Todd

And then there’s Todd.

Today is officially the final day of Todd Mrozinski’s term as the Pfister’s Artist-in-Residence. For me and others around the Pfister, this is the moment when Todd leaves us with one final everlasting shadow. His own.

Todd made his mark during his artistic residency by using the shadows cast from the light at the Pfister to capture the profiles of countless guests, associates and well-wishers with brush and paint. Sounds like a simple proposition, and you may be thinking, “I sort of remember doing something like that in grade school, right?” But you would be wrong. Todd is a magician of sorts, an artist of supreme talent who somehow is able to show more than just a profile with his paintings. I don’t know how he does it, but Todd is able to paint a person’s soul.

Todd has talents I’ll never know. There are the obvious ones with a paintbrush that he wields with devastatingly exciting effect each time he approaches a canvas. There’s also the unerring commitment to his work as I often stood gaping at the volume of what he has been able to create during his time as Artist-in-Residence. I think, however, that the thing the amazes me most about my new friend Todd is a heart bigger than seems capable of being held in one human being’s chest.

Todd doesn’t simply paint people. He loves people and must paint them. It seems like an understatement to say that Todd is a universally beloved man. Around the Pfister, the thing we fortunate ones who have gotten to work with Todd do the first moment we see him approaching is smile and breathe a little easier full of a special sort of feeling. You know that feeling…the one you have when you see your best friend coming towards you. When you see Todd, the world seems right and everything makes sense.

It would be hard to write any tribute to my fellow artistic colleague at the Pfister without also talking about his wife, the dazzling Renee Bebeau. Renee’s pure love of the world and her obvious deep connection to Todd has brought added joy to the Pfister, and everything she seems to touch turns to something golden and full of joy. Renee was Todd’s true partner during his residency, organizing the Pfister’s thrilling Holiday Artists Fair, helping to coordinate the many shows Todd curated over the past year, serving as model for some of Todd’s paintings, and creating her own stunning art side-by-side with her beloved guy.

Todd leaves the Pfister having inspired me as any great artist does. I think of his friendship, the feeling I had every time I saw a new piece of his artwork, and it makes me want to get about the business of dedicating myself even more to my own life’s passion. Todd is the greatest advocate the art world could ever ask for, but more than that, he is one of the greatest human beings I’ve ever known. I will miss him, and I know I’m not alone.

Goodbye Todd. You leave a long and beautiful shadow, my friend. Thanks for all you have given and all you allowed us to take away.

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The First 30 Years

Some couples got it. Ron and Maryann don’t just got it. They define what it means to got it.

I think about marriage every day of my life as a really happily married fellow myself. Some of the things I think about are how satisfying it is to have a life partner and how you never can stop working on making your marriage all it can be. Ron and Maryann have hitting it out of the park as a successful married couple for 30 years. They reminded me that all the stuff I think about marriage is never to be taken for granted, site but also that you gotta always do a little more. You gotta always make time to laugh.

The happy couple is, in fact, laughing as I meet them all refreshed and glowing after a Well Spa visit that Maryann secretly arranged for their 30th Wedding Anniversary. They’re looking over a painting of a teapot in our Pfister Artist-In-Residence Studio, and and Ron is telling Todd Mrozinski that the teapot looks just like the one in a sort of B-movie extravaganza he and his bride came upon when flicking through the channels last week. “It was called ‘The Brass Teapot’ and I’d say, yeah, it was pretty good,” says Ron.

Maryann is quiet and smiles up at her hubby. It looks like a smile she’s practiced a lot. I can just imagine these two snuggled next to each other in recliners or something, store their hands touching as they reach into the bowl of popcorn. The word “lovebirds” comes to mind.

Ron explained to me that he had had some practice with marriage before getting hitched to Maryann some 30 years back. Considering his track record with his first two marriages before he struck gold with Maryann he tells me, “I never thought I’d get to five years, but then you start passing ten, 20, 25, and then all of a sudden you’re at 30. Who knew?”

I’m not convinced that it’s as easy as that to rack up 30 years of marriage, and I ask the couple what’s their trick for being each others ball and chain for three decades and smile like they do as they look upon each other like they’ve just met. They talk of their travels, the joys of being parents and grandparents, and the most important word each of them has learned by being married to one another.

“Yes,” says the couple. “Always say ‘yes’ whenever anyone asks you to do something new.”

Saying “yes” for Ron and Maryann has meant traveling to far off places, having friends in all corners of the world, and opening their eyes to all the possibilities of how to see and tell a story. As avid theatre and concert goers, the couple explain to me that you should take chances and see live performances even when you have no idea what the show is going to be about. I’m always dubious of this kind of thing from years of producing theatre myself, some of it the sort of stuff I’d like to forget I ever put on stage. Ron tells me not to fear.

