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

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

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

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

DOMINIC: She’s your–

MERCEDES: My daughter.

DOMINIC: (surprised) No.  She–

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

KELLEY: It’s an oxag–.

DOMINIC: Octogenarian, I think.  Eight generations.

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

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

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

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

MARIA: We are a corporation!

NICK: We are an organism!

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

Everyone spontaneously toasts with champagne.

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

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

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

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

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

DANA: Yes, I play guitar–

MARIA: And sax!

DANA: –and sax.  And I study voice.

MERCEDES: She has a beautiful voice.

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

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

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

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

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

DANA: That’s cool.

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

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

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

MARIA: And Nick is Greek.  

She spells and pronounces his last name.

Greek and Puerto Rican.  Can’t you tell?

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

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

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

LIZA: That’s right.

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

MARIA: You were young.

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

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

MARIA: And then he lost them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DOMINIC: Everyone here sounds so creative!

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

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

TO BE CONTINUED . . .

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

Thirteen Blackbirds: Mother’s Day Brunch, Part I

In the days leading up to the Pfister’s famous Mother’s Day brunch this past Sunday, I began wondering why we brunch in the first place.

I knew that the word was a portmanteau of “breakfast” and “lunch.”  And I remembered gorging (I mean, feasting) on scrumptious delights in Las Vegas–filling plates with eggs benedict, haricot verts, and cinnamon toasts, then refilling with perhaps a bowl of ramen.  Or how about Korean beef?  Or when did they bring the shrimp rice out?  And that tower of petit fours and mille-feuille looks tempting.  I know I’ve enjoyed the smaller, tamer menus at Milwaukee destinations on Brady Street or the lake–and once at the Pfister long ago to say goodbye to a friend who returned years later to create her own award-winning meals, including brunch, in Delafield.  However, I still wondered why someone had reserved Sunday for bustling buffets and fancy formalities.

Was brunch special?  Was it better?  Did it have something to do with accommodating church goers?  Was it simply a tradition–and if so, what was its origin?  What was the history of this elusive (exclusively American?) eating phenomenon?  Why did we fill and refill plates and plates of food at 10 in the morning?

To prepare, I headed to Wikipedia, which taught me that brunch emerged in England in the late 19th century, perhaps as an offshoot of the ubiquitous practice of eating a large mid-morning meal in Catholic households after a day of fasting.  I also learned that its American popularity began in the 1930s when Hollywood stars traveling cross-country would stop in Chicago–presumably only between 10 am and 11 am–their stomachs demanding a hearty meal.  Post-World War II Americans saw a drop in church attendance, a rise in the working female population, and the need for new social outlets besides the church hall after Mass.  Most enlightening, however, was this excerpt from Guy Beringer’s 1895 essay “Brunch: A Plea,” which appeared in almost every article I read about this institution:

“Brunch is cheerful, sociable, and inciting.  It’s talk-compelling.  It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.”

My goal this past Sunday, then, was to enter the Grand Ballroom, get the lay of the land, and engage as many mothers as possible in “cheerful, sociable, and inciting” conversation that would help them and me “[sweep] away the worries and cobwebs” of the first week of May.  If talk of worries and spiders proved too personal, my alternative was to co-create with guests a Mother’s Day poem inspired by Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”

Guests were certainly “cheerful” and “sociable,” but not immediately “inciting” (until I met Mercedes, but more on her later!).  After I introduced myself to several tables of brunchers and asked–in between their bites of grilled quail with couscous, dried cherries, and citrus, seafood stuffed sole with tarragon lobster sauce, and vanilla bean cheesecakes with mango glaze–if I could return in a quarter hour or so to see if they would be available for a short chat, I admit I was feeling a tad daunted.  Not too many people seemed interested in speaking with me longer than a minute, and who could blame them?  They were celebrating a special day in a beautiful place and were there with one mission: eat everything in the first row, then hit the omelet station, and end with dessert.  Two missions, I mean: eat and celebrate mom.

