Last year I took a seasonal job selling Christmas trees in Florida. Why Christmas trees? Why Florida? Because it’s seasonal and the job is over soon. It’s nice to spend a month in the warmth. They paid for my travel, a house we shared on the beach, and all my meals while in the FLA. There exist customers who are glad to pay healthy prices to take their time selecting a special tree. They also enjoy that healthy Wisconsin farm boys, for a fee, deliver their chosen tree to their house and set it up. (Wherever, however, turn left, keep going, keep going, YES! No, back a little. Yeah, yeah, that’s it. What do you think honey, is it crooked now? Maybe a little farther…)
My employer in the Christmas tree trade was a gentleman I met briefly before he excused himself to answer a telephone call. I went back to my eggs and speaking with the person seated on my other side. We were all grabbing breakfast at a restaurant with a counter, “counter culture” as my poet friend Louisa Loveridge Gallas likes to say. The guy walked back in from his phone call to announce one of the most preposterous things I’ve ever heard come out of a person’s mouth, “Well, one of our guys hurt his back and can’t come sell Christmas trees in Florida this year.” He started querying healthy young men in earshot. “Frank; Ed- any of you guys want to, um, come sell Christmas trees in Clearwater?” It sounded too strange to be fictional, so of course I jumped at the chance. Working as a poet/bartender/artist it’s nice to do some real physical work every now and then. We opened up our enormous tent on Thanksgiving and it was the first time in my life someone said to me, “Happy Thanksgiving!” on a 70+ degree day. I’d probably be in Florida right now if I hadn’t landed this fantastical job titled Narrator.
Accompany of Kids serenades our guests from stairs leading to the second floor.
I wonder what my dad would say if he could hear me tell him about the duties of the Narrator. My tool and tie maker father was the king of 60 hour work weeks before retiring earlier than he would have liked. “Let me get this straight…your job is to hang out and talk to people and write about it? Where’s the work in that?” Don’t worry dad, I’m still working a couple other jobs, it’s not all hanging out and glasses of water, room for cream in my coffee, shooting the breeze…
Yesterday was the Black Friday dreaded by folks in retail. Personally, I didn’t step foot in a store. We joined all the families who came to the hotel to participate in celebrating the tree lighting ceremony. To quote an Australian gentleman I met here last week the event had me, “Absolutely Gobsmacked!” Milwaukee area families and visiting guests enjoyed complimentary champagne, egg nog, build your own cookies and cupcakes for the kids (ok– adults too, I confess). Accompany of Kids was on-hand to serenade all with holiday songs. To top it all off the Milwaukee Fire Department safely escorted Santa and Ms. Claus for a meet and greet with small a city of excited children.
Grrr, baby. Very grrrrrrr. Even our cats dress up in their seasonal best.
As I look at this lovely holiday display in the lobby, which I did not deliver or set up, there are Milwaukee area families dressed in their best to come downtown and share laughs and pictures with people they may not have seen since a tree stood this time last year. It’s Saturday now and it’s no longer a chorus, rather, Lou Cucunato is playing piano next to the marble sculpture of Guido Pfister. Last year this time I had work selling and delivering Fraser, Douglas, and Noble fir trees after meeting a guy at the local breakfast counter. This winter my “work” is lounging with a tree in my periphery while speaking with guests enjoying a cocktail or a meal at the counter. The piano player just got done with Sway by Dean Martin. People often say the holidays are stressful. I suppose. But why focus on that? Now Louie’s piano is on to My Way by Sinatra. Good. I’ll keep in line with the man. To quote a letter from Frank, “Loosen up. Swing, man. Dust off those gossamer wings and fly yourself to the moon of your choice…”
Ed Makowski is a poet/writer/artist/radio personality/gatherer of stories and lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
While working as Eddie Kilowatt he released two poetry books, Manifest Density and Carrying a Knife in to the Gunfight. Density was included in Best New Poetry of 2006 and Gunfight received the Carma Writer’s Award. Both were released on his indy press Full Contact Publishing.
Ed is also a regular contributor of interviews to Lake Effect on Milwaukee’s NPR station 89.7 WUWM. This is also where he curates The Lunch Counter storytelling series. Through April the Pfister Hotel is home to The Lunch Counter. Ed will serve as the Pfister Narrator through April 2012.
Ed is also working on a few different poetry books, each taking overtly different directions; dialogue poems, history poems, longer storytelling poems.
Between writing projects and working Ed likes to ride motorcycles and backpack into the middle of nowhere.
A writer, actor, director and raconteur, West has written for various arts and architecture publications, been a commentator for WUWMs Lake Effect, and shares his opinions and insights on culture and the art of everyday life on his blog Artsy Schmartsy. He served as Head Writer for Wisconsin Public Radios Hotel Milwaukee, and his book Milwaukees Live Theater was published in 2009 by Arcadia Publishing as part of their Images of America Series. He most recently served as Director of Communications for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. West has been an active theatre professional for more than 20 years.
Along with his wife, opera director Paula Suozzi, and two daughters, Dorothea and Carmela, West lives in a cozy bungalow in Bay View, which he refers to as “the finest neighborhood in the world for beer gardens in lush parks, coffee joints, barbershops, record stores and pizzerias.” He can be identified by his signature bow tie.