Synergy: Performance, Art, & Service (Parts I & II)

Synergy.  I know it when I see it, or hear it, or feel it.  But when it does, sometimes it takes me a few days to make sense of it.  That’s why I’m only just publishing this synergy between three positive events that I attended last Wednesday and Thursday.  There are great things happening in Milwaukee!

PART I.

On Wednesday, my friend Christine and I attended a packed Pabst house for a special live presentation of Precious Lives, presented by WUWM 89.7, Milwaukee Public Radio, and 371 Productions.  Precious Lives is a two-year, 100-part radio and podcast series that explores the effects of gun violence in the lives of young people in Milwaukee.  Produced by Brad Lichtenstein, directed by Michelle Lopez-Rios, with music composed by Kiran Vee, the live show featured personal narratives from thirteen “actors,” including young people and community leaders.  Stories of ordinary lives disrupted by gun violence, stories of extraordinary people working for change.  All an invitation, a calling, to do our part.  

Precious Lives cast and crew.

By the end of the show, the entire crowd–representing every demographic in Milwaukee–was on its feet, clapping and rapping for change, committing itself to making a collective difference.  I could repeat the stories here about what it’s like losing a loved one, about what it’s like remembering the last words that someone ever uttered to you, about the girl who wants to be a global “teddy bear” and just love everyone.  But the Precious Lives website is so thoroughly and thoughtfully produced, I’d only be reiterating what’s already been said and heard.  So please visit it at PreciousLivesProject.org (follow the link above) and find out how you can be the change you want to see in the world.*

Needless to say, I left with a renewed intention to determine my part.  

* Also, follow Precious Lives on Twitter @_preciouslives_, #preciouslives, #findingamerica; on Facebook @ preciouslivesradioproject; and on Instagram @ preciouslivesproject.

PART II.

After the show, we headed to The Pfister’s Pop-Up Gallery to take in the Origin8 exhibit of abstract art from eight local artists, including our very own Artist-in-Residence and exhibit curator Pamela M. Anderson.   Truthfully, it was a shock stepping out of the elevated Pabst rap and into the white walls of The Pfister gallery with soft music in the background.  How could I reconcile what I had just heard–the lives of people damaged by gun violence–with the calming essence of these paintings, sculptures, and quilts?  I sought, eagerly and intentionally, for some connection between the artistic expression of grief and hope and the artistic representations in the gallery.

(l-r) Heidi Parkes, Rita Maria, Nina Ghanbarzadeh, Ann Baer, Pamela M. Anderson, Nirmal Raja, Leah Schreiber Johnson, Melissa Dorn Richards. Photo credit: Sara Risley

So I studied Pamela’s huge urban and natural landscapes, Nirmal Raja’s painted saris, Heidi Parkes’ quilts, Nina Ghanbarzadeh’s intricate, mesmerizingly lacy lines, Ann Baer’s primary colored salad forks and massage rollers, Rita Maria’s spiritual crows, Leah Schreiber Johnson’s ominous but hopeful monotypes, and Melissa Dorn Richards’ brilliant, outlined gestures of color pointing toward the sky.  I looked for symbolic connections between the Precious Lives voices and the paint and pen and shapes and threads.  Here’s what I found, then created from their fragments of their art and words:

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The words on this little collage are like lessons of peace and connection for Milwaukee:

Anderson claims the natural and urban world as her “sanctuary” and “vessel,” created from “intimate encounters with [her] daily life.”  Marie intuits crows as “messengers” that help her “awaken to [her] authentic self,” “stay in touch with [her] true self,” and recognize her “soul’s purpose.”  Lesson: Be open and close to your world.  Appreciate the sacred nature of everything around you.  Let your world connect you with yourself and others.  The purpose of life is to live a life of purpose.

Baer brings new life to discarded daily objects, creating whimsical towers and multi-dimensional wall sculptures–she calls them “totems”–that remind me of colorful horseshoe crabs or shiny insect exoskeletons.  Richards looks for the “humanness of non-human objects, always looking for that awkward gesture or irregular line,” then produces paintings with heavy outlines and vivid colors to celebrate that humanness.  Lesson: Recognize the beauty and humanity of those who are “discarded,” “awkward,” or “irregular.”  Then do something about it: claim, reclaim, create, construct, celebrate them.  And do it all with color.

Raja meditates upon the “possibilities and choices that lead a person to the present moment . . . the ripple effect of our actions,” describing her palimpsestic prints as a process of “accretion,” or a gradual build-up of layers.  Ghanbarzadeh also layers, but with hundreds of circular traces or cross-hatches to hypnotic effect, and in other work not displayed at the gallery attempts in her artwork “to find a more universal language” by “deconstruct[ing] written language into curves, lines, and dots.”  Lesson: Don’t forget your past and what got you to the present.  As you move into your future, build upon the layers you’ve already created.  Cover the layers you don’t want people to see; they won’t disappear, they’re under there, but you can build yourself up the way you want to be seen.

Parkes “continues a family tradition” of quilting passed down from her maternal grandmother, integrating into one quilt various views from the ground looking up and from the sky looking down.  And while Parkes builds and connects, Johnson produces monotypes of “crumbled landscapes” that represent the “destructive construction of cultural transformation” in places like Wuhan, China, which inspired some of her work in the gallery.  Lesson: Don’t ignore the “crumbled landscapes” in your life and in the lives of others.  And when you recognize them, stitch them back together again, preferably in a new pattern, a new design, a new form.  See things from different perspectives: look up if you normally look down, look down if you’re always looking up.

At least that’s what I saw when I visited the Origin8 exhibit, which runs through July 18th.  I left the gallery, just like I had left the Precious Lives performance, with a renewed sense of hope, which would be strengthened the following day at the Jewish Family Services Luncheon of Champions in the Hotel’s Grand Ballroom.

Read PART III, about the Jewish values of tzedaka (צדקה “charity”), chesed (חֶ֫סֶד “loving kindness”), and tikkun olam (תיקון עולם “repairing the world”), in my next post!

 

“It Doesn’t Cost a Lot of Money to Be Nice”

For their 60th wedding anniversary, they went to Bora Bora.
For their 61st, Niagara Falls.
For their 62nd, Nashville, their 63rd Dallas.
They had a staycation in a Kauai Hilton last year.
And for this, their 65th anniversary, Joanne told Jim to surprise her.  

