The Pfister is My Second Family (Although the Details are Fuzzy)

“You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning.  But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy.” (from Jay Mcinerney’s Bright Lights, Big City, 1984)

Well, I am the kind of guy (Narrator) who would be at a place like this (the Lobby Lounge) at this time of the evening (about 5 pm).  And here I am, and I cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although some of the details are fuzzy (my notebook is a jumble of hastily penned scrawls because sometimes you just want to, you know, talk to someone without recording every last word, and I’ve never gotten used to using a recorder).

Blake, a 6’1″ institutional stock broker from Tennessee who made sure I knew he came from humble origins (I got some details!), had been at the bar for some time before I arrived and set up shop.  Speaking of setting up shop, it seems Blake has done just that at the Hotel for the past 35 years. “I come here at least 5 times a month,” he said with pride, “so I figure after 35 years that I’ve stayed here at least 2,000 times or more.”

I think he said his flight had been canceled so he needed to stay an extra night in Milwaukee.  Of course, The Pfister was his first choice.

I recognized Blake from a couple of months ago, partly because he started telling me again about the blizzard of February 2011 when all those cars in Chicago got stuck in thick and the snow drifts in Milwaukee were at least a yard high.  Do you remember those photos?!

Blake and his business associates got stuck at the Hotel for three nights, a Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  Completely snowed in, buses shut down for days, nowhere to go.

He recalled: “I had about fifteen guys here for business.  So we had the place to ourselves.  It was like The Shining with all the empty halls.  Chris, the Evening Manager, gave us the 7th-floor party room.  They all wanted to gamble, so Chris walked to Flannery’s to get a dice cup.  Mason Street Grill took care of us, Blu took care of us, everyone took care of us.”

Chris happened to walk by, so Blake motioned him over and like clockwork, they began a series of giddy, nostalgic anecdotes.  “It sounds like you were school kids on a snow day,” I suggested.  “Yes!” exclaimed Chris, smiling widely, letting down for a moment his seemingly flinty guard.  Through none of this, though, did I get any details about what really went down on the 7th floor those three nights . . . maybe it was just innocent dice, who knows?

In any case, after Chris left, Blake and I returned to our drinks and somehow the phrase “gradually and then suddenly” emerged.  (I wrote it down in my notebook, but the context is, shall we say, fuzzy.)  I think I told him that I was a retired English teacher, so he tested me with “gradually and then suddenly.”  He was stunned when I hadn’t a clue where it came from, even though, he told me, “It’s one of the most famous lines in American literature.”   It turns out it’s from Hemingways The Sun Also Rises.  Graduate school, for me, is a little . . . fuzzy.

“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked.
“Two ways,” Mike said.  Gradually and then suddenly.”

“Favorite American novel?” Blake asked, perhaps giving me a chance to redeem myself for not recognizing the great Hemingway.

I impress him with Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, so he eggs me on until I can guess his favorite.  His hint: something about wealth and power.  My first guess was The Great Gatsby.  That seemed obvious enough.

“Noooo!  Think again.  Wealth and power.”

“American Psycho?”

“Heyyyy.  Not bad.  Now you’re on the right track.  Think American Psycho, but a classic novel.  You’re so close.”

“Ahhh…Catcher–

“Yes!  —in the Rye.”  I feel triumphant.  “Both grew up hating ‘phonies.’ Holden Caufield in the ’50s, Bret Easton Ellis in the ’80s.  And Ellis went to Bennington in Vermont.”  I think to myself how the fictional Pencey Prep and the progressive Bennington couldn’t be more dissimilar, but I got where he was going.

We talked about American Psycho for a while, recalling favorite scenes . . . which, if you’ve ever read American Psycho, is not polite Lobby Lounge material.  In fact, Blake muffled his voice several times.

Blake insisted I check out Donna Tartt’s The Secret History (Tartt of Goldfinch fame).  “She went to school with Ellis at Bennington, you know.”  I did.  “And the setting of the story is a small college like Bennington and a tight-knit group of students.  It’s a murder mystery. And this one is much better than The Goldfinch.”

He also suggested Jay McInerney’s The Story of My Life (“It’s the female-focused version of his Bright Lights, Big City“).  I learned that Ellis borrowed a character from Story of My Life–Alison Poole–for American Psycho, and that McInerney eventually claimed that Poole was based on his ex-girlfriend Lisa Druck (who later changed her name to Rielle Hunter). Blake reminded me that she had an affair with John Edwards.

We bemoaned the cocaine-addled ’80s, a prime subject of Ellis’ and McInerney’s novels.  Of course, I was in middle school back then, so what would I know, other than what I learned from Ellis (I haven’t read McInerney yet, though I’m intrigued by Story).

