Wasn’t One of Our Ancestors a French Bishop Or Something?

Two of my second cousins are in town

so my Grandma and Mom take us all out

to a Monday noon lunch at the Pfister café.

My cousin Courtney, lifelong Texas resident

introduces us to her new husband, Michael

who, to our collective delight is as Wisconsin as

Green Bay where he was raised.

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Courtney and Michael.

Then there is my cousin Amy and her new husband, Punit

who grew up in Zambia, Africa.

Soon Amy & Punit (of Kansas) will voyage to India

to visit all his grandparents and family there.

Many countries and continents encompass our family,

but today’s meeting concerns the Italian “De Simone” side.

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I attended Amy & Punit’s wedding last summer.

My mom wants you to know De Simone

should be pronounced Deh-si-MON-eh

not Dee-Simone as they switched it long ago

to fit their new American life in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

 

Courtney says she thought she once heard

that De Simone is really a French name

and that one of our ancestors married a French bishop,

which would be against the Vatican’s wishes if true.

But my mom says no, that’s not right, at all,

nuh-uh-UH.

Grandpa (my great-grandpa) had an uncle who was an archbishop,

Filippo, born in Acri, Consenza, Calabria in 1807

long before it was considered Italy, unified as we know it today.

Filippo was installed as the bishop in the Cathedral of Santa Severina

which my parents snapped a picture of when they visited Italy in 1983.

 

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Santa Severina’s cathedral is in the middle.

 

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Outside the castle village of Santa Severina.
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Inside.

Bishop Filippo’s brother and sister-in-law lived with him,

as the caretakers of his house.

Once, when this sister-in-law turned gravely ill,

her husband prayed to let her live

and to have him be the one to die instead…

and that’s just what happened.

Then the bishop’s widowed sister-in-law remarried

to a man with the last name of Pignataro.

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The bishop’s sister-in-law, Dominica Patarino De Simone Pignataro  with her second husband Francisco Pignataro.

Years later, her son Giuseppe De Simone

(from her first marriage),

moved to America and worked

to provide enough for his teenage bride, Maria

and their first son

as well as his sisters and half-sisters

to all cross over in 1914.

Years later my mother explained to Maria all about her new waterbed

Maria was repulsed at the idea of a swaying, watery bed,

“I came over on the boat, that’s enough for me.”

 

Maria and Giuseppe’s son, Alberto De Simone was my Grandpa.

My cousin Amy’s Grandpa was Alberto’s brother, Alfredo.

Both Al’s eliminated the o’s off the ends of their name

so they wouldn’t stick out as Italians.

Courtney’s Grandma, Elvira became Vera.

Salvatore became Uncle Sam,

Guillermo became Uncle Willy.

Aunts Florence and Eva didn’t change their names,

Aunts Adeline and Angeline did not survive childhood.

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Left to right: Vera, Maria with baby Albert (my grandpa!), Sam, Giuseppe (Peppi) and Alfred around 1920.

 

Now, a century after Giuseppe (a.k.a “Peppi”) came over to America

looking for his new life as a blacksmith,

his offspring gather in the Pfister, ordering a bloody mary,

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With beefstick (among other delectables), and beer chaser.

cream of broccoli soup and a couple of salmon salads

while wondering,

“Wasn’t one of our ancestors a French Bishop or something?”

No, he wasn’t,

but isn’t this game of generational telephone interesting?

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My grandparents getting information from a local in 1983.

“could you please send me a boyfriend who does yoga?”

 

Katherine has been coming here for years

she was married for three decades

to a man who came to the Pfister to just to jog.

He died ten years ago

so, viagra recently she asked the divine,

“could you please send me a boyfriend who does yoga?”

After she asked she didn’t expect a response,

so instead of waiting around for love

she went camping.

While she was out there in the wilderness

she met an interesting man

they talked quite awhile

and when they were done he asked for her number

but for whatever reason she wouldn’t give it to him

so it took weeks for them to run into each other again

but when they did

he asked her for her number again,

nicely,

so this time she did

and now she’s spending Christmas

and New Years with him,

her new boyfriend

who just so happens to practice yoga.

He wants to serve lobster on New Years Eve

which is frankly,

a tad daunting for Katherine

who has never eaten that before.