“No, no. Don’t have regrets about that.” He tells me that one of the most memorable dates he had with Maryann was when they decided to buy tickets to a Vegas style show advertised in a small performance space. They showed up for the performance and waited in the audience until they realized that they were the only two people who had bought tickets.

“It was a little uncomfortable when the show began, it just being Maryann and I in the audience,” said Ron. “But, you know what? It ended up being a real good show.”

Maryann smiles again. Ron looks at her and knows it’s time for them to make tracks for other adventures. Thirty years and all it takes is a wink, a smile and a chuckle or two. If that ain’t love, mister, I don’t know what is.

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Live from The Pfister…Chatter and Paintings and Arias You Want to See

Not that I think there’s a lack of reasons to come to the Pfister on any given day (I mean there’s the glamour, the great service, the lush accommodations, and all), but I’m happy to be giving you some spectacular special reasons to visit 424 E. Wisconsin Ave. in the coming weeks.

This Friday, October 16th is Milwaukee’s Fall Gallery Night and at the Pfister that means one thing: WE’RE DOING TWO THINGS! I’m thrilled to host my first live event as Pfister Narrator when I bring together leaders in the local theatre scene for SHOP TALK, an engaging discussion that gets people in-the-know talking shop. SHOP TALK is a lively hour-long combination of interviews, levity and even some musical flourishes. I’m honored to get the chance to talk with Chad Bauman (Managing Director of Milwaukee Rep), Sherri Williams Pannell (one of the leaders of Milwaukee’s new Bronzeville Arts Ensemble), Suzan Fete (a co-founder of Renaissance Theaterworks), Tom Klubertanz (actor and epically popular theatre educator at Oconomowoc High School), and Dan Schley (local theatre audience member extraordinaire and all around greatest guy ever).

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Chad Bauman is smart, classy, and dynamically leads Milwaukee Repertory Theater as Managing Director in partnership with Artistic Director, Mark Clements. You want to hear him speak…trust me.

I’m joined by musical sidekick James Kaplan and livewire announcer and partner-in-crime Jason Economus for an unforgettable evening. We’ll be in the former Roger Stevens space on the first floor and doors open at 6:00pm for a 6:30 show. This is a free-of-charge event, so plan on showing up early to snag a good space close to all the talking of shop. Learn more by visiting the SHOP TALK Facebook Event Page.

SHOP TALK is happening in collaboration with my ever active and pulsing with talent Pfister artistic colleague, Todd Mrozinski, our Artist in Residence, and his Fall Gallery night event. Todd has brought together a superb collection of artists for the PEOPLE show at the Pfister’s new Pop Up Gallery. The show features portraits created by some of the best and brightest local artists, and Todd’s opening on Friday evening will be an event par excellence featuring live music by Mississippi Sawyer and a poetry tour of all the artwork by my outstanding predecessor as in-house writer at the Pfister, Anja Notanja. You can get more details at the PEOPLE show Facebook event page.

The lovely thing about all this is that you can come to SHOP TALK and then take a few steps across the lobby to experience the PEOPLE show. Noshing and a cash bar will add to all the merriment. What a night!

Now that fills up your dance card for Friday night, but what about next Wednesday, October 21st? I know you’re looking for something to do on a school night, and I have the answer—Milwaukee Opera Theatre’s Voice Lab.

In the grand tradition of celebrating the arts at the Pfister, I’m delighted to host Milwaukee Opera Theatre for a Voice Lab on Wednesday, October 21st from 7:00-9:00pm at Cafe Rouge.

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Witness the artistic process up-close at Milwaukee Opera Theatre’s Voice Lab on October 21st at Cafe Rouge

What is a Milwaukee Opera Theatre Voice Lab you ask?  Voice Lab has been used by professional artists to prepare for auditions, try out new repertoire, and revisit old, familiar pieces.  Composers have used Voice Lab to assist them in the development of new work.  Voice Lab has been used by avocational singers to continue their practice, and by singers returning to music after a hiatus who want a safe place to try things out.

The artists’ process is revealed for inquisitive onlookers during Voice Lab, and this free-of-charge event is also open to the public.  

And Milwaukee Opera Theatre is a group you should keep your eyes and ears on for invigorating culture and quirks. MOT, as they like to call themselves, considers itself a microbrewery of opera: Small batches, high quality, locally produced.  Their reputation for exciting approaches to classic operatic repertoire and new work has attracted the attention of audiences during their many sold-out performances around Milwaukee.  You can learn more about them at milwaukeeoperatheatre.org.

I mean this when I say this…it will be a delight to see you at the Pfister for these events. It’s thrilling to make these sorts of discussions and events available to the public, and I do so hope you’ll join us for all the fun. See you soon…I’ll be the guy with the bow tie and big happy-as-a-clam grin.

