Jenni Pulos, from Bravo's Flipping Out and Interior Therapy, pens a charming memoir-advice book on how to survive (and thrive) in any situation
Jenni Pulos has specialized in a lifetime of disappointments. She's been publicly humiliated, dumped by her spouse on national television, told she'd never make it in Hollywood, encouraged by her family with inspiring questions like, "when are you getting a real job?" and has not only survived but thrived as a result. Despite her struggles and setbacks, Jenni has gone from a "wannabe" aspiring actress and comedian to becoming one of Bravo's most beloved personalities.
With hilarious reality meets insanity anecdotes from her life and career, Jenni writes candidly on how to go from victim to victor . . . most of the time. Her book is more of an advice how-not-to story that includes:
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JENNI PULOS is co-star and consulting producer of Bravo's Flipping Out and co-star and co-executive producer of Bravo's new show Interior Therapy. More than a television personality, Pulos is an actress, comedian, writer, producer, lyricist, and rapper.
LAURA MORTON is the author of more than thirty-five books, including eighteen New York Times bestsellers including works with Justin Bieber, Al Roker, Susan Lucci, and Melissa Etheridge.
KATHLEEN KING is a writer, director, and consultant for professionals working in the entertainment industry.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Confessions of a Recovering Me-Aholic
I’m about to ruin the image and the style that you’re used to.
—SHOCK G/HUMPTY HUMP, “THE HUMPTY DANCE”
Hello, my name is Jenni Pulos—that girl who is the fun-loving bubbly executive assistant, the patient, caring sidekick to Jeff Lewis that you may have seen on television. That girl who has got it together and is always worried about everyone else being okay.
Hello, my name is Jenni Pulos and I am a one-day-at-a-time recovering me-aholic. I have spent most of my life focused on heartache, betrayal, challenges, struggles, and failure. Walking through the world as a self-absorbed, insecure, perpetual victim who never took responsibility for anything that went wrong around me, I spent years feeling sorry for myself. I used to wind myself up about situations and issues that weren’t even real.
My MO was to take any situation and spin it into some commotion that was (but more often wasn’t) happening to me, without ever taking responsibility. I wasn’t the “sympathetic” friend who would lend you her shoulder to cry on so much as that annoying girl you could tell a heart-wrenching story to, and rather than show empathy, my usual response was something like, “If you think that’s bad, let me tell you what just happened to me!” Sadly, I would often hurt other people with my insensitivity or be flaky and not come through before they could do any of that to me.
This is my journey of how I went from self-absorbed wannabe to someone who understands how to be happy, and how I went from victim to victor. It was a loooooong process, but one I hope you can appreciate and learn from.
First things first. My self-involvement was off the charts. That was a choice I made and a negative language I readily accepted. There was actually a day when I stood up in my therapist’s office and said, “I do not need all of the attention” before walking out the door because she wasn’t focused enough on me. You’d think there would have been a red flag when I called my one-woman show, “All About Me.”
Couple that with my constant role-playing as the victim. I played the victim for so long that it became an addiction. Some people drink, others smoke—I felt as if I got something out of that “poor me” perspective. As hard as it is to admit, I liked the feeling of feeling bad, feeling sorry for myself, and wallowing in self-pity. Oddly, I enjoyed it, like having a couple of martinis after work. I became a professional pity-party planner and I was my best and, well, only client.
You could easily say that I had grown so accustomed to being a victim that I could spin any situation on its ear and make it about me. I accepted all of the negativity because it gave me an excuse for why my life and career were stalled. No motion, no movement, just stuck in the same gear! I remember my grandmother would sometimes look sadly out the window of our beautiful home in Arizona wishing she were back in Greece; she missed her small home and her three hundred sheep. She would make an audible sigh that bordered on a moan, “Oh, the sheep.” I’d like to think my negativity has its roots in the Old World but I was looking out every window of my life missing three hundred sheep I’d never owned. Instead of moving forward, proactively pursuing the things I wanted and trusting that success would come, I spent all of my time and energy feeling bad about why good things weren’t happening for me.
Like any long-suffering professional victim, of course, I think it all started on the day I was born.
I was born in Portland, Oregon, on January 3, 1973, to parents who had been trying to have a second baby for more than ten years. My sister, Krisann, twelve years my senior, had made it very clear she did not want to be an only child, and my Yia-Yia (grandmother in Greek) was sure I was an answer to prayers she’d said daily with Krisann. On the day I was born my father entertained the hospital staff telling dirty jokes in the delivery room—or so I’ve been told. Yes, I was there, but I can’t say I remember hearing any of his anecdotes or punch lines. However, it must have had an immediate influence on me because I grew up using humor in the same way. (By the way, my mother has always thought it important that I am aware I was conceived in a Las Vegas hotel with mirrors on the ceiling.)
