Stranger Things: I Want My ’80s Back!

My fitness trainer Kim shared with me her iced coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts during our Monday night workout. According to Kim, this was no ordinary iced coffee. This one had been cold-brewed for 12 hours. Whatever that meant … it was a new offering on the menu. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much. As much of a coffee addict as I am, iced coffee rarely calls my name.

Dunkin' Donuts Cold-Brewed Coffee: Heaven in a plastic cup.

Dunkin’ Donuts Cold-Brewed Coffee: Heaven in a plastic cup.

I took one tiny sip, just being polite. I was instantly transported.

Were this a Twilight  Zone episode, you’d see that bad special effect of me, sans color, dizzily spinning backwards in time, calendar pages flipping past me in fast succession. In my case, I time machined back to age six. I was standing on our kitchen stool so I could reach the sink, washing the family’s dinner dishes. The first part of this evening chore meant washing my dad’s lunchbox tupperware, and his khaki-green metal coffee thermos. Dad had engraved his name into the side of the metal. I’d trace his signature with my fingertips as I was washing the outside of it. When no one was looking, I’d sneak a sip of its contents — his day-old java — pretending I was a grown up. (I know, I know … I’m still pretending.) This Dunkin’ Donuts cold-brewed fare mimicked Dad’s day-old coffee, perhaps because Dad’s had steeped for a good 12 hours in his thermos. While it can’t bring my father back, the nostalgia of those lost days washes over me with every swallow. I’m hooked!

On the website CockedEyed.com, you can create your own "STRANGER THINGS" Lightbulb Message Encoder. How cool is that?!?

On the website CockedEyed.com, you can create your own “STRANGER THINGS” Lightbulb Message Encoder. How cool is that?!?

The much-talked-about Netflix horror series Stranger Things became my other childhood time portal recently. I binge-watched the entire series in two nights. It was beyond amazing. Winona Ryder portrays the emotional fragility of a frantic parent as believably as Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice. Maybe moreso. The camaraderie feeling we get from Stephen King’s Stand By Me (and the origin story to that film, The Body) combines with the government conspiracy style narratives of Dean R. Koontz. The music, the fashion, the cars, the bad basement decor. The vulnerable, gawky, tender awkwardness of being a teen. It all felt so familiar — like an old friend returning. A friend I didn’t realize I had been yearning for as hard as I had.

For us Gen-Xers, those were magical times. Whenever I discuss Stranger Things with my peers, I always ask them, “If you could go back to the ’80s, would you?”

Without hesitation, faces telegraphing that “Are you daft, girl?” expression, every single friend has declared, “In. A. Heartbeat.”

Speaking in Shorthand

My cousin Jeff and I share the language of shorthand, born of years together appreciating the same pop culture, inside family jokes, and death-defying adventures, the latter involving my ’73 Cadillac. When we’re together in person, a shared glance speaks volumes. We’re fluent in reading each other’s micro-expressions. There were times we’ve shared the same the brain in ways that were downright eerie, like the time Jeff’s dad, my Uncle Mick, died in an ultralight plane crash. Within a few month’s time of his passing, I had a vivid dream that Uncle Mick was in between Jeff and me, and we were all holding hands, walking over the border from Illinois into Wisconsin. I have this weird affinity for remembering my dreams every morning, but when someone passes over and I have these super-vivid dreams, they are different from my regular dreams. I know I’m supposed to pay attention. I called Jeff’s house to tell him about my dream and his roommate Kelly answered the phone. I told her about it and she freaked out. Jeff had just regaled her with the story of the very same dream from the night before. And then there was the time we were playing Scattergories (we’re a competitive, game-playing family–Jeff was part of that marathon Euchre match I mentioned recently) and we both were tasked with naming a villain with the first letter “I.” We both wrote down “Injun’ Joe,” surprising everyone with our weird groupthink.

When anything funny bubbles up in everyday life, and it often does, as we both see the comedy in everything, Jeff and I shoot each other a fast text. Aside from Blazing Saddles and Throw Momma from the Train, Chris Farley-isms are our oft-quoted go-to phrases. If you’ve never seen SNL’s “Best of Chris Farley” DVD, it’s a must for any comedy collection. (And the recent Chris Farley biography, “The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts” co-written by his brother Tom, is a must-read. For me, it was a gripping, emotional roller coaster of laughter and tears.)