Even a couple of hours before her anniversary dinner at the Hotel where it all began, she still didn’t know why they had traveled all the way from Kauai.  Jim had arranged to have them renew their vows among family and friends, including two of their three children and Joanne’s brother, who lives in town and whom she hadn’t seen for about five years.  He had scheduled a late morning appointment for her at the WELL Spa + Salon, so, of course, she was suspicious, but Jim and the associates at The Pfister had done an excellent job of keeping the secret.

Colleen Maxwell, our Social Media Manager, and I got a chance to sit down with Jim before the big night to hear about his sly plotting and planning, but more importantly, for me at least, about his answer to this question:  What is your secret for staying married for so long?

Look at that sly smile. His wife still didn't know why they were at The Pfister!
Look at that sly smile. His wife still didn’t know why they were at The Pfister!

Answer: Start planning in junior high.

As Jim told it, “I spotted her when she was twelve, when I was in 7th grade.”  Well, that’s an early start.  “I was part of the CYO, the Catholic Youth Organization.  They would let the 6th graders take a look to see what was in store for them.  And one day I pointed to my friend Bill and said, ‘That girl in the white shirt and black and white checkered shirt–she is beautiful.’”  Needless to say, Bill reminded Jim that she was “only twelve.”  That didn’t stop Jim, though, from watching and waiting.  

His mother had wanted, as many Catholic mothers in his era did, her son to become a priest.  He attended Marquette University High School, doing his mother proud.  From afar, however, he watched Joanne grow up.  Then, about two months from his sixteenth birthday, in the year of our Lord 1947, the phone rang: it was Joanne.  They agreed to go on a date to a Saturday party, but not before Joanne laid down some “ground rules.”  (She knew about the crazy house party he’d been at a few weeks earlier at his cousin’s place while the parents were gone: “I was a victim,” Jim insists.)  Even though she was dating other people at the time, Jim couldn’t refuse such a bold offer.  And neither could her parents welcome strapping young (and Catholic) Jim into their lives.

Answer: Remind them how beautiful they are.

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Thank you, Google, for the many faces of Dorothy McGuire.

Jim’s voice crackled with sheer disbelief that anyone so beautiful could have come into his life.  “She was and still is very beautiful.”  He said this several dozen times (and wouldn’t tire, I’m sure, of saying it again.)  People used to come up to her and ask for her autograph, because she was the spitting image of Dorothy McGuire, a star of radio, stage, and screen, especially in the ‘40s and ‘50s.  Just the other day,” he adds, jumping ahead many decades, “we were having brunch at a hotel after Sunday Mass.  Two women came up to us and told my wife, ‘We can’t get over how beautiful you look.’  This has happened so many times when we’re out to eat.  I always want to tell these women that I’m sitting right there, too.  Whatever happened,” he joked, “to saying, ‘Hey, this fellow doesn’t look that bad either’?  What am I?  Chopped liver?”

Five years later, they were married.  Jim referred to The Pfister Hotel as the “first place we ever shacked up in Milwaukee after we got married.”  As we all know, of course, The Pfister is far from a “shack.”

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This is the photo that reminds Jim of Joanne the most.

Answer: Tolerate each other and accept each others’ individual talents.

They started what he kept calling an “interesting” and “supportive” life together.  One of the keys to their marriage, it seems, was allowing each other to be their own persons, to follow their own paths–but together.  He called it “tolerance,” but it seems much more than that. A very early indication of their acceptance of each other was when she had to practice her tennis game to defend her CYO championship at the resort on their honeymoon, something that got their friends wondering whether Jim and Joanne understood what was supposed to happen on a honeymoon.  But play she did, and Jim, in love with his new partner, didn’t think twice about it.  

They would go on to adopt three children in their early years, two sons and a daughter.

He eventually opened his own office supply company, with three employees.  For someone who didn’t even know how to use Liquid Paper, this was a risk.  But they made things work, with Joann helping in the store, too.  But it took Jim a while to realize that she possessed a not-so-hidden talent.  “She was always bitching about salesmen who didn’t know anything about sales,” he says.  She was a fierce critic who knew how things should be run, so he got her set up with her own office furniture business, which is still successful, now run by their daughter, with Joanne as chairperson of the board.  

Jim talked at length about his other career choices, all of which Joanne supported.  He once worked for the Texas Rangers selling season tickets to businesses, traveling once a year with the ball club because his sales were so good.  He worked for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in charge of state-wide distribution.  But most interesting to me was his three-week-a-year stint as Santa Claus for twenty-five years.  Jim was no mall Santa; instead, he dressed up for friends, especially friends with children, and Joanne would accompany him as an elf.  Free of charge.  He did it out of pure joy, making sure that his friends got at least one gift from their children’s wish lists–and to let him know what they had gotten.  That way, he would know that a boy had gotten, say, a G.I. Joe for Christmas, and armed with this knowledge, the following year “Santa” could tell that boy, “Remember when you wanted that G.I. Joe last year.”  Kid’s mind blown.  Jaw dropped.  Santa is real.  

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The private dinner and renewal of 65-year-old wedding vows.

Answer (the most important one): Enjoy life and be nice.

Jim’s philosophy of life?  “When I die, I don’t want people to stand at my casket and say, ‘That poor guy didn’t enjoy life.  He didn’t use enjoy every minute that God gave him.”  He added, “It doesn’t cost a lot of money to be nice to people,” he told us.  

Originally, I was going to title this post “Giddy as a Frickin’ High Schooler,” a phrase Jim repeated to me numerous times on the phone and during our interview.  Giddy.  Young.  Enjoying every minute that God gave him.  

However, in the wake of the senseless tragedy in Orlando this past weekend, I’ve decided to use Jim’s more relevant and ridiculously simple words as my title:

“It Doesn’t Cost a Lot of Money to Be Nice.”

Jazz Virgin

I admit it.  I’m a jazz virgin.

But The Pfister Hotel is going to initiate me.

At the Mason Street Grill on Wednesday evening, after listening to part of a set by the Jamie Breiwick/Mark Davis Duo, I snuck up to a table where a woman was sitting alone.