Some wholesome interruptions occurred, too:  Huckleberry Finn came up. Not sure how: fuzzy.  Our bartender Torie said she had enjoyed Watchman and Maus, two graphic novels she had read in a class. “It was interesting reading in a different way.  They were all comic books that we had to analyze like regular books.”  And eventually the conversation returned, as it should have, to The Pfister’s hospitality, the blizzard of ’11, and the present moment.

“The Pfister is my second family.  When I see Ellie, Val, Jeffery, Peter, and everyone else, it’s like coming home to my family.  I can’t replicate this anywhere, especially as a business traveler.  If I had decided to stay by the airport tonight, I wouldn’t have had anything close to this experience.” Blake’s hand swept the room.  “They’re like a partner.”

Blake with longtime Pfister friend Ellie

“I was on the road for three days this week.  I’ve been so pissed off at things–but not anymore.  This is home.”

This was one thing that wasn’t fuzzy at all.  In fact, The Pfister makes sure it’s as clear as day whenever you enter the building and look up: Salve.

Cordial of Wisdom | August 2016

This is Thomas, one of the bartenders in the Lobby Lounge. He is full of cosmic love.

Last month I offered the first “Cordial of Wisdom” from behind the bar in the Lobby Lounge, featuring the imaginative, pun-laden, talismanic words of wisdom of Val, who has been with the Hotel for decades.  Today, I offer you Thomas.  At first, he smiled and said, with so much conviction, “I think I’m too young to be disseminating wisdom.  I’m still learning so much.”  I was patient with him, which was good because he tilted his head up slightly, his eyes glazed in contemplation, and with clarity and conviction that belied his age (which he didn’t reveal), began to talk about love.  We joked that I would call this post “Love Letter to My Wife,” but I think it’s really a “Love Letter to Love.”

Love is the most significant, energetic attribute we possess in life, but it is so elusive.  Every time I’ve grasped a taste of it, I’ve realized that its flavor is so much more vast.  I get overwhelmed–like I’m a cell in a giant of love.  Every time you taste it, there’s some new flavor.  I guess I’m a crazy, hopeless romantic, but I’m truly obsessed with this experience.

I’ve made some of the most significant life choices in the quest for this “Love.”  And it’s an experiential kind of love–not the printed card type of love.

Speaking of cordials, I feel like love–whatever it is–is truth.  It’s flowing from one ancient vine of grapes, and every grape is a different kind of love, and these flavors of grapes are all connected to the vine, and other vines–and they all connect to one source, one that goes below the ground where we can’t see it–and beyond.  What’s beyond is so mysterious, but all this love is connected to it somehow.

We got a kick out of taking this photo.

Cordials of Wisdom | July 2016

She works Tuesday through Saturday behind the bar in the Lobby Lounge, but in one sitting dispenses enough wisdom for an entire week (although she would probably chuckle her inward chuckle at me calling her quips and quivers “wisdom”).  She moves behind the bar with grace but always looks like she has a trick up her sleeve (she had several this afternoon, actually!).  Here is the first of multiple installments, I’m sure, of Valerie’s Cordials of Wisdom:

 

  • On the Art of Conversation.  “Allow the other to begin in one direction, like a straight arrow; allow them to take the lead.  Create the space where this freedom is possible, then begin to fill in the open spaces with yourself.  Follow the arrow down one path or the other path.”

Valerie has a quiet way of making you feel comfortable in the Lobby, waiting patiently for spaces that she can fill with wisdom, humor, impromptu insights, probing questions.  

 

  • Keep It Simple.  “Too many ingredients in a drink confuses the tastebuds.  Too many ingredients with dozens of other ingredients in them creates mud.  To avoid the muddle, in a drink (or life), keep it simple.  Complement simple ingredients with one or two others so that you can taste each one separately; if you’re lucky, then one flavor delight at the beginning, then give way to another, with a flourish at the end.”  

I learned this with her cordial of berries, coffee, and an ingredient that I’m not sure is secret or not, so I don’t dare mention it here lest I suffer the quivers of her “quips and quivers.”

 

  • Represent Your Places Well.  “Whatever places you represent, present them well.  Creating a relaxing atmosphere, a cordial experience, an unforgettable memory–this is who we are at The Pfister Hotel, for instance.”  

If you represent a school, present in every place you go as an ambassador.  If you represent a household, model for others what kind of family you are.  The same goes if you represent a company or a religion or a political office.  You are a synecdoche, a part that represents a whole.  It’s so easy to forget this, isn’t it?