Such an unforgettable life of comedy and pathos.

Such an unforgettable life of comedy and pathos. I’m always thankful to my BFF Darlene for loaning me this book.

The first text today from Jeff (the 2nd text was not for mixed company, so I won’t poke the bear) gives a snapshot of our never-ending conversation, replete with the reference to Farley and Sandler’s Zagat’s Restaurant Guide skit on Saturday Night Live:

 

This scene doubles me over. Every. Time.

This scene doubles me over. Every. Time.

The shorthand of our shared language in a never-ending conversation.

The shorthand of our shared language; it’s a Jerry Seinfeld-esque, never-ending conversation about nothing, but it means everything to me.

 

It takes just a moment out of your day–maybe five seconds–to send a text and show someone you care. If there’s a takeaway from today’s blog, it’s just a reminder for everyone to take the time. Send that text. Jeff and I both learned that hard lesson the day of that devastating ultralight crash. Life’s too short.

#SDCC2016 Attendees – PLEASE Stay Vigilant This Year

The greatest show on earth.

#SDCC – The greatest show on earth.

I debated whether I should even write this blog. I don’t wish to plant ideas in the minds of our common enemy. However, especially in light of recent events, I just beseech and implore every one of you attending San Diego Comic-Con this year to pay hyper-focused attention to your surroundings. Be aware of everything and everyone around you. We’re living in sad times; the anxiety riddled like myself are mapping the fastest route to the nearest trauma center for any major event we attend.

My son and I won’t be attending Comic-Con this year. Frankly, I’m a little relieved. That almost throw-away comment made in the press that the San Bernardino terrorists were actually plotting to attack a much bigger event made my hackles rise. It has festered in my brain ever since. Their distance to San Diego was too close for comfort. I just hope that all of you who are attending this year remain safe. There’s no greater soft target than a convention center full of entertainment industry icons.

Watch.

Look.

Listen.

Be safe.

I hope you all have a fun con. I will be keeping you, and the families of all of the fallen in my prayers.

Is It Bad Parenting If I Post a Negative YELP Review on My 11-Year-Old’s New Cleaning Business?

I’ll admit it. I hate vacuuming. I love the end result, but it’s the journey I object to. I don’t even care if it’s done in the diamond-shaped pattern. I just love it clean. Enter, stage left, my enterprising son Jack, now on summer break.  I hate vacuuming enough to pay him $5 a week to do it for me. He even includes the stairs!

Yesterday, the enterprising Master Jack launched his latest get-rich-quick scheme. He’s trying to earn money for his new paintball gun, which I have deemed a “non-essential item” (cue up the voice of Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons when you say that in your head) not covered on my list of parental obligatory expenses. An Azodin Kaos, to be exact. So Jack decided he’s now in the housecleaning business. He offered to mop my wooden floors. It was a mere $2.00 up charge. SOLD! He created his business name and a sell sheet, which he proudly posted on our refrigerator (I hate stainless steel refrigerators; I need mine magnetic since I use it as this hectic household’s visual command center).

Jack’s logo choice alone should have been my first of many red flags…

This logo screams "Pest Control," no?

This logo screams “Pest Control,” no?

But in the midst of his Swiffer slopping, er, mopping efforts, he pivoted, ceasing further progress. He grabbed a Sharpie, raced over to the refrigerator, took down his ransom note-like sell sheet and raised his pricing to $5! He more than doubled it! The cajones on that kid!

Because...INFLATION?

Because…INFLATION?!?

With righteous indignation, he announced he was “finished” with the kitchen. It took no white glove inspection to discover that many areas were completely neglected. Ignored might be the better term. Corners, the perimeters, huge swaths of flooring, and then the entire area beneath the kitchen table bypassed the purview of his Swiffer. One would almost have to try to be that bad at mopping.

That sell sheet is taking up a lot of real estate better used by my magnet collection.

That sell sheet is taking up a lot of real estate better served by my magnet menagerie.

