The Official Blog of The Pfister Hotel Narrator Program
Author: Dominic Inouye
As a teacher for over twenty years, Dominic Inouye has worked with everyone from elementary school students to adult learners, creative writers and physical therapists, to help them develop their reading, writing, critical thinking, and, most of all, their voices. He began his career at Marquette University, expecting to become the next Mr. Keating from Dead Poets Society, then made a surprise move to the high school classroom, where he found his home at Pius XI High School, then later at The Prairie School in Wind Point, Wisconsin, where he is completing his seventh and final year as an English teacher.
Never one to pull an old lesson plan out of a dusty file cabinet and re-use it year after year, Inouye began experimenting from the very beginning with how to integrate authentic, real-world, transformative learning into his students’ study of literature and the expression of ideas. Examples include his founding of the Milwaukee Spotlight Student Film Festival, the C.L.A.S.S. program, which brings together 4th-12th graders for service learning, and the Senior Capstone program of individualized research projects. As expected, Inouye will not be bringing any dusty ideas to the Pfister--only creative celebrations of new voices.
Inouye was chosen to serve as the hotel’s ninth Pfister Narrator based on his writing style, his vision for the role, and his personality.
At the end of January, I got in two car accidents in one week. The first was snow-related: I hit the back of a bus, which had stopped in front of me. I just couldn’t stop. It totaled my car. My dad was able to pick me up and let me use his car, a Mazda Miata that he had just bought and restored last year. A couple days after hitting the bus, I got hit by a semi truck on my drive down to the Racine Art Museum where I work. All of a sudden, the semi truck hit the back of the Miata, which swung sideways, and I was being pushed about a thousand feet on the highway. All I could think was “My dad’s car!” Of course, he was just happy that I was alive. But I called my mom and she drove me to work, where my co-workers couldn’t believe that I had actually come into work after being hit by a semi!
At first, I figured I would get another car (the insurance check came in just a couple of days). I went to the dealership and told the salesperson that I wanted to get another Prius (that was the bus car), but there were none available. So I started to think about it: This is the first time I can actually carpool to work. I mean, I could have in the past, but you know, I had my own car. One of my colleagues lives in Riverwest, so I asked him for a ride. Why not carpool with him? Of course, I offered to pay for gas. It’s turned out really well. If I have to stay late for a meeting or something, I’ve discovered that there is a bus from Racine to Milwaukee that’s pretty decent. It’s only $3.50! What’s the price of a city bus? About $2.50? Amazing.
And there are other ways I can get to and from work: my mom and step-dad live in Racine, so I can get rides from them; Lyft; Zipcar; and the Sturtevant Amtrak, which I can get a ride to if I need to. There are so many tools for transportation!
I really like that the accidents made me think about my choices, my schedule. I think about what I’m going to do and how I’m going to do it. I am still very involved in the art community in Racine, Kenosha, and Milwaukee, but in the end, I find that I’m spending more time at home where I can relax and regroup.
Last night I met Dean at the lobby bar, relaxing with a cocktail. I had just asked the bartender, Shelby, for a cordial of wisdom and she had offered that her “life motto has always been that laughter is a cure for everything. And there’s something you can laugh at in every situation.” Dean agreed with her, then asked me what I was doing. I told her and she told me that she had worked for many years in the Spa as a hairdresser and that even though she has her own studio space down the street now, she still comes back to The Pfister for drinks because she loves the atmosphere. Dean is the first of March’s Humans of The Pfister and without my having to announce this month’s theme of Transitions (the awkward meteorological transition from winter to spring we’ve been experiencing, with balmy weather one day and snow the next gave me the idea), she began with an etymological lesson about transience.
I’m Greek, and the Greek word for hotel is xenodocheio (ξενοδοχειο), which means something like “a place of strangers.” That’s what a hotel is. They’re not about the locals–it’s a transient place. And a hotel bar–it’s a real mix of everybody.
I’ve met so many people here at the bar–lots of celebrities, obviously, and, get this, I was Barbara Bush’s hairdresser any time she was here–but I really enjoyed Maya Angelou. I was sitting her and she came up and sat next to me, just like you are. And I fanned out on her! But she was–just like she is. Cool, laidback. A guest just like anybody else.
She’s a spiritual person. I’m a spiritual person. So we connected spiritually. If you connect with someone spiritually, then the subject of the conversation doesn’t matter as much. We could talk about cars or politics or whatever. But that’s all stupid. Not stupid–I don’t mean it that way. But insignificant in the long run. What you will remember at the end of your life is the connections.
