The Big Ideas Make the Small Moments Soar on Memorial Day

It is Memorial Day and I would like to take a moment to tell you what that has meant during the lead up week to this holiday at the Pfister.

Everyday when you pull into the Pfister parking garage, cialis a succulent smell of great cooking hits you as you open your car door. You are immediately happier, if not a little hungrier than you should be.

Early last week, a little girl sat dangling her feet in a chair across from check-in, stretching and striving to get her toes to touch the ground. She didn’t succeed, but I’m betting on her making it in a year or two.

Two friends reunited outside of the gentlemen’s rest room on the ground floor. Upon exiting the loo and bumping into his old chum, remedy a very effusive and smiley chap grabbed his friend’s cheeks and called him “bubbe.” And, yes, in all of his happy reunion vigor, he had thoroughly washed his hands.

During a mid-week lunch two ladies ate salads and chatted in the Lobby Lounge while also ordering lunch for two co-workers to enjoy when they showed up later. The older of the ladies departed before the others arrived, and the solo woman thanked her departing companion for picking up the tab.

In the Resident Artist Studio, Todd continued to dazzle guests and visitors as he added more stunners to his collection while his talented wife Renee contributed some beautiful concoctions of her own to the whole artistic aura in the building.

I took a moment to visit the alcove with the portraits of all the Wisconsin Governors and was quite taken by Walter Kohler, Sr.’s bow tie.

At the bar, Val has concocted a Bloody Mary mix that is infused with habaneros. A drop of it on the end of a straw is enough to remind you that you want to drink gallons of it for days on end.

A couple celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary found that the room that they were staying in was a tad too noisy for them, so the gracious staff found that it was possible to move them and upgraded them to the Presidential Suite because it’s the nice thing to do.

People looking for rest checked in for a calming retreat, regular Joes and Janes celebrating the special moments in life raised a glass and had a meal, and notable citizens, starlets and heroes found that being at the Pfister was a refresher course in modest grace done up right.

Memories were made without even trying. And it all happened against a backdrop of peace, freedom and choice.

In considering this Memorial Day and the Pfister’s place as a sanctuary built upon the ideals of patriotism and civility, I was taken by a passage I found in a 1910 edition of The National Magazine describing a visit to Milwaukee to celebrate the annual Field Day of the Boston Ancient and Honorable Artillery. The passage describes a grand reception of the Eastern visitors to Milwaukee, with dinners hosted by the Pabsts and greetings from Mayor Rose and other local forefathers and mothers of civic pride. The highlight of their trip, however, seemed to be their stay at the Pfister as described in these glad tidings.

Soon after the arrival of the company, the lobby was filled with gaily uniformed men who enjoyed themselves as genuinely as schoolboys out for a holiday. From the moment of arrival to the departure of the corps, there was always something to do.

Memorial Day is a time for us to reflect on all the glory and wonder that it means to be an American. Men and women throughout our nation’s history have defended and protected all the important tenets of our commonwealth, but also a child’s simple right to dangle her feet from a chair in a fancy hotel. The Pfister has thrived under a philosophy of “Salve”, a dedication to great hospitality for all,that embraces the best of our patriotic beliefs that we live in a nation that should be safe and full of possibilities for everyone.

Today, let’s all raise our own symbolic glass to those men and women who have done so much to make the idea of democracy flourish throughout the years. And if that glass is full of Val’s spicy Bloody Mary mix, I salute you.

Let Me Help You Do Your Crossword Puzzle Through Deceit and Unfair Play

While it is true that guests come and go from the Pfister on a daily basis, order there are also plenty of good souls who you can classify as Pfister regulars.

The formidable Barbara Brown Lee who has knowledge about the visual art world that could fill many volumes of thick books (my predecessor Anja Notanja Sieger tells Barbara’s story beautifully) is a definite regular in the Café at the Pfister.

Barbara has her own table. She has no need to look at the menu to know what she wants to eat. She’s on a first name basis with the entire wait staff, and jokes fly back and forth with them all.

Barbara also comes in daily, picks up the newspaper (the real paper one, not a digital version mind you—that’s how regulars play) and does the crossword puzzle. She’s a champ and finishing the crossword puzzle is something that is not a miracle occurrence for her, but rather the daily expectation.