At that precise moment, my BFF Marovich called. She suggested a bad YELP review might get him in line. I agreed. I added Angie’s List and HomeImprovement.com. Perhaps a Better Business Bureau complaint while I’m at it.  The cherry on top.

But two can play this game. I’m compiling my own list of fees. Trips to the orthodontist because he lost his bands again? $10. Trips to his friends’ houses? $15 (round trip, naturally–I’m not totally heartless). Every squeeze of toothpaste? .50 cents. In no time, I will have recouped my housekeeping fees. Maybe then I can afford to hire a real professional again. (Our house misses you, Judy!) I hate to dash Jack’s little entrepreneurial spirit, but didn’t Thomas Edison once say something about learning from one’s failures? Cloud, meet silver lining. One down, many careers to go.

 

 

I Really Need to Cuddle with Tom Skilling Right Now

Tom Skilling is THE rock star of weathermen. When I learned my friend Ian had interned with him, I pummeled the poor guy with a million questions. Which aftershave does he wear? What makes him laugh? Where does he live? Like Game of Throne‘s Peter Dinklage, WGN’s forecaster Skilling has been the enigmatic source of fascination for me and a few of my friends. But today, I just need to cuddle with Tom Skilling. Preferably beneath a bed. Also, that bed needs to be in a deep basement. I need Tom’s reassurances that everything is going to be just fine. Here’s why:

Dude...we are SO screwed right now.

Dude…we are SO screwed right now. (Image courtesy of U.S. National Weather Service Chicago.)

After Hurricanes Ivan (which wiped out our Florida home) and Dennis, weather anxiety has become a thing with me. Dave Dorman and I lost too much. I’ve never recovered from the panic it caused me. It even prompted our move back to Illinois. This, despite me being a sturdy Midwesterner. I’m accustomed to death-defying weather like the Blizzard of ’79, where snowmobiles were racing down Michigan Avenue. I lived here during the 1990 Plainfield tornado, so devastating it made the cover of PEOPLE magazine.

Prior to my hurricane experiences, the weather unglued me only once. I was unaware my next-door condo neighbors had just installed surround sound. They were watching the movie Twister” at what I’m guessing was 11–the loudest volume. My entire condo was vibrating. As Helen Hunt was diving into the storm cellar on their TV next door, I was bending myself into a frickin’ pretzel, trying to squeeze behind my spiral staircase to certain safety. I couldn’t reconcile why, from my cramped vantage point, I was peering out at blue skies through my transom windows. Post torna-faux, we all had a good laugh about it. (If only they’d watched Jurassic Park, like most folks with new surround sound at that time. I probably wouldn’t have freaked over an impending T-Rex attack.)

So..before Hurricane Ivan, I never gave weather forecasts a second thought. I scoffed at the old farts for whom the Weather Channel was their MTV (yes, I’m old enough to use MTV metaphors). All that changed when Jim Cantore suddenly appeared on our TV screen, reporting from two miles down the road. Like a bad horror movie, at that exact moment, our power was cut. We were sitting in inky, black darkness. We couldn’t even see our hands in front of our faces. The winds howled from the depths of hell. It was the longest, most terrifying wait for dawn I’ve ever known.

Now I sit. And I wait. The eerie stillness outside like the mosquito who has ominously stopped buzzing. It’s about to hit the fan, folks.

I get it. Chicago needs Tom Skilling in studio right now, reporting the weather. But I also need Tom, my weather teddy bear, here. Reassuring me. Beneath the bed. Preferably in my basement.

 

 

 

 

RIP, Christopher… “Like Pieces of Glass in My Head All of the Time…”

The last image taken of Christopher, holding his new niece.

The last image taken of Christopher, holding his new niece.

I wave the white flag. I cry “Uncle!” I can bear no more losses this year. There’s been too much death. (In a future blog, when I’m feeling ready to talk about it, I will share the story of my bio-mom’s death in March of this year. That, too, was heartbreak.)

If there were any way I could take away the pain Darlene, my BFF since kindergarten, is feeling, I would. Her heart is broken. In a million pieces.

My BFF since kindergarten, my beautiful friend Darlene, and her beautiful son.

My BFF since kindergarten, my beautiful friend Darlene, and her beautiful son, gone too soon.

