Get your tickets for You’re Being Ridiculous PRIDE edition

Chicago’s awesome storytelling show You’re Being Ridiculous is celebrating PRIDE at Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theatre on June 20, 21, and 22 at 8 p.m. each night. The show is part of Lookout Series, an event that presents the work of artists and companies across genre and form. And I’m one of them!

I’ll be reading a new story at the Thursday, June 20, edition of You’re Being Ridiculous at Steppenwolf.

Join us to hear true stories from a stellar line-up of some of Chicago’s very best writers and storytellers. Tickets can be purchased here. Seating is limited, so be sure to reserve your seats today before it sells out! There’s a new group of readers every night (and YBR never disappoints), so maybe make a whole weekend of it, OK?

More info here.

Hear live lit and music at Duly Noted on Tuesday!

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 27

On Tour Brewing Co.

1725 W Hubbard

I’m performing a live lit piece tomorrow at Duly Noted! Come listen to music and storytelling (including my tale of a prank call gone wrong… or deliciously right, depending on how you look at it). The event is freeeeee but we’re taking donations for the Boys & Girls Club of Chicago. Bonus: You can bring your own food or get dinner delivered. All the deets are here. See you soon!

In sickness and in health, from memories do we part

The headache came first. On a Saturday afternoon, as innocent as a Cure song.

By Sunday I’m woozy. “Monday’s blue. Tuesday’s gray and Wednesday too. Thursday, I don’t care about you. It’s Friday, I’m in love.”

OK, but back to Wednesday.

By this point I had shut down almost entirely.

I had a full-on head cold, or probably the flu because it was complete with fever, nausea and exaltations to the Goddess that I would never do anything bad again if only my nose would drain itself of this hot gold mucus and allow me to breathe like a real person again.

This was the first time my husband of exactly one and a half months saw me so sick for such an extended period of time.

Though we lived together before being betrothed, it had never been during a bout of ol’ influenza.

During those illnesses of yesteryear, we’d typically give each other a middle-school-slow-dance-distance hug, a warm bowl of soup, and a shout to “Call if you need anything” on the way quickly out the door to our own, not-gross apartment.

It didn’t bother me that he was seeing me so absolutely unappealing. We’d seen each other at our most vulnerable long ago.

In fact, the scariest part about getting married wasn’t the wedding night or committing to each other for life, it was trusting one another with our money. Sharing bank accounts is the modern girl’s virginity, after all.

“Will you still love meeee tomoooooorrow – because today I spent way too much at Macy’s-there was a really good sale tho and we should go back asap because coats are eighty percent off.”

That’s how that song would go if it were written in 2017.

But here we were: Me sick, him catching it, and us together … living our “In sickness and in health” vow IRL. I really thought we had nothing left to learn about each other.


For example, I learned that it’s possible for me to smell his stanky dried saliva on a shared pillow and not bitch about it once, and instead just roll over, mentally adding “wash sheets” to our to-do list.

I also learned that as I tend to skew into helpless whiny adult-baby territory when I don’t feel good, he turns into a no-nonsense Polish grandmother who loves me but is … whatever is Polish for “completely sick of my shit.”

The more I refused to help myself, the more he helped but also gave me lectures. While gently covering my burnt-out nose and chapped lips with Vaseline, for example, he gave a long-winded speech about not putting dirty tissues on the nightstand like I had been doing.

I stared back in awe that one person could have so much air in their lungs!

I also thought I had nothing else to learn about myself. But this infection was a monster and a scholar, ready to teach my sorry ass.

So, I work from home as a copywriter and I had an important client presentation to make via phone call on Thursday. At this point I was on the upswing but still ticking by at only about 70 percent.

Though I felt capable of faking coherency, I had been bequeathed a new sickness gift: A voice that was nearly gone.

When I dialed into my team line before we called the client, I managed to croak out a wimpy “Hello.”

