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.”

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Who Can Settle This Argument – What IS the Capital of Northern Ireland?

Today was filled with those minor irritations we all recognize as first-world problems. It kicked off when my Bubble Yum order arrived from Amazon – not the sugar-free kind that I ordered, but $41 of sugary Bubble Yum. I guess my Halloween candy shopping is done early this year. Parents, don’t send me your dentist bills.

Then came the Gloria Estefan CD I ordered, purportedly her “Greatest Hits,” yet it didn’t contain the one song I wanted, “Live for Loving You.” Sigh.

Next came Pub Quiz, a night I have been looking forward to for a very long time, reuniting me with my trivia-loving friends, plus I made a couple of new friends. (BFF Marovich would shrug, “More for your Collection.”)

One of my friends is an older gent named Shea from Northern Ireland. With that gorgeous accent, he could read the phone book and I would be mesmerized. The trivia emcee was a young woman who predicted Shea would get this next question correct, knowing his ethnicity. She queried, “What is the capital of Northern Ireland?” Shea immediately submitted his answer, which was: Stormont. We trusted he would know, so none of us even considered debating him. We only knew of Belfast. And according to the trivia emcee, the correct answer was: Belfast. D’oh!!!!!

As you can imagine, with us 8 rowdies–okay, let me rephrase that–seven rowdies plus Dave Dorman, this created quite the uproar at our table. According to Shea, the parliament is in an area called Stormont, and that is technically the capital.

We asked the emcee to challenge the veto.

Soon, our escalating dissension caught the notice of this woman’s supervisor, the Grand Poobah of Trivia–a 40-something guy with too-long hair, a beer gut, a sloppy t-shirt, and flip-flops–who approached our table with his MacBook Air parked on some Wikipedia page, which he somehow felt trumped the page of proof we showed him on Dave’s iPhone. Grand Poobah thrust his page in Dave’s face, snapped his Macbook Air shut with an air of finality, and walked away in a huff. I couldn’t help but think of Cartman from South Park:

If the Trivia Grand Poobah were a South Park Character...

If the Trivia Grand Poobah were a South Park Character…

We didn’t win our point.

The fact that our score’s outcome was being held in the balance by this Beach Boys wannabe was about a 5 on the Pucker Scale. Especially when we had evidence:

Proof!

Proof!

The other unsettling moment of the evening was learning that the final episode of Third Rock from the Sun aired the same year Train’s song “Drops of Jupiter” came out, which was the same year Legally Blonde came out. Wrap your brain around that for a second. Guess what year it was? 2001! Hand to God! Yeah, that was unbelievable to me, too. Drops of Jupiter just doesn’t seem that old. We’ll  be hearing the Muzak version on some Las Vegas elevator any day now.

Despite losing our footing early in the game with the Northern Ireland question, we managed to come in first place and win the whole trivia game. That showed ’em!

However, I still have to know…the Truth Is Out There…I’ve already emailed my comic book writer/creator friend in Belfast. The journalist in me will be verifying this Stormont business with at least three sources by day’s end tomorrow.

I’ll let you know what I learn.

The John Hughes Home Tour: “I Can’t Believe I Gave My Panties to a Geek…”

That headline is a quote from Sixteen Candles, lest you think I would willingly sacrifice my Wonder Woman panties. I normally don’t blog twice in one day, but I have to get this one in while everything is still fresh in my mind.

My friend Amber and I decided to squeeze in the director John Hughes‘ former home tour today before the event closed this weekend. John Hughes was behind some of my favorite movies from childhood, from Animal HouseSixteen Candles, and Breakfast Club on up. The home tour was a fund-raiser for the Infant Welfare Society of Chicago, but the rooms were each redecorated by different designers, so the interior actually looked nothing like it did when the famed director lived there. To see what it looked like when he lived there, click here.

The Lake Forest home of director John Hughes

The lovely Lake Forest home of director John Hughes

Before meeting Amber, I had my usual 2-hour weekly breakfast with the Sister Wives, which involves a lot of laughing and even more coffee drinking. The 45-minute drive to Lake Forest was sheer torture. All of that coffee had to go somewhere, and preferably not soaked into the passenger’s seat of Amber’s cute new convertible. That crazy astronaut woman with the diaper was actually making sense to me for a brief moment.