Having taken to sitting near Barbara on my daily visits to the Café, I have happily formed a friendly relationship with her. In that collegial role, I have recently become one of the people Barbara might throw a clue out to for help while she’s doodling on the puzzle. I suspect sometimes that she doesn’t really need the help, it’s more like throwing a dog a bone. I for one slobber all over that bone.

I’m always willing to step up and help a crossword puzzler to fill in all the open boxes. I like to give my fellow man or woman an assist, and it’s certainly great to entrench yourself in the fabric of the regular rhythms of life at the Pfister by showing one of the regulars some love.
So I help Barbara finish her puzzles whenever she throws out a clue. And to do so, I cheat real, real bad.

I’ve certainly been able to come up with a few words and ideas from time to time on my very own. There was the day that the word DAHLIA (a Mexican flower was the clue) came to mind and I was able to help Barbara with a vexing opening. But I’m often at the Café writing behind my open laptop that is connected to the internet through the glorious available WIFI. The temptation to reach into the vast Googly network of research available to me without Barbara or anyone really seeing me do so is too tempting.

Barbara threw out the clue, “Two letter Kipling poem,” and you would be amazed at how silently and stealthily my fingers typed KIPLING into my keyboard to get a list of his works. (The poem is called “If” by the way, and it is a good one.)

I’ve not told Barbara of my cheater, cheater, internet eater ways yet. For now, I’ll try harder to keep my hands off the keys and keep my brain in the game. Being a regular means living by a certain code, and I’ll be damned if 17-across will bring me to my knees.

Join Me As I Begin to Salute the Women and Men in Silk and Lace Uniform

I anticipate that today I will begin what will grow to become a more public and frequent declaration of one of my favorite harmless infatuations.

Bridesmaids.

Oh, how I love a gaggle of ladies who have all agreed to wear the same dress and stand in front of a group of people.

And, okay, I can’t forget their male counterparts, the groomsmen. Guys, remember, clip-on bow ties just mean you haven’t tried hard enough (forgive me, I’m a bow tie snob).

The Pfister is a glittering nexus for wedding activity. It’s either the place your party gathers and stays at before a march down the aisle, or it becomes wedding command central for every element of your public declaration of love. It is literally possible to enter the Pfister for your wedding one day and never leave the building until several days and glasses of champagne later when a shiny new ring has been firmly placed on your left hand.

Everything you need for a good wedding experience can be found at the Pfister. There’s nothing wrong with the eye candy of the whole building with its classic architectural flourishes, of course, but there’s also a spa for pre wedding primping, plenty of bar space for having an ounce of courage before you make the big move into coupledom, and ballrooms are abundant for your grandmother to sit and finish her wedding cake while you and your wedding party do the Chicken Dance to really show the world you’ve gotten hitched. Plus, a post wedding day breakfast in the Café at the Pfister offers plenty of options for that one dude at every wedding who pushes it a little too far and needs to have a start of day meal that combines equal parts of greasy and gooey (a sure fire hangover cure according to my dear, sweet mother).

I have a sentimental attachment to the whole idea of weddings as they relate to the Pfister, because my wife and I stayed the night at the Pfister the evening after we got married on a Friday the 13th 107 years ago (I am very old as you can probably tell from my baldness and affection for eyeglasses that make me look like Swifty Lazar). I will always remember how gorgeous our room was and how quickly we fell asleep when we tumbled into our suite. I am ever grateful for that uninterrupted night of Pfister rest as it gave my wife and I the strength we needed to rise triumphant the next morning and finish off the catering we had done ourselves for a party for 200 of our friends…but that’s another story of things you should never do when planning a wedding.

At my wedding, I wore a suit and my wife wore an eggplant colored dress. My brother and I were the ushers, no one wore matching colors, and the bride taught a spinning class the morning before the ceremony.

It is perhaps because of this casual approach to pomp that I have since been slightly obsessed with the dynamics of weddings that really have some sort of structure and design. Don’t get me wrong, I love how I got married, but I always have secretly wondered what it would have been like to have a few guys stand next to me in matching bow ties while I said my vows looking at my dad uncomfortably stuffed into a tuxedo. It boggles my mind what that might have been.

It was with a giddy joy that I came upon a group of bridesmaids in the Pfister Lobby. Signing on to be a bridesmaid means that you are content with enjoying the one time in a woman’s life when wearing the same dress as another lady at a party is not only an okay social thing to do, but it’s sort of expected. In this case the chosen bridesmaid dress was a deep dark blue. The ladies had every hair perfectly in place and comported themselves with a grace that suggested they knew their business well.