My teammates on the other line burst into laughter. A loving laughter, at how pathetic I sounded and how they thought I should just go back to bed, but laughter no less.

I laughed too but told them I was going to go on mute and just jump in if there was a client question only I could answer.

Something inside my head—and not just the mucus buildup—made me feel like my scratchy, nearly nonexistent voice made me appear weak, not good enough, and that embarrassed me.

Hmm… Where did that come from?

Luckily, when you’re sick, you have a lot of time to think about things like this. Because while the Goddess giveth you DayQuil, she taketh your ability to sleep on command.

After the call ended and I had crawled back to my bed, I laid there and thought about this perceived weakness and my subconscious desire to not let anyone hear me that way.

Again, where did that come from?

I decided to start with my childhood. Because this is where all weird subconscious adult insecurities take root.

I remembered having sore and strep throat a lot.

Then there was the unfortunate bout of frequent yeast infections until we discovered I was allergic to the bubblegum scented, red-dye body wash we were using.

I remembered pretending to get sick from the fumes of 409 when it was time for chores and I didn’t want to work.

I remembered Grease. Yes, I associate sickness with Danny Zuko and, my favorite pink lady, Rizzo.

As we were not yet owners of cable, I spent my days home from school in the ‘90s watching Grease on repeat.

“Won’t go to bed ‘till I’m legally wed! I can’t! I’m Sandra Deeeee!”

Who knew going to bed meant having sex? Not I, said the child singing it.

I just thought she was willing to forgo sleep to find a suitor. Like a real idiot.

Following the lead of my boo, Rizzo, I never liked Sandy that much. Nothing in her character resonated with me. She was indeed too pure to be pink. She was too pretty. She was too sweet.

Too sweet… too sweet… Oh my god, bingo!

Like a T-Bird outta hell, the following memory landed on me:

It’s third grade and time for the Christmas musical. Grades 1-3 do a musical together, which means I’m considered an “older kid” and can try out for a lead role!

Fast forward.

I get it.

Fast forward.

I practice my butt off at school and at home, learning my lines, putting together my costume using my dad’s old robe and knock-off Birkenstocks, a raggedy brown towel draped over my head and tied on with baling twine from my dad’s farm.

Most of all though, I practice my one vocal solo.

My singing voice is pretty average now and it was pretty average in third grade. Here was my solo part. I still remember it:

“Sometimes I wish that I could be. Somebody else instead of me. A person who is quiet and sweeeeeet. To be like that would sure be neat.”

If I’d been assigned to sing this verse as a teen, my paranoid rage would have led me to believe someone was trying to tell me something. I’ve never been accused of being quiet. And being sweet is a nice goal but it’s not exactly something that comes naturally to me.

Sometimes you gotta tell a motherfucker that dirty tissues can go anywhere you damn well please when your head feels like it’s in a vice, OK?

Fast forward.

It’s the day of dress rehearsals and we’re performing our musical in front of the WHOLE SCHOOL, which means the all-powerful fourth, fifth and sixth graders will be watching from the bleachers.

I’m. So. Nervous. And on top of my nerves I have, you guessed it, a sore throat. And my voice is almost gone.

Here’s what I remember. Squirming my way through the whole show, bravely speaking into the mic even as my voice uncontrollably spat and sizzled.

My 9-year-old-self made every valiant effort to add inflection and drama and intrigue but I mostly sounded like a mouse on acid. I can remember so badly wanting to prove myself worthy of this part.

I thought I was doing OK. But then I had to sing.

And there, swimming in my dad’s weird brown throwaways, I sang. My nasally voice cracking the whole way:

“A person who is quiet and sweeEEeEEeEeet. To be like that would sure be nEEEeeEeat.”

As I recall this, I can see as clear and as bright as Christmas Eve’s come-to-Jesus star, the entire sixth-grade class whispering about and laughing at me.

