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

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

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

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

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It was him.

 

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

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

 

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

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

The Gifts In Life Have Nothing To Do With Money

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

 

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

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

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

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


Too Old For Santa’s Knee

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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“What Are You Doing For Thanksgiving?”

 

The following people shared their Thanksgiving Plans:

 

Name: Ariana

Location: Artist studio

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Names: Tim, Carmella, Joe, Corinne

Location: VIP Lounge

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

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

 

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

“Yes, brother and sister.”

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

 

 

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

Location: The café

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

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

 

So He Traveled Around Basting Turkeys

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

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Harold, Laura, Michael and Roc.

 

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

“Wait,” I ask him, “THREE TURKEYS?”

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

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

 

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

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

 

Michael facilitated the whole forty-person Thanksgiving.

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

‘Twas the night before Pfist-mas

‘Twas the night before Christmas, health

and all through the Pfister

a few creatures were stirring,

some misses, some misters.

 

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The stockings were hung

without a single demand

and stuffed with the sounds

from the piano man’s hands.

 

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A few guests were asleep

in pillow-topped beds

with visions of lions

roaming in their heads.

 

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The barkeep in his black suit

poured sparkling nightcaps

ensuring those still awake

would soon take long naps.

 

Then out on the street

horns started blaring

some sprang from their stools

some stayed seated, here not caring.

 

And from the cafe windows

they were stunned by what they saw:

Saint Nicholas himself

get out of a yellow taxi car.

 

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His eyes, doctor how they twinkled

not a trace of the crabbies

and before going in

he triple-tipped the cabby.

 

He walked behind the bar

and went straight to work,

refilled everyone’s glasses

with a jolly wink and a smirk.

 

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The guests toasted his kindness

as he left the festive lobby

“Merry Christmas to all

and go back to your room if you start to feel wobbly.”

 

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From facelifts to world peace: What Pfister guests want for the holidays

A couple of nights ago, I went to the Pfister’s Lobby Bar and Blu and randomly asked visitors and guests what they wanted for the holidays.

“You know, if I were Santa or Oprah and the sky was the limit,” I said.

I was surprised, amused and touched by peoples’ responses to my question. Here is what they said. I may have omitted a couple that weren’t, ahem, appropriate.

Aimee: “I want to get my neck done. A mini facelift. Just the bottom half. It takes this and all this gunk out (touches area below chin and on neck.)”

Julie: “An extended holiday. Europe would be nice. When you work, a week off at a time is not enough. Maybe a pair of Jimmy Choos or two.”

Jennifer: “No more student loans for my husband and me.”

Lisa: “I would love it if the Property Brothers from HGTV came to my house and redid my kitchen and bathroom. Six-foot-five, hot twins come and knock out the work? Merry Christmas to me.”

Lori: “Just please make my family well.”

Bob and Gretchen: “We want our kids to be happy. We moved here from Virginia in September and they aren’t liking it. So we don’t want anything for Christmas except for our kids to be happy. Otherwise we are going to kill ourselves.”

Pat: “A brand new Jaguar. It has to have the hood ornament, though.”

Peter: “Honestly, it’s very morose, but I just want my friends alive again. In the last six years I’ve had so many family and friends die. I’m almost afraid of the holidays because of the visits and phone calls I can’t make. I’m sorry I can’t say something like Tickle Me Elmo. Also, I would like more people to be excited about live theater. If you see a good performance, it changes you as a human being. What greater gift could you give yourself or another person?”

Pfister Lion: “I would like people to stop climbing on me. And maybe Chef Frakes could whip me up a nice, rare steak.”

Jeff: “I would like 80 degree weather on a beach. I don’t like winter. Sorry.”

Trish: “I would like Hillary Clinton to be the next president. And for people to stop sweating the small stuff.”

Linda: “A really good bottle of Pinot Noir.”

Bonnie: “World Peace.” (Someone had to say it.)

Jason: “To graduate college. I switched majors twice, took a year off, so it’s been a long time – on top of working 40 hours a week. You get a little burned out.”

Beth: “A new phone. I just lost my iPhone in the snow. My purse strap broke and the phone fell out. I would also like the pilot for Harley Davidson to drop me off in a helicopter on the ski mountain at Banff in Alberta, Canada.”

Chris: “Being with family and friends. There’s nothing I need that’s material. Love. That’s really all I desire.”

Timothy: “I’m getting everything I want for the holidays. My parents are flying me home and I get to be at home for the holidays. It’s not even about Christmas, it’s about New Years, standing in a snow bank around a campfire in our little town square with the other 60 people who live there. They ball up a string of lights and actually have a ball drop. It’s hilarious.”

John: “I like cooking – so appliances and things of that nature. I’m in the market for a new blender. And gifts of food are great, too. My sister made our grandmother’s recipe for meatballs and put them in jars. Then she got baskets from the Dollar Store or Goodwill and filled them with the jars, noodles and a half of a loaf of bread. It was a present that everyone was talking about it. I guess I inherited my grandfather’s trait of wanting practical gifts.”

Santa’s visit!

