The Wisconsin Humane Society is throwing a fundraiser, “An Old Hollywoof affair.”
The Wisconsin Humane Society is throwing a fundraiser, “An Old Hollywoof affair.”
My 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.
Now 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.
Behind 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.
A box with twenty hats were left for me at the front desk the other day.
Miraculously, all of them fit my head. I would like to end this story here and imply that I have a secret admirer, but I know who gave me the hats. I was introduced to her in the Mason Street Grill recently. She wore a white hat. As one hat-wearing lady to another often will, I told her I thought her’s a stunning sculpture. Instantly, as if I had just told the queen fairy that she had a nice crown, she announced that she would gift me her many hats. “Please do,” I said but didn’t quite believe her, since people make those sorts of statements all the time and rarely follow through.
Kathy meant it because she is moving and must simplify her hat collection…
Black hats are Kathy’s favorite kind of hat because they go with everything. The day she met me I was wearing my black and white hat and “It was a signal, whoa!” She knew she could entrust them to me, a terrific alternative to the thrift store.
The hats were bought on trips all over the world including, London, Paris and New York. They represent the past 25 years of Kathy’s adventures. Once, while in New York, she visited a boutique in Trump Tower and saw a s!n!a!z!z!y! black hat with a wide scalloped brim. The boutique owner informed Kathy that Ivana Trump recently bought that very same hat. “If it was good enough for Ivana Trump, then its good enough for me,” decided Kathy. She did not give me that hat. She also held onto “two felt hats with long pheasant feathers coming off of them.” She has never worn them before but now that her collection is smaller she plans to debut them this winter.
Gardeners all over Milwaukee know her as “The Lady With The Hats.” Kathy founded both the Milwaukee and South Milwaukee factions of the Federated Garden Club 24 years ago. Generally she wears a hat on when out because she is a short woman and “doesn’t want to get stepped on.” Though on weekends after she gets her hair done she prefers to go without a hat. When Kathy runs into a fellow gardener on the weekend, frequently they exclaim, “I thought you didn’t have any hair!” Of course they mean it as a joke because The Lady With The Hats has been known to occasionally attend meetings without one just to “treat them.”
Kathy steams her own hats to make sure that it is done right. They can lose their shape after visiting the dry cleaners. She also stocked up on hatpins the last time she was in London because “there’s no better place to buy hatpins.” She wears two pins on each side of her head and a few in the back too so that in case someone hugs her “the hat won’t roll down the street.”
Though she gave me half her collection she will soon be adding to it. Kathy told me. “Spring hats really take a beating, I tend to wear them all the time. It is time to order another one from London. I’d rather put the money into a hat than to go there.”
I got an asymmetrical haircut at the Pfister’s salon. Carrie, medical my stylist said she had a barn growing up. It was mostly empty, so she and her brother would perform plays inside. Carrie had “an asthmatic horse named Blaze.” I didn’t know they made asthmatic horses, but Carrie tells me that it is a much more serious condition in horses. Poor Blaze had to wear an inhaler every day. Carrie had two other animals: a dog that she loved and a grumpy goat named ‘Butthead’ that she did not like so well. I have never been to a salon before, buy viagra so I was astonished to sit in the electric massage chair and get my hair washed.
“I don’t mean to be morbid, purchase but that would be a good place to die,” says a man who just got a massage in the spa. The relaxed man says that he, his mother and his girlfriend run a foundation together dedicated to the care and preservation of all 15 varieties of cranes. At a fundraiser last year he got to meet the world’s most famous anthropologist Jane Goodall. She sat at his table and gave advice to his girlfriend on how to proceed with their other fledgling project, a new animal care center. Goodall urged them not to lose vision and to keep going since there is no other organization in Wisconsin that currently spays and neuters cats as effectively as they plan to.
The man continues his conversation with me for an hour. I learn a lot about him including how he recently retired from a Milwaukee business his family has continuously owned since 1858, how retirement allows him to help produce off Broadway plays in New York, of years ago when he studied third world history in college, and that he’s “a soft man who cries a lot at movies,” preferring to watch animated movies over the action genre. He also tells me secrets in an auditorium compatible volume.
Eventually the man leaves the premises and another guy comes up to me wearing no expression on his face, asking me a lot of questions. His initial questions seem ordinary having to do about my role at the hotel, but then they get nosier: “Who was that guy you were just talking with? He was very open with you.” Only two kinds of grown people ask the things he wants to know, and guessing he’s unlikely to be a detective, I inquire if he’s a journalist. “Yes, my name is Barry Petersen and I am a correspondent with CBS, just back from Gaza. It was the worst war zone I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying a lot.”
Barry introduces me to his wife who is wearing a newspaper… a jacket made of crinkly fabric printed with headlines. Very convincing. Barry tells me that in Gaza “They tried to kill us all.” Now there’s a ceasefire there and Barry is safe inside the Pfister, finishing a cheese and fruit platter and about to have some carrot cake. Barry tells his wife that he had a contest with me to see who could find out more about the other. I did not know we were having a contest, but Barry definitively won. “I have always said that journalists are not interesting people,” claims Barry. He gives me permission to put him in the blog if I read five of his Gaza stories. I read of fathers burying children, 600 people taking shelter in a school and boys aspiring to become suicide bombers to get revenge.
Eleanore 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,
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
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.
This hotel is rife with whiz-bang creators. At any hour someone with an opinion on Salavador Dali is likely to state it from behind a counter, pills since so much of the staff identifies with being an artist of some sort. Certainly, there is an official resident artist and an official resident narrator, but there are many more creative Pfister residents than just that. Take the three concierges: Peter is our resident costume constructor and actor, viagra Greta is our resident painting gallery owner and Roc is our resident live raconteur with a background in teaching English.