The Jamie Breiwick/Mark Davis Duo

Her companion had just temporarily vacated his seat to chat with Jamie and Mark.  This seemed like a good opportunity to see what she knew and thought about jazz.  I introduced myself (her name is Sheryl) and remarked about how smoothly Jamie’s embouchure and Mark’s fingers communicated with each other, almost telepathically (I didn’t use the term “embouchure”–I had to look that up!).  I was really bemoaning the fact that I’d never been able to tear my eyes away from the sheet music and just, well, jam.  Improvise.  Instead, my classical and acoustic guitar playing was always literally by-the-book.  Sheryl conjectured that improvisation was like telling each other, “We’re going to do this together–but also separately.  Let’s just agree to play in this key, this tempo, this style.”  Then I’m going to play, then you’ll come in when it seems right.  I’ll listen to your notes, you listen to my rhythm.  We’ll build off each other.   Communicate and create with a look, a beat, a tone.  We’ll build off what we know and take it from there.

20160608_214806Sheryl’s husband, Kurt, whose seat I had taken, is an accomplished pianist, composer, and arranger.  When Kurt returned to the table, I learned that he had arranged the music this spring for James & the Giant Peach at The Prairie School, where Jamie and I just got done teaching for the year, and had also just performed with Aretha Franklin at the Riverside the previous Friday.  When I told them that one of my missions as the Narrator is to uncover the story of jazz at The Pfister–and educate myself on the genre–both Sheryl and Kurt recommended that I begin my instruction with Ken Burn’s famous Jazz documentary series.  Sheryl admitted to knowing about as much as I do about the technical side of jazz, but it must be nice having a jazz expert to which to defer when jazz virgins like me ask questions like “How do Jamie and Mark know when to come in after the other one solos?” or “Are there many female jazz musicians?  Have there ever been?  If not, then how come?”  or “Were they just playing Coltrane or modern jazz or Monk or someone else?”  She was able to help up to a point, then she and I were in the same boat.  I hope we’ll find ourselves in that boat again during my year-long Pfister initiation into the world of jazz.

This pleasant conversation seems like a good starting point for my initiation–that and Ted Gioia’s Jazz Standards, which I had tucked into my bag in case I had time to read while listening to Jamie and Mark.  I wouldn’t have time to read, but I would go on that evening to meet several other people who undoubtedly will become some of my jazz mentors this year.

Jamie made sure to introduce me to August (Auggie) Ray, vice president of Jazz Unlimited of Greater Milwaukee, whose mission is “to support the art of jazz in all its forms and encourage local jazz musicians, composers and venues by cultivating an interest in jazz through local live performances, youth scholarship opportunities and community outreach throughout the Greater Milwaukee area.”  Auggie sat near the piano and typed prodigiously into his iPhone, posting to Facebook a photo of the Duo, some notes, and the location.  He calls The Pfister “one of the best promoters of live music in the city.”  With live piano seven days a week, live music in the Mason Street Grill six days, and live music at Blu at least two times a week, I couldn’t argue with him.  The Pfister is not alone in promoting live music, especially jazz.  Auggie moves from one live music venue to another throughout the week, averaging two a day, although his personal record is six in one day: Amelia’s at 5:00, The Packing House at 6:00, Caroline’s at 8:00 (mostly blues), Mason Street Grill at 9:00, then the Jazz Estate for until 1:00 am (reopening in July!).  At each new place, he posts to Facebook.  He is a constant presence in the life of jazz and blues in Milwaukee.  We only got to chat for a little bit, because he was headed up to Blu, but not before he gave me a Jazz Unlimited newsletter (this is going to be invaluable!) and told me that Dan Albrechtson, who plays piano in The Pfister lobby, has a steady gig–on every second Monday at Hart Park in Wauwatosa, where I live–giving a concert and jazz history lesson with Pete Wood, Bruce Yeo, Don Shesky, and Rob Moore.  (I’ll see you there soon, Dan!)

Before the night ended, I joined Mark Davis and his Wisconsin Conservatory of Music colleague, guitarist Paul Silbergleit, at Blu, where, it turns out, Mark Thierfelder had booked The Julie Lyon Quartet from New York City to play a special show with his Mark Thierfelder Trio.  (Of course, Auggie was up there already, posting away!)  Among other musical combos, Mark also plays with The Jazz Corporation, joined by Greg Marcus and Bill Bonifas.  While Julie sang the Ella Fitzgerald/Louis Armstrong version of 1945’s “Frim-Fram Sauce,” popularized by The Nat King Cole Trio, Paul and I discussed my earlier regret, the one I’d shared with Sheryl, about never being able to improvise or jam.  In something of a consolation, he assured me that there are musicians who only improvise but who don’t really know music, and that there are musicians who can only read music, who know notes on the page and perhaps music theory, but who don’t really feel music.  He argued for a happy medium.  We also talked about how one’s environment can come out in one’s music, just as it can emerge in writing (Paul referenced Hemingway and Key West).  

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The Julie Lyon Quartet

However, as interesting and cerebral as our conversation became, these are things I’ll have to think about later as I try to learn more about jazz, as an art form and as a source of stories here at The Pfister Hotel.  Sometimes, at midnight, in a crowded bar with interesting gentlemen and songs about pork chops and bacon, oss-en-fay and shafafa, one just wants to enjoy one’s Old Fashioned, nibble on wasabi peas, tell stories, laugh–and listen.

“You Can’t Take My Bones”

Last Thursday evening, I had an hour to kill before I met a good friend and colleague for dinner in Bay View.  Dressed in my “Pfister casual,” as I’m calling it–dark denim and an almost black-blue and silver short-sleeved shirt–I settled into one of the sofas in the lobby, ordered an Old Fashioned from Ellie, and pulled out my notebook.  

Two men at one end of the bar, two at the other, two women in front of me, a man and a woman at the far end to my right–all deep in conversation, or glasses of post-work wine, or, in one case,  a pile of wings.  How to approach them?  I’ll admit, the hardest part of my job as Narrator so far is making the first move.  In my dating days, I used to be a wallflower who waited for people to approach me, but here I was, hanging out in the lobby of an elegant hotel, navigating the gray area between friendly and intrusive.  

I passed a little time by roughly (I say roughly because . . . well, I’m sorry!) sketching the two women while I waited for my drink (expertly made by Jeff, by the way), continuing to scan the room for a potential story.  What was their story, I wondered.  Why were they there tonight?  What would they be willing to share with me?

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Enter: a deus ex machina!  Piano music from the sound system.  

No, it seemed live.  From the cafe?  That would be odd.  From Mason Street Grill?  Too far away.  No, it was coming from inside the lobby.  