She is a woman with habits,

she comes to the Pfister

every year to visit with Val at the bar

after doing some shopping at Boutique B’Lou.

Her bags of loot sit on the stool beside her.

Inside the paper bag wrapped bounty

are Nepalese bracelets of woven beads

of which a portion of the sale

goes back to helping the women crafters of Nepal

and their families to live more complete and healthy lives.

So Katherine bought a few of these seed bead wonders

and took one out for me to touch

it feels like a snake

in a good way,

I know, I have touched snakes

they are cool

literally

cool and smooth,

in a bumpy way

but I have slithered myself into tangent

back to the story

this is how Kathy shows her love:

three moose are in the mail

(Or is it meese? Like geese?)

I don’t know what they look like

or if they are alive,

but she gestures how big they are

these moosen are headed

for Kathy’s great-grandchildren

who live in Minneapolis.

This morning she went shopping for the yogic boyfriend too

and he’s going to get

shrimp, champagne and chocolate cupcakes,

I know, I asked,

and now you know too.

And what did Katherine learn from all this?

She laughs, “Maybe I should pray more often.”

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By the way, I hear this lad in the shash recently picked up yoga!

Santa and His Retired Friends From The C.I.A.

On a Friday night in December, online there is man in a Santa hat having a drink with a bunch of his friends in the lounge. To make conversation I ask him why he’s got that hat on (though the reason is obvious) and one of his many friends says, “He is our official Santa. We all used to work together, but half of us are retired now.”  I ask them where they worked and they tell me, store in great guffaw bursts, “The C.I.A. HA HA HA HA HAHHHHH!”

Note to readers, while I am certain that Central Intelligence Agency workers do enjoy leisure in the Pfister, like anyone else, you have to understand that everyone, yes, nearly everyone constantly tries to impress me by telling me that they work for the C.I.A. or the F.B.I.  Usually men will inform me this when not accompanied by a wife or girlfriend.   They expect my eyes to grow like saucers. They expect me to swoon or trill like a parakeet. Sometimes, diagnosis just to give them that moment of satisfaction I go along, but truly, you can’t pull that kind of bunk with me when everyone else says the same thing. And just what is the allure of being a C.I.A. or F.B.I agent? I am certain it is not often a job like it is the movies. Furthermore, I don’t even enjoy those kinds of movies.

The workers point to their official Santa, “Do you watch the news? He’s the one responsible for the torture of the 9/11 terrorists.” I must not look impressed, for someone else backs the claim up, “Yeah, it was all him, he was the architect of the torture.” Clearly, this is not eliciting the right reaction with me at all when a woman asks me “Were you even alive during the 9/11 terror attacks?”

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It was him.

 

2001 was thirteen years ago. If that was before my time, that would put me at twelve years of age, well, at the very most. However, I do remember learning from my high school’s intercom about the attack on the twin towers in New York. My first thought was, “What are the twin towers?”

I don’t get too deep into my reminiscing of that day, because these people seem to be having fun. One of them is wearing a yarn necklace strung with office supply clips. She tells me she retired the on same day as the official Santa and one other person. The three of them all decided to retire as a group last year because it would be cool to do that.

 

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More former coworkers arrive, and the cries of long separation carry through the whole lobby. This is one loyal pack and they are feeling rowdy. I flee to let them howl.

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Former and current members of the C.I.A.

The Gifts In Life Have Nothing To Do With Money

Jennifer is here. She just quit her job as the director of a troupe of tribal belly dancers. I learn that tribal belly dancing is more athletic than traditional. Apparently traditional belly dancing much more wiggly.   I believe it, medicine having taken belly dancing in college and finding it fairly impossible to wiggle that much. Jennifer says yes, older ladies really like taking the less wiggly tribal belly dancing.   She studied it for 15 years in San Francisco before starting her troupe in Milwaukee.DSCN8915

 

What’s next for Jennifer? She will keep dancing in some form. Right now she is a lady of leisure spending her afternoon in the lounge. Her son is one of the bellhops and is treating her to a stay.   She is writing her Christmas letters. Open before her is a card with a lengthy penned message to her friend in Russia. Jennifer sips a Moscow Mule.

