PLUME SERVICE: Bringing the Art to Life

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If these walls could talk…

Over 80 Victorian paintings and other art pieces grace the walls of The Pfister Hotel, an impressive art collection worth more than the original cost of the Hotel in 1893.  It is considered to be the largest collection of Victorian art in any hotel in the world.  Each art piece captures people, animals, and nature, sometimes posed, sometimes in medias res, in the middle of some exquisite, or mundane, action.  Very often, the carved and gilded frames are artworks in themselves.

On Saturday, November 12th, from 12 noon to 2:30 pm, you will have the opportunity to join me for PLUME SERVICE, the first in a series of free writing workshops that will have you not only staring intently at the paintings but stepping into them (well, not literally–I don’t think the Marcus Corporation would appreciate that!) and imagining what it would be like to exist in their worlds.  If not stepping into them, then stepping back and contemplating the bigger picture, the world just outside the frame. What’s to the left and the right that the painter’s eye has cropped out?  What’s happening above or below?  What is that figure looking at beyond the boundaries of the canvas and wood?  If not stepping into or stepping back, then stooping a bit closer to the oils and watercolors to notice details you might have missed.  If not stooping to look, then bending an ear to listen, perhaps imagining the taste of a fruit, even breathing in deeply through your nose to smell the salty air (no one will judge you!).

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What is Diana telling to her women at the beginning of the hunt?  What are the two women talking about at the altar of Athena?  And what is going on in the head of the nude figure at the edge of the pool?

The paintings offer us intriguing compositions and perspectives and colors, but since Domenichino, Bompiani, and Mayer are no longer here to give us the scoop, we’ll become art (and artistic) sleuths uncovering the stories these paintings tell and expressing them in our own words, through flash fiction, poetry, and other written forms.

 

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I want to know how the girlfriends in Scadrone’s painting met, what’s going to happen after the chianti is bottled in Giachi’s, and who loses Lesrel’s card game.  I’m curious to know the words to Peluso’s romantic serenade or how the woman in Grolleron’s piece is going to get that man to leave. her. alone!

Speaking of which, there are plenty of, uh, amorous scenes–I’ve never seen someone so happy while cutting an apple.

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I also wouldn’t mind hearing your vivid descriptions of the horses in Schreyer’s “The Wallachian Post-Carrier,” the title of which fails to capture the raw intensity of hoofs and sweat and earth.  Or of Lindsay’s “Mahomet,” the noble lion (who actually looks a bit perplexed), and even of those too-cute kittens in a basket by LeRoy.  Oh, and the monks–very amusing!

I envision the pieces we write together becoming placards that will accompany the paintings on the walls and, quite possibly, becoming audio recordings that will be available to guests who would like to take an art tour.  Imagine: your words becoming part of the life of The Pfister Hotel.

So please join me on November 12, bring your favorite notebook and writing utensil, and prepare to bring the Pfister’s art alive in a new way!

You can RSVP by emailing me at hotelnarrator@gmail.com or by visiting the Plume Service Facebook Page.

NOTE: The December workshop will be on Saturday, December 10.  We will continue our work of storytelling.  You can certainly attend both–there is a lot of art!–but you do not have to attend the November workshop in order to join me in December.  And stay tuned for early 2017 plans!

Wine Is on My Side, Yes it Is

You may or may not have heard that there is a group of AARP eligible musicians playing in Milwaukee tonight at the Marcus Amphitheater. And lest you think that I’m hobnobbing with Mick Jagger, sales Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ron Wood right now, fear not. Those cats are too cool to hang out with some bow tie sotted slob like me.

But given that tonight marks the real rockin’ start of summer with the Rolling Stones in town and is the occasion for the biggest concert of 2015 in Milwaukee so far (I say so far because I for one am holding out hope that these reports of the death of Frank Sinatra from years back are merely a myth and he will rise again and surely kick off his concert tour in Milwaukee), purchase I thought it might be nice to share with you the story of one Chris Ganos.

You’re probably scratching your head saying, “Chris Ganos? Did he play tambourine for the Stones?” No, I’m afraid the Ganos name will never be found on the liner notes for Sticky Fingers or Let It Bleed. Ganos’ talents were more fluid. Specifically the fluid we all know and love called wine.

