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.

Follow me on Twitter @jonathantwest for more smart remarks and snappy retorts.

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?”

Follow me on Twitter @jonathantwest for more smart remarks and snappy retorts.

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.

Drawn Out from Drawing the Eye

Jerry and Mary Ann were still, help focused, steely almost. Their eyes were shooting lasers at the painting on the wall. Art. It brings out the best in your eyeballs.

I found Jerry and Mary Ann as I stopped by Resident Artist Todd Mrozinski’s studio to ask him a question (and really just to be around him because he is the nicest man in the world). The husband and wife duo were alone in the studio admiring Todd’s work as he was off giving other guests a tour of the Pfister’s art collection.

I started up a conversation with Jerry and Mary Ann and found out they were staying at the Pfister for the noblest of reasons. They were in town to go to a mushroom farmer’s wedding. The mushroom farmer in question is no random bib overall wearing laborer with Portobello dirt under his fingernails. No, viagra this mushroom farmer is their son who Mary Ann told me was the only mushroom farmer in Milwaukee. Jerry, adding some dad wisdom, said, “He’s still kind of finding himself.”

They explained that their son had, in fact, thrown in the towel on mushroom farming as it’s a pretty tough racket. I didn’t get into it with them, but with kale currently kicking the keester of every veggie for the hot spot on the food pyramid or plate or rhombus or whatever it is today, buy I can only imagine that growing mushrooms isn’t going to put a lot of money in your retirement account.

Jerry and Mary Ann are out-of-towners and they explain that their son met his fiancée when he came to Milwaukee to work with and learn from Will Allen at Growing Power. The wedding is planned as an au natural affair with a reception in a barn, and it sounds like a save-the-world through socially conscious food sourcing kind of dream way to get hitched.

I ask them where they are from, and my eyes light up when they tell me they hale from Long Island. I always have one question for Long Islanders and it’s a selfish, familial sort of way to get to the gut of knowing a stranger from the island jutting Eastward from Manhattan.

“What does the name Suozzi mean to you?” I ask. I’m not just picking the Italian surname from thin air. It’s my wife’s last name and she has several cousins involved in various levels of Long Island politics from supervisor to mayor to dog catcher to that one Suozzi who just likes to vote.

“Oh, Suozzi…that guy overpromised and didn’t deliver much,” says Jerry. “Why? Do you know him?”

I explain the family connection to the couple. They look slightly nervous, as if they might have just hit a nerve. I assure them I am agnostic about it all, as I’ve never met the Suozzi they are referring to in person. I do know however that the guy they have mentioned is the same one who used to get a check from my wife and I for his campaigns because we thought if any Suozzi had a shot at the White House it was that one, and we wanted to make sure we were on the prospect list of people who might get a night in the Lincoln Bedroom.

We turn from the East Coast to the Third Coast and talk about their impressions of Milwaukee. The in town stays they have made for wedding prep have all been the same—a delight and a change from the hustle and bustle of East Coast life. They mention their amazement at the open streets, free from clogged foot traffic, and we all agree it’s a nice place to be.

It’s time for Jerry and Mary Ann to meet up with family, but they ask me that most thrilling of questions for any local to be able to offer an opinion–”What’s a good place to eat?” I check myself because I know that I could keep them tied up for the rest of the day with recommendations but offer up two suggestions of places for them to try close to the Pfister. We shake hands, and they tell me to give Todd their well wishes as they both are impressed with the art they’ve seen and the sheer fact that it’s right there within the hotel they have chosen as their base camp for the mushroom farmer wedding. I hope that my dinner suggestion is to their liking, and if there are chanterelles on the menu, I hope they pass the scrutiny of the parents of the only former mushroom farmer in the city of Milwaukee.

The Big Ideas Make the Small Moments Soar on Memorial Day

It is Memorial Day and I would like to take a moment to tell you what that has meant during the lead up week to this holiday at the Pfister.

Everyday when you pull into the Pfister parking garage, cialis a succulent smell of great cooking hits you as you open your car door. You are immediately happier, if not a little hungrier than you should be.

