Barry Eichner: From trailer to social-media guru

Barry Eichner: From trailer to social-media guru

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That great morning soothsayer Regis Philbin is known for saying, and I paraphrase, “This Internet stuff is just a fad, it’s not going to last. All this twitting and tweeting and Facebooking ... It’ll never last! Mark my words!”

But in case Philbin is wrong, Barry Eichner is here to help. A social-media specialist, Eichner helps small businesses increase their virtual footprint through the use of media such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Klout and Tumbler, just to name a few. A funny guy with a popular food blog on the side, Eichner has mastered the art of using unique, fun and creative approaches to marketing. He may even get me to tweet something one of these days ...

PGN: I notice a slight accent; where are you from? BE: Right here in PA! Y’all heard the saying Pennsylvania is basically Philly and Pittsburgh, with Alabama in between? My family is from the coal region of PA, which is essentially the South. They’re very Southern-like: hard-working, beer-drinking, F-150-driving, NASCAR-loving, food-loving, country-music-listenin’ folks. I jokingly tell people I grew up in the heart of Mobile. I went to Shamokin High School, where we had 200 people in my graduating class. My great-grandfather and grandmother had a farm and housed the home my parents lived in when I was born. Well, home is being generous: It was actually a trailer. All of our neighbors were relatives — cousins, uncles and aunts or close friends of the family — which was a great way to grow up.

PGN: Any siblings? BE: An older half-sister and two younger brothers. My half-sister is in North Carolina and has two girls, and my younger brother has two sons, and the youngest brother has a boy who’s 4 and absolutely amazing! I was hoping at least one of them would be gay, but so far nothing.

PGN: What were you like as a kid? BE: [Laughs.] I was very heavy with acne trying to suppress my homosexuality in a small white-trash town, so there were some unhappy moments!

PGN: What was your favorite thing to do? BE: Watch TV! I escaped reality by watching every nighttime television program I could cram in. I actually thought “Dynasty” was real — that if I traveled outside of my tiny little town, I would find Alex Carrington in the flesh. Thinking that life could be like television was my escape.

PGN: Who would you want as your television daddy? BE: Well, Blake Carrington, of course. But I always wanted to be Alexis Colby Carrington Dexter. I think a lot of gay men from my age group probably wanted the same thing.

PGN: So, how many candles were on your last birthday cake? BE: Forty: That’s the last birthday I had a cake!

PGN: What was an early sign you were gay? BE: I think it would probably be when I was playing on my dad’s Little League team. He was the coach. They put me in right field and — for anyone who knows anything about baseball — right field is where they put you when you have absolutely no skills in the sport. One time it was really, really hot and I came out in shorts — tiny little thigh-high short shorts. My dad just looked at me and stammered, “I can’t ... why ... I don’t ... (sigh) ...OK, fine, just get on the field.” So while everyone was out in traditional uniforms, I was in right field in my go-go shorts.

PGN: You had an older sister; did you play dress up with her? BE: Well, my dad was married before he met my mom and had a daughter, but she didn’t live with us. I played dress up on my own, though! I had the most fabulous bedspread ensembles in Shamokin. They were amazing!

PGN: Who was your favorite teacher? BE: Mrs. Fegley. She always encouraged me to do different things like public speaking and I’ve always been very good at that. I didn’t really have any classes that I excelled at but I had a good freshmen English teacher who introduced us to the classics — Shakespeare and stuff — and I really enjoyed that.

PGN: Any extracurricular activities? BE: I played tuba in the band. Probably the uncoolest of all of the instruments, but I found a great group of friends who I felt comfortable with and they were all in band so I joined too. I sat next to a girl named Hannah who was the most genteel, prissy little girl I’ve ever met and it was hilarious to see her, Miss Priss, and me, who was probably more prissy than she was, sitting there in the stands with giant tubas!

PGN: With Thanksgiving coming up, tell me about your turducken experience? BE: Well, I write a food blog called foodrulez and I recently had the turducken sandwich at Jake’s Sandwich Board. It was a limited-time thing, so I don’t know if they’re still serving it. [Editor’s note: Jake’s website states the turkey-stuffed-with-duck-stuffed-with-chicken sandwich is available through November.] But the fat kid inside of me was transported back to my mom’s dinner table and her open-faced hot turkey and gravy sandwiches. Linda Louise would totally approve! Where we grew up, the food was Southern with a twist. We didn’t have fried chicken, we had chicken potpie. Instead of sweet-potato pie, we had shoofly pie. We had gravy and biscuits and chicken and waffles ... amazing, amazing food. There were always creative ways to use leftovers and, every Thanksgiving, you could count on hot turkey with gravy over white bread. The turducken sandwich brought me back to being at my mom’s kitchen table.

PGN: What’s a favorite family memory? BE: Going camping with my family. A thing I realize as I look back was that my parents were amazing: Their whole lives revolved around us kids having a good, loving upbringing. They were only 23 when they started a family and they weren’t prepared for what they got: a child with a disability — my brother has muscular dystrophy — and an effeminate gay son. They are blue-collar Republicans and yet they showed us love and support and still do so today. But back to camping, we had so much fun. We had a trailer and we’d go all over the country to different campsites and roast marshmallows and explore. PGN: Any incidents come to mind? BE: Oh God, this is so country, but my uncle was participating in a sawing contest, as in lumberjack stuff. The contest was to see who could cut through this giant log first. He went too fast and the saw went through the log and into his leg. I just remember everyone running around and rushing him to the hospital with blood everywhere.

PGN: You know you’re a redneck when ... you’re related to someone injured by a chainsaw. BE: Exactly!

PGN: Did you go on to higher learning? BE: Yes, that’s something that I’m really grateful for. My father wanted all of us to have advanced education: It was his No. 1 priority. Both of our parents worked a lot of hard jobs so that we could all go to college. They were committed to it.

