The Short Man

A guest in the lobby told the following story that took place over thirty years ago. He told me four other stories similar to this in the period of an hour.

 

I get a phone call from Short Man, troche he wants to see me. We were best friends in high school in the Carribean, he never finished and I hadn’t heard from him much since. He’s in New York. I was going from Europe to Miami but he changed my ticket for me. Three guys came to pick me up in a car at LaGuardia, they said, “We want to take you, the Short Man wants to see you.” It was the first time I was in New York. They took me to a place (I would later realize is called the Bronx) to a dilapidated building sort of like Cabrini Green. There wasn’t an elevator, they took me up these steps. We kept climbing up all these steps to the top where there was a big red door. They knocked a certain kind of patterned knock. A guy on the other side of the door lifts a flap, peers at us and says “Okay.” He moves a big steel cross from the door and lets us in.

 

From knee height all over the floor is only money, guns, drugs and people counting it, putting it in rubber bands. Short Man is running the operation. I’m told he will be here in a little bit. I wait and watch people counting and eating cheap sandwiches. As I wait they tell me that I’m welcome to any amount of money I want. “Just take it.”

 

I’m waiting and he’s still not coming. They ask, “Is there anything you want to do? Chase women? Play pool? Strip clubs?” I said I think I’d like to drink beers and play pool like we do in the Caribbean. I am to play pool against the bar’s resident pool master as my three friends (who I don’t really know) watch on and I break the shot. The pool master says, “Well, you know its $100 a game. We play for money here.” I said, “What? I’m not used to that.” My three friends said, “Don’t worry about it, we’ll pay for you, just have a good time.”

 

I accidentally hit some of his balls with the cue. He took my cue stick, threw it down on the table and shouted, “You lose! You’re not supposed to hit your opponents balls here, ‘house rules!’ Just pay me my money and get out of here!” My friends told me to play him again. So we start playing again. Now I try and get the white ball by going at an angle, but I miss the whole shot. I lost again. “We play the next one for $500 or you pay me my $200 and walk away from the table. I tell my friends, “I’m sorry I put you through this inconvenience.” They reply, “No, you’re okay, play again.”

 

By now I’m learning from my mistakes. I surround his balls very carefully with mine so that when he goes he had to make the same hitting violation as game one. When he does I declare “Aha! House rules!”

 

What happens next is unpleasant and I don’t want to repeat it. Eventually he connects up with Short Man and they go shopping together for eight days.

 

We kept going to the shops and whenever something costs $800, he says, “I’ll take that. I’ll take that.” I was ready to go home, about to take the airplane, Short Man begged, “I don’t know anyone in America, stay with me. I have a problem, I’m making so much money it’s like a garden hose with water coming through and I can’t shut it off. I don’t know what to do with it.” I asked him how much money he had and he said he was making two million a week and asked, “I have a question for you, you’re my only friend. Why is it you never took anything from me? No diamond, no rolex, money or camera?” So I said, “We are like brothers, there is no need for me to take anything. As long as you have something, I have something.” Short Man nodded his head and said, “That makes sense.”

 

The Pfister lobby, where incredible stories are told.

The Woman Who Eats Cake Every Day

Debbie was working as a pastry chef when a customer came in wanting a cake like the one they saw in Martha Stewart Magazine. The customer said they’d been to every bakery in town, but no one would do it. Debbie was shocked to hear that, but the bakery where she worked was not properly equipped to do it either. So she opened her shop where she could bake anything anyone wanted.

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People ate this recently at the Pfister.

She bakes a lot of groom’s cakes for weddings at the Pfister. I’ve never heard of a groom’s cake before. “It’s a southern tradition, traditionally wedding cake was supposed to be white cake vanilla, so they would offer a chocolate cake too so that was another flavor. But then it evolved into more fun theme cakes, to incorporate his personality a little bit into the wedding.” Debbie has done the plain chocolate cake, but she has also made one to look like a pair of Chuck Taylors. The last cake she made for the Pfister was a Star Wars themed groom’s cake: Boba Fett’s helmet.

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Also eaten at the Pfister.