Once we arrived at Mr. Hughes’ palatial manse, I asked to use the facilities. As the ersatz representative of the unwashed masses, I was directed outside to some porta-potties through a ridiculous, circuitous route that involved me walking on the cobblestone street in front of the home to get to the second driveway. (I later discovered the short-cut, through a sidewalk on the side of the house. The bastards.) The absurd juxtaposition of these two porta-potties against the looming luxury of this 11,000 square foot, 21-room mansion was not lost on me.

A 70-something-year-old woman was ahead of us in line. There were two porta-potties, side by side. She informed us with a dramatic grimace that the one to the right was “not usable,” as she stepped into the remaining porta-pottie and locked the door. I waited and waited. And I waited some more. I finally got desperate enough to bravely peer into the other porta-pottie. I jumped back, as if stung. It was unusable. It rather reminded me of the river in Willy Wonka’s factory. These elite North Shore women are animals! Perhaps it was a symbolic statement or art installation–a harsh reminder of the bleak existence of the Infant Welfare Society recipients? Or maybe I just read too much into things…

Poor Amber had to listen to my bitchy observations as 10 minutes passed:

“If she spends one more minute in there, I’m not going in without a hazmat suit…”

“What the hell is taking her so long? At her age, she can’t possibly be changing a tampon…!”

As we stood there, we noticed that in the four-car garage, a rummage sale of sorts was going on. Or as they called it, a “boutique sale.”

“Oh my God!” I squealed. “Do you think this is John Hughes’ garage sale?!? Maybe we can buy a John Hughes’ ashtray for $5! Or maybe Molly Ringwald’s prop lipstick from Breakfast Club!” Could I be so lucky?!?

Finally, the silver fox emerged from the porta-pottie. I went in, got business done, and went to wash my hands. The damned faucet wouldn’t work. There I was, trying to remove the sticky liquid soap with as many paper towels as I could find. Meh. Amber finally needed to use “the facilities” as well. It was then that I thought to myself, “I know exactly the picture I am taking to memorialize today’s adventure.” And it was this one:

May God bless my friend Amber, who not only puts up with my shenanigans, she lets me post them on my blog

May God bless my friend Amber, who not only puts up with my shenanigans, she actually lets me post them on my blog. That is her “Are you fucking KIDDING me right now?” face.

Amber and I decided to check out the rummage sale, er, boutique sale, in the garage before heading back to do the tour. I was thrilled to see sleeping masks for sale. The elastic is too tight on mine and these were a nicer material. It was then that I discovered North Shore rummage sales are not like the ones in my ‘hood. The price tag on said sleeping mask? $175. Hand to God. Even I, with my wild imagination, couldn’t make up a price point like that one.

Mind you, Amber has a high-powered job and she left directly from work to join me in our “play date.” I marveled that she did the entire tour in those 4″ heels. We entered the director’s former home and the weight of the pretention was cloying and oppressive. Never one to mince words, Amber knew my opinion on every window treatment, piece of furniture, bric-a-brac, and accoutrement, which went from fugly…to fuglier…to fugliest. This was a 1929 art deco era home–and call me a purist–but it deserved to be decorated by someone who respected that. Some designers just need to surgically remove that shitty 1970s mid-century modern aesthetic from their repertoire. It’s so derivative and unimaginative. To perpetrate that style on a 1920s home is just criminal to me. Imagine watching Downton Abbey and seeing a Harvest Gold refrigerator in Mrs. Patmore’s kitchen. It was fugly the first time around, and it’s even moreso today.

Something might have been said about us not being allowed to take photos inside of the home, but I can’t be sure. I know I didn’t sign any NDAs. All I know is, I stood guard, just in case, as Amber and two other tourists happily snapped away and got their contraband images. (In our defense, the expensive book we were given for the tour had almost zero photos of the home’s newly decorated interior–just designer renderings.) We loved these clever little cocktail tables that had been created with Monopoly, Backgammon, and Scrabble boards on their surfaces.

Cool cocktail/game tables we want to replicate. The steer horns? Not so much.

Cool cocktail/game tables we want to replicate. The steer horns? Not so much. I’ll never understand Southwestern decor in a Midwestern home. The rug was like walking on a lovely, fluffy cloud. 