Chris Ganos was one of the first wine stewards at the Pfister, patient and he took his job seriously. He would work all day and then come home at night and study books on wine, fine-tuning his sommelier smarts. He worked with blinders on, committed to being the best he could be, offering guests at the Pfister an elevated and spectacular experience savoring the fermented grape juice. For Ganos, wine was what mattered, and in certain ways his world was limited to bottles, corks and glorious stemware.

Ganos lived a simple life. He was not a man of airs and for years he even took the bus to work everyday until he was convinced that it was okay for a family member to drive him. Approaching his job with dignity, he respected a higher code of hospitality and always worked to make guests feel like they were being treated like royalty while also helping to maintain a high level of professionalism in his place as a Pfister hospitality provider. He was a guy who cared, and he was careful to make sure that nothing went awry on his watch.

A day came during Ganos’ service when his mettle was tested. A group of men presented themselves and started to order some varying selections of wine. Their palettes were refined, and that impressed Ganos. What also impressed Ganos was the major tab they rang up as each new bottle was summoned forth. What was a little less impressive to the steward who took his job so seriously was their hair cuts.

Now remember, Ganos was a man who felt that the proper balance of refined service and hospitality with heart was essential. It took steely focus to do his job with distinction and to reach for the pinnacle of stewardship with each newly uncorked vintage. With that sort of resolve and dedicated drive towards a good experience for customers and hotel at stake, Ganos felt he had to discreetly bring the men to his boss’ attention.

“Boss,” said Ganos. “I’m a little concerned that those gentlemen won’t be able to pay their bill.”

“What?” said Ganos’ boss. “I don’t understand.”

“They’re ordering very good wine, very expensive stuff. I don’t mean any disrespect, but I think they’re a little shady looking.”

Ganos’ boss chuckled. Ganos was a top performer, he had studied hard, and he was an honest and gentle soul. But what he possessed in love of wine and vaunted service, he lacked in good old rock n’ roll know how.

“Ganos,” said his boss, “don’t you know who those boys are. They’re the Rolling Stones.”

Just goes to show…never judge a man by the cut of his bangs.

Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer, you know

I make it a habit to never ask another man in a suit if he’s packing heat. So far, sovaldi this choice has served me very well.

But it was hard, I mean REALLY, REALLY hard not to go up to the guy in the suit I noticed on the stairs overlooking the lobby and say, “Hey bub, are you packing heat?”

It wasn’t a set of steely eyes or some Derringer shaped bulge in his jacket that piqued my interest. It was the coiled cord snaking up his neck to an earpiece that was obviously feeding him key coordinates on the safety of our nation that caught my eye.

The fella looked like he could have been a Secret Service agent, pills save for one small item. He was smiling and looked like he was actually having a good time. That sort of ruled out anchorman, too, as I couldn’t recall the last time I had seen a real live anchorman in the flesh without a desk between the two of us. And this guy’s smile was so nice; not painted on like a slick newsreader.

As I watched the man I assumed was clearly securing life, liberty and happiness for all of the Pfister’s guests, I noticed that he was not alone. There they were, perched on the stairwell, cheap looking over the balcony, an attentive smattering of men and women sporting earpieces, sartorially suited as a crack crew of defenders of justice.

I once heard the President of the United States speak, and I was so close to him that I could have just about reached out and pinched his cheek to say, “Nice speech!” I’ll never forget the moment that the speech was done and the President left the podium to make his way to a waiting car, or airplane, or submarine or whatever it is POTUS travels in these days. He was flanked by a team of guardians-of-goodness in their suits with their earpieces, and as they made their way past me, I found myself leaning into the superstardom passing before me. I felt the seismic power of someone who lives to serve and protect as an arm came out and blocked my lean forward. The lesson that I learned that day is that when you see the earpiece, you can be pretty sure you’re dealing with a leather tough man or woman and its best to leave them alone to be the heroes that they are.

But, I’m a curious lad. So I couldn’t leave well enough alone. It was this sense of curiosity that drew me to the 7th Floor ballrooms of the Pfister as I noticed lots of comings and goings of men and women in suits, including a few earpieced toughies. I’m a suit and tie kind of guy myself, so it was as if I was being summoned to join my tribe as I entered the elevator that would take me to the ballrooms.

