29 Jun, 2014
The first time I ever went into the Pfister was when my godfathers (I have two) spontaneously invited me for a hamburger in the café. I didn’t know regular people from the local population could do that sort of thing, and I was nervous to be dining at an establishment I assumed (wrongly!) was designed only for travelers. That and I was wearing blue jeans and plenty of cheap plastic necklaces, which I feared (wrongly! So wrongly!) would prevent me from being allowed in. After that first time though, I did not hesitate to return when they offered me another hamburger at the Pfister. Today, I’m strolling through the hotel on a docile afternoon hunting for a willing guest to chew the fat with and who do I spot? The very men who first alerted me to the existence of this luscious lodge!
Godfather Bill Lemieux has shared meals in this hotel with John & Jackie Kennedy (for whom he worked), the Carters, Henry Jackson & Al Gore. He’s eager to share this fact with me as well as each passing member of the wait staff. He has also dined with Peter Yarrow from Peter, Paul and Mary several times at the Pfister. Another fact: Bill introduced Peter Yarrow to his wife. He won’t say how, but he does explain that in 1960 when Peter Paul and Mary came to perform in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, three young people from out of town asked him which restaurant they should eat at. He joined them and didn’t realize who they were until he went to the concert a few hours later and they greeted him from the stage.
“The most important thing in life is not that you have lived, but that you are living. All the things I‘ve done are yesterday. They are memories. Memories that are shifting.” Bill says this before taking a long silence. Godfather David Subat teases, “Then why do you keep talking about them?!” David tells a story of yesterday, thirty years ago in Oshkosh when he was a student. It was St. Patrick’s Day and there were cars turned over and burned in the street. Ruckus. Snowballs with stones in them were being thrown at the dorms. David turned his head behind him and saw 50-80 policemen in full riot gear, shields, clubs… “I told my friend Darren, ‘Darren, I think we should get the blank out of here.’”
And here we are in the Pfister, not on St. Patrick’s Day, not in the snow and not in danger of getting beat up. Relief, but only for a second before Bill brings the snow of Oshkosh back. “In college we had a massive snowstorm at the end of winter break. The roads were too perilous for many of the students to return to campus, but the president refused to close the college. I gathered everyone who was around outside the President’s building and we snowballed all the windows. The president came outside and said, ‘Alright Lemieux, I’ll close the college.’”
Bill starts to fabricate poetry on the spot, which he delivers aloud at a speed slightly too fast for me to record. It is meant to be heard only once, but that start of it goes, “In moments when sitting with a lady on black…” It was a very decent poem. I request another and beg him to include the topics of beavers and Mr. Pfister. Bill quickly recited a historically accurate account of Mr. Pfister admiring another man’s beaver skin top hat. “Memory is not consistent, it is constant,” says Bill.