A Haircut, A Soft Man From The Spa, A War Zone

Before.
Before.
After
After

 

I got an asymmetrical haircut at the Pfister’s salon. Carrie, medical my stylist said she had a barn growing up. It was mostly empty, so she and her brother would perform plays inside. Carrie had “an asthmatic horse named Blaze.” I didn’t know they made asthmatic horses, but Carrie tells me that it is a much more serious condition in horses. Poor Blaze had to wear an inhaler every day. Carrie had two other animals: a dog that she loved and a grumpy goat named ‘Butthead’ that she did not like so well. I have never been to a salon before, buy viagra so I was astonished to sit in the electric massage chair and get my hair washed.

I stared into the wall tiled with iridescent shells.
I stared into the wall tiled with iridescent shells.

 

“I don’t mean to be morbid, purchase but that would be a good place to die,” says a man who just got a massage in the spa. The relaxed man says that he, his mother and his girlfriend run a foundation together dedicated to the care and preservation of all 15 varieties of cranes. At a fundraiser last year he got to meet the world’s most famous anthropologist Jane Goodall. She sat at his table and gave advice to his girlfriend on how to proceed with their other fledgling project, a new animal care center. Goodall urged them not to lose vision and to keep going since there is no other organization in Wisconsin that currently spays and neuters cats as effectively as they plan to.

 

The man continues his conversation with me for an hour. I learn a lot about him including how he recently retired from a Milwaukee business his family has continuously owned since 1858, how retirement allows him to help produce off Broadway plays in New York, of years ago when he studied third world history in college, and that he’s “a soft man who cries a lot at movies,” preferring to watch animated movies over the action genre. He also tells me secrets in an auditorium compatible volume.

 

Eventually the man leaves the premises and another guy comes up to me wearing no expression on his face, asking me a lot of questions. His initial questions seem ordinary having to do about my role at the hotel, but then they get nosier: “Who was that guy you were just talking with? He was very open with you.” Only two kinds of grown people ask the things he wants to know, and guessing he’s unlikely to be a detective, I inquire if he’s a journalist. “Yes, my name is Barry Petersen and I am a correspondent with CBS, just back from Gaza. It was the worst war zone I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying a lot.”

 

Barry introduces me to his wife who is wearing a newspaper… a jacket made of crinkly fabric printed with headlines. Very convincing. Barry tells me that in Gaza “They tried to kill us all.” Now there’s a ceasefire there and Barry is safe inside the Pfister, finishing a cheese and fruit platter and about to have some carrot cake. Barry tells his wife that he had a contest with me to see who could find out more about the other. I did not know we were having a contest, but Barry definitively won. “I have always said that journalists are not interesting people,” claims Barry. He gives me permission to put him in the blog if I read five of his Gaza stories. I read of fathers burying children, 600 people taking shelter in a school and boys aspiring to become suicide bombers to get revenge.

This Was During The Depression

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DSCN6948Eleanore ate salad at the Mason Street Grill last Friday,

in honor of her mother,

a woman named Blanche,

“she was a honey”

born around 1892.

When honey Blanche grew up

she worked for a time making

the most popular salads at the Pfister

so great were her salads

that President Teddy Roosevelt

asked to meet his salad maker

so he could kiss her hand

and from that

Blanche learned how approachable lawmakers are.

Eleanore has frequently called them up too

to advocate on behalf of the poor.

Somewhere in the attic

Eleanore has the phone number

of former Senator Kohl

who by the way, I saw again

just the other day

in the lounge

so the next time I see him

I’m to tell him

Eleanore says “Hello,”

another word her father had to learn

after arriving from Poland.

“My mother was born on the boat,”

says Eleanore but soon changes her mind,

“No! She was born and then rode the boat.

She was sick all the way,

vomiting over the side,

I certainly give these immigrants a lot of credit

they were all getting sick not just her.”

Blanche’s first job was caring for a doctor’s child

she took the streetcar to work.

There were three children:

Eleanore’s older sister, herself and then Florence.

There was also her brother, Norman

who died at age three from infantile paralysis.

Eleanore was in kindergarten at the time

but had to drop out.

Even Buster could tell Norman was sick,

that dog would pick Eleanore up from school

and they would run down the alleys together

until they arrived at her house on Archer Avenue.