While I waited to chat further with the guests, I found myself strolling the perimeter of the ballroom to peruse A. Telser’s seductive painting of an “Oriental Girl” with a diaphanous veil, Ferdinand Wagner’s colorful “Royal Love Feast,” L. Berton’s sandy “Arab Horsemen,” and H.W. Hansen’s Wild West “Wild Horses,” noting the sexy dynamism in these paintings that ringed the tables of guests enjoying private conversation with their partners or lively but politely quiet memories with extended family.  I felt a little like Lucy Honeychurch in E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View, meandering the museum-like Santa Croce church, stopping, admiring, reading a placard–then moving on to the next exhibit with little feeling.  As I moved from painting to painting, however, I was reassured that the ballroom is more than its walls and adornments: it’s about the people with whom one interacts.  I met various members of the banquet service, including Muny (“Hi, Dominic!  I recognize your voice!  I like your suit, too!”), Preston (“My mother always told me to shake hands firmly and look her–and anyone else–in the eye.”), Matt (“I’m trying to bridge the gap between art and architecture as I figure out my future.”), Francesco (“I’ve been here so long that the Pfister should give me a post in front of the hotel like those guys at Buckingham Palace.”), and others.

In time, I did gather the beginnings of a shared poem and did snap a few photographs of potential mothers for my story.  But the poem remains unfinished, the photographs beautiful but story-less . . . because at one point I crouched down to ask a striking older woman named Mercedes if I might talk to her and her family, and in no less than sixty seconds my jacket was off, I was holding a glass of champagne, and Mercedes was pointing across the table as she whispered, “She has some stories to tell you.”  Indeed, her daughter Maria, had a lot to say.  

For now, I leave you with my unfinished poem and a couple photos of my story-less mothers.

But stay tuned for “East Side Story,” the second installment in my Mother’s Day Brunch story, to read more about Mercedes and Maria and their New York family and what it means to truly “brunch” the Guy Beringer way: ““Brunch is cheerful, sociable, and inciting.  It’s talk-compelling.  It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.”

I
Among twenty celebrating mothers,
The only moving things
Were your arms around me.

II
I was of two minds,
Like a ledger
In which there is a deficit but also a surplus.

III
The mother whirled in the thunderstorm.
It was a beautiful part of the danger.

IV
I do not know which to prefer,
The luscious sundae of motherhood
Or the sprinkle on top,
The mother scooping up her joys with a spoon
Or just after.

V
When the mother chopped the mixed salad,
She chopped the leaves
Of one of many salads.

VI
The journey is not prescribed.
The mother must be flying.

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.

All You Ever Needed to Know About My Impending Demise

My friends, the end is near. My ink is about to run out as The Pfister Narrator.

I’ve been thinking about this day ever since May 1, 2015. That’s the day I started this journey, and if I had been given a book right then and there that was an account of my year to come, I most certainly would have turned to the last page and read it.

But now that I’m a month away from the end of my time as the in-house writer at this glorious hotel I’m not choosing to hang my head in sorrow. Rather, I look forward to the coming month with my greatest energy and inspiration yet. It is going to be a hell of a finale, if I do say so myself.

To celebrate the past year, I’ve been offered the chance to have a live event at the Café Rouge the evening of April 22nd. I’m calling it my Final Bow. You can decide if the “bow” in question is the one you do from the waist or one of the many I like to tie around my neck.

But if you want to parse what I mean by Final Bow, you simply have to be in the room that night. And here’s why you’ll to come and celebrate my past year at the 424 (that’s my feeble attempt at giving the Pfister a street name).

I’ve thought long and hard about how I want to go out, and I decided that I’m going out the way I originally came into the Pfister as a writer. That origin story even predates my time as Pfister Narrator when I served a stint as the head writer for Hotel Milwaukee, a live radio show that often taped from Café Rouge back in the days that it was a fixture on Wisconsin Public Radio.

So, I’m creating a live radio show filled with stories, great characters, music and a truly triumphant bow that will be as final as a well-placed period. I’ll be joined by some of the best local actors and musicians, and my favorite musical sidekick Jimmy Kaplan will help keep things rolling along.

I also hope you’ll join me on the 22nd because I plan to present the final versions of the four short film scripts that I’ve worked on this year based on experiences I’ve had here at the Pfister.

If you’re looking to read the final page of my Pfister Narrator story now, sorry Charley. You’ll have to wait, but I promise that I’ll write one that leaves you satisfied as you close my book and pick up the new one that will be written by our incoming Narrator to be.

Here’s the basics on April 22nd. I can’t wait to celebrate with you all.