 

  • Your Perception Directs Your Course.  “If you think that that black cat crossing your path is going to give you bad luck, then it’s more likely that you will have “bad luck.”  Your belief will affect the course of your day, making you more apt to identify “bad luck” when you might not have before.  Have you ever heard, however, about someone looking forward to a white cat crossing their path?”

Perhaps if more of us did . . .

 

  • Your Doubt Will Blind You.  “Here are three quarters separated by two dimes, all in a row.  Can you move two adjacent coins at a time, left or right, in three moves, so that the three quarters and two dimes are next to each other, with no spaces between any coins?”

I tried.  And tried.  And retried.  The answer to her question was a frustrated “No.”

“You doubted yourself.  You had it–the third move was right in front of you.  Many times.  But you doubted yourself.”

After whining a bit, I think, she calmly moved two coins, then two others, then two others.  And the coins aligned.  Then she brought out the cocktail napkin, ripped it into shreds, blew on it, and waved it in front of me like a white flag.  But it was me who was surrendering!  Magic . . .

So if you’re downtown when Valerie’s working and you’re feeling all quarters and dimes–or even worse, feeling like a shredded napkin–then step into the elegant Lobby Lounge, pull up a chair, bend one ear to the piano and another to Valerie, and get ready for some true Cordials of Wisdom.

 

“It Doesn’t Cost a Lot of Money to Be Nice”

For their 60th wedding anniversary, they went to Bora Bora.
For their 61st, Niagara Falls.
For their 62nd, Nashville, their 63rd Dallas.
They had a staycation in a Kauai Hilton last year.
And for this, their 65th anniversary, Joanne told Jim to surprise her.  

Even a couple of hours before her anniversary dinner at the Hotel where it all began, she still didn’t know why they had traveled all the way from Kauai.  Jim had arranged to have them renew their vows among family and friends, including two of their three children and Joanne’s brother, who lives in town and whom she hadn’t seen for about five years.  He had scheduled a late morning appointment for her at the WELL Spa + Salon, so, of course, she was suspicious, but Jim and the associates at The Pfister had done an excellent job of keeping the secret.

Colleen Maxwell, our Social Media Manager, and I got a chance to sit down with Jim before the big night to hear about his sly plotting and planning, but more importantly, for me at least, about his answer to this question:  What is your secret for staying married for so long?

Look at that sly smile. His wife still didn't know why they were at The Pfister!
Look at that sly smile. His wife still didn’t know why they were at The Pfister!

Answer: Start planning in junior high.

As Jim told it, “I spotted her when she was twelve, when I was in 7th grade.”  Well, that’s an early start.  “I was part of the CYO, the Catholic Youth Organization.  They would let the 6th graders take a look to see what was in store for them.  And one day I pointed to my friend Bill and said, ‘That girl in the white shirt and black and white checkered shirt–she is beautiful.’”  Needless to say, Bill reminded Jim that she was “only twelve.”  That didn’t stop Jim, though, from watching and waiting.  

His mother had wanted, as many Catholic mothers in his era did, her son to become a priest.  He attended Marquette University High School, doing his mother proud.  From afar, however, he watched Joanne grow up.  Then, about two months from his sixteenth birthday, in the year of our Lord 1947, the phone rang: it was Joanne.  They agreed to go on a date to a Saturday party, but not before Joanne laid down some “ground rules.”  (She knew about the crazy house party he’d been at a few weeks earlier at his cousin’s place while the parents were gone: “I was a victim,” Jim insists.)  Even though she was dating other people at the time, Jim couldn’t refuse such a bold offer.  And neither could her parents welcome strapping young (and Catholic) Jim into their lives.

Answer: Remind them how beautiful they are.

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Thank you, Google, for the many faces of Dorothy McGuire.

Jim’s voice crackled with sheer disbelief that anyone so beautiful could have come into his life.  “She was and still is very beautiful.”  He said this several dozen times (and wouldn’t tire, I’m sure, of saying it again.)  People used to come up to her and ask for her autograph, because she was the spitting image of Dorothy McGuire, a star of radio, stage, and screen, especially in the ‘40s and ‘50s.  Just the other day,” he adds, jumping ahead many decades, “we were having brunch at a hotel after Sunday Mass.  Two women came up to us and told my wife, ‘We can’t get over how beautiful you look.’  This has happened so many times when we’re out to eat.  I always want to tell these women that I’m sitting right there, too.  Whatever happened,” he joked, “to saying, ‘Hey, this fellow doesn’t look that bad either’?  What am I?  Chopped liver?”

