What Did You Create Today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mary and Kathy, two artists.

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

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

Indeed you are, Kathy.  Indeed you are.

 

The Pfister Films: THE APPETIZERS

And so we come to the final film, a cheeky little ditty I like to call THE APPETIZERS.

I think it is fitting that THE APPETIZERS is the final film that I’m sharing with you all. It is in so many ways a celebration of the glamour, the sophistication, the romance, the surprise, and the charm that sparkles between so many people who end up falling in love at the Pfister.

THE APPETIZERS is also a tribute to one of my absolute favorite things about the Pfister. But telling you what that is now would be what the kids these days call a spoiler. You’ll just have to watch to find out what my great Pfister love really is.

And before I share this last film with you all, a word to you all about what this film project has meant to me, and perhaps what it can mean to you, dreamer, creator, human being.

Becoming the Pfister Narrator meant a lot of things to me as a writer. It filled me with pride and joy. I pinched myself almost daily, never really fully believing it was true that I was the in-house writer for a stunning historic hotel. I developed friendships that I will maintain and treasure for a lifetime, being afforded the chance to meet all sorts of fascinating characters from a wide variety of backgrounds. More than anything, however, becoming the Pfister Narrator reminded me that the best thing you can do to feel alive is to make things.

I’ve made a lot of things this year. I’ve strung together thousands of words and hopefully have helped readers understand that the Pfister is a truly unique place. Through it all, I was always encouraged to speak with my own voice, and take chances. Even with something as full of pitfalls as making four short films. I never professed to be a filmmaker when I came up with this idea, but I’ve always loved movies. And, for better or for worse, I thought, “What the hell!” As I come out on the other end of making these four short films, I understand that the great joy of the project was to get together a bunch of friends and make something that we all loved creating together and then share it with others. I hope you have felt a bit of the sense of play and wonder that we all had in creating these pieces, ones we finished and were bursting with excitement to share.

I encourage anyone reading or listening to these words to walk down a similar path. You don’t need to make a movie, but by all means, get your friends together, tell stories, have some laughs, and figure out the hard stuff you don’t know how to do along the way. If you’re shooting for perfection at the end of that road, I can tell you that you’re going to be disappointed. If you want to have an experience that you can cherish forever, I guarantee you’ll be paid in great memories over and over again.

I thank everyone who supported this film project for helping me indulge in a dream and open up a part of my creative soul that I hope I can build upon in the coming days, months and years. I’m not quite done with my writing as the Pfister Narrator as I’m taking full advantage of the fact that April has thirty days, but for now, I bring you the finale of my short film project, THE APPETIZERS.

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The Pfister Films: THE OTHER SIDE OF DOWN

It’s a bittersweet week for me as I look at the calendar and realize that there are only thirty days in April. As I draw to the end of my year as Pfister Narrator, I find myself wishing that we would all discover that 2016 was some sort of triple secret leap year where the fourth month was extended to 187 days. Alas, I’m unable to find even the most open sourced of Wikipedia entries on Hurdle Year (catchy name, no?), so I’m resigned to the fact that my year is almost up.

At the onset of this great adventure I had outlined some plans for things I was going to do to leave my mark as the Pfister Narrator. One pursuit that excited and terrified me all at the same time was to write and produce four short films inspired by my experiences at the Pfister. I admit to everyone now that it was one of those things that sounded great when I said it out loud, but as I thought about how it would actually happen, I found myself saying, “Oh my goodness…what have I gotten myself into here?”

But here we are almost 365 days later, and I’m extraordinarily pleased to announce that I did what I said I would do and wrote, directed, edited and produced four short films. And you know what? This project was an absolute joy to tackle and stretched me in ways I never dreamed possible. Every day this week, I will share one of those films with you, and I hope you’ll then share them with others because I’m proud of them all and believe that they succeed in showing different bits of the magic that is the Pfister.

As with any pursuit such as this, there are so many people I need to thank for helping make the ideas that bounced around my head and ended up on paper come to bristling life. You’ll find all the names of the immensely talented actors and actresses who volunteered their time acting in these short pieces in the credits of each film. I’m so grateful to Cassy Scrima, the Marcus Hotels Area Director of Marketing and the best boss in the world, for helping me with coordination of spaces and places to shoot. And if I don’t thank all the Pfister Associates who gave me a smile and lent a hand in the heat of the moment, I’d be nothing but the world’s biggest jerk. Thanks team…you are the greatest people I know.

So, enough of the platitudes, on with the show.

Today, I give you THE OTHER SIDE OF DOWN. I got the idea for THE OTHER SIDE OF DOWN on one of my first days as Pfister Narrator all the way back last May. It was a quiet weekday and I was hanging around near the concierge desk listening to guests chatter away, trying to get a sense of any stories that I might capture. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a woman who had entered the building from the Mason Street entrance. It was hard not to spot her because she was clutching about four-dozen helium balloons in her hand. She sauntered down the hallway leading to the lobby and stopped at the bank of elevators directly across from the Artist-In-Residence Studio. An elevator arrived, the woman stepped inside with her balloons, and I watched as I assumed she ascended to a party or event on an upper floor. I immediately made my way over to the elevators and caught another car, hoping to follow her and find her so I could learn more about why she had all the balloons. I never did find the lady or her balloons, but she left me with a tremendous gift instead–the idea for my first Pfister Film.

