugging my shoulders, drawing my wool sweater tighter about me, taking a bite of my freshly-picked apple. I was still disappointed — but, curiously enough, I started to feel better, particularly when I said the magic word(s) in a heavy Jersey accent. Try it!
Your cat coughed up a huge hairball in your shoe? Whaddayougonnado!
While you were cleaning it you stepped on a rusty nail sticking out of your floorboard? Whaddayougonnado!
(Well, you’re gonna to the emergency room and get a tetanus shot. And pound that nail down so it doesn’t happen again. But you get the idea.)
Radically accepting the reality of a situation does not, of course, mean that you can’t take action. You know, like not committing bankruptcy fraud in the future, or taking advantage of the strict diet and fitness opportunities to lose 30 pounds while in the clink.
But to change your reality, you first have to acknowledge its existence. And this is why Teresa, despite her newfound passion for yoga and assertion that she’s turned over a new table (or something like that) since her own release from prison, is still fighting about the same old crap with the same old people. (In a related question, what the everloving heck is up with Jacqueline?)
In the Oct. 16 episode of “Real Housewives of New Jersey,” Joe will head to jail. We don’t know what Joe will make of his post-prison life. But as he himself has taught us, sometimes profound wisdom comes from the most unexpected places. Whaddayougonnado?
“Real Housewives of New Jersey” airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo.