My Chicago Fortune Teller

IMG_7488A few weeks ago, I walked into a room at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago and it looked familiar. The room had a modern feel and the view of Navy Pier was great. About 15 years ago I stayed at that hotel. Fifteen years ago I was there with my husband and two of my three kids. But this time, I was there with my boyfriend.

Back in 2002, or whatever year it was, I was living about an hour outside of St. Louis and was a stay-at-home mom raising three kids. I’m guessing the year because it pre-dated uploading things to Facebook to find later. I remember using Priceline to find a hotel and taking grade-school daughters to the city and leaving my toddler son at home with grandma. I remember visiting the American Girl store and riding a tour boat on the river and onto the lake on a very cold night.

So, how did I get from that hotel 15 years ago with a husband and two kids to now – that same hotel with a boyfriend? What the hell happened? And what if a fortune teller would have found me in the lobby of the hotel during that stay 15 years ago to tell me what my future would hold? Well, lemme tell ya.

I was in the lobby all those years ago, getting an overpriced Coke from the gift shop, and a lady in an olive-drab cape approached me. I thought she was a fellow guest, albeit, in an unfortunate outfit. Wrong. She said she was a fortune teller. My fortune teller. She asked if we could chat; she wanted to tell me something about my future. Of course, I thought she was a kook, but I was also mildly intrigued. So I followed her over to one of the couches in the lobby and thought “this oughta be good.”

Just then, she reminded me of my 5th grade year in New Jersey; some friends and I bought a pack of cigarettes at a local hospital’s vending machine. Holy shit! She’s for real! Before I could wrap my head around that one, she started talking. “Dawn, you poor thing. I’m wary of telling you of things to come, but feel I must so you can prepare yourself. In the not-too-distant future you will move across the country and have many surprises. People you trust will be dishonest. You won’t see it coming. You will be betrayed. And abandoned. You will lose your home at a really bad time. Rewarding job prospects will be non-existent and you will work low-paying jobs. You will work really hard to earn a Master’s degree, but you won’t use it. There will be long periods of time when you and your kids won’t get along. They will struggle. You will be brought to your knees and sometimes will feel that you don’t really want to be alive. Those times will scare you as you have never experienced them before. You will spend a lot of time crying and feeling anxious. You’ll feel traumatized. Oh, and you’ll have a heart attack. You will experience three life-altering phases. You will wonder why all of those things are happening to you. But don’t worry, you’ll be fine in the end. FYI, you’ll be back here in 15 years and you’ll have a wonderful time at a conference with a professor you call Jimmie Jailbait.

Uh…

What?

With that she got up and walked toward the lobby doors. I could see her trip and fall before she reached the revolving doors. She got up and left the hotel in a blob of olive-drabness.

I sat on that couch in a stupor. I didn’t have much time to think about what to do next, because a few minutes later, a woman with bright pink hair plopped down next to me. She looked like Cyndi Lauper. Before a word could escape my mouth she said:

“Hey there you hot piece of ass! I’m so glad you came to Chicago Dawn! I know you are feeling a bit lost now as a stay-at-home mom, but no worries. Things are certainly going to change for you in the next decade or so. You are going to have some big changes and surprises coming your way but you will handle them with grace. You are surrounded by love and people who truly love you. You will be helped by your first husband when the chips are down. And when despair comes, you will survive the waves like a ship toiling at sea. What you need will appear. And you are so strong. You will rise up like you always do. You will be hurt, and scared, and lost. But you will find strength you never knew you had. And you will find true friends. And you will continue to be a great mother. Stay the course sister. You will create something that helps others after you weather your own battles. You will invite people into your pain and triumph. Oh, and you’ll be back here in about 15 years at a conference for nerds and you’ll LOVE it. And the guy you’re with is a keeper. He’s gonna help you and you’re gonna help him.”

She gave me a long hug and got up to walk away.

I jumped up and said “Wait? What? First husband? You mean there will be more than one?!”

She just winked and said “Due time sweetness, due time. Just keep in mind that all this stuff happens for you – not to you. You’ll figure that out too. It’s all in the way you think about things. You’re gonna do great. And you’re gonna do great things. Oh – and that drab chick that was here before me – I tripped her on the way out and told her to go back for more fortune teller training. Her delivery sucks.”

With that, she was gone. But not before she stopped at the lobby bar for a six-pack to go.