I thought their dresses were quite fetching, but I am also constantly curious about how the ladies themselves feel about the clothes they must wear in service to the bride as her support network. I honed in on a bright-eyed lady named Ashley who I sensed was the organizer of the group. I asked her that key style question that haunts all bridesmaids: “So, how do you like your dress?”

Ashley smiled and graciously said, “I think it’s beautiful. I imagine I’ll wear mine again.”

I stood with Ashley and found myself in the center of the group of waiting lady attendants. I posed the question to the other women, and fellow bridesmaid Melissa said, “It’s okay. Certainly not the worst I’ve ever worn.” Like a career soldier, Melissa wears the colors in dutiful service to the bride. Melissa, we salute you.

I noticed that all the bridesmaids were wearing matching flip-flops. Ashley explained to me that the flip-flops were a comfort concession for later on in the evening when the whole bridal party planned to tear up the dance floor. Other heeled shoes were part of the uniform of the day, but it seemed that standing on ceremony in those for too long would have been a bit too much for all the ladies’ tootsies.

In the pecking order of my bridal party obsessions, bridesmaids come way before groomsmen. It’s not every man’s business to wear a tuxedo. I think the best gang of groomsmen are the ones who sort of fade into the whole party. They’re the ones who are fun lads, have all the right buttons done, and don’t faint from locking their knees during the wedding ceremony.

The fellas complementing the ladies in blue were all hydrating well sucking on water bottles when I asked for a picture. It was good to see that no flies were open as I asked for a photo.

Groomsmen extraordinaire.  But let's face it, second fiddle to bridesmaids.
Groomsmen extraordinaire. But let’s face it, second fiddle to bridesmaids.

I imagine these guys presented well at the actual event. They looked like they had all done a good workout beforehand and were serious, steely and focused on being a quiet and respectful set of bros who knew it was best to let the ladies shine.

Ashley pointed out to me that the bride had made her way into the lobby at one point and that I might want to talk to her about the big day. I smiled at Ashley, and nodded enthusiastically about that announcement, but I never thought to check in with the woman in white (who, by the way, was gorgeous and beautifully gowned). Honestly, I didn’t much care. It’s the ladies and gents who agree to have their clothes picked by others that really turn my head.

The Crumbs of My Shame

I just made a complete fool out of myself for the gazing eyes of the Pfister public, prostate and boy was it tasty.

Call it hubris, call it horrifying, call it so astonishing that you have to shake your head in my general direction. However you slice it, I’m relieved that I have worked through the inevitable so early during my time at the Pfister.

I didn’t split my pants or forget to zip my fly. No wardrobe malfunctions for me; nothing of that ilk. Instead, with no regard for my waistline, I consumed more bar snacks in the Pfister Lobby Lounge and at Blu than any self-respecting middle aged man should ever shove in his mouth.

I love lounging in bars, even though I’m a teetotaler. Though I don’t toss back drinks as I lounge, tadalafil I can eat bar snacks with the best of ‘em. I may be a little late to the party on this one, but, man, oh, man, there are some truly irresistible bar snacks lurking around the Pfister.

At the end of a busy day, I siddled up to a seat at the Lobby Lounge bar and, Mr. Excitement that I am, ordered a glass of ice water. I felt great as I sipped away at my cold and refreshing drink. There is nothing better at the end of the day than a nice crisp, clear, clean glass of water.

I’m lying, of course. Water is kind of boring. But it’s so good for me, and a man of my advancing years and baldness really must think about not drinking a 14th cup of coffee at the end of the day. Water is safe. No one has ever gotten into a bar fight because of overdoing it on H20.

Feeling like the model of health with my tasteless beverage, cialis I noticed a gentleman who took a place a few seats away from me and ordered two cocktails, one for himself and the other one for…well, for himself. Looking at the poor fella, it was clear to me that he had had a heck of a day. He was clearly in for the night and certainly seemed to be the perfect candidate to enjoy a couple of expertly mixed drinks before retiring to the comfort of his room.

I had chatted a bit with the bartender Katrina as I sat down, and with her great personality, warm heart and smile, she confirmed that everyone who works to serve the Pfister’s guests is delightful and charming. As the two-drink guy down the bar started to chat her up in a pretty friendly way, I was impressed with how she was able to redirect his cute come-ons into a fun conversation. It made the atmosphere at the bar even merrier than it naturally is on any given day.