Here’s the first of four short films that I’ll be sharing with you all this week. I hope you enjoy THE OTHER SIDE OF DOWN.

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We Are The Sesame Street of All Hotels, People

I am a man of a certain age who is able to proudly claim to have been raised in part through the counting, alphabetizing, and sharing lessons regularly doled out on the standard bearer for all great children’s programming, good old Sesame Street. Even into my forties, I still have bold images of the residents of Sesame Street, the flesh and bones ones as well as the felt and fake-hair ones, playing and working side-by-side.

I found myself thinking hard about what made Sesame Street such a magic place as I enjoyed a recent Pfister event. Our new Artist-in-Residence Pamela Anderson recently kicked off her year in the studio with a sparkling night of art and celebration. One of the highlights of that night was a performance by a group of young artists from The Florentine Opera.

Outside of the obvious talent displayed by these singers as they filled the Pfister’s Rouge salon with soaring melodies, I took note of something else that was special about these performers. They all might have shared the same megawatt capacity for smiling and charm, but the faces that displayed those smiles did not all share the same pigment of skin. I find myself thinking more and more about race in this country as discussions come front and center about how we as a nation can work and play better together now and into the future. That’s why it’s nice to know that right here at home at the Pfister Hotel, the spirit of Sesame Street and all its lessons of inclusion feels alive and potent.

I have made it a habit when I enter the Pfister to look up and see the SALVE motto hovering over the lobby, the hub for all guests as they arrive and start a visit. SALVE, that “all are welcome” ideal, is not just a gilded adornment that floats in the air at the Pfister. You realize it is a real boots-on-the-ground reality as your eyes descend from the heavens and you see that the mix of men and women who make up the life of the hotel as guests, drop-in visitors and associates is as varied, ecletic and diverse a gathering as the mind can conjure. Walking through the Pfister lobby on any given day is sort of like taking a stroll down the best kind of Main Street, USA, one where you only take a moment to think about race and gender because you pinch yourself and say, “Wait a minute…I’m somewhere where I’m not thinking about race and gender.”

That sort of Main Street, USA reminds me a lot of Sesame Street, a place where no one cared what you looked like, where you were from, or how fat your wallet was. I’ve met many spectacular individuals as I’ve enjoyed being part of the fabric of the Pfister, and I realize now that I’m struck by how little time I spent recognizing their differences but instead focused on all our shared similarities. The Pfister’s doors are literally open around the clock to anyone, no matter what step they take in the grand walk of life.

Pamela’s opera singer friends presented a showcase of mixed repertoire to kick off an evening of artistic joy, but I was really swept up by their opener, a German language version of “Happy Days Are Here Again.” Somehow it all seemed so right, a quirky mash up of something that was unexpected but familiar all at the same time. The tune had a “life is good in this place” sort of feel about it as the room filled with cheer. It’s a feeling that I have every time I’m at the Pfister, and one that I fondly carry forward into adulthood with a full heart of acceptance and appreciation that first started to glow in my youth when my some friends from all different walks of life told me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street. I never expected it, but I’m sure happy that I’ve stumbled upon Sesame Street at 424 Wisconsin Avenue in my dear hometown.

I hope you enjoy this musical ditty as much as I did.

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 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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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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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.

It Is Never Too Late for the Wrap Party

Leda raises a glass of white wine to her lips and smiles as the crisp, advice cold vino finally makes its way down her throat. It’s been a long, long wait, and she is savoring the moment as the glimmering lights of the Milwaukee skyline serve as her backdrop.

Leda is a stage director who bounces from job to job. Tonight she has taken a break from packing up her life for a summer gig directing a couple of Shakespeare plays. She has foregone a much desired trip to a local custard stand because friends of hers redirected a last in-town evening of mischief to Blu for fancy libations. The switcheroo allows Leda to have a long overdue celebratory drink.

“I directed a play here, no rx ” says Leda. “No, actually, two plays.” One play deserves a slow clap at the very least. Two plays? Definitely a glass of Zinfandel.

I scratch my head, wondering if somehow I’ve missed a secret underground theater here at the Pfister. Is there some sort of speakeasy entertainment venue hidden within the inner core of the hotel? Do I need to whisper, “Swordfish!” along the walls so I might find a hidden secret passage? Leda is required to stop drinking to give me the dope.

“We did these plays in the ballroom…I think it’s on the 7th floor,” she says. I confirm that there is indeed a ballroom on the 7th floor at the Pfister, but it’s news to me that a fella might catch a production of DEATH OF A SALESMAN at the Pfister if he’s in the know.

Leda corrects my aspirational thinking that I might snag a ticket for a rouge 7th floor production of THE BOOK OF MORMON. Her theatrical debut at the Pfister was part of the Young Leaders’ Academy Discovering Our Destiny Gala. As a member of Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s artistic staff, Leda worked with female students from this charter school affiliated with the YMCA on writing and producing an original play. The girls from the school presented their final results as part of an end-of-year celebration. I couldn’t have gotten a ticket if I had tried. The show was for families and all the boys at the school.

