What I’m Whytching in the Pfister

Concierge Peter suggests

we all need to practice

“whytching,”

watching our surroundings

while wondering why,

or how is it like that?

To behave like the elated toddler

who discovers everything is dimensional:

it can be crawled over, pulled, pushed

bitten and unraveled to reveal

what is at the end,

and why it was rolled up and put away.

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Whytching reveals that a dental equipment extravaganza is occurring on the 7th floor.

 

I whytch the herd of twenty blue hoodies

with grey sweat pants slinking past,

every one of them six feet or much taller,

calling out to each other in male voices

aged by two decades of Gatorade consumption,

I know because I see a bottle of it

through the mesh of their backpack pockets.

I don’t have to harass them with inquiry

to surmise that they are a college basketball team

and that the man of middle years accompanying them

with shirt and pants made out of sweat fabric and drawstrings

is their coach.

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Whytch the flowers being rolled in on a cart,

the lobby’s living color changes most every day

I wonder does this change reflect the mood

of the florist and then become the hotel’s mood?

Or does the mood of the hotel determine

the florist’s choice of the flowers?

Either way it does not feel as emotionally purple here

as it did yesterday when the flowers all spoke violet.

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Whytching reveals patterns.

There’s Joe with his coffee and subprime mortgage lecture at the bar again!

There’s Monette who comes here every week for the caesar salad,

though today it appears she is just having a tall glass of water

and an earful of subprime mortgage talk.

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Monette and her tall glass of water.

 

Practicing whytching is imperative

for excellent eyesight,

c’mon, stretch your eyeballs out

and learn:

lanyards = business conference

leather satchel = business lunch in the café

backpack = brief overnight stay

sunglasses walking down the hall = leave me alone I am famous

red tie = high achieving business person (usually man)

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Theorizing on the landing.

 

Whytching demands theorizing

yet suggests no conclusion,

life is learning, death is knowing

maybe

I have never been dead except

when I fail to whytch,

when I grumble and pucker,

staring at the skin on my arm

without seeing the hairs, pores, freckles,

the mysterious red spots

or appreciating the scent of wrist.

Wrists smell in their own way

unlike anything else.

Just whytch.

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Closeup of a dental equipment poster.

 

Someone takes the steps,

climbing two at a time

dipping the tall reed of their person

in rhythmic appreciation

of this marble terrain.

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Someone else runs up the steps

with swift anticipation

for a new location,

an urgent duty,

to be not here

but there.

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Those who practice whytching

generally acknowledge

she who types on the landing (me).

Those who love whytching

more than anything else

will hand me a hello.

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Whytch carefully, and you will see me in this picture.

 

Let’s make a pact:

don’t be too fast for manners

and I won’t be so slow

that I preach,

instructing you what to do

except, please,

be whytchful.

We Ate Our Last Meal Together At The Pfister

We ate our last lunch together at the Pfister, buy cialis

my Grandma and I

and family,

I wrote a story about it the other week,

except then I did not know it would be our last meal

when I sat next to Grandma

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and we both ordered the salmon salad

from a booth in the café.

The nice thing about a booth

is that it allows multiple people to sit in the same seat

like a couch

like you’re at home

with grandma, patient

my last,

my matriarch

with the passion for hospitality.

She had been talking about taking us out

to a meal at the Pfister for weeks before,

a stupendous outing, a big to-do.

After our meal we slowly ambled through the ballroom

looking at the paintingsDSCN9018

as I carried her purse

which must have held fifteen pounds

of everything anyone could possibly ever want from a grandma.

Chickadee, find would you like a stick of gum?

Do you need a Kleenex, a dab of lip balm or lipstick?