Five years later, they were married.  Jim referred to The Pfister Hotel as the “first place we ever shacked up in Milwaukee after we got married.”  As we all know, of course, The Pfister is far from a “shack.”

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This is the photo that reminds Jim of Joanne the most.

Answer: Tolerate each other and accept each others’ individual talents.

They started what he kept calling an “interesting” and “supportive” life together.  One of the keys to their marriage, it seems, was allowing each other to be their own persons, to follow their own paths–but together.  He called it “tolerance,” but it seems much more than that. A very early indication of their acceptance of each other was when she had to practice her tennis game to defend her CYO championship at the resort on their honeymoon, something that got their friends wondering whether Jim and Joanne understood what was supposed to happen on a honeymoon.  But play she did, and Jim, in love with his new partner, didn’t think twice about it.  

They would go on to adopt three children in their early years, two sons and a daughter.

He eventually opened his own office supply company, with three employees.  For someone who didn’t even know how to use Liquid Paper, this was a risk.  But they made things work, with Joann helping in the store, too.  But it took Jim a while to realize that she possessed a not-so-hidden talent.  “She was always bitching about salesmen who didn’t know anything about sales,” he says.  She was a fierce critic who knew how things should be run, so he got her set up with her own office furniture business, which is still successful, now run by their daughter, with Joanne as chairperson of the board.  

Jim talked at length about his other career choices, all of which Joanne supported.  He once worked for the Texas Rangers selling season tickets to businesses, traveling once a year with the ball club because his sales were so good.  He worked for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in charge of state-wide distribution.  But most interesting to me was his three-week-a-year stint as Santa Claus for twenty-five years.  Jim was no mall Santa; instead, he dressed up for friends, especially friends with children, and Joanne would accompany him as an elf.  Free of charge.  He did it out of pure joy, making sure that his friends got at least one gift from their children’s wish lists–and to let him know what they had gotten.  That way, he would know that a boy had gotten, say, a G.I. Joe for Christmas, and armed with this knowledge, the following year “Santa” could tell that boy, “Remember when you wanted that G.I. Joe last year.”  Kid’s mind blown.  Jaw dropped.  Santa is real.  

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The private dinner and renewal of 65-year-old wedding vows.

Answer (the most important one): Enjoy life and be nice.

Jim’s philosophy of life?  “When I die, I don’t want people to stand at my casket and say, ‘That poor guy didn’t enjoy life.  He didn’t use enjoy every minute that God gave him.”  He added, “It doesn’t cost a lot of money to be nice to people,” he told us.  

Originally, I was going to title this post “Giddy as a Frickin’ High Schooler,” a phrase Jim repeated to me numerous times on the phone and during our interview.  Giddy.  Young.  Enjoying every minute that God gave him.  

However, in the wake of the senseless tragedy in Orlando this past weekend, I’ve decided to use Jim’s more relevant and ridiculously simple words as my title:

“It Doesn’t Cost a Lot of Money to Be Nice.”

“You Can’t Take My Bones”

Last Thursday evening, I had an hour to kill before I met a good friend and colleague for dinner in Bay View.  Dressed in my “Pfister casual,” as I’m calling it–dark denim and an almost black-blue and silver short-sleeved shirt–I settled into one of the sofas in the lobby, ordered an Old Fashioned from Ellie, and pulled out my notebook.  

Two men at one end of the bar, two at the other, two women in front of me, a man and a woman at the far end to my right–all deep in conversation, or glasses of post-work wine, or, in one case,  a pile of wings.  How to approach them?  I’ll admit, the hardest part of my job as Narrator so far is making the first move.  In my dating days, I used to be a wallflower who waited for people to approach me, but here I was, hanging out in the lobby of an elegant hotel, navigating the gray area between friendly and intrusive.  

I passed a little time by roughly (I say roughly because . . . well, I’m sorry!) sketching the two women while I waited for my drink (expertly made by Jeff, by the way), continuing to scan the room for a potential story.  What was their story, I wondered.  Why were they there tonight?  What would they be willing to share with me?

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Enter: a deus ex machina!  Piano music from the sound system.  

No, it seemed live.  From the cafe?  That would be odd.  From Mason Street Grill?  Too far away.  No, it was coming from inside the lobby.  