I exited on the 7th floor and as I wandered the halls, I noticed a display that the organizers of the event had set up featuring pictures of Abraham Lincoln. There was one of him with his young son on his lap, a picture of a gathering of people listening to him speak and an image that was labeled to be his final portrait before being assassinated. Whatever was going on in the ballroom at that moment, these folks clearly loved our nation’s 16th head of state, and that was all good by me.

I glanced up from the display and there he was, the earpiece man who had first drawn my eye. He was looking at another part of the display, studying the images with a casual intensity.

“Excuse me, I couldn’t help but notice your ear piece.” It wasn’t my best opening line, but it was probably better than succumbing to asking if he was actually packing heat.

He looked at me intently, trying to size up whether or not I was a threat to international peace. I clearly passed some sort of “too nerdy to be a threat test” when he smiled back at me, willing and open to chat.

He introduced himself to me as Derek. Derek explained that he and the rest of his crew were at the Pfister to provide security for the Annual Meeting of the Seventh Circuit Bar Association. With absolute discretion he explained to me that there were “important people” at the gathering, and that the security he and his colleagues were providing was an added measure of comfort for all the lawyers in attendance. We shared a look that said, “Yeah, I know lawyers get a bad wrap, but you saw those pictures of that entirely noble dude Abraham Lincoln, and remember he was a lawyer, too.”

Derek tells me that he is pretty impressed by the grandeur of the building he’s gotten to spend time in as a security presence. He tells me hasn’t been to a ton of nice hotels in his life, but is clearly taken in by today’s job site. Derek also says he isn’t very well traveled but mentions that he has done some work in Sierra Leone, so maybe Derek and I have a different definition of being a globetrotter.

Another suit wanders over to us as we talk. His earpiece is a little different, a little sleeker, but somehow a little more in your face. I introduce myself before he gives me the, “Can I help you?” question, and he smiles brightly and tells me his name is Wayne. I ask Wayne if he works with Derek, and Wayne says with a smirk, “No…he works for me.” Hats off to the Seventh Circuit Bar Association for hiring the friendliest security team around.

Wayne leaves Derek and I to finish our talk, as he moves on to other business. Though Derek has only spent a short amount of time at the Pfister, he has quickly grown attached to its history. There is one particular aspect of the hotel that has really captivated Derek–the Pfister time capsule. Derek asks me if I know what’s sealed in the time capsule and I shake my head, as I have no idea myself. The time capsule won’t be opened until 2093, and Derek clearly wishes he could be there to see what’s stored inside.

We shake hands as we depart and Derek jokes about how we should figure out a way to be around in 2093 for the opening of the time capsule, but we both know that’s going be a tough one. Guys in suits, the ones with or without earpieces, have a shelf life. I wish for Derek’s sake that his curiousity could be satisfied, because he is truly a good guy and he undoubtedly packs a lot of positive heat.

When you look at some modern art it can stump you.

Barbara has been giving tours for the Milwaukee Art Museum over a half century.

“When I first came to the museum, there were eight employees.”

This January I started my fifty-second year.

I retired when I was 50,

but I’m still going in,

teaching and working

‘cause I don’t want to sit at home.

I train the docents

and they tour about 80.000 people a year.”

She’s taken 75 trips to Europe,

“I counted it all up when I retired.

England was the first country I went to.”

Last year she took her docents to Belgium and Holland.

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And she made her own dress.

 

Being an art museum docent is hard.

“People expect you to know everything.”

When you look at some modern art it can stump you.

“Ellsworth Kelly’s “Red, Yellow, Blue,”

that’s one people have a hard time with.

Red, Yellow, Blue II

But you have to understand,

it was hand done,

he mixed the colors, that yellow

is the yellow he wanted,

he copied it from nature,

like a bird he saw,

he didn’t just go out to Menards!

How can I make these people understand?

Their grandchildren can’t do it!

When Kelly was in the war

he asked to be in the camouflage department.

Once in a while I’ll be lucky

and a student will be in

Ellsworth Kelly camo.

I’ve met Ellsworth Kelly several times.

He’s a very kind person,

a little on the shy side.”

 

What are Barbara’s favorite areas of art to talk on?

“American History and Decorative Arts

furniture, silver, ceramics.

My favorite is probably seventeenth century colonial.”