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Anyone who knows me well knows I often say “If you would have told me then, I would never have believed you.” That’s what I kept thinking during that recent stay in Chicago. That thought comes to mind often, especially at the holidays. For example, if something odd, challenging, sad, or wonderful happens, I often think “Wow, it’s the 4th of July. If you would have told me last year on the 4th of July when I was (fill in the blank) that today I’d be (fill in the blank), I never would’ve believed you. Yep, life sure changes.

And there are many narratives we can use to tell the stories of our past. So many lenses to look through. So many thoughts we can create.

Lately, I’ve learned so much from life coaches Martha Beck, Brooke Castillo, and Susan Hyatt. They share their own work and the wisdom of many teachers. I listen to their podcasts and/or read their books. I think Oprah SuperSoul podcasts are great too as she interviews wonderful teachers/guests. Check them out if you are interested in looking at life through a new lens.

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Vulnerable at the Phone Fixer Shop

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Edited bikini pic from my phone

I don’t have any naked pictures on my phone. Naked pics aren’t my thing. But, I have taken pics of myself in undies to demonstrate the kind of bikini I wanted to buy. And I have a pic of myself in a bikini in Mexico. So, if you had my phone, you wouldn’t find anything too racy. The undies pic could be a Kohl’s ad. And I literally walked down a beach in Cabo San Lucas in that bikini last month. But, if you are my Facebook or Insta pal, you’ll recall that neither of those pics appeared online. Why? I guess I just don’t want to post pictures of myself in a bikini. It’s just not my thing.

A few days ago I did a story on-air about how Apple is throttling speeds on older iPhones like mine, the iPhone 6S. With every “update,” the phones get slower. Apple purposely slows down the processing speed to accommodate the aging batteries in older phones. I wasn’t losing my mind; my phone IS slower. The fix? A new battery rather than a new phone. Since I always buy the Apple warranty, AppleCare Plus, I was told the battery replacement would be free.

I made it to the local Apple place; always in a basement. Very cordial male computer geeks were waiting on a guy who had his wife’s laptop and external hard drive. He left it there to be “saved” by the geeks who know the mysteries of computers.

When it was my turn they tested the battery and told me to come back the next day. While I was there I noticed the techs kept coming in and out of a locked door. I left knowing I’d be back the next day – but the idea of turning over my phone creeped me out. Why? It’s not as if there’s much to find. So why did I feel so icky? And why did I feel uncomfortable for the man who’d left his wife’s computer behind?

It’s the issue of privacy. And the locked doors. When you go to places like an Apple service provider, Best Buy, Verizon, or wherever – you are just turning things over to a stranger with no assurance of privacy. All your communications. Your writings. Your pictures. Your web searches.

That man just left his wife’s computer and hard drive. Such a personal thing. So much on there. Did he just hand over his wife’s diary? Her emails? Her credit card numbers? Does she have naked pics on there? From the tone of his chat with the tech, he wasn’t taking it there for a routine checkup.

Many of us go to the dentist or doc for routine checkups. But how many of us take a trip to the computer shop or phone store to see if they are running well? And before we go, do we wipe every personal thing off of them? Not likely. We usually go when they crash; in the middle of something important like a personal email, specs of a new invention, or a break-up text. So, when the computer comes back to life in the hands of the tech, there is our life, for their perusing.

Just like we often head to the hospital when our body crashes. Or to a lawyer when our life crashes. But at least when we visit a doctor or lawyer we feel like the things we say are gonna be kept secret. We are in the room with the doctor or lawyer. We are part of it. The doc is gonna tell us what she finds. The lawyer doesn’t know our secret sins unless we tell him.

So the next day when I returned, I gave them the passcode to my phone and asked if I could watch them replace the battery. They said it was not allowed by Apple – and the guy disappeared behind the locked door. Such an icky feeling. The tech was just one click away from all my emails, all my photos, all my texts, and the credit card numbers that are stored in my phone’s wallet app. So, when this tech guy came out from behind the curtain, so to speak, was he going to know what I looked like in my underwear? Will he know that I have three kids? Will he know where I work and that one of my Nashville reps just sent me a bunch of download codes for a new country album to give away on-air? How the fuck will I know? He will know. I won’t know a thing.

A few minutes into my wait one of the techs came out and we had a great chat. I asked him about the locked door and he told me Apple has all kinds of rules. The tech working on Apple phones has to be behind a locked door and cameras watch him as he works. There is also a very pricey piece of equipment that replaces phone screens, hence the added security.

