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All the Best Things People Told Us in 2017

From NASA crew commanders to 30-year-old virgins, we met a lot of interesting folk this year

We heard it all this year. Why? Because we’ll listen to anyone who has a story worth telling. As part of our ‘As Told To’ series, we’ve talked to an eclectic crew of men and women who have inspired us, grossed us out and made us wish we, too, were astronauts.

Phil Morgese, a single dad and founder of the Daddy Daughter Hair Factory, explained tfw he’d finally mastered the heretofore nerve-wracking task of braiding his daughter’s hair for school.

“The following morning when she woke up and I undid the braid, it was like magic: The hair was completely untangled! I started bringing Emma to school with a simple, three-strand braid and the teachers would say, ‘Emma’s hair looks so cool. Did you do that?!’ They were blown away. The way they looked at me and praised me made me feel like a million bucks. I thought, What else can I do?

Carmel Johnston, the 28-year-old crew commander of the the NASA funded HI-SEAS (Hawai’i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation) mission, opened up about what it was like to spend an entire year in isolation as if he were on Mars:

“I have to say the thing that I missed most was avocados. We cooked a ton of great meals from our limited resources — chicken marsala, lasagna and endless amounts of ice cream — but nothing could replace the avocado. That, and running in a straight line outside without having to wear a spacesuit — I hate treadmills.”

A guy with puffy nipples told us about why he decided to have nipple reduction surgery, a procedure not without its fair share of bloodshed:

“The first few days after the surgery, I had drainage tubes that hung near my armpits that looked like Tupperware containers, circulating fat and excess blood out from underneath my nipples.”

A 30-year-old virgin — who preferred to remain anonymous — shared his experience of losing his virginity on his wedding night:

“Honestly, the first time was nothing special — including my performance. Let’s just say it didn’t last very long. I wouldn’t call it a bad experience, but it wasn’t mind-blowing either. I was definitely excited and exhilarated — and it’s a sensation different from anything else I’d ever felt before — but neither of us came out of it thinking, Yes, this is amazing!”

This Army sergeant told us the story of why he had to come out five different times after joining the military — and why the experience was mostly surprisingly positive:

“I came to find that the military, as a whole, was actually more socially progressive than society — I got more shit for being a New Yorker than I got for being gay. Sure, there were some guys who were uncomfortable, but I assumed that was a result of where they came from, and maybe never having met an openly gay person before. But the military challenges this kind of thinking because it’s a convergence of everyone — it’s the whole country mixed together.”

Chris James, an adopted 25-year-old from California, bravely revealed the moment he learned that his birth father was a famous Nazi — as well as the crimes the white supremacist had participated in:

“One time, he discovered a fellow white supremacist to be Jewish and beat the shit out of him. His name was mentioned in a lot of murder cases, and I even found out he was the neo-Nazi who broke the chair over Geraldo Rivera’s head in the late 1980s. I read about his trips around the country and even to Canada, where he would organize other white people around hating immigrants and people of color. I just wanted to slam shit around and scream.”

Matt Duron, a former college football player and cop in Orange County, divulged the joys and challenges of raising a gender creative son:

“Religious or not, everyone is always after definitions. I hate, though, putting labels on things, especially kids. Childhood is all about growth and fluidity. Our son might be 10 years old now and using terms like gender creative, but when he’s 13 or 14 years old, he might be using terms like, ‘I’m gay, and I like men.’ That’s an issue we’ve had to struggle with — being able to respect him for who he is without letting our attempts to understand him limit who he tells us he is.”

Dave Stultz, a self-proclaimed men’s lifestyle coach, imparted how he lightly beats men into submission in order to extract their manliest bits of masculinity:

“We also conduct physical tension exercises where our clients will get smacked on the arm and we monitor their nervous system. Men lose their focus very quickly. Think of the training for a Shaolin monk — when they lose focus they get hit with sticks. We’re not going to hit people with sticks, so instead we just slap them on the arm.”

Hair stylist Kristina Reed, who’s been hiding men’s graying hair for more than 13 years, confessed the various reasons why aging guys feel they need her services:

“The majority of my clients start coloring their hair because they want to feel and look better, not because their significant other wants them to color their hair. In fact, it’s sad, but I’ve had a handful of men come in because a headhunter had instructed them to do so: They’re told that it would improve their chances of finding a job if they grow out their hair and get it colored. I consulted with one guy who pretty much told me that he had been out of work for several months and was at the end of his rope.”

Athena, a 23-year-old jazz singer, actress, activist and sugar baby, confided that her longest, most satisfying arrangement wasn’t with a Sugar Daddy, but with a Sugar Mama:

“There’s a big difference between Sugar Daddies and Sugar Mamas in how they talk about sex. Women tend to be straight to the point and direct about what they want, but they also know that it’s about making you feel comfortable so they can get what they want. With men, they’re looking at you as this doll — this sex toy that they now have access to whenever they want, as long as they have money.”

Jeremiah Heaton, a native Virginian who founded the Kingdom of North Sudan to make his daughter a princess, defined outrage culture the way he sees it:

“You could have a gold bar factory in a town and give everyone gold bars, and you’d have someone complain about how heavy they are. That’s just the nature of people today, I guess.”

Tzef Montana, a dancer and non-binary model from Greece, relayed what it was like to grow up among such a distinctly masculine culture:

“When I was 14, my father was invited to the school for a big discussion after a project I did for my technology class. The assignment was to create a presentation about any topic you wanted. I chose homosexuality in nature. I got up and spoke about hermaphrodite mussels and stuff like that. I made this whole, beautiful presentation but didn’t get a grade for it. I was confused, because my teacher knew what the topic was in advance, but she made me go to the principal’s office, where my dad was sitting and waiting for me. The principal told him that he invited him there to address a serious problem. ‘Your son is a faggot,’ he said.”

Tom Emswiler, a 37-year-old Massachusetts public-health advocate and de facto leader of a growing movement to shift New England to Atlantic Standard Time, continued his campaign against daylight savings time:

“I studied the research and found that there are more car accidents when we spring forward in March, because millions of people across 48 states essentially get jet lag all at once. There’s also an increase in heart attacks and workplace accidents when we spring forward because people aren’t getting enough sleep.”

Investigator Jay Rosenzweig explained how much the private-dick business has changed since the 1980s:

“The other day, a woman asked me to find out if her daughter’s boyfriend had a criminal record. I sifted through a bunch of digital court records to find all the things he was charged with, when he was charged and what the sentence was. In all, this guy had close to 50 felonies in 10 different counties and 10 different states. In the old days, it would’ve taken a team of investigators weeks to travel to all these jurisdictions and mine through police reports. It took me a day doing it by computer.”

A recent high school graduate disclosed her most painful malady — text-neck (or sustained damage from looking down at her cell phone):

“A week later when the doctor showed me my X-rays, he told me that my neck was backwards. ‘Ummm, what?’ I asked. He explained that when you look at a side view of a person’s posture, you should be able to see their head, but the concave in my spine was bad enough that my head was shooting so far forward that it wasn’t in the X-ray. Next, he explained that I basically have the spine of someone in their late 60s.”

And Kevin Levrone, a former professional bodybuilder, relived the hush of trying to become Mr. Olympia again at the age of 52:

“The audience was just silent. I’m hitting my famous poses, and I hear nothing. When I turned around, I looked up and saw my body on the big screen. It was just like looking in the mirror that morning, but now everyone could see me. I was like, ‘Damn, I’m off. Everyone knows I’m off. But I gotta make it through. Because this is bigger than winning. Bigger than anything else. You’ll see. Just finish. Just finish. Just finish.’”