HUMANS OF THE PFISTER | OCTOBER 2016 | Fear Edition | Pius XI High School Blutender Happy Hour

At a recent Blutender event for Pius XI High School, where I taught English for ten years, I met up with some of my old colleagues and their friends and supporters.  They were raising money for the Hank Raymonds Scholarship Fund.  When Mr. Raymonds died (he was the Marquette University basketball coach and athletic director in the 1970s), his three children, who were all Piux XI alums, created the fund in his honor.

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I’m not afraid of the unknown or the past.  I mean, I’m not afraid of death because of my faith, and I don’t regret anything in my life.  I remember taking a course called Death & Dying at Dominican; this was pivotal in my not living with regrets.

My biggest fear, then, is not having enough to retire on, especially as a single person.  I don’t fear being alone–I have lots of friends and family–but I do worry about retirement.


I have a surface phobia: falling down stairs.  In fact, I was on the 30th floor of the 411 Building at Quarles & Brady when I found out they were going to have a fire drill in which we were to take the stairs all the way down.  I escaped the building early and came here to The Pfister and got a cup of coffee.

But my actual fear is this: my sixteen-year-old son goes to Pius and he’s physically disabled.  I’m constantly trying to provide opportunities for him, and I know that he doesn’t want to be different.  So my biggest fear is dying before I know he’s “set.”  I want him to have insurance and money so he can take care of himself.  I don’t want to die before him.


I’m afraid of not being liked.  Well, maybe I shouldn’t use the word “liked.”  I mean, teachers are the most insecure people.  Teaching is our chance to be in power, but sometimes, when I think I’m doing well and I’ve nailed it, there’s this one kid out of thirty that tells me, “That’s crap.”  That’s being a teacher, though, huh?


My biggest fear is being up this high on the 23rd floor.  If you paid me a million dollars to press my face up against the glass, I wouldn’t take it!  I used to take the kids to Great America and go on the highest roller coasters, but for some reason I’m afraid of heights now.

When I was coming up the elevator, I kept telling myself “You can take it!  You can take it!  I’m a big girl . . .”

See that guy by the window????



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Getting HAPPY at The Pfister: A Story of Loss and Recovery

Suggestion: Turn up the volume on your device, click play, and prepare to get happy!

Photographs from Guillaume Duchenne’s 1862 book Mécanisme de la Physionomie Humaine

One of the many privileges of being human is that we experience emotions.  While some might argue that other creatures express emotions, too, or that it’s not much of a privilege that we have to experience the painful ones, no one can argue with the fact that we are indeed “moved out of ourselves” (Latin emovere – “move out, agitate”) by a myriad of complex feelings stemming from the four basic emotions of happiness, sadness, fear/surprise, and anger/disgust.  These emotions, each registered by different combinations of our 42 facial muscles, can cause us to love, cry, scream, or punch.  Sometimes we bottle them up or keep them hidden; sometimes we let loose and express them with reckless abandon.  And in our digital world, we don’t just register emotions with our faces: think of the billions of emoticons and gifs and memes that we use now to express our feelings.  Emotions are the stuff of our lives–and the building blocks of the stories we write about ourselves.  One such storythe directorial debut of Michael Patrick McKinley–hit the screens during the recent Milwaukee Film Festival.

While the festival is over, if you missed the Milwaukee premiere of McKinley’s delightful documentary Happy, don’t fret.  Just put on a happy face and head over to The Pfister’s Pop-Up Gallery for a glimpse into the sketchbooks of the subject of the film, Leonard Zimmerman.  Curated by Steven Uhles and hosted by Artist-in-Residence Pamela M. Anderson, “Don’t Erase Your Crooked Lines” features numerous prints from Leonard’s sketchbooks, an enormous collage of 32 photographs with Happy stickers in them, and an extended trailer of the film created just for this exhibit.  

20161004_140539Uhles describes Leonard’s art, with its whimsical robots and recognizable motifs, as “art as memoir.”  Even though this exhibit can only offer visitors a miniscule, microscopic fraction of his sketches, one can find even in it Leonard’s story of love and loss, depression and recovery–a story of falling in love and creating a life with Brian Malone, then losing him to cryptococcal meningitis.  The sketches depict Leonard’s subsequent depression and how his art became therapy, how it helped him hold on to his love for and memories of Brian and recover his capacity for boundless happiness.  Additionally, as with all good memoir, one can find in the sketches echoes of one’s own life events.  