I peered past the two women I had sketched and the god who was not really in a machine materialized: Dan Albrechtson, playing a rendition of “Stand By Me.”  From where I was sitting across the lobby, he appeared to be in his 70s, his black jacket curved over the keys, his wispy white hair and wire glasses hanging low.  I was amazed, even from as far away as I was, by the effortlessness and grace with which he played, his hands sliding back and forth across the keys.  When I sat down with Dan a little bit later, I would get to see how youthful his hands look and how wide his fingers can stretch from key to key.  He would play for me a regular 1-3-5 major chord, call it “ugly,” then play it with the 3 in the next higher octave.  He would tell me how he used to sit in school, writing with his right hand and stretching his left fingers against the table edge.  “Like a gymnast learning how to do the splits,” I would muse.  He would also share (though I’m not sure how it came up!) that he used to run half and full marathons, and he would wow me with his mile times when he was my age (let’s just say he was faster).  While Dan’s running is now all on a treadmill, I’m impressed and inspired: I hope that in thirty years I’m still running and doing my own version of Dan’s 10-key finger span with something I’m good at–perhaps writing or teaching or something new.

Which brings me to why Dan was my deus ex machina, that element of classical Greek theater in which a god or goddess would suddenly show up just at the right moment–which was usually at the end of the play when all was chaos and confusion.  When I realized he was playing, then, I added him to my quick sketch and leisurely sipped my drink, still wondering how I was going to approach any of the people in the room, none of whom seemed “in the right spot” for a conversation with me. I wrote down in my notebook, however, the question I’d like to ask them if I could, inspired by Dan’s piano playing: What do you hope to still have when you’re 70, 80, 90 years old?  What do you hope to still possess?  

And then–here’s the Greek moment–one of the men from the bar walked up to Dan to tip him and thank him for playing.  He seemed pretty approachable, so as he returned to his friend, I approached.  They both agreed with smiles that Dan’s music was beautiful.

It turns out that DeMarco, now living and working in New York City, was visiting his old pal Justin.  When they were younger, they had shared a healthy rivalry as news reporters and anchors in Milwaukee.  Tonight, they are all compliments for each other, especially Justin, who is convinced DeMarco is headed for the big seat at the network.  But that’s not what we talk about.  We talk about growing old and being tenacious.  What do they want to hold onto into their older years?

DeMarco: I want to still have rhythm.  I want to be able to still keep a beat.

Me: What do you mean?

DeMarco: Rhythm isn’t just something physical, like being able to walk straight.  It’s that sweet cadence that you possess.  It’s music, which you get to interpret.  It’s really everything.  

Me: I think I know what you mean.

DeMarco: It’s like this: imagine your favorite band, your favorite song . . . without rhythm.  

Me: I can’t even hear what that would sound like!  What was your favorite song as a child?

DeMarco: This is going to sound silly, because I was really young and didn’t understand what the song was really about, but it was Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.”  My father would play that song all the time.  It was good.

Me: Ha!  That’s like the kids in my neighborhood years ago lip syncing to “Baby Got Back”!

DeMarco: Yes.  Well, my father John died when I was ten years old, on Father’s Day.  But he used to say, “You can’t take my bones.  You can take away anything else, but you can’t take my bones.”

Me: That fits in perfectly with my first impression of Dan on the piano.  His fingers are still gliding across those keys like nothing at all.

DeMarco: Rhythm (snaps his fingers three times) connects everything.  Everything.  You know how when people say “My rhythm’s off”?  That means something’s not right.  Some kind of connection.  (smiling) It aligns with the universe.  It keeps everything in sync.

During my conversation with DeMarco, Justin chimed in intermittently, in between devouring a plate of wings.  With three left on the plate, he offers me the rest, informing me that they are excellent.  Not usually a wings man, and headed to dinner soon, I defer, but he insists that they are that good.  I only eat one, but they are.  “Grilled, not fried.  That’s the secret.”  I’ve never tasted wings that meaty and tasty.  I’ll be back.

But back to Justin.  

Me: What was your favorite song?

Justin: (without skipping a beat) Prince’s “Adore.”  Not many people seem to know that one.

Me: I don’t recognize it.  But I’m bad with artists and titles and stuff.

Justin: I must’ve been about 12 years old, and there was this line where he says, “You could burn up my clothes, / smash up my ride.  Well, maybe not the ride”–and he’d say it in his Prince voice. (voice gets higher) ”Well, maybe not the ride.  But I got to have your face / all up in the place.”

(When I got home, I listened to “Adore.”  What a sexy tune, especially as blog-writing background music.)

Me: And what do you still hope to have when you’re older?

Justin: I want to still be in touch with my spirit, my soul.  There are so many people who are disconnected from their spirit–or become disconnected.

Me: “Spirit” and “soul” can both mean dozens of things to dozens of people.  What do they mean to you?

Justin: My connection to humanity.  I still want to be able to relate to people all over the world.  I want to be cognizant of my connection with everyone and everything.