What: Jonathan West’s Final Bow

When: Friday, April 22

Time: 8:00pm (it’s a live show, so we’ll open the doors at 7:30pm, so come early so you can get a drink)

Where: Café Rouge at the Pfister Hotel on the ground floor

Admission: FREE, baby, FREE! (But bring your wallet for cocktails, because the more you drink the funnier I am.)

Questions? Email me here. I write back. I always write back.

 

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This Was Already Probably Read by Someone in the Cyber World Before I Even Wrote It

What I don’t know about cyber security could fill like 72 1-terabyte hard drives.

Well, I guess now, after a recent Pfister event, you can make that 71 ½.

I was recently able to slightly fill in my cyber security knowledge gap because of my visit with the whip smart wags attending the 1st Annual CypherCon which recently kicked off in the Pfister’s Imperial Ballroom.

CypherCon was a chance for men (a lot of men) and women (a lot fewer woman) with a passion for hacking and security and international espionage (as opposed to lions and tigers and bears, of course) to come together, rub elbows, and, as far as I can tell, figure out ways to protect the world at large from imminent cyber attacks and general tomfoolery that’s way beyond any “I’m a Nigerian prince and I need you to help me cash a check for $1 Million dollars” email scam.

I’ll admit that I’ve always sort of dreamed about going to a “Con” event. I’ve wondered what it might be like to be in the middle of a group of people following a certain mania, maybe even in costumes, when I’m just a guy who sort of blows in the mind. So, when CypherCon’s organizer Michael reached out to me, I was pretty excited. My baseline understanding of the thrust of CypherCon was that it would be a chance for computer hackers to share some good stories over beers. I’m aging myself for sure by saying this, but I had visions of a WAR GAMES movie marathon at some point during CypherCon.

When I arrived at CypherCon, I received some snazzy press credentials and a green blinking gear-shaped pendant to wear around my neck. The pendant was embedded with blinking lights powered by a battery that functioned as sort of a code to crack…a good indicator of how CypherCon was going to go down for the hundreds of people who showed up for this inaugural event. At CypherCon the best position to take to be on your game was on your toes.

I entered the Imperial Ballroom to discover a guest speaker talking with gravitas and authority about China. Oh, China. China, China, China. China has it going in terms of cyber sleuthing. And possibly, cyber attacking. The audience sat rapt listening to how our friends from the East are smarty-pants beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

That tipped me off to something. I was surrounded by smarty-pants. I headed off to a side room where I found displays of gadgets and gizmos that some of these smarty-pants had invented in their spare time. I started up a conversation with a nice couple named Kevin and Margie who were showcasing a series of whiz-bang inventions for sale.

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One of the items let you simulate playing video games with things as random as a banana. Another collection of wires and metal was capable of capturing credit card information, even though to my eye it looked sort of like a cheap pile of aluminum. I laughed, saying to Kevin and Margie, “I guess I better hold onto my wallet around you folks.”

Kevin grinned. Margie shrugged her shoulders. They looked at me silently, those big brains of theirs clearly at work. I tried to slyly slip my hand into the rear pocket of my slacks to kept my pigskin billfold well protected. You can’t trust nice looking people from the suburbs with superior intellect and soldering irons, you know.

It was at that point that I almost literally ran into a spy. Well, I’ll call Werner a spy because I think he’s earned plenty of rights to hang that shingle. When you ask Werner what he did for a living back many years ago, he has a slightly different answer.

“I was involved in authorized espionage.”

In other words, Werner was a big, old spy.

Werner explained that he was going to be telling his story to the CypherCon attendees the next day at the absolute perfect spot for spy stories: The Safe House. But I wanted his nutshell story, so Werner launched into his career highlights. 1955. G2 Military clearance. Fluent in four languages. Sentenced to 13 years in a Soviet prison. You know…your garden variety “authorized espionage” stuff.

I’m the type of guy who really hopes to have what I call “movie” moments in my life. I sensed I could probably get one of those to come true with Werner, so I pitched him some sensitive questions, knowing that there was really only one classic question Werner could offer in response. The spy who I loved for a few minutes at the Pfister one night did not disappoint. With a raised eyebrow after I asked about top-secret documents and intelligence, Werner pulled me close and gave it to me perfectly, making me tingle like I was in a Bond film.

“I’d tell you. But, of course, if I did, I’d have to kill you.”