Here is a link to the eulogy she wrote, and below is the funeral program I wrote for her son Christopher. While one of the saddest assignments I’ve ever received, it was also the greatest honor and privilege that they entrusted me–the irreverent friend who attempted slipping a “There Once Was a Man from Nantucket” poem into my own wedding ceremony–to do this for them. (Darlene was my official photographer that day.)

So…here it is:

Christopher Ryan Nauman grew to become a big man with an even bigger heart. In fact, he had one of the biggest, most loving hearts many of us ever knew. Like John Coffey, the character he loved so in The Green Mile, Christopher lived his life vibrating on a different frequency than the rest of us…feeling things more deeply and intensely than we could ever possibly understand. He was God’s instrument, so sensitive and finely tuned…so fragile inside of a body seemingly so sturdy and strong.

Screenshot 2016-06-02 15.53.55

There was never a doubt of Chris’s deep, abiding love for his family and his friends, which knew no bounds. He was loyal to a fault. There were times in his life when those who would prey on loving souls mistook his kindness for weakness. But that was not Chris’s journey. He continued being kind, overlooking their faults.

Screenshot 2016-06-02 16.05.05

From the time Chris was small, his love for children was obvious to anyone near him. He relished his time with every one of the children in his orbit—Riley, Mazie, Colbie, Teagan—protective and clearly smitten, always playing with the little ones and loving on the babies.

Chris was blessed in being raised with family who always saw the essence of who Chris truly was, despite the challenges he faced; they saw the true potential in his God-given gifts. They nurtured his love for reading, feeding him on westerns by Louis L’Amour, adventures by Clive Cussler, and the diverse fiction of Stephen King, informing his vivid theater of the mind.

They also encouraged his natural talent for art. Illustration came easily to Chris. His parents helped him parlay that gift into the imaginative tattoo art that was innate to Chris. We treasure those who forever carry the touch of his ink on their skin.

Christopher, the Illustrated Man.

Christopher, the Illustrated Man.

Being outside surrounded by nature gave Chris so much peace; mowing the lawn was the chore requiring the least amount of prodding. One of his favorite jobs was installing piers, since it combined being on the water with being outside, although his fair skin would pay the price at day’s end. He loved working in the yard, helping Darlene build their brick flowerbeds and plant the gardens in front of their home, working tirelessly alongside her on those ambitious outside projects.

The beautiful flower bed Christopher helped build and plant with his mom.

The beautiful flower bed Christopher helped build and plant with his mom.

Screenshot 2016-06-02 15.56.30

Another joy in Christopher’s life aside from music, art, books, and video gaming, was his dad’s cooking. He’d regularly call home and query Robert with “What leftovers do you have?” or “Dad! What are you going to make?!?” His favorites were Robert’s spicy chili mac and his barbecued pork steaks. If he’d had the luxury of choosing, those would have been on the menu for his last meal.

Screenshot 2016-06-02 15.58.17

Joining his Uncle Darrell, another gifted artist, we believe–no, we know–Christopher is in heaven, collaborating with all of the artists in residence, making heaven an even more beautiful place.

We ask that you pray for each member of our family to heal our heartbreak, and that you always remember Christopher in your prayers. He will hear you.

Screenshot 2016-06-02 15.59.11

My sweet friend wrote this on Facebook just now:

True Blue.

True Blue.

Me vs. the Jack Fruit (Spoiler Alert: I Lost)

Yesterday Dave Dorman left for comic book convention Space City Con in Houston, which left Jack and me (a dangerous combo platter by any measure) to our own devices. We had just seen the episode of Bob’s Burgers where Teddy and Bob go to stunt man camp, and Linda Belcher made up this ridiculous song about best friends. The line I couldn’t get out of my head that made Jack and me laugh the hardest: “He helps you pee when you have that thing…” Naturally, I had to belt it out in my best Ethel Merman voice as he was exiting the vehicle to set foot on his school campus yesterday and this morning.