Early last week, a little girl sat dangling her feet in a chair across from check-in, stretching and striving to get her toes to touch the ground. She didn’t succeed, but I’m betting on her making it in a year or two.

Two friends reunited outside of the gentlemen’s rest room on the ground floor. Upon exiting the loo and bumping into his old chum, remedy a very effusive and smiley chap grabbed his friend’s cheeks and called him “bubbe.” And, yes, in all of his happy reunion vigor, he had thoroughly washed his hands.

During a mid-week lunch two ladies ate salads and chatted in the Lobby Lounge while also ordering lunch for two co-workers to enjoy when they showed up later. The older of the ladies departed before the others arrived, and the solo woman thanked her departing companion for picking up the tab.

In the Resident Artist Studio, Todd continued to dazzle guests and visitors as he added more stunners to his collection while his talented wife Renee contributed some beautiful concoctions of her own to the whole artistic aura in the building.

I took a moment to visit the alcove with the portraits of all the Wisconsin Governors and was quite taken by Walter Kohler, Sr.’s bow tie.

At the bar, Val has concocted a Bloody Mary mix that is infused with habaneros. A drop of it on the end of a straw is enough to remind you that you want to drink gallons of it for days on end.

A couple celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary found that the room that they were staying in was a tad too noisy for them, so the gracious staff found that it was possible to move them and upgraded them to the Presidential Suite because it’s the nice thing to do.

People looking for rest checked in for a calming retreat, regular Joes and Janes celebrating the special moments in life raised a glass and had a meal, and notable citizens, starlets and heroes found that being at the Pfister was a refresher course in modest grace done up right.

Memories were made without even trying. And it all happened against a backdrop of peace, freedom and choice.

In considering this Memorial Day and the Pfister’s place as a sanctuary built upon the ideals of patriotism and civility, I was taken by a passage I found in a 1910 edition of The National Magazine describing a visit to Milwaukee to celebrate the annual Field Day of the Boston Ancient and Honorable Artillery. The passage describes a grand reception of the Eastern visitors to Milwaukee, with dinners hosted by the Pabsts and greetings from Mayor Rose and other local forefathers and mothers of civic pride. The highlight of their trip, however, seemed to be their stay at the Pfister as described in these glad tidings.

Soon after the arrival of the company, the lobby was filled with gaily uniformed men who enjoyed themselves as genuinely as schoolboys out for a holiday. From the moment of arrival to the departure of the corps, there was always something to do.

Memorial Day is a time for us to reflect on all the glory and wonder that it means to be an American. Men and women throughout our nation’s history have defended and protected all the important tenets of our commonwealth, but also a child’s simple right to dangle her feet from a chair in a fancy hotel. The Pfister has thrived under a philosophy of “Salve”, a dedication to great hospitality for all,that embraces the best of our patriotic beliefs that we live in a nation that should be safe and full of possibilities for everyone.

Today, let’s all raise our own symbolic glass to those men and women who have done so much to make the idea of democracy flourish throughout the years. And if that glass is full of Val’s spicy Bloody Mary mix, I salute you.

My mother, the Green Hornet, and other notes of love

Are you still feeling the glow of Mother’s Day? It was a glorious brunch filled day at the Pfister this past Sunday when good sons and daughters showered their moms with well deserved adoration.

Me? I was out of town, there and I’m not 100% certain that my Mom even had a good cup of coffee.

Lest you think I’m a terrible son, you should know that I did manage to arrange an early Mother’s Day lunch at the Café at the Pfister with my mother Judy. She’s a rock star of motherdom, and I wanted to make sure I had at least bought her a salad.

I also had an ulterior motive for our lunch date. My Mom has a great Pfister story that I really wanted to hear told to me at the scene-of-the–crime, as it were. This story is part of my family’s legend and lore, and I’m sure for those folks who were around the day it happened some 35 years ago, it’s still a memorable moment.

My wife Paula (a woman who is in the Top 2 of all-time great mothers on my “Mother’s I Love” List) was also included in our celebration of good mothers bread breaking because she somehow had never heard the story, and I’m also just rather fond of lunching with her.

My mom, Paula and I settled into a table in the Café right along the windows. It had been years since my mom had been to the Pfister, and as we took our seats she looked out the window as if looking back in time.