 

“Over the years a lot of people have visited Milwaukee

and I’ve taken them around,

Madame Chiang Kai-shek.”

(I hadn’t heard of her, so I looked her up,

former first lady of China, 1948-1975)

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“David Hockney, I loved him.

“I loved this young man who is now a rock star, but when I met him he was just coming up, um, I can’t think of his name. It’ll come. He works on China, Africa and America… Kehinde Wiley!

Gilbert and George when they came from England,

I met Andy Worhol. He never talked. My brother had a friend who knew him quite well.

Mark Rothko,

Tony Randall of the Odd Couple,

he knew everything,

he was the smartest man I ever met.

I let him do all the talking and I did the anecdotes.”

Barbara has never watched Star Trek,

but she gave Dr. Spock a tour.

“He gave me a Dr. Spock ear,

I didn’t know what it was or what I was supposed to do with it.

Ginger Rodgers,

Ray Milland, he never took his hat off because he didn’t have his toupee on,

Vincent Price,

Noguchi,

Sofa and Ottoman
Noguchi!

di Suvero,

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This is what googling di Suvero’s “The Calling” looks like.

 

George Shearing, he’s blind and I got a call from him asking to take him around.

A grandmother had the same thing, I took her around.

Gordon Parks,

and when the Beatles came to Milwaukee the first time,

I held the door to the war memorial open for them.”

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“Excellent Broth! I’m going to have it every time I come.

I’ve been begging for broth here.

I like soup very much but,

I don’t like heavy duty,

I like to have broth.

It kinda curbs your appetite,

settles your stomach,

it’s good for your bones,

and I just love hot broth.

Right here at the café counter I met Shaquille O’Neill.

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Right there!

He wasn’t feeling well.

I didn’t know who he was.”

Shaq’s manager worked on a crossword puzzle with Barbara,

and explained who Mr. O’Neill was.

Barbara gave Shaq a ticket to the art museum,

and he went.

 

The Pinecone Shaped Doorknob on the Seventh Floor

The suit store, Roger Stevens will cease to exist at the end of this month after its four decades at the Pfister. Everything is for sale.  Everything.

EverythingEverythingEverythingEverythingEverythingEverythingEverythingEverythingEverythingEverythingEverythingEverythingEverything.

EverythingEverythingEverythingEverythingEverythingEverythingEverythingEverythingEverythingEverythingEverythingEverything.

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The striped shorts!
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The suits!
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The exquisite chair!
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The authentic Italian army nesting cases!
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The books!
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The wooden beaver!
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The “HONOURS” board!

 

The bow ties!
The bow ties!
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The classic Ralph Lauren photographs!
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The jar of buttons!

But NOT the elk head. That one they tell me is on loan.

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I show all these manly goods to Wes because he is a man. He’s also a person with the inquisitive eye of a filmmaker-photographer-retired rapper. His eyeballs expand and emit rays of zing whenever he sees project potential. It is natural when in his company to want to show him every storied bit you can scratch together in the hope that he will do that peculiar eye thing again.

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He shows me things too. Things I have never noticed before like the pinecone shaped doorknob on the seventh floor. Wes explains that the pinecone is an important symbol to a lot of cultures and represents the pineal gland in the brain. It is believed by much of humanity that the pineal gland is where one’s soul enters and exits the body at the start and end of life. Also, the top of the head is where divine knowledge enters the body through the crown chakra.

I don’t know where he gathered all this knowledge, but it could have been back in Dodgeville where he was hatched amongst pinecones.

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Who is that?!

I show him the wall with the portraits of all the governors Wisconsin has ever known and Wes searches for Governor Dodge, the namesake of his hometown. None of the inscriptions below the portraits bear his name. Though there is one on the wall without an inscription, so Wes decides that one is him.   Either that or “A hipster guy who bartends over at the Sugar Maple.”

He told me about a movie he shot years ago in some abandoned houses of Dodgeville. He made his decision for the location when he went up to one and thought, “This house feels ghosty. ” He would tell his actors, “Let’s have you walk down this staircase and uh hopefully it doesn’t cave in.”   Sometimes the houses would smell weird, like animal death. After he made that movie he was traumatized from making that movie and didn’t make another one for a long time “Even though I tried like several times.”