After school yesterday, I made the grievous error of taking Jack grocery shopping with me. We were in the produce section when I asked him to grab an English cucumber. He held it up and announced loudly, “This looks like something that rhymes with Venus!” And so it began. Mind you, this is the same kid who stood before the Christmas windows at Chicago’s Marshall Field’s State Street store  (I steadfastly refuse to call it Macy’s) this past December, thrilled that there was a planetary display so he could rifle off about 100 Uranus jokes. I was doubled over laughing so hard I couldn’t even stop him. Thankfully, so was the crowd standing around us. This may have been the tipping point that pushes him into a career someday as a standup comedian.

That glint in Jack's eye, the moment before he rifled off 100 Uranus jokes to a mostly adoring crowd. I was momentarily paralyzed by my own laughing to stop him.

That glint in Jack’s eye, the moment before he rifled off 100 Uranus jokes to a mostly adoring crowd. I was momentarily paralyzed by my own laughing, unable to stop him.

Eventually my sight line was gratified by an alien-looking produce with a weird texture, about the size of a football. “What is that?” I asked aloud, not really thinking Jack would know.

Xenomorph egg or Jack Fruit? You decide.

Xenomorph egg or Jack Fruit? You decide.

“It’s a Jack Fruit!” he piped up.

“Are you making this up?”

“I swear!”

I  approached this xenomorph egg with a little trepidation. “Where’s your queen?” I said to no one in particular, under my breath. One of the Jack Fruits was cut in half, the orangey-yellow color of papaya, which I love. It had huge seeds dotting its perimeter.

The inside of a Jack Fruit.

The inside of a Jack Fruit.

“What does it taste like?”

“I saw on Youtube it tastes like onions,” Jack replied instantly and with such confidence, I stupidly believed him.

“Hmmm…well, I like onions…maybe we should try this. I wonder how you prepare it?”

At this precise moment–as always happens to me whenever I am in the grocery store–a strange woman approached us. In her thick accent (Jack says it was Russian, I say South American) she declared “Oh, you will love this. My kids eat it like candy! It tastes like pineapple mixed with mango!”

“Really?” I biffed Jack upside the head. “Onions? Really?”

The next part of this bizarre conversation was mission critical. The part where I wish my A.D.D. hadn’t taken over. The strange woman said to me, “Are you allergic to latex?”

The last time I heard that, my new OB/Gyn was stuffing me with his hand like a Thanksgiving turkey as I writhed uncomfortably in my stirrups up the table and away from him, so I automatically replied “No….?” My mind was in another place. When I try to recall the next part of what she said, it was like Charlie Brown’s teacher in my mind, “Blah, blah, blah.” I thanked her and we parted ways.

I plopped the giant fruit into my cart. Eight dollars later, Jack and I were on our way to a new culinary adventure!

After dinner, I took the saran wrap off of the Jack Fruit and started cutting away. This was work! I took a bite and it was really sweet – like candy – almost sickeningly too sugary. After about five minutes of struggling to perform an autopsy on this beastly thick produce, I began noticing this gummy, rubbery white residue on my hands. I stopped and soaped up, trying to rinse it off. It was going nowhere. “Jack!” I screamed, panicked.”Get on YouTube! See how I get this glue off of my hands!”

“Didn’t you hear what the lady said? About the latex?”

“You mean this Jack Fruit is where latex comes from?”

“No! She said to wear gloves when you cut it open, if you’re not allergic to latex!”

“Oh! Now I get it! Well, it’s too late for that. YouTube how I get this off of me! Chip chop!” The more I soaped up and scrubbed, the more it clung to me. I cannot stand being sticky. I had an epiphany. Coconut oil, my miracle cure for everything, would probably take this off. As I was rubbing coconut oil on my hands, Jack piped up from my office, “YouTube says coconut oil works!” My skin and the rings on my hands returned to normal.

I was relaying this whole crazy story to one of my vegan friends, who further confused my reality with this advice:

Note to self: Ask a friendly vegan the next time I get a wild hair up my ass to try exotic produce.

Note to self: Ask a friendly vegan the next time I get a wild hair up my ass to try exotic produce.

So…if you were ever wondering what to prepare for a vegan while your steaks are sizzling on the grill, Jack Fruit is the answer. Apparently, with barbecue sauce. Mind you, there is not enough alcohol in the world to make me try this.