After last Friday’s tree lighting ceremony, Santa had a  ton of letters to go through just from the children who visited him here at the Pfister (this on top of all of the other letters from across the world). As a testament to the talent that the jolly ol’ man has, and his adoption of technology in the digital age (or maybe it’s just a tech-savvy elf), Santa sent us a brief email along with photos of all the great letters he received from the children of the Pfister, and insisted that we share it with all of you!

Ho ho ho,

Hello there my good friends at The Pfister! I wanted to thank all of you for hosting yet another gorgeous ceremony kicking off the Christmas season at your hotel! It’s always a delight when I make my visits to Milwaukee to include The Pfister in them, and I love leading the countdown to the lighting of your grand tree!

Most importantly though, I love spending time with all of the great girls and boys who attend the tree lighting every year, and those who I get to see each Saturday in December during your “Breakfast with Santa” event.  Year after year, these kids continue to impress me with how smart they are, how exciting they are, and most importantly, with how good they’ve been.

I’ve already dropped my letters back to each of them in the mail, so they should be getting them soon (if they haven’t already), but I’ve enclosed photos that some of my elves helped me take of all the great letters that I got from the children at the lighting ceremony this year.  They were so well written and fun to read that I thought some of your friends might be interested in seeing them too!

I’ve got a busy month ahead of me, but thank you again for welcoming all the great guests along with myself and my lovely wife into your home this and every holiday season!

HO HO HO!

Santa


View all of the letters here!

 

Christmas with the Tamscins

I think most people who’ve hosted a large gathering will agree that not having to cook on Christmas is a gift in itself. Being able to celebrate with your family, minus the grocery shopping, prep work and dishes leaves you a lot more time for holiday cheer.

One thing was also particularly evident this Christmas day at the Pfister – the hospitality industry never sleeps. Staff was bustling around through the crowd to accommodate each and every guest –  over 500 for Christmas brunch in the ballroom alone. The lobby and the cafe were also busting at the seams with guests.

The Tamscin family spread out one of the plush velvet couches in the lobby, digesting after brunch. They looked right out of a J Crew catalogue – gorgeous, blonde, neatly groomed and amiable. Mr. and Mrs. Tamscin grew up in Wisconsin, but have been living in Arizona for the past decade or so. They  came back to see their parents and agreed that a Wisconsin Christmas feels much more normal than Christmas in the dessert.

“What was the most delectable thing you ate?” I inquired. In case you missed it, I went on about the brunch menu here. “Pork roast, leg of lamb and gluten-free desserts” they chimed back in unison.

I snapped a few family photos in front of the Christmas tree for them and talked journalism with their daughter, a college student, before they were on their way.

No matter how you celebrated your holiday season, I hope it was merry and bright. And may 2013 bring you and your family much health and prosperity!

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The Menu of Holiday Past and Present

There are all kinds of relics to uncover here at the Pfister Hotel. With the holidays in full swing, food comes to my mind right away.  In my home, food for any celebration is always given the utmost care and attention, like a newborn baby. As I was poking around last week, I hopscotched my way up the wide, coral marble steps in the lobby guarded by Dick and Harry (the bronze lions). Displayed inconspicuously, was the china used at Thanksgiving dinner in 1899 at the Pfister Hotel, complete with the dinner menu. DSC_0046

Blue point oysters, Little Neck clams; followed by consomme, whitefish, salmon, leg of lamb, filet mignon, young chicken, young turkey and haunch of antelope. I’m not quite sure about that last entree, but overall, that sounds like a way better spread than turkey, mashed potatoes and green bean casserole.

Luckily, this tradition of elegance and fine dining continues today with both Thanksgiving and Christmas brunch here at the Pfister. When I first arrived back in November, I marveled at the Sunday brunch service. Now, I see that truly, no one does the holidays like the Pfister.

Pfister menu

Only one other holiday tops the decadence of Thanksgiving, and that  is Christmas. At The Pfister, food is paramount.  I made a special trip on Christmas morning just to see the spread for myself. A runway of tables split the grand ballroom in two, piled high with every kind of delicacy you could imagine. It was a sight for the eyes, as much as a treat for the stomach. The tables intersected another horizontal row of smiling, white-coated chefs eager and willing to prepare you a fresh omelet or a stack of malted Belgian waffles.

Features from this year’s menu were: juniper berry grilled quail with sun-dried fruit wild rice, traditional rosemary leg of lamb with mint pan jam,  sea salt and herb crusted prime rib with thyme-garlic jus, Scottish salmon en croute with fennel, snow crab claws, shucked cold water oysters and lemongrass poached jumbo shrimp with cognac infused cocktail sauce.

(Is your mouth watering yet?)

Caramelized onion broth with parmesan croutons, citrus roasted chicken with rosemary polenta cakes, melted arugula, smoked tomato cream and winter squash ratatouille. I could go on all day…

The ballroom was packed with families smiling, laughing and enjoying their time together. I realized that although the food was spectacular, the more important function of it was bringing families together to share a meal and make memories on this most sacred holiday.