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Val, sovaldi sale the bartenderess corrects me, “It’s an Austin Mule,” since the vodka is Austin made. She introduces me to two young men at the bar. They are ordering matching red wines that they will hopefully not spill upon their immaculate matching white shirts. They have matching hair and matching black slacks. They have both just finished job interviews for the same coveted investment-banking job. One flew in from Boston, ask the other St. Louis, but geez Louise, do they match! And even though they are trying for the same slot they converse on the couch like old chums.

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“The gifts in life have nothing to do with money, it has to do with the people you meet who change your life,” says Ronny, former basketball player and the founder of Athletes For Autism. Ronny connects people, entertainers and athletes together to form a voice for autism, a voice for the voiceless. He says the wisest people are often beggars, and many choose their poverty as a way of life. There was a beggar that Ronny would buy lunch on a regular basis. Ronny enjoyed conversations with this intelligent person and offered to give him a job and a support system so that he wouldn’t have to live on the streets anymore. The man accepted the job, cleaned up, wore a nice suit but couldn’t get through his first day on the job. It wasn’t in him; he had a calling to learn through suffering on the streets.

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Ronny provided the deepest conversation I’ve ever participated in at the Pfister.  He told me to write it down when I theorized, “You have to have empathy to have curiosity.”


The Woman Who Eats Cake Every Day

Debbie was working as a pastry chef when a customer came in wanting a cake like the one they saw in Martha Stewart Magazine. The customer said they’d been to every bakery in town, but no one would do it. Debbie was shocked to hear that, but the bakery where she worked was not properly equipped to do it either. So she opened her shop where she could bake anything anyone wanted.

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People ate this recently at the Pfister.

She bakes a lot of groom’s cakes for weddings at the Pfister. I’ve never heard of a groom’s cake before. “It’s a southern tradition, traditionally wedding cake was supposed to be white cake vanilla, so they would offer a chocolate cake too so that was another flavor. But then it evolved into more fun theme cakes, to incorporate his personality a little bit into the wedding.” Debbie has done the plain chocolate cake, but she has also made one to look like a pair of Chuck Taylors. The last cake she made for the Pfister was a Star Wars themed groom’s cake: Boba Fett’s helmet.

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Also eaten at the Pfister.

 

Previously, Debbie studied sculpture at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. “When I was younger I partied a lot and would pull all-nighters. And that’s good, now I have to do the same thing. When it came to projects in school, I always waited till the last minute to do anything. And with this job I really have to wait till the last minute,” Debbie explains referring to cake freshness.

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A more traditional Pfister wedding cake.

 

The largest cake she ever had to make was for something at the Pfister. They wanted a super tall cake, seven layers separated by pillars. The cake was to be placed in the middle of the table. She had to climb a ladder and lean way over with her arms extended to install it. “Usually at a wedding the cake is cut right away, but what happened was they wanted the cake to last like the entire evening because they had some sort of slide presentation and speakers. But they had to dismantle it early because the top cake was so tall, it was so much closer to the lights, and heat rises so it just started to melt.”

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But Debbie enjoys challenges. “I remember the first time someone asked me for an upright motorcycle, and I was just like, ‘Sure!’ not really thinking about how I could do it. And then I remember watching The Ace of Cakes and on that show they said the only thing that can’t be made with cake is an upright motorcycle. I was like ‘I just said yes to that! Oh my gosh!’” So she just had to figure it out. She built an armature out of wood, and made a cardboard platform that the cake could rest on. This is her 11th year in the cake business, in that time she has had to bake three upright motorcycles.

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One time GE designed a portable EKG machine. They brought her one and she had to make five identical EKG machine cakes.

One time she had to make a surprise toilet cake for a groom who was a plumber. And yes, as Debbie explains, “You can make some realistic poop with frosting.”

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One time at the Pfister a Wisconsin woman married a Texas man. The cake resembled a hunk of cheddar in the shape of Texas. This couple had met at Marquette University and liked going to mass at the campus’s St. Joan of Arc chapel. So Debbie made a second cake, a replica of the chapel, a surprise from one of the betrothed’s parents.

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Here are some other cakes that were cut at the Pfister:

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And here are some strange cakes by Debbie:

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An Andy Worhol!

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The Berlin Wall!
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These are from the guy that ordered a cat cake every year on his cat’s birthday.