My Pre-Mother’s Day Celebration: Adding to “The Collection”

Since Dave was in Nashville doing a signing for Free Comic Book Day Saturday, two of the Sister Wives and I decided on Cooper’s Hawk for a wine-soaked pre-Mother’s Day celebration. Little did I know, I would get the greatest Mother’s Day gift of all–the first-hand retelling of one of my all-time favorite dysfunctional family stories. I collect these funny stories in my mental Rolodex like some folks collect comic books.

Spontaneity is “Sister Wife” Ophelia’s middle name. It’s what I treasure about her. She rolled in late from an all-day cooking class in Chicago, texting that she was bringing two surprise guests. They were all feeling no pain when they arrived, and hilarious conversation flowed. (It seems the chef they spent the day with at cooking school now wants to cook for all of us at a suite in Las Vegas…Ophelia is that rare person who attracts these bizarre situations as much as I do.)

As I was getting acquainted with my two new friends (as my BFF Marovich puts it, “Denise adding yet a few more to ‘The Collection'”) it suddenly dawned on me that one of them, Jocelyn, must be the neighbor Ophelia once mentioned with the World’s BEST Dysfunctional Family Thanksgiving story. It was as if someone had scripted the Thanksgiving version of Christmas Vacation. Truth stranger than fiction. And Saturday night, I was lucky enough to hear it all from the source DNA. It was just as epic the second time. I’ll try recapturing it for you here, but minus the facial expressions and physical gestures, well, forgive me if I don’t do it justice.

Christmas Vacation, meet Your Spin-Off: Thanksgiving Vacation!

Christmas Vacation, meet Your Spin-Off: Thanksgiving Vacation!

Jocelyn is kind by nature. Kind enough, in fact, to invite her brother-in-law Sparky to their Thanksgiving celebration. Sparky was single, but dating a former stripper with five kids from differing baby daddies. Jocelyn’s husband warned her not to invite Sparky, but Jocelyn prevailed. She was feeling sentimental. Thanksgiving was family time, after all, and they should all be together. Sparky called and informed her that he was not only bringing his stripper girlfriend Astrid, but also three of her kids, and Astrid’s sister. Now Jocelyn had to double the amount of food she was making, but she did so without complaint. She was determined to make it work.

Thanksgiving Day came. Sparky, Astrid, and their crew arrived. Astrid presented Jocelyn with her contribution: a small, square Michelina-sized box of mac & cheese as their (we are Midwestern, so I hope you understand) dish to pass for the meal. Jocelyn graciously accepted the meager offering. For the most part, the meal went fine, and everyone was well behaved. Jocelyn’s aunt wanted to hit a Black Friday sale, so she and Jocelyn left and shopped for two hours. When they returned, that was the start. Thanksgiving Vacation. 

As Jocelyn opened the front door, the entire house was reverberating with the percussive thump-thump-thump of dance club music emanating from the basement. Jocelyn’s elderly mom, aunt and uncle sat upstairs, trauma written all over their faces.

Hands over her ears, Jocelyn braved her way to the basement with a mission to turn down the music. She couldn’t have possibly prepared herself for what she was about to see: Sparky’s stripper girlfriend Astrid, riding the pole in Jocelyn’s basement, while Astrid’s sister was grinding away on a pool stick between her legs. As Jocelyn was stepping into the room, the two sisters merged together, grinding on each other. Jocelyn reports her 9-year-old son’s eyes were bugging out of his head. Jocelyn’s husband was just sitting there in stunned amazement, drink in his hand, slowly raising his other hand to shield their son’s bewildered eyes.

In a flash, Astrid’s daughter got in between the grinding sister twosome, twerking with a familiarity no 10-year-old child should have.

Jocelyn had been married to her husband for nearly 20 years at this point, and never had an issue with Sparky. But this Thanksgiving Day, Sparky was drunk. Caught up in the spirit of things, he tried grinding on Jocelyn. Tried being the key word. Chaos accelerated from totally out of control to insanity in a nanosecond. Jocelyn’s husband flashed her the “I told you so” look as Jocelyn screamed at Sparky to “keep his fucking hands off of (her).” Their nine-year-old’s eyes protruded further, as if that were even possible.