Werner wasn’t the only one killing that night, however. I bid my new spy guy pal adieu and took in a bit of a presentation on #infosec by a dynamic duo by the name of Johnny Xmas and Lesley Carhart. Johnny and Lesley were making a compelling point for the audience that getting out into the world at large to talk about cyber security is a good thing to do—breaking beyond the echo chamber to warm the hearts and minds of all the regular folk about the importance of addressing cyber security in appropriate terms. They had charm, wit and plenty of humor in their presentation. But the thing that really made me a fan of their shtick and a believer in the importance of understanding that protecting data is a good thing, was a charming little intro to their presentation. Fiddling with a computer, Johnny and Lesley reminded me that hackers are cut from many cloths, be they of the cyber realm or ones like me who string a couple of words together to tell tales. I could have uttered the same words that tech savvy Johhny and Lesley did as they opened their presentation by saying, “Hey, anybody know how to start a PowerPoint?”

Well played, CypherConers. Now keep away from my wallet, please.

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Deconstructing Gingerbread Town

In the final moments of 2015 as the holiday season wraps up, treatment I ask you this question…how much do you really know about Gingerbread Town?

Gingerbread Town (that’s the name I alone have given it, of course) is the impressively sugar stacked collection of chalets and free standing dwellings that has been on prominent display in the Pfister Lobby during the full extant of the holiday season. It is literally eye candy.

It’s unclear to me if my fascination with minutiae is a blessing or a curse, but for the purposes of a tour through Gingerbread Town let’s just call my obsessive tick a seasonal mitzvah. I’ve spent some considerable time gazing at Gingerbread Town this year and I’ve determined without a shadow of a doubt that it is a particularly charming place to live. But trust me, there’s more going on there than meets the eye.

You may not be aware of this, but Donner the Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman are comfortable to proudly show their love for one another on the streets of Gingerbread Town.

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I’m thrilled about a place where the streets are lined with cotton candy and the air bristles with open and affirming love. It’s hard to see in this picture, but Frosty is blushing (which, truth be told, is not the best of things for the old snow puss as that sort of romantic heat sometimes melts his cheek right off onto the floor).

At Amber’s Café, you know you’ll always have a great meal.

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Look at Joe and Marla Stinson, longtime residents of Gingerbread Town, bellies full as they relax on the bench outside Amber’s. They just finished a nourishing lunch of gingerbread cookie beer, gingerbread cookie casserole, gingerbread candy, and a warm gingerbread tea. They were celebrating their anniversary, so Amber sent a special delivery to their table, of course—a gingerbread cookie cake. Joe and Marla can’t get enough of Amber’s and they told me that they’ll probably be the first in line for the evening gingerbread cookie hot buffet and gingerbread cookie salad bar. They proudly showed me their AARP cards and said, “We have a coupon!”

You’ll always catch customers from Amber’s Café stopping into Jen’s Clothes to buy a new scarf, pair of winter boots or wool cap.

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Jen’s once tried stocking swim trunks and bikinis, but the only one who bought any of those was Gundry Henshaw, and everyone has always had suspicions that the time Scotty Knorwald hit him in the head with a snowball left him a little off.

If I lived in Gingerbread Town, I’d absolutely want to live in the Gingerbread Village Condos.

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It’s an impressive high rise, don’t you think? And who can argue about living in a place that promises there’s a live-in super who spends his day chopping wood for every resident’s wood burning stove. Plus, I understand they’re pet friendly and every unit has a Lake of Gumdrop view, and those are so tough to come by these days.

You don’t live in Gingerbread Town without making a visit to Michelle’s Skis.

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It’s really the only way to get around town, what with hoverboards now being outlawed by Mayor Shimble out of fear of scorched cookie roads and cotton candy lanes.

One sort of sad story I heard as I talked to Gingerbread Town residents was that after who knows how many years of business, Chrissy’s Sweets is closing up shop.

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Chrissy made the decision to retire and move South after she decided she wanted to go gluten free. Candy is okay, though. Chrissy has handed over the keys to the candy castle, and there’s a new owner moving in who promises to carry on Chrissy’s traditions with his own special twist for modern palettes. I’m excited to see what Carlos’ Organic Gluten Free Sweets and Kale Juice Bar has to offer. All eyes are going to be on Gingerbread Town in 2016…who knows, they might even get an IKEA this year.