Life savers, a wallet stuffed with family photos,

five dollars worth of change

and biscotti at the ready,

so organized

like her kitchen table

that three weeks after our last meal

has a stack of all her receipts

with the one from the Pfister on top,

obviously her favorite purchase

of the bunch,

an afternoon with the family

she loved so much

that she kept two refrigerators

and an industrial freezer

stuffed with chickens, soups, roasts

and ravioli at the ready

in case we all showed up

with a platoon of long-lost relatives

and their neighbors all

playing

a symphony of deep

growls,

howling stomachs

in need of their 88-year-old matriarch’s

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A month ago she cooked Christmas dinner for eight

with both conventional and organic broccoli

(just for me, the grandchild with a zillion food sensitivities)

“Well, I don’t want you getting sick, Anja-Mangia!”

And that same day just for her, I typed this poem:the existence of grand love

 

The Backside of Everything You Will Never Think About

Roving the lounge

I roll up to a family

with one of those dual seat strollers

and make my introduction, viagra sale

“Are those two ‘youngins’ twins?”

“They are almost Irish twins,” says the mama.

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Irish twins?

I’ve never heard

of that one

what does that mean?

 

Says mother:

“In order to be an Irish twin you would have to be born within twelve months of your sibling. But these two were born thirteen months apart.”

 

“Hmmm,”

I hmmm, realizing

my Dad and aunt are Irish twins.

I’ve got tell Dad

how he’s spent seven decades

probably not knowing

this part of his identity.

 

The things you can learn

when you go twin watching

at the Pfister.

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I really have met a lot of twins

by roaming the Pfister.

The very same day

as near-Irish twins

I meet fraternal twin siblings,

Levon and Levona,

almost two-year-olds

pausing for pictures

with the lion twins.

Now, what kind of twin are the lions?

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There’s a hat on the bar

beside a mostly empty coffee.

Snappy hat—

red black grey feather

leather hat,

probably smells good

but I don’t sniff stranger’s hats,

taking pictures of them

is enough.

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This quiet evening with the curtain in a knot

inspires me to write a birthday note.

I know three people with birthdays today

that I’m going to give this to:

 

“Happy Birthday to the missing tooth

and the room with no people in it

and to the shrink wrap bag

with nothing shrink-wrapped in it

happy birthday to the backside

of everything you will never think about

even with a search engine

and fifty widdle five-year-olds

who ask about when fish feel sad

and what is inside the popcorn kernal

to make it explode?

Those kids always talk about eternity

but I’m talking about the backside of eternity

and I’m wishing it a very happy

a berry merry birthday.”

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First I give this note to Birthday Bridget

along with my spare Tom Thumb typewriter.

As we sit on the orange velour couches of the lounge

my friend Natalie exclaims

this line thrice:

 

“The hot cocoa here, oh!

Thick and rich!”

 

She can’t believe how delicious it is,

or how she’s ordered hot cocoa

all over the city—

disappointing hot cocoas

concoctions of wateriness

contained in styrofoam cup

contrasted

to this whipped cream crowned cocoa,

of thick quality chocolate

that leaves rings

formidable

frappe-esque stain

inside ceramic mug.

The Underwood Typewriter Girl of 1945

I am sitting at my Remington, clacking away at the lobby’s desk when a man approaches me. Chuck, a New York businessman, tells me about his mother, Anne Bernich, who served as Underwood’s Typewriter Girl of 1945. According to Chuck, “Although her typing skills were amazing, she was voted the ‘Prettiest Girl’ in Long Beach High School, class of 44′ which added to her qualifications I’m sure.” For years his mother kept a 16mm film reel that Underwood shot of her typing. A few years ago, Chuck rented a projector and they played it for the first time in several decades. And Chuck happens to carry a copy of it on his phone…

 

“The movie itself is rather boring, it’s a half an hour long and meant for schools and businesses,” Chuck claims.  So he and the AV guy from his work got together, edited it and started dubbing in voices to make it comic.

 

Anne was an assistant to the manager of Underwood’s typewriter division. She regularly attended business shows that had an array of sections devoted to different typewriter companies, mimeograph machines, and anything else that a person would use in a 1940’s business. Anne would be set up in the Underwood area always demonstrating the latest model for the crowds. Frequently these shows hosted contests in which young women would race each other to accurately type the most words per minute.