 

Previously, Debbie studied sculpture at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. “When I was younger I partied a lot and would pull all-nighters. And that’s good, now I have to do the same thing. When it came to projects in school, I always waited till the last minute to do anything. And with this job I really have to wait till the last minute,” Debbie explains referring to cake freshness.

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A more traditional Pfister wedding cake.

 

The largest cake she ever had to make was for something at the Pfister. They wanted a super tall cake, seven layers separated by pillars. The cake was to be placed in the middle of the table. She had to climb a ladder and lean way over with her arms extended to install it. “Usually at a wedding the cake is cut right away, but what happened was they wanted the cake to last like the entire evening because they had some sort of slide presentation and speakers. But they had to dismantle it early because the top cake was so tall, it was so much closer to the lights, and heat rises so it just started to melt.”

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But Debbie enjoys challenges. “I remember the first time someone asked me for an upright motorcycle, and I was just like, ‘Sure!’ not really thinking about how I could do it. And then I remember watching The Ace of Cakes and on that show they said the only thing that can’t be made with cake is an upright motorcycle. I was like ‘I just said yes to that! Oh my gosh!’” So she just had to figure it out. She built an armature out of wood, and made a cardboard platform that the cake could rest on. This is her 11th year in the cake business, in that time she has had to bake three upright motorcycles.

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One time GE designed a portable EKG machine. They brought her one and she had to make five identical EKG machine cakes.

One time she had to make a surprise toilet cake for a groom who was a plumber. And yes, as Debbie explains, “You can make some realistic poop with frosting.”

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One time at the Pfister a Wisconsin woman married a Texas man. The cake resembled a hunk of cheddar in the shape of Texas. This couple had met at Marquette University and liked going to mass at the campus’s St. Joan of Arc chapel. So Debbie made a second cake, a replica of the chapel, a surprise from one of the betrothed’s parents.

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Here are some other cakes that were cut at the Pfister:

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And here are some strange cakes by Debbie:

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An Andy Worhol!

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The Berlin Wall!
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These are from the guy that ordered a cat cake every year on his cat’s birthday.

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Debbie says that it is not uncommon for the person picking up the order set down before them to sincerely ask, “So where’s the cake?”

 

The Rock of the Day

There is a couple from Madison that comes here every year. They spend the week after thanksgiving sitting quietly side by side in the Pfister café, health the wife with an unidentified electronic contraption, the husband with a book of games to solve. It is a docile, wintry afternoon, one in which everyone notices everyone else, but mostly keep to themselves. “He has the face for a story,” one woman murmurs to me. She has ordered mocha, medicine and has noticed the couple as she waits for her drink to be prepared. I agree, he does. But they also appear to be in a state of introverted meditation bliss like everyone else this afternoon. Like the rock of the day.

 

Meet the rock:

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Rock of the day

 

Brittany, the barista has started to bring in a different rock to work with her every day. As Brittany puts it, “I have so many rocks, I might as well put ‘em out for show and tell.” I ask how many rocks she thinks she owns and she estimates “over a couple hundred.” As with most collections, Brittany owned one or two rocks that she liked and then two years ago everyone assumed that she was really into rocks and started giving her a lumpen geode every holiday and birthday.

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Barista Brittany

 

Today’s rock is of an unknown variety. Yesterday, the rock was a bismuth, I’m told that is the kind of rock that is usually grown in a lab so that it develops “crazy crystals.” The day before that Brittany brought in a jasper. When she first held her jasper she lost her grip and it cracked in half on the floor. It turned out to be fortuitous, since the inside of the jasper is “super crystally.” She has also brought in a green tourmaline that is cross-hatched with quartz. Thursday’s rock is scheduled to be a six pound agate. Soon to come will be red citrine, green citrine and “a rock that looks like a peacock.”

 

Most people do not notice the rock of the day, but the taxi drivers who come in for their coffees almost always do. They tell Brittany, “We have these in my home country.”

 

The Madison couple that sat side by side in a booth have now moved to the leather easy chairs. The wife tells the husband, “That’s the only sweater you own that would match that chair.” The husband looks up from his crossword and replies, “I clad myself accordingly.”

