Announcing My New Blog Series: COOL PEOPLE I KNOW

I found this meme on Facebook the other day, and I screen-grabbed it immediately. In one sentence, it sums up how I live. You see, as an ENFP, I believe everyone has an interesting story, from every walk of life — from CEOs to ex-cons. I’m at my most hyper-focused when getting to know a total stranger. This is why my grade school friends have christened me “The White Oprah.” I don’t mean to interview people, but it’s like breathing for me. They fuel my curiosity.

The Meme That Best Describes Me

The Meme That Best Describes Me

Cool People I Know: My friend Rohita Shah, born in Zambia, now owner of an award-winning Mathnasium in Wisconsin, with 1 new Brookfield location opening soon.

Cool People I Know: My friend Rohita Shah, born in Zambia, now owner of an award-winning Mathnasium in Wisconsin, with 1 new Brookfield location opening soon.

I have to wonder if my genuine interest in people is somehow invisibly telegraphed when I’m out in the world. My friends have all witnessed it. Total strangers love to ask me for directions, how to fix their iPhone, or whether they should buy the outfit they’re trying on in a department store. No, I’m not arrogant enough to think my opinion matters one iota, but it’s weirdly consistent that they do. This bizarre people-magnet vibration I exude might explain why, when I merely entered an empty gas station to pay for my petrol — literally saying nothing but my pump number to the cashier — she unburdened herself, sharing the story of her recent abortion. Or why, when I went to the DMV with Darlene, my BFF since kindergarten, I knew all about the DMV eye examiner man’s divorce during the 5 minutes of getting my test. Or why I leave restaurants more often than not with the phone number or email address of the waitress or waiter to follow up on some conversation. I consider it an honor and privilege that someone trusts me to listen to them. I don’t judge. I just listen. I think people appreciate that someone is actually present and in the moment with them in this distracted, ADD world where they are accustomed to getting ignored.

When I first met Dave, he was extremely nervous about exposing me to the massive enclave of fandom at his San Diego Comic-Con booth. He needn’t have worried. I thrived on it. Unlike introverts who find it a psychic drain to deal with the public, I get energized by being around people. They recharge my batteries. Today, 16 years later, those San Diego fans visit our home, chat with me at least three times a week on Facebook private messages, and have become some of my best friends. I feel blessed to have met these many interesting people from literally around the world, whose paths I would never have crossed in my ordinary, Northern Illinois life.

An apt description of ENFP's.

An apt description of ENFP’s.

As women, we all have stories of telling our spouses about their friends’ medical issues and life dramas, as our spouses look on dumbfounded, replying, “He never told me anything about that!” But I take it about three steps further. I walk away knowing about their UFO encounters, their politics, and their funniest pranks. My conversations with people are always organic. I never know where they’ll meander, but they’re always interesting. As I was interviewing a VP on Friday for a B2B article on his company, I learned all about his Chicago cop relatives, and their take on the current gang situation in Chicago. It was a counterintuitive perspective I could never have guessed, and it became fodder for my hands-and-feet card game last night on the Mag Mile (And btw, GO CUBS!!!! FTW!!!).

So…aside from the ghostwriting I do in my career, I’m starting a new series on my blog, maybe once a week, called “Cool People I Know.” These interviews will be with people from all walks of life, and you will learn things you would never have guessed, about topics you probably have never considered before. I hope you have as much fun reading them as I have doing the interviews! Let me know, okay?

So I guess my Myers-Briggs score explains my career choice...

My Myers-Briggs score explains my career choice…

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.”

That Time Ron Jeremy Broke My iPhone in Las Vegas

The Sister Wives & I hit Las Vegas this past week to attend the “Perfect Physique” movie premiere for Sister Wife Maura’s brother, TJ Hoban. We flew on Spirit Airlines, which deserves its own scathing blog, so watch for that.

While in Vegas, I demanded we do some exploring, rather than lay by the pool all day, since that equates to me and my milky white skin sitting inside of a hot, boring cabana while everyone else gets tan. I had high hopes we’d hit the mobster museum. After all, I happen to own one of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre bricks, courtesy of Jan Gabriel, who had an entire episode on The History Channel about possessing them and how they cursed his life. (Sister Wife Carolyn muttered, “But of course you own a St. Valentine’s Day Massacre brick…”) Then the cab driver randomly happened to mention that Las Vegas had an erotica museum. It was meant to be. It wasn’t a hard sell for the Sister Wives, pardon the phrase.

The Las Vegas Erotica Museum--the most unusual museum I've toured thus far.

The Las Vegas Erotica Museum–the most unusual museum I’ve toured thus far.

The museum was everything you could imagine. The three Sister Wives who joined me agreed. But one of the campiest exhibits was the Ron Jeremy Fortune Teller machine. Naturally, I needed to experience this.

The Ron Jeremy Fortune Teller Machine, Complete with Ron Jeremy's Voice Over.

The Ron Jeremy Fortune Teller Machine, Complete with Ron Jeremy’s Voice Over.