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Anne was very admired, as evident in this picture.

 

 

Chuck gives me his mom’s number. When I call her she tells me, “They would send me to different contests and I usually won because I could type very fast.” One time at a business show, a man who had been watching her work offered her a job at his brand new company. Anne politely declined, saying that she was very happy with her job at Underwood. She now regrets it, “This man was the man who started IBM! Thomas Watson! He was a delightful man. I can’t believe I said no to him, had I said yes, I’d probably have a lot more money than I have now.”

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Thomas Watson, founder of IBM is the smiling man in the hat immediately behind her.

 

I asked Anne what her word per minute was when she typed. “Oh, probably a hundred and something, I forgot honey, but it was a lot. I played the piano. I started lessons when I was seven. I think the fact that I played the piano made my fingers very nimble.” Later, I called Chuck and asked if he knew what his mother’s words per minute was.  He immediately told me “130.” At 88, Anne still plays the piano, and holds a job as a church organist.

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Nimble fingered Anne, at her current job.

 

It was Anne’s boss who suggested that she be the official Underwood Typewriter Girl of 1945. “I was petite and had blonde hair, and uh, I was nice looking. I guess that’s why they took me, they figured I’d be photographic enough.”

 

She kept the tin with the film reel in it for years in her file cabinet. “It took us a whole week to make it. I had to wear the same dress every day. It wasn’t washed or anything, we didn’t have a washer or dryer then. And the makeup was horrible orange, just terrible, and we’d go out for lunch between the takes and all and people would be looking at us, and me with this terrible makeup, I was embarrassed.”

 

Whenever a new typewriter came out, Anne would go to the factory that produced it and take a tour of the facility with the manager. “I don’t know why they had me go up there, but I did.” At one point they showed her an all-white (including the keys) portable typewriter getting packed up to be sent. “I said, ‘Oh, it’s beautiful, but why is it all white?’ And they said ‘It’s going to the Pope.’”

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Chuck about to show me the video at the Pfister.

To Properly Crash A Wedding You Just…

In the lounge by the fire I meet a clump of kids and their parents. There are six empty mugs of hot cocoas and the dad tells me they all came here to enjoy the holiday décor. The nearest décor (that I suddenly notice with fresh décor searching eyes) are the stuffed stockings that hang from the mantelpiece. They look well stuffed, handsomely stuffed. Before coming to the Pfister the family toured the holiday displays at the BMO Harris bank building where the father works. I learn that the mother is an alderman for Wauwatosa. Alderwoman, she corrects me. As a fellow woman I wonder: how I could I have just made a mistake like that?

 

I catch them right before they put on their coats and leave to spend their afternoon at the Discovery World museum. Daughter Natalia tells me she is eager to rest her body on the bed of nails that is kept there. Daughter Anastasia is dreamy with thoughts of the pirate ship. “Where is Joe?” someone asks. Sometimes he drifts away from the group to investigate shiny objects, and there are an awful lot of shiny objects in the Pfister, even more so when they have the holiday display up. Knowing Joe’s tendency, his brother Matthew gets up to go find him and bring him back for a picture.

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Parents with children Natalia, Matthew, Joe and Anastasia.

 

Two of the kids are biological, one is foster and another was adopted all the way from Khazakstan. “They are all miracles and great kids,” confirms their mother who adds entirely in jest, “And they are all a pain in the butt.”

 

The family asks me to share with them a secret about the Pfister Hotel. I tell them about the peephole on the seventh floor ballroom door. The kids ask me if I have ever seen a wedding in the ballroom, and I assert that I have witnessed quite a few. The dad asks Matthew, the eldest if he knows what it means to crash a wedding and the boy nods, “You just storm in, uninvited.” I get an image in my head of myself leaping into the ballroom, wearing a cape the color of a grey cloud and holding two cardboard lightening bolts. I swipe the microphone right out of the best man’s hand and yell into it my declaration of “I’m here!” The bride and groom gasp, several guests drop their forks that clang into their plates. Everyone is thunderstruck.