I wanted to capture Dean laughing. Something was wrong with my new camera (well, it was probably me–I’m still learning about f-stops and low-light conditions and ISO settings!), but I kind of like how her photo turned out: a little blurry, a lot authentic, and even a little spiritual.
Before we get to the results of the fourth Plume Service writing workshop, let me just say: This is not what I had planned! It’s not important what I was going to have the writers’ focus be; what’s important is that we decided to begin by brainstorming a list of different genres and formats with which we could experiment that evening. You know, alluring ones like lists, emails, and texts (snore); stirring ones like personal ads, advertisements, and autopsy reports (morbid); passionate ones like stand-up comedy and . . . bad reviews (now that could be fun). Thumbs up, thumbs down. 2 out of 5 stars. Critical commentary. Then someone, I can’t remember who, mentioned (shhhhh) e . . . r . . . o . . . t . . . i . . . c . . . a.
Amused, I turned around to gaze at the painting of Venice that had attracted so many Plume Service writers before. A gondola. A ship. A tower. Waves. This was going to be hard. But then, when you think about it (really, take a stroll down the halls and along the walls of the ballrooms), The Pfister’s walls abound in sultriness. Consider these suspects:
Time for a cold shower? Yikes.
And consider, too, the names: “Flirtation” (there are two of those!). “The Kiss.” (Are those two babies?!) “The Captive.” (Wow. Thank goodness for feminism!) “Trysting Place.” “The Chess Game.” “Love’s Dream.” “The Royal Love Feast.” “Admiration.”
Bad reviews and erotica it was, then!
Will all of these make the cut and grace the walls of The Pfister? I dare say, probably not. A little (a lot?) too risque. But I can say that the writers accepted the challenge without batting their eyelashes, they wrote with passion and concentration, they shared their pieces out loud at the end, snapped and clapped their praises for their fellow writers, and discussed the intricacies and honesties in each story. Sure, there were a few blushes and giggles. But the experience was liberating, refreshing. How often do we talk to each other with such candor and immediacy about sexuality, let alone sensuality? Without shame or embarrassment? And how often with relative strangers?
We’ll start with a tame one.
Richard Lorenz’ Sunday Afternoon (as interpreted by Christina Oster)
Phyliss and Benjamin liked to color within the lines. They were regimented people with allegiance to the “dullsville du jour.” Sadie Saccharine was their feisty neighbor, a woman of vibrancy who brought flirtation and festivity to any and all she encountered. Sadie had a way of encouraging Phyliss to make bold changes and take chances. After all, it was Sadie who encouraged Phyliss to change her name spelling from the typical two L’s at the end of it to two S’s. She had flirtatiously said, “Think Phyl-iss – like a kiss!”
Phyliss and Benjamin had a horse ranch with brown horses and black cows. They ate porridge for breakfast and spaetzle for dinner. But when it came to evening, it was retire to bed–not much spark for the forbidden.
A knock at the door occurred one Sunday afternoon. Sadie appeared, dressed in Victorian Secret, whispering to Phyliss. Benjamin, eating porridge, tilted his ear closer, then raised his eyebrow. Intrigue ensued. He set down his porridge, approached the ladies, winked, and playfully asked, “Color me three?”
R. Wood’s “Seascape” (as imagined by Bethany Price)
I saw you resplendent from across this small world. In a time of flowering and self-searching.
I came here with a lover, Armand, but around your waves a new muscle of spirit and flesh pulses in me.
The greenery where we lay is too stifling. His hands around my shoulders and neck while we lay.
I’d rather you bed me.
But instead you bed the body just passing below my line of vision. He slipped, this nude man with matted hair.
I imagine his soft penis and mine kissing like your waves do among the endless cerulean.
Your song bids me come.
Andrea Secondo’s “Tired Out” (as imagined by Bethany Price)
He had set the table an hour before Armand got home. Typical of him, lateness–but he understood, too, the hectic nature of his days. After gossip of the sun-soaked day, Armand fell asleep. The wine didn’t help matters. I will bed him gently, he thought. I will tuck his covers around his chin, admiring the soft body that has loved him for so long.
In the dark, Armand’s toes will curl around his calf, his soft murmurs, drunken, as sweet as when they tangle together, under the richness of God’s graces, the sun stroking their faces along with the usual suspects.
“Diana of the Hunt” (as imagined by Monica Thomas)
She’s come bearing horns made of moon, shaking brick and bound in garb of mushroom sack and thick rope. Young Athena, bare-chested in bejeweled breastplate, by her side.