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His drink matches the chair as well.

Too Old For Santa’s Knee

The day after Thanksgiving, Santa makes an appearance at the Pfister Hotel the same evening as the annual Tree Lighting Ceremony.  That’s great, kids love the opportunity to tell the man direct what it is they wish for.  But what about everyone else?  Once you grow up you still want things.   And perhaps more than that you need someone to listen to your wistful yearnings.  For three hours I set up my typewriter in the cafe and scribed a dozen adult’s lists to Santa.

 

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The live poetry reading consisted of me reading the letter aloud to each adult once complete.
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Daughter and mother. The daughter asked for a new boyfriend with a sense of humor and the mom for a new hospital to replace the old one she currently works at.

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It took him a while, then he knew just what he wanted.

Her husband lost his voice after his recent surgery.  She misses hearing him sing.
Her husband lost his voice after a recent surgery. She misses hearing him sing.

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Her description included showing me with her hands how big she would like it to be.

 

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A father wanted a green backpack.  A couple visiting from Minnesota wanted everything from the cashews to the saws advertised in the current Blain’s Farm and Fleet catalogue. A sixty-two year old wanted another twenty years of life and world peace.  Someone else wanted “joy, peace, prosperity love and vindication.”   A woman in her early twenties told me she was like a ferret: she wanted something sparkly and shiny.

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Still, the kids could not keep away from the elf lady and her typewriter, a magical object they had never seen before, but had to photograph on mama's cell phone.
Still, the kids could not keep away from the elf lady and her typewriter, a magical object they had never seen before, but had to photograph on mama’s cell phone.

 

The parents of these kids called out to their kids, "Leave her air!  She needs air to type!"
The parents of these kids called out to them, “Leave her air! She needs air to type!”

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“What Are You Doing For Thanksgiving?”

 

The following people shared their Thanksgiving Plans:

 

Name: Ariana

Location: Artist studio

Context: One Pfister Artist Niki’s interns, drugstore Arianna spent her day crocheting condoms into upholstery for Niki’s fainting couch.

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“I’m going to my fake aunt’s house. I actually met her on the bus, recipe the green line by the Pick ‘N Save on Oakland. I was wearing this fake fur coat (‘cause it’s like 0 degree here all the time) and she saw me and said ‘nice coat.’ We started talking and I said I’m from Baltimore, and she said ‘Well, I’m from Maryland.’ We started talking and going on, we talked about her kids a little bit, and about me and about where I go to art school, and we’re just talking and she says, ‘I really like that you’re an artistic person from Maryland, I’m really excited about that. Let me give you my card.’ And I say ‘Well, let me give you MY card, because I had just made business cards for an internship.’ So we exchanged cards, and I texted her immediately, and we’ve been friends ever since. This was in February. I just went to her kid’s talent show this weekend. Her kids are 11 and 14, and smarter than I thought kids could ever be. She’s the most extreme extrovert I’ve ever met. We’re going Thanksgiving hopping, which I’ve never done before. We’re going to one at one ‘o clock, and then another one at six thirty. I was like ‘Great,’ I was like ‘Sweet, I’ve never been to multiple Thanksgivings, I guess this is what happens when you’re like super cool and always talking to people.’ I’m hoping some of this will rub off on me. “

 

I ask Ariana, how many people she thinks her fake aunt has met on the bus.

 

“Her car was out, like in the shop, so she had to take the bus that day. But I think she does have approximately two other fake nieces and nephews.

 

 

Names: Tim, Carmella, Joe, Corinne

Location: VIP Lounge

Context: All four of them sitting around a table and conversing.

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“I’ve usually been a cooker,” explains Carmella, “Our children have all gotten older now and they’re all off doing other things, so we decided we’d go out and have fun!” Previously, they’ve stayed in their Chicago homes to celebrate, but tomorrow they will be at the Pfister for the feast. “We’ve never been here. We don’t know how it works. We’re going to eat at the Mason Street Grill, three ‘o clock Thanksgiving dinner.”

 

They all look the same approximate age. I ask if they are all family.