“It happened right out there,” said mom gazing at parked cars on the street. “Right in front of all the cab drivers. They had a good laugh.”

Over the years I’ve thought and thought about my mom’s story, and I’ve considered how different endings could have changed the course of my life in some pretty drastic ways. We’ve certainly laughed about it all over the years, but listening to my mom tell my wife the story put the whole thing in perspective for me once again and makes me think that maybe my mom had a guardian angel watching over her as she exited our family car to have the most eventful day ever getting her hair done in the Janice Salon at the Pfister (which has now blossomed into the full service WELL Spa® + Salon).

Paula leaned in as my mom recalled the day long ago when pants legs were flared and the music of your life had a disco beat. I was about 10-years-old and my brother was a mere toddler as my mom dropped us at a neighbor’s house so she could drive downtown to the Pfister to get her hair done, taking a well deserved break from her job at that time as a stay-at-home mom. We were a one car family back then, and my hard working father took the bus to work everyday as a tax attorney in a downtown office building a mere few blocks away from the Pfister.

Our family car was an AMC Green Hornet. It wasn’t anything fancy, but it did the job of getting us around town.

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The AMC Green Hornet. Style, class, distinction…meh.

It also proved to be reliable for shuttling us back and forth to visit our family in upstate New York, a trip we made for the Christmas holiday and summers. That car was steady, and on our family’s modest budget it was a more than a-okay set of wheels.

Mom parked the Green Hornet on Jefferson Street right across from the lineup of cabs servicing Pfister guests in need of a ride around town. She filled her meter, dashed into the hotel, and went into the basement salon for a nice hairdo tune up.

As soon as she got settled in her stylist’s chair, someone rushed into the salon and said, “There’s a car on fire across the street!”

My mom gulped hard, panicked knowing that she herself had parked right across the street. Hoping that she heard red or orange or even brown, she asked, “What color is the car?”

“Blue,” answered the town crier who had given the car- -on-fire report. “It’s a blue car, and it’s up in flames.”

Blue was a perfectly fine color as far as my mother was concerned. It wasn’t green, the color of our sweet little ride, so she relaxed believing there was no need for concern and sunk into the stylist’s chair for one of the stunning cuts she always received, classic looker that she has always been.

As mom made her way out onto the street freshly coiffed, the news of the burning car had almost vanished from her thoughts. That is until she pulled her keys out of her purse and was stymied about how to unlock our AMC Green Hornet that was now charred and smoking parked tightly against the curb. Whether or not a Green Hornet burns blue when it bursts into flames, there had clearly been a mix up in making the announcement.

The cab drivers nearby had been waiting to see who the poor sucker was who owned the car. They told my mom that the moment she had walked into the lobby at the Pfister, flames had shot up from under the hood of the car. Had this happened a few moments earlier, my mom would have had no need for a cut and shampoo but my brother, dad and I might have had a great and powerful need for another lady who did a damned fine job of keeping us all together. It was, to say the least, the best bad timing my mother ever had.

My mom tells of walking to my dad’s office and announcing to my father that the car had burned up and that the fire department had smashed the driver’s side window when putting the fire out. I can only imagine the look on my dad’s face when my mom showed up that day to tell him that their only car was out of commission.

But here’s what I love about this story and my parents pluck and determination—we kept that car. My parents did what they could with the means that they had, and I’m happy to report that we had that little AMC for another couple of years. It even made the trip to upstate New York for Christmas a few months after the blaze. Of course, my brother and I huddled under blankets and my dad drove with mittens because heat rarely came from the dashboard after the accident.

Paula, my mother and I chuckled about it all over our salads, thinking about how crazy it was for my mom the moment she made her horrible discovery. I’m gladder than glad that no one, most of all, my mom, was hurt back in the day. I’m also proud to say that I know that standing before that smoldering Green Hornet in the afternoon sun nearly 40 years ago, my mom’s hair looked amazing.

The Hard Part About Living In Costa Rica

I meet her in the elevator and she says she recently moved to Costa Rica. I ask the Costa Rican ex-patriot for a story and she tells me that she is not a very interesting, site story-rich person. I whine, “Come on, you live in Costa Rica! Haven’t you seen some crazy wildlife down there?”