In my excitement to snap a picture of the animatronic version of Ron Jeremy, my iPhone dropped to the floor. Shattered. Damn. It became the most expensive, memorable fortune I’ve ever had prognosticated for me. And then Ron Jeremy told me I needed to invest another $5 to get the “real” fortune. Oh, Las Vegas…the three-card monte of my life.

My Aunt Shirley

Today’s post is dedicated to my mom’s BFF, my Aunt Shirley, my inspiration, who taught me the value of keeping a mental repository of jokes, as well as the fine art of story telling. For her, it was sport. 

Me with my mischievous Aunt Shirley, who had just downloaded more jokes, and my Mom.

Me with my beloved, mischievous Aunt Shirley, who had just downloaded more raunchy jokes, and my Mom.

Early in my career, to supplement my meager income as a writer/producer for a motorsports TV series, I worked for a machine tool company. My eyes were opened to how witty and hilarious engineers can be, once they stepped away from their blueprints. For example, this engineering contractor from Ohio would walk past my desk and drop these bon mots that would double me over. As one sales rep from Indiana was earnestly boasting to me about his daughter, who was studying horticulture, Mr. Ohio walked past and with perfect timing, dryly dropped, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t lead a horticulture.” Mr. Indiana’s conversation ended abruptly. It’s the rare occasion that I ever get to repurpose that line, but it’s in my quiver belt. Mr. Ohio also would describe the weather in the most unusual of ways, such as, “It’s warmer than a syphilitic whore in a hot pepper patch!” That Mr. Ohio…he sure had a way with words.

So my machine tool experience was in the early ’90s, and it was wild times. Their big tradeshow of the year was IMTS in September, the largest, most boring show Chicago’s McCormick Place ever holds. The nightly after party was always at the EXCALIBUR Club in downtown Chicago. One of my employer’s most prominent resellers was this guy Bob from Wisconsin. However, Bob wasn’t prized so much for his top sales skills as he was for memorizing the largest catalog of off-color jokes of anyone in the machine tool industry. Anyone. But my boss was secretly betting on me. We had already worked together for several months, and he knew how funny I could be–thanks to my beloved Aunt Shirley–be it situational comedy, or joke telling. So my boss made sure I was physically placed at the bar that night to go toe-to-toe with Bob from Wisconsin.

I kicked it off by asking Bob if he spelled his name with one “O” or two, and his night of stardom just waned from there. True to form, Bob started rattling off his catalog of dirty jokes. For an entire hour, every single joke he told, I finished the punchline. Every. Single. Joke. It was the only time I saw my boss nearly wet himself. It was as if Aunt Shirley was ear prompting me, feeding me lines. These were all jokes she had told me before. The crowd surrounding us kept growing. Mouths dropped open in stunned awe. Bob was dumbfounded and frustrated. He kept trying to physically shake it off, like a dog with water in its ear. He finally gave up. But then he spent the rest of the evening trying to pursue and conquer me. He also failed in that endeavor. Several cocktails in, I was in a semi-vulnerable state, but my boss and his boss kept me safe.

It’s hard to imagine my mom and Aunt Shirley as BFFs. They were so opposite. Mom was the superintendent of a conservative Missouri-Synod Lutheran Sunday School for 30 years, while Aunt Shirley was a lapsed Catholic, an astrologer, and a medium. Mom was a Pisces, Aunt Shirley was an Aries. They were well suited.

I used to relish going to Aunt Shirley’s house in the city. She would make the world’s best lasagna–the smoked gouda cheese was her secret weapon–and she would often read my astrological chart. I think my mom’s curiosity overcame her Lutheran disdain for Aunt Shirley’s readings. In retrospect, Aunt Shirley was amazingly accurate. I am adopted, and she told me I had a sister who would be looking for me in my late thirties. This came to be true, and I reunited with my bio-family–the parents, two full-blood brothers and a sister–at age 39. She also told me my first husband would be unusual (he was), my second husband would be even more unusual (he is), and my third husband would be the best suited to me. While that has yet to unfold, it wouldn’t surprise me. She was right about a lot.

Aunt Shirley had a Near Death Experience in her 30s, and through that, she taught me not to fear death, and to trust in the promise of an after life. She often told me she wouldn’t live to see her 80th birthday. I had hoped against all hope that she was wrong about that one. She died three years ago, at 79, of ovarian cancer. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss her. I am thankful she had children, whom I grew up with as my “first cousins,” so I still feel the imprint of her energy in some way. This Labor Day weekend Mom and I will spend with two of her daughters.

Before she passed, Aunt Shirley took an autobiography writing class. I was blessed to get a copy of her book, which shared very personal, very human moments in her life. Stories she would never have told me in person. It made me love her even more deeply, if that were even possible. Her autobiography taught me the value of living one’s life on your own terms, as she did. I’m still working on it, but I’m getting there. Evolving. And every once in a while, I’ll feel Aunt Shirley give me the occasional assist, confirming her presence on the Other Side.