There is a couple from Madison that comes here every year. They spend the week after thanksgiving sitting quietly side by side in the Pfister café, health the wife with an unidentified electronic contraption, the husband with a book of games to solve. It is a docile, wintry afternoon, one in which everyone notices everyone else, but mostly keep to themselves. “He has the face for a story,” one woman murmurs to me. She has ordered mocha, medicine and has noticed the couple as she waits for her drink to be prepared. I agree, he does. But they also appear to be in a state of introverted meditation bliss like everyone else this afternoon. Like the rock of the day.
Meet the rock:
Brittany, the barista has started to bring in a different rock to work with her every day. As Brittany puts it, “I have so many rocks, I might as well put ‘em out for show and tell.” I ask how many rocks she thinks she owns and she estimates “over a couple hundred.” As with most collections, Brittany owned one or two rocks that she liked and then two years ago everyone assumed that she was really into rocks and started giving her a lumpen geode every holiday and birthday.
Today’s rock is of an unknown variety. Yesterday, the rock was a bismuth, I’m told that is the kind of rock that is usually grown in a lab so that it develops “crazy crystals.” The day before that Brittany brought in a jasper. When she first held her jasper she lost her grip and it cracked in half on the floor. It turned out to be fortuitous, since the inside of the jasper is “super crystally.” She has also brought in a green tourmaline that is cross-hatched with quartz. Thursday’s rock is scheduled to be a six pound agate. Soon to come will be red citrine, green citrine and “a rock that looks like a peacock.”
Most people do not notice the rock of the day, but the taxi drivers who come in for their coffees almost always do. They tell Brittany, “We have these in my home country.”
The Madison couple that sat side by side in a booth have now moved to the leather easy chairs. The wife tells the husband, “That’s the only sweater you own that would match that chair.” The husband looks up from his crossword and replies, “I clad myself accordingly.”
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.
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.
The following people shared their Thanksgiving Plans:
Location: Artist studio
Context: One Pfister Artist Niki’s interns, drugstore Arianna spent her day crocheting condoms into upholstery for Niki’s fainting couch.
“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.
“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.
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.
I am sitting in Blu by myself so that no one will distract me as I eavesdrop in on the conversations. Some old ladies are giggling about martinis. An old man is taking all the plush chairs away from my table to build a nest for all his companions. One of them asks, decease “How was the wedding?” to another. She replies, “It was long. I never was to a Catholic wedding before. The organist played six or seven songs. I kept thinking ‘this is not over yet?’ It was so standard, the vows were by the book. And they do all the kneeling. The congregation must have kneeled three or four times. I grew up Lutheran, decease we get it over with. That’s more my kind of wedding, twenty minutes, BOOM, out.”
In the café I overhear two concerned mothers complaining about middle school girls trying to get the attention of clueless pre-pubescent middle school boys. “Sports bra, cheap that’s what she’s walking around in. What mother let’s their daughter out of the house like that? Unless she’s stupid, but regardless, they’re all together, they’re all close, they’ve been close since day one, since middle school, they are what they are. The one girl who’s taking up with them, she came over in one of those dresses that was up to her hootchy-hooch.”
In the café I also listen to two men discussing HSP, but since I don’t know what HSP is, I have no idea what it is that they are going on about, but it sounds atrociously banal.
Outside the ballroom I catch the following snippet from the National Philanthropy Day festivities. The trained voice of a news anchor from channel twelve proclaims, “She has been a sparkplug for a lot of philanthropy initiatives.” What high automobilic praise! Later I learn that Milwaukee’s National Philanthropic Day commands a larger attendance than even New York City’s. “That’s just what kind we are here,” the Milwaukee Philanthropist Day organizer boasts to a bellhop in the lobby.
I enter the lobby lounge and am delighted to see my chum Jenna Kashou at the bar. Do you remember her? She was the Narrator about two years ago. I go up to say hey Jenna, but she is leaning her whole body into conversation about a corporate sponsorship brochure for the Black and Blue Ball, a benefit for Muscular Dystrophy. Jenna’s hands are zipping every which way. I take a seat on the sofa next to the fireplace. I never noticed before how inside the fireplace there is a motif of a racing chariot. A chariot of fire! I pick up the newspaper someone left on the couch. It says something about “Drones For The Masses.” Listening in on other people’s conversations is about to get a lot more high-tech.
Until today, I hadn’t seen my friend Kiera in nine years. The last time I saw her we were having one last group sleepover at my house the week before we each moved out of Milwaukee to seek our higher educations in other cities. I went to Missouri for the Kansas City Art Institute and Kiera went to Oakland for the College of Creative Studies. Kiera has been living in Oakland ever since. Understandable, Oakland is a balmy paradise full of bookstores and coffee shops, and it is easy to navigate without a car. Unfortunately, the gentrification of Oakland will soon force Kiera to move out. The soaring rents will soon match those of San Francisco where the average one bedroom apartment is $3,000 a month.
Keira tells me that this could be a good change because she would like to live somewhere quiet where there is lots of space between the houses. However, Kiera is conflicted about this idea because she a city girl. I recommend Detroit to her because whenever I go to that city it has a quiet feel due to all the boarded up houses, but remains a city where only those possessing much grit survive. She agrees with me but says she probably won’t be moving to anywhere in the Midwest since her boyfriend, Snow, doesn’t like cold weather!