It was a happy time, and my joy ramped up when I glanced down at the bar and saw for the first time the Holy Trinity of bar snacks in front of me. Triple snack choices were there before me in a silver container separated into three distinct bowls. In one, there was an assortment of crackers, in another, some sweet and salty nuts, and in the final, a mix of rice crackers, smoked almonds, wasabi peas, dried cranberries and other miracle bits so delicious that I almost faint thinking about them.

I reached into the bowl and grabbed out a tiny bit of the nuts. “Oh, my goodness,” I thought. “This is phenomenal.” My hand shot into the other bowls. Rapture. Bliss. It was heaven.

Something happens to me when I encounter a delicious snack. The rest of the world fades away. This is precisely what occured as I got cozy with the Pfister’s bar snacks for the very first time. There, in full view of the public, I showed myself for what I really am—a snack addict of the highest degree.

Mind you, I was sitting next to a man who had just ordered two drinks, seemed beaten down by the day, and was making goo goo eyes at the bartender. A stranger coming upon this scene might have thought, “Oh, poor guy…that’s a little sad.” But, no…this guy had pulled it together. He was suave, in control, not abusing alcohol, but slowly savoring his drinks while having a delightful chat with our bartender. I, on the other hand, was scarfing snacks like a dog and dropping crumbs all over my suit.

As I rapidly emptied the snack bowl, I sensed that the gentleman down the bar was looking at me. It was the sort of look you give a kid who has been given permission to eat all of his or her Halloween candy in one sitting. His eyes said, “Oh, little boy, how sweet that you can fit all of that into your mouth. Good luck to your poor tummy!”

I knew it was time to move on, so I gathered up the pen and notebook I had been writing in while I hypnotically ate all the bar snacks before me. I had to get away, and I was silently grateful that the man next to me seemed concerned that I might start eating my water glass. Crisis averted.

Now when you find yourself unable to stop eating all the delicious bar snacks in the lobby bar at the Pfister but don’t yet want to leave the Pfister, what’s the best thing for your no-will-power self to do? Why go to the Pfister’s other bar, Blu, for a Blutender Celebrity Bartender event where the tips support the United Performing Arts Fund.

I entered Blu and noted that a mime was serving drinks.

Someone to tell your troubles to over a drink who will never talk back.
Someone to tell your troubles to over a drink who will never talk back.

Try as I might, I couldn’t get him to speak. I tipped him a few bucks for his steel jawed silence, but I also gave his competitor, a stocky guy wearing a tutu, a few sheckles for style points.

I then settled in to enjoy the view and another glorious glass of locally sourced Great Lakes tap water. My smiling waitress swiftly and promptly brought me a tall glass of water and made me feel like I had just ordered a bottle of the finest French Champagne. She leaned in with a smile as she served me, and as she pulled back, I noticed that along with the glass of water, she had left me another surprise.  A fresh bowl of snacks.

Reflecting back on the moment, I realize now that the smart thing to do would have been to focus all my attention on the mime bartender, the mixologist in the tutu, the gorgeous view from the windows at Blu, or Greg Marcus who was taking a turn at the piano (who, by the way, has some real swinging chops). But the first step towards recognizing you have a problem is to admit that you finished another bowl of snacks in the Blu bar and then said, “Yes, please!” when your bright and attentive waitress offered you what turned out to be your third bowl of snacking delights.

The third bowl just about to be killed.
The third bowl just about to be killed.

My salty fingers and crumb-flecked mouth caught the eyes of the folks enjoying their tony cocktails as they basked in the glorious sun streaked early evening. It wasn’t my worst moment, but I pray that anyone who caught me doing damage to those snacks didn’t think that I was training for a professional eating competition.

This is all to say that the problem is mine, and I own it fully but will lick it somehow. For the rest of you enjoying the Pfister…dig in. Your belly will be glad you did.

My mother, the Green Hornet, and other notes of love

Are you still feeling the glow of Mother’s Day? It was a glorious brunch filled day at the Pfister this past Sunday when good sons and daughters showered their moms with well deserved adoration.

Me? I was out of town, there and I’m not 100% certain that my Mom even had a good cup of coffee.