The collage of Happy stickers–created by the Coalition of Photographic Arts–speaks to the participatory nature of Zimmerman’s art: the ubiquitous stickers of his Happy campaign, with the endearing smile and flashing bulb that people all over the world have attached to parts of their cities then shared with Leonard through social media.  While the yellow smiley that appeared in 1963 stares blankly ahead, this smiley tilts its head, its eyes have life, its bulb flashes a message of happiness.  Anyone can get free stickers by sending Leonard a self-addressed stamped envelope.  

Gallery visitors consider the Happy collage.

One of the first things we hear about Leonard in the film comes from Alex Wier of Wier/Stewart, the branding, advertising, and graphic design company where Leonard is a designer.  Alex says, “Leonard comes from a different planet.”  Yes, Leonard’s infinite number of smiles and laughs are contagious, and yes, he can bring “childlike enthusiasm” to seemingly bland ad campaigns like ones for banks.  Yes, Leonard loved Christmas so much as a child that his tinsel and light displays rivaled, surely, Clark Griswold’s, and his parents even wondered, “Where does this child get all these things?”  But I have an inkling that Leonard is not really an alien from outer space, that his story is the story of being human on this planet.  One of wonder and delight, and one where there’s room for pain and suffering.  

We embrace our pains in different ways.  Leonard seems to have embraced it in every way possible.  In the film, we hear him embrace it with raw honesty, as when he describes for the camera the spinal fluid from Brian’s first spinal tap.  He describes how he embraced it with confusion and disorientation after Brian died, as when he would walk into the grocery store only to abandon it in tears because Brian usually did the shopping–he didn’t know what to buy.  He embraced it with self-medication, too, (“I didn’t think I would hurt”) and eventually had to move back home to Augusta after he lost his job and the house that Brian and he had bought together in Savannah.  

20161004_140530“My best friend was my notebook,” Leonard says in the film.  His sketches, some of which can be seen in the Pop-Up Gallery, allowed him to express his early love, the loss of his love, and the love that remained after his loss.  What emerged were lovable robots, some distinctly Leonard and Brian, others distinctly masculine or feminine, but more often than not, his robots eschew gender or race or sexuality.  Which brings us back to memoir as art: he has interpreted his life for himself, then shared it with us so that we can interpret it and interpret ourselves into it.  As one guest at the gallery’s opening night says, “His art is refreshing.  It makes you think about your own emotions, where you go through break-ups, life, death.  This one is about holding in that bad and not wanting to release the negative energy.  And in this one he has an indifferent face–but he has a bag puppet which suggests that he still has emotions.”

When people like his sister and old art teacher got him canvas, encouraging him to take his sketches one step further, he started painting again and Leonard was born again.  His paintings became a timeline of his emotions and experiences, his process one that echoes his own life: “I always paint messy, then clean it up along the way.”  

One of the best sequences in the film, for me, is one in which we watch Leonard painting in his studio, a soft spotlight on him and his easel in the middle of the room, the background darker.  With headphones jamming–probably to Sam Smith or Telepathic Teddy Bear, both featured heavily on the film’s soundtrackand red Chuck Taylors on his feet, he swoops around his painting with gusto and giddiness, with bright, broad brushstrokes and thick black outlines.  We see his messiness and what he does to “clean it up.”  Ane we can only imagine what he’s thinking as he paints.  Probably something like the quotation from Mother Theresa that he used during a TEDX Talk in 2014: “Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.”

Seeing the TEDX Talk for the first time brought director Michael McKinley to tears.  He says that something stuck with him, until six months later, while he was in Las Vegas and had his “epiphany”: to make a documentary about Leonard’s story.  An audience member at the film’s showing that I attended asked Michael why directors don’t make more inspirational movies instead of ones that leave viewers feeling ambiguous about their feelings or just plain empty.  He replied, “There need to be more movies that do the opposite of movies that make you feel sad and crummy.  Now I’ve got the bug.”

20161004_140548Another audience member wanted to know when she could see the film again so she could share it with her family and friends, but Michael reminded her that releasing a film to DVD or streaming while it’s still going through the film festivals gets tricky.  It could be another year, he said, to which she replied, with an apocalyptic tone, “The world doesn’t have twelve months.”   