One of the highlights for me was the library–always my favorite room in anyone’s home–and John Hughes’ office. Call me sentimental, but to be in the rarefied air of the room where he wrote some of my favorite movies meant a lot to me. I teared up a little.

We toured the grounds, with Amber re-aerating the soil in her 4″ spiky heels, and we were both underwhelmed by the lack of flowers. I guess they literally meant grounds, since there were many bald spots where grass wasn’t even growing. I was expecting a garden resembling a Monet painting, yet this was not much different than my own back yard. Just bigger.

As Amber dropped me back at my car, I shared with her my theory on playing hookey for the day: “I’m all about the five-year plan. Five years from now, you will never remember the day you had at work. But you will remember that we toured John Hughes’ beautiful home today. With nary a moment’s hesitation, she agreed.

And so I leave Amber and those of you reading this with a thought from the brilliant pen of John Hughes:

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” – Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick)

That Time I Got Kicked Out of the HOUSE of BLUES in CHICAGO

I just received this direct message from Pat Benatar’s marketing team (clear the decks for 4/22 my friends…)…

Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo at The Arcada Theater in St. Charles, IL 4/22/15

Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo at The Arcada Theater in St. Charles, IL 4/22/15

…and I couldn’t help but be reminded of the last Pat Benatar concert I attended. That was the fateful 1990s night that I and my crew got kicked out of the HOUSE of BLUES in Chicago.

My partner in crime and BFF since 7th grade, Marovich, (see this link for reference) came to the concert with her daughter Shorty C-Spice’s 3rd Grade teacher, joining me and my friend Marlot Cheetah. (I should add, “Marlot Cheetah: The-‘t’-is-silent” is her bad 1960s Elvis Jungle Room name – mine is “Silkie Pantera.”) We four were in high spirits, ready to get our ’80s on.

Marovich had some Club Level membership, which was really lame, because there was zero stage visibility from there. We decided to head down to the floor and party with the rest of the unwashed masses. I should add, Marovich’s little brother (who, by default, is my little brother, whether he likes it or not) had recently become employed as the lighting designer there. He was working that night, and his electronics boards were on the main floor level, out in the open, and rather exposed. This data comes into play a little later.

I had one of my infamous big purses on my arm and a beer in my hand, carefully swaying to Pat Benatar’s impressive, operatic voice range. Out of nowhere, this couple in front of me turned around and threw a beer in my face. It was the strangest thing. I had no altercation with them, I wasn’t standing too close to them, and I had said and done nothing to provoke such aggressive behavior.

I didn’t know Shorty C-Spice’s 3rd Grade teacher very well, but that night I learned one important detail: She has a hair-trigger temper. My plan was to ignore the whole thing and continue on with the concert. 3rd Grade Teacher’s plan was to start a brawl.

3rd Grade Teacher retaliated. She screamed some salty language while throwing her sticky cocktail at them. As I stood there swaying to “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” ironically, the couple in front of me was chasing Shorty C-Spice’s 3rd Grade teacher into the front lobby. By the time I got there, the muscular, Italian boyfriend had 3rd Grade Teacher’s arms pinned above her head to the wall as his girlfriend was hitting 3rd Grade Teacher with her best shots, right in the stomach. It had escalated from zero to crazy town in a matter of seconds. Marlot Cheetah jumped right into the fray, and the muscular boyfriend threw her down. She hit her head, hard, on the metal railing. I can still hear the clanging sound. It was so horrible, frightening, and out of control. By the time the can’t-be-reasoned-with meathead security team arrived, we were all asked to leave. The beatings were clearly one-sided, and despite Marovich’s elite Club Level membership, nothing could be done. We were OUT.

The next day our baby brother called, cursing us. He spent his morning  cleaning his lighting electronics boards with Q-tips and rubbing alcohol. A sticky, mixed drink targeted for 3rd Grade Teacher somehow landed directly on his boards. He has since retaliated, and this triggered a never-ending practical joke war with “our” baby brother. There’s no end in sight.

To this day, I still wonder what prompted this couple to throw their beer at me? It’s one of those unresolved conflicts to which I’ll never know the answer. I hate that it still rents space in my brain.

Come to think of it, Pat Benatar should pay us to attend her next concert…

And our baby brother Johnny Rock Star weighs in.

…And our baby brother Johnny Rock Star weighs in.