Kiera tells me about how one time Snow and his father went skiing and got separated on the hill. Snow’s father started calling for his son, “Snow! Snoooow!!!” and people looked strangely at this man who seemed to suddenly realize that the world around him was covered in snow.
Kiera joins me for a meal at the Pfister café. She surveys the menu and starts to laugh when she sees it offers a salad called a “cheeseburger bowl,” featuring a hamburger with cheese on a bed of lettuce “Only out here,” says Kiera. I ask what the “only out there” regional equivalent would be in Oakland. “Maybe if you asked for the simple arugula salad, with just arugula and tomatoes.” We are sitting in one of the café booths and it reminds us both of hanging out late at night at 24-hour diners in high school. Kiera laments that Oakland has a scarcity of 24-hour establishments.
We walk around the hotel imagine what it and the city were like when it was first built. Kiera takes her time, reading every plaque and investigating every painting and photograph. We stop in front of a picture that was taken when President McKinley came to the Pfister. There must be 2000 people in the room, and we try to find even one woman in the crowd, but don’t see one, not even a maid. We both say how we cannot fully grasp what life was like back then. Although I do look at over my contemporary, Keira, and (using my hundred year old filter) observe that she wears her hair very short. Radical! Kiera wonders if any of her ancestors from her dad’s side are in this photo. The German side of Kiera’s family had some influence in this town back when Milwaukee was considered “the gold coast” prior to the first World War.
One more thing: Radical Kiera is just back from competing in Art Prize, a national juried art show in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Here she is modeling a nine-foot wearable art piece that she designed with five other collaborators.
This hotel is rife with whiz-bang creators. At any hour someone with an opinion on Salavador Dali is likely to state it from behind a counter, pills since so much of the staff identifies with being an artist of some sort. Certainly, there is an official resident artist and an official resident narrator, but there are many more creative Pfister residents than just that. Take the three concierges: Peter is our resident costume constructor and actor, viagra Greta is our resident painting gallery owner and Roc is our resident live raconteur with a background in teaching English.
I have been here three months and I still haven’t met all of the musicians that lurk here.
I suppose if one hoped to find the classic bohemian employed by the Pfister, ed the most stereotypically logical place to look would be near the coffee in the café. Indeed, barista Adam identifies as a creative writer and a musician. He has the samples to prove it too, once, he handed me my receipt with two links to his work.
The song “Coins and Bullets” on the bandcamp site is particularly evocative of late fall angst.
Adam reads this blog. One day he told me he wanted me to write him a letter and handed me my receipt with a request written in his precise and gentle script.
This is the pinnacle of my life. This is the pinnacle of my usefulness.
The pulverization ritual is nigh.
The spiritual gain of the pulverization ritual???
To become grit and aroma,
I will vanish like steam on a hot day
like health from a hot dog
like they have always said oh,
c e a s e l e s s
w o e b e g o n e
there is no other truth anymore
except: I am a bean and resemble a turd from an unidentified rodent.
Whims of taste supply and demand me to be shred, submerged, percolated, strained, stained, ingested, burped, excreted,
sold en masse
never remembered as the soul that I am
now roasting in a barrel.
This is my last moment to recall how
before my memory burns away
before I knew death would come
before I knew cruelty could happen at all
before all else there was gestation
soft pod skin seal,
ambition to make mom tree proud by my expansion,
“I’ll get so big that I’ll obscure our cacao pod neighbors!!!”
I am walking outside along the outdoor customers of the Mason Street Grill when I witness a woman in her thirties fly up from her seat to stand before her friends and wildly gesture with her whole body. Her four friends shriek and howl with laughter so I stop to watch too, sickness but it the story stops. I ask the woman if she will continue to tell the story and she says that she will have to tell me a different story. None of us wants to hear a different story, so I continue down the sidewalk.
“It had to be you, stuff it had to be youuu…” is being played on the lobby piano when Jennifer and Joe, a long married couple announce that they have been on vacation for a full week just to see if they can put up with each other for that long. They drove all the way around the lake, passing Keweenah (the tippest toppest point of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula) to get here from their home in Michigan. They did not have cell phone reception for a large portion of their journey. Just Joe and Jennifer together without distractions. They got into the Pfister an hour ago, case have never been to Wisconsin before today, but they tell me that they don’t ever want to leave. The piano is playing, the lighting is warm and they both have a glass of wine.
Mary Kay worked in government for eighteen years. She wanted a change. She wanted to do something that would involve “Having people be in love, stay in love and fall in love.” So she opened a bed and breakfast in Plano, Illinois. By day she still works in social services, connecting jobs to people who have been in jail and helping underserved youth in the juvenile system.
Two women with similar faces sit on the couch wearing sunglasses. Yes, they are sisters. Judy and Jean. They grew up in Minnesota but now they are residents of Baltimore and Denver, respectively. They see each other once a year. This year they decided to meet halfway between their cities, and selected Milwaukee. They are sharing a room in the hotel for six days. The first place they plan to visit this week is St. Josaphat’s Basilica.
I ask two men with similar faces at the bar if they are brothers. “We are not related but both broth-uhs of Omaha.” The brothuhs of Omaha are here interviewing people for open Milwaukee-based positions in their small medical company. The brothuhs tell me I look like an artsy type and ask me if I ever do nude paintings of middle aged men. I deflect the question by asking them how often they dissect cadavers. The brothuhs say they get to dissect cadavers about six times a year.