I am certainly glad I got the chance to connect with the two compassionate, kind, and heartfelt spirits of Justin and DeMarco, with Ellie and Jeff (I’ll be seeing more of you soon!), and most of all with Dan, whose music set the evening’s wheels and ideas and memories into motion.  Thank you!

Hoppy Easter

Happy Easter!

No, no, I’m not a day late and a dollar short on the classic Easter greeting. This might be old news to most of you reading or listening to this since I know you’re all pure of heart and wise beyond measure, but Easter Sunday is special not only for the abundance of delicious hard boiled eggs and jelly beans, but also because it is the actual start of the Easter Season. I was a late learner about the actual Easter Season kicking off with Easter Sunday, something I was gently advised upon by a kind liturgical guide who never, ever admonished me for years of being an unrepentant heathen. Now I embrace the full majesty of the Easter season as it trails forward from that Sunday in spring when an industrious bunny rabbit litters carpets in homes with fake plastic grass while making deliveries of milk chocolate to good boys and girls across the land.

No trails of fake plastic grass were apparent in the Pfister lobby as I recently met a young rabbit kicking up her heels with her doting parents. My introduction was less than smooth, and this is where I embrace the fact that Easter is all about redemption and renewal.

“I couldn’t help but notice your pig ears,” I said as I introduced myself to Lindsay.

Smiling from the deepest place in her heart, Lindsay corrected me.

“These are my rabbit ears. For Easter.”

I tried to avoid turning a deep shade of red from embarrassment, and think I might have contained my humiliation to the sort of bright pink you might see on a newly dyed egg ready to be put into service for a hunt. Lindsay and her folks Joanne and Paul had come to the Pfister because Lindsay had faired particularly well in a weekend competition. Lindsay, it seems, is a dancer.

“In our competition we do tap, jazz, modern, hip hop…” The list continued on and on. Lindsay’s feet clearly have never failed her and her recent accomplishments had been awarded with a trophy. Her many achievements were now being enjoyed with her family at their favorite spot—the Pfister.

“This is a special place for us,” said Joanne, Lindsay’s mom. “It’s a place that has meant a lot to us over the years, and we come here as a family because everyone welcomes us so warmly.”

“The Pfister is a spot where we as a family can come and everyone can feel real comfort. Everything is good here,” added Paul. “We have become friends with so many of the staff…Mr. Roc, Mr. Peter, Ms. Helga.” Paul told me of the many tales the Pfister’s esteemed concierge staff have shared with his lovely family over the years, the sort of stories you share with friends near and dear to your heart.

I asked Lindsay what her favorite sort of dance was and she seemed to grow a few inches taller as she beamed back at me and said, “I love ballet.” Though she doesn’t perform ballet in her dance competitions, ballet is the basis for all she does as a dancer, the foundation upon which she builds her talents. It struck me on the cusp of Easter that this young woman wearing the set of floppy bunny ears had at an early, early age understood a very important fact of life. When you have a strong foundation, everything else in your life has a chance to flourish and grow.

I was curious about Lindsay’s long-term dreams as a dancer, but also the place where she would most like to take a few spins in the Pfister. I hope I get to see the answer to both of those questions come to life in years to come.

“I want to be a dancer for the Milwaukee Ballet, and dance through the Imperial Ballroom here at the Pfister,” said Lindsay. Her proud and loving parents looked on as this confident and charming young lass smiled from rabbit ear to rabbit ear. Ballet may be a good foundation for Lindsay’s future dreams, but it’s clear that she has any even stronger foundation in life. Their names, as you might have guessed, are Paul and Joanne, and they love their little bunny very, very much.

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

The Napper

Hello, sir! Well you look like you worked real hard this week. You don’t say? This is the kick off for your vacation? Time for a break. Welcome to the weekend.

Snuggle up and nuzzle into a comfortable chair. Maybe you’d like to sit at one of the café tables across from our registration desk, and watch all the people come by. You can stay for as long as you like. Go ahead, take a load off.

No? That’s not quite the right spot? Well, how about a table in the Café? A nice afternoon latte and a scone? Have you tried the cake? We’ve got really great cake.

Oh, you’ve had your coffee for the day? Absolutely. Totally understand. If you’d like, I could have your bags taken to your room so you can get settled in. How’s that sound?

Ah, I see, you’re not staying with us. No, no problem at all. Happy to have you joining us here for the day while you wait for a friend. I’m glad to help make you welcome and enjoy the full experience of being here at the Pfister.