I peered past the two women I had sketched and the god who was not really in a machine materialized: Dan Albrechtson, playing a rendition of “Stand By Me.”  From where I was sitting across the lobby, he appeared to be in his 70s, his black jacket curved over the keys, his wispy white hair and wire glasses hanging low.  I was amazed, even from as far away as I was, by the effortlessness and grace with which he played, his hands sliding back and forth across the keys.  When I sat down with Dan a little bit later, I would get to see how youthful his hands look and how wide his fingers can stretch from key to key.  He would play for me a regular 1-3-5 major chord, call it “ugly,” then play it with the 3 in the next higher octave.  He would tell me how he used to sit in school, writing with his right hand and stretching his left fingers against the table edge.  “Like a gymnast learning how to do the splits,” I would muse.  He would also share (though I’m not sure how it came up!) that he used to run half and full marathons, and he would wow me with his mile times when he was my age (let’s just say he was faster).  While Dan’s running is now all on a treadmill, I’m impressed and inspired: I hope that in thirty years I’m still running and doing my own version of Dan’s 10-key finger span with something I’m good at–perhaps writing or teaching or something new.

Which brings me to why Dan was my deus ex machina, that element of classical Greek theater in which a god or goddess would suddenly show up just at the right moment–which was usually at the end of the play when all was chaos and confusion.  When I realized he was playing, then, I added him to my quick sketch and leisurely sipped my drink, still wondering how I was going to approach any of the people in the room, none of whom seemed “in the right spot” for a conversation with me. I wrote down in my notebook, however, the question I’d like to ask them if I could, inspired by Dan’s piano playing: What do you hope to still have when you’re 70, 80, 90 years old?  What do you hope to still possess?  

And then–here’s the Greek moment–one of the men from the bar walked up to Dan to tip him and thank him for playing.  He seemed pretty approachable, so as he returned to his friend, I approached.  They both agreed with smiles that Dan’s music was beautiful.

It turns out that DeMarco, now living and working in New York City, was visiting his old pal Justin.  When they were younger, they had shared a healthy rivalry as news reporters and anchors in Milwaukee.  Tonight, they are all compliments for each other, especially Justin, who is convinced DeMarco is headed for the big seat at the network.  But that’s not what we talk about.  We talk about growing old and being tenacious.  What do they want to hold onto into their older years?

DeMarco: I want to still have rhythm.  I want to be able to still keep a beat.

Me: What do you mean?

DeMarco: Rhythm isn’t just something physical, like being able to walk straight.  It’s that sweet cadence that you possess.  It’s music, which you get to interpret.  It’s really everything.  

Me: I think I know what you mean.

DeMarco: It’s like this: imagine your favorite band, your favorite song . . . without rhythm.  

Me: I can’t even hear what that would sound like!  What was your favorite song as a child?

DeMarco: This is going to sound silly, because I was really young and didn’t understand what the song was really about, but it was Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.”  My father would play that song all the time.  It was good.

Me: Ha!  That’s like the kids in my neighborhood years ago lip syncing to “Baby Got Back”!

DeMarco: Yes.  Well, my father John died when I was ten years old, on Father’s Day.  But he used to say, “You can’t take my bones.  You can take away anything else, but you can’t take my bones.”

Me: That fits in perfectly with my first impression of Dan on the piano.  His fingers are still gliding across those keys like nothing at all.

DeMarco: Rhythm (snaps his fingers three times) connects everything.  Everything.  You know how when people say “My rhythm’s off”?  That means something’s not right.  Some kind of connection.  (smiling) It aligns with the universe.  It keeps everything in sync.

During my conversation with DeMarco, Justin chimed in intermittently, in between devouring a plate of wings.  With three left on the plate, he offers me the rest, informing me that they are excellent.  Not usually a wings man, and headed to dinner soon, I defer, but he insists that they are that good.  I only eat one, but they are.  “Grilled, not fried.  That’s the secret.”  I’ve never tasted wings that meaty and tasty.  I’ll be back.

But back to Justin.  

Me: What was your favorite song?

Justin: (without skipping a beat) Prince’s “Adore.”  Not many people seem to know that one.

Me: I don’t recognize it.  But I’m bad with artists and titles and stuff.

Justin: I must’ve been about 12 years old, and there was this line where he says, “You could burn up my clothes, / smash up my ride.  Well, maybe not the ride”–and he’d say it in his Prince voice. (voice gets higher) ”Well, maybe not the ride.  But I got to have your face / all up in the place.”

(When I got home, I listened to “Adore.”  What a sexy tune, especially as blog-writing background music.)

Me: And what do you still hope to have when you’re older?

Justin: I want to still be in touch with my spirit, my soul.  There are so many people who are disconnected from their spirit–or become disconnected.

Me: “Spirit” and “soul” can both mean dozens of things to dozens of people.  What do they mean to you?

Justin: My connection to humanity.  I still want to be able to relate to people all over the world.  I want to be cognizant of my connection with everyone and everything.

I am certainly glad I got the chance to connect with the two compassionate, kind, and heartfelt spirits of Justin and DeMarco, with Ellie and Jeff (I’ll be seeing more of you soon!), and most of all with Dan, whose music set the evening’s wheels and ideas and memories into motion.  Thank you!

“It Takes a Village to Raise a Dentist”

I was sitting at my little bean-shaped Narrator table on the lobby landing today, finishing another story, when I noticed the tell-tale signs that a graduation had just occurred: flat black boards and flowing black gowns.  Then the inevitable hat hair (only on the guys, of course).  I couldn’t tell if they were high school grads or college grads, but then a young woman entered the lobby holding an oversized Crest toothpaste balloon.  Marquette University’s new dentists.  Because I know a good handful of dental students there, I headed up to the Grand Ballroom.

“It takes a whole village to raise a dentist,” proclaimed the new Dr. Zazell Staheli to a packed crowd in the ballroom for the School of Dentistry’s graduation luncheon for the Class of 2016.  Dr. Staheli and eighty others graduated with everyone at the BMO Harris Bradley Center this morning, then were presented with their School of Dentistry diplomas at the Pfister luncheon.