Jocelyn raced upstairs to see what Astrid’s other two kids were doing. She found Astrid’s 13-year-old son standing with his back to her, his iPhone extended at arm’s length, taking panoramic footage of Jocelyn’s upstairs bedroom, casing the joint. As he slowly turned around to complete his panoramic shot of her bedroom, he discovered her in frame, hands on her hips, a fully formed “WTF?” glare on her face. He stopped in mid filming. Jocelyn screamed at him, demanding he erase the footage. He insisted he never took any. It seems gaslighting was his super power. Jocelyn raced back downstairs to the basement. She had to get Sparky to convince this defiant teen to erase the footage. Sparky exclaimed, “You can’t yell at him! He has RAGE issues!” Uncle Sparky never thought of protecting his niece and nephew from Astrid’s volatile, rage issue kid.

Two years later, sadly, Sparky and Astrid are no more. Their true love couldn’t conquer Astrid’s need to have sex with many people. Sparky stopped paying her bills and moved out.

To date, Sparky is still single.

God, how I loves me some dysfunctional family stories. I have a library full of them–from my own family.

Madrid Comic Book Convention: Tapas, Tourism & Travails

One of my earliest adventures in comics was the Madrid Comic Book Convention in November of 2002. This trip cemented many comics industry friendships, and I cherish them to this day. My friend Mike Kennedy just posted a Facebook video about Botin, the World’s Oldest Restaurant, which was the first restaurant we tried in Madrid, triggering this trip down memory lane. The first thing that struck me about Botin was the prosciutto, sitting out in the open, and the liberal number of flies alighting on the marbled hunk of meat. I ordered prosciutto-free entrees.

Comics legends, bestselling authors and me at Botin Restaurant in Madrid. L-R: Dave Dorman, me, (can't recall his name), Mike Kennedy, Rebecca Moesta, Kevin J.  Anderson, Chris Warner, Randy Stradley, Randy's former wife, Joyce Chin and Art Adams

Comics legends, bestselling authors and me at Botin, The World’s Oldest Restaurant, in Madrid. L-R: Dave Dorman, me, Ramon Bachs, Mike Kennedy, Rebecca Moesta, Kevin J. Anderson, Chris Warner, Randy Stradley, Randy’s wife at the time, Joyce Chin, and Art Adams. For the paranormal fans among me, note the orb over Randy Stradley’s face.

At this first gathering, we sat across from Joyce Chin and Art Adams, and they were both fascinating to talk with; these were the days before either of us had children. I remember admiring Joyce’s passion for dog rescues and the work she did with dogs. Post-kids, our conversations today would take a much different turn: “How do you arrange the stuff crammed beneath your SDCC booth tables to accommodate a sleeping kid?”

Along with Dark Horse Comic‘s Chris Warner and Randy Stradley, writer Mike Kennedy (now publisher of Magnetic Press), artist Ramon Bachs, and NY Times bestselling authors Kevin J.  Anderson and Rebecca Moesta, we embarked on a five-day odyssey of comics autograph sessions where the crowds rushed the tables and orderly lines were not even a possibility, tapas meals together at 10:30 p.m. were the norm (yes, it IS actually possible to tire of garlic potato salad after three nights in a row), we experienced the world’s best hot chocolate (like hot chocolate pudding poured into a mug), squid ink pasta (I’m not a fan, Kevin J. Anderson ended up eating mine) and Rebecca Moesta introduced me to mango yogurt shakes at the one vegetarian restaurant we hit (I am still hooked). In the hotel lobby one night before going out for tapas, one of our handler Miguel’s friends brought in a platter of thinly sliced horse meat appetizers, which was a delicacy there, but I just couldn’t do the whole when-in-Rome thing. I love my horses too much.

Joyce and I hit the Museo del Prado and followed it up with a lunch at the Hard Rock in Madrid (do yourself a favor and do NOT order the spaghetti there–it was out of a can). Since I’m a morning person, the whole noon siesta and up-all-night culture was an adjustment. I could handle it better today than I did back then. The one thing that stays with me was how beautifully the buildings were lit at night. I’m hard-pressed to describe it, but it’s something you have to see at least once in your life. This was the pre-iPhone era, so few pictures remain of that trip; this one from Mike Kennedy’s archives is such a treasure to all of us.

