Mensa

LORELAI: You make me smarter.
MAX: Hm, well, I am a teacher …
LORELAI: Take me upstairs and see if you can get me into Mensa.

Mensa International is an organisation open to those with high IQs, scoring in the 98th percentile or higher on a standardised, supervised, intelligence test. It was founded in 1945 by Roland Berrill, an Australian barrister, and Dr Lancelot Ware, a British scientist and lawyer.

Sunnyside

RORY: I called the Sunnyside home. Do they need any volunteers? And believe it or not, they don’t, but they do need an accordion player for their Friday night polka party.

Sunnyside Nursing Centers are a chain of aged care nursing and rehabilitation homes in the United States. In real life, there is more than one Sunnyside nursing home in the Wallingford area, where Stars Hollow appears to be located, although none of them are actually called The Sunnyside Home (that may just be what people in Stars Hollow call it, rather than its actual name).

Apart from trying the Fireflies and Sunnyside, Rory also calls the Stars Hollow library, which apparently only has twelve books (surely an exaggeration), and the Chilton tutoring program, who are just taking names at present.

Rory seems to have amassed an enormous amount of brochures for various organisations within a few hours, late in the day. How she managed to do this is something of a mystery

Fireflies

RORY: I called the Fireflies. Do they need troop leaders? Yes. Good, I’ll be a troop leader. Great. The only catch is, it’s summer. Camping season. I need wilderness skills. Why did you never take me camping?
LORELAI: Camping? Are you kidding? I couldn’t get you to step on wet grass until you were three.

The Fireflies are a fictional organisation, perhaps based on the Camp Fire Girls, founded in 1910 as a sister organisation to the Boy Scouts of America. In 1975 it became for both boys and girls, and is now just called Camp Fire. It teaches camping and wilderness skills, just like the Fireflies, and Lauren Graham was a member when she was young. In real life, there are no Camp Fire groups in Connecticut.

The 1997 black comedy film Wag the Dog , with screenplay by Amy Sherman-Palladino’s favourite playwright, David Mamet, uses The Firefly Girls as a replacement for the Camp Fire Girls. This could be an homage (and a slightly naughty one, as in the film the young Firefly Girl receives inappropriate advances from the President in the Oval Office).

If Rory would not step on wet grass until she was three, no doubt that’s from Lorelai’s example – she notoriously hates nature and the great outdoors..

Paris and Volunteering

PARIS: When you apply to an Ivy League school, you need more than good grades and test scores to get you in. Every person who applies to Harvard has a perfect GPA and great test scores. It’s the extras that put you over the top. The clubs, charities, volunteering. You know.
RORY: Oh yeah, I know.

Paris explains to Rory what she should already know – to get into a top university like Harvard, you need something to set you apart from all the other excellent candidates.

Paris has been volunteering since she was about nine, and began by handing out cookies at the local children’s hospital (possibly the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford). By the age of ten she was running a study group for teenagers, probably through Chilton. She has also been a counsellor for a children’s summer camp, organised a literacy program for seniors, worked at a suicide prevention hotline (a truly terrifying thought), and a residential centre for runaways and homeless youth.

She has also adopted dolphins (you just send money to an organisation like The Oceanic Society), taught American Sign Language (perhaps through the American School for the Deaf in Hartford), and trained guide dogs (volunteers raise puppies and give them socialisation and basic training before handing them back so they can be trained as guide dogs; Paris may have done this through Guiding Eyes in Hartford.) We know Paris likes dogs, because her dog Skippy is said to have had a litter of puppies on Lorelai’s mini-dress that she borrowed: weirdly (or perhaps lazily by the writers) her dog has the same name as Rory’s unfortunate hamster.

Paris has done an insane amount of volunteering for a 16-17 year old girl, but in fact choosing this as a good method of getting into Harvard is almost certainly wrong. Colleges don’t seem to be really be that impressed by you doing huge amounts of random volunteer work (probably because anyone with half a brain and no life can rack up hours of unpaid work fairly easily).

What they really want to see is how your extracurricular activities demonstrate the kind of person you are, and the unique skills and interests that you have. For example, Paris wants to work in medical research, so the children’s hospital was a great start, but she didn’t stick with it. It would have been better to continue volunteering with just one or two organisations, and demonstrate that she had gained a leadership role and given real help to the community – maybe even won an award of some kind. Paris’ volunteering CV looks as if she’s desperately taken any role offered (and sending money to dolphins doesn’t look impressive to anyone).

Furthermore, it depends on the university how highly they rank volunteer work when assessing applications. It doesn’t seem to be extremely important for Harvard, which makes Paris’ efforts even more pointless.

Rebuilding Together

 

MADELINE: There’s a Rebuilding Together thing going on tomorrow. You know, they fix up homes for the needy. It’s a total easy outdoor denim gig that looks really great on your college transcript.

In real life, Rebuilding Together is a non-profit organisation founded in 1988 which provides free home repairs and renovations for low-income homeowners. However, in the Gilmore Girls universe it seems to operate more like Habitat for Humanity, a Christian-based organisation founded in 1976 which builds simple, affordable housing with volunteer labour for people in need. In real life, both Rebuilding Together and Habitat for Humanity have branches in Hartford, and ongoing volunteering projects.

Madeline here makes a little bid for independence – even after being reminded that she is not meant to be talking to Rory, she invites her to join them on a volunteer project. It’s the closest she gets to protesting Rory’s treatment.