This short post is about two villages.  The first, of course, is the one Dr. Staheli spoke about when she thanked everyone who helped her juggle dental school and raise a family, everyone who ever got her coffee to keep her going, everyone who helped her survive the “stressful rubber dam final.”  To her classmates and the hundreds of friends and family present, her challenge was to “be involved,” whether that meant mentoring, volunteering, giving back to the community, or something entirely different.  She called her new title–doctor–a “leadership title” that charged her and everyone else to lead by example, to “be the difference” (echoing Marquette’s motto).  I learned from the Marquette Magazine that Dr. Staheli hails from Kiana, a small town in Alaska of fewer than 400 mostly Iñupiaq Eskimos, surrounded by remote villages that are 30-150 miles away.  She will be returning to Alaska and will be providing her hometown and its neighboring villages with dental services, something that used to be difficult to come by.  Talk about giving back to her community.  It helps that she’s a commercial pilot.  Here she is being featured on National Geographic’s Alaska Wing Men.

Now, onto the second village.  One of this year’s graduates is Dr. Ben Schwabe, who will be leaving soon to serve in the Dental Corps at the Naval Station Great Lakes in Illinois.  Today, he was commissioned by Capt. Brian Hodgson, DC, USN, as part of the ceremony.

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Commissioning ceremony. Dr. Ben Schwabe, second from right.

In a moment of insight and profundity, he recalled his first time actually “getting in there” (my quotes).  “It was our Dentures course.  These people, of course, have no teeth, which is kind of funny.  At first, we’re all timid, holding the patients’ jaws open, kind of looking there.”  He bobbed his head around as if searching for something to polish or pull out.  “Now, we can just pry their jaws open and move in.  No problem.” In all serious, though, Dr. Schwabe is going to miss being part of the village of classmates and teachers.  He said, “Going through hell with people who are going through the same thing as you–that’s what I’m going to miss the most.  And not ‘hell,’ really, but rigor.”

I know Ben as a former “tribe” leader (along with Daniel Birk Graham) for November Project Milwaukee, a free and fun fitness group that meets every Wednesday and Friday at 6:26 am for cardio and strength training that always ends with sweaty hugs and high fives.

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Our teeth look pretty good!

When Ben learned that he’d been offered the residency at the Naval Station Great Lakes, he passed the torch to a new leader.  For almost two years, I have been “raised” into something close to my best self by Daniel and Ben (now Roger).  Here’s an example of our November Project village’s farewell workout for Ben (I mean “Dr. Schwabe”), a testament to how much he means to our village/tribe:

And more photos from today:

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Preparing to process into the Grand Ballroom.
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Doctoral robes. Designed for comfort.
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Fancy mirror shot. Everyone proud of Ben!
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Ben and his grandparents.

 

 

15 Simply (But Often Difficult) Courageous Goals for Charging Our Hearts

This month, I’m teaching Homer’s Odyssey for the last time in a great while.  My freshmen know the Hero Journey, the Greek hospitality code of xenia, and the value of nostos (or homecoming), and are learning life lessons about survival and courage from the adventures of Odysseus, his son Telemachus, and his partner Penelope, each of whom references “the heart inside me” many times, a way of expressing their emotions, whether joy or sadness, nostalgia or fear.  They also know the etymologies of the word “courage”–which derives from the French coeur, or “heart”–and of the word “survive”–which derives from the Latin supervivere, or “to live beyond.”

On Friday the 13th this month, I had the pleasure of attending the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women luncheon in the Grand Ballroom of The Pfister.  You may know Go Red for Women from their iconic red dress logo.  A red dress might seem a far cry from the Greek armor of an ancient epic hero fighting Laestrygonian cannibals, outwitting the fearsome Cyclops, or traversing the deadly Scylla and Charybdis, but maybe not: the red dress symbolizes the work the AHA is doing to educate women, raise awareness, and expand research into the leading killer of women in the country: heart disease.  This afternoon, thanks to the enthusiastic leadership of director Laura Bolger, the Passion Committee, Little Hats, Big Hearts, and many others, the ballroom was a sea of red, a powerful image of solidarity and coeur.

Over a delicate chicken salad with black beans and tortilla strips, then over champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries up in Blu, I learned that “more than 2 million women have learned their personal risk of developing heart disease” and “more than 900,000 women have joined the fight” against a disease that even at the beginning of this century was often dismissed as an “old man’s disease.”  I also learned how important knowing four little numbers is for preventing heart disease for women (and men): blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and body mass index.  Every woman I spoke to–whether a heart disease survivor or someone with a family member who died of heart disease or someone who was there simply to support the effort–mentioned these all-important numbers.

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1 mother, 3 daughters, 1 friend. 5 women of courage.

Even the lyrics of the luncheon’s theme song, Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song,” was reminiscent of Odysseus’s tumultuous Mediterranean Sea adventure: “Like a small boat / on the ocean / sending big waves / into motion.”  That’s exactly what Go Red for Women is: a small boat making waves.  Waves of awareness, waves of positive goal-setting, waves of funds going to research (Go Red for Women Milwaukee raised $163,000 this year!).  The keynote speaker, Sally Lou Loveman, added to the heroic tone of the luncheon when she said, “I believe in angels.  I believe in signs, especially since we’re holding this event during National Women’s Health Week.”  Loveman, a well-known former Audience Producer for Oprah and the founder of lovespeaks, brought to mind the good omens and prophecies of The Odyssey, the ones that let the characters know that the gods were on their side and that things were looking up.  Loveman added, like Athena to Odysseus and Telemachus: “You showed up.  In order to do the work we do, we have to just show up.”  Be there.  Get off your butt and do what you know you need to do.  Have courage and survive.  Platten’s lyrics affirmed this attitude (“This is my fight song / Take back my life song / Prove I’m alright song / My power’s turned on”) and Loveman reminded the hundreds of women in the room, many times, that our hearts are “the #1 tool” we use, that we need to “keep our hearts at full capacity,” that “the more we use our hearts, the more they charge.”  The calling, then, for the heroes in the room, was to listen to the “hearts inside them” and to be heroes for themselves and others–and to re-charge their hearts and their lives every day.

 

I leave you, then, with 15 Simply (But Often Difficult) Courageous Goals for Charging Our Hearts, created by the guests at the recent Go Red for Women luncheon at the beautiful Pfister Hotel:

  1. I will make regular appointments with my physician.
  2. I will now the red flags and recognize them.
  3. I will know my exact numbers, so I can measure them and either maintain them or notice changes.
  4. I will schedule another stress test to monitor my levels.
  5. I will catch myself when I get stressed and find remedies.
  6. I will heighten awareness, one person or one small group at a time.
  7. I will lose more weight.
  8. I will instill in the rest of my family, including my husband and son, a mindset of healthy eating.
  9. I will make sure to cook the right food for me and my family.
  10. I will keep walking 35 minutes a day and 1 ½ hours on the weekend (the added benefit is I’ve gotten through six books already!).
  11. I will stay healthy and stay prepared because I know my family’s history.
  12. I will realize that heart disease can develop even at a young age.
  13. I will enjoy the little things, the ones I don’t always think about, the simple, happy moments.
  14. I will try to remember that I have a family that wants to have me around.
  15. I will be proactive rather than reactive!