Do you ever have memories of Those Moments where you wish you could DeLorean back in time and just give your little self a big hug and whisper:

“It’s totally cool, bitch. I got you. We’re gonna be SO fucking happy someday. Fuck them.”

Yeah. This is one of my Those Moments.

Fast forward.

My older sister takes a seat next to me on the bus home that day after school. She’s in fifth grade and doesn’t sit by me normally, so it’s nice to have her there by my side.

She tells me I did great, and I shouldn’t worry about those kids laughing at me. After all, didn’t I notice who was making fun of me the most?

I cringe. No. I was trying not to look.

“It was Hillary’s sister,” she says matter-of-factly. “You know, Hillary, the girl in your class that you beat out for the lead part. They just think they’re special because their mom is a professional singer and they think singing is all that matters and it isn’t.”

Then she changed the subject and rode by my side the rest of the way home.

Fast forward.

I wake up from my reverie and turn over to see my new family member, my person who has taken the place of my sister and now rides shotgun in my daily life. My Polish grandmother husband, now sick with whatever I gave him.

In that moment, it’s Friday. I’m in love. And I throw up a shout-out to the Goddess for giving me such good people throughout my whole life. I’d give them all my money, my flu, my voice. I’d give them anything, everything.

And, in that moment, I feel better already.

Half-price life lessons at Applebee’s

As Marion, Ohio’s first ever Applebee’s Carside To-Go girl, I took my duties seriously.

Seventeen going on 18, I was the perfect fit for the job, as I was not yet old enough to serve alcohol like a full-fledged in-restaurant waitress. This, despite the fact that in my previous position as a night server at a nursing home, I carried flights of boxed red to ornery old folks looking to score.

Among my major responsibilities at my hometown neighborhood bar and grill:

  1. Stand by and answer phone. “Thank you for calling Applebee’s, ‘Home of the Half Price Happy Hour.’ How may I help you today?” Perfect. Since age five, I’d been answering my home phone in a similar manner. “Hello. Mantey residence, Jackie speaking. How may I direct your call? Oh, she’s taking another acid shower. Would you like me to record a message?”
  2. Take orders over phone. Place orders in POS system. Stop sweating. Do not be intimidated by surly cooks who accidentally put Carside orders on for-here plates instead of green plastic to-go containers and who silently blame you for their lot of life on the line as they dump the Oriental Chicken Salad into the correct container. Ponder what about the Oriental Chicken Salad actually makes it Oriental besides the crispy noodle topping. Deliver food to cars. Try not to be obvious with flare pin on chest that reads, “Though I be but a lowly Carside To-Go girl, you may tip me! I’m paying for college soon and make $5-something an hour.”
  3. Help out when slow. Run food. Play host. Do not, I repeat not, give a surly waitress’ next four-top to someone less deserving. Be “expo,” short for “expediter,” short for “put the lemon garnish on the grilled chicken and don’t screw up the ticket or you will be forever 86ed in the mind of all.”

The staff was nice, but kitchens get heated when everyone and their cousin-brother is packed in slimy neoprene booths awaiting boneless chicken wings and onion peels. Half off. Hot damn.

These rush hours, I was not cut out for. But by God, I put this job on my college applications and would excel at this just like I did everything else. Beam me up, Stanford. (And by Stanford I mean the perfectly affordable state school up north that supposedly admitted the half-illiterate.)

Years later my future husband would dub me a Trophy Hunter: a person trained for validation by way of a gold star, A+, Dean’s list, line-itemed resume. In restaurant worlds, there are no trophies, unless you count the rouge dessert sent back to the kitchen because the order was wrong. Upon which you descend like a pack of starving kookaburras.

I was too soft to deal. Luckily, I knew I wouldn’t have to for long. My stint at Applebee’s would be a chemical-egg-scented pit stop on the way to “bigger and better things.”

Not like the lifers. These co-workers were my motivation to stay in school when I’d come back to work on college breaks. There are two types.