When I was two, we left the safety of our big, Greek family in Portland and moved to Scottsdale, Arizona. My father wanted to be his own boss, and he was one of the original owners of the Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant chain. He has a larger-than-life personality, and as a kid I remember him playing crazy characters in TV commercials for the restaurants, often dressed as a dancing clam: “I’m Scheky the clam, that’s who I am. I am getting ready for my spaghetti.” Dad was a hit, and our restaurant was always packed.
Likable and funny as my father was, he was a drinker. When my parents first married Dad’s drinking wasn’t an issue, but gradually it progressed to become a serious problem. It never reached the point where he drank all day, but by the time five o’clock rolled around he’d pour himself a drink, usually gin or champagne, and then keep his glass full until he got sloppy, slurry, and eventually went to bed or just passed out. Mom referred to my dad as a “Mickey Mantle” drunk because he could drink and still function at a high level.
As a kid, I didn’t really understand that my father’s mood swings were the result of his drinking. I can recall being out for dinner at Benihana celebrating my birthday one year, and Dad suddenly left because he didn’t want to “mingle” with the strangers at the hibachi table. What I didn’t realize at the time was that he’d had too much to drink. To make up for his abrupt departure, my mom took me to Farrell’s for a piggy sundae. (Yeah! The beginnings of a lifetime of expecting disappointment served with a side of chocolate sauce and a birthday song sung by a quartet wearing striped vests and straw boater hats!)
When he was sober, Dad was kind, and we had a lot in common, like our mutual love for tennis, a good joke, and socializing. But if he’d been drinking, he could quickly become quite belligerent. He rarely got physical, but he could be verbally abusive. His rage was something no one talked about, even when it occasionally became dangerous. When I was four or five years old, I recall him screaming and hurling a chair across our living room. I hid under the dining room table until the situation calmed. My mom had lived with these episodes for years while family and friends ignored his outbursts because he was very successful and well liked in our community.
At only five feet, mom was a dynamo and we bonded early, thanks in part to Looney Tunes. When I was a toddler, she would put on one of Mel Blanc’s records and the voices would come alive in my living room. An accomplished mimic with a great sense of humor (she later told me she had dreamt of being a comedienne), my mom became Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, and the Tasmanian Devil. Often using these whacky Warner Brothers voices, she taught me to work hard for everything I wanted, to treat all people with respect, to be honest, and to—above all—put my faith in God.…
She also thought fear and negativity were parenting skills. When it comes to my mom, worry rules the roost. Worry would develop into one of my main addictions, one I still struggle with. It wasn’t until much later in life that I discovered worry was easier than work. It certainly was more familiar.
My mom told me that as a kid I was an absolute angel who loved to read and throughout my adolescence wanted to be a doctor—that is, until I turned thirteen. Then, according to her, I became a “teenage terror.” I wouldn’t listen, I lied all the time, and pretty much became a “juvenile delinquent,” as my mom likes to say. Most parents fear the dreaded teenage years, especially if they have a precocious daughter. By the time I hit puberty, I don’t think my mom really had the patience for a rebellious teenager. Once I got a taste of what it meant to be social, all I wanted to do was be with my friends. But to Mom there was such a thing as having too many friends. In her eyes there are close friends, regular everyday friends, and then there are people who say they are friends but turn out to be anything but and break your heart.
“Jennifer, why do you have to be so popular? What are all these friends for?”
“Mom, I can’t help that I’m social.”
“Oh, yes, you can. You need to pray for less friends. Who needs all the hassle?”
“And you buy them all gifts on my credit card because you love buying people presents, and that’ll put me in the poorhouse. I’ll be supporting you for the rest of my life and I’ll be dead soon. Then what?”
“Mom you are so out of control…”
“I’m serious. I will light a candle and pray that some of these friends go away.”
I used my social life as a way to escape my father’s drinking. I used to sneak out at night, talk back, and was often totally rude—actually, I was a bitch. I really didn’t think I was acting that bad, I mean, really, what teenager does?
When I was in eighth grade, I teamed up with my friends to increase our “cool quotient” by smuggling vodka in to celebrate the closing night of our school’s production of the musical Bye Bye Birdie. We were caught and exposed in the middle of rehearsing the song “We Love You Conrad.” Hours of tireless pleading in the principal’s office by my mom prevented my suspension. What did she say to me? “I am devastated! How could you do this to a little old lady? Your sister was a dream and now I’m stuck with a juvenile delinquent!” My mother’s Greek Orthodox faith was really put to the test. She sent me to confession, then prayed to God. I guess he answered her because Bye Bye Birdie became Bye Bye Class Trip to Washington, D.C.