Across the street

was the butcher shop

the boy whose family owned the shop

was Eleanore’s playmate and eventual husband.

On the corner of Archer and Kinnickinnic was a big lot

owned by the plumbing store guy

who told the kids that they could play football

or baseball there

any time they wanted

and so they did.

Eleanore wore jeans,

played sports with boys,

a tomboy

unlike her sister, Florence

who would stand in front of the mirror,

primp her red-brown hair and announce,

“I am going to Hollywood.”

Anytime Eleanore had a date

she’d introduce the fellow to her family.

So many boyfriends dumped Eleanore!

Once they saw Florence

they started dating her instead.

“She was strictly a Hollywood type of person.”

This was during the depression

people ate horse meat,

everyone knew when Al Capone was coming to town,

they went to the streets to watch.

In 1931 there was an older lady with a hat

who owned “a big hunk of luxury,”

an electric car!

The kids used to line up and watch with mouths wide open

as she clambered the high step to get in.

Eleanore’s father planted a Victory garden for his family

where Cudahy High now sits

it was like a cemetery with different plots

for families growing tomatoes.

To this day Eleanore still gardens

at her nursing home in Oak Creek.

“I’ve had a beautiful life,

and these are all of my friends,”

Eleanore gestures at all five of her friends

also gardeners

who joined her to celebrate her life.

It’s not her birthday

she turned 96 last January

but on this August day she’s presented a birthday cake.

Someone pulls away her salad,

Eleanore protests, “I’m not done with that!”

but covers her mouth in shock and delight

when she sees a cake and one burning candle set before her

instead of singing we watch Eleanor eat her dessert

with the fire still going till the last bite.

a despondent coffee bean anticipating its consumption

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.

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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.

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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,

thissucksthissucksthissucksthissucksthissucks

c e a s e l e s s  

w   o   e   b   e   g   o   n   e

so present

so nipsy

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!!!”

Ah, the laughter of caffeine cliques

so fruitless now

that we all

die.

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He liked it!
He liked it!

I’ve Met The Following People

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.

 

A girl and her doll wear matching outfits and are about to eat a cookie.
A girl and her doll wear matching outfits and are about to eat a cookie.

 

“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.

 

A soccer team from Wales.
A soccer team from Wales.

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.
Two women with similar faces sit on the couch wearing sunglasses.

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.

 

Gazelle? Cheetah? Centipede?

While I rarely drink, today I’m yearning for a large glass of wine to glug.  Reason? It took fifty-eight minutes of vigorous scrubbing, scratching and horrifyingly dry squeaking to clean my teeth at the dentist.  My gums and psyche are sore.  After perusing the wine list I pick the New Zealand Kim Crawford white for no particular reason other than the fact that I have a crush on the concept of peaceful, sheep populated New Zealand. I take a slight sip and am immediately washed into an instant tipsy state. From this point on, I vow to cease all complaints for the rest of the evening.

“I haTe being barefoot.”

I didn’t say that, nor do I hold the opinion of the man who emphatically stated it. The proclamation peaks my interest however, and I want to know why being barefoot is so detestable. In my mind nothing feels as satisfactory as walking barefoot down a road of thick warm mud, except of course drinking this entirely salubrious grape potion here.

After listening to my neighbor’s conversation some more it becomes clear that they are discussing the topic of running. Barefoot running vs. conventional running.  One of the other men at the table repeatedly advises his fellow runners to “run for one mile as fast as you can.” I chuckle aloud  just thinking about all the people running around without a legitimate reason. Are they being chased by a hungry pickup truck? No, they are not.  Nor are they late for a very important date. They just run and it is hard. I have always wondered what animal runners imagine they are to keep themselves going when the going gets tough. Gazelle? Cheetah? Centipede?

I get up from the couch where I have been cackling to myself and approach the four men who run.  I stand there (with a slight, ever so slight sway) until I have their full attention and then ask what animals they imagine they are when they run and they look at me all confused.* Never have they considered what animal they are. Instead one says, “I just try and think about how painful it is.” The man who says that notices my frightened expression and adds, “But how good I will feel afterward.” Oh, okay. I guess.  He concludes, “I don’t think, I try to clear my mind. I try to be one with the world.”