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The Only Problem Is That the Water Cooler Might Be Used to Wash a Brush or Two

How many times have you looked at a piece of art hanging on the wall and said, “My kid can do that?”

And how many times have you taken brush in hand to find out that kids are cute, but making art isn’t for the feint of heart.

It’s with this sense of awe for the process of creation that I come to the continuing confirmation that the people who work for and support the Pfister and its parent Marcus corporation aren’t just pros of the highest degree, they are artists. In the case of a current display of talents in the Pfister’s Pop Up Gallery, this statement is both literal and figurative.

Last Friday the Pop Up Galley was the site of the opening reception of the Art of Marcus Show. This was no display of a group of disgruntled employees acting out their frustrations over a hostile work environment with tortured splashes of oil paint on a dirty cloth calling for overthrow of “the man.” No, indeed, the art on display showed that the concept of “Salve”, the motto of welcome hospitality for all prominently on display as part of the ceiling fresco art in the Pfister Lobby, has warmly wormed its way into the psyches of all the Marcus employees presenting art.

It’s not for nothing that a hotel that has its own Aritst-In-Residence and Narrator puts value on showing off the off hours talents of their staff. I get a kick out of the fact that the same bartender who mixes the world’s best Bloody Mary has an eye for landscapes. And this is no, “My kid could paint that,” kind of show, either. It’s a true celebration of how the people that make it their business to ensure a comfy stay for all our guests stretch their artist souls.

When, as a writer, I think, “Boy, I’m so busy…how can I produce anymore words?” I remember that Kurt Vonnegut sold Saabs from 9 to 5, Harper Lee punched a clock as an airline ticket reservationist, and William S. Burroughs was an exterminator. It’s my reminder to stop whining and sit down with pen in hand and start my real life’s work. Those notable writers didn’t just define themselves by their day jobs and clearly knew that being an artist meant more than dreaming about it—for all of them it meant showing up and simply doing the work.

Having seen the work of the Marcus employees, I will now take inspiration from their efforts and realize that while these hard working stewards could be kicking off their shoes and cracking a cold brew at the end of the day, they have chosen to take off their work clothes and put on that soft shirt that won’t suffer from a splotch of paint. I’m happy that visiting guests get to know our staff as more than champions of comfort and see that there are some real serious artists walking the halls of the Pfister.

I hope you enjoy these images of the Art of Marcus Show, and I hope you’ll stop by soon and experience these delights in person.

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One Night Only in the Lobby Lounge…DeLorenzo and Rivers!

Victor DeLorenzo and I share a few things when it comes to Milwaukee. One of those is history. The other is the Pfister.

Let’s get the history right out of the way, ailment shall we. Many years ago Victor and I first crossed paths when we had both been cast as performers in a play about how one man got swallowed up by the Nazi machine in 1930s Germany. Victor had been cast as the one Jewish character, and I had been cast as a Nazi. We had lovely times together in rehearsal until one day our director announced to the cast that Victor had gone to the doctor for a physical, feinted and broken his ankle in a freak accident. Victor was out, diagnosis I got promoted to his role, and because of his bum ankle I went from Nazi to Jew overnight.

That’s the history, and I was so delighted to see Victor again after many years when he and his musical partner Janet Schiff in the cello and percussion duo Nineteen Thirteen played for a recent art opening at the Pfister’s Pop Up Gallery. All of a sudden we had the Pfister in common, cialis and it felt nice to be in the same place with a man I admire for his many talents.

Then one recent day as I was passing Todd Mrozinksi’s studio at the Pfister I peeked in to see that Victor and Janet were getting their silhouettes traced by our Resident Artist for paintings Todd will include in his collection.

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I stopped in to have a chat with Victor and catch up since I hadn’t had an opportunity to do so prior.

I find more and more that the Pfister is a place for reunion, and when those reconnections happen in the hotel, the folks making contact again after weeks, months or years invariably have their own Pfister tales that they share with each other. It’s as if the walls just draw out the stories, and listen hard enough and you can hear some doozies.

Victor and I did the general catching up that men of our age do. This hurts, that hurts, getting older isn’t so bad. Victor also told me he had some great memories of years gone by at the Pfister with a twinkle in his eye saying, “But you could never write about some of those.”

One tale he did tell me is beautifully quaint. It is so sweet, and surprising from a man who was responsible for forming one of the hardest driving alternative rock ensembles of all time (The Violent Femmes for those of you who need a little refresher).

Victor explained that he grew up in Racine and always dreamed of trips to Milwaukee. But as a boy prior to having his driver’s license, those trips were few and far between. He longed for the freedom that a license allowed him, and had big plans once he could get behind the wheel and follow his own path.