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My Ice Cream Cone of Comfort

You know how sometimes when you’re thinking about how you’d really like an ice cream cone, viagra sale and then all of a sudden you hear the welcome tunes of the Good Humor truck coming down your block? The mind is a mighty mystery of chance and providence, my friends. I recently had one of my own ice cream cone moments.

In this holiday season, my mind has been filled with thoughts of my aging mother-in-law and grandfather, two extraordinary souls who this year will be spending their first holidays out of their longtime homes after transitioning into senior living facilities. I know intellectually that they are both in wonderful and caring environments that are providing them with a better quality of life than they could now have in the houses they lived in for many years, but I still have a tinge of melancholy about me with the thought of them both spending this season somewhere other than the physical places that I will forever place them in my memories.

Some angels show off their wings by flapping them in your face and some of them hide them by leading first with soulful eyes that tell you immediately that they are extraordinary spirits. As I introduced myself to Amanda as she lingered over a single perfect glass of wine waiting for co-workers to join her for a seasonal celebration, I understood that I was meeting one of those saints who walk amongst we ordinary humans. My encounter with her did my heart a world of good as I thought of the aged loved ones in my life.

Amanda explained to me that she works at a senior living facility that specializes in caring for people who are dealing with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Hearing her talk about the sort of special attention she and her co-workers, who also happen to be her blood relatives as hers is a family business, was that ice cream cone moment for me. I had been thinking about my mother-in-law who has slide further and further into dementia over the past year, and now a woman responsible for showing love and warmth to similar seniors was giving me assurance that she was in a good place. Amanda had handed me my own ice cream cone of comfort.

“The residents have such fun at the holidays,” said Amanda. “We have a great time playing games and singing songs. It’s a magical time of family.” Amanda beamed as she talked about how she has shaped her days around attending to the needs of people who have had full and productive lives, those who haven’t chosen the path towards dedicated care, but those who need it most in their later years. What struck me hard about this divine lady was the full force of heart and love that she displayed in her every thought and spoken word. I will forever place images of my grandfather and mother-in-law in the homes that they created founded on love of family and a dedication to good, honest hard work, but the gift of knowing that people like Amanda are now giving them moment-to-moment specialized care is one of the greatest graces I could have ever imagined in this season of love.

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Winter Weddingland

Hang around the lobby long enough and you end up walking into a moment when you feel like you’re on the set of a classic Hollywood film. When I came across three beauties in soft, cialis fuzzy wraps and golden gowns I wouldn’t have been surprised if Rosemary Clooney herself had rushed up and joined their clutch. It would have been fitting if they had all starting trilling “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”, marking the time as a sort of cuddly Christmas girl group.

It seemed as if these three young ladies had just come from a day shooting Holiday Inn with Bing Crosby and were now going to relax by the lobby lounge fireplace with a frothy hot chocolate stirred with a candy cane. I learned their real names and raisin d’etre for being on site as we chatted about the wedding that they were dolled up for as bridesmaids, healing but the magic of their movie star aura didn’t fade because they all seemed to come by sparkle and sizzle quite naturally. Because of their twinkling aura, I’ve decided that these winter bunnies will live in my memory as Trixie, Gert, and Rosie, The Winter Girls.

Every female trio worth its salt is able to turn the head of a handsome beau or six, and Trixie, Gert and Rosie weren’t slacking in the business of making a young fella’s fancy something other than baseball. The Winter Girls were presently being attended by a young admirer whose given name I’ve also chosen to ignore and instead will call Bentley Caruthers.

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This dapper lad was wearing a tuxedo like a boss and deserved a surname because he was deadly serious about committing to his role as sidekick and fawning admirer. He arched his eyebrow slyly and discreetly told me that he was “running security” for the fetching lasses. If I had any reason to doubt him, he flashed me the gentleman’s equivalent of a badge, a pocket watch that had been given to him as a token befitting his place in the coming wedding event as an usher.

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This teen in a tux made me feel like I needed to study up a little harder on how to really shine my shoes and fold a pocket square, so full of courtly charms was he.