 

“But I have never crashed any weddings here,” I clarify.

 

Wasn’t One of Our Ancestors a French Bishop Or Something?

Two of my second cousins are in town

so my Grandma and Mom take us all out

to a Monday noon lunch at the Pfister café.

My cousin Courtney, lifelong Texas resident

introduces us to her new husband, Michael

who, to our collective delight is as Wisconsin as

Green Bay where he was raised.

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Courtney and Michael.

Then there is my cousin Amy and her new husband, Punit

who grew up in Zambia, Africa.

Soon Amy & Punit (of Kansas) will voyage to India

to visit all his grandparents and family there.

Many countries and continents encompass our family,

but today’s meeting concerns the Italian “De Simone” side.

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I attended Amy & Punit’s wedding last summer.

My mom wants you to know De Simone

should be pronounced Deh-si-MON-eh

not Dee-Simone as they switched it long ago

to fit their new American life in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

 

Courtney says she thought she once heard

that De Simone is really a French name

and that one of our ancestors married a French bishop,

which would be against the Vatican’s wishes if true.

But my mom says no, that’s not right, at all,

nuh-uh-UH.

Grandpa (my great-grandpa) had an uncle who was an archbishop,

Filippo, born in Acri, Consenza, Calabria in 1807

long before it was considered Italy, unified as we know it today.

Filippo was installed as the bishop in the Cathedral of Santa Severina

which my parents snapped a picture of when they visited Italy in 1983.

 

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Santa Severina’s cathedral is in the middle.

 

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Outside the castle village of Santa Severina.
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Inside.

Bishop Filippo’s brother and sister-in-law lived with him,

as the caretakers of his house.

Once, when this sister-in-law turned gravely ill,

her husband prayed to let her live

and to have him be the one to die instead…

and that’s just what happened.

Then the bishop’s widowed sister-in-law remarried

to a man with the last name of Pignataro.

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The bishop’s sister-in-law, Dominica Patarino De Simone Pignataro  with her second husband Francisco Pignataro.

Years later, her son Giuseppe De Simone

(from her first marriage),

moved to America and worked

to provide enough for his teenage bride, Maria

and their first son

as well as his sisters and half-sisters

to all cross over in 1914.

Years later my mother explained to Maria all about her new waterbed

Maria was repulsed at the idea of a swaying, watery bed,

“I came over on the boat, that’s enough for me.”

 

Maria and Giuseppe’s son, Alberto De Simone was my Grandpa.

My cousin Amy’s Grandpa was Alberto’s brother, Alfredo.

Both Al’s eliminated the o’s off the ends of their name

so they wouldn’t stick out as Italians.

Courtney’s Grandma, Elvira became Vera.

Salvatore became Uncle Sam,

Guillermo became Uncle Willy.

Aunts Florence and Eva didn’t change their names,

Aunts Adeline and Angeline did not survive childhood.

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Left to right: Vera, Maria with baby Albert (my grandpa!), Sam, Giuseppe (Peppi) and Alfred around 1920.

 

Now, a century after Giuseppe (a.k.a “Peppi”) came over to America

looking for his new life as a blacksmith,

his offspring gather in the Pfister, ordering a bloody mary,

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With beefstick (among other delectables), and beer chaser.

cream of broccoli soup and a couple of salmon salads

while wondering,

“Wasn’t one of our ancestors a French Bishop or something?”

No, he wasn’t,

but isn’t this game of generational telephone interesting?

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My grandparents getting information from a local in 1983.

In Which I Get A Massage

A few weeks into December, a generous and innovative customer commissioned me to typewrite five short stories to give to their various family members on Christmas day. Being the purist that I am, I decided that all the drafts for these stories should also be crafted on a typewriter. After a week of writing five short stories and their numerous foul drafts on that unforgiving contraption, I felt compelled to unlock my shoulders. They were digging into my jaw and I was beginning to walk funny.   Finally!  The excuse I’d always wanted to visit the Pfister’s basement… that’s where they keep the WELL spa!