I was very blunt and said “What if I had naked pics on my phone?” He said “Delete them before you get here.” I asked about bringing in a computer and all the personal information they contain, and he said “Apple says to wipe your computer clean before any repair by backing it up with Time Machine and an external hard drive.”

All I heard was blah, blah, blah. That’s like saying don’t have a heart attack while sitting on the toilet. Again, most people visit computer and phone repair places when the devices aren’t working. So having a chance to end the text, stop the writing, log off of Dropbox, or whatever, is not always an option.

Sure, backing things up for safe-keeping is always a good idea. That’s why I back up to iCloud. But computers and phones don’t whack out at convenient times.

We shouldn’t have to worry that Snoopy McSnoopPants is going to read our stuff and look through our photos. There is no transparency for the consumer. There should be a window where we can see what they are doing. What’s the big secret Apple? We should be able to watch what the tech is doing just like the window at Krispy Kreme donuts. I don’t care about Apple covering their ass. I want them to care about mine. Well, not really – just my figurative ass.

I am generally a trusting person and I’m guessing that the tech working on my phone the other day didn’t have the time nor inclination to look through my phone. From what I’ve read online about this issue, many techs just want to get your phone or computer fixed. They have enough to do without taking time to look through your personal stuff.

But I also know human nature. Perhaps you’ve seen stories about pics being taken off phones. Or emails being read or credit card numbers taken. Sure, there are many times when our private information is vulnerable, but often, we feel “safe.” Like when we share information with doctors, lawyers, ministers, therapists, bankers, mortgage lenders, teachers, and the like. But in those cases we feel protected by laws. But when we go to a computer or phone store “broken,” we have no such sense of security. At least it doesn’t feel that way.

Kudos to those of you who can make yourself feel “safe” before dropping off a computer. You can encrypt, log out, wipe clean, or whatever. But you gotta know there’s plenty of folks who have a hard time just figuring out how to save to iCloud. For them, learning how to erase all personal ties from a computer is out of the question. And as I said, sometimes you get caught with your pants down – or, with a document open. Your computer crashes mid-something. I write, a lot, and some of it is for my eyes only. If my computer crashed while I was writing in my journal, it would later open under the gaze of a computer tech. I would hope he or she would not read it.

If I did have a heart attack on the toilet I would assume the paramedics would come to my aid and cover me with a blanket to protect my privacy. I’m not sure there is a standard protocol for techs who see private information. Close the file to protect privacy or keep looking cause it’s titillating?

From reading blogs, I know techs sometimes see stuff they don’t want to see, like child porn. And they see things they “don’t want to see” while doing the job of fixing a phone or computer. That’s what happens in a profession where you deal with private information. I’m sure nurses and teachers hear a lot during the course of a day. But they are trained on how to deal with it. Is the Geek Squad? The phone techs at Verizon? Apple techs?

Perhaps a computer or phone tech should not be thought of as an “electronics geek.” They are dealing with private information. They aren’t just fixing an electronic component like a TV or fridge. Ethics training needs to be implemented because they are not just dealing with a motherboard and microchips.

And as far as I know, there are no protections for us when it comes to handing over our electronic selves. Apple just takes them behind a locked curtain.

* I have no complaint about the service I got at the Apple service provider. My phone works great now. My complaint is with Apple.

It was a sign. (heart attack story)

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Me telling this story, about 10 years after it happened – State Theater (Oct. 2016)

I was naked from the waist up with a man I didn’t even know. He was putting little wires and pads on my chest. I figured he normally did this to old guys with similarly saggy boobs.  All I could think to say was “Can you tell they’re fake?” He laughed.Sorta. Inappropriate things fly out of my mouth all the time, especially when my chesticles are hanging out.  After the devastating four months I’d had I thought I might as well keep things light.  My heart had been obliterated. And I was at the hospital to see if I was having a heart attack. At age 42. It was a sign: God hates me.

I knew getting divorced was not supposed to be fun. But I thought finding Mr. Right would be, like, totally fun. And easy.  I had a sign, on my head, “Hot to trot divorcee looking for true love after a shitball of a marriage.   

Well, I met him innocently enough through one of my kids’ activities. It was such an exciting time. Our kids got along, he was smart, good looking, and seemed to be damaged just enough by his evil ex-wives.  And he talked.  He revealed.  He told me things that made me feel special; you know, it was a sign – he liked me. I was special.