He’s been more productive in amassing “Gourds of writings! Hoards of writings! Hoards of gourds of writings!” And now that he is retiring from rap he is ghostwriting an R&B album. “I’ve got it all mapped out, it’s a ‘triple triptych symphony.’ I’m working with three different producers and they’re each giving me 3D beats. Then they’re going to collaborate on each other’s beats so it will have a persistent feel to it with three different movements.” Wes explained this one to me thrice and in three different ways. Expect to hear the results nigh.

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The real Governor Dodge.

While writing this post I’ve looked up a picture of Governor Dodge. I think the unnamed fellow we found is more likely The Sugar Maple Hipster.

The Absinthe Minded Confusion Fusion

DSCN7181My recorder has stored a highly detailed 16 minute and 12 second description of a book this man read a couple decades ago.  It is the autobiography of Bernard Baruch, a wall street guy who hung out at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in the 1930’s.  The description would have been even longer had I not the urge to use the bathroom.  To get the rest of the story I’ll have to read the rest of the book, but he warned me that it is hard to find as it has gone out of print.

DSCN7091Snooping around on the second floor I discover the Pfister’s room rates.  Even with a bath, it’s cheaper than renting an apartment.  So, I’m moving into a room.

DSCN7021Now that I live at the Pfister my breakfast always looks likes this.  Made in house daily by dainty fingered bakers that know the difference between a dried currant and a dried blueberry by touch alone.

DSCN7214My lunches are exquisite medleys of pecans, bacon, tomato, spinach and salmon grilled by low voiced gorillas with ornamental (but harmless) fangs.

DSCN7011My snacks are the giant pretzels set out for convention goers.

DSCN6811This supper of chicken and mashed cauliflower enraptures me so much that I must fill my paper napkin with the scribbles of divine savoring!

DSCN6820I take the frantic notations of my sensorial frizmitation and place it with gratitude inside the pianist’s tip jar.

DSCN7017I use to think these perfect things were made out of convincing colored wax and shined with mineral oil, too good to be true… but they are not.  They are my dessert.

DSCN6801I climb to the 23rd floor and watch all the rush hour cars stuck on the freeway.  I no longer have use for a freeway.  I live at work.  Nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah!

DSCN6864Lies!  I don’t really live here. I am just around here enough to notice when the palm trees are temporarily moved from their regular posts in the lobby.

DSCN7080Last week the lobby was festooned with flowers of the sun.

DSCN7034Behind the roses and blur of movement is a lounge full of loungers.  The loungers are attended to by Val. Today Val told me that when absinthe became legal she made her own absinthe recipe.  It was a fusion that began with gin as its base because “There’s an old saying that to drink gin is to sin.”  The gin was put in to help the drinker forget their day.  Val added whole rosemary and named it “the absinthe minded confusion fusion.”  The rosemary was to help the drinker remember the name of the drink since rosemary is supposed to help you to remember things.

DSCN6795This railing remembers a lot of things.  121 years worth of visitor’s names to be precise.

 

 

 

 

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.

Pineapples Visit Sauerkraut Boulevard

Mark and Delores (who have a German last name) are here from Miami. They are getting the German Milwaukee experience. They toured the Pabst Mansion, did a beer tasting and are asking who Captain Pabst (Pabst beer’s founder) was close friends with. Honestly, I don’t know.* Delores bought a T-shirt from Mader’s, Milwaukee’s classic German restaurant.  She is debating as to whether she can wear it when she returns home when Germany plays in the soccer finals. Most people in Miami are Brazil fans. “You don’t have a lot of Germans in Miami,” I joke. They shake their head, “Actually we do, Germans are everywhere, and you can spot them a mile away with their thick socks and sandals.” Delores confides that similar to a German tourist, she brought some socks with her to wear with her sandals in preparation for Milwaukee’s nippy 85 degree weather.

Back in Miami when a soccer game day comes around, “30% of people on the street will be wearing a jersey of some sort.” Mark & Delores arrived at the hotel on Friday and watched the game in the bar with four other people. “But if this were Miami, there would have been 200 hundred people and they all would be wearing costumes, too.”

Mark has on a polo shirt with refreshing teal stripes. Quite the tropical look. Delores is in pink. Incidentally, teal and pink were the two favorite colors of a close friend of mine in college who hailed from Miami.