Look, look–how on the distant hillside they frolic to nude-photobom Susan Boyle’s left-breasted man-spread selfie.
These twins in braids splayed naked in the shallow pond as the lean greyhound laps up water, hellhound held in tight fists by her collar.
Uninitiated, the right bank eunuch is gearing to cross legs, wearing nothing but a thong.
The hem of Aphrodite’s apprentice rides way above the knee while a servant squats in front, strumming the female master’s lute from behind.
Far left, these lovers share throbbing hearts and Paul Simon’s soft, sly face.
The arrow pierced the tip of the smooth, erect pole at the right bank.
One battle-clad Amazonian arm hangs blue ribbon laundry from the May Day frame amongst the golden blindfold and the herald’s horn.
“Untitled Landscape” (as interpreted by Eduardo De la Cruz)
The thought of your touch sparks my core. It makes me miss you more. It was there, painted on a spring dusk when the trees had just witnessed its first yellow leaves, when the air was so quiet and the flow of the river so tender, that you could hear the gentle scratching of the grass on feet. On a day like this, we took what the world had given us and became all in one. Your breasts, like two tender fruits of heaven, rested on my bare skin. Your hands joined to mine; the way your curls rested on my shoulders as I leaned inside against the riverbank. I could feel the cool air on my back as your fingers gripped the skin on my hips. I could feel us now and I could live this moment forever. Every strike on your pelvis made the gentlest bounce on your curls. As I prepared to climax, I could feel your grip tighten, almost there, almost there…
Crap, I dozed off for a minute. I find myself staring at a simple painting of a nature scene with a pair of trees and a river parallel to a dirt road. And in the glorious scene of it all, I could only think about two things: how I felt like the biggest loner, and the intricate things I must do to act cool while I hide this boner.
H.A. Bras’ “The Cardinal Reading” (as interpreted by Dominic Inouye)
One critic of H.A. Bras’ “The Cardinal Reading” purports that “Bras sees the background as less important (sic) which can be seen in the lack of detail.” While this may be so, it may be equally valid to argue that the background details that are more important. The background details and the foreground ones–and, to be sure, the cardinal’s costume itself.
Consider, for instance, Bras’ choice of decorative flourishes, however undetailed or blurred: to the left, a painting of a mysterious, foggy island, the kind to which one would row for a clandestine tryst; the equally enigmatic wallpaper swirls obscured by a too-large and ominous cardinal shadow; the arched doorway to the right revealing a curtained space perfect for a quick change . . . of scenery; the velvety table clothing creating another ideal hiding space; not to mention the elaborately mussed folds of the cardinal’s very own robes, bunched oddly enough to hide a, well, . . . And, of course, the slight mountain of carpet, most likely unrecognized by most, rapidly pushed up in haste as feet scrambled away, revealing a small, dark, gaping cave.
“Man and Woman With Guitar” (as interpreted by Ana Moreno)
As they did every evening after supper, Elizabeth and her husband warmed themselves close to the fireplace, talking about the day’s occurrences and other topics of immediate importance. Elizabeth’s husband was an older, worn, tired man who thought of nothing but trade embargos, tobacco shipments, and balancing his money purse.
As he drifted off to sleep, Elizabeth’s mind began to wander as her fingers lightly strummed her guitar. Her fingers intentionally stroking each string, she looked intently into the glowing embers and began to imagine his fingers softly running up her thigh. The chords melded together as she imagined the tips of his fingers brushing against her wetness. Instinctively, Elizabeth spread her legs, inviting his dreamlike touch to encompass her entire beiing.
Her strokes became strategic, intentional, one building on the other. With each pluck of the guitar, Elizabeth imagined her husband’s fingers being thrust inside her. Her rhythm became heated, eccentric. The sounds emerging from the guitar became stronger, harder. Her breath began to quicken. Fingers strumming in continuous motion. Building and building. Until one final, immense crescendo sprung from her guitar as she moaned in outwardly emphatic pleasure.
Elizabeth’s husband stirred in his chair at the sound of his wife’s immense pleasure, though he did not wake from his solitude. He was a man of business and comfort, Elizabeth thought as she composed herself from her all-encompassing orgasm. He has no time to think of such lowly things as pleasing me.
This project is a metaphor for that inner place we go to when we take creative risks. It also represents the playful creative spaces we built as children, like a tent made of blankets, or a shelter made of branches, places where we felt secure and free to express ourselves. I have to silence the outer world sometimes, so I asked myself, When have I felt the most secure.
