Our Quaint Spirits
31 Oct, 2011
A 1yr-old tiger cub is racing around the lobby. He bounds and leaps down the main hallway, creeps by the lobby tables and pounces on the stair steps. With his muted “Rawwwwrrr,” he terrorizes the guests – terrorizes them with his cuteness.
It’s Halloween and this adorable nipper is certainly getting in the spirit of the holiday. While ghouls, witches, and zombies prowl the streets outside, the Pfister remains ghost-free.
Or does it?
Of the millions of people who pass beneath the red canopy and through the revolving doors on Jefferson Street, a few are bound to haunt its halls. A fair number indeed haunt my Narrator notebooks, beyond the ones about which I’ve already written.
Here are a few of these quaint spirits:
~Frieda, a tiny woman with fiery energy who walks everywhere, chirping her musical “HiiIIiIii”s, when she stops in for weekly coffees.
~Steve, from Moore, Oklahoma where, in a 40-mile radius, Conway Twitty, Toby Keith and Dolly Parton were all born and raised – transplanted to Visalia, California. His time in Milwaukee seemed to be highlighted by the one-a-day Pfister pizzas: “the best I ever had – it had bacon on it! My in-laws have a pizza place and there’s isn’t that good.”
~Roc’s and Peter’s endless, entrancing and charming tales of everything they’ve seen and heard over their cumulative 30+ years as concierges.
~The fast-talking tax attorney from New Jersey who’s come here for 42 years, beginning in 1969 when he prosecuted a case at the Federal Building, which he found to be beautiful like one in D.C. that was once an old post office. The Pfister is one of his favorite hotels, up there with the Boston Marriott and the Palace in San Francisco.
~The teen girls in mussed, braided hair with matching jerseys, high-socks flecked with mud from a soccer match.
~A trio who went for a horse-drawn carriage ride, after which one friend said to the others “I was expecting that to be pleasant, but that was splendid!” He went on to tell the story of the only pony ride in his life, which occurred in his hometown of St. Louis when he was 7 years old, consisting of three sad ponies walking in a circle in a grocery store parking lot: “In retrospect it was awful!” This ride, with Kevin, the young, top-hatted driver, redeemed the memory.
~Tony, the banquet server who’s been here 25 years and is also cook who makes his dishes using vegetables and herbs grown in his daughter’s garden. A painter with two Boston Terriers (Sam and Frodo), he will never forget having met Desmond Tutu: “he was the kindest person to me.”
~The guest who spontaneously broke into a bar-side recitation of the A.E. Housman poem, “When I was one-and-twenty…” from A Shropshire Lad.
~The multicultural phenomenon that was a Scottish clan reunion convening over Irish fest weekend; dinner reservations at a German restaurant.
~The slightly stooped, goateed, tweed-coat-wearing man here for his 65th high school reunion, up in Manitowoc, who introduced me to his pony-tailed son, saying “this girl’s just as nice as the one we met in Chicago!”
~The head of a local independent radio station who occasionally lunches in the lobby.
~Sandy, a 15yr resident of Florida originally from Milwaukee, in her black drape dress that perfectly showcased a gorgeous necklace of painted, ceramic flowers and blue stones. An English teacher for 40 years at the junior high and high school levels, she has two kids, 19 grandkids, and six great-grandkids with three more on the way. She was opinionated and feisty, with an open heart and great wisdom.
~Lunch with Marquette theater professor, and playwright, Phylis Ravel where, over oriental salad lettuce cups and soup, she says she always imagined hotel management to be no different than the theater: “All the characters, drama and theatrics, but with better pay.”
~The gray-haired, spectacularly mustachioed groom who, while posing for photos with his wedding party (average age 45-50), dropped to one knee and perched his bride on the other. A bystander quipping, “Careful! He’s old and probably can’t hold that position for long!” followed by laughter from all; the joy and love emanating from the group eclipsed that of all the other weddings.
~Every single employee who has welcomed me with a smile and an open hand.
The ghosts here are presidents, mothers, bankers, and cooks. They are guests from foreign lands, enthusiastic employees, and everyday neighborhood regulars. These spectres are an accumulation of 128 years of people passing through doors, living under the roof, and working the halls. Every moment – extraordinary or ordinary – leaves a footprint on the brocaded carpet, for others to weigh on.
As I bind off these ink-stained pages, I step back into the shadows, as haunted by this hallowed place as it will haunt me. To leave a mark, or be marked, but possessed now to be ever present until it will no longer have me as one of its numerous spirits of hospitality.