Well, you’re going to have to wait awhile before you can see the entire documentary, though, because Happy is indeed enjoying the film festival circuit.  It premiered at the Historic Imperial Theater in Augusta, Georgia, delighted viewers at Milwaukee’s festival, and will soon show at New York City’s Chelsea Film Festival as one of only 24 North American films selected.  It will also appear, so far, at the Savannah Film Festival later this month, and the Southern City Film Festival in Aiken, South Carolina, in November.  Its likely that Happy will make it into other festivals as well.  So you could hit the road and head east or south–or be satisfied for now with the “Don’t Erase Your Crooked Lines” teaser, which will remain popped-up in the gallery through October 23.

And in the meantime, do as Leonard does: “You can make the choice to be happy, because happiness matters.”  And visit Leonard’s website and Facebook page to follow his adventures.  And don’t forget: self-addressed stamped envelope sent to him will get you four Happy stickers all your own!

Michael Patrick McKinley (l) and Leonard Zimmerman (r)


HUMANS OF THE PFISTER | SEPTEMBER 2016 | Back-to-School edition | “Keep Sewing, Keep Learning”

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The course of my life and career choices has been educationally based. My senior year of high school in California, I went to beauty college.  My mom kept telling me, “You’re not going to sit around on my couch and do that forever.”  So I became a hairdresser.  I thought that it would be better if I used my talents artistically and soon I became very good at my craft.

At some point, I started doing makeup on print models.  The designers would run into snafus on the models, so I would rush in to help.  I tailored for awhile, then became a florist.  It was all design.  Everything seemed to keep looping back, no matter what I did.  Finally, I met a clothing designer at a friend’s who said, “You need to be designing and making clothes.”  She was really accredited by some of the best fashion schools.  Working beside her, I considered it an apprenticeship, even though it wasn’t.  But I couldn’t have paid for a better education.

I was a dressmaker for a few years in Los Angeles.  Then I moved to Milwaukee 14 years ago.  The demand for custom dresses isn’t big here, but I still have a group of women I design for (I always begin by asking “Audrey Hepburn or Grace Kelly?”).

All these years later, even though I’m not solely a dressmaker, I’m still good at hands-on work.  So when I met a master upholsterer, my direction changed.  Because I’m a meticulous sewer, it was good for his business.

What’s harder to do?  Fashion or furniture?  Well, what I’ve learned is that a body moves, changes.  A piece of furniture–it just sits there.  On a sofa, then, a line is a line, meaning if there are vertical stripes, those stripes need to go up the back, down the cushion, across the seat, and down–in a perfectly straight line.  But on a woman’s body, it doesn’t matter as much because of the curves of her particular body and how she moves.  I mean, it matters–especially to a dress designer–but not as much.

As an upholsterer, you get to know the different fabrics.  You get to be able to say, “This fabric has a good hand.”  In the industry, a “hand” means “the feel of it.”  Each fabric has a different weight, different stretch, different pattern.  All that stuff matters.

I’m still learning.  You sew, you sew.  You keep learning.

HUMANS OF THE PFISTER | SEPTEMBER 2016 | Back-to-School edition | “Is That All There Is?”

20160915_133845In between his sets at the Mason Street Grill this Monday–where he plays every Monday from 5:30-9pm–Chicago jazz pianist Joel Burt and I talked a little about his musical journey and, using a bit of interpretive poetic license, about the most important question any learner can ask: “Is that all there is?”

Getting here has been a life-long journey.

When I was younger, like ten years old, my mom said that I should take piano lessons.  And when mom says you’re going to take piano lessons, you take piano lessons.  But of course I wanted to play baseball, football.  I only dibble-dabbled with the piano for years after that.

I became an underwriter, but at one point I decided I’d like to try piano again.  I didn’t want to be in the front seat of the hearse; I didn’t want to be a vegetable.  So I enrolled at Berklee in Boston. Each day is a new day, right?  I always want to do something today that I didn’t do yesterday.  It’s always new–otherwise, what’s the point of doing the same thing all the time.  Like my mother used to tell me: “Make sure you go clean underwear on.”