As he dreamed about that new sense of freedom and discovery, he also reveled in the great entertainment of the day, and for Victor the greatest of the great was Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. Victor explained that he was a tremendous fan of the former talk show host and would stay up and watch the show each and every night. From time to time Johnny would have a guest host fill in for him, and his favorite of all was the uncompromising Joan Rivers.

The time had come for Victor to test for his driver’s license and as he prepared he made a discovery. Rivers was scheduled to do a series of concerts at The Pfister’s old Crown Room, a classic spot for comedians and musicians. Through the grapevine Victor discovered that Rivers was also set to stay at the Pfister. With the blind resolve and confidence that only youth can bring, Victor made a decision.

“I thought to myself, I am going to get my driver’s license, drive right to the Pfister Hotel, walk in, and meet Joan Rivers.”

The plan seemed fool proof to Victor who couldn’t see any possible obstacles towards success. That’s the beauty of youth—anything seems possible.

Now perhaps because of timing, perhaps because of luck, perhaps because of a combination of lots of random factors, a miracle occurred.

Victor’s plan worked.

I like to call it the Pfister Blessing, sort of the stroke of good things that can and do happen to you once you make a decision to walk through the door. On that day so many years ago Victor climbed into a car with his shiny new driver’s license, drove North from his Racine home to the Pfister, walked in, and moments later met Joan Rivers. He tells me that she was an absolute delight and spent the evening in conversation with him, a moment he will never forget. It certainly couldn’t have played out better for Victor if he had tried, but I did forget to ask him one essential question, something I’ll have to clear up next time we see each other. I gotta wonder whether the former queen of runway commentary had anything to say about teenage Victor DeLorenzo’s haircut. That’s another Pfister story that I for one would love to hear.

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Tickled Ivories and the Wisdom of Pearls

Sometimes when you think you’re part of the show, seek you actually end up spending some time in the audience. When you’re in the middle of performing and you get surprised by something that captures your eye that when things get real—and good.

I recently had the unique pleasure to visit with a group of journalists on a tour of Milwaukee who made a stop at the Pfister. Our Resident Artist Todd and I have a nice little dog and pony show worked up at this point for these types of occasions. Todd takes the lead with true aplomb talking about history of the art and architecture at the Pfister and I round out our talks with general information and some fun facts. Got a spare half hour or so? Todd and I would love to meet with you and gab on and on about the Pfister.

This was a particularly engaged group of journalists. They asked good questions, sovaldi sale had wide-open eyes, and were full of smiles. It felt more like an afternoon with friends than a tour with strangers.

We generally start in Todd’s studio and make our way across the lobby and then up to the second floor to look at the art collection. We stopped at the landing overlooking the lobby next to the elevators and Todd and I made the snap decision to head to the seventh floor with our group as we were having such a good time and none of us wanted it to end. We split up since our group was so big, and I headed up in the elevators first.

My small group arrived on the seventh floor and we were just chatting about all the fun weddings and luncheons and parties that happen there as we waited for Todd and the others to catch up. As we chatted I couldn’t help but hear a lovely lick of piano music playing behind me. I turned around and was instantly delighted to see that one of my group, an energetic and friendly lady named Rebecca, had seated herself at the piano and was tickling the ivories.

It was lovely, a real great afternoon treat.

Rebecca explained that in addition to being a travel writer and journalist, she is a professional musician who plays cello in her own chamber orchestra back home in Hot Springs, Arkansas. We all gave Rebecca the applause she rightfully earned for her impromptu afternoon performance and went about the rest of our tour.

As Rebecca jumped in with the group she said to me, “Oh, don’t forget to have me tell you about these pearls.”

In a matter of moments I had gone from leading a group of people through the Pfister to being led by a new friend. A really good performer knows a secret trick: leave them wanting more. I certainly could have listened to Rebecca play for the group the rest of the afternoon, and now she had me on the edge of my seat wanting to hear the story about her pearls.

Our tour ended, and I had my chance. I pulled Rebecca aside and reminded her that she had a story to tell me. She did, and it’s a good one, and I’m sure my new friend wouldn’t mind if I share it with you.

Rebecca told me that when she’s back at home in Arkansas she is often invited to a standing ladies luncheon. One day the group’s organizer, a grand dame of the local luncheon set, pulled Rebecca aside as she entered for lunch and said, “I would like to speak to you privately once lunch is done today.” Rebecca told me she gulped her way through her salad, fearing the worst from her intimidating hostess.

Lunch ended, and Rebecca hoped that she might be able to secretly slip out without the feared discussion that she had been invited to at meal’s end. But the hostess had not forgotten the invitation and pulled Rebecca aside privately as all the other guests departed.