~Jeanne Nikolai Olivieri
Wait. If The Lounge was a place to relax, what’s The Retreat?
Perhaps it’s a lounge that’s a little farther out but more inside your Self.
Look around. Read the artifacts, like laundry hanging to dry.
Strike a pose like nobody knows. This is your retreat.
Just don’t forget to leave your own artifact: a message, a hope, a musing.
There’s room on the line for everyone.
This project was a knee-jerk reaction to the phrase ‘think outside the box.’ To me, it’s trite and empty. I mean, every brushstroke, every creation, is a risk. When we take our biggest risks, we go inside. That’s why this is called ‘Inside the Box,’ because it’s like getting inside the self.
~Jeanne Nikolai Olivieri
A Drawing Room? Isn’t that like The Lounge and The Retreat?
Does the name of the box dictate what I must do?
Ah . . . no lava lamps or hewn logs here. Only a chandelier of freedom.
Take a risk. Draw a nude. Announce your calling. Preach the light.
I don’t like the word ‘should.’ It’s a difficult word. I’d prefer ‘I could do ___.’ This is all about letting go of ‘should’ so that people have the freedom to create what they want. These are safe spaces, then, with no requirements. I ask people to try to refrain from using the word ‘should’ while they create in the boxes.
~Jeanne Nikolai Olivieri
Jeanne Nikolai Olivieri’s INSIDE THE BOX exhibit runs through March 4th in The Pfister’s Pop-Up Gallery. The immersive environments invite you to leave a mark on the world, to share part of your Self (in fact, the word “character” comes from the Greek kharakter meaning “engraved mark” or “symbol or imprint on the soul”).
Jeanne works mainly with watercolor, acrylics, and mixed media, so these large-scale boxes certainly challenged her artistically (and logistically–once you see how tall they are, think about how she got them into The Pfister’s elevators and doorways . . .). She comes from a long line of artists, including her four sisters, her mother, her uncles, and her grandfather. Her studio is located in the Marshall Building, 207 E. Buffalo, Suite 602.
Accompanying the boxes are selections from her series “Cabled Together,” which, according to her artist statement, explores the “often-overlooked power lines, cables, and wires that connect us. The tangled webs of wire, the ways in which they divide space, the mystery of the many gadgets that accompany them, and the structures on which they hang or which they support are intriguing and fascinating. I travel frequently, thus my work represents cables in a variety of environments.”
I guess I was in junior high–7th grade maybe. We had a co-ed gym class where we did ballroom dancing: waltz, cha-cha, jitterbug. I think it was girl-pick-a-guy. Well, I had a crush on a boy named Tom. I was hoping he’d ask me, but I was too shy–and he did! And we won Best Jitterbug out of the entire 7th grade!
Back then, we “went out” (not really “steady,” of course). We were like boyfriend and girlfriend, but really we just hung out together. I went to high school with him, too, and we became good friends.
Funny story: he ended up marrying a girl named Donna! I think it was our 25th high school reunion when he introduced me to his wife . . . named Donna of all things!
Love goes with passion–for me–and that’s music. Nothing will give me goosebumps more than performing with another person. Periodically, it’s even a mystical moment, a synchronicity of what I’m playing and what they’re playing, when we’re unified.
All of a sudden, I’m off the page, not thinking about what’s on there, and it’s like something else is leading me.
It’s like that with my husband today. Even with the mundane day-to-day, there are times when I somehow get out of my selfish part–and we’re a real pair. Frankly, it’s otherworldly.
This is what differentiates us from the rest of creation.
(Rob’s instruments are his clarinet and his voice. He has played in symphony orchestras like the Milwaukee Symphony and has played with individual artists as well.)
My first love was in 4th grade. His name was Joey, and I used to throw rocks at him to get his attention. He was from the nicer side of the tracks than me (we grew up in Latonia, Kentucky, which is now Covington). Joey was blue-eyed and had the house and the nice family. But in 5th grade, I moved away. Fast forward to high school, when Joey was the basketball star. I had just moved back to Latonia and we got back together. I threw a rock at him and he said, “I know you!” So in high school, we were going out for a little bit–and then I moved away again, from ’76-’89! When I returned, I “ran into him.” Actually, what happened is that I called a friend of mine and asked her how to track this guy down. Fortunately, he was separated. We got back together . . . and then he went back to his wife. Then I left again. I was always leaving . . .