PGN: Where did you go? BE: I went to Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island to start with, but it was extraordinarily expensive and they were really struggling to afford it so I transferred to Bloomsburg University, which is a state university, and finished my degree in marketing and business administration with a minor in persuasive communication.

PGN: Persuasive communication? Sounds like the debate team. BE: No, it’s learning to write in a persuasive manner.

PGN: Kind of like a spin doctor. BE: Yes. For instance, we had to write an article with a particular motivation and then we had to write a paper about the article and why it was written in the manner it was. I thought I was going to set the advertising world on fire and be a massive copywriter, and I ended up going in another direction. Now it’s come full circle and I’m writing for a living. I write a blog and I write for clients. I get to help people market their businesses.

PGN: When did you come out? BE: Oh boy, I just got a pain in my stomach just thinking about it. The first time I ever said I was gay, I was 18 and I had a friend who was older. Well, at the time he was probably only 25, but that was older to me. He was openly gay and I used to hang around him because he was super cool. Not because he was gay, because I wasn’t gay, no sir. I did eventually tell him and moved about 1,000 miles away from home so I could come out. When I told my parents, I told them in a letter. I was such a chicken! In hindsight, not the best way to do it, but it did break the ice and got the conversation started.

PGN: And how did the conversation go? BE: At first they were shocked, which I just didn’t understand because everybody who knew me knew. But OK, denial is a deep river. I get that. So it took them a while, but they eventually came around.

PGN: What did they do? BE: They worked a lot of jobs, but my father is/was mainly a welder and my mom was a waitress at the VFW for a while.

PGN: Did you get any artistic flair from your dad? BE: No, my artistic side is from my mom. She’s very creative. She loves crafts and baking. She does these elaborate four-tiered wedding cakes. I learned the love and art of cooking from her.

PGN: What was the worst job you ever had? BE: As a kid, I was a dishwasher in a restaurant for a week. It was awful. I never liked anything that was mundane or monotonous. I can’t take lather, rinse, repeat. I constantly need new stimuli, something different, so when the dishes were just coming in one after the other without end, I couldn’t take it. That whole assembly-line feel just isn’t for me. PGN: How old were you? BE: I was 16 and I needed to pay for my car insurance. I’ve always worked somewhere since I was 12 years old. I was a farmhand at my cousin’s farm, I put up hay and shoveled manure. I picked strawberries and ploughed the field. And when I got older, I worked at Knoebels Amusement Resorts like everybody else in the family. It became a family rite of passage to work there. I collected tickets and money, I ran rides and concessions, you name it.

PGN: You were a carny! BE: Totally!

PGN: So how did you get out? BE: When I went away to college, I could not get away fast enough. It was terrifying and liberating at the same time because I could finally be myself. I didn’t have to worry about someone finding out that I was gay, which was a terrifying fear for me back then. I ran away from my family and friends, my whole life, just so I could come out. I started a new life at college, which was amazing: I could finally explore being gay.

PGN: A great college experience? BE: I was a waiter at a restaurant called BJ’s — I know, what a name, but it stood for Bob Junior, anyway — and I met some of the most amazing people there. They all knew I was gay and they all accepted me and encouraged me. I was one of the best waiters in the business and it gave me a lot of self-confidence.

PGN: When did you move to Philly? BE: The day after I graduated from college. I was really motivated to get out of Bloomsburg. I lined up a job and then drove here by myself, having never made the drive before, and found an apartment in one day — across the street from Woody’s. So I graduated on Saturday, drove here on Sunday and started my new job on Monday. I worked at Strawbridge and Clothier at Eighth and Market.

PGN: Tell me about what you do now. BE: is a consulting company where I help companies, small businesses mostly, come up with a marketing plan, emphasizing social media. A lot of small businesses are good at their trade but forget that they have a whole other function, which is to get people to their business or service. I act like a marketing department but on a small scale so that it’s feasible for them. It’s so much fun for me, it’s like I’m not working. I have such a variety of clients — a Realtor, a psychotherapist, a restaurant, a DJ, you name it — so it’s different every day. I started Foodrulez a while back because I was kind of bored and I wanted something fun to do. I love the food scene in Philadelphia. I’ve been all over the East Coast and I think we have a great scene here. I try to make the columns fun and irreverent and as enjoyable as the food.

PGN: What’s the most exotic thing you’ve eaten? BE: Trying to think, I’ve been all over and I’ve eaten some crazy stuff ... I think it would be sweetbreads. It’s a consistency thing; it was a little like eating a juicy sponge.

PGN: How would you like to die? BE: In my sleep: I’m a pain pussy! PGN: Any hobbies? BE: I work out a lot to make sure I don’t get obese from all the food I eat for the blog, and I love movies. I see a couple of films a week.

PGN: What’s something you’d do if you weren’t afraid? BE: Ask out the boys I see at the gym!

PGN: You spoke about being a fat kid. BE: In high school I was 240 pounds with a 42-inch waist. I attribute that to my mother’s cooking. She used to make us a breakfast where she would take lard and throw in flour and brown it, then add heavy milk and pour it over white bread. And I thank her for it because I loved it.

PGN: If you could choose an object to come back as, what would it be? BE: Ryan Gosling’s bike seat!

PGN: You’re single: How would someone woo you? BE: I’m a sucker for romance — there’s not enough between gay men. My friends always tease me because if we’re talking about porn, I’m always saying, “Can’t we get a porn film with romance?” and they’re like, “Barry. Just stop.” But seriously!

PGN: What would your after-school special be called? BE: “Chasing Fabulous: Diary of a Gay Alcoholic.”

PGN: Life is short, so remember to ... BE: Enjoy the moment you’re in, not one where you think everything will be as you wish.

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