Rebecca stood silently, her heart racing as the luncheon organizer produced a black velvet bag. Speaking with purpose, the hostess said to Rebecca, “When you first started coming to our luncheons there was something that began to trouble me. You reminded me of my daughter, someone who I have not seen for many years because of our estranged relationship. But I believe I have a chance to have a connection with you that I wish I had with my daughter.”

She reached in the black velvet bag and pulled out a beautiful strand of pearls and presented them to Rebecca. As she gave them to Rebecca she said, “I want you to have these. I also want you to remember each time that you put these on that each of these pearls started off as something hard and ragged and after being tossed and turned and ground down over time, they were transformed into something elegant, smooth and beautiful.” Rebecca took the pearls, thanked her friend for this extraordinary gift and story, and left utterly speechless. Not long after this special moment, the hostess passed away. Since then, the pearls have been a permanent accessory in Rebecca’s wardrobe.

I sure like telling stories, and there is a real joy in seeing people lean in and listen to something you are saying. But communication is a two way street. It’s mighty nice to take a pause in the middle of telling a tale or two to be reminded by new friends like Rebecca that turnabout is the sweetest of fair play.

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This Side

Todd Mrozinski and Nina Bednarksi unveiled the delicious paintings that make up the Infinite Landscapes show in the Pfister’s Pop Up Gallery as their contribution to Gallery Night and Day last night. This story was inspired by their artistry and the alchemy of their talented eyes and I read it before a friendly crowd of art lovers with writerly glee. Enjoy. 

Leonard’s shoulders relaxed as he stood next to Jenny who was warmly wrapped in the terry robe she had found hanging in the hotel room closet while they stared out the window of their upper floor suite at the infinite landscape filled with the sight of puffy white clouds, cheap a perfect V-shaped formation of geese floating and flapping peacefully on the thin rarified air, one dynamic streamlining airliner making a white line in the sky as it headed to exotic lands, squared off fluorescent lights from the city’s swankiest apartment buildings and most imposing office towers glowing warmly in the dusky evening sky, that very same light pole that Gene Kelly danced around dripping wet from movie magic showers in “Singin’ in the Rain”, the extraordinary 957th homerun ball soaring over the center field wall that Slappin’ Joe McCracken had just soundly pummeled from his mighty seismic bat he cutely called My Girl Kitty, Joey Mason and Dottie Saldina sharing their shy and tentative first kiss stolen in the cool shade of the jasmine bush that Elmer Dill had planted back sometime in the early aughts just to see if he could grow something prettier than the rows and rows of cabbage in his garden that all somehow resembled the bust of William Henry Harrison, Drum Major Sal Temple’s twirling baton spiraling through the air just ready to drop into her waiting hand so the Moosetown Leather Heads could start their woodwind heavy version of “Louie, Louie” in sharp 4/4 time with a lot of gusto right off the bat because it “Wasn’t grade A until it was forte!” as Band Director Dr. Julius Hindin always reminded the freshmen through senior corps, the rocket’s red glare and the bomb pops of freedom bursting with red, white and blue sugary flavor on a sticky and humid August afternoon when it was better to chase the ice cream man’s ding-dong song than wade in the waters of the Stockton Civic Swim Center even though all the bathers religiously abided by the posted warning that there was no “P” in the “OOL” and everyone should always keep it that way, an awkward encounter between two pretty burly insurance salesmen as they both reached for the same double thick butterscotch malt when Ricky Steven’s cracking 15-year-old tenor that would soon drop into baritone was heard announcing the order from the red microphone at Narder’s Drive-In, you know the one that was just for people who had ordered sundaes or fountain drinks but definitely not double cheeseburgers and onion rings even though those were the specialties of the house and everyone agreed that Togo’s Sweet Shack was really the best place in town for ice cream, that tear-jerking moment of Ute Franz’s triumphant ascent of that Swiss Alp that wasn’t quite as big as Matterhorn but was surrounded by all the better fondue places so was the one that really mattered to anyone who cared about cheese which was really everyone because cheese is that one thing that should be loved and cherished like a newborn baby, maybe even more so because cheese sleeps through the night and has never cried over a dirty diaper, Rayburn Jessup’s blue ribbon steer once again somehow lifting the latch on the gate that led into Tully Arnold’s soybean field so the bull could saunter into a soft patch of soon-to-be-tofu leaves for a good lay down just because it felt so nice on his plump rump roast, a hot minute when Gwen Mitchell snubbed out a cigarette and declared “That’s it! I’m done, and this time I REALLY mean it!”, the exciting final results of the recent contentious election that proved that democracy sure wasn’t perfect but it was way better than whatever system of government they were acting out during this year’s Renaissance Fair that had just moved into town for a six-month set down since the Civil War reenactors had pulled up camp and traveled North for the summer, the telecast of the penultimate match between sisters Pluto and Nirvana Thomas that forever proved that Wheaties really did make you faster and stronger if your mom made you eat them every morning before curling practice, the heaven sent puffs of white smoke announcing the legendary and universally praised selection of Pope John Mohammad Tozen Bobo Marjorie Solowitz to lead the world towards enlightenment, peace and a refreshing hip hop approach to liturgy, Tarzan swinging from a tangled vine and swooping down to within inches of the jungle floor to grab Jane gently but firmly to save her from the razor sharp jaws of an advancing King of the Forest even while his monkey Cheetah sat in a nearby tree laughing like a hyena because the world’s smartest chimp saw that there was no danger since the advancing beast was none other than the Milwaukee Lion and everyone knew that it was nothing but a miniature horse out on a weeklong bender, that one really comfy afghan that Grandma had made that had gone missing for 17 months but somehow mysteriously reappeared in the family room when Uncle Timothy showed up that one night to crash for a few hours as he was trucking across America with a load of plump limes because it was Mojito season and the Southern Californians were getting thirsty, and a few other fuzzy shapes farther away that he couldn’t quite make out because it was time to get his eyes checked again and the sun had dipped pretty low beyond the horizon.