“The girls were all dressed in white and did this grand presentation. We did our play after the girls did a dance that they had worked on with the Milwaukee Ballet.” Leda advises me that if you have the choice, never be the follow up act to the Milwaukee Ballet. Especially when you’re a middle school play. It’s a tough spot.

I ask Leda is she ever made it past the 7th floor during her days directing the young ladies.
“Nope. But I brought a lot of props up in the elevator in my shorts and t-shirt. I felt a bit underdressed.”

Tonight Leda is decked out in a cocktail dress, and the spiffy friends at her table raise a glass to toast her past openings at the Pfister. It’s not quite like winning a Tony Award, but the view sure is swell.

The Brunchers, or Mooning Over Each Other and Some Eggs

As a baby, nurse Ted screamed during his christening party some 73 years ago filling the 7th floor with bouncing baby echoes.

As a boy Ted walked to school past the entrance to the Pfister every day in awe of the obvious grandeur inside.

As a man of distinction, Ted wisely understands that the best way to woo a lady is to humble brag his way to a date by masterfully cooking an Italian feast and casually doing all the dishes to boot.

As a Sunday bruncher, Ted had the Eggs Benedict.

His love and companion Ian did, too. As she poses for a picture with her beau, she gives a smoldering vixen look for the camera. She breaks it with the sweetest smile, and her courtly companion gives her arm a tender squeeze. I make a mental note to give my squeeze a squeeze…I want to be just like this two.

Ted and Ian have invited me for coffee. Ian explains to me that Ted has stories—many, many stories. In the time it takes to drain my cup of jo, Ted proves her right.

Ted freely and happily shares all the bits about growing up in the Third Ward where families lived close to each other in apartments and homes that were the undisputed center of Milwaukee’s Italian community. Ted reminds me that back in the day you didn’t just have the family you lived with, but you also had the folks in your building and on your block watching your back and bringing you a plate of food when you needed it most.

We discuss opera, as Ted is a fan. He learns that my wife works in the field, and says, “You’ve got something I want…your wife.”

I know he’s not a cad, because he’s so polite and well dressed, and Ian, who is clearly a lady of great refinement and bearing wouldn’t put up with any shenanigans. She tells Ted to tell me “that one story.” I lean in because I love “that one story” that everyone seems to have.

Ted tells me he was a family friend with long-time Milwaukee music impresario John-David Anello. Annello decided in 1932 that Milwaukee needed a grand opera company and formed the Florentine Opera. Serving as principal conductor, Anello did what he needed to get a show up, even if it meant putting his own money where his mouth was. Ted remembers sitting around the dining room table with Anello years after the company had formed, trying to sort out a particularly sticky problem.

“He had a tenor pull out of this production of SAMSON AND DELILAH at the last minute,” explained Ted. “It was a disaster, and we needed to find a replacement quick.”

Calling around, they found a young singer who had gotten panned in Detroit and slammed in Washington, DC, but he knew the role. Anello got him on the phone at Idlewild airport just before he was to head back home and convinced him to come to Milwaukee on short notice once he promised to wire the dead broke tenor some money to get to town.

“The performance was a triumph,” recalled Ted. “And at the opening night party Maestro Anello lifted a glass to the tenor who had saved the day and claimed he would be one of the greatest singers of our time. His name? Placido Domingo.”

Ted has that Zelig kind of quality. He was the guy standing next to the guy during some classic moments. But for this always curious gentlemen, one of the most important moments in his life was when he first met Ian.

Ian recalled the set up for their first meeting. “I had been invited to a Lutheran group for singles, and I thought, ‘Oh…how boring!’ But my friend in the group said they were having an Italian dinner, and I like Italian food, so I gave it a try.”

Ian showed up and discovered that a feast had been prepared. When she found herself seated next to Ted and discovered he was the chef, curiosity soon got the cat. Watching him clean up all the dishes after dinner, didn’t hurt either.

A date was planned, and Ted went to Ian’s home to pick her up at the appointed time. Entering Ian’s he was greeted with, “I can’t talk to you right now!” Ian had just started a job as a crisis counselor for an airline, and she had a telephone receiver strapped to her ear dealing with families who had questions about a plane crash that had just happened. It was an auspicious first union, and hours later they had their first real date and second shared meal. This time, it was Chinese food that Ted ran out to pick up.

“I knew she was a special lady when I watched her handle the concerns of all those people as she dealt with their feelings and the plane crash,” said Ted. “You wanna talk about a WOW moment—that was it.”

Ted and Ian are truly partners, and their time together at the Pfister for a shared brunch is only part of a full day to come. The coming hours could mean a movie date, some quiet time at home, or a simple walk. Wherever they go from there, they agree that brunch has kept them full for the day. It will be a light meal that evening, and if I were a betting man, I’d say that there’s no way that Ted would let Ian touch a dirty dish.