Lest you think I’m a terrible son, you should know that I did manage to arrange an early Mother’s Day lunch at the Café at the Pfister with my mother Judy. She’s a rock star of motherdom, and I wanted to make sure I had at least bought her a salad.

I also had an ulterior motive for our lunch date. My Mom has a great Pfister story that I really wanted to hear told to me at the scene-of-the–crime, as it were. This story is part of my family’s legend and lore, and I’m sure for those folks who were around the day it happened some 35 years ago, it’s still a memorable moment.

My wife Paula (a woman who is in the Top 2 of all-time great mothers on my “Mother’s I Love” List) was also included in our celebration of good mothers bread breaking because she somehow had never heard the story, and I’m also just rather fond of lunching with her.

My mom, Paula and I settled into a table in the Café right along the windows. It had been years since my mom had been to the Pfister, and as we took our seats she looked out the window as if looking back in time.

“It happened right out there,” said mom gazing at parked cars on the street. “Right in front of all the cab drivers. They had a good laugh.”

Over the years I’ve thought and thought about my mom’s story, and I’ve considered how different endings could have changed the course of my life in some pretty drastic ways. We’ve certainly laughed about it all over the years, but listening to my mom tell my wife the story put the whole thing in perspective for me once again and makes me think that maybe my mom had a guardian angel watching over her as she exited our family car to have the most eventful day ever getting her hair done in the Janice Salon at the Pfister (which has now blossomed into the full service WELL Spa® + Salon).

Paula leaned in as my mom recalled the day long ago when pants legs were flared and the music of your life had a disco beat. I was about 10-years-old and my brother was a mere toddler as my mom dropped us at a neighbor’s house so she could drive downtown to the Pfister to get her hair done, taking a well deserved break from her job at that time as a stay-at-home mom. We were a one car family back then, and my hard working father took the bus to work everyday as a tax attorney in a downtown office building a mere few blocks away from the Pfister.

Our family car was an AMC Green Hornet. It wasn’t anything fancy, but it did the job of getting us around town.

Green Hornet_May 11 2015
The AMC Green Hornet. Style, class, distinction…meh.

It also proved to be reliable for shuttling us back and forth to visit our family in upstate New York, a trip we made for the Christmas holiday and summers. That car was steady, and on our family’s modest budget it was a more than a-okay set of wheels.

Mom parked the Green Hornet on Jefferson Street right across from the lineup of cabs servicing Pfister guests in need of a ride around town. She filled her meter, dashed into the hotel, and went into the basement salon for a nice hairdo tune up.

As soon as she got settled in her stylist’s chair, someone rushed into the salon and said, “There’s a car on fire across the street!”

My mom gulped hard, panicked knowing that she herself had parked right across the street. Hoping that she heard red or orange or even brown, she asked, “What color is the car?”

“Blue,” answered the town crier who had given the car- -on-fire report. “It’s a blue car, and it’s up in flames.”

Blue was a perfectly fine color as far as my mother was concerned. It wasn’t green, the color of our sweet little ride, so she relaxed believing there was no need for concern and sunk into the stylist’s chair for one of the stunning cuts she always received, classic looker that she has always been.

As mom made her way out onto the street freshly coiffed, the news of the burning car had almost vanished from her thoughts. That is until she pulled her keys out of her purse and was stymied about how to unlock our AMC Green Hornet that was now charred and smoking parked tightly against the curb. Whether or not a Green Hornet burns blue when it bursts into flames, there had clearly been a mix up in making the announcement.

The cab drivers nearby had been waiting to see who the poor sucker was who owned the car. They told my mom that the moment she had walked into the lobby at the Pfister, flames had shot up from under the hood of the car. Had this happened a few moments earlier, my mom would have had no need for a cut and shampoo but my brother, dad and I might have had a great and powerful need for another lady who did a damned fine job of keeping us all together. It was, to say the least, the best bad timing my mother ever had.

My mom tells of walking to my dad’s office and announcing to my father that the car had burned up and that the fire department had smashed the driver’s side window when putting the fire out. I can only imagine the look on my dad’s face when my mom showed up that day to tell him that their only car was out of commission.

But here’s what I love about this story and my parents pluck and determination—we kept that car. My parents did what they could with the means that they had, and I’m happy to report that we had that little AMC for another couple of years. It even made the trip to upstate New York for Christmas a few months after the blaze. Of course, my brother and I huddled under blankets and my dad drove with mittens because heat rarely came from the dashboard after the accident.