Honestly, I will never fully get the phenomenon of self-torturous running.  Knowing this I float back to my spot by the fireplace where I have a decent view out the window.  Outside, a woman in black and lime colored athletic garb sprints past. She is thinking of nothing.  I now know this instead of guessing that she imagines she is a steed or a woodchuck on the bound.

*Similar to the confused look I gave my dental hygienist after she asked me where I get my ideas when I write. “Get ideas? Oh no, no, no!  Ideas come constantly. Uninvited. They are not mine.

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Panther? Shrew? Mastodon?

Come Here You Big Lug

One suited man sees another suited man.

“Come here you big lug.”  Exclaims the other man, decease “What do you mean ‘a big lug?!’”

The two of them proceed to do the manly anti-hug where they grab each other’s arms and smack each other on the back. The smack is so loud it echoes in my ears. Smack, smack, smack…

DSCN6439A man swaggers through the lobby wearing a vest and a brimmed cap of matching black leather. Is he a patrolman or a rock star? A white guitar case sits atop the bell cart. The man swaggers past again and I observe that it is the saunter-swagger of a rock star, help not a cop. There is a difference.

A woman who is on a working vacation walks behind me down a corridor. She says “Hello,” very kindly. I turn around to say hello back to her and I see she is on a cell phone. She asks me how I am doing and so I turn around, and notice again that she is on her cell phone. Fooled twice! “That’s okay, advice ” I tell her in my head, “I’m good, very, very good.” She says, “Awesome.”

There is a man who comes for a drink at the lobby bar about once a week. He is a cook and tells me he prefers to eat his food slightly charred from the grill. Even lettuce! At the kitchen where he works (no, he’s not a member of the Pfister staff) they won’t let him grill his lettuce, even though it only takes three seconds. I ask him about other vegetation that he might like to eat grilled. Pineapples, yes. Apples, yes. Cilantro, yes. Blueberries and strawberries? “Hmm, not yet. That’s a good idea though; I should try that this weekend. Perhaps I should grill the berries first and then make them into a syrup for my pancakes.” He will grill the pancakes too because “Anything that you cook on a stovetop or range can also be grilled, all you need is aluminum foil. It gives it a bit of a metallic taste, but you can do it.” He has been grilling on an open fire since he was ten years old.

The ice is being shoveled behind the bar. If I heard that sound alone, I would guess there to be a whole train boxcar of just ice behind the bar. It probably takes a whole boxcar to sustain the thirsts at this lobby oasis each day.

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“I traveled 86,000 miles with my dog,” says an author thrusting her business card into my hand. Jean Whatley doesn’t have time to chat with me, she has a private meeting in the lounge, but she wants me to inform you, the readers of this blog of her new travel memoir, “Off The Leash.”

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Northwestern Mutual is holding a conference. The attendees look like members of an ethnic tribe. They sport the longest multicolored lanyards I have ever seen. I talk to a few and they say that each year, they earn a new distinction in the company and that corresponds to receiving a new colored tag for their lanyard. You can tell who the tribal elders are: their lanyards nearly touch the floor as they walk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Giardiniera

A yoga instructor and a fashion designer walk into the Pfister. They are from Portland. This is not a joke. Well, generic maybe it is. Kimberlee and Ashley pose with baby Quinn in front of the painting of kittens in a basket. Quinn wants to hold my hand (and her mother’s hand) so that she can walk down the hallway backwards. They inform me that walking backwards is a metaphor. Everything is a metaphor. I already observed and wrote about this (we think alike!), ed but they point out to me how the marble steps look just like salami. The meat steps look downright appetizing though they are vegans. “They just need to add some olives to these steps.” I think about the sandwiches my Italian-American mother packed for me as a kid and remember that there is an olive relish that tastes really good with this kind of salami (I have determined the steps are made of capicola my mother’s favorite salami, not genoa which is my favorite) but I cannot remember the name of the relish.

Hey, I need a refill on this tea I am drinking.

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In the café a woman wears a watermelon t-shirt and dines upon a fruit cup. On the table beside the fruit cup is a banana. Her sweater is pink and looks ripe. Her name is Donna.  She lives in Chicago but has come to stay at the Pfister every summer for the past 29 years to attend Festa Italiana. The woman is FBI, full-blooded Italian, third generation. She doesn’t know the language and has never visited Italy, but she does know that the fried calamari at Festa is delicious. But at Festa even the nightly fireworks are delicious.