“Yes, brother and sister.”

“He’s our father,” one of the two men, points at the other, who replies, “You can’t blog ****content censored!!!!**** you.”

 

 

Names: Shosho (who declined to be pictured) & Abdullah

Location: The café

Context: Shosho is finishing her croissant, they are two of the most attractive people I’ve seen in the hotel all week.

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Both are from Saudi Arabia originally, but they met in Chicago. Shosho is getting her masters in Education, so that she can work in the field of Administration. She has never been to a Thanksgiving dinner before, and tomorrow will be just another Thursday in Shosho’s life. Abdullah, on the other hand, has attended a Thanksgiving dinner in the past. “To be honest, I didn’t like the turkey. It tasted raw. Next time I’m just going to get salad and other things.” Eloquently put! Abdullah just completed an English as a Second Language course a few days ago.

 

Employee Benefit Implementors Ruminate While Sipping Glog

The following monologue was created from a conversation I had with two women as they waited for Val to serve them some hot glog. Note: multiple voices and perspectives speak as one.

 

We’re not down here too often

we work in Brookfield and have clients here

so we’re not here usually for drinking

except today

it’s so cold we needed something

we live in Brookfield and Jackson

I feel that all I ever do is drive

I drive for everything

and I guess I’m used to it

but Jackson is a beautiful town and I love living there.

How bout you, pilule for Waukesha?

Well, yeah, I live in Waukesha.

I’m actually from the U.P.

from the Upper Michigan

uh yes, so I moved here in 1982

and I’ve worked downtown for several years

for a couple of architects so, uh I’m pretty used to it

I don’t like the traffic either

or the drive, but…

are you both architects?

No, we actually work for an insurance brokerage firm.

Okay. Is that fun at all?

Not right now

healthcare reform

it’s stressful,

yeah, healthcare reform,

but we work on employee benefits

so we go to different clients

and we help them implement their employee benefit programs

it’s fun meeting with employees and the employers

that’s always enjoyable,

but very educational right now,

the industry right now is really rough.

She’s good at insults.

She says I have no filter

one of our account execs was in a really bad mood

and he had been in his office with the door shut,

slamming things and yelling

and we were having our big company dinner

(we just had a thanksgiving dinner)

and I saw him walking by with a plate of food later

and I said, “Well,

I sure hope that fixes your mood.”

Oh my god, Kristi!

I know!

And you still have your job

I know and I thought

he didn’t

and he didn’t punch me,

it makes it easier to work when you’re not superficial.

 

The glog is served.

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You know what it makes me think of?

“It’s A Wonderful Life,”

when Clarence goes into the bar

and Clarence is trying to decide

after a thousand years

what’s he’s going to have

and he asks for a rum toddy

or something like that

with a dash of cloves

or whatever

and they threw him out,

y’know?

That’s what it reminds me of.

Well, Clarence would be welcome here!

For sure.

Sevens And Apples

 

Right now in the Mystery that is the Pfistery,

there is a basket out in the lobby

a tisket, a tasket of apples,

all sized small

enough

to keep inside my blazer pocket

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my pocket’s apple is named King David

cause I’m told these are King David’s Apples

an heirloom variety individually selected

by the hotel’s own king executive chef, Brian Frakes

who has decreed them the Hotel Apple

for the month of November you can taste

the Pfistery essence for yourself

it has a deep red flavor that doesn’t go all the way

down the dark path with declarations of feral passion

in the way heirloom red apples sometimes will,

this one stays sweet and neat, with a dry flesh

that would be good sliced thinly over oatmeal,

or as they do it here, served with duck

probably similar to the way my family served it

seven generations ago in Poland

I’m thinking of this ’cause

Chef Frakes told me King David’s sibling,

the Arkansas Black apple was discovered

in 1893, the same year this hotel first opened,

which was approximately seven seeds ago,

as he put it,

“If a seed is approximately 20 years,

we are now in the seventh seed at the hotel.”

I’m reminded of a poster in the bathroom

of my college’s liberal arts building,

that had a picture of wilderness,

and a quote about making all decisions

with consideration for those

who will live on this planet

seven generations from now.

