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.

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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.

The Short-Lived Laughter Moratorium

Throughout my life, I’ve been told by many that my laugh is infectious…and memorable. To witness, I was riding in this crowded Chicago parking garage elevator with my BFF Marovich after comedienne Kathy Griffin’s concert when Marovich–no surprise–made me laugh. A woman’s voice in the way back section of this crowded freight elevator declared, “I’d know that laugh anywhere!” I whipped around, and there was my kindergarten friend Linda, whom I’ve rarely spent time with in our teen or adult lives (I hope to correct this soon), but my laugh lived on in her memory. At my 20-year class reunion, the most frequent comment I got was, “I really miss your laugh.”

I love to laugh more than anything in the world. Well…there’s maybe one other thing, but I digress…

One of the greatest contributors to my expansive sense of humor is my closest cousin, Jeff. His dad and my dad were brothers, both gone now. His dad died in a tragic ultralight crash. We leaned on each other through that, and more recently, my dad’s death. But we’ve shared so many more good times than bad, attending the same high school together, spending our birthdays, holidays, and vacations together. At one point in our careers, we even worked on the same floor of the same company (and WTF were they thinking, hiring the two of us?!?). Prank phone calls, 90-minute lunches, and hijinks ensued. By the time I left there, quotes from Airplane, Blazing Saddles, The Simpsons, and Throw Momma from the Train were viral vernacular, confusing elderly secretaries everywhere.

My cousin Jeff, who makes me laugh to the point of pain.

My beloved cousin Jeff, who makes me laugh to the point of pain, even without surgery.

About once a week, I’ll get that 312 area code call on my mobile phone, and anyone who knows me well can read my face and realize who’s calling. I’m beaming before I even answer the phone. A low voice says, “DeDe…”–my family’s nickname for me–and then I fasten my seat belt and pray for an empty bladder. I know I’m in for some gut-buster travel story, life observation, or David Sedaris book passage.

An obscure quote from Jeff's & my 2nd favorite movie...

An obscure quote from Jeff’s & my 2nd favorite movie…

 

So I somehow forgot to forewarn Jeff, of all people, that my Wednesday surgery meant a moratorium on the comedy for at least 48 hours. I’d gotten word to BFF Marovich and the Sister Wives, but Jeff missed becoming a line item on my black list. Thursday afternoon I saw that 312 area code pop up on the phone, and I braced myself. I couldn’t even cough at that point without some pain. I had refused all pain killers. This was going to be a rough ride.

Since Jeff holds a prestigious corporate job, I won’t divulge here what he said, but it was worth every ounce of post-surgical pain. In fact, I’m still giggling about it. I would never wish surgery on Jeff, but if he has, say, an appendectomy, I’ve got him on speed dial. And I’ve already lined up a very special, belly jiggling David Sedaris quote.

 

Are You One of the 11% Who Can Lucid Dream?

Ever wonder how writers get ideas? It’s often that random news blurb trigger that cascades into an entire story-building construction project in your mind. Like the other day, I was stopped in traffic behind a car badly in need of a wash. Written in the pollen on the back bumper were the words “Helen isn’t missing.” In a nano-second, my ADD brain sent me off on a storytelling journey from this cryptic, dusty message. Helen was abducted as a child and somehow tracked and found her missing relatives and wrote this note on their vehicle to let them know she was still alive. Or maybe one of her sympathetic captors did? And then I wondered to myself, “Does everyone do this?” At my writer’s group lunch the other day, I shared this story, and they collectively affirmed, “No…only writers think like that. Or people who should be writers.”

So with that, my NY Times bestselling author client Jay Bonansinga took this data point and folded it into his new Young Adult #horror series:

Only 11% of the population have lucid dreams. 

What does that mean, exactly? It means that 11% of us are self aware enough that while dreaming we can control what’s happening in the dream, in real time. How I would love to be in that 11%! And that is how Jay ended up writing LUCID, which launches today through Permuted Press. Here’s a link to Jay explaining more about lucid dreaming and his new book on the WGN Mid-Day Show today in Chicago:

http://wgntv.com/2015/05/20/midday-fix-author-jay-bonasinga-talks-about-his-book-lucid/

This is my favorite picture of Jay, taken by his photographer wife Jill Brazel, in his smartly bespoke garb, in this London backdrop:

Jay Bonansinga, Photography (c) Jill Brazel

Jay Bonansinga, Photography (c) Jill Brazel

Tonight Jay and I will be at the Bucket of Blood Books & Records  at 2307 N. Milwaukee Avenue at 7 p.m. for the launch of LUCID, so come on out, get your very own copy of LUCID and your WALKING DEAD books signed by Jay and have a cocktail (in college, I used to make a drink called “Bloody Brains,” and I might still be able to whip one up for you if you bring me red Kool-Aid, vodka and Bailey’s Irish creme). On your way there, be sure to stop at as-seen-on-Food Network’SuperDawg’s and commemorate the founder Maurie Berman, who just passed, but should be honored for creating Ground Zero in Great Chicago Hot Dog Institutions (right up there with Gene & Jude’s hotdogs in River Grove and The Wiener’s Circle in Chicago).