Every summer she and her family will rent 3 or 4 rooms at the Pfister. This year her two daughters and their families will join her. A total of nine grandchildren will be present. To amuse the kids, Donna buys unusual graphic t-shirts (such as the watermelon shirt she currently sports that has tiny cartoon ants crawling on the sleeves) at Festa and only wears them once a year when she stays at the Pfister.

Donna’s husband is a retired restaurateur, but she says he is running a stand at Festa that sells military sweatshirts (he donates the proceeds to the USO), stuffed olives and giardiniera. GIARDINIERA! Hey, that’s the name for the stuff that I was thinking of a half hour ago! If you are like me you are wondering if the restaurant that Donna’s husband owned served Italian cuisine. It did not. He owned Moon’s Sandwich Shop, a popular inner city Chicago diner that has been around since 1933. It has 18 stools, a line of people waiting to sit on those stools and closing time of 2:30p.m. “It looks like a broken down pawn shop, but they make everything fresh everyday,” Donna reassures me.

La Belle Fleur et Le Verdant

La Belle Fleur (the beautiful flower), is a pear infused vodka recipe that Katrina is following today. She is still deciding on her own name for it, but knows she wants it to be French. She is teaching herself French from an application on her phone.

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Trois de poire (three pears) is the traditional name of this drink.

But what if she were to name it ‘trios de poire’ because there are three different pear varieties in it.

Or fleur de poire is elegant…

ménage à trois?

Someone at the bar declares, “I like that one!”

Fruit infused drinks are a new thing at the lobby lounge bar.  Recently Katrina made Rock & Rye, that’s bourbon infused with sugar candy, bitters, St. Germaine Elder flower and maraschino cherries. My goodness.

 

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She is so excited about the three-pear flower beauty infusion she tosses the bottle of vodka from one hand to the other as if juggling.

Katrina has been steeped in the art of bartending for six years and has a talent for knowing “within 30 seconds” what drink would match a customer’s personality.

What about me, Katrina? “I would guess you would be interested in a craft cocktail vintage style, or a French 75. You could be easily coerced into something with fruit forward or champagne. Maybe champagne cocktail, but it depends on the scenario. On a hot day after you’ve been walking around I think you would be more apt to The Verdant, a gin drink of a bright green color that contains chartreuse and some other secret ingredient.

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Katrina reads aloud from her potions book.

What is Chartreuse? Some green liqueur that only Carthusian monks in France can brew. It contains 130 different herbs and flowers from a secret recipe. The monks have been making Chartreuse since 1737. Katrina lets me sniff the bottle when I ask.

It took Katrina a long time to figure out the name for the Verdant, a drink whose secret ingredient (well, formerly secret) is fresh celery juice.

Other names she considered for it:

Flora’s elixer

Persephone

Garden Party

Verdant Valley

She has even more names that she considered listed on her phone.

Thank you, Katrina for providing a screen shot of your telephone's list.
Thank you, Katrina for providing a screen shot of your telephone’s list.

 

Also listed on her phone are all the songs she wants to sing at a karaoke night so that she will be prepared when she next finds herself in a karaoke situation. Included on her list are “I Would Walk 500 Miles,” and “Light My Candle.” She does not like it when people sing “Don’t Stop Believing.”

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How Young Paul Got His Name

One day I plop down on the couch near a woman and her family because they look like they are having a riotous conversation and I want in.

The woman is having tea with her former boss and her children. She cackles at my idea of him as the father of her children. “He’s actually the son I gave up for adoption many years ago.” Ah! That was my other thought, the significantly older brother to Jennifer’s teenage children. But no he’s not, he’s just her old boss. When Aaron, the old boss gets up to use the bathroom, Jennifer tells me, “I don’t know if you’re seeing anyone, but he’s available.”

Jennifer and her kids live in North Prairie. I ask, “Where’s that?” It’s in Waukesha, a suburb of Milwaukee. Her daughter, Joy says, that when they took a cruise of the Mediterranean she just told everyone that she was from a place near Chicago. “Overseas all people know about America is Chicago and New York,” Joy says matter-of-factly. Jennifer looks with surprise at her daughter, “Not L.A.? Don’t they know about L.A?” Joy says no, she knows what she knows. She’s been around the world and is well-read. She wants to write young adult half fantasy half sci-fi novels when she grows up. Jennifer pipes in, “Post-apocalyptic so your mother will read them!” Joy doesn’t want to write post apocalyptic, there is enough of that already. “Why not pre-apocalyptic?”