After our conversation, Kathy and I trolled Joey on Facebook for a little bit. There were many guys with his first and last name, as can be imagined. Some of Kathy’s comments included “No way he’d make the Navy” (after finding a Joey who’s in the Navy) and “There’s no way he’d be a pastor.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
DEBBY: My first love was a copper-white, stray poodle. I was 12 years old when we found her on a rainy, stormy night running around the neighborhood. I had my dad chase her down. She responded one day to “Bonita,” which means “pretty” in Spanish, you know. She was like my first love and my first heartbreak, come to think of it. We let her out one morning–but when I called her, she never came back. But I guess if I had to say my first human love, it would be Mr. Duckler, my English teacher, when I was 11 years old. I thought he was so hot. I mean, he was so nice, for a teacher. For a teacher to be so nice–was hot.
GENE: My first love was a breaded pork chop. I was five years old, and that’s when I first decided that I wanted to cook. I saw my mom make them all the time, but I didn’t like the way she did it: overcooked. I had tried before to do it myself, but I used graham crackers and they tasted like shit. One night, then, her and dad went to square dancing and I decided to make pork chops for the entire family of six. I dug through the freezer to find some thicker chops, made the breading, and they turned out just right. I got out the little electric skillet, put it on the kitchen table (yes, my grandma and aunt were nearby–practically next door), and now I’ve been a chef for years. And I guess, like Debby, I could also mention Cindy in 5th grade: I remember she was blond with blue eyes and a little pug nose. I lived six blocks away and at times it was torture. She knew I liked her, but not how much! She always did insist that I be her dance partner, however!
My first love was named Alisa. She was a ballerina and danced in The Nutcracker. We were five years old and kissed by 10s on the playground until we hit 60 times–all while Robin watched.
Ellie’s first love was Herman. She tells us a little about him for HUMANS OF THE PFISTER’s “First Loves” edition:
Herman. He was handsome and very nice. And he played basketball and baseball. My cousin liked him, too, but I won. I liked him first.
This was maybe in 1960 because we graduated in ’64 and my parents wouldn’t let me date until I was 17. We’d go to a lot of drive-in movies, but if my younger sister went, my other sister and I would have to go with her until was old enough. So I went on a first date with Herman. He had such gorgeous eyes. We went to a show, but back then, we weren’t alone that long, so “it” didn’t work out.
In the end, I didn’t marry Herman. But he had a service station for a long time, and I would visit him for many years. He had a good body then, but . . . don’t write that next part.
Plume Service is slowly but surely writing its way down the mezzanine hallways, so far invigorating half of the paintings with literary life: writers have wormholed and teleported, stepped into and out of oily, centuried canvases, listened intently for lunar whispers and clandestine confessions.
During the last week of January, Plume Service moved from its usual Saturday afternoon time to a Wednesday happy hour, where Chef Brian Frakes surprised us with some new (for us) offerings: succulent lamb puff pastries, tender veal with chimichurri sauce, and sweet dates wrapped in bacon, plus a sensible cheese platter, fresh crudité, and plenty of wine.
Really, we were all there to write . . .
Mark Twain to the rescue: “When the time comes that a man has had his dinner, then the true man comes to the surface.”
Enter Virginia Woolf: “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
With those defenses in mind (ah, who are we kidding? there was plenty of wine), the January Plume Service participants allowed both their authentic voices and their fictitious selves surface as they considered well, having dined well, each painting on their list. On this evening, I invited them to think microscopically (focusing their words on a tiny detail or two, an obscured figure, or a feature that didn’t seem to be the painter’s focus) or macroscopically (drawing back to reveal a big picture, a weighty theme, a an omniscient or voyeuristic gaze).
Alexander Miller’s classicly styled poem for “Moonlight Scene” starts this post’s collection. It draws readers toward its center lines, with the “Sacred Fire” inspired by a barely detectable camper at the water’s edge. In a similar way, the form of the poem points us, through all the melancholy and suffering, toward the “tiny white hat” that was the first detail Bethany Price discerned in the idyllic “Landscape“.
Eduardo De la Cruz imagines not “The Dancer” herself but her shadow, whom he personifies as “The Sarah Nobody Knows.” My offering is inspired not by the obvious (the architecture) but by the seagulls in “Venice”, and it ignores any evidence that the scene is a morning or afternoon one, instead imagining what I wanted to imagine.