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I am in my 27th year of life,

my seventh month

as the seventh Pfister narrator,

the voice the comes up behind

three guests from Dallas

to describe the Victorian painting they are looking at,

a scene, “The Eternal Apple of Eve,”

two friends peeling apples, peeling with laughter,

a painting that was bought by Guido Pfister,

the man who planted the first seed of the Pfistery

that feels so luxurious to explore on my own,

passing the rooms where meetings have been held,

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candies half unwrapped on the table,

notes taken on the complimentary pads,

complimentary pens strewn, chairs pushed back,

the intensity of multiple thoughts,

has yet to be swept away by the staff

I hear coming down the hall with their cart,

so I leave to inspect the 23rd floor

and run into the Dallas Trio again,

yes, I am the disembodied voice that narrates

the window view for these three flight attendants

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who are unaware that they are admiring the world’s only

inland freshwater sea.

These flight attendants take three-day trips every week,

before Milwaukee they stayed in Canton, Ohio,

“It was almost as good as this,

but this, is a step above even that.”

They tell me there is nothing so historically grand

in all of Dallas

the only thing that comes close

is the Pyramid Room,

a hotel still in its first seed.

 

I could end the story here

but then I’d miss how

on this day of apples and sevens

I was passing the elevator when

Peter, the concierge, asked me

if I was following him

to get his apple.

I did not know he had an apple,

he did not know I was thinking about apples,

but he stuck his arm out

as the elevator doors began to close

just his head and hand could be seen,

His head told me, “It’s a Jonamac!”

His hand held it out for me,

I accepted it so he would not be guillotined.

This is a comely apple.


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Shrunken Heads of Old Men & Angels of Light Hibiscus

 

Each time I go to work someone from the staff is bound to show me something.

 

Once, seek Rick the bellhop tells me about his boston terrier, Mugsy.

“She grows more and more into a creature every day, and less like a dog. She has creature tendencies.”

Such as?

“She makes crazy noises.”

I assume he means noises that are not at all doglike, perhaps a terrifying gnashing of its mandibles followed by hours of venomous hissing.

“She will listen to me inside, but not outside, not when she’s in the wild, that’s when her creature kicks in.”

I imagine Rick’s tiny dog hunting for whole families of rabbits, whole herds of beaver.

“One time she came back with a feather on her nose, she ate a bird.”

He shows me a picture of Mugsy, and she doesn’t look like a creature to me. She looks much closer to something of an alien.

“I think she’s an alien,” says Rick, “She’s couldn’t have been born on this planet.”

 

One day, Helga the concierge tells me she brought something to work to show me: tiny shrunken heads of old men! Well, maybe not, maybe just metal beads shaped like shrunken heads of old men if you believe Helga’s claim. Her claim is that years ago she sculpted these heads out of clay and then cast them. No matter what the true story of their origin is, one fact remains— Helga houses these partial gentlemen in a nest she built out of coiled wire.

 

Peter, the daytime concierge, shows me what to look up on my next online image search: “angels of light hibiscus.” The pictures that come up will be of George Edgerly Harris III, a performance artist from the seventies who started a ‘psychedelic gay liberation’ theater troupe known for its outlandish and remarkably detailed costumes.

 

On my way to the elevator I run into Matt, the head engineer, and the employee whom I suspect has the quickest comebacks of all the staff.

I ask him, “How’s it going?”

“It’s going.”

“GOOD,” I say with jovially and with increased volume since he’s going one way down the hall and I the other.

“I will not qualify how it’s going,” he replies. The hilarity of this response is not evident on the blog, but it was very funny. He had a contrarian tone in his voice, one that implied my automatic friendly greeting made the mistake of trying to simplify the complexity of the saga known as his day. Lesson learned.

Eavesdropping in the Pfister

I am sitting in Blu by myself so that no one will distract me as I eavesdrop in on the conversations. Some old ladies are giggling about martinis. An old man is taking all the plush chairs away from my table to build a nest for all his companions. One of them asks, decease “How was the wedding?” to another. She replies, “It was long. I never was to a Catholic wedding before. The organist played six or seven songs. I kept thinking ‘this is not over yet?’ It was so standard, the vows were by the book. And they do all the kneeling. The congregation must have kneeled three or four times. I grew up Lutheran, decease we get it over with. That’s more my kind of wedding, twenty minutes, BOOM, out.”