I started off as a sideman for different bands, but now I’m pretty much in the lead.  I’ve been playing for six years at The Pfister and they finally gave me a drummer.  I mean, I’m not famous, but it’s nice getting called back.  I’m always learning, always getting better. I recently heard an arrangement played by an eighteen-piece orchestra and contacted the arranger: “You got to teach me how to do this.”  And he finally told me, “When’re we gonna start?”  Not “Here’s how much it’s going to cost” but “When’re we gonna start?”

I don’t ever want to live in a box.  Because life is like . . . a cabbage. A huuuge cabbage, with so many levels of life.  You can keep peeling it back and there’s still more!

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Mr. Burt and I ended our pleasant talk between sets by suggesting I listen to Peggy Lee’s song “Is That All There Is?”  If I’m understanding the lyrics correctly, the title line in the chorus suggests that the speaker has come to understand that powerful forces aren’t always as powerful as she perceived them to be.  Taken out of context, though, the title line could certainly echo Mr. Burt’s passionate optimism and desire for new experiences:

I remember when I was a very little girl, our house caught on fire.
I’ll never forget the look on my father’s face as he gathered me up
In his arms and raced through the burning building out to the pavement.
I stood there shivering in my pajamas and watched the whole world go up in flames.
And when it was all over I said to myself,
“Is that all there is to a fire?”

Is that all there is?
Is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friends
Then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

And when I was 12 years old, my daddy took me to a circus.
“The Greatest Show On Earth.”
There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears.
And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads.
And as I sat there watching, I had the feeling that something was missing.
I don’t know what, but when it was over,
I said to myself,
“Is that all there is to a circus?”

Is that all there is?
Is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friends
Then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

And then I fell in love, with the most wonderful boy in the world.
We would take long walks by the river
Or just sit for hours gazing into each other’s eyes.
We were so very much in love.
Then one day, he went away and I thought I’d die.
But I didn’t.
And when I didn’t I said to myself,
“Is that all there is to love?”

Is that all there is?
Is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep-

I know what you must be saying to yourselves.
“If that’s the way she feels about it why doesn’t she just end it all?”
Oh, no, not me.
I’m in no hurry for that final disappointment.
‘Cause I know just as well as I’m standing here talking to you,
That when that final moment comes and I’m breathing my last breath
I’ll be saying to myself-

Is that all there is?
Is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friends
Then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

We’re Going to Get Out of This: LSU Fans Reflect on Fixing the Floods and More

I’ve never seen the Lobby Lounge as crowded as it was last Friday afternoon.  The night before, a streak (which is what a group of tigers is called) of Louisiana State University fans descended upon The Pfister and other local hotels, eating and drinking their way to Saturday morning’s mass bus ride to Lambeau Field.  They filled every chair, many of which were pulled together so what looked whole extended families could gather.  Once they’d staked their territories, purple and gold tigers roamed from one oasis to another.  No one seemed stuck in one place, and no one seemed to be without a drink.  The piano could barely be heard over the laughter, clinking glasses, high fives, and shouts across the lounge to new arrivals.  I was able to squeeze in at the bar–the bartenders and the servers were working double-time to accommodate everyone–but before I was able to order a drink for myself, I heard a woman with an LSU logo on her shirt tell Thomas that she was going to escape the din for a smoke.  I introduced myself, decided to wait on my drink, grabbed my notebook, and followed her as she sauntered across the lobby, refreshed vodka tonic in hand.

The Badgers, of course, beat the Tigers 16-14, but my guess is that this defeat did not break the spirits of the die-hard LSU fans.  Because what I learned from Karen (names have been changed), and later her husband Teddy, is that deeper than tailgating is blood.  From the way they described it, tailgating actually might be in their blood (“It’s part of our culture, which is a connection we have with you here in Wisconsin,” Teddy would tell me), but so, too, is a culture of self-sufficiency, generosity, and magnanimity.

20160902_154558“I came to Milwaukee to escape the total shit at home.”

Karen wasn’t one to mince words.  We sat together on a bench in the courtyard outside the Hotel.  “This is perfect weather,” she sighed pleasantly.  It was indeed a comfortable 75.  “Back home in Baton Rouge, it’s 95 degrees and 95% humidity.”  Her oversized shirt, with an open and popped collar, sporting a bold LSU logo, gleamed white in the sunlight.  She removed a cigarette from her purse, but didn’t light it.  Instead, she placed a hand on my arm, leaned in, and said, “We were just recovering from the police shootings and racial tension, you know.  Then the flooding happened.”