Monica Thomas’ “Chianti” poem (did I mention there was wine?) is stylistically different from most of the others, preferring short, clipped lines and stanzas like quick movie shots that tell a bigger story of a woman’s vulnerability and power. Microscopic to macroscopic. Christina Oster offers her version of this poetic movement in “The Fortune Teller“, focusing readers’ attentions on the specific location of the cross and on the “trickling” of the rosary beads as she explores a larger theme of Fate and Faith.
Finally, Eduardo’s second offering keeps us guessing until we realize that the speaker isn’t human, but is instead standing behind the white fence in the distant pasture on a “Sunday Afternoon“. This prepares us for very different kind of voice, in style and tone, in a postmodern commentary on the details of “Diana of the Hunt” and on Victorian art in general, a critique by the writer known as Celeste Hagiopiate that melds into monolog and self-aware confessional.
But enough of my literary criticism. Please enjoy our third installment of Plume Service at The Pfister, and please consider joining me and fellow writers on Wednesday, February 23, 6-8pm. Unwind after work and bring your plume, your notebook, your thirst, and your appetite! (Click “going” on Facebook.)
Moonlight Scene by H.M. Kitchel
Moonlight whispers between the leaves
Moonlight whispers between the leaves
As night approaches and twilight grieves
The passage of congealed time
To the memory of a dream sublime.
Forgotten yet is the scent of dawn
For the veil descends on the pathways drawn
Through the tangled forest of thought
Where tears are formed as memories are caught
And lit upon the Sacred Fire
That is both comfort and funeral pyre
Beseeched again to the insouciant sky
As the memories fall and tears are dried.
Reflected upon the flowing stream
The echo of reality does scream
Beneath the waiting touch of gloom
For darkness to eat the silver Moon.
But the night itself is another page
In the endless tale from Age to Age
Still the Cycle revolves to each
As Dusk to Dawn, each other they teach.
The Dancer by Adolphe Piot
The Sarah Nobody Knows
Creeping and eloquent in style–synonymous but wild in spirit and form–she feels a breath on her toes and nobody knows her. A gallant girl but holding on by the position of Sarah. At times Sarah stops, an applaud crashes, while the Sarah nobody knows hears a clapping of the soles. The fancier the carpet, the quicker the groove, the Sarah nobody knows is the one she’d approve. But bitter is Sarah, competing for first place. While the Sarah nobody knows competes for a face . . . in the world.
–Eduardo De la Cruz
Venice by H. Biondetti
The seagull time arrives
when men have heaved their last anchors
and slung on docks their fill of fishy nets,
have warbled their merchant announcements
of crusty bread and fragrant pancetta.
Their sea cries announce
the declining day and their right
to the crumbs of the morning
and the severed heads of the afternoon.
Now is the time for women to linger
on the sea plaza, pacing leisurely
under a hazy white-winged sky,
before returning home with baskets
redolent of yeast and cured meat
and slick fins and scales.
Chianti by E. Giachi
on slats of
straps falling off
man with wandering
cask of wine
and he’ll be out.
Sunday Afternoon by Richard Lorenz
I Thought It Was You
Brother, the time we grew, the times we saw the ships along the pier leaving men of hope and sharp ideas, and came back mules of war, or part of them. I remember when we rode along the tall greens back when we were too young for men. When the kids would play and we’d chase after them. Then war took us, and our groups were divided. Then, years after, I found you, with a large bandage around your body; you’d been hurt. Remember laughing about it? We stayed up all night and traded stories: the good ones, the fun ones, the bad ones, and really bad ones. Then, it was hard to talk. You managed to get a job outside of town in a rich man’s place, while I stayed in a poor man’s den. Months passed and no sign of you. I heard he has people take care of you, but sometimes I don’t know. I miss you, brother. We are old now. The other day I saw someone with a scar that looked like the one you had on your left side, but he didn’t turn to say Hi. He went right through. Maybe . . . he couldn’t be you.
–Eduardo De la Cruz
Landscape by Leon Richet
You haunt every step of mine and the bovines, too,
off in the fields gazing at each others’ tails.
When I walk home it’s heavy since
there is a constant incense stick burning
in my ears–a smoke trail
of whispers to yourself,
going mad, naive of my eyes closed–
listening to your brain forest prose.
I wish I had the pastel colors
rich enough to paint you my agony.
And in this willowy terrain
where the wind
where the tree tops
where the elements moan in power,
their dominion is my shelter.