Though he is now retired, Mark recounts for me his work history; he toured banana and pineapple plantations all over the world for Del Monte. When he started out in the business, all pineapples sold in the states were shipped in from Hawaii. Hawaiian pineapples have a sugar content that changes throughout the year, and sometimes the fruit is more tart than sweet. Eventually a hybrid variety of pineapple was developed to ensure a sweeter fruit all year long. That variety is grown in Costa Rica. Most American stores now carry pineapples from Costa Rica.

A year ago Mark & Delores were on vacation in North Carolina. They met a truck driver (who sold tractors) in a bar and he insisted that they visit the natural wonders of the Wisconsin Dells. He provided an argument so convincing that Mark and Delores are heading there next after inspecting the Circus World Museum in Baraboo.

*I’ve since asked our resident historian and concierge, Peter the question of who Captain Pabst liked to hang out with. Peter told me, “There was a whole cadre of people who lived in the Highland neighborhood that the Yankee aristocracy looked down on as “Sauerkraut Boulevard.” The Highland neighborhood was full of German mansion families such as the Uihleins, the Vogels, the Gettlemans and the Schusters. They all knew each other and intermarried. What’s more important a point to Peter when considering who Captain Pabst spent time with is how “Today we tend to have fewer friends and acquaintances, but back then community was central to the idea of how the world worked. You didn’t have just a few best friends.” Captain Pabst and his contemporaries thought more about what they could give back to the community they interacted with every day. Captain Pabst gave Milwaukee the Pabst Theater, Frederick Layton gave Milwaukee the Layton Art Museum, Guido & Charles Pfister gave Milwaukee the sumptuous Pfister. “The sense of themselves was part of the city. In the culture of the commonwealth they built their homes by worker’s cottages, there was no shame to live by the people who worked for them.”

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.

They Seem Very Busy

The woman does not want to be identified.

The woman can make you an iced coffee.

The woman frequently makes me an earl grey

with a side of questions concerning Harry Potter.

 

She first read Harry Potter as a high school student

back in her homeland, viagra the third major island

of the Philippines’ 7,107 total islands.

“I think every kid was inspired by Harry Potter,

he’s not perfect, he has a lot of flaws,

but the people around him make him strong.”

 

This management, accounting and law school graduate

has been in the states for a year now

working at her first job of all time

and has observed:

“Things are cleaner over here, purchase

and the people here are on their own always

instead of compounds of families all living together.

Things are very peaceful here,

but people have no time for other people

they seem very busy.”

 

She would tell me more

but a line has formed,

it is three in the afternoon

and everyone wants

a medium cappuccino

or some other brown dessert drink

that requires rituals & cream.

 

I go away to become busy

and am reminded of something

Joe Charney described before parting ways:

the ‘zombie grocery store,’

where Joe goes to get his food,

is a place where people go to ignore each other.

“They don’t mumble to themselves,

they pass each other,

but no action or reaction,

statement or thought,” he said.

People pushing their carts around

all demonstrate something he called, “the stare:

looking straight ahead, but not side-to-side.

They are unaware!

I often think that one of them could be stabbed

a little to the right of their field of vision

and they wouldn’t even notice.

Like horse blinders.”

 

I know what he was talking about,

but luckily here at the Pfister people greet each other

like in the elevator where I am asked,

“Hey, where’s your typewriter?”

And I say, “It’s heavy, I can’t lug it with me everywhere I go.”

“But heavy things are good for your muscles.”

“That’s true, but you see I have snake arms.”

I roll up my sleeve and expose my thin, straight arm.

The elevator rider laughs,

“Snake arms! I like that. I myself would call them ‘buggy whips.’”

 

Now there’s a term that is at least as old as the hotel,

pre automobile

and pre virtual fake reality network friendships.

‘Buggy whip.’

When horses wearing blinders

clomped down Wisconsin Avenue en masse.

 

I go back to the café and the line is finally gone.

I ask if I can take a picture of her tattoo,

and she says sure, it is not her face

though it has an eye of Horace

to represent restoration—

not bad luck

like some people think.

I think it’s pretty,

she got it here in the states

since in the Philippines it would be too controversial.

She tells me that both “The Da Vinci Code” author Dan Brown

and boy band “One Direction,”

have been banned from the country

she hopes one day to return to

though she now has a golden snitch

engraved on her arm to represent time flying.