She was referring, of course, to the officer-involved shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge on July 5.  The next day, Philando Castille was killed by an officer in Minnesota and protests erupted around the country, followed by the shooting of five police officers in Dallas on July 7.  Then, on July 17, a gunman shot six police officers in Baton Rouge, killing three of them.  The rains that hit southern Louisiana about a month later could have been poetically cleansing, but instead they dumped over two feet of rain over two days, in what has been described as “the worst disaster in the U.S. since Superstorm Sandy struck the East Coast in 2012,” damaging more than 55,000 houses, 80% of which lacked flood insurance, more than 6,000 businesses, and about 30 state roads.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” Karen said.  “This is three times worse than Katrina.  Noah wasn’t even prepared for it.  The rain filled up all the streams, rivers, and bayous–and then had nowhere to go.”  She realizes that what happened in New Orleans was different, of course–80% of the city and nearby parishes were flooded–but remarked that the August rain was so “unexpected” and that it “hit everyone, not one specific race or class.  It hit the upper class, the lower class, and everyone in between.”

Karen was sad that the summer had seen so much destruction.  She lit her cigarette finally and sipped her vodka.  “We’re all equal,” she repeated multiple times when reflecting on the destroyed lives and flooded homes.  “Whether we’re black, white, orange, purple.”  Inside, her husband and other relatives would reiterate this belief.

As we talked, a man who had been drinking a beer across the courtyard stumbled over and asked for some money for the bus, then changed his mind and settled for a cigarette.  Karen offered him hers, barely touched, but he indicated that he had hoped for a fresh one.  Unfazed instead of offended, she brought out two from her purse, plus her lighter.  Yes, she was encouraging a bad habit, but she did it graciously, I thought.  After he left, she sighed and said, “You just have to believe it’s all going to work out.  It’s gonna fix itself–by the grace of God–or we’re going to kill ourselves.”  I wondered out loud how much believing things will change would actually change anything–and whether the problems that both her city and Milwaukee were sharing (she, of course, knew the name of Sherman Park from the nightly news) could actually fix themselves.  I wondered whether even God could.  “The right people have to stand up,” she clarified.

“But who are those people?” I wondered again.

“Maybe that’s you and me.  But they’re going to be a lot of ‘wrongs’ that’re going to try.”  I agreed, and we agreed to try to be those “right people” who stand up.

She added, looking up to the sun, “There’s always going to be sunshine after the bad storm.”  She finished her cigarette and picked up her vodka.

Inside, it took only a few seconds after she let everyone know where she’d been for the past half hour for me to join one of those circles of chairs.  Her husband and daughter, the daughter’s husband, his parents (who were staying with Karen and Teddy because their house had been flooded), other family members and friends–about a dozen in all–had commandeered the couches in front of the fireplace.  “So you’re a writer?”  They all found this awfully interesting and jockeyed for my attention immediately.  The winners?  Teddy sat to my right sipping a Glenfiddich (I don’t think it was his first), to my left his son-in-law Ryan looked over my shoulder at what I was writing (“You wrote all that already?”), Karen stood in front of me, and Ryan’s wife Mary settled for popping in every once in awhile with a funny remark or helpful clarification.  Teddy was clearly the star of this show, however, and kept talking even when Karen, Ryan, and Mary were talking into my other three ears.

20160902_161510I say this in jest, of course, because I really was having a good time (helped, I’ll admit, by the whiskey Karen had fetched for me).  Teddy wanted me to know what had happened with the floods–and ultimately what it meant to be a Louisianan.

The first thing he wanted to make clear is that “Baton Rouge is mainly blue collar, with all the chemical plants especially.  But it’s mixed, too.  We’re all regular people, though, with house payments, car payments.”  I started writing in my notebook again, Ryan craning his neck.  “So imagine this: for the first six to eight days, we were going into people’s houses, cutting through drywall and sheetrock, piling everything, all their belongings, in the yards and streets.  I saw hundreds of people coming out of subdivisions like my brother’s–all these people.  No one’s living in their own houses.  It’s going to take one to two years to fix this.  So many people are going to let their houses go back to the bank.”