I am drunk here, losing control
of my hands
sifting through grass and branch,
climbing a leaf god to descend
in a bruised-love state,
my tiny white hat dotted
The Fortune Teller by Ludwig Vollmar
She slapped them on the blistery wood, accordion style. “A fan of opportunity awaits you,” she told me. My fate was in the foreground. But without faith, how will I reach it? Faith and fate are distant cousins in my life at the moment. I turned my back to faith when I had hit after hit, loss after loss. In fact, I hung that cross high out of reach, high out of sight. “Bygones,” I said.
And my rosary, well, I tucked that in a treasure chest. But I did leave a few select beads trickling out. It is a treasure chest, after all, and faith at one time was my cherished treasure. Why bury a treasure?
Also ironic that the cross now hung in my background is made of the same wood in my foreground where this psychic has slapped her cards down.
The same wood.
Note to self: “My dear, you’re ignoring the obvious.”
Diana of the Hunt (after Domenichino)
Celeste Hagiopiate Reviews a Painting at the Pfister Hotel:
The Third Gathering of the Plume Service
Oh look, a Tableau. Victorians loved their Tableaus. Here, a zaftig Diana is posed in a most wooden position, two arms raised. She stands to the left of the center of the painting. She is far too modest to stand center stage. But damn it, she demands to be seen. Dark trees in the background circle her brighter figure.
She is at the apex of an isosceles triangle of stilted figures. In the background and to the right is another triangle, far more sparse and off-kilter than the opulent composition in the foreground. (Post Modern Aside: Dom Inouye, Pfister Narrator, has asked us to notice and amplify one small detail.)
Look. There is a chaste, bare-breasted nymph at the bottom of the painting. She is pointing aimlessly. Her index finger directs our eyes to the great beyond. Those Victorians! Stupid girl, she should be pointing at Diana or at the very least, pointing to the drunken revelers in the distance.
Was this painting meant for a mansion? I suspect so. A lunging hound honors the position off center and just a little lower to the right. A direct line can be drawn between it and Diana. This is a geometrically precise painting. What, you expect a lush, adjectival poem about a pretty little scene from the old crone? Leave that to the dewy-eyed twenty-year-olds.
Coda: I’m drunk. I don’t sing for my supper or for my Cabernet Sauvignon. Lousy voice. I can be coaxed to write and recite a brief address. I do it to entertain myself. If it entertains you, well, that is an extra bonus.
“My friends from back then are probably going to see the news or read this and say, ‘Wow. That old fool is still alive?'”
That “old fool” turned 92 years old last month, on January 18th, and he was still as suave and spunky as ever when I sat down with him and his family a few days later at Sunday Brunch in The Rouge.
Casimir Piwonski was a bellboy at The Pfister in the early 1940s. It had been on his bucket list for years to return to the Hotel and stay the night. You know, have a room to himself and access to the mini-bar. Have one of the current porters carry his luggage to and from his room, ask the concierge for directions. I don’t know if he actually visited the mini-bar or needed to ask for directions–especially since much of his family spent considerable time parked in the Lobby Lounge on Saturday evening enjoying each others’ company and listening to Casimir reminisce–but I can quote for you what his third child, Carol Roeker, relayed in an email preceding their visit: “The Pfister is making his dream come true and you’re going to fall in love with him…you won’t be able to help yourself :)” Yes, I included the smiley face. I think Carol had as much fun coordinating this birthday weekend as her father did enjoying it! The family revealed the gift to him at Christmas and when I called to arrange an interview, Carol couldn’t stop rhapsodizing about all things Casimir: “Ask him about the time when . . . He’ll love to tell you about . . .” She is so in love with her father.
I didn’t want to ask him too many of the same kinds of questions that Fox 6 had probably asked him on Saturday evening. I’m sure I did, but the story I heard was not one about waiting upon all kinds of celebrities, but one of love and family. Sometimes tough love, sometimes family that’s not your original family. Take the Pfister family, for instance.
Oh, wait. Before I fill you in on what I learned from Casimir about his time at the Hotel, let me show you a photo from back in the day:
Let that sink in for a second: the dreamy eyes; the confident, mischievous smirk; the Hollywood actor jawline; the perfectly coiffed hair.
Ok. Back to 2017.
No, seriously. Back to the story.
“I was 17 or 18 years old. I was a bellboy for 6 years.” His experience at the Hotel was a mixture of rules and competition, fair and generous treatment (“Mr. [Ben] Marcus would remember everyone’s names.”), and stories for a lifetime. I could only gather a handful of the latter in between the dotings of his family and the delicious food on his plate.