I ordered a 60-minute massage and they gave me a clipboard. Would I like any upgrades? Coconut cream kneaded into my scalp? A longer time for the shower? Deeper pressure? Fifteen extra minutes to just relax in the room by myself afterwards? And did I bring my own iPod or would I like to listen to nature sounds or classical music on the internet radio?

 

I am a wild animal in human form,

so nature sounds, please.

 

They demonstrate how to use the shower. It’s a little complicated because it features so many enjoyable options.   There is the traditional handheld showerhead on the east wall, or one could bask in a cool mist or dance their way (this shower is large enough to accommodate the dance party of a medium sized family) into the south corner and experience six jets of scalding hot water coming at you from three different directions. I chose that last option and was utterly flustered with relaxation.

I learned from my masseuse that nine out of ten women have kinkeled shoulders like me. The expression is true in that that’s where “we carry the weight of the world.” Men, conversely, tend to strain their backs by holding all the tension in their buttocks. My guess is that many of them are just trying to grip the world from the bottom, but the world is too heavy to be carried real far that way.

Midway through the massage the nature sounds transitioned from a scene of crashing waves on the beach with euphoric seagulls to a bathroom sink sized brook that gurgles and tinkles. I had to ask her to change the station to classical music and let me use the plumbing before continuing. That is my only critique of the experience, aside from the fact that any massage that’s shorter than five and a half hours is way too short.

To make everything even better at the end they offered my choice of a glass of limewater, tea, mimosa or champagne to sip, and I could sit around as long as I wanted, reading magazines and snacking on fruit and nuts. I drank the chamomile.

“could you please send me a boyfriend who does yoga?”

 

Katherine has been coming here for years

she was married for three decades

to a man who came to the Pfister to just to jog.

He died ten years ago

so, viagra recently she asked the divine,

“could you please send me a boyfriend who does yoga?”

After she asked she didn’t expect a response,

so instead of waiting around for love

she went camping.

While she was out there in the wilderness

she met an interesting man

they talked quite awhile

and when they were done he asked for her number

but for whatever reason she wouldn’t give it to him

so it took weeks for them to run into each other again

but when they did

he asked her for her number again,

nicely,

so this time she did

and now she’s spending Christmas

and New Years with him,

her new boyfriend

who just so happens to practice yoga.

He wants to serve lobster on New Years Eve

which is frankly,

a tad daunting for Katherine

who has never eaten that before.

She is a woman with habits,

she comes to the Pfister

every year to visit with Val at the bar

after doing some shopping at Boutique B’Lou.

Her bags of loot sit on the stool beside her.

Inside the paper bag wrapped bounty

are Nepalese bracelets of woven beads

of which a portion of the sale

goes back to helping the women crafters of Nepal

and their families to live more complete and healthy lives.

So Katherine bought a few of these seed bead wonders

and took one out for me to touch

it feels like a snake

in a good way,

I know, I have touched snakes

they are cool

literally

cool and smooth,

in a bumpy way

but I have slithered myself into tangent

back to the story

this is how Kathy shows her love:

three moose are in the mail

(Or is it meese? Like geese?)

I don’t know what they look like

or if they are alive,

but she gestures how big they are

these moosen are headed

for Kathy’s great-grandchildren

who live in Minneapolis.

This morning she went shopping for the yogic boyfriend too

and he’s going to get

shrimp, champagne and chocolate cupcakes,

I know, I asked,

and now you know too.

And what did Katherine learn from all this?

She laughs, “Maybe I should pray more often.”

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By the way, I hear this lad in the shash recently picked up yoga!

Santa and His Retired Friends From The C.I.A.

On a Friday night in December, online there is man in a Santa hat having a drink with a bunch of his friends in the lounge. To make conversation I ask him why he’s got that hat on (though the reason is obvious) and one of his many friends says, “He is our official Santa. We all used to work together, but half of us are retired now.”  I ask them where they worked and they tell me, store in great guffaw bursts, “The C.I.A. HA HA HA HA HAHHHHH!”