#10 is brought to you by Lori Craig, a board member of the American Heart Association and a member of the Go Red for Women Executive Leadership Team.  Here she is fulfilling her goal for the day with a brisk walk down the hall!

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What Did You Create Today?

Everywhere I turn in this cozy room, I encounter a new artist.  

Pamela Anderson, The Pfister’s new Artist-in-Residence, is on the west coast during this event, and her fellow artist, Melissa Dorn Richards, has taken up temporary residence in the studio, carving the thick white paint on her square canvases to re-imagine industrial mop heads in surprising ways.  

But here, in the former space of the upscale Rogers Stevens menswear store that has been transformed for a United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF) event hosted by the Marcus Corporation’s managers, the unsung artists of The Pfister are emerging.

  • The bartender, Luther, creates music, mainly percussion, out of anything he can find, having recently elevated a washboard to create a wicked sound and acquired a tuba (I reminisce about my college girlfriend and I foxtrotting to “Moonlight Serenade” played by a Seattle street musician with a tuba).  We chat about how he’s seeking new creative ventures for himself, much like I am, adventures that will allow him to create for himself and others, especially after years of raising his children and cleaning their creative peanut butter smears off of sofas.
  • Also at the bar is James, a rep from Copper & Kings American Brandy stationed in Butchertown, Louisville, Kentucky, who regales me with a language still foreign to me, but one I would willingly learn: non-chill filtered, copper pot-distillation, pure pot-still, full integrity, extraction, palatability (that last one I get!).  I enjoy his spirited Absinthe Blanche creation, a double-distilled Muscat brandy with traditional absinthe botanicals, and his company’s neighborhood’s namesake, Butchertown Brandy, described on their website as “bad-ass brandy . . . non-chill filtered without adulteration by boisé (oak flavor or infusion), sugar or caramel color for an uncorrupted natural flavor and natural color.”  Of course, I detect all of those characteristics. . . I’m an art connoisseur.
  • Joe from Milwaukee’s own Great Lakes Distillery shares the new Rehorst Barrel Reserve Gin, oak barrel aged to give it a creaminess that complements the botanicals and a golden to amber palette that delights my palate.  I share with him how my friends and I created a couple of summers ago the “Walkers Point Trifecta,” which begins with a tour of the distillery, followed by an affordable meal at Conejito’s Place Mexican Restaurant across the street, and washed down with cocktails at The Yard across the roundabout.  Good times.
  • After a little while, Peter, the Hotel’s food & beverages purchasing manager, is kind enough to introduce himself and engage me about his art: at work, he says, keeping food and beverage costs down is an art, and at home, he claims to “create masterpieces” (out of leftovers, that is).  I don’t doubt his culinary skill.  He wears it like a badge of honor and gets philosophical with me (I love that), agreeing that any time we take nothing and create something, or take something and transform it, we’re making art.

So why are all these artists gathered among the emptied wooden clothing racks bedecked with hors d’oeuvres and rows of wines for a cork pull and bottles of spirits for silent auction?  This May 10th event is one of the many UPAF events that are held at the Hotel throughout the year (and one of many just this month!), a testament to the company’s commitment to the arts and artists.  Begun in 1967 to support organizations like the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, and the Florentine Opera Company that would be performing in the new Performing Arts Center, UPAF has endured to this day, raising in 2014 over $12 million, due in part to co-chair Peggy Williams-Smith, Senior Vice President of Marcus Hotels & Resorts and SafeHouse Restaurants.  The Pfister Hotel’s commitment to UPAF ensures that “funds to ensure entertainment excellence” are raised, that the performing arts are a continued “regional asset,” and that donor gifts are “responsibly steward[ed].”  

As the Narrator, I have set up a table in the corner with Pfister cocktail napkins and colored Sharpies, with an invitation to join past writers in the esoteric art of napkin brainstorming.  

Prepared to hear from the artists!
Prepared to hear from the artists!

As guests approach my table, I greet them with a series of questions to answer about art, artists, inspiration, and performing.  Guests find some of them easy to answer, confident in their support of the arts and their opinions about why they’re important: How do you define art?  What inspires you?  Other questions stump them, which is my intention.  My favorites, and my go-to questions of the evening, are “How are you an artist?” and “What did you create today?”  I’ve found throughout the years that if we don’t paint or sculpt or play an instrument, most of us don’t consider ourselves to be “artists.”  But, as Peter and I agreed, any time we take nothing and create something, or take something and transform it, we’re making art.  We are artists–all of us.

As an English teacher and lover of word origins, I also share with guests that the word art derives from a Latin word meaning “joint” or “to fit together,” that inspire comes from the Latin “to breathe upon,” “to inflame,” or “to put a spirit into,” and that perform hails from the Old French “to provide completely” and the Middle English “to make dreams come true.”  For me, knowing the etymologies of short words like these that we take for granted opens up new avenues for understanding.  If art is a “joining,” then what is it that it joins?  If inspiration means to “breathe upon,” then who or what is breathing, what is being breathed, and upon whom?  And if every time we perform we’re “providing” something that “makes dreams come true,” well, how cool is that?

The guests’ napkin responses reveal to them and me new ways of thinking about ourselves:

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“I provide the world with an open ear.” “I assisted guests with reservations today!” “I try to make someone say Wow every day.”

Before the event comes to a close, I have the pleasure of chatting with Mary and Kathy, guests of Donna, Executive Assistant to the General Manager.

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Mary and Kathy, two artists.

At first mild and reserved, these two handsome women proclaim that neither of them is an artist.  However, with a little encouragement and inquiry, Mary tells me that she once took an art class to maintain her teaching certification.  “You wouldn’t believe that I made these things,” referring to the art, in different mediums, that she produced.  “I kept looking at them and saying, ‘Did I make that?’”