Leonard’s smile reflected back at him from the glass of the window as Jenny slipped her hand into his and rested her head on his shoulder to complete the sixth time in his life when he had felt he might have a glimmer of what the word “perfect” actually meant.

“Nice view,” he said softly to his love. “I wonder what it looks like from the other side?”

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Nobody Ever Writes About the Travel Writer, so I’m Writing About the Travel Writer

One of the great joys I have as a writer is to meet other writers. Typically a writer meet up is filled with quotable quips, diagnosis hair-pin turns of phrases, and good humored word-wise one-upmanship. It’s the literary equivalent of dogs sniffing one another’s behinds.

So like a happy, fluffy puppy, I was very excited to have the chance to meet writer Amber Gibson as she made a recent trip to the Pfister. She describes herself as a travel and food writer, as well as a model. I describe myself as a writer, raconteur and great eater of meat. As you can see, we’re basically the same person.

Our Resident Artist Todd and I met up with Amber to give her a brief tour of our treasured art collection and chat about the Pfister’s Artist-In-Residence and Narrator programs. That is to say, advice Amber was given a really fine tour by Todd, and I accompanied him to try desperately to serve the role of witty wing man. Todd needs no addition of wit, but when the chance comes for a writer to write about another writer, you’ll have to physically restrain me from putting pen to paper.

I’m always curious about how other writers view the process of writing and how they go about getting their work seen and read. Amber is an impressive young lady, the valedictorian in her class from Northwestern University’s journalism school. No slouch in the word department is she. When we meet and I see the grace with which she presents herself decked out in a silver ensemble that looks runway ready, I also note that she can easily fall back on that modeling part of her vitae when writing gigs are slim.

We begin our visit in Todd’s studio with handshakes and pleasantries and immediately the bond between us all is evident. We’re all creative types who like hanging around hotels, and because of the good graces of the universe, we all get to follow our passions daily.

Amber asks Todd and I about being the Pfister’s current in-house artist and writer. She is curious about whether or not we live at the hotel during our stay. Todd and I share a glance and I can tell he’s thinking the same thing I am. “Oh, what a fine, fine idea, Amber. I’ll take Room 2012, please.” We explain that we both have homes here in Milwaukee, but that it is difficult to pull ourselves away from the luxury and elegance of what we each blissfully get to call our “office space.” Amber gets it in spades immediately. Her eyes are full of wonder noting that the Pfister’s dedication to arts and culture is unique.

I get my first travel tip from Amber as we talk about some of the most interesting and beautiful places she’s covered. She mentions that she did a video report for Yahoo! Travel on Fogo Island off of the coast of Newfoundland, Canada and that it is a breathtaking and remote location to visit. Amber’s story and video prove that point, and I encourage you to check out her full portfolio for more engaging work at her website at ambergibson.com.

A gentleman never asks a lady’s age, so I refrain from saying to Amber, “How is it that a kid like you is such a seasoned traveler?” Amber is bright eyed, inquisitive, and blessed with the glory of youth. She understands that she’ll never be mistaken for some road weary writer who longs for the homely comfort of a typewriter, but maybe for a teen who is waiting for her parents to join her for a 24-course tasting menu at some storied restaurant she’s writing about. She embraces this challenge with youthful energy and is full of story ideas and pitches that turn editors into employers.

As an intern during college, Amber worked a plum internship for Time Out Chicago. Pushing and pitching to the editors she worked with there led to her first assignment doing a feature on creative cocktails in the Windy City. That story kicked off an impressive run of features covering eye-popping destinations and mouth-watering food.