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Debbie says that it is not uncommon for the person picking up the order set down before them to sincerely ask, “So where’s the cake?”

 

Too Old For Santa’s Knee

The day after Thanksgiving, Santa makes an appearance at the Pfister Hotel the same evening as the annual Tree Lighting Ceremony.  That’s great, kids love the opportunity to tell the man direct what it is they wish for.  But what about everyone else?  Once you grow up you still want things.   And perhaps more than that you need someone to listen to your wistful yearnings.  For three hours I set up my typewriter in the cafe and scribed a dozen adult’s lists to Santa.

 

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The live poetry reading consisted of me reading the letter aloud to each adult once complete.
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Daughter and mother. The daughter asked for a new boyfriend with a sense of humor and the mom for a new hospital to replace the old one she currently works at.

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It took him a while, then he knew just what he wanted.

Her husband lost his voice after his recent surgery.  She misses hearing him sing.
Her husband lost his voice after a recent surgery. She misses hearing him sing.

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Her description included showing me with her hands how big she would like it to be.

 

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A father wanted a green backpack.  A couple visiting from Minnesota wanted everything from the cashews to the saws advertised in the current Blain’s Farm and Fleet catalogue. A sixty-two year old wanted another twenty years of life and world peace.  Someone else wanted “joy, peace, prosperity love and vindication.”   A woman in her early twenties told me she was like a ferret: she wanted something sparkly and shiny.

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Still, the kids could not keep away from the elf lady and her typewriter, a magical object they had never seen before, but had to photograph on mama's cell phone.
Still, the kids could not keep away from the elf lady and her typewriter, a magical object they had never seen before, but had to photograph on mama’s cell phone.

 

The parents of these kids called out to their kids, "Leave her air!  She needs air to type!"
The parents of these kids called out to them, “Leave her air! She needs air to type!”

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“What Are You Doing For Thanksgiving?”

 

The following people shared their Thanksgiving Plans:

 

Name: Ariana

Location: Artist studio

Context: One Pfister Artist Niki’s interns, drugstore Arianna spent her day crocheting condoms into upholstery for Niki’s fainting couch.

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“I’m going to my fake aunt’s house. I actually met her on the bus, recipe the green line by the Pick ‘N Save on Oakland. I was wearing this fake fur coat (‘cause it’s like 0 degree here all the time) and she saw me and said ‘nice coat.’ We started talking and I said I’m from Baltimore, and she said ‘Well, I’m from Maryland.’ We started talking and going on, we talked about her kids a little bit, and about me and about where I go to art school, and we’re just talking and she says, ‘I really like that you’re an artistic person from Maryland, I’m really excited about that. Let me give you my card.’ And I say ‘Well, let me give you MY card, because I had just made business cards for an internship.’ So we exchanged cards, and I texted her immediately, and we’ve been friends ever since. This was in February. I just went to her kid’s talent show this weekend. Her kids are 11 and 14, and smarter than I thought kids could ever be. She’s the most extreme extrovert I’ve ever met. We’re going Thanksgiving hopping, which I’ve never done before. We’re going to one at one ‘o clock, and then another one at six thirty. I was like ‘Great,’ I was like ‘Sweet, I’ve never been to multiple Thanksgivings, I guess this is what happens when you’re like super cool and always talking to people.’ I’m hoping some of this will rub off on me. “

 

I ask Ariana, how many people she thinks her fake aunt has met on the bus.

 

“Her car was out, like in the shop, so she had to take the bus that day. But I think she does have approximately two other fake nieces and nephews.

 

 

Names: Tim, Carmella, Joe, Corinne

Location: VIP Lounge

Context: All four of them sitting around a table and conversing.

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“I’ve usually been a cooker,” explains Carmella, “Our children have all gotten older now and they’re all off doing other things, so we decided we’d go out and have fun!” Previously, they’ve stayed in their Chicago homes to celebrate, but tomorrow they will be at the Pfister for the feast. “We’ve never been here. We don’t know how it works. We’re going to eat at the Mason Street Grill, three ‘o clock Thanksgiving dinner.”

 

They all look the same approximate age. I ask if they are all family.

“Yes, brother and sister.”

“He’s our father,” one of the two men, points at the other, who replies, “You can’t blog ****content censored!!!!**** you.”