Immediately following the Botin lunch, I was the naive tourist flinging my purse about like I hadn’t a care in the world–it was promptly pick-pocketed in the town square. Miguel took me to the local police station, but after sitting with the unwashed masses for 30 minutes and feeling more endangered than safe, I begged off. It was fruitless. My wallet was long gone. I spent the next hour on the phone canceling all credit cards. Lesson learned.

On Facebook right now, we’re all posting, reminiscing, and wishing we were back at Botin, reliving that moment.

H.G. Wells, how’s that time machine coming along, anyhow?

RIP, MIA

If I had to name a theme, I’d characterize the last 14 months as heartbreak and loss. I sure hope it ends soon.

Last weekend we memorialized my friend Mia, who died way too young unexpectedly–at age 42–from mistakes made during surgery. While I cried for all of us, I cried especially hard for my cousin Becky. She and Mia were next-door neighbors and best friends since childhood. Becky wept for an entire week. How she, or anyone, found the strength to eulogize Mia last weekend, I will never know. Again, it’s something I can never do because I totally lose it. But, I wanted to share some thoughts about Mia here.

Becky & Mia, BFFs.

Becky & Mia, BFFs.

Mia and her brother Chris (my cousin Jeff’s best childhood friend) were both adopted at a young age. Since I spent so much time at the family farm, they became my extended cousins. I remember as a child being so excited to meet Mia and Chris, because I was the only adopted child I knew. Although I never said it aloud, I always felt a special kinship with Mia and Chris. Adoptees carry the albatross of an inner monologue for which the rest of the world is simply unaware. We are always asking ourselves “Why?”

The lasting impression we all have of Mia is that of her smile. It would bathe the coldest, darkest room in the brightest of light. I loved her wit and sarcasm, and the way she and Becky–like true sisters–were always busting each other’s balls. It was always so much fun being with them.

Mia and Becky - smiles like sunbeams.

Mia and Becky – smiles like sunbeams.

In the photos Mia’s family shared of her during the service, there was only one where she wasn’t smiling. We learned that it was her photo from the orphanage in Korea. Later, at Mott’s Lounge, Becky told me how Mia always had problems with her one wrist. Finally, as an adult, Mia saw a doctor about it, who asked her, “Were you ever in an orphanage?” She confirmed it, surprised the doctor would know that. He told her it was common to see this wrist malfunction in children who stood hanging onto their cribs for hours on end in an orphanage. It’s no wonder that was the only photo where Mia wasn’t smiling. Becky wishes the doctor had never told Mia that, adding one more dark thread to her life’s tapestry.

Since Mia passed and was buried in Colorado, a tree was planted at the cemetery just down the road from my uncle’s farm. This is the same cemetery where my uncle, my adoptive dad, and my other relatives are buried.

The gravestone that took 10 months to get finished, all because I demanded there be a lower case "C" in McDonald and it fouled up their stonecutting logistics.

My dad’s gravestone that took 10 months to get finished, all because I demanded there be a lower case “c” in McDonald and it fouled up their stonecutting logistics. I’m still unhappy with the size of the “c.”

My cousin Jeff, his wife Janell and I made the mistake of standing together at the tree planting portion of the service. In retrospect, we should have realized this error in judgement. An elderly gentleman standing in front of us punctuated everything the pastor said with a resounding fart. I started giggling with my hand over my mouth, muffling the sound. My shoulders were shaking, and I hoped it would be mistaken for weeping. It was not. Knowing me all too well, Jeff glanced over at me, saw my shoulders shaking, and it was GAME OVER, MAN!

Jeff, Janell, and I briskly walked far away from within hearing distance, to find my father’s grave and not have our cackles overheard. We didn’t want to convey any irreverence to Mia, but truth be told, I could feel her standing with us, doubled over, laughing. Soon Becky and her husband Sean weren’t far behind us, in the same state. Whenever we all get together, we are groupthink reduced to the mindset of a 13-year-old boy. It feels good to return to that happy place, where we are all still untouched and not yet pummeled by life and heartbreaking loss. It just feels good.