The Winter Girls and Bentley faded into the rest of the wedding crowd as they descended on the lobby to whisk away to some tony pre-nuptial event in waiting limousines. Watching them sashay their way to open car doors, it was as if it was late at night and I was home flipping the channels and landed on an old black and white where Jimmy Stewart, Bob Hope, Doris Day, Myrna Loy or any number of star or starlets were sipping martinis and laughing over snappy remarks. Trixie, Gert, Rosie and our man Caruthers will live forever in my movie star dreams long after the cameras stop rolling and someone yells, “That’s a wrap!”

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

Granny, Off Her Rocker

Today one of the greatest iconic Milwaukee grade school field trip destinations is unveiled dusted up for a new generation. I speak, order of course, of the Milwaukee Public Museum’s Streets of Old Milwaukee.

To say that one of the requirements to really call oneself a person of substance when it concerns the minutiae of Milwaukee trivia is to have visited the Streets of Old Milwaukee is sort of like saying frozen custard is just okay. That is, ampoule it is a severe understatement. The Streets (do I sound real “street” when I say that?) have been undergoing something of a facelift. There have been additions and improvements made. Which is sort of a funny thing to think about when you realize that the life sized walkable diorama is trying to approximate oldie timey things in Milwaukee. But I’m as excited as anyone to see the revisionist approach to making an old thing be a better sort of old.

So it was with the greatest of thrills that I recently had the supreme pleasure of meeting the grand dame of the Streets of Old Milwaukee as she made the first of several appearances for holiday storytelling in the Pfister’s Pop-Up Gallery. I’m speaking of none other than Granny.

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Granny…storyteller, look raconteur, rocker.

For those of you who have visited the Streets of Old Milwaukee you’ll immediately know who I’m talking about. She’s the grey-haired lady who rocks the shawl while she rocks in her rocking chair. Day in, and day out. In fact, that’s all I every thought she was capable of doing. Rocking. Over, and over, and over.

You can understand my surprise when I found that Granny does much more than just rock. She tells stories. She’s able to crack a joke. And Granny is even getting the hang of that new fangled thing called social media.

“I have my own Twitter,” said Granny as we chatted after her recent holiday storytelling set. “I thought it was a Tinder, but I understand that’s something quite different.” Yes, Granny, those are certainly horses of a different color but your Twitter handle @MPMgranny is something that the whole family can enjoy.

Granny is tickled about the changes that have occurred in the reimagining of her forever home. “The street has never looked so good. And I should know. I’ve lived there a loooooooooonnnnngggg time.” Granny let me know that there were plenty of new surprises for visitors, including a fresh entrance right through a trolley, some touch ups to the General Store, and even an interactive app for smart phone users (the way Granny talks tech, she seems to have audited some computer classes since she’s gotten off her rocker).

“My neighbor Miss Kitty is still there,” Granny said with an eye roll. “She’s up to something…I just can’t put my finger on it.”

I complemented Granny on how superb she looked and she twinkled as she shared her secret. “Oh, stars! I’ve had a trip to the spa. I love it.”

I hope Granny stays off her rocker long enough for another spa treatment. There’s always room at the Pfister’s Well Spa for one of the all time greats.

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

 

Sunshine Face and Straight Shooter Have Eggs with Santa

There is nothing like a good old fashioned grown-adult-helpers-dressed-like-elves-everything-dipped-in whipped cream-frosting-and-sprinkles Breakfast with Santa to remind an old fella like me that Christmas is for the kiddos.

This past weekend at the Pfister, the granddaddy of all the Santa breakfasts began its three-weekend run. This was cause for joyful jubilation for me because I realized that in all my years of believing in the man in the red suit with the jelly bowl tummy, I’ve never shared eggs and bacon with him. They say you never forget your first, and I surely won’t soon get this glorious affair out of my memories.

The adorable factor was dialed up to the rarely seen SUPER CUTE setting as kids decked out in their best Christmas do dads sipped hot cocoa between bites of fruit salad and toast. They had come to speak to the big guy and his best gal, Mrs. Claus, and the perfect training meal for that big moment is clearly capped off by a gingerbread cookie slathered with frosting a couple of inches thick.

I’m convinced that a room full of smiling children has the potential to change the world. Or, at least, gently melt many a cold, cold heart. From the high pitched group Christmas Carol sing-a-long lead by Chief Concierge Peter Mortenson to the little fists writing notes on the letterhead all primed for Santa, the good girls and boys who had come to spend the morning dreaming about what they might see under their tree on December 25th were cherubic as all get out.