 

 

Names: Shosho (who declined to be pictured) & Abdullah

Location: The café

Context: Shosho is finishing her croissant, they are two of the most attractive people I’ve seen in the hotel all week.

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Both are from Saudi Arabia originally, but they met in Chicago. Shosho is getting her masters in Education, so that she can work in the field of Administration. She has never been to a Thanksgiving dinner before, and tomorrow will be just another Thursday in Shosho’s life. Abdullah, on the other hand, has attended a Thanksgiving dinner in the past. “To be honest, I didn’t like the turkey. It tasted raw. Next time I’m just going to get salad and other things.” Eloquently put! Abdullah just completed an English as a Second Language course a few days ago.

 

Pin the Eagle On the Mother






Five moments of learning from the past week at the Pfister.

 

1.

A kid from Chicago comes to my typewriter and gawks. I allow him to type whatever he wants:

“HAa Liamisthe greatest Pat and Kerianne suck and wish they could do this hahah”

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2.

A girl comes up and I also explain the typewriter to her as she has never seen one before. She tells me that she didn’t realize it came with a keyboard, sovaldi she just thought it was a machine that cut paper.

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3.

An able-bodied man is admiring a painting in the seventh floor.

 

Man: Sometime I want to rent one of those walkers with the seats and go to the Milwaukee Art Museum so that I can just sit in front of the paintings.

 

Me: Well, capsule I’m sure they wouldn’t say no to you if you wanted to rent one.

 

Man: But then I’d look like I’d need it. (Pauses) Well, maybe one day I will.

 

4.

I order just the bone marrow

without the bread.

is that too weird?

 

Elizabeth, my waitress says,

“Nothing is too weird to order at the Mason Street Grill. There is a vegetarian woman who comes here all the time ordering just a plain baked potato with broccoli.”

 

The Mason Street Grill’s lighting is the color of gravy.

Were I a vegetarian I would come here just to satisfy my carnivorous cravings

with a plain baked potato in this restaurant illuminated by steak essence

without betraying my principles.

 

I have a spot at the chef’s counter.

Close exposure to the sizzle and clang of the kitchen

makes dinner much more exciting

these cooks know they are on stage

they grind pepper with great ceremony

they cut pizza with broad sweeping gestures

one usually reserves for ironing a king size bed sheet.

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She is very aware of her audience.

 

I watch steak after steak leaving the kitchen.

Before they depart they are dribbled with white sauce

and resembled chocolate cake with vanilla frosting.

 

When my bones come out, I am surprised and delighted to see that they come with a just arugula salad.  The significance of which you will understand if you read this story.

 

Anyways, Elizabeth looks at the bones on my plate

and tells me,

“You know in Columbia we make a soup with bones like that. Sancocho soup! We put in plantains, corn on the cob, real cilantro (that’s our secret, it turns it green), potato and bone marrow with the oxtails. The plantain has to be green, those sweet ripe kind are for frying.”

 

Elizabeth admits the friendly, unique, polite people of Wisconsin

tip her extra for having an accent.

Moving here four years ago

she feared she might not survive the cold

but she had to live here,

after she had visited Summerfest

she knew she had to stay.

She had to learn how to drive in the snow.

 

5.

Lillian at Coat Check tells me that one of her sons became an Eagle Scout at age 12, which is unusually young. At the Eagle Scout award ceremony it is customary for the new Eagle Scout to present and attach an eagle pin on their mother. Lillian’s son fumbled and avoided making contact to her blouse with the pin. She asked him what was wrong and he said, “I don’t want you to burst!” Lillian was very pregnant at the time.

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This relates to nothing else, but these two people got married yesterday.

So He Traveled Around Basting Turkeys

Harold & Laura came into town to visit their son Michael who is graduating from the Milwaukee School of Engineering’s mechanical engineering program. The three of them took advantage of Doors Open Milwaukee to tour the tallest skyscraper in Milwaukee, then the Groehmann Museum where they met the real, living Mr. Groehmann in his office and then of course they had to see the Pfister Hotel. Concierge Roc had just taken them upstairs to see the grand ballroom when I met them.

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Harold, Laura, Michael and Roc.