Paula, my mother and I chuckled about it all over our salads, thinking about how crazy it was for my mom the moment she made her horrible discovery. I’m gladder than glad that no one, most of all, my mom, was hurt back in the day. I’m also proud to say that I know that standing before that smoldering Green Hornet in the afternoon sun nearly 40 years ago, my mom’s hair looked amazing.

She had me at “cheeseburger”

Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for blondes, medical but something told me I was gonna love a certain couple of ladies who lunch.

You can tell just by looking at someone that they have that unmistakable something-something called soul. And you don’t get soul by shutting your eyes and putting on blinders. You get soul by keeping your mind and heart open to all the world brings your way.

The only way that Sally and Bea could have had more soul is if they had eaten one of their simply sensible shoes as a little luncheon amuse bouche. The smiling eyes on their full-of-life faces is what first drew me to their table. Their sass and charm is what kept me there.

“What are you eating?” I asked as they welcomed me over.

“Bea’s having a cheeseburger, look ” answered her friend Sally. “She’s staying with a vegetarian, so she really needed a burger.”

Bea added, “It’s a relative and I‘m treated so well when I’m a guest. But I really needed a great cheeseburger.” Bea’s clean plate confirmed the quality of the meat on the once present bun.

I considered grabbing the hand of this beautiful blonde with the smiling eyes who has high regard for cheeseburgers and rushing off into the sunset, but I remembered that I rushed off into the sunset with a beautiful BRUNETTE who has high regard for cheeseburgers when I got happily hitched years ago and just decided that Bea is one right proper dame.

The ladies were sitting tucked in close to the lobby bar fireplace. They were snug. They seemed as cozy as two friends can be. And there’s good reason. This wasn’t their first trip to the rodeo.

Sally and Bea tell me that they have been friends since growing up in the Washington Highlands area of suburban Wauwatosa several years. As a former Tosan myself, we trade memories of streets and lanes and neighbors. We’re a few years apart, these ladies and I, but something tells me that I would have done a fine job making a fool out of myself to win their attention if we had shared our youths together in the suburbs.

My jaw drops when Bea tells me the real reason she’s here. She is the sister of former Milwaukee Poet Laureate, Antler. Antler is a big deal for any writer, and frankly should be a big deal for any reader (there’s a link to follow in this post if you click Antler’s name and any reader worth his or her salt should do so right now).

Bea is in town from her home in California to attend the memorial service for Antler’s longtime companion and most recent Milwaukee Poet Laureate, Jeff Poniewaz. As Bea talks about her brother and the loss he’s feeling from his dearly departed Jeff, I can see Sally watch her old friend with the silent wonder you give to someone you really adore.

Sally and Bea will finish their lunch and then head up to the second floor where they’ll look for the painting that a long ago family member of Bea’s created. They’ll spend as much time as they can together while Bea is in town, and then they’ll spend as much time as they can on the phone always remembering that there’s a lunch in front of the fireplace in their future again. Sally tells me that she comes to the Pfister for breakfast a lot with her 95-year-old father-in-law and hopes that we’ll bump into each other again.

Hope springs eternal for me that I have a lot more Sallys and Beas in my life. And a few more cheeseburgers with world class blondes, of course.

She Pauses To Nibble On Her Pickle

“You have to travel with people who want to explore

otherwise everything is constructed, pills

warns Louise.

She pauses to nibble on her pickle,

and contemplate those frequent trips

she has made to visit her family in Barbados.

The last time she went down there with non-explorers

they whined every time they left the hotel, find

“Can’t we just take a cab?”

The non-explorers carefully followed their itinerary,

rushing through the locations of designated interest

and afterwards they would state,

“We’re done now. Can we go back to the hotel?”

Louise was appalled,

“American people traveling,

they don’t get it.”

She prefers to take it slow,

by walking or bicycling,

discovering the unknown island.

When she returned to Milwaukee she felt,

“I had to take another vacation.”

Just to counteract the energy she expended

on frustration with her boring companions.

“It costs too much to go to Barbados to sit in the hotel room!”

But I think she feels the same way about life in her own city,

having lived in Detroit, Chicago and Milwaukee,

she tells me with confidence that she has never seen a city

more segregated than Milwaukee.