Have you been to the Artist-in-Residence and Pop-Up Gallery? Yes, yes you have. Oh, wonderful. So glad you enjoyed it. Take a look at all the rest of the art hanging around the hotel. We have an extraordinary collection.

I could arrange for a haircut at the spa? Or a massage? Ever have a pedicure? They’re great…try one sometime. Sure, next time when you have more time.

What about a late lunch? I can get you a table at Mason Street Grill. Oh, great, you’re eating there tonight. Sure, savor it until then, I get it.

Now, you say you’re on vacation, so how about an afternoon cocktail? I won’t tell. Our little secret. Might I suggest The Derby? It’s a little different than you might be expecting, but, boy, or boy, is it good.

Of course, that makes sense—wait for your friend and celebrate together. It’s always more fun when you have someone to toast. Would you like to have a seat in the lobby lounge then?

You would! Excellent! At the bar? No. How about a table? No table? Okay, well, there’s always the sofas.

The sofas—you want to sit on the sofas! Our pleasure. Please, please have a seat. Relax, let all the cares of the world wash away and please let us know if there’s anything you need. I’ll have a server bring you some bar snacks right away.

Oh, and, sir…just so you know, those sofas are pretty darned cozy. If there’s anything you need…

Sir, sir?

Nighty night.

Sleep tight.

All in the world seems good and bright.

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The Pinch Hitter

I have nothing but the highest of regard for the estimable talents of Dr. Jeffrey Hollander, the legendary pianist who reigns supreme over the musical gifts regularly given in the Pfister’s Lobby Lounge. As any of his fellow musicians might say, “That cat has some big chops.”

My fawning admiration for the Pfister’s king of the eighty-eight keys is great for sure, but I bow to my Narrator predecessors who have lauded and praised Dr. Hollander’s work in better words and phrases than I could even dream of weaving together. They’ve said it well, and anything I could add would only pale in comparison to their prose.

Instead, I would like to talk about what happens when Dr. Hollander decides he needs a night off. That’s when he looks to the bench and calls someone up to make sure the big leagues are expertly covered. I speak, of course, of the pinch hitter.

In talking about a piano pinch hitter, a little moonlight and music seems appropriate, right? I hope you’re listening to this on the Pfister Narrator podcast right now, because all of a sudden, you’re about to receive an ear massage.

There’s a distinct difference about the pinch hitter that stepped in for Dr. Hollander this past Wednesday. When you talk about this sub ivory tickler, don’t use the male pronoun. Switch it over to the she. Carolyn Wehner has recently joined the ranks of the substitute pianist list in the Pfister Lounge, a rogue’s gallery of the kind of swells you like to have around because they’re cool, charming, and talented as all get out. In doing so, Carolyn adds a bit of an X factor as well as an added chromosome to the time honored tradition of spanking good-time entertainment in our lobby lounge.

The night I was able to hear Carolyn, she was hitting all the cabaret classics. And her eye splits its time between the keys and the guests relaxing over a cocktail or evening bite. As a young lady came into the lounge, Carolyn shifted into some Disney tunes to herald her entracnce. In the middle of a set, she modulates between swinging smiley cabaret tunes and melancholy “pour-me-another-Joe” sort of sad sack ballads. She’s also got a bit of a vinegar wit, and she might sprinkle a ditty like the Mel Brooks’ classic “Springtime for Hitler” into a series of seasonal tunes with a devil-may-care effortless that ends up being a fun little Easter egg for anyone listening real hard.

But what does the pinch hitter think about the job she’s got to do? Modest as any second stringer might be, she’s a true team player.

“Why wouldn’t I love being here? It’s a beautiful room, and gorgeous instrument, and I get to back up a legend like Jeff Hollander. It’s heaven on earth.”

Dr. Hollander, you can rest easy. Carolyn and all your other pinch hitters are hitting it out of the park.

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My New Favorite Perfect

I have considered coloring the following story about Anu and Cindy with grandiose flourishes, unhealthy exaggerated “aw shucks” sort of exhortations, and adjective rich descriptions of two ladies reeking of the delectable charms of deeply realized kin and kithness.

But, instead, I’m going to just tell this lovely tale of friendship the way it should be told. Simply. Because it has become my favorite sort of perfect.

(And, yes, feel free to erase my first overblown paragraph from your memory…I promise it’s my last ounce of hyperbole for at least 400 words.)

Anu and Cindy were seated in the Pfister Lobby sharing a bag of potato chips. Each woman was focused on writing a postcard. They looked unrushed, calm, and serene. I admired the great smiles they each had on their faces.

