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.

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.