Hearing this, Kathy admits, “I guess deep down there’s something in each of us that’s artistic.”  And then she opens up: “A neighbor at my residence invited me to join the drama club.  We do little one-act plays mainly.”  So you are an artist, Kathy.  “Well, not really.”  Mary reminds her that she was the narrator for The Wizard of Oz.  “Oh, yes.  I had to get everyone involved.  And we made our own costumes.”  So you are an artist!  “Well, not really.  I did once play a teenager going out on a date–and then my parents interrupt the date. But I’m not an artist or performer.”

Indeed you are, Kathy.  Indeed you are.

 

Under the Spreading Chestnut: Mother’s Day Brunch, Part IV

In this final installment of lunch with Mercedes’ clan, we write a poem together, inspired by Nick and Liza’s story about the loss of the stack of love poems decades ago.  Or was the flurry of words that were floating and flinging across the table seeking a resting place?  Whatever the reason, I pulled a sheet from my notebook and invited someone to propose a first line.  From there, we would pass the sheet around the table so that each member of this family could lend his or her voice.  

Almost instantaneously, Nick said, “Under the spreading chestnut.”  We were all surprised by the “chestnut” reference (who comes up with “chestnut” in the first line of an impromptu poem?).  But then he changed his mind: “Oh, no.  We can’t use that.  That’s from a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem.”  I’d never read it before but discovered that it is the first line of “The Village Blacksmith,” which turns out to have a beautiful reference to the blacksmith’s mother and whose first line reads “Under a spreading chestnut tree”).  Putting on my English teacher hat, I assured him that our poem would contain an allusion to Longfellow, a line lifted partially, borrowed honorably.  All eight of us, with Longfellow as the ninth, would co-write a new poem.

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The original Longfellow draft, featuring our inspiration line: “Under a spreading chestnut tree.”
Our co-written poem, inspired by Longfellow.
Our co-written poem, inspired by Longfellow.

Once the sheet had rounded the table, I prepared to recite our words to a rapt audience.  But we were all surprised when Nick said he wanted to open our poetry reading with his own poem, a lengthy one he’d written for his wife Kelley awhile back, featuring a mixture of formal language and modern references to black holes and the galaxy.  “He just sent it to me in a message one day,” Kelley told us, to which all of us responded, of course, “Awwww.”

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Nick reads a love poem to Kelley.

This is what I finally got to read to them, a fitting end to a surprisingly intimate Mother’s Day Brunch at The Pfister Hotel:

Under the spreading chestnut
a mother’s love goes far.
And we breathe a sigh of relief
because we know how beautiful you are.
Your beauty is like the sunset–
so pure and full of wonder.
The love we share will never die–
let no man put it asunder.
Look toward the stars, behind the thunder.
Hide your dreams from those who seek to plunder.
But show them to the Lord above
who’s under the spreading chestnut
where a mother’s love goes far.

Happy (every day) Mother’s Day!

My Door Was Always Open: Mother’s Day Brunch, Part III

Continued from the previous post entitled “We Are a Corporation”:

MERCEDES, who now lives on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, has been coming to the Pfister for many years since her daughter MARIA moved to Milwaukee from the South Bronx almost twenty years ago.  This winter, she came to Milwaukee to support MARIA through back surgery, then stayed on through her recovery (interestingly, MARIA lives on Milwaukee’s Lower East Side).  This Mother’s Day Brunch is a good opportunity for “the corporation” to enjoy a meal, memories, and laughter together.  The hotel Narrator, DOMINIC, has soon become less Narrator and more “guest family member.”

The lively exchange–and by “lively” the playwright means LOUD, EXUBERANT, VOCIFEROUS, CLAMOROUS, EMPHATIC, all in the best ways–rises above the surrounding tables’ gentle fork-scraping and mild conversation.  Surprisingly, DOMINIC doesn’t care that more than a few heads turn toward the table, wondering what could possibly be so interesting or funny.  Some probably find the volume rude.  But the brunch continues uninhibited.

MARIA: I moved to Milwaukee in 1998.  I loved a man who brought me here for his job then dumped me six months later.  I had moved for work, too: I was an immigration officer.

MERCEDES: She’s retired now.

MARIA: Unfortunately, after he dumped me, I knew nobody.  But the minute I wandered into the doors of the Pfister, I knew I was at home.  

DOMINIC: So you just wandered in?

MARIA: Yeah, it must have been hot.  Or I was looking for a place to rest, maybe stay.  I mean, I was a poor Puerto Rican from the South Bronx, but (slowly) I like high-end stuff.  So, I knew that this was my kind of place.

MERCEDES: And everyone was so nice to you, too, right?

MARIA: Yeah.  First, I met the bartender, then the piano player.  I loved to just sit by the fireplace and read the newspaper.

MERCEDES bends over and whispers to me.

MERCEDES: She would get high enough that she would stand on the piano and belt out songs.  

MARIA: I heard you mom.  Yes, I’d get “high enough” to get on a piano and sing.  I made people laugh.  Our family believes extremely in “Live for the moment,” you know.  I mean, I could walk out of here and get hit by a bus, so, it’s important.  (looking at DOMINIC) It’s so important that you are so cute that I want to . . .

Strategically, someone at the table starts humming a tune from West Side Story again.  

KELLEY: Well, we are an honest bunch!

Just then, MUNY, one of the banquet servers, approaches to refill our champagne and water.  She stands directly behind MARIA, who grasps her by the hand.

Muny and Maria, a match made possible by The Pfister Hotel.
Muny and Maria, a match made possible by The Pfister Hotel.

MARIA: Me, I like to go into the interior . . . you know, the people and stories in the background.  To know that the service is so good wherever you go within the Pfister, especially from Muny.  She was Muñeca when I met her fifteen years ago.  Muny’s mom, auntie, and more–they all worked at the Pfister, too.  You know, she’s the heart and soul of this place, of this brunch.  It’s not only about the atmosphere and the beautiful things.

MUNY: Everyone calls me the “Brunch Lady.”

MARIA: Yes, Muny, you are the “Brunch Lady” that everyone requests.

Squeezes MUNY’s hand as MUNY exits with a wide smile that never seems to leave her face.

Growing up, our house was always filled with people, whether black, white, green, yellow.  Our house was like a revolving door.  There was always a place for Puerto Ricans, or Muny’s, or . ..

MERCEDES: It’s like it was in Little Italy–you have to visit Little Italy.  We used to go to Pellegrino’s all the time.

MARIA: We’d call it P.J.’s.  

MERCEDES: Yes, P.J.’s for short.  