The ladies were resting in the lobby on day two of a friendship retreat. Both women told me that they were 50-years-old, though that was hard to believe looking at faces radiating with health and warmth. They had come to the Pfister to celebrate this special shared birth year because of the bonds of their important and lifelong friendship.

The ladies explained that 40 of their 50 years had been shared as the best of friends. Seeing the light of love surrounding them as they sat together enjoying the afternoon, I imagined that they had to have been adorable when their bond was sealed at the tender age of 10.

Anu told me the past year had been a difficult one, and this time with her friend was a significant acknowledgement of looking forward. The outing had been arranged by Anu’s husband and children, and I understood that affairs of the heart must hold a special place within her family as I noticed the greeting she had written on a postcard that was headed back home. It read, “I love you infinitely.”

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Friends of 40 years tend to finish one another’s thoughts. Anu and Cindy filled in all the empty spaces that remained in the story that I found myself leaning in to hear. For 25 years, the friends had been separated by great distance. Their friendship didn’t miss a beat when they found themselves both living back in the same state a few years ago. They told me with moist eyes that for the past 24 hours, through moments of great pampering at the hands of the Pfister staff, every one of their thoughts had been fiercely connected to each other. And even after 40 years, they discovered that they were able to learn new things about the person sitting across the table. Friends forever, for sure. Forever discovering each other, a sure bonus.

I wanted to honor this great pair of friends by doing something remarkably against my nature—to leave them alone. As a writer I constantly want to know more about a subject, hoping to draw out intimate stories and surprising admissions. But my awe over the real and profound affection I witnessed in the simple and loving regard each woman had for the other made me thank them for their time and step away. Anu and Cindy deserved their space.

A bag of chips, two postcards, and friends for life. In a year of seeing and writing about all kinds of extraordinary at the Pfister, this could be the perfect I adore the most.

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Things Are Looking Up for Love

Long ago, decease when dinosaurs and rotary dial phones roamed the Earth and I had a thick head of hair and longed for a girlfriend, a buddy gave me some good advice about how to be more successful with the ladies.

“Chin up,” said my happily dating friend. “Nobody likes a whiner.”

His no nonsense advice worked. There is nary a reasonable explanation for why my wife, generic a woman of great intellect, charm and beauty really ever should have accepted my invitation to lunch, dating, marriage, and having a couple of kids other than the fact that I tend to smile a lot. As lives go, I’ve got absolutely nothing to complain about. I remember my good fortune by sporting an upturned mouth as much as I possibly can.

A “chin up” attitude to life has profoundly affected my relationship with all the people I come across in the course of a regular day. A smile and upturned eyes go a long way towards quickly letting someone know, “Hey, I think you’re great. Let’s get to know each other a little better.” For certain and for sure, I’m a big advocate of the chin up posture.

I have applied this head-in-the sky attitude to the full physical world around me. I like to remind friends and family that when visiting a new city or entering a building, it is always best to take a moment to look up. You will very often be surprised at gifts of whimsy that architects leave for great visual explorers in the world’s upper altitudes. I’ve caught goofy giggling fools’ heads cast in stone, soaring ornamental birds of prey, and ribald frescos gracing a ceiling just because I took a moment to arch my head towards the heavens.

It’s with that joyful upturned eye that I made a recent and most gratifying discovery in the already lustrous Pfister lobby. One of the ceiling cherubs bouncing on puffy clouds and celebrating our Salve motto is, and has been for several days, clutching a bright red balloon.

There are plenty of plausible reasons why a crimson colored Mylar balloon is stuck on the Pfister ceiling. We’ve just come off a busy Valentine’s weekend at the hotel, where lovers aplenty shared roses, glasses of champagne, snugs, and a happy helium balloon or 47. I can imagine that as some dreamy eyed sap reached out to take the soft hand of his or her beloved in a tender embrace, that love balloon floated from a once clutched paw now open for hand holding business. You know what they say, “A hand in hand is better than a balloon in the bush.” Or something like that.

Let’s put practical thinking aside for a moment, though, and just fixate on the fanciful. That’s what happens when you move your gaze from a lower perch to an elevated pose. You start to dream bigger. Everything looks riper and more full of possibility. You are suddenly able to imagine that its certainly possible that one of the cherubs in the Pfister lobby ceiling scene was gifted that balloon by some other dancing spirit with a mad crush.

Could happen, right? If you believe it, than anything is possible. Me? I’m just happy to look up and watch that balloon gently float above the crowds of happy visitors as the days go by. That balloon will probably have to come down to earth someday soon, but for now its opened the heavens and my heart in ways that make me believe there’s a little more love to go around an already glorious hotel.

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