To me, pre-apocalyptic means non-fiction coverage of current events, just like I am recording in my notebook right now. “Maybe one day you will be the Pfister’s Narrator too.” In response Joy says something very non-sequitur, she says, “I think the world is based on Hindu philosophy, resting on the back of four elephants.”

Paul, Jennifer’s other kid is very different from Joy. “Paul is very mechanical,” explains his mother.   Paul was named after Jennifer’s Austrian grandfather, Pius (pee-use) who hated his name. He was always the only one around named Pius, so he changed it to Paul at the start of his American life. He got a job at a shop on Mason street right by the Pfister. He sold wigs, cut hair and gave permanent waves. “They charged $1 a curl. That was really good money. Women would get 80 curls and that was rent back then,” notes Jennifer.

Another thing of note about Paul’s great-grandfather Paul: he pretended to be French when he moved to Iowa because it sounded classier. Classier than to be from Austria where he remembered a loaf of bread literally costing a bushel of money. At one point Paul’s cousin in Austria was captured by the Americans and transported to captivity in the states. Paul visited his cousin until the war was over and his cousin was allowed back home.

The conversation turns to explore Jennifer’s artistic streak, “I think I got it from my Uncle Paul who was a carpenter. He made signs and polished stones.” He learned how to polish stones shortly after joining the army. “He also got married right away so that he could get a toilet to himself. He couldn’t poop with the open toilets.” Jennifer went to art school at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design back when it was in a different building. “They had an elevator that would get stuck once or twice a week for like an hour because those Otis guys were sloshed.”

Jennifer, her boss and children consent to me taking a group picture.

We Are The Larvae Eaters

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“Next year we we’ll have 120 pounds of honey coming outta the two hives, rx ” says Brian Frakes, Pfister head chef and as of this year, beekeeper. He takes me up to the roof; where 24 stories above the ground the bees await their sugar water refill. He lights the burlap in his smoker and climbs into a suit. I ask him how long the smoke sedates bees and he replies, “Twenty minutes. My understanding is it doesn’t actually sedate them; it stops them from being able to do their panic communication with each other. Therefore sedating them.”

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So far he’s only been stung once and yes, hospital it was as bad as he feared, “I did not like it. I was more upset with myself because it was my fault. I was by myself and he was riding on the back of me, I didn’t notice him and I pulled off my suit like a sweater.” When Brian went out of town for two days one of the banquet cooks, Marco suited up and fed them “Which was very brave of him, because no one is jumping out of their skin to mess with the bees.” Brian’s trick for checking if there are any bees on him when he is up here alone is to “Look at my shadow and see if there is anything flying around.”

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He points to the hive on the left, “These bees are very kind and very productive, and that’s why they are further along. But these bees on the right? These bees are always mad!” The same variety of bee resides in both of the hives but like most families each one is a little different. Which family did the bee that stung him come from? “I don’t know it was someone that was outside, but I’m going to say yes, the bees that stung me came from the mean family. Let’s not say mean, they are very aggressive, protective.”

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Lifting the cover off the protective family he warns, “They are possibly coming to attack you.” I step back, and indeed, a bee flies straight towards me, gets near my head and then hurdles back to its hive. Will the protective bees’ future offspring be as passionate? “Just because grandma was nuts doesn’t mean all her children will be.” Brian scrapes the excess honeycomb. “Wax. That’s the bee business. They need a place to make a lot of babies.”

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With the recent Pfister bee media frenzy, Chef Frakes put some of the honeycomb into a clear container so that the reporters could get close to it. Later he stored the container with the comb in his office and was watching as one of the bee larvae came to life. “It finished the larvae process and turned into a bee in one of these containers rather than in the hive. It was born anyways! Pretty incredible. It gave me chills.” He also ate one of the unborn larvae just to be weird and primal. “It was creamy and a little crunchy. Not overly pleasant, but not horrible either.”

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I ask so many questions about his larvae eating that he invites me to try one that he’s been keeping in his office. It’s cold and wet on the tongue, and reminds me of buttered corn-on-the-cob.

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