 

In the café I overhear two concerned mothers complaining about middle school girls trying to get the attention of clueless pre-pubescent middle school boys. “Sports bra, cheap that’s what she’s walking around in. What mother let’s their daughter out of the house like that? Unless she’s stupid, but regardless, they’re all together, they’re all close, they’ve been close since day one, since middle school, they are what they are. The one girl who’s taking up with them, she came over in one of those dresses that was up to her hootchy-hooch.”

 

In the café I also listen to two men discussing HSP, but since I don’t know what HSP is, I have no idea what it is that they are going on about, but it sounds atrociously banal.

 

Outside the ballroom I catch the following snippet from the National Philanthropy Day festivities. The trained voice of a news anchor from channel twelve proclaims, “She has been a sparkplug for a lot of philanthropy initiatives.” What high automobilic praise! Later I learn that Milwaukee’s National Philanthropic Day commands a larger attendance than even New York City’s. “That’s just what kind we are here,” the Milwaukee Philanthropist Day organizer boasts to a bellhop in the lobby.

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I enter the lobby lounge and am delighted to see my chum Jenna Kashou at the bar. Do you remember her? She was the Narrator about two years ago. I go up to say hey Jenna, but she is leaning her whole body into conversation about a corporate sponsorship brochure for the Black and Blue Ball, a benefit for Muscular Dystrophy. Jenna’s hands are zipping every which way. I take a seat on the sofa next to the fireplace. I never noticed before how inside the fireplace there is a motif of a racing chariot. A chariot of fire! I pick up the newspaper someone left on the couch. It says something about “Drones For The Masses.” Listening in on other people’s conversations is about to get a lot more high-tech.

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A Love Letter From the Man With a Kind Smile

One day I’m typing in the lobby when a man approaches me. He has a kind face, one that appears illuminated from within by what I’d guess to be a gentle, prolonged love relationship. He just looks easeful and friendly. He inquires as to what I’m doing with a typewriter. When I tell him that I write poetry and letters for people, he looks at me with approval.

 

The next day I’m typing again when the same fellow comes up to me. He explains how he is staying here a few days for a business conference and would like me to compose a love letter to send to his wife back in Detroit. After interviewing this man I learn that he’s been married fifteen years, has two kids and that his wife, Heather, takes care of them a lot. While he is on this trip, she is attending parent-teacher conferences. Heather has taught this man with the kind smile how to be more social, and to slow down so as to better appreciate life. He confesses he has a “type A” personality and has a hard time doing that. When he asks me when he can pick up the letter I tell him ten minutes. “Really?!” He looks surprised, but sure enough, in exactly ten minutes he comes back as I am typing “devotion,” the last word.

 

“Heather,

 

My succulent savorer

of all things living

of all things swaying

on this planet

made better, burnished deeper

by your focused listening.

 

Even me

even sharp toothed

quick bite and run type A me

even I can say “ahhhhhhhhh”

what a beautiful

lackadaisical daisy

scented thought filled

day it is,

one in which I am glad

to walk through

because I have you

and I have your lesson

mimeographed upon my lungs:

b r e a t h e, gasp, hyperventilate

b r e a t h e ,

there we go,

it takes practice

but it is worth doing

to please the kind woman

who has mixed within her own body

two children for us to share

with the whole world.

And while I am womflinkering along in Milwaukee

my thoughts are with you,

they are sitting beside you

in the empty chair

at the parent-teacher conference.

My thoughts pat the soft crowns

of our kidlet’s heads,

splendid children.

 

While I am away

I am in review reverie

of our fine fifteen years

and even more than that

I am scheming up

fine dreams

for future cakes of ardor

to serve you, my love,

in admiration

and devotion,”

 

I hand him my pen and make him sign since I don’t know his name. He signs it “Troy.”

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