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If you’ve ever been in the lobby lounge during the day, you’ve surely seen Joe drinking coffee.

Smartly dressed – dapper even. His black plastic comb is neatly tucked into his shirt pocket. He loves to dance and insists he convinced Mr. Marcus to keep a section of the original tile floor in the lobby lounge for dancing. He reads two newspapers everyday; “Well, it depends on the day. And sometimes, I only get to the headlines,” he concedes.

Joe Charney in repose…

Joe Charney is a storyteller through and through. In our 40-minute conversation I learned about the diamond business – from industrial diamonds used in WWII to the De Beers empire. I learned about his meeting with Santiago Calatrava and his parents’ neighbors’ daughter, who made the movie The Terminator.

He told it like this: “Hurd was the guy’s name that lived next door. He had a daughter. She was an enigma. A scrappy, skinny little thing that picked a fight over anything. He called up one day and said that his daughter  had made a movie and I thought what morbid thing could she ever create. Turns out it was a blockbuster – The Terminator. I was really surprised.”

He’s still pretty sharp. He must be in his 70s, though he tells me he’s 200. “I’ve been coming here for over 50 years – before Ben Marcus bought the place!” Joe declares. He likes the ambience and meeting people from around the world. He compares it to the Waldorf Astoria in New York, “It’s a place where the biggest names in business meet, where the hustlers and the swingers and the doers come together.”

The “dance floor”

I asked how he’s seen it change. “Less travel among salespeople and CEOs – probably because of  video conferencing and restricted budgets,” he offers.

Joe suggested the story of the day that I should tell is the aftermath of the election. “Let’s not get into politics,” I suggest.

Just as quickly as he brings it up, he digresses: “You know, the best things in life are either illegal, immoral or fattening.”  His wisdom is as brilliant as his stories.


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A Milwaukee native and freelance writer, Kashou has published in local publications such as Milwaukee Magazine, M Magazine…