“You can’t just stay in that little neighborhood you live in.”

She talks boxes

she talks fears and safety

that make the boxes

that we call our neighborhoods.

She believes that the east side of Milwaukee is the most diverse

but even then it is all young people,

not old.

“And brown-skinned people are less likely to be seen

walking along the lakefront,”

where Louise bikes on a regular basis

amongst countless light-skinned people

who do not notice the lack.

“I think people as they move around the city

they need to open their hearts and minds.”

She tells me the best way to expose yourself

to variety in Milwaukee

is to attend gallery night

and Summerfest.

“Here in America it’s like,

what race are you?

You can’t just claim one,

I always check the box that says ‘other,’

and write ‘black-Indian-Island-Scottish-French.

Nobody’s white, you’re light skinned.”

Louise pats the marble under her plate,

“I’m not black, this table is black,

I am brown.

But we just need to get past it,

we won’t in this lifetime

but I go to Barbados and Trinidad a lot

and they don’t talk that way there.”

She waves her French fry in the air,

advising,

“Go somewhere and get lost,

just walk and explore.”

DSCN1219
I take her advice.

 

DSCN1227
Louise.

 

Bar Hoping

Sean runs a trivia company out of Minnesota

called “Trivia Mafia.”

Currently there is only one bar

in all of Milwaukee

(the city with more bars than grocery stores)

where you can play Trivia Mafia

and that bar is Vintage.

Here is why Sean and his dad came down for the weekend:

to go bar hopping, cialis

or rather bar hoping

that they will get some Trivia Mafia installed.

At the moment father and son are playing chess together

in the Lobby Lounge,

remembering the Milwaukee of the father’s kidhood.

How he went to Rufus King High School on the west side

long before leaving for Chicago to get his doctorate in Economics,

becoming a professor in Massachusetts,

then the president of Macalester College,

the job that brought him and Sean to St. Paul.

Each week Trivia Mafia features six rounds of five questions,

four of them have a theme,

and two of them are just general knowledge.

Sean admits,

“I love presidential trivia.”

About 54 bars in the Twin Cities play Trivia Mafia.

Sean’s Mafia hopes to expand its presence

in Rochester, Duluth, Fargo and Milwaukee.

Sean’s father visits Milwaukee a lot

now that he has moved to Chicago.

He tells me that he just attended a conference

at Marquette University all about morality and psychology.

At the conference he learned how practicing mindfulness and meditation

has been measured by scientists to make you a better person.

“In a nutshell,

my economics training did not prepare me very well

for participating in that conference,

but it was a fascinating couple days.”

Sean went to the University of Minnesota

where he designed his own degree,

dropped out,

played music,

traveled nationally with a band called Heiruspecs,

then he finished his degree in music,

African American studies, cultural studies,

“and did the only thing you can with those degrees

which is run a trivia company!”

Aside from Trivia Mafia,

Sean also teaches a few classes at a music college

and plays bass for “Dessa.”

I ask father and son who usually wins at chess when they play.

Son replies, “Historically him, by a long shot.”

Father replies, “As my mental decline continues

and his maturation proceeds,

I think the tables are shifting.”

The supportive and proud father goes on to say,

“A lot of trivia contests are pure memory,

like ‘what was the name of the character this person played in that movie?’

but these guys are really good at asking questions

that make you think.

One of my all time favorite questions was,

‘who was the last president of the United States to wear a full beard

while in office?’

And you know, you’re not just going to know that,

but you’re going to think, well,

certainly by the time of Roosevelt

there weren’t any more full beards,

and the last one was obviously after Lincoln,

you know you’re in the late 19th century,

but the thing is you can make an educated guess,

it’s not like you either know it or you don’t.”

When I get up to leave, the mafia

tries to make an offer I can’t refuse:

“Tomorrow, Vintage, 5 ‘O Clock.

You can be on our team.”

 

 

The Lady and the Pirate

I meet an accountant. She tells me about her career hobby: her involvement with the Society For Creative Anachronism (SCA) where she is known as ‘Lady Aiofe Cno Capaill, recipe ’ which means ‘dark horse.’ What is the SCA? “Basically we do 600 to 1600 (a.d.) everything, from Middle Ages to the Renaissance period. We cut off right before the Victorian era starts.” The SCA has similarities to those Renaissance Faires you may have heard about where they speak in old English and wear period costumes. “Where we differ is that our events and fights are not choreographed. They are real time, in life. I have no idea what my opponent is going to be doing and I have to move and judge accordingly.” These real battles consist of traditional archery, heavy weapons fighting, rapier, trebuchets and siege weapons.