Just as his wife had done, he recalled Hurricane Katrina and it’s destruction: “With Katrina, so many of the people affected–and I don’t want to get political–were poor.  They were the people the federal government told to sit tight.  ‘We’ll help you.’  And then the levees broke.”  But he was quick to remind me how people helped each other: “Back then and this time, I went down with my boat, pulling people out.  That’s what we call the ‘Cajun Navy’–thousands of people with boats and back tows helping people out.  In southern Louisiana, people care about each other.  It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white.”

Teddy assured me, “But they’ll come back.  I’m not worried about southern Louisiana.  It’s a part of our Cajun culture.”  In between sips of scotch, he would reference “Cajun culture” many times.  When I asked him what he meant by “culture,” he started singing (then Ryan and his father started singing, heck, I started singing): “Hey, you get down the fiddle and you get down the bow, / kick off your shoes and throw ’em on the floor, / dance in the kitchen till the morning light: / Louisiana Saturday night.”

“That’s what I’m talking about!” bellowed Teddy.  He added: “You can tell we like to drink, huh?”

I suspected, however, that by “culture” he meant something a little more than a “one-eyed dog” and “yonder kinfolk,” “bellies full of beer” and “possums in sacks” (the next two stanzas of Mel McDaniel’s often re-released 1981 hit “Louisiana Saturday Night“).  Teddy smiled and added, “When people came from Newfoundland–that’s where the Cajuns came from–and got down to the south, they were starving.  So the first person who decided to catch and cook a bunch of crawfish for his family–that’s when Cajun culture was born.  We depend on ourselves and each other.  That’s our heart and soul.  So it doesn’t matter if the federal government sends us assistance.  We’re going to get out of this.”

Bryan chimed in–“The enemy of excellence is complacency”–as he held up his Hyundai wristband (he owns a dealership) that said “No negativity allowed.”  Mary photobombed.  More drinking ensued, even as everyone started packing up to go to dinner.


Before I left, amid handshakes (and many high fives and hugs from non-complacent Bryan), Karen and Mary pulled me in and told me a secret: “The ‘U’ in Louisiana stands for ‘I will help you first,’ and the ‘I’ stands for ‘I‘ll take care of myself later.’  Make sure you write that down.”

What about the ‘O’?  Mary had a quick response: “The ‘O’?  How about ‘You always owe someone something to give.'”

I told them I thought they were making that up.  “Of course we’re making that up!  But it’s true, too.”

I think that if I ever visit Baton Rouge, I just may believe that lie, too.









NOTE: 10 percent of September 2-3 food and beverage sales in the Lobby Lounge and in Blu was donated to the Red Cross Louisiana Flood Relief Fund.

HUMANS OF THE PFISTER | AUGUST 2016 | Being “August” | Continued


This is a friend of the Spunky Bohemian.  She shared an august story about an auspicious decision and a funky house bar:

About 22 years ago, my husband I packed up all our stuff and moved from Madison to San Diego in ten days.  We heard that there were jobs for us out there that paid $1 extra an hour.  We thought, “Wow, we’re going to be rich!”

She chuckles: a whole dollar more!

We loved it out there.  We came back when we had a kid and figured that since our parents lived in Wisconsin, it would be good for our kid to grow up near them.

She sighs, not with regret but nostalgia for San Diego.

Now we have property here, ten acres bordering the Kettle Moraine Forest in a tiny town called Greenbush.  There’s not even a bar in Greenbush.  I know, in Wisconsin!  But there is a stagecoach museum . . .

And there is a place 5-10 minutes away that’s a house bar.  A lady has a bar in her sun porch, with red velvet wallpaper and a jukebox.  You can play Elvis for 10 cents and get domestic beers for a buck and a quarter.  And they have the best Southern Comfort Old Fashioned Sweets around.  It’s only “open” when the bar lights are on: you just have to take your chance going there!  What’s the name of the bar?  No one knows!  We just call it “The House Bar.”

She insists that the owner of “The House Bar” has a liquor license.  She must, right?

And I promised I’d include a map showing where Greenbush is located.  I just might have to take a drive in search of the red velvet porch bar!  Now “Velvet”–that would make a swanky name!

Greenbush, Wisconsin (pop. 2,773 at the 2000 census)
Greenbush, Wisconsin (pop. 2,773 at the 2000 census)

Cordial of Wisdom | August 2016

This is Thomas, one of the bartenders in the Lobby Lounge. He is full of cosmic love.