Of course, if the Bloody Brains drink doesn’t agree with you, I’m sure you’ll have the good taste to let it (and your half-digested hot dog) reappear in the alley, rather than anywhere near me…

For Chicagoans, Segregation Means Sox or CUBS? Which are you?

As you may have gathered from my upper case CUBS, I’m the latter. You’ve never seen the purest and most breathtakingly vibrant green grass outside of Ireland until you’ve been inside of the “friendly confines” of Wrigley Field and cast your gaze upon that perfectly manicured, verdant ball field. I’ve actually been lucky enough to stand on Wrigley Field when THE POLICE did their reunion tour a few years back (and yes, THAT reunion tour was AMAZING).

Chicagoans have an inherent bias towards one ball team or the other. For me, CUBS fans are always the “lace curtain Irish” of the North Side whom I tend to relate to the best, and the Sox fans? Well…no need to go into stereotypes. Living in the Midwest makes us hearty stock, and frankly, we have to be optimists in order to survive the harsh winters here. Spring is always around the corner, and we just know there’s a CUBS World Series win next season.

My favorite Bleacher Bum, Aunt Karen (the one with the McDonald family farm where Jack and I fish, camp, cross country ski, and go four-wheeling) was there this week for the grand opening of the new bleachers, and CBS Channel 2 News caught her on camera:

My Aunt Karen, enjoying her Mother's Day present from her son-in-law--a CUBS Game in the bleachers.

My Aunt Karen, on CBS Channel 2 Chicago News, enjoying her Mother’s Day present from her son-in-law Sean–a CUBS Game in the bleachers.  

Video of Aunt Karen here: http://chicago.cbslocal.com/video/11484923-bleacher-bums-return-to-wrigley-field/

And then, as if the CUBS couldn’t be more perfect, Eddie Vedder sang the 7th Inning Stretch the other day at Wrigley Field. If I didn’t already love Eddie Vedder for the Pearl Jam song “EVEN FLOW,” which is right in my vocal range for karaoke and the most hauntingly understanding song about the homeless, my heart was ready to burst at the thought that he, too, along with Bill Murray (who merely needs to look at the camera funny to crack me up) were fellow CUBS fans.

So without further adieu, here’s my fellow CUBS fan & rock idol captured on CBS Channel 2 News:

http://wxrt.cbslocal.com/2015/05/13/eddie-vedder-sang-the-seventh-inning-stretch-at-the-cubs-game-last-night-watch/

Eddie Vedder Singing the 7th Inning Stretch Inside of the Friendly Confines

Eddie Vedder Singing the 7th Inning Stretch Inside of the Friendly Confines

It’s a new season for the CUBS. A time for fresh optimism. Life. Is. Good.

#C2E2 #Chicago 2015: A Growing Show

This Ghostbusters Staypuft Marshmallow Man was one of my #cosplay favorites this year at #C2E2 – as was the Lego Boba Fett costume (I don’t have an image of the latter). This one had to burn a lot of calories, being so onerous to lug around!

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man at #C2E2 Chicago 2015

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man at #C2E2 Chicago 2015 – Photo by Ken Heinemann

I heard the show was busier this year, based on the fact that Lot A at McCormick Place was full already before 10 a.m. It’s always good news to hear a fairly young show is thriving, especially one so local to us. Dave sold out of his #Marvel Issue #1 #StarWars variant covers the first day, which is always a good sign (have no fear, he brought in more).

C2E2, like San Diego Comic-Con, is a like a family reunion with our many artist, writer, publishing, and creator friends. Dave Dorman‘s table is stationed at J-1 in Artists Alley, which is ideal because directly across from us is Bill and Linda Lessman Reinhold, two of my favorite carbon life forms:

Bill and Linda Lessman Reinhold, great friends and enormous talent

Bill and Linda Lessman Reinhold, great friends and enormous talent

and behind us is Darron Jackson and Steve Howard, two more of my favorite humanoids.

Illustrators Darron Jackson, Steve Howard, and me.

Illustrators Darron Jackson, Steve Howard, and me.

I reconnected with Ken Heinemann, my cameraman for my video and TV show production projects; he was handling A/V for all of the panels. He came to visit me during the M. Night Shyamalan/Matt Dillon panel (a new Twilight Zone-style show, I’m told), which just goes to show you how non-plussed he is by all of the geeky fun. He just came off of the Soundstage tour, so this was an easy gig in comparison. I offered to be Kenny’s grip, but my non-union status precludes me from that.

I want to mention that our friend J. Anthony Kosar of TV’s Face Off winner fame has expanded his Kosart Atelier where he teaches special f/x makeup, and classes are available, so be sure to check him out at http://kosartartelier.com

TV's FACE OFF Season 4 Winner, J. Anthony Kosar with Dave Dorman & me

TV’s FACE OFF Season 4 Winner, J. Anthony Kosar with Dave Dorman & me

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.