I was a rebel, certainly, but in high school, I found a healthier way to release all my angst and energy: tennis. There was something about smashing that little yellow ball with a racket and daring my opponent to hit it back. I felt like I was connecting and communicating, something I really wasn’t doing with my mom and dad. I had a wonderful coach who saw all of my undercover rage and wasn’t frightened by it.
“Just keep your eye on the ball,” he would say.
I would later discover people make a lot of money practicing that exact concept. I played competitively throughout high school, giving me a positive outlet—a way to “change the channel” on my life. I was the chubby chick who could really run around the court. (Greek home cooking sure can pile on the pounds.)
HOW TO CREATE A CHUBBY TEENAGE TENNIS PLAYER
1. Keftedes (fried meatballs)
2. Spanakopita (cheese and butter)
3. Saganaki (flaming cheese and butter)
4. Pastichio (cheese, butter, and noodles)
5. Tiropita (three cheeses and butter)
I was actually popular in high school, that funny fat chick. I deflected my insecurities about my appearance by relying on humor. I am my father’s daughter and I love to make people laugh. I really didn’t care if they laughed at me or with me, laughter made me feel safe. Laughter in my house meant everything was okay.
I had a lot of nicknames in high school like Los, poo-poo, or my personal favorite poo-head. I didn’t care what the other kids called me, as long as they were talking about me! I was always involved in school assemblies, drama club, and even cheerleading—well, sort of. I was the school mascot, which I thought would be more fun than becoming a cheerleader. I’m not bashing cheerleaders, but for me, wearing our sabercat costume felt more natural than a short skirt and pom-poms. I shared the school mascot duties with a shy kid who was teased for being “girly.” When we were at the state basketball championships, someone walked by, punched him in the nuts, and called him a pussy. The only problem was it wasn’t the shy kid inside the cat suit, it was me.
“Hey, it’s me, Pulos!” I said through the pain.
Later that night, the same group of kids picked me up and threw me in the hoop to celebrate our big win. Imagine me still in costume, stuck in the net, just hanging there. I wasn’t embarrassed, I felt popular; they were torturing me but I just knew this meant they cared.
In addition to being with my family and friends in Scottsdale, I also enjoyed spending time with my sister, who was living in Los Angeles after graduating from UCLA. Although there is a twelve-year age difference between us, Krisann and I have always been close. I forgave her for being “perfect” and thin because she loved performing as much as I did. To this day, my mother blames my talented sister for “leading me astray.” I loved hanging out with her and telling all her friends that I was going to be a big star. I was so desperate to have people see me as being special that I once made up a story that Krisann and I met Ricky Schroeder in the mall and we went to lunch with him. I told everyone he gave me a stack of black rubber bracelets like the ones that Madonna used to wear. I bought the bracelets on Melrose and hoped no one saw me.
This is one of the lame ways I used my creativity to help me deal with my parents’ difficult and painful relationship, which no one in my family has ever really recovered from—mostly because we never talked about it. There was so much pain, we didn’t know how to feel. My mother, sister, and I had no coping skills and as a result, there was a lot of silence. Very often the only time we’d ever hear my mother was when she was being critical of someone—usually me. My mother wasn’t the type of person who would ask if she could give you some advice, she’d just dive right in. Sometimes she was right; other times she was wrong. But always she called things as she saw them. So much of what I heard at home made me feel “not good enough.” These three very powerful words—the “Big Three,” as I started to think of them—became the foundation of the wall I built around myself, a wall I disguised with humor so no one could ever see how fragile and unsure I really was.
They won’t hurt me if they’re laughing was my motto. As a way of reaching out, I started performing, and it wasn’t always pretty. One year a group of friends and I did a lip-synch in high school to the song, “Going Back to Cali…” I was wearing a bikini top, which slipped and fell off to one side. I could hear my mother in the audience scream out in horror. That wardrobe malfunction earned me the name, “Silver Dollar” because I had silver dollar-sized nipples. That nickname stuck with me for the rest of my years in school. But it was okay. To this attention junkie, “silver dollar” sounded much better than “big brown areola.” They laughed, I laughed with them … and I felt accepted.
Looking back, I spent my childhood desperate to get my parents’ (and really, anyone’s) attention in every way possible. I always needed drama. When I was three, my mom felt my pacifier and I had to go our separate ways. We baked a cake and gathered the whole family to support me with a journey to the Grand Canyon where my blue pacifier would be hurled into its final resting place. A solemn ceremony was created for me to star in. My mother knew the needed good-bye would not take place unless the parting was an over-the-top event with an audience of sobbing family members.
My mom’s way to put our household Greek dramas on hold was turning on the...
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Book Description St. Martin's Press, 2014. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M1250028191
Book Description St. Martin's Press, 2014. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P111250028191