 

Two years ago over in Germany, on a Friday evening after school, Michael made sweet potatoes served with mini marshmallows. That’s sweet potatoes “Wisconsin style” he tells me. There was “three-bean casserole, three turkeys and I’ve never done that…”

“Wait,” I ask him, “THREE TURKEYS?”

“We couldn’t find huge ones, and we had some pretty small ovens in our apartment.

So I had to do one in my place, one in my friend’s place and one at another friend’s place.” Michael’s mother adds to his explanation, “So he traveled around basting turkeys.”

 

There were about forty people over for this Thanksgiving dinner in Germany, fifteen Americans, two French foreign exchange students and a number of Germans. His mother asks Michael whose idea it was to throw a thanksgiving dinner in a foreign land hoping to get her son to admit that it was his. Michael declines the opportunity to claim it was his own brilliance by explaining that it was a group decision. Laura, determined to make her son shine asks him, “But who made the gravy?”

“Well, I already had the turkeys going, so…” he made the Thanksgiving gravy.

 

Michael facilitated the whole forty-person Thanksgiving.

 

Last year, Michael’s Thanksgiving was with his family back home in Gaylord, Minnesota. Three of Michael’s German friends flew in and joined his family over at Laura’s sister’s farm. After dinner they played Michigan rummy (a board game with cards) for hours. “We normally wouldn’t have stayed that late, but you guys were really having a good time, heh, heh, heh,” said Laura. Michael also took his pals to New Ulm, Minnesota, which is a “real traditional German town in Minnesota thirty miles from us.”

Harold, who is a Preacher at a 150 year-old church says, “Thursday morning they had to go down in the morning and listen to me preach for Thanksgiving Day. Probably the first Thanksgiving sermon they ever heard.”

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Harold’s face has had mutton chops ever since he got out of the air force in 1974.

 

I ask Harold how close Gaylord is to lake Woebegone, “Oh just over the hill. Everything in Minnesota is real close to Lake Woebegone.” His wife is more serious and tells me, “You know actually, maybe an hour and a half to two hours. It’s north of us, but you know it’s mythical.”

 

This Is His Fifth Wedding In Three Years

I’m drinking tropical hibiscus in the lounge

when a woman enters the vicinity clopping

her tongue like a horse

along to the ambient music.

I record this occurrence in my notebook,

take a swig of tea,

and stand

to meet the clip clop woman

so as to tell her how much I appreciate

triumphal people who enter rooms with song.

“I did?  I don’t remember doing that.”

says the lady who mere seconds ago

was a verifiable songhorse.

I wonder if any of the other loungers

here can recall it,

perhaps

I notice more than I should

like when I ask the man with all the loose leaf notes

and who is scrawling with an extra wide sharpie

what it is he is doing

and he says

“writing an obituary”

and then thanks me for leaving him alone.

Today I overhead a woman saying,

“A successful marriage requires falling in love several times.”

Plenty of advice like that can be overhead inside the Pfister

on the seventh floor

I overhear the rehearsal of marriage vows,

a man and a woman,

scripts in hand

“Do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband?”

(Which I still always hear as “Do you take this man to be your waffle-y wedded husband?” because that’s what I thought it was when my grandma and I played Barbies back in 1990 or so.)

Maybe it is none of my bee’s wax biz nizz

but I ask them if they are about to marry each other

“No!  That’s my sister!”

says the man named Jesse

who is an officiant for weddings.

This is his fifth wedding in three years,

he only marries close friends of the family.

“If I know them I will do it,”

he will marry them.

Jesse informs me that “you could even marry yourself if you want to”

or at least you could according to the Wisconsin state statue of five years ago

when last he read it

as part of getting ordained by the Universal Life Church

“I’ve paid my dues, Miss.”

His first wedding was up in the Porcupine Mountains of upper Michigan,

how waffle-y romantic sounding

I think

it is time to wish Jesse and his helping sister well

so that they may get on with the ceremony,

but there is no bride and groom,

no wedding party,

where are they?

Late.

I almost say, “Well, break a leg!”

but that’s not quite appropriate,

maybe “Go jump the broom!” is better?

Jesse recommends, “I hope you’re sure!”

or if the conditions are right, “I hope this is the last one!”

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Jesse and his sister Valerie rehearse the ceremony. They came in from Green Bay, Wisconsin.
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“I’m getting concerned that no one is up here,” says Jesse regarding the wedding party.