Last month I offered the first “Cordial of Wisdom” from behind the bar in the Lobby Lounge, featuring the imaginative, pun-laden, talismanic words of wisdom of Val, who has been with the Hotel for decades.  Today, I offer you Thomas.  At first, he smiled and said, with so much conviction, “I think I’m too young to be disseminating wisdom.  I’m still learning so much.”  I was patient with him, which was good because he tilted his head up slightly, his eyes glazed in contemplation, and with clarity and conviction that belied his age (which he didn’t reveal), began to talk about love.  We joked that I would call this post “Love Letter to My Wife,” but I think it’s really a “Love Letter to Love.”

Love is the most significant, energetic attribute we possess in life, but it is so elusive.  Every time I’ve grasped a taste of it, I’ve realized that its flavor is so much more vast.  I get overwhelmed–like I’m a cell in a giant of love.  Every time you taste it, there’s some new flavor.  I guess I’m a crazy, hopeless romantic, but I’m truly obsessed with this experience.

I’ve made some of the most significant life choices in the quest for this “Love.”  And it’s an experiential kind of love–not the printed card type of love.

Speaking of cordials, I feel like love–whatever it is–is truth.  It’s flowing from one ancient vine of grapes, and every grape is a different kind of love, and these flavors of grapes are all connected to the vine, and other vines–and they all connect to one source, one that goes below the ground where we can’t see it–and beyond.  What’s beyond is so mysterious, but all this love is connected to it somehow.

We got a kick out of taking this photo.



Rocman “Roc” Whitesell retires from The Pfister Hotel tonight at 10:00 pm after 18 years of service as Concierge.  I got a chance to talk to him a few hours before he hung up his uniform.  Roc affirmed in my a belief in and celebration of ignorance–there is so much that we don’t know about so much . . . and that’s pretty cool.  I’ll be inviting Hotel associates and blog readers to share their favorite stories about Roc!

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Gallery Night last Friday in the Pop-Up Gallery and the Rouge Ballroom taught me about textures:

How atmospheric textures can affect a photograph of the Grand Tetons, or how printing in black and white versus color can lead to striking differences–thanks to insight offered by Coalition of Photographic Arts (CoPA) founding member Tom Federbar during the opening of his exhibit Yosemite & the Tetons.


How printing a photograph on a different surface, such as Sunset Metallic Photo Paper or Brushed Aluminum or Breathing Color Elegant Velvet Fine Art Paper (all Prime Digital Media products), can change the way a photograph appears and is perceived.


And how the musical textures of an electronically-amplified cello and the dramatic swish of snare drum brushes can affect what an artist such as Pamela M. Anderson, our Artist-in-Residence, sees and feels–and how that can translate to a blank canvas.

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All in all, to bridge the gap between the evening’s art and my life, I was reminded to attend to the “textures” in my own life–those I’ve been given, those others create for me, and those I create myself–and how they transform how I present myself to the world, how I am perceived, how I affect and effect.

Stay tuned for my full reflection on these stories!





This woman is a state legislator from North Dakota.  She and her husband were enjoying some sit-at-the-bar time after a long week for her at a Council of State Governments conference.

We are happiest when we travel.  We were in Dublin this spring, and this fall, we’re going to Iceland then London.  One of our favorite places was Seattle.  I [Mike] particularly loved the Boeing airplane exhibit.  My dad flew a B-17, so being able to get on a real B-17 and crawl around on it, sit where he sat–it’s a magnificent plane–was pretty incredible.

We’ve traveled in groups many times, but as we got older, we got used to just traveling together.  We learned how to adjust to each others’ schedules, think about someone else’s feelings, things like that.  We do a good pace, we think.

When we travel, we really are sit-at-the-bar people.  We meet the most interesting people, some of whom become good friends.  We’re able to suggest things that strangers might like–and just have a good time.

We’re both retired teachers, so travel always had to happen in the summer.  But now . . .


The photo is a little blurry, but this is the one she liked.  It captures her youthful spirit, which emerged as she talked about her independence.  When I saw her, she was sitting alone, reading the newspaper, her expression inscrutable.  I couldn’t tell if she was going to welcome my company. 

I am happiest when I travel to a new city and I get to figure out how to navigate it, use the mass transit, and such.  When I travel, I’m almost always on my own, which makes me feel independent and strong.