Mr. Steve Peltzer dominated his memories for a good number of bites, for it was he who supervised Casimir and the other three bellboys: “He was rough. He let you know who he was. Rules weren’t meant to be broken. He would wait and time how long it took you to go up and down the stairs. No hanky-panky allowed!” I got the feeling that even though hanky-panky wasn’t allowed that a certain someone was going to withhold some stories.
“We’d run the stairs three or four steps at a time,” Casimir continued. “We never waited for the freight elevator–it was too slow! We had to take the back steps, too. Never the guest steps.” Casimir pulled an index finger slowly across his throat. “And no leaning against a pillar while you were waiting. But you would forget yourself sometimes! Oh, and you had to be clean-shaven.” He said none of this with derision, only respect for a man who expected excellence from his boys and got it. He spoke of Mr. Peltzer as one might a parent, at once to be feared and always loved.
Casimir’s biological father, Joseph Piwonski, died when Casimir was only seven years old. “I remember we were living on Hayes Street. I was looking out my window and saw my mom walking up the street and I knew. I’ll never forget that.” A very good family friend, John Budzinski, stepped in, married his mother, and supported the family. “That’s what we did back then.” (His stepbrother John, who was born after Joseph’s death, sat next to him at brunch and listened intently to our conversation, interjecting every once in a while.) Casimir knew what it meant to be part of both a loving original family and an extended community of support. He seems to have furthered this experience at The Pfister.
He made $8 a week and paid 25 cents for meals. “I made my money through tipping.” Sometimes there were added bonuses: “There was a sailor from Norway whose ship sank in the harbor so he had to stay ashore for a while. He gave $100 to everyone!” And sometimes there were cheapskates like actor William Boyd: “Hopalong Cassidy. You know how he would tip us? With a good luck charm. A little horseshoe wrapped around a penny. No one wanted to carry his bags!” He also recalled several times the ladies with deep, deep purses, so deep that their gloved hands would descend into the depths, rifle gently and blindly for coins, then emerge slowly with their tip. “They didn’t want you to see how much money they really had!” As always, Casimir reveled in these memories, with the complete understanding that those were different times.
One entity that wasn’t a penny-pincher was The Pfister. Describing the food the bellboys were served, Casimir said, savoring the words, “The food was–” Then he paused, pinched his fingers and thumb together, placed them on his lips, and–in a gesture more Italian than Polish–kissed them instead with a “Mwah!” His fingers exploded open with delight, as if to proclaim “Bellissimo!”
It’s not that Casimir didn’t covet any of the affluence of the Hotel’s guests. I’m pretty sure he did his finger-kiss again when he told me that “Clark Gable had a trench coat with big lapels. It was long, all the way down to his ankles. It took me six months to save up for my own, but I finally got it!” This humble industrious makes perfect sense given Casimir’s upbringing in another home away from home where, perhaps, he learned how to serve others.
“I grew up simple, poor. But the churches,” he remembered, “were churches you couldn’t even believe.” He was referring to the ornate glory of their interiors, I believe. “And they never had to hire anyone to take care of the churches because all the parishioners volunteered to do things at the church: clean, fix, you name it. My family cleaned the linens. And I was an altar boy until I was almost 19 years old.”
However, remember that mischievous smirk in the photo above. Service be damned if, well, adolescence doesn’t grab hold of you. Casimir confessed: “One of the things we had to do was drink the leftover wine after church. But my [late] brother Eddie and I drank too much wine once–more than we were supposed to–and Father came in. We were grounded! Father didn’t want us back. Until, of course, he needed us for Easter services: ‘Casey, Eddie–we need you.'” This is where, perhaps, he learned the power of being needed–even if it meant later in life taking the stairs three or four at a time under the watch of Mr. Peltzer.
He also knew that a commitment was a commitment: “I got bombed one Saturday night. And of course the next morning we were supposed to go to church. I didn’t want to, but my dad used the phrase ‘While you’re living under my roof.’ So I had to go to church. But that was the last time I drank on Saturdays. I drank on Fridays instead.”
“We were devils . . . but nice devils.”
It was hard not to be charmed by Casimir. He made his life–heck, Life in general–sound so real and universal, even with the peculiarities of his personal story. One could see in his face–the smoothness we see in the photograph long gone but the smoothness of his attitude toward life still strong–the face of a devoted brother and a son losing his father, of an altar boy and a mischievous kid, of an eager Pfister bellboy and a loving father to Joey, Steven, Caroline, Danny, Kimmy and Little Casey, all of whom love him back!