Phi Beta Bimbo

LORELAI: They’re gonna get to watch you walk down the aisle wearing your cap and gown and get your diploma and go to Harvard and be a Phi Beta Bimbo and graduate with honors and just set the world on fire.

Lorelai is referring to college fraternities and sororities, also known as Greek letter societies, as they always have names consisting of Greek letters. Several begin with Phi Beta, and Lorelai adds a “Bimbo” to show what she thinks of the female students who would join such an elitist sorority.

Hare Krishnas

CLARA: Where’s your [Girl Scout] uniform?
RORY: Oh, we’re not doing uniforms anymore. You know, we’re trying to blend in, relate better to the average person. It was a very successful strategy for the Hare Krishnas, so …

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness is a Hindu religious organisation, often called “Hare Krishnas”. It was founded in New York City in 1966 by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who is worshipped by his followers as a guru and spiritual master. They worship Krishna as the highest expression of godhead, and promote yoga and a vegetarian diet.

Members of the organisation traditionally dressed in saffron robes, so that they were sometimes called “Orange People”. These days, they have integrated into the community, and often dress in normal clothes, just as many of their beliefs have become mainstream.

Girl Scout uniforms have changed throughout the years, and Rory’s statement has almost come true, as these days Girl Scouts wear casual pants and polo shirts, with a waistcoat or over-shirt to display badges on.

Girl Scouts

CLARA: Are you here to see my brother?
RORY: Oh, no. No. Not at all. I’m, um, with … the Girl Scouts.
CLARA: I’m gonna be a Girl Scout someday. I’m a Brownie now.

The Girl Scouts are the equivalent of the Girl Guides, and a sister organisation to the Boy Scouts. Formed in 1928, they have over 10 million members in 145 countries. The Brownies are for girls aged 7 to 10. They are the youngest stream in the Girl Scouts.

In real life, there are Girl Scout troops all over Connecticut, including in the Wallingford area, where Stars Hollow appears to be located.

Sad Lonely Guys (Natural Loners)

LORELAI: Lee Harvey Oswald.
LUKE: John Muir.
LORELAI: The Unabomber.
LUKE: Henry David Thoreau.

Lorelai and Luke disagree about the romantic ideal of the male loner, with Lorelai seeing them as sad, lonely misanthropes, and Luke as mystical hermits of the wilderness. Luke sees himself as the latter, while Lorelai is worried he could be the former.

Lee Harvey Oswald (1939-1963) was an American ex-Marine and Marxist defector to the Soviet Union, described as quiet and withdrawn. According to four federal investigations, he assassinated President John F. Kennedy in 1963; there is a strong public belief that he didn’t act alone. Oswald was murdered by nightclub owner Jack Ruby while he was being transferred from the city gaol to the county gaol, and never stood trial or gave testimony.

John Muir (1838-1914) [pictured] was a Scottish-American naturalist, author, environmental philosopher, glaciologist, and early advocate for the preservation of wilderness in the United States. His essays and books about nature have inspired millions, and his activism helped preserve Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park, and other wilderness areas. He co-founded The Sierra Club, a prominent conservation organisation, and he has many things named in his honour, including the John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada, and the John Muir Way in Scotland. He is known as “Father of the National Parks”, and has been described as a patron saint of the environmental movement. As a young man, Muir spent many years hiking alone in the wilderness, but in middle age he married and had children, although still needing to spend time in the wilderness to refresh his spirit.

Ted Kaczynski, known as the Unabomber, and previously discussed.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) was an American author, poet, naturalist, and philosopher whose writings are early examples of environmentalism, and who advocated hiking, canoeing, and the preservation of wilderness (although when he actually went deep into the wilds, he came back with a new appreciation for civilisation). Thoreau is best known for his book Walden, or, Life in the Woods, which describes living a simple life in natural surrounds. It is based on a period of over two years that Thoreau spent living in a wooden cabin near Walden Pond among woods near Concord, Massachusetts. The book is both a memoir, and a spiritual quest to discover a better way to live. It tells of how Thoreau managed to enjoy his solitude in the woods, but also the companions that he met, and the friends who came to visit him, and how he enjoyed that too.

That Luke selects Muir and Thoreau as his models of loners, one who married and had a family, and the other who enjoyed friendship and companionship, suggests that he does not wish to be completely alone or isolated in life.

Berringiny Pansy

RICHARD: Saving the Berringiny Pansy. Who ever heard of such a thing?
EMILY: It’s a very rare flower that is rapidly disappearing from the face of this earth.
RICHARD: Well, who cares?
EMILY: As president of the Horticultural Society, I have to care.

A fictional species of flower. There are a few species of pansy in Europe which are rare or even endangered though.

The name of the pansy flower comes from the French for “thought” (pensée), to symbolise remembrance, especially of a loved one. Another name for the pansy is love-in-idleness, meaning someone who has nothing to do but think of their beloved. This seems apt, as Rory has been trapped by her thoughts and memories of Dean, with not enough to occupy her lately. Yet another name for the flower is heartsease, telling us that Rory will soon unburden her heart, and have her feelings soothed.

The Connecticut Horticultural Society has existed since 1887, and in real life does have speakers on one Thursday a month, just like in this episode (it now seems to be Thursday 19 April). They take place at the Emanuel Auditorium in West Hartford, and start at 7.30 pm – although you’re encouraged to come early so you can socialise. This suggests the time when Rory comes to her grandparents’ house is somewhere 6.30 and 7 pm.