My brother Greg had a birthday this weekend. He says that he has everything he has ever wanted… except his own reality show.
This has been an on-going dream since Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie made a splash doing The Simple Life. A reality series on Fox where these two daughters of rich and famous people were fish-out-of-water in rural parts of America. It was on that show that Paris famously declared that she thought, ‘WalMart was where they sold walls.' Sad, but true.
Anyway, my brother Greg, a larger than life character, felt that if Paris Hilton, Nicole Ritchie, and eventually the Kardashians could become famous, certainly a formerly urban, middle-aged gay man, starting a soap company, and learning to become a farmer could be good fodder for television. So every conversation we have had since 2005, he has pitched the idea of starring in his own reality show. When I was a network executive, he expected me to buy the show. When I became a television producer, he expected me to produce it. This is kind of hilarious… and exhausting.
When my brother and I get together, we are firmly cemented in arrested development. He turns into a thirteen-year-old boy and I become his eight-year-old sister all over again. It is well known amongst our family and friends that he was the obnoxious kid who did everything for shock value and attention. He was an equal opportunity offender. He drove my parents and my older siblings crazy too. But, since I was the youngest, I was probably terrorized the most. When we would watch Saturday morning cartoons together, he insisted that only HE was allowed to sing the commercial jingles. I was not. When my cousins would come over, they would all pile into his room, but I was not permitted to enter. He claimed that I didn’t meet the age requirement. According to him, the cut off was right before my birthday. He would insist that we watch scary movies together, but I was scared of everything, so I would cover my eyes. He promised to tell me when the scary parts were over, so I could watch the rest of the movie. But just when it got really scary, he would say, “You can look now.” Then, I would open my eyes and be completely freaked out by the monster that I was trying to avoid. I went on to have nightmares for years.
He spent a lot of time trying to figure out ways to push my buttons. He was definitely a button pusher. On a regular basis, he would hide in closets or behind doors, then jump out and scare me when I was least expecting it. One night when my mom and dad were having a formal dinner party, in which we were told to not interrupt for any reason, he put the head of my only Barbie doll into a meat grinder. I just sat there in horror.
He teased me relentlessly. He mocked my frizzy hair. My teeth brushing habits. My friends. Anything and everything was fair game for teasing. When he was a teenager, he was supposed to babysit me on Saturday nights, but he would sneak out with his friends leaving me all alone. He drove me crazy, but I loved him because he was so much fun. I was Charlie Brown and he was Lucy. Every time he would invite me to play, I would come running and he would yank the proverbial football away… leaving me to fall on my ass. But I always went back for more.
He was the kind of kid parents sent away to summer camp for a month to get a break, but it was never long enough. He was a colicky baby. A difficult kid. A rebellious teenager. The kid who struggled in school. But when he finally left home at 18, he found his true calling: Work. While he never became a great student, he was remarkably creative, industrious, and, much to everyone’s surprise, had a tremendous work ethic. So with success in the workplace, he found maturity and happiness. He worked hard and saved his money. He had good instincts with real estate investments. He learned the insurance business and started his own company. He had a ton of friends, loyal clients, and a beautiful home. My dad would say he became a mensch (the Yiddish word for a person of integrity).
After years of hard work, he decided to sell his insurance business and his home in the bay area. He and his life partner bought a piece of property on the Big Island (Hawaii) to start a soap company: www.konanaturalsoap.com. 14 years later, they have a five-acre award-winning sustainable farm where they make and sell handmade soap, grow and sell coffee and cacao (cocoa), and give farm tours. Recently, he re-booted up his childhood passion of throwing pottery and now sells handmade coffee mugs too. They have dogs, cats, chickens, employees, two small retail stores, and a huge on-line business. He works seven days a week, but he says it’s not work because he loves everything about it.
He grew up to be one of the most fun loving, hard-working, happy people I know. He has a million friends and everyone loves him. He thinks every day is a blessing and is grateful for everything he has.
For his birthday, my husband and I decided to fly over and surprise him for a brunch at the Mauna Kea hotel. We coordinated the surprise with his beloved life partner Marty and his best friend Harry (who had flown in from the bay area the day before). It was a picture postcard day. 80 degrees and gorgeous. Oh, and the brunch was truly awesome too.
My brother loves his life: The only thing that is missing is his reality show.
So Greg, for now, you will have to settle on being “Almost Famous,” as I have dedicated this entire blog post to you and your milestone birthday.
You are 60 years old, but you look closer to 50… and you still act like you are 13. Perhaps it’s your arrested development and your relentless zest for life that keeps you looking so fabulous.
Happy Birthday. Love you.