I have been here three months and I still haven’t met all of the musicians that lurk here.
I suppose if one hoped to find the classic bohemian employed by the Pfister, ed the most stereotypically logical place to look would be near the coffee in the café. Indeed, barista Adam identifies as a creative writer and a musician. He has the samples to prove it too, once, he handed me my receipt with two links to his work.
The song “Coins and Bullets” on the bandcamp site is particularly evocative of late fall angst.
Adam reads this blog. One day he told me he wanted me to write him a letter and handed me my receipt with a request written in his precise and gentle script.
This is the pinnacle of my life. This is the pinnacle of my usefulness.
The pulverization ritual is nigh.
The spiritual gain of the pulverization ritual???
To become grit and aroma,
I will vanish like steam on a hot day
like health from a hot dog
like they have always said oh,
c e a s e l e s s
w o e b e g o n e
there is no other truth anymore
except: I am a bean and resemble a turd from an unidentified rodent.
Whims of taste supply and demand me to be shred, submerged, percolated, strained, stained, ingested, burped, excreted,
sold en masse
never remembered as the soul that I am
now roasting in a barrel.
This is my last moment to recall how
before my memory burns away
before I knew death would come
before I knew cruelty could happen at all
before all else there was gestation
soft pod skin seal,
ambition to make mom tree proud by my expansion,
“I’ll get so big that I’ll obscure our cacao pod neighbors!!!”
Ah, the laughter of caffeine cliques
so fruitless now
that we all
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.”
La Belle Fleur (the beautiful flower), is a pear infused vodka recipe that Katrina is following today. She is still deciding on her own name for it, but knows she wants it to be French. She is teaching herself French from an application on her phone.
Trois de poire (three pears) is the traditional name of this drink.
But what if she were to name it ‘trios de poire’ because there are three different pear varieties in it.
Or fleur de poire is elegant…
ménage à trois?
Someone at the bar declares, “I like that one!”
Fruit infused drinks are a new thing at the lobby lounge bar. Recently Katrina made Rock & Rye, that’s bourbon infused with sugar candy, bitters, St. Germaine Elder flower and maraschino cherries. My goodness.
She is so excited about the three-pear flower beauty infusion she tosses the bottle of vodka from one hand to the other as if juggling.
Katrina has been steeped in the art of bartending for six years and has a talent for knowing “within 30 seconds” what drink would match a customer’s personality.
What about me, Katrina? “I would guess you would be interested in a craft cocktail vintage style, or a French 75. You could be easily coerced into something with fruit forward or champagne. Maybe champagne cocktail, but it depends on the scenario. On a hot day after you’ve been walking around I think you would be more apt to The Verdant, a gin drink of a bright green color that contains chartreuse and some other secret ingredient.
What is Chartreuse? Some green liqueur that only Carthusian monks in France can brew. It contains 130 different herbs and flowers from a secret recipe. The monks have been making Chartreuse since 1737. Katrina lets me sniff the bottle when I ask.
It took Katrina a long time to figure out the name for the Verdant, a drink whose secret ingredient (well, formerly secret) is fresh celery juice.
Other names she considered for it:
She has even more names that she considered listed on her phone.
Also listed on her phone are all the songs she wants to sing at a karaoke night so that she will be prepared when she next finds herself in a karaoke situation. Included on her list are “I Would Walk 500 Miles,” and “Light My Candle.” She does not like it when people sing “Don’t Stop Believing.”
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.
“Next year we we’ll have 120 pounds of honey coming outta the two hives, rx ” says Brian Frakes, Pfister head chef and as of this year, beekeeper. He takes me up to the roof; where 24 stories above the ground the bees await their sugar water refill. He lights the burlap in his smoker and climbs into a suit. I ask him how long the smoke sedates bees and he replies, “Twenty minutes. My understanding is it doesn’t actually sedate them; it stops them from being able to do their panic communication with each other. Therefore sedating them.”
So far he’s only been stung once and yes, hospital it was as bad as he feared, “I did not like it. I was more upset with myself because it was my fault. I was by myself and he was riding on the back of me, I didn’t notice him and I pulled off my suit like a sweater.” When Brian went out of town for two days one of the banquet cooks, Marco suited up and fed them “Which was very brave of him, because no one is jumping out of their skin to mess with the bees.” Brian’s trick for checking if there are any bees on him when he is up here alone is to “Look at my shadow and see if there is anything flying around.”
He points to the hive on the left, “These bees are very kind and very productive, and that’s why they are further along. But these bees on the right? These bees are always mad!” The same variety of bee resides in both of the hives but like most families each one is a little different. Which family did the bee that stung him come from? “I don’t know it was someone that was outside, but I’m going to say yes, the bees that stung me came from the mean family. Let’s not say mean, they are very aggressive, protective.”
Lifting the cover off the protective family he warns, “They are possibly coming to attack you.” I step back, and indeed, a bee flies straight towards me, gets near my head and then hurdles back to its hive. Will the protective bees’ future offspring be as passionate? “Just because grandma was nuts doesn’t mean all her children will be.” Brian scrapes the excess honeycomb. “Wax. That’s the bee business. They need a place to make a lot of babies.”
With the recent Pfister bee media frenzy, Chef Frakes put some of the honeycomb into a clear container so that the reporters could get close to it. Later he stored the container with the comb in his office and was watching as one of the bee larvae came to life. “It finished the larvae process and turned into a bee in one of these containers rather than in the hive. It was born anyways! Pretty incredible. It gave me chills.” He also ate one of the unborn larvae just to be weird and primal. “It was creamy and a little crunchy. Not overly pleasant, but not horrible either.”
I ask so many questions about his larvae eating that he invites me to try one that he’s been keeping in his office. It’s cold and wet on the tongue, and reminds me of buttered corn-on-the-cob.