During our visit together, I’m looking for that connective tissue between Amber and I that confirms our shared membership in the Writers of the World Club. I latch onto it when Amber and I start talking about horses as Todd shows us an oil painting from the Pfister’s collection that features a majestic steed.

“I love horses,” says Amber. “But I haven’t really ever had any riding lessons. I have always just hopped on and figured it out.”

Amber tells me that once when she was pursuing a story, she was given a horse and allowed to roam free on 2,300 acres of a Montana ranch. And yet, she admits, she has never really been trained on the ins and outs of horse riding. She tells me that she’s never shirked from trying something new, and horse riding, like writing, takes a lot of belief in your ability before experience ultimately catches up with aspiration. It’s not really “fake it until you make it”, but it’s evident to me that Amber and I are cut from the same cloth: live it, write it, share it—that’s when you get to call yourself a writer.

Amber is one of those people I know I can turn to in the future for tips on where I can avoid spending travel money. She’s spent enough time chasing through airports to catch connecting flights to be a bit of an expert. She tells me that last year she spent a total of 48 hours in Chicago during March and often ended one trip at O’Hare to begin another a few hours later as a new flight took off.

Her time in Milwaukee will be a tad more relaxing. She’ll spend the rest of the weekend dining at Sanford and Ardent and soaking in the pulsating life around the Pfister. We finish our visit because Amber’s got a quick trip to the Well Spa where she’ll get a stylish treatment done for her long, silken hair. This is one traveler who knows how to enjoy the ride, and the fact that she is a card carrying member of the grand and benevolent fellowship of writers makes me happy to be part of that same club.

We’ll Always Have Paris so Let Me Tell You About a Loo with a View

Eloise had a lot of reasons to be entranced by a life as a denizen of the famed Plaza Hotel. Room service, prostate battling wits with Mr. Salomone, her trippy little turtle Skipperdee, and the view from the tippy-top floor of a grand hotel were just a few of the charms that kept that inquisitive lass smiling from day to day (and book to book thanks to Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight). Everything a little girl with spunk could dream of in a hotel experience was right at Eloise’s fingertips, right?

I’m a great supporter of little girls living their lives with panache. Reading about Eloise’s adventures as a resident of the Plaza Hotel has always been a treat for me and my two daughters who themselves lean into panache with gusto. When I recently introduced them to the many delightful whims of the Pfister, their own hometown version of Eloise’s lair, they were immediately captivated.

I thank my lucky stars, however, that my gals are cheaper dates than Eloise ever was. They keep tugging at my leg, pleading with me to bring them back to the Pfister, their rendition of Eloise’s playland. But it’s not because of a proper English nanny who gets them out of scrapes, or the possibility of soaking in a bathtub and sending water splashing around all the Pfister’s nooks and crannies in some Eloise type scheme that keeps them coming back for more. No, you can scratch my girls’ itch for hotel grandeur with something a bit more simple.

Just take them to the toilet, and they’ll come away thinking that Eloise had nothing on them.

My daughters Dorothea and Carmela are citizens of the world. They actually have “regular” haunts in New York City, tell people in great detail about the 114-year-old restaurant in Paris where you can get the best frites, and debate the virtues of planning our next big family trip to London or Florence. They do it all with a great sense of wonder and appreciation, all the while forever understanding that because of some lucky breaks that their parents have had with travel, they get to go further and see more than most kids or adults ever do.

It is with that sense of wonder that my children have decided that there is no finer place for potty time than the Pfister Hotel.

This all began innocently enough when Dorothea and Carmela had some friends from out of town come to visit. We stopped by the Pfister so the visiting girls, both fine artists, could stop in and see the work being created by our Artist-In-Residence Todd Mrozinski and the robust collection of art displayed around the Pfister. After taking in all that cultural excellence, the young ladies needed to make a stop in the loo, and I escorted them to the ladies restroom on the 7th floor where the ballrooms and meeting spaces converge.

I took my appointed post as dad-in-waiting a couple of yards from the entrance to the ladies room as the four girls entered. A minute passed. Then two. Then five. Approaching ten minutes, I grew concerned. Was someone sick? I started to scan around to see if a friendly lady might help a fellow out and peek her head in to see if the girls were okay, but I was saved from the ask when the door to the ladies’ burst open and four grinning young lasses tumbled out and rushed to me.

“Dad, that is the best bathroom in the world,” said my oldest Dorothea.

“There are couches in there—it’s the coolest thing ever!” My youngest daughter Carmela looked like she had plans to move in, foregoing her rainbow, cloud and frog bedroom walls that I myself had painted with great sweat and blood and a decided lack of artistic talent. Show the girl a good toilet, and Carmela swoons.