First, the ones who have worked at every restaurant in a three-county radius. Sometimes coked up. Sometimes just draw-ers of the short sticks. Sometimes hard up for work because life is unfair and I was a young judgey jerk yet to be served my own sour shot of life.

Example of type one: Sam, who we nicknamed Sam-ela Anderson for her predilection to position her generous rack on the high-top tables when a group of guys would come in for beers. (Hey, sister could get tips, so who are you, dear reader, to side-eye? Just eat your Spin Dip.) She pulled night shifts at Cracker Barrel post Applebee’s lunch shift. Ponderosa on the weekends. Soon she’d be fired or fed up with one or the other and move on to the next waitress want ad.

Post-college, I’d see her at a burger joint while on a lunch break out with my new magazine editor. It was genuinely good to see her. She asked me how many kids I had now, despite being only 21 (answer still, ten years later: Zero). Props to her for working her similarly generous butt off for her four. Five kids? I think it was six.

Also in this category of Applebee’s colleagues were those working in wait. These individuals were here for some rest; slangin’ apps was an Appletini-stirrer-shaped pin in their regularly scheduled work lives.

Best example: Doug (name changed for soon-to-be obvious reasons), one of only a few male waiters on the team. He was friendly, smart, fast. And, most importantly, as chill as the bagged salad in the back.

Doug was in his 40s and his story was this: He used to be a lawyer but the job had him burnt-out to a crisp. One day, he simply walked out of his attorney suit and into a neon Applebee’s tee and waist apron.

He did good work but if he couldn’t–if a good night of tables was beyond his control–he didn’t care. Ok, man? In the grand scheme of things, it didn’t matter if Table 5 didn’t get that extra side of jalapenos, per the original verbal writ of condiments.

One teenage girl’s stressful work environment was another man’s paperwork free oasis.

Also, he had the best pot.

It was another hobby he’d taken up following his dramatic exit from the Bar. Once I bought two joints from him and smoked them both in the Wal-Mart parking lot behind the Bee’s following my night shift. I, duh, got way too high and spent another four hours in my car, waiting it out. I watched families enter the shining supercenter, like flies to a busted porchlight, with a slit-eyed, stoned stare. Do they know I’m an alien?

I think of Doug sometimes when I’m locked into a marketing writing project and trying to find five new ways to say “well-curated,” even though the client will just change it to “well-curated” because that phrase means nothing and everything anymore. I’m not quit-it-all-and-serve-fried-foods-and-weed yet, but I totally get it.

The second type of Applebee’s lifer would remind me why I couldn’t do this work forever: I was absolutely terrible at it and they were not.

Rhonda, for example, was a rockstar. I saw people come in for dinner, ask to be seated in her section, find out she wasn’t working that evening, leave. Amy was like this, too–everything else in life seemed to beat her, but there’s no one I’d trust more with a 20-person party, double drink orders each, screaming kids, bun on-the-side requests, and separate checks.

Both could handle the heat in their sleep. And they made good money doing it. Meanwhile, I had nightmares, still do, that I’ve been sat a table I didn’t even know was in my section and now the manager is being beckoned from afar and also we’re out of ranch dressing and how can we go on without ranch dressing?!

When I’d come home to waitress throughout my college breaks (I had matriculated from Carside To-Go), I’d notice how the people I worked with had changed in the months between my presence. Some seemed more haggard, angry, tired, high.

Not the type two servers. Waitressing is the hardest job I’ll ever have and these people just got better and better. They saved my mozzarella-stick-dimpled ass from angry customers many times. And they taught me to not be so harsh in my judgement of other people’s jobs.

Maybe they were the real winners. They didn’t have to pay off $40,000 in student loan debt to find what they were really, really good at. They didn’t need a stupid trophy or professorly pat on the head.

They’d never be the first at anything — but what’s that matter anyway? This was their calling.

And isn’t finding that what “bigger and better things” are about, at their molten chocolate lava cake core?