My first trip was–I was only 20 or 21–when I went to New York City.  I was working at the time.  I didn’t finish college.  I didn’t drop out, though–back then, they called it “stopping college.”  Most people who “stopped” college planned on going back after they “found themselves.”  But once I started working and the money started coming in (I was never rich, of course), it got comfortable.  There was a documentary on in the 60s about elderly people who didn’t have enough to eat–and I remember telling myself that I didn’t want to be poor when I got older.  So, anyways: all my friends had just graduated from college, and they didn’t have a lot of money.  I figured that I could either wait to go to NYC until they had some money or–so I just went.

I never got married.  I was born independent.  In fact, I had my fortune told by a psychic once.  My mother was deceased, but the psychic saw her and my mother told her, “She’s always been independent, even as a little child.”


Two buddies from college in Indiana attended a wedding of a friend at the Milwaukee Art Museum this past weekend.  They both spoke about the happiest moments in their lives.  Guess which one is which. 🙂

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People think I’m the ‘Wedding Grinch.’  But the happiest day of my life was calling my wedding off 17 days before the date.  I saved her life and my own in the process.  That’s why I always have a smile on my face.  I love my independence: I have my family, my friends.

What’s funny is that I had my bachelor party planned from the time I was 7.  All I knew is that it was going to be in Las Vegas and that money wasn’t going to be an option.   I didn’t know, of course, about Scarface or women or any extracurriculars.  I just wanted it to be fun.  And when my buddy Matt offered to help, as best man, I told him, ‘Don’t worry.  I got it.’  

I’m the life of the party.  I danced the night away with a 7-year-old at the wedding this weekend.  We’re buddies for life now.  But happiness is not identifiable only with weddings.


The happiest day of my life?  Well, I got married in November.  The wedding day was great, but the engagement was better.  It’s all about the preparation and the anticipation.

So I bought a ring right around Thanksgiving and called my parents–my dad started crying.  I wanted to ask her parents’ permission, thinking I could wait until the next holiday, like Christmas.  But my mother told me, ‘No, you’re doing this now.  This week.’  So I flew from L.A. to San Francisco on the following Monday, making up a story to my girlfriend that I was on a business trip, emailing her parents to tell them that I was going to be in their neighborhood.  I’m pretty sure they knew I was going to ask for permission to marry their daughter, but they didn’t say anything.  I did, then proposed two weeks later.

Her dad and mom had been in a long-distance relationship like ours, except the reverse: she was in L.A. and he was in San Francisco.  He had brought her down to the beach to propose, but it started raining and she didn’t want to get out of the car.  So he proposed to her in the car.  I brought my girlfriend to the same beach and proposed to her there–successfully.  My father-in-law still jokes about how the next generation makes up for the mistakes of the previous one.

Today is actually the anniversary of our first date.

Brian had to leave for the airport, so we departed, and within minutes, Amy appeared in search of food.  “I’ll have the burger,” she told Val, barely having scanned the menu.  “I just got here from the airport.  I’m very hungry.”  I took a risk and bugged her as she waited for her food.  We both discovered, however, that we could have talked for much longer; she barely touched her burger until I left.  (I won’t lie.  It was partly that we discovered we were both Eurasian, she Chinese-Sicilian, me Japanese-Calabrian.)  Amy offered a different perspective on relationships and marriage than Brian or Matt.

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I waited a long time to get married.  My husband kept trying and trying and trying.  When I lost my mom–I took care of her for four years–I told her on her deathbed that I didn’t want to get married or have kids.  I wanted to travel and . . . When I think of freedom, I think of travel, of having choices.  Dancing, too–that’s being free.

I finally agreed to get married.  But I was firm from the first date: “No kids.”  There’s a social stigma surrounding this, though.  People might say you’re selfish.  From the perspective of overpopulation, I think I’m being rather green by not bringing another person into this world ‘just because.’  I’m making a choice not to become a mother.  There are obviously many women who choose to become moms, but what about people like me who don’t want to give into social norms?

People have told me, ‘You’re not a woman.’  But a female shouldn’t be defined by her ability to bear children.  I want to be able to wake up every day and not have to take care of another human.  I mean, maybe when I’m old and all alone and wondering why there’s no one around to take care of me, but . . . for now, it’s my choice.