For the rest of the visit with their friends, the girls spoke in glowing terms about this bathroom to everyone they met. It was like they were telling people they would run into about the best new restaurant in town. I half expected to hear, “Oh, you must try the hand soap—it’s transcendent.”

The friends left town, but the idea of coming back to visit this magical bathroom did not leave their minds. It seemed perfectly normal to Dorothea and Carmela to go to a luxury hotel to simply see a public space bathroom. But the stakes had been raised for them, because they had heard a vital tip through other people they had met visiting the Pfister.

“You like the 7th floor bathroom? Well wait until you see the one on the 23rd floor.”

I couldn’t drive them back to the Pfister fast enough when they got in their mind that they needed to visit the much talked about 23rd floor ladies room. It is the bathroom serving Blu and from their sleuthing they had found out that it also offers one of Milwaukee’s finest scenic views. There was no question that they were coming back, and this time they were coming prepared.

I don’t know if riding an elevator with your daughters who are excitedly clutching a camera so they can run into the ladies room and snap some pictures is going to make it into my nomination papers for father-of-the-year. But that happened, and in their minds, it makes me one of the best dads in the world. They ducked into the 23rd floor gals rest room and emerged a full 15 minutes later with a selection of shots they had taken out of the floor to ceiling window that the ladies room boasts.

Now when my girls recount their tales of travels through the Alps or describe the right subway line to take to get you into Brooklyn from Midtown Manhattan, they pause short and take in a satisfied breath when they think of the bit of knowledge they really want to share to show off the lives they’ve led exploring the world. If you ever have the chance to meet my exuberant daughters, please remember that they really are pretty normal girls as they pull you aside to say, “Let me tell you about the greatest toilet I’ve ever seen.”

Art and Stuff? I Mean, What Do I Know?

I’m not a cultural critic. I mean, treatment what do I know?

I’m just a guy who hangs out in classy hotels with his mouth open in awe most of the time.

Case in point…at the opening of Biography of a Stitch, the first show in the Pfister’s brand spanking new Pop-Up Gallery welcoming the world through inviting windows on Wisconsin Avenue, there my mouth was open, dragging on the floor, fully in awe throughout the evening.

This isn’t some kind of critique, remember. I mean, really, what do I know? I’m just a guy with an open mouth.

But if I were a cultural critic and if I knew anything about things of beauty, I would give this past Friday night at the Pfister and the work presented by Todd Mrozinski (our current Resident Artist) and Timothy Westbrook (our fourth Resident Artist who returns for an inspired visit) a resounding rave.

But I’m not a critic, so what do I know?

If someone ever asked me to weigh in with a critical eye, I guess I would have to talk about things like texture and how Todd’s paintings of clothing have a vibrancy because of the dynamic layering of the paint he applies to canvas. I guess I would talk about how I love that he made an image of his dad’s favorite tie into a very personal work of art. I’d talk about how images that could verge on sappy sentiment never veer into that realm, but end up becoming vivid and uniquely personal stories for the eye.

If I had a critical bone in my body I would probably also be pulled into speaking about Timothy’s clothing designs. I might mention that Todd Mrozinski’s wife Renee Bebeau was resplendent in a Westbrook gown that seemed to be tailor made for her even though she had simply slipped into it earlier in the day upon Timothy’s urging. Perhaps it was because the designer intuitively knew that he had found the perfect model for that particular divine pearl colored frock. Perhaps it is because Renee’s joyful heart and easy, honest beauty make Timothy’s clothes soar when she wears them they way they are to be worn. Perhaps it’s a combination of all those reasons.

But what do I know? Right?

Maybe being a cultural critic would also require speaking about the stunning Westbrook combo worn by Deb, Timothy’s figure skating instructor. Maybe I’d write about the special alchemy Timothy seems to have as he weaves together the magnetic tape from old cassettes used in past figure skating routines, a retired scarf from a belly dancer, and someone’s recycled clothing from Goodwill into an ensemble fit for a rock star.

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Deb. Skating Instructor. Model. Rock Star.

But, I don’t know anything about clothes. I just keep my mouth open with wonder.

I’d also probably be asked to weigh in on the music, food and service as an opinionated cultural critiquer. But how many ways are there to say “stunning” about Janet Schiff and Victor DeLorenzo of Nineteen Thirteen providing the ideal musical track for the evening, a pitch perfect spread of gallery noshes, and smiling bar service that submitted to my request for extra cherries and grenadine in the sodas I ordered for the three children smacked with artistic wonder that I brought to the event? I’d struggle with how to address that, I’m sure, because, let’s face it, what do I know?

I guess I do know that Todd Mrozinski and Timothy Westbrook’s creations are on display in the Pfister’s elegant Pop-Up Gallery on Wisconsin Avenue right now. And maybe, just maybe, if you want to know a thing or two, you’ll stop by.