DOMINIC: Is it still there?

MERCEDES:  Ah, yes.  We haven’t been there for awhile, but you should if you visit.  They would see us coming and have a bottle of wine ready, then we’d stay after with the maître d’, Anthony, until two or three in the morning. (smiles proudly)

MARIA: That’s what it’s all about.  

Everyone at the table confirms this with nods and approving smiles.

MERCEDES:  I’ll have to go back there soon.  Back to that “open door” Maria mentioned: I couldn’t stand seeing kids on the street.  And back then, the youth had so many problems they had to deal with.  So if one of the kids was a boy, then I’d let him stay in my son’s room until he could get things together.  I never put a kid out.  My door was always open.

LIZA: Just like at Pellegrino’s.  You were strict, though.  

Everyone at the table confirms this with nods and approving smiles.

We called you “the fly swatter.”

MERCEDES: (to DOMINIC) I was the fly swatter.  Sometimes these kids needed a (she “swats” DOMINIC’s shoulder like she were dusting it off) little fly swat.  It was hard living back then.

DOMINIC: But your door was always open. That’s what matters, huh?

Everyone at the table confirms this with nods and approving smiles.  They make a toast to open doors and things that matter.

We Are a Corporation: Mother’s Day Brunch, Part II

Set in the Grand Ballroom of the historic Pfister Hotel, in present day Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Two gigantic chandeliers divide the room, which is framed in gold, with walls covered in Victorian art.  A Puerto Rican family with American roots in the South Bronx and Manhattan’s Lower East Side dominates a table toward the back of the ballroom.  The matriarch, MERCEDES, is sitting at a table during the annual Mother’s Day Brunch, an empty seat to her left, followed clockwise by her niece DANA (daughter of LIZA and NICK), her daughter MARIA, daughter LIZA, LIZA’s husband NICK, their other daughter KELLEY, and KELLEY’s husband MIKE.  Multiple conversations are occurring as DOMINIC, the hotel storyteller, approaches in a new blue suit, a notebook in hand ready for a potential interview.  

Enter DOMINIC, who takes the empty seat next to MERCEDES.  We see them talking but can’t hear their conversation until MERCEDES speaks up.  Besides the two nieces, DANA and KELLEY, the rest of the family has a slight but recognizable accent.

MERCEDES: (points to a woman across the table) It’s her you should be talking to.  She could tell you some stories.

DOMINIC: She’s your–

MERCEDES: My daughter.

DOMINIC: (surprised) No.  She–

MARIA: People always think that we’re sisters.  But she’s almost 80 and well . . . I’m–I’m tired of the comparison.  She’s an oxatarian . . . no, an oxagenarian, oxageraranarian.  Wait.  What’s it called?  You know.

KELLEY: It’s an oxag–.

DOMINIC: Octogenarian, I think.  Eight generations.

MARIA: Heeey.  You’re cute.  I could just eat you up!  

LIZA: (gently slaps MARIA with feigned disapproval) Maria!  Stop.

NICK: (jumping in)  Ok . . . so you’re the narrator.  What does that entail?

DOMINIC: Well, I’ll be telling the stories of guests at the hotel over the next year.  People like you.

MARIA: We are a corporation!

NICK: We are an organism!

MIKE: We’re a bunch of crazy Puerto Ricans!

Everyone spontaneously toasts with champagne.

MERCEDES: That we are.  Those two are my daughters, Maria and Liza.  That’s Liza’s husband, Nick.  That there’s their daughter Dana–she’s 16.

MARIA: She goes to the Special Music School right across from Julliard.  It’s better than Julliard, of course.

MERCEDES: And that is Kelley (it’s K-E-L-L-E-Y) and her husband, Mike.  

MARIA: Kelley is in pharmacy, but she’s going to go into surgery eventually.  And Mike’s in construction now, but he’s going to be the next Puerto Rican astronaut!  He’s joining the Air Force soon.

DOMINIC: (to Kelley and Mike) Congratulations.  (to DANA) You like the school, huh?  

DANA: Yes, I play guitar–

MARIA: And sax!

DANA: –and sax.  And I study voice.

MERCEDES: She has a beautiful voice.

LIZA: Yes, you should hear her sing.  Like an angel.

MARIA: Like an angel.  In fact, we were just going to do a rendition of our favorite musical, West Side Story.  You know–

MARIA starts humming “I want to live in America,” then others join in.

DANA: I really like biology, though . . . and I’d like to be a mortician.  I have strange tastes!

DOMINIC: That sounds pretty well-rounded to me.  I used to be a bio major, then I switched to
English.

DANA: That’s cool.

MARIA: Yes, it’s cool.  We’re all poets at this table.  And you–I just want to bring you home with me!

This time, it’s DANA who swats her aunt MARIA.  No one else bats an eyelash.

MERCEDES: She’s always like this.  Just watch.

MARIA: And Nick is Greek.  

She spells and pronounces his last name.

Greek and Puerto Rican.  Can’t you tell?

NICK: No one ever believes me, so I have to spell my last name and sing a song in Greek.  

Without skipping a beat, NICK begins singing a syncopated song, slowly moving his torso and arms in the style of a Greek dancer.

MARIA: You know, Nick’s a poet.  But he wasn’t always one, right Liza?  In fact, he once lost a whole set of love poems that Liza had written.

LIZA: That’s right.

NICK: I didn’t know any better back then.

MARIA: You were young.

NICK: Seventeen.  So I threw them in the trunk of the car–I was borrowing it from someone.

LIZA: I had gotten a whole set of stationery.  And I filled up every single one with poems.  I poured my heart and soul into them.

MARIA: And then he lost them.

NICK: But she’s still with me, thirty-eight years later.

LIZA: That’s true.  He really is romantic.

KELLEY: He would write cards for me when I was growing up.  

MARIA: Yeah, he made all these cards with crossword puzzles on them–

KELLEY: –that I had to solve.  And then in each there would be a message to me about how much he loved me and so on.

LIZA: And don’t forget he’s an amateur magician, too.

MARIA: He was always pulling a little bunny out of a hat and stuff!

DOMINIC: Everyone here sounds so creative!

MARIA: And you.  You’re so cute.  We’re going to have you over and invite the whole family!

MERCEDES: Look.  (pointing at my face)  He’s blushing!

TO BE CONTINUED . . .

* Pictured (l-r): Maria, Dana, Liza, Nick, Mercedes, Kelley, Mike