Note to readers, while I am certain that Central Intelligence Agency workers do enjoy leisure in the Pfister, like anyone else, you have to understand that everyone, yes, nearly everyone constantly tries to impress me by telling me that they work for the C.I.A. or the F.B.I.  Usually men will inform me this when not accompanied by a wife or girlfriend.   They expect my eyes to grow like saucers. They expect me to swoon or trill like a parakeet. Sometimes, diagnosis just to give them that moment of satisfaction I go along, but truly, you can’t pull that kind of bunk with me when everyone else says the same thing. And just what is the allure of being a C.I.A. or F.B.I agent? I am certain it is not often a job like it is the movies. Furthermore, I don’t even enjoy those kinds of movies.

The workers point to their official Santa, “Do you watch the news? He’s the one responsible for the torture of the 9/11 terrorists.” I must not look impressed, for someone else backs the claim up, “Yeah, it was all him, he was the architect of the torture.” Clearly, this is not eliciting the right reaction with me at all when a woman asks me “Were you even alive during the 9/11 terror attacks?”

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It was him.

 

2001 was thirteen years ago. If that was before my time, that would put me at twelve years of age, well, at the very most. However, I do remember learning from my high school’s intercom about the attack on the twin towers in New York. My first thought was, “What are the twin towers?”

I don’t get too deep into my reminiscing of that day, because these people seem to be having fun. One of them is wearing a yarn necklace strung with office supply clips. She tells me she retired the on same day as the official Santa and one other person. The three of them all decided to retire as a group last year because it would be cool to do that.

 

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More former coworkers arrive, and the cries of long separation carry through the whole lobby. This is one loyal pack and they are feeling rowdy. I flee to let them howl.

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Former and current members of the C.I.A.

The Gifts In Life Have Nothing To Do With Money

Jennifer is here. She just quit her job as the director of a troupe of tribal belly dancers. I learn that tribal belly dancing is more athletic than traditional. Apparently traditional belly dancing much more wiggly.   I believe it, medicine having taken belly dancing in college and finding it fairly impossible to wiggle that much. Jennifer says yes, older ladies really like taking the less wiggly tribal belly dancing.   She studied it for 15 years in San Francisco before starting her troupe in Milwaukee.DSCN8915

 

What’s next for Jennifer? She will keep dancing in some form. Right now she is a lady of leisure spending her afternoon in the lounge. Her son is one of the bellhops and is treating her to a stay.   She is writing her Christmas letters. Open before her is a card with a lengthy penned message to her friend in Russia. Jennifer sips a Moscow Mule.

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Val, sovaldi sale the bartenderess corrects me, “It’s an Austin Mule,” since the vodka is Austin made. She introduces me to two young men at the bar. They are ordering matching red wines that they will hopefully not spill upon their immaculate matching white shirts. They have matching hair and matching black slacks. They have both just finished job interviews for the same coveted investment-banking job. One flew in from Boston, ask the other St. Louis, but geez Louise, do they match! And even though they are trying for the same slot they converse on the couch like old chums.

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“The gifts in life have nothing to do with money, it has to do with the people you meet who change your life,” says Ronny, former basketball player and the founder of Athletes For Autism. Ronny connects people, entertainers and athletes together to form a voice for autism, a voice for the voiceless. He says the wisest people are often beggars, and many choose their poverty as a way of life. There was a beggar that Ronny would buy lunch on a regular basis. Ronny enjoyed conversations with this intelligent person and offered to give him a job and a support system so that he wouldn’t have to live on the streets anymore. The man accepted the job, cleaned up, wore a nice suit but couldn’t get through his first day on the job. It wasn’t in him; he had a calling to learn through suffering on the streets.

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Ronny provided the deepest conversation I’ve ever participated in at the Pfister.  He told me to write it down when I theorized, “You have to have empathy to have curiosity.”