“Oh yes, monkeys, sloths…” and lists a few other fantastic creatures I have never even heard of. Then she stops. She has nothing more to say. I ask her, “What’s the hard part about living in Costa Rica?”

 

The hard part about Costa Rica:

 

It is not the U.S.

You have to adjust what your cultural expectations are and accept what is different.

If you want to go to Costco it is a 3.5 hour drive.

It is warm all the time, clinic unceasingly.

 

The last point surprises me since the Costa Rican tells me that before she moved there she lived in Los Angeles, a place I would assume to be a year-round temperature inferno. I want to ask more questions and take her picture but she disappears. I wonder if I have disturbed a famous actress. She was casual but had an undeniably photogenic presence. Speaking of which, I think I see a large, multiple bride wedding photoshoot taking place on the stairs.

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I ask a man, standing apart from all the hubbub of mothers and aunts frumping their daughters gowns how many of these women are getting married today. He tells me they aren’t. It’s prom.

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I suppose they do look rather young. When I ask them what high school they represent they tell me “Pius.” My own alma mater! They are all junior girls, about to dance at the Renaissance Place. I instantly recall the picture of myself as a Pius junior attending the “Winterlude” school dance at the Renaissance Place.

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Outside the elevator I meet another young woman in a nice dress. “Prom?” I ask her. “No,” she says. She is volunteering for the Autism Society’s Gala. “This is just my sister’s Sadie Hawkins dress.”

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Near the ballroom I ask the woman in a nice hat how she became involved in the autism community. “I’m not,” she says. It turns out she is here for the Bel Canto Chorus’s 22nd Annual Fundraiser Gala. I can’t get anything right.

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So is she.

 

To end my day, I watch resident artist Todd Mrozinski do an old school pre-camera photoshoot of Brittany-the-barista.  Before starting a piece, Todd rubs his hands together and whispers ” Hah hah hah hah hah” to himself.  As he paints there are a lot of noises that sound like a kindergartener scrubbing a marker against a rough piece of construction paper.  Two hours after the initial tracing, he is done.

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This Is Not The Real Dance

Sisters came in from New York

to attend the wedding and to show off their Wedding Dance.

They are choreographing their piece right now

on the exquisite carpet that urges all who come here

to at least sashay at least slightly

even if it is so slight that no one notices

because you are an adult.

The younger sister warns me

not to succumb to any false illusions,

“This is not the real dance.”

I agree to accept the following staged movements as not real,

and then I stand back to accept them

whatever they are.

Their mother tells me that the older sister, who leads,

is enrolled modern dance classes

and the younger one, who follows but also improvises

is currently taking interpretive dance.

Yes, I can see the professional training

in their deep dips,

the poised regal avian gestures

of two students who absorb

what they are taught.

“This was not the real dance,” the younger sister reminds me,

after their performance,

but it was very good,

so I tell them,

“No, what I just saw was real.”

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Maia has come up from Chicago for the weekend. I am told she will be eight soon.  She wears a wristband because today she explored “The Streets of Old Milwaukee” at the Milwaukee Public Museum.  When Maia types, she does so with only her right hand.  Her Grandma watches her through the window of Todd Mrozinski’s new art studio in the Pfister. DSCN1179
Todd lets both Maia and I type in his studio. Maia does not want to leave the instant clack-word device.  She is writing a story.  Her mother has to call her three times before Maia gets to the part about “The End.”

By hanging out in Todd’s studio I meet a lot of interesting people, like Luis and Ruben from Los Angeles.

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Luis, Ruben and Todd.

Luis and Ruben are artists for Kohl’s Department Stores.  Their apparel design work has brought them to town.  Pictures of Ruben’s private art portfolio are kept on his phone. He does oil paintings.  The one I see depicts a motorcyclist.  He had to come in here to the artist studio and show us his work.  He also shows us his big bag of cheese. Tomorrow Luis and Ruben are going back home, and they are taking back as much gouda and cheddar of Wisconsin as they can fit in their suitcases.

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Bag of Cheese