I’m not trafficking new territory when I say kids are great. The ways in which they are great are numerous, of course, but I had delightful encounters with two lasses who showed off two of my favorite kid types that I like to call Sunshine Face and Straight Shooter.

Sunshine Face is that remarkable ability kids have to wring the most out of a good feeling. Sure, kids have rough patches, and maybe you could call those Cloudy Puss days, but Sunshine Face makes my heart skip a few beats when I’m lucky enough to see it in action. I’ll go on record to say that watching kids shoot beams of joy from their eyes as they’re on the edge of exploding from fun rather than being all adulty and cool about feeling good should be prescribed as an antidepressant by big pharma and stat.

Trinity had one of the most devastating cases of Sunshine Face I have ever seen. I’m pretty sure her brother Trent did, too, but when I tried to draw him into a conversation he was laser focused on scraping all of the frosting off of a cookie and into his mouth. And who among us can blame that brilliant kid?

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Trinity, on the other hand, was daintily eating a cookie at a table shared by her brother, mom, Jessica, and grandma, Adele. She had on a lovely head wrap that was festively appointed with a pair of reindeer antlers.

“Are you part reindeer?” I asked.

Trinity giggled as she snapped back, “No! Those are just my ears.” Just her ears? Surely she meant, “Just the cutest reindeer ears ever to frame a Sunshine Face.”

I asked the question on everyone’s mind who had come to bow at the alter of S.C. “What are you going to ask Santa for this year, Trinity”

Shopkins!” screamed Trinity. “I want Santa to bring me Skopkins!” Not spending a lot of time in the toy aisles these days, I had never heard of Shopkins and asked Trinity what they were. Asking someone with Sunshine Face to describe their favorite toy is something of a fatal error to make if you’re looking for a short answer. The only thing to do when you jump off that cliff is to hold on to your Sunshine Face friend as they spiral down the rabbit hole to tell you the completely detailed history of their Christmas wish. For those of you who, like me, were unaware of what Skopkins were, I now know from Trinity that they are small pieces of food that you don’t really eat but are super cute and the absolutely coolest best thing ever that there ever was for all time now and forever. Or something like that.

I am quite certain that Trinity is a very good girl and will undoubtedly receive the Shopkins she requested for herself and her brother Trent, he of the steely frosting focus. You don’t hold onto Sunshine Face as long as she did unless you’re polite, and kind, and clean up your room when your mom asks.

Sunshine Face had me feeling like I had just drank a bathtub full of eggnog and followed it with a victory in a candy cane eating contest. It’s a good feeling, for sure, but I’m a man of moderation so I really appreciated Straight Shooter giving me balance.

Lili, her sister Emma, mom Erika, and dad Sean were tucked in a corner smiling the smile of satisfied breakfast bellies, all framed with the glow of sunshine pouring in through nearby windows. A smarter more fashionable family would have been harder to imagine. I have to believe their holiday photos are spectacular…or simply so dazzling that I would be forever jealous.

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Emma, a bright teen, was clearly being delightfully tolerant of the whole Santa who ha for her sister’s sake, though I marked her as a true believer if ever I’ve seen one. I turned to Lili to learn her thoughts about the day at hand and the holiday as a whole.

“What’s your favorite part about Christmas?” I asked.

Spoken clearly with the confidence that belied her single digit age, the young Straight Shooter laid it out plan.

“I like giving more than getting.”

I liked this kid right away. No messing around. I asked her if she had gotten presents for her family and she nodded that she had. I wondered if she would share that info with me and she summoned me close to whisper into my ear so that she could hold onto the secret of the gifts she would soon be giving. I’m not spilling the beans, but let’s just say, she’s an excellent shopper.

As Lili and I were chatting, Santa and Mrs. Claus made their big entrance into the room. There was a noticeable lift to the energy in the room, but Lili herself seemed a bit nonplussed by all the hoopla. I asked her what she thought about visiting with Santa. Her answer defined what I adore about Straight Shooters everywhere.

“I mean I don’t know Santa, so it’s really just like sitting on a stranger’s lap.”

The world needs an equal share of Sunshine Faces and Straight Shooters, for sure. That and plenty of friendly jolly old elves who are happy to listen to your holiday hopes after some tasty scrambled eggs.

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