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Rapiers.
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A trebuchet.

 

The SCA is also devoted to supporting crafts such as fiber arts, weaving, metal smithing, spinning, hand sewing, coin making… “If it happened during the middle ages, we have someone within our 30,000 worldwide membership who knows something about it and can recreate it.”

 

Lady Aiofe Cno Capaill first became involved in the organization when she was 15. Now she is the archery captain for the Madison chapter, but no one calls it the ‘Madison Chapter,’ they call it ‘The Barony of Jararvellir.’   “We use live tip steel arrows in our practices. You can get killed playing this game.” I ask her if she has ever seen that happen. “I have come across quite a few people who have had some very close calls. We have a very large event in Pennsylvania that’s two weeks long.” Approximately 15,000 people show up for this every summer, ready to cast aside modern times for a good ole European middle age lifestyle. “I have seen individuals fall on the battle field from heat stroke. I have heard of heart attacks. I’ve heard of broken bones. Bruises are absolutely beautiful when you get hit by a rattan sword— even if you’re wearing two sheets of metal.”

 

At last year’s gathering Lady Aiofe Cno Capaill was listening to the frogs call when “a group of Frenchmen from France in full regalia stumbled past me singing drunk French songs.” That was a quintessential moment for her, and precisely why she goes every year.

 

Today she has opted for the Victorian hotel experience of the Pfister because she is celebrating her one-month anniversary with her boyfriend. She’s known him for years as a neighbor, but until a month ago they both “honest to God hated each other,” as he put it. Up until last month Lady Aiofe Cno Capaill assumed her neighbor, the very social, ‘good-with-children’ single male was actually a danger to her teenage daughter. “I thought he was a pedophile.” Hearing this explanation her boyfriend both groans and grins, “Thanks.” Lady Aiofe Cno Capaill defends her former assumption by describing herself as a mama bear. “Very overprotective and mean!” agrees the boyfriend. Then, a month ago, he came over to help her clean her house. While he was there they hit it off: talking some sci-fi, some 80’s, some 90’s, some steam punk, some reenactment…

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And that is how Lady Aiofe Cno Capaill began her romance with Berisat the Air Pirate.

This Is Not The Real Dance

Sisters came in from New York

to attend the wedding and to show off their Wedding Dance.

They are choreographing their piece right now

on the exquisite carpet that urges all who come here

to at least sashay at least slightly

even if it is so slight that no one notices

because you are an adult.

The younger sister warns me

not to succumb to any false illusions,

“This is not the real dance.”

I agree to accept the following staged movements as not real,

and then I stand back to accept them

whatever they are.

Their mother tells me that the older sister, who leads,

is enrolled modern dance classes

and the younger one, who follows but also improvises

is currently taking interpretive dance.

Yes, I can see the professional training

in their deep dips,

the poised regal avian gestures

of two students who absorb

what they are taught.

“This was not the real dance,” the younger sister reminds me,

after their performance,

but it was very good,

so I tell them,

“No, what I just saw was real.”

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Maia has come up from Chicago for the weekend. I am told she will be eight soon.  She wears a wristband because today she explored “The Streets of Old Milwaukee” at the Milwaukee Public Museum.  When Maia types, she does so with only her right hand.  Her Grandma watches her through the window of Todd Mrozinski’s new art studio in the Pfister. DSCN1179
Todd lets both Maia and I type in his studio. Maia does not want to leave the instant clack-word device.  She is writing a story.  Her mother has to call her three times before Maia gets to the part about “The End.”

By hanging out in Todd’s studio I meet a lot of interesting people, like Luis and Ruben from Los Angeles.

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Luis, Ruben and Todd.

Luis and Ruben are artists for Kohl’s Department Stores.  Their apparel design work has brought them to town.  Pictures of Ruben’s private art portfolio are kept on his phone. He does oil paintings.  The one I see depicts a motorcyclist.  He had to come in here to the artist studio and show us his work.  He also shows us his big bag of cheese. Tomorrow Luis and Ruben are going back home, and they are taking back as much gouda and cheddar of Wisconsin as they can fit in their suitcases.

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Bag of Cheese