I liked that things were going slowly. We spent a few months hanging out. At the start I thought we were taking things slowly because of his history; two divorces. But months of soul bearing and fancy glances led to nothing but lingering hugs. He still hadn’t stuck his tongue down my throat. Was it a sign? Bad breath? Didn’t he like my butt? 

After months of wondering, one night I gathered my courage and said “I’ve decided I can’t ever kiss you.” He replied, “Oh yeah?” So I said – “Yeah, cause if I do I’ll want to strip you, lick you, and ride you like a mechanical bull.”

His reply: He kissed me…. on the cheek. Looking back, it WAS a sign. I never heard from him again.

I can only explain the four months after he quit coming around as annihilating. I felt sick to my stomach which meant I couldn’t eat. I lost weight. I looked nasty. I also cried constantly. I cried. And I cried.  And I cried. It was a sign – something was coming. The loss I felt was the first thing that hit me when I woke up and it sat on me all day. Why did he leave?

I managed to hold it together when I had to, which is, most of the time – but I used to sit through doctor’s appointments and just cry to the nurses. I also cried through sessions with a counselor once a week. I didn’t care about anything.  Nothing made me happy. I went on with life, but only because I had to. I had three kids and I had to keep going to grad school classes.

So, four months of crying later, it was the end of the semester – early December.  I was going out to jog.  Well, jog is a strong word.  Flounder around with legs in motion like Olive Oyl is more like it. I started my jog and noticed my left arm and hand hurt. I thought it was weird, so I just quit jogging and walked.  The pain stopped. I jogged again. The pain came back. It was a sign!

I walked for a few miles then went home and stretched.  My son got off the school bus and I got on my computer to finish writing a big paper that was due the next day.  One of my girlfriends called and I noticed the pain was back. So, I told my friend, Heidi, I was probably having a heart attack. Great.  Fucking great. Next thing you know it’s two housefraus in a minivan headed to Mt. Nittany medical center.

So fast forward to the pads and wires on my chest. Not long after that, a nice, female ER doc came in very casually so I could give her the blow-by-blow. Fast forward to the lifeflight helicopter that was already on its way to haul me out of there. Before she came in she’d read the EKG – it was a sign! This chick is screwed! 

One lifeflight, an angioplasty, and two stents later, I was in a hospital about an hour from home.  I stayed for two nights, had the worst migraine of my life, and managed to scare the living shit out of my ex.  Even though we weren’t together, we are still family.  The best part of being a 42-year-old cardiac patient was the odd looks from doctors.  I was in shape, had low cholesterol, a low resting pulse, and normal blood pressure.  It always seemed to make them feel better when I told them my dad died at 57 from heart disease and that I used to smoke. “Good good good! Makes sense…thanks.”

But wait.  I didn’t have a heart attack because of family history or prior smoking.  No.  I had a heart attack because some fucktard broke it.  Crying every day for four months is not normal.  Neither is not sleeping and not eating.  Stupid fuck bag.  But I couldn’t tell the doctors any of that.  I already felt like an idiot.  And they were all men.  They would roll their eyes.  Poor girl with a broken heart.  Boo frickin’ hoo. They would’ve put me on anti-depressants; I already knew they didn’t help. They would’ve told me to see a different counselor for my delusions. How do you fall for someone after two months of no kissing? Idiot! It was a sign – I was a nincompoop! 

Six days after the heart attack I was back in class.  What else was there to do?  Plus, I had a semester to finish.

About two months after the heart attack I got a call from the cardiologist’s office. They asked if I would talk about my ordeal for something called “Go Red for Women” day.  Apparently, it’s a heart health awareness thing that comes around once a year.  I said I would, so I went to a couple of radio stations and talked about my heart attack. A few days later one of the stations offered me a job on a morning show.  I even ended up on a country music morning show. Words cannot tell you how much I hated country music. It was a sign – God still hates me!

But – it was a sign! I ended up writing my Master’s thesis about country music and advertising. And now – 10 years later, I still happily and joyfully work in country music radio. I even taught at Penn State for a few years and I used to brutalize my students by teaching with country music lyrics.

And as far as the “sign” I got – the heart attack – the sign that God hates me? Well, that actually saved me. I found out months later that Mr. Wonderful was actually Mr. Massive Piece of Shit – he did this and this and this and I was saved from him. And the heart attack got me off the track of thinking about him. I had to re-focus and worry about recovery. God Bless my cardiologists and country music.

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My three kids  🙂

